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On What there "Is": Aristotle and the Aztecs on Being and Existence



A curious feature about the Aztec language, Nahuatl, is that it has no word for "to be." Neither is this notion implied in the language's syntax. Despite this, the Aztecs did hold to a form of relational metaphysics. The article develops three central features of that metaphysics, and uses Aristotle's substance ontology both as a foil and to test the rational coherence of the Aztec view. It is argued that while initially counter-intuitive for "Westerners," the Aztec view at least enjoys prima facie coherence.
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20. Ibid., 17.
21. Aristotle, “Metaphysics,” in The Complete Works of Aristotle,
ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,
1984), book 4.4.
22. Plumwood, “Politics of Reason,” 19.
23. Ibid., 31.
24. Ibid., 23–24.
25. Ibid., 26–27.
26. Ibid., 24–26.
27. Ibid., 27–30.
28. Ibid., 30.
29. Ibid., 35.
30. Patrick Wolfe, “Settler Colonialism and the Elimination of the
Native,” Journal of Genocide Research, 8, no. 4 (December 2006):
31. Waters, “Alchemical Bering Strait Theory.”
32. Waters, “Language Matters,” 99.
33. Ibid., 100.
34. Ibid., 101.
35. Ibid., 109.
36. Charles Eastman, The Soul of the Indian: An Interpretation
(Lincoln, NE: Bison Books, 1980), 30.
37. Viola F. Cordova, “What Is the World?” in How It Is: The Native
American Philosophy of V. F. Cordova, ed. Kathleen D. Moore,
Kurt Peters, Ted Jojola, and Amber Lacy (Tuscon: University of
Arizona Press, 2007), 104.
38. Viola Cordova, “Ethics: The We and the I,” in American Indian
Thought: Philosophical Essays, ed. Anne Waters (Malden, MA:
Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 177.
39. Brian Yazzie Burkhart, “What Coyote and Thales Can Teach Us:
An Outline of American Indian Epistemology,” in American Indian
Thought: Philosophical Essays, ed. Anne Waters (Malden, MA:
Blackwell Publishing, 2004), 16.
40. Thomas Norton-Smith, The Dance of Person and Place: One
Interpretation of American Indian Philosophy (New York: SUNY
Press, 2010), 65.
41. Vine Deloria, Jr. and Daniel Wildcat, Power and Place: Indian
Education in America (Golden, Co: Fulcrum, 2001), 23.
42. Ibid.
43. Vine Deloria, Jr., Spirit and Reason: The Vine Deloria, Jr. Reader,
ed. Barbara Deloria, Kristen Foehner, and Sam Scinta (Golden,
CO: Fulcrum Publishing, 1999), 44.
44. Gregory Cajete, Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence
(Sante Fe: Clear Light Publishers, 2000), 64.
45. Waters, “Alchemical Bering Strait Theory,” 72.
46. Ibid., 73.
47. Ibid., 72.
48. Waters 73.
On What There “Is”: Aristotle and the
Aztecs on Being and Existence
L. Sebastian Purcell
A curious feature of Aztec philosophy is that the basic
metaphysical question of the “Western” tradition cannot be
formulated in their language, in Nahuatl. Aristotle, writing
on what he variously called first philosophy, wisdom, and
theology, formulates its subject matter thus: “There is a
science [epistēmē] which investigates being qua being
[to on hē on] and what pertains to it when considered in
its own right.”1 What we now call metaphysics or ontology,
then, is concerned with being just insofar as it is. W.V.O.
Quine, writing more than two millennia later, expresses the
same broad concern. He writes that the basic problem of
ontology “can be put in three Anglo-Saxon monosyllables:
‘What is there?’ It can be answered, moreover, in a word—
’Everything’—and everyone will accept this answer as true.”2
The difficulty in the case of the Aztecs is that Nahuatl has
no word for “being” or “to be.” As a result, there is no way
to formulate the question, “What is there?” or to claim that
the aim of first philosophy is to understand “being qua
being.” This point does not suggest that the Nahuas were
unconcerned with metaphysics, or that even the traditional
“Western” metaphysical question could not be expressed
(imperfectly) through circumlocution in their language.
Rather, it suggests the grounds for why the Nahuas, the
pre-Columbian people who spoke Nahuatl in Mesoamerica,
approached this question so differently.
The present essay thus argues for three closely related
points: first, that the Nahuas may be understood to provide
an answer to the fundamental character of reality, one which
served to give content to the meaning of “wisdom” just
as one finds in Aristotle; second, that their conception of
reality consists in a conceptual couplet teot and ometeotl,
which view rivals Aristotle’s substance (ousia); and, third,
that the Nahua answer is prima facie reasonable. To explain,
a little, the significance of these claims and the motivation
for the comparison with Aristotle, one might consider the
following points.
Aristotle’s metaphysics is a paradigm case of substance
ontology, that is, the view which holds that the answer
to the basic question of metaphysics “What is there?”
is substance (ousia). He thinks this is a good answer,
moreover, because it satisfies some apparently reasonable
desiderata any account should provide. In the first place,
we would like to know that the answer can explain what
the basic subjects of the universe are, those in which other
properties inhere, and those beyond which analysis is no
longer meaningful. In the second, we would like the answer
to explain what something is, and not simply how it is, or
why it is. Intuitively, we sense that we know something
when we know its “what.” Substance, Aristotle argues,
satisfies both these criteria.
FALL 2018 | VOLUME 18 | NUMBER 1 PAGE 11
The Nahuas’ outlook may instead be taken as a paradigm
case of process metaphysics, that is, a view which answers
the basic question of metaphysics by holding that reality at
base is a “process” in a sense to be described below. This
view may be distinguished from the substance approach
because it rejects not only the formulation of the basic
question for metaphysics, since there is no “is” for the
Nahuas, but also the desiderata which Aristotle thinks any
good account should satisfy.
