The Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy Newsletter

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At the beginning of Metaphysics Γ Aristotle claims that there is a science which is concerned with being qua being. 'Being’ is said in many senses. Different beings are not said to be purely homonymous, but rather to be “related to one thing (πρόσ ἕν)”(1003a33- 4). G.E.L Owen translates this ττρός ἕν formula as "focal meaning", and in his paraphrase, it means that all the “senses [of ‘being’] have one focus, one common element”, or “a central sense”, so that “all its senses can be explained in terms of substance and of the sense of ‘being’ that is appropriate to substance.” According to Owen, “focal meaning” is new and revolutionary in Meta.Γ, and introduces a “new treatment of to on and other cognate expressions”, which consists mainly in the following two thesis: (1) The “focal meaning” idea contradicts and replaces Aristotle’s earlier view in the Organon, EE and others that beings differ in different categories, and ‘being’ has various distinct senses. (2) The “focal meaning” idea makes it possible for Aristotle to establish a universal science of being qua being in Meta. Γ, which contradicts and replaces his earlier view that because beings differ, a universal science of being is impossible. The influence of Owen’s interpretation on Aristotelian scholarship cannot be exaggerated. The notion of the “focal meaning” has been widely adopted as a technical term and Owen’s above two theses continue to be embraced in their fundamentals.

In this paper, I try to provide an alternative account of the πρός εν, which shows that the προς εν of being in Meta. Γ2 is neither new nor revolutionary. Consequently, I will reject, respectfully, both claims made by Owen.


Jiyuan Yu presented “Is there a focal meaning of being in Aristotle?” to the Society at its meeting with theCentral Division in New Orleans in 1999. A revised version was published as “What is the Focal Meaning of Being in Aristotle”? in Apeiron 34.3 (2001) 205-231.

For information about the author, see Wikipedia “Jiyuan Yu”