The comparison proposed is thus of interest for several
reasons. A first concerns its consequence for the discipline
of metaphysics itself. The Nahua view challenges the basic
presuppositions of the ontological tradition in “Western”
philosophy, whether that formulation is Aristotle’s, or
Quine’s.3 The view proposed is also rather different from
the handful of self-consciously styled process-based
metaphysical accounts in the “West.”4 It matters, then,
whether such a view is at least prima facie coherent. If one
cannot use the word “being” to answer the basic question
of metaphysics, after all, just what is it that is left over, and
why would it make sense?
It is also of interest to indigenous, Nahua philosophy to
clarify just what is intended by their “process” metaphysics.
Others have claimed that their metaphysics is “relational”
or “process” based, but of course Aristotle could make
sense of relations and process.5 In some reasonable sense,
the what of something, its to ti esti, just is what it does.6 So
it is unclear, if one uses only these terms, just in what way
Aristotle and the Nahua outlooks are to be distinguished.
Finally, with respect to philosophers of classical Hellenic
antiquity, the inquiry matters because it presents at least
one new direction of study. The major scholarly controversy
in the Metaphysics, for example, concerns just how to make
sense of Aristotle’s claim in book VII.13 that no universal
is a substance, when he appears to have been arguing,
up to this point, both that substance is form, and form is
universal.7 Yet perhaps Aristotle has arrived at this position
because the desiderata outlined previously are themselves
problematic—this is, at least, an open question—and
this would bear on all the further notions which Aristotle
develops, including form and matter, potency and activity,
and universality and particularity. In this way, comparative
philosophy may help to raise new avenues for study in
Hellenistic inquiry.
As the first comparative essay on this topic in any modern
language, the discussion faces a few initial hurdles that
might not otherwise exist. To avoid them, it proves easiest
to begin with the way in which epistemic claims are related
to metaphysical ones in the thought of both Aristotle
and the Nahuas. The next sections, §§2-3, thus look to
distinguish a variety of forms of knowledge, including
knowledge by acquaintance, know-how, experience,
practical wisdom, and theoretical wisdom. The argument
matches the sorts of appeal that Aristotle makes in book
I of the Metaphysics with the accounts provided about
Nahua philosophers themselves. An important difference
that emerges is that the Nahuas had no notion comparable
to Aristotle’s epistēmē. In one respect, this is unsurprising,
because Aristotle’s notion itself is quite specific to his
philosophical outlook and not shared, even, with Plato.
In another, there is a larger philosophic reason why the
Nahuas had no similar notion, namely, because they were
not metaphysically realist in their outlook.
To explain what might be called their quasi-realism, the
argument moves, in §§4-6, to the content of theoretical
wisdom for Aristotle and the Nahuas, namely, ousia and
(ome)teotl, respectively. The claim in this case is that teotl
is the best answer to the question (posed in English), “What
is there?” but that teotl is always expressed under a certain
cosmological configuration as ometeotl. The cosmological
configuration is what the Nahuas metaphorically call a
“sun,” and they hold that our cosmos exists in the fifth sun
(explained below). The formula that thus emerges is that
teotl only exists qua some sun as ometeotl, and ometeotl
qua the fifth sun is our cosmos. Since it is thought that this
fifth sun too will pass into another configuration, it is not
possible to have eternal knowledge, much less scientific
knowledge (the sort expressed by Aristotle’s epistēmē) of
teotl. The best that can be done is to provide more beautiful
metaphors of this notion, i.e., teotl, which may explain why
the Nahuas’ highest metaphysical literature is expressed
poetically and not in treatise form. Moreover, since only
a provisional account of reality as ometeotl is possible,
the Nahua metaphysical outlook is best thought to be a
sort of quasi-realism. The argument concludes with further
avenues for research.
Aristotle begins Metaphysics I.1 with something that he takes
will be readily accepted, “[a]ll humans naturally desire to
know” (Met. I.1, 980a20).8 He proceeds dialectically, teasing
through ways of knowing until he reaches wisdom (sophia).
The line of reasoning runs as follows. A sign of our desire to
know is our preference for the sense of sight, which enables
us to know the look of things quickly.9 Animals too have
faculties of sensation, but some among them also have
memory, which enables them to learn. What they mostly
lack, however, is connected experience (empeiria). Still,
this sort of knowledge (to eidenai) is limited to individual
matters. For humans, memory forms experience, and when
this experience gives rise to many notable observations
and a single universal judgment is formed concerning
them, one has an art (technē). While experience may thus
lead to effective action and production just as well as art,
since actions and productions concern individual affairs,
knowledge and understanding (to epaiein) properly belong
to art. For the one who possesses an art knows the cause,
the why, while the person of experience does not. The
object of study for science (epistēmē), unlike art, cannot be
other than it is, and so exists of necessity and is eternal.10
Science does not, moreover, aim at production while art is
just this disposition to produce something which may or
may not be (NE VI.4, 1140a20-25).
Two conclusions follow from these reflections. First, they
explain why we do not regard any of the senses to provide
wisdom, for while they give knowledge of particulars, “they
do not tell us the ‘why’ of anything” (Met. I.1, 980b11-12).11
Second, they explain why “all people suppose that what is
called wisdom concerns the first causes [ta prōta aitia] and
the principles [ta archas] of things” (Met. I.1, 980b28-29).12
PAGE 12 FALL 2018 | VOLUME 18 | NUMBER 1
For while art can explain the why, or cause, of a production
or action, it cannot explain the why for what is eternal and
could not be otherwise. Yet wisdom is thought most to
consist in just this latter sort of topic.
To get a better sense of which science yields wisdom,
Aristotle changes his approach in Metaphysics I.2. Rather
than simply consider what is commonly accepted, he
considers the wise person (ho sophos), as commonly
understood, and develops five criteria from this reflection
that any science would have to satisfy to yield wisdom. This
person (1) knows all things, (2) knows what is most difficult,
(3) knows the exact causes and is able to teach them, (4)
knows what is complete, or desirable on its own account
and not for something else, and, finally, (5) knows what is
most authoritative, giving instruction to other branches and
people (Met. I.2, 982a8-19).
What these criteria suggest is that the science which yields
wisdom ought at least to have these qualities. This means
that the science desired must (1) give knowledge of what
is universal, which is also (2) the hardest to know since
it is furthest from the senses; (3) give knowledge of first
principles, which are most exact and which are teachable
because they explain the why; (4) give knowledge of what
is most knowable and not know for the sake of another
subject, which is what the first principles do; and, finally,
(5) give knowledge that specifies the end for each thing
to be done, and in this way is most authoritative. This last
point suggests especially that the science in question is
one, rather than multiple sciences, so that the same name
applies to each of the desiderata (Met. I.2, 982a24-b10).
What Aristotle leaves unresolved at this point is just what
that name is, and he instead considers what would not
satisfy the inquiry, including productive arts and proposals
by other historical figures.
What is interesting about the Nahua approach to wisdom is
that it too worked to distinguish wisdom from other sorts
of knowledge. There are, broadly, four sorts of knowledge
at work in the Nahua understanding: tlamatiliztli, wisdom;
ixtlamatiliztli, connected experience or prudence;
toltecayotl, artisanal knowledge; and the sort of magical
knowledge that a nahual (shaman) was thought to possess.
Finally, one should note that the basic word from which
many of these terms are derived is mati, which means
both to know epistemically (savoir, saber) and to know by
acquaintance (connaître, conocer).13
Some of the descriptions of various knowledge-workers
from the Florentine Codex provide sound evidence for
these distinctions. The description of the craftsman,
toltecatl, reads in part as follows:
The craftsman [toltecatl] is well instructed
[tlamachtilli], an artisan. There were many of
them. The good craftsman is able, discreet,
prudent [mimati], resourceful, retentive. The good
craftsman is a willing worker, patient, calm. He
works with care, he makes works of skill [toltecati];
he constructs, prepares, arranges, orders, fits,
matches [materials]. (FC 10, 25)
One observes in this passage that the toltecatl is one who is
learned, “mach-” is the base 4 stem of mati used in passive
constructions, in various matters (tla-). His14 knowledge
is a sort of prudence, mimati (more below), but it is also
primarily focused on know-how. In fact, the term toltecati is
later best translated as “skill.”
The philosopher tlamatini, by contrast, is the one who
possesses tlamatiliztli (wisdom), but who, among the
people described in the FC, does not possess toltecayotl,
artisanal knowledge.15 The relevant portion for the
description reads as follows:
The good philosopher is a knowledgeable
physician, a person of trust, a teacher worthy of
confidence and faith. [He is] a teacher [temachtiani]
and adviser, a counselor [teixtlamachtiani] who
helps one assume a face [teixcuitiani, teixtomani];
one who informs one’s ears [tenacaztlapoani]. [He]
is one who casts light on another; who is a guide
who accompanies one (FC 10, 29).16
This description largely highlights the role of the
philosopher as a counselor (te-ixtlamachtia-ni), which was
a bit like Socrates’s role as the gadfly of Athens, and this
is identified as (part of) his know-how (ixtlamatiliztli).17 In
this capacity the philosopher is one whom one sought out
for consultation. And the specific goal of the philosopher
was to aid the counseled in “assuming a face.” Two highly
compounded terms, te-ix-cui-tia-ni and te-ix-to-ma-ni,
appear juxtaposed. The construction indicates that they are
intended to express a single thought. The initial ‘te’ in both
cases means that the action is performed for an indefinite
person, for someone else, while the ‘ixis the stem of ixtli,
meaning “face” in the most literal sense. Yet the term is
widely used in its more metaphorical sense to indicate
an aspect of one’s psyche, namely, the seat of one’s
judgment. Finally, the root concept of both words (cui and
ana) means “to take.” As a result, the idea expressed is that
the philosopher helps another person (te) take or assume
(cui, ana) a “face” (ixtli), i.e., a basis for sound judgment.
The philosopher thus has a certain sort of ixtlamatiliztli, but it
is not of the same quality as that of the toltecatl, the artisan.
The latter has ixtlamatiliztli in the sense that he knows just
how to execute his craft, how to work with gold, or arrange
quetzal plumes in headdresses. In the philosopher’s case,
ixtlamatiliztli consists in being able to act as a guide for the
counseled, to lay out a path for one’s life, and to serve as
a mirror to clarify one’s reflections. His ixtlamatiliztli thus
consists in knowing how to lead a good life, and knowing
how to enable others to do the same. It is thus much closer
to Aristotle’s phronēsis than the toltecatls craftsmanship.
Finally, the philosopher’s knowledge is distinct from the
knowledge that other wise men receive. Specifically, the
soothsayer (tlapouhqui), who made predictions based on
the day signs, and the shaman or sorcerer (noaoalli) are
also described as tlamatinime of a sort. The description of
the sorcerer, for example, begins as follows: “The sorcerer
is a wise man [in naoalli tlamatini], a counselor, a person of
trust” (FC 31). Similarly, the soothsayer’s description begins,
“The soothsayer is a wise man [in tlapouqui ca tlamatini], an
FALL 2018 | VOLUME 18 | NUMBER 1 PAGE 13
owner of books and writings” (FC 31). The term tlamatini,
then, is generally used for wise persons of various sorts and
not only philosophers. But the descriptions distinguish just
in what their wisdom was thought to consist. The sorcerer’s
knowledge involves enchantment, and the soothsayer’s
wisdom is limited to counting or reading (pouh) the day
sign calendar (tonalamatl). While it is possible that a single
person could have served in all three roles, then, the
Nahuas took care to distinguish among the sorts of wise
men by the sort of knowledge that they had and would
have recognized the differences among those roles.
How is it, then, that the philosopher has this sort of
knowledge, has the ixtlamatiliztli which is essential to her
tlamatiliztli? The answer, in part, is that she will have had
enough life experiences to know how to counsel in specific
ways. As Aristotle would have said, she has been brought
up well and lived well. Yet, she also knows because the
philosopher, tla-mati-ni, also has wisdom, tla-mati-liztli, the
term most directly connected with her name, concerning
the most important matters. This is to say, she knows
because the philosopher knows about the character of
reality, i.e., the way things are through their changes.18 What
follows is an example that illustrates how philosophers, in
this case Nezahualcoyotl, were preoccupied with the most
fundamental way things are. He writes:
Are you real, rooted [toteycneliya]?
Is it only as to come inebriated?
The Giver of Life, is this true [nelli]?
Perhaps, as they say, it is not true?
May our hearts be not tormented!
All that is real, that is rooted,
they say that it is not real, not rooted.
The Giver of Life only appears [omonenequin]
May our hearts be not tormented,
because he is the Giver of Life.19
The passage shows Nezahualcoyotl’s doubts and desires to
understand the fundamental character of reality. He gives it
various names. Here it is the Giver of Life (ipalnemohuani),
but in others, including the song recorded just above in
the codex, it is he who is self-caused (moyocoya). It is by
understanding this principle and its relation to our lives, its
balanced harmony, that the Nezahualcoyotl hopes to avoid
a “tormented” heart.
Like Aristotle, then, the Nahuas distinguished among sorts
of knowledge, and a comparison is summarized as follows:
knowledge by acquaintance aisthesis mati
connected experience empeiria ixtlamatiliztli
prudence phronēsis ixtlamatiliztli
artisanal knowledge technē toltecayotl
science epistēmē
wisdom sophia tlamatiliztli
One notes first that Aristotle and the Nahua philosophers
share many roughly similar terms for epistemic matters.
Yet, second, and crucially, the Nahua philosophers had
no corresponding term for epistēmē, which defines both
Aristotle’s specific objective of inquiry in the Metaphysics,
and the character of sophia as he understands it. The reason
for this is that sophia is a sort of epistēmē about first causes.
Finally, Aristotle holds that epistēmē can be had of matters
that are eternally true, so that sophia also concerns eternal
truths, while the Nahuas did not think such knowledge was
possible, so that tlamatiliztli only concerns the best or most
important truths.20
While both Aristotle and the Nahuas thus conceived of
philosophy as the pursuit of wisdom (tlamatiliztli), where
this wisdom consists in understanding the fundamental
principles of what is real or true (nelli), they still thought
of the matter differently. Aristotle’s sense of philosophy is
methodical, one which uses logical proof and, where this
is not suitable, dialectical reasoning. His understanding
of science, moreover, is a body of knowledge that seeks
the eternally true. The Nahuas did not have a similar
methodological focus, and this is tied to their sense that
the character of reality as it is given to us is not eternal.
Wisdom for them consists of the best sort of knowledge,
but what makes it best is not that it is guaranteed by the
seal of eternity. This point explains, moreover, why poetry
would be more apt to express this wisdom than logical
argument on the Nahuas’ conception.
The differences between Aristotle and the Nahuas on
wisdom thus turn in large part about the fundamental
character of reality which they sought to investigate, so it is
just to this topic which the argument now turns, beginning
with Aristotle’s account in the Metaphysics.
In book III of the Metaphysics, Aristotle develops a series of
puzzles concerning the possibility of the universal science
desired in book I. He writes:
We must, with a view to the science which we are
seeking, first recount the subjects that should
be first discussed. These include both the other
opinions that some have held on certain points,
and any points besides these that happen to have
been overlooked. (Met. III.1, 995a24-7)
The statement is important, since it shows that Aristotle is
still in search of this science and that having it is desirable. It
also introduces the series of puzzles that follow. In a broad
PAGE 14 FALL 2018 | VOLUME 18 | NUMBER 1
way, these puzzles may be classed as (1) those concerning
the possibility of this science, i.e., puzzles about this
science, and (2) those concerning its character, i.e., puzzles
for the science, such as those concerning substance, form,
matter, and so on. It is possible to understand book IV as
a response to the former puzzles about the science, while
book VII, with special supplementation from books VIII, IX,
and XII as a response to the latter questions.
The central puzzles about the universal science which
Aristotle raises in book III, at least for present purposes,
may be understood as a sort of dilemma. If the universal
science studies causes, then it would appear to conflict
with the special sciences, which also study causes (Met.
III.2, 996a18-b1). Yet, if it studies substance, then at least
two problems may be thought to follow. First, the science
would not appear to qualify as the sort that studies first
axioms, since it would need to take the truth of those axioms
for granted as other sciences do (Met. III.2, 996b33-997a5).
Second, it is difficult to understand how there could be a
science of substances as such, since this science would
have to discuss essence as well—a substance, in part,
explains the what, or essence (to ti esti), of something.
Yet, “there seems to be no demonstration of the essence
[tou ti estin]” (Met. III.2, 997a31-2).21 The universal science,
as a result, would appear to take for granted what it was
supposed to study.
To address the puzzles about the desired science, Aristotle
begins book IV with a new approach; it is that the universal
science ought to be that which seeks to understand being
qua being.
There is some science [episteme] which
investigates being qua being and the attributes
which belong to it in itself [kath’ auto]. Now this
is not the same as any of the so-called special
sciences; for none of these others deals generally
with being qua being. They cut off a part of being
and investigate the attributes of this part—this is
what the mathematical sciences do for instance.
Now since we are seeking the first principles
and the highest causes, clearly there must be
something to which these belong in themselves.
(Met. IV.1, 1003a21-28)22
The approach is intended to avoid immediately falling into
the pitfalls identified in book III. Adding “qua being” helps,
because it shows why it is that this science does not study
the same causes as the special sciences. They cut off a
piece of being, but this science does not. Additionally,
this approach suggests that the science studies what is
truly universal, what any being must be, and so does not
presuppose a set of axioms in the worried way.23 Finally,
this science does study essential properties of being, not
those which are incidental, and so it does explain the what
(to ti esti) of an entity.
Yet something additional emerges from Aristotle’s new
approach, namely, a set of conditions for what this science
must be. He begins IV.2 by recalling that there are many
senses in which a thing may be said to be. Yet they are not
homonymous, but are all rather related to a central term.
The term “to be” functions just as “health” does. Yet as the
various forms of “health” are all studied by one science,
because there is a basic and central meaning, so too it
would follow that all the senses of “being” are studied
by one science, because it too has one central and basic
meaning. He concludes:
It is clear then that it is the work of one science to
study beings [ta onta] qua being.—But everywhere
science deals with that which is basic [kuriōs],
and on which the other things depend, and on
account of which they get their names. And so if
this is substance [hē ousia], then it is of substances
[tōn ousiōn] that the philosopher must have the
principles and the causes. (Met. IV.2, 1003b15-
In addition to concluding that the science of being qua
being is one, then, Aristotle also concludes that it must
study that which is basic, and that this basic topic might
turn out to be substance, hē ousia. As he develops the
argument, however, he adds a second condition which
substance must satisfy if it is to be the subject matter of
the science of being qua being.
If, now, being and unity are the same and are
one thing in the sense that they are implied in
one another as principle and cause are . . . and if,
further, the substance [ousia] of each thing is
one in no mere accidental way, but with respect to
the very what a being is [kai hoper on ti]—all this
being so, there must be exactly as many species of
being as of unity. And to investigate the essence
[to ti esti] of these is the work of a science [tēs
epistēmēs] which is generically one. (Met. VI.2,
Aristotle’s argument in this case is a little unclear, given
the number of antecedents he uses before stating the
consequent of the sentence. Yet his central point is that
insofar as each being is one, in no mere accidental way, it
is a what, an essence. And in making this case, moreover,
he identifies hē ousia with the essence, the very what
of a being, thus marking out a second condition which
substance must satisfy if it is to qualify as the subject
matter for the science of being qua being.
Collecting these points with the surrounding ones Aristotle
addresses in the section, the following thesis emerges. If
there is a science of being qua being, then it would be a
single science with parts. The first among these parts is
the study of ousia, substance, since the other parts would
presuppose it. Moreover, since this is the proper topic for
philosophy, the study of being qua being pursued in this
way is first philosophy. Yet in order to supply the antecedent
to this conditional claim, one must show that ousia both is
the basic subject of intelligibility, and that ousia identifies
the what or essence of a being. One must identify the basic
subject, because otherwise one would not have reached
the topic of first philosophy, and one must identify the
essence, because otherwise the notion would not enjoy
explanatory priority.26
FALL 2018 | VOLUME 18 | NUMBER 1 PAGE 15
At the end of book VII.1, Aristotle claims to have completed
the argument left unfinished at the end of book IV. He
And indeed the question which, both now and
of old, has always been raised and always been
the subject of doubt, namely “what is being [ti to
on]?,” is just this question, “what is substance [tis
hē ousia]?” (Met. VII.1, 1028b2-4)27
In short, the question which the pre-Socratic philosophers
had asked, and for which they offered answers which
included fire and water, has been answered instead with
ousia. Yet in order for Aristotle to be satisfied with his
answer, he needs to have shown that ousia is the primary
subject and that it is an essence. How does he do that?
With respect to the first topic, his argument is that the doctrine
of the categories, discussed earlier, shows that substance
is primary because it retains the right sort of asymmetrical
relation with the other categories: they depend on it. This is
the case because the others are not self-subsistent, capable
of being separated, and substance is that which underlies
them. “Clearly then,” Aristotle concludes, “it is in virtue
of this category that each of the others is. Therefore, that
which is primarily and is simply (not is something) must be
substance” (Met. VII.1, 1028a29-31).
To show that substance is an essence, that it explains the
what of a being, Aristotle argues that substance retains
explanatory priority with respect to the other categories
in three ways: in time, formula, and order of knowledge
(Met. VII.1, 1028a31). Temporally, one must recall that
only substance exists independently. With respect to the
formula [logō] of each term, substance must be present to
complete the definition. Finally, he provides two arguments
for the order of knowledge. At the beginning of the section,
he argues from our linguistic use:
While ‘being’ has all these senses, obviously that
which is primary is the ‘what,’ which indicates
the substance of a thing. For when we say of
what quality a thing is, we say that it is good or
beautiful, but not that it is three cubits long or that
it is a man; but when we say what it is, we do not
say ‘white’ or ‘hot’ or ‘three cubits long,’ but ‘man’
or ‘God’. (Met. VII.1, 1028a13-18)
The argument here, then, is that we speak in such a way
that we treat the what of something as its substance, but
this may only be a manner of speaking. This is why, at the
end of the section, he also highlights what might be called
a phenomenological argument: we experience a sense
of knowing something when we know its substance: “we
think we know each thing most fully when we know what
it is, e.g. what man is or what fire is, rather than when we
know its quality, or its quantity, or where it is” (Met. VII.1,
The progression of argument in the Metaphysics thus
moves from a statement about the subject matter of sophia
(wisdom) as the epistēmē (science) of being qua being, to
an articulation of its first principle as ousia (substance), to
the basic criteria which an account of ousia must satisfy,
namely, that it should identify both the basic subject of an
entity and its what, or essence (to ti esti). Finally, in book VII
Aristotle shows that ousia does satisfy these requirements,
only to introduce the problematic relation of form and
matter with their related notions, which will occupy him
through books VIII, IX, and XII. Since the Nahuas conceive
of wisdom rather differently, it is unsurprising that they
should also understand the fundamental character of
reality differently.
Like Aristotle, the Nahua philosophers also sought to
understand the basic character of reality. Yet the answer
they proposed was not a form of being, suitably abstracted.
One reason for this is that they had no word for “being”
available to them. Considered semantically, the closest
available term is , which means to be in some place or
in some way. Nahuatl has several ways to abstract terms,
so that it might have been possible to speak of ca-yotl
as roughly equivalent to hē ousia, or ca-ti-liztli as close to
to einai, but in neither case would the terms have been
suitably general. One would only have a sense of being-in-
place/way-ness, rather than being-ness (ousia).
The semantic deficiency, however, leaves open the
possibility that “being” is in some way conceptually implicit
in the syntax of grammatical constructions in Nahuatl.
Surprisingly, this is also not the case, for Nahuatl is not only
an omnipredicative language, it is the paradigm case of a
strongly omnipredicative language.28
In brief, an omnipredicative language is a bundle concept
with eleven mophosyntactic features, where only one is
necessary: that the language have no copula. To explain why
Nahuatl lacks a copula verb or function, one must note first
that in an omnipredicative language, as the name suggests,
all lexical items can be used as (rhematic) predicates. As
a result, even single nouns or pronouns can serve as a
complete sentence. Yet, because nouns may function as
predicates only in the present tense, it is necessary to supply
a copular-type construction to broaden the tenses available.
But in addition to forms of , one may use neci (to seem),
mocuepa (to be turned into), mochihua (to become),29
monotza (to be named), and a few other grammatical
possibilities using the determiner in and the locative ipan.
This range of possibilities shows that there is just no single
copular verb or necessary copular construction.
A certain amount of the remaining properties are needed
to establish that the language is sufficiently robust to be
classed as omnipredicative, though it is not possible to
produce a rule which states just how many. Yet one may
imagine a scale of strength, so that at its far end one
could claim that a language is paradigmatically strong if it
exhibits all ten of the “optional” morphosyntactic features
in addition to the necessary absence of a copula. Nahuatl
is perhaps the only language which satisfies that strong
What this analysis suggests is that there is no notion in
Nahuatl that is like “being” in the “Western” tradition of
philosophy, whether that concept is taken to be expressed
PAGE 16 FALL 2018 | VOLUME 18 | NUMBER 1
either semantically or syntactically. While it is accurate,
then, to claim that the Nahuas had an understanding of
the basic character of reality, that they had a metaphysical
outlook, it would be inaccurate to call it an onto-logy, where
this term is understood etymologically to indicate the study
of “being” (ōn). It is to spell out some of the features of this
metaphysical but non-ontological outlook that the essay
now turns.
If the Nahuas did not think of “being” as the fundamental
principle of reality, then what did hold that position? They
had in mind two closely related notions, teotl and ometeotl.
To explain, the analysis develops five closely related points:
(1) that the Nahuas took there to be one fundamental
principle of reality; (2) that its name is (ome)teotl; (3) that
it is fundamentally relational or “dualizing”; (4) that it is all
of reality, entailing that the Nahuas were pantheists; and
that (5) teotl and ometeotl are related roughly as being and
existence were related for some “Western” philosophers.30
Beginning with the first point, recorded texts indicate that
all the “gods” were taken, even by many commoners, to
be a single being.31 In the FC, for example, we read the
following, which is said after a child had been delivered.
The midwife addressed the goddess
Chalchiuhtilicue, the water. She said: our lady of
the jade skirt [Chalchiutilicue], he who shines like a
sun of jade [Chalchiuhtlatonac]. The deserved one
has arrived, sent here by our mother, our father,
Dual Lord [vme-tecuhtli], Dual Lady [vme-cihuatl],
who dwells in the middling of the nine heavens
[chicunauh-nepan-juhca], in the place of duality
[vme-ioca]. (FC 6, 175)32
One perceives in this text that the same being is addressed
as Chalchiutlique and Chalchiutlatonac, and then later as
Ometecuhtli and Omecihuatl. This means that the single
god, which is addressed, has a double gender. The
singularity is underscored by the following reference to
the place where the god dwells: the middling of the nine
heavens, the place of duality. Despite the opinions of the
Conquistadors, the Nahuas of the pre-conquest period did
not believe in a pantheon of gods, but treated all as mere
aspects of a single supreme being. There is, in short, just
one principle of reality, just one god, who has a double
gender, and who metaphorically “dwells” at the point where
the nine (chicunauh-) heavens (-iuhca) middle (-nepan-).
If the first important feature of reality for the Nahuas is
that there is just one basic principle, then a second closely
related point follows, namely, that this principle is best
named (ome)teotl, by which is intended two closely related
notions: teotl and ometeotl. As a first approximation for this
claim, one might focus on the support for “ometeotl” as a
basic name for the principle, leaving its relation to teotl for
discussion with point 5 below.
That “ometeotl” is a basic name for the fundamental
principle of reality is already supported by the word for
“two” or “double,” i.e., “ome,” included in all the significant
names for the Nahua god. The passage just above, for
example, refers to this god as Dual Lord (Ometecutli) and
Dual Lady (Omecihuatl). The conception itself appears in
the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca, which a linguistic analysis
shows to be from a period prior to the Mexica empire, likely
from or just after the nomadic (chichimecas) period of the
people.33 Appearing in a song of philosophical poetry, it
reads as follows:
Which way shall I go? Which way shall I go
To follow the path of the god of duality [ome-teotl]?
Perhaps your house is
in the place of the fleshless?
Perhaps in the interior of the heavens?
Or is the place of the fleshless just here, on earth
What this passage shows is that the tlamatinime seek to
follow the path of the god of duality (ome-teotl), the single
principle of existence. Unlike the many ome- uses one
finds in the FC, moreover, this passage directly names
the principle ometeotl, so that one can have confidence
that the notion is not a philosophical reconstruction, but
something held explicitly.
If there is just one principle, one god (first claim), and
its best single name is ometeotl (second claim), then a
third claim follows closely on these: the basic principle is
characterized by a sort of duality. The texts identified so far
amply support this notion, with the male-female doubling
of each name for the god, and the not infrequent use of
ome- prefixes for these names. Yet in the passage that
follows, from the Códice Matritense, an earlier version of
Sahagún’s Florentine Codex, one finds further support for
the notion that the double is the consort or inamic pair. It
reads as follows:
1. And the Toltecs knew
2. that the heavens are many,
3. they said that there are twelve superimposed
4. The rooted god [nelli teotl] lives there with his
consort [inamic].
5. The celestial god [ilhuicateotl] is called the Lord of
Duality [ometecuhtli],
6. and his consort the Lady of Duality [omecihuatl],
the Lady of the Heavens,
7. which means:
8. he is king, he is lord over the twelve heavens.35
FALL 2018 | VOLUME 18 | NUMBER 1 PAGE 17
A few words of explanation about the broader context
of line 4, in which the inamic appears, may facilitate
In line 1 the term “Toltec” appears. At the time of the
conquest, the Nahuas, and especially the Mexica in
Tenochtitlan, admired the predecessor culture they found
when they, as a wandering group, came to settle on the
swampy bog and found their city. They called this lofty culture
the Toltec culture, and the term “Toltec” came to indicate
refinement, skill, and (as noted above) a knowledge about
crafts. The Mexica (especially) distinguished this culture
from the culture of the wandering “Chichimechas,” a term
roughly equivalent to the Greek “barbarian,” i.e., a people
who spoke a different language and were considered rude,
even though they were themselves such wanderers at one
With respect to lines 2-3, it is helpful to bear in mind that
the Nahuas, like Aristotle, thought that there were multiple
heavens, or spheres, which accounted for the movements
of observable celestial bodies. Exactly how many heavens
there were varies on the text consulted, ranging from nine
to thirteen. What the Toltec wisdom conveys, then, is a
general understanding about the structure of the heavenly
bodies and our cosmos.
The remaining lines make two points. The first, in lines 7-8,
is that the one god under discussion is the basic principle
of the cosmos, of all reality. Here that understanding is
expressed metaphorically as the god’s rule over the twelve
heavens. The second point, in lines 4-6, is that the one
divine being, teotl, is identified in the singular, though it
has a dual, reciprocal, aspect. In the singular, it is called the
nelli teotl. The word nelli most basically means “rooted,” as
a tree is rooted to the earth, but in its broader sense it came
to be used as the term for “truth” and “reality.” This is the
true god. Yet the very same line identifies this god as one
that appears with his consort, inamic, which is why s/he
always appears in doubles: the Lord of Duality, the Lady of
Duality. As the context suggests, moreover, these doubles
are related to each other in a reciprocal and complementary
way, as are male and female, heaven and earth, day and
night, hot and cold, life and death, cleanliness and filth,
and so on.37
These remarks support what is most important about
ometeotl’s consorts. Though discussion of relations among
pairs tends to predominate in the Nahua outlook, what
matters is that a relationship of reciprocity is established
among complementary aspects, so that in principle any
number of consorts might be involved, from three (the
underworld, the earth, and the heavens), to four (the
number of cardinal coordinates), to nine or thirteen (the
number of heavens). The claim that ometeotl is dualizing
in character thus means more than that it is expressed in
doubles. Most centrally it means that it is a principle that
exists as a linking (coupling, or trilling, or quadrupling, et
cetera) relation.
These points lead naturally to the next claim, namely,
that the Nahuas were pantheists for whom ometeotl is
existence. This point is supported variously, though one
finds it perhaps most clearly in the Nahua cosmological
myths. The Historia de los Mexicanos por sus pinturas,
which relates the character of the cosmos and the origin
of human beings, especially as the Mexica in Tenochtitlan
adapted the tale, runs as follows. It begins by stating that
the Mexica had one god, Tonacatecutli~Tonacacihuatl, Lord
and Lady of Sustenance, and that this being has always
existed in the thirteenth heaven.38 It had no beginning,
and was not caused or created by another. Because it is
dualizing, an inamic/relational being, it is the source of all
the other gods and all the five Sun-Eras of cosmic history.
Tonacatecutli~Tonacacihuatl then “engendered four sons,”
which are identified with the cardinal coordinates: Red
Smoking Mirror (Tlatlauqui Tezcatlipoca), Black Smoking
Mirror (Yayauqui Tezcatlipoca), Quetzalcoatl (Plumed
Serpent, also called “Yohualli Ehecatl,” Wind and Night),
and Bone Lord (Omitecutli), whom the Mexica, with their
penchant for rewriting myths, all called Huitzliopotchli,
their city’s specific patron deity.39 These four gods are the
forces which activate the history of the cosmos, as they
relate, balance, and struggle with each other. They are,
in brief, the first expression of the dual principle. In the
second chapter, after six hundred years, the gods come
together to put the world in motion and, in the following
passages especially, Quetzalcoatl must undertake a series
of actions to restore humans to the cosmos.40
What one witnesses in this account, then, is a sequence of
reasoning such that the primary dual principle comes to be
expressed progressively as more complex sets of relations,
as four forces, as time, as cosmic Era-Suns, and eventually
as people, who are brought into existence through the life-
force of the gods themselves. The account thus provides
conceptually strong support for the claim that the Nahuas,
especially their learned tlamatinime, were pantheists, for
they held that the divine (teotl) pervades all things, is
expressed through all of existence itself.41
This feature of the divine also explains several points
concerning the names given to it. Why, for example, is
its name Smoking Mirror (Tezcatlipoca), and how is that
name related to the title Lord of the Near and Nigh (Tloque
Nauhque), or Wind and Night (Yohualli, Ehecatl)? For
example, in the FC we read the following address during
the rite of confession: “And can you, using human sight,
behold the Lord of the Near and the Nigh, the Young Man,
the Self-Creator, Our Lord, Smoking Mirror?” (FC 6, 33).42
How are we to understand statements like these?
One might begin to respond with the most straightforward
of the names: Lord of the Near and the Nigh. The name is
straightforward because it directly suggests that Ometeotl
is always nearby, is omnipresent, and this is true because
Ometeotl not only pervades all things, but self-expresses
as all things. The next conceptual name, Wind and Night,
evokes cases where our human vision functions poorly
or fails altogether. It is hard to see the wind, because we
only see what the wind moves, and it is hard to see during
night, precisely because we have only outlines of those
objects. The core idea at work in the name Wind~Night,
then, is that Ometeotl is imperceptible, or at least not
directly perceptible, since Ometeotl is everything. Stated
PAGE 18 FALL 2018 | VOLUME 18 | NUMBER 1
differently, Ometeotl is not a single object which might be
the focal point of perception, and it is this imperceptibility
which explains why the passage begins by asking whether
human sight (tic-tlacat(l)-itta) will be sufficient to perceive
the single and same being given all the following names.
Turning to the last, and most puzzling names, Tezcatlipoca,
the foregoing provides some context. Standardly translated
as Smoking Mirror, the grammatically central and the
uncontested portion of the name is tezcatl, mirror.43 In
Nahua literature a mirror is used as a metaphor for an
object that illuminates an area. Yet the context here is
cosmological, rather than local, so the suggestion is that
Ometeotl is a source of light, the mirror, the sun, which
is clouded, smoked, at night. This would be consistent, of
course, with the panentheistic outlook of the tlamatinime,
for whom Ometeotl is imperceptibly everywhere, and so is
the cosmos and its heavenly motions.44
The Legend of The Suns, recorded in the Codex
Chimalpopoca, provides important details about the
character of cosmogenesis as the Nahuas understood it,
but it also introduces an important philosophical distinction
for the fundamental character of reality, namely, the
difference between existence (Ometeotl), and “being” or
“reality” (teotl), which is the fifth claim for this section.
The recorded text is a transcription in Nahuatl which relays
the information that an indigenous tlamatini (philosopher)
read to a scribe from an ideographic pre-Cortesian amoxtli
(painting-book). He begins by pointing out the origin of
the story: “Here is the wisdom-fable-discourse, how it
transpired long ago that the earth was established, how
each thing found its place. This is how it is known in what
way all the suns began.”45 The discourse records the first
four suns as a complete unit, then interjects two tales, one
about maize corn and another about Quetzalcoatl’s journey
to bring humans back to life on earth, and then relates the
story of the fifth sun, in which we are presently supposed
to live.
The stories of the five suns often strike the modern reader
as mythical curiosities, though it should be noted that the
sense that humans had been created and destroyed, or
lived and perished, multiple times was broadly shared in
Mesoamerican culture.46 Briefly, the story goes as follows
(formatted for clarity).
With the first sun, named 4 Jaguar, the humans
who lived survived 676 years, but were eventually
devoured by Jaguars and so destroyed totally.
During the period of this sun, the text tells us that
the people ate “7 straw [chicome malinalli],” which
would have been the calendrical name of a sacred
food, such as corn or squash, but we are uncertain
which exactly. (CC, slide 75.7)
Under the second sun, named 4 Wind, humans
were blown away and became monkeys, though
not totally destroyed. What they ate was 12 snake.
In the third sun, named 4 Rain, humans were
rained on by fire, and turned into birds. Their food
was 7 Flint.
In the fourth sun, named 4 Water, humans who ate
4 flower were inundated in a flood and became
It is at this point that the two additional fables
about maize and Quetzalcoatl are related, and
then the story of the fifth sun, 4 Motion, is relayed.
For its creation Nanahuatl throws himself into a
fire, and his consort Nahuitecpatl threw herself
into the ashes. Yet, because Nanahuatl would not
move, the other gods living in the paradise garden
Tamoanchan sacrificed themselves so that he
would continue in his orbit.
This is our age, and though it is not stated in the text now
entitled Legends of the Sun, in a companion text, Annales
de Cuauhtitlan, the retelling of the five suns relates the
This fifth sun, 4 Movement [ollin] is its day sign, is
called Movement Sun [olintonati], because it moves
along and follows its course. And what the old
ones say is that under it there will be earthquakes
and famine, and so we will be destroyed. (CC, slide
As with the previous suns, ours too will come to an
end, and as was the case with those suns, it is the basic
character of the cosmic organization, jaguars, rain, and so
on, that spells the end of the living people. Since our sun
is a sun of movement, specifically ollin movement, which
is associated with undulating or wave-like motion, our end
will be through earthquakes with famine.
What matters about the Legend of the Suns for philosophical
purposes is that it can explain the relationship between
teotl and ometeotl. For it makes clear that what happens to
exist now is an expression of a specific configuration of the
divine, i.e., teotl. Each sun is a special configuration of the
teotl in a cosmic order, complete with the sorts of food that
are appropriate to the kind of being which lives in that order.
Teotl is thus expressed qua sun as ometeotl. Yet ometeotl
exists only qua a specific sun, such as 4 Movement, which
happens to be our specific cosmic configuration.
To contextualize the matter more broadly in Nahua thought,
one might put it as follows. Though the Nahuas occasionally
spoke of teotl simply as what there is, in general they spoke
and wrote of it as teotl under some aspect, as a specific
god such as Tezcatlipoca, or by a specific characteristic,
as the Wind and Night, or most generally as ometeotl.
Yet what the legend of the suns shows is that any of the
specific configurations we witness, the way in which teotl
takes concrete form through doubling, through balancing
or rooting consorts, could have been otherwise. In fact, it
was otherwise at some point, and will be again later. This is
why Nezahualcoyotl claims that we live fundamentally “in
a house of paintings,” in the painting book of the divine,
wherein the slightest brush movement may blot us out
(RS, fol. 35r). “The earth,” that is, the place where humans
live, “is slippery, slick” as a famous Nahua saying goes (FC
6, 228).47 But the cosmos itself, and not only our human
condition, is fragile in its balance and ephemeral at its core.
FALL 2018 | VOLUME 18 | NUMBER 1 PAGE 19
This is why, if 4 Movement is our cosmic order, ometeotl
may be thought of as “existence,” and teotl, the reality of
all possible cosmic expressions, as “being.”
Before concluding, the argument considers what would
appear to be an important difference in the accounts of
reality as one finds it in Aristotle and the Nahuas. Aristotle’s
presentation in the central books of the Metaphysics,
books IV through IX, roughly, appear to proceed by way of
a naturalist directive, i.e., they do not require any specific
sort of religious commitment, while the Nahuas’ directive,
at first blush, appears to be fully theological. (Ome)teotl
may be taken as the basic character of reality, but it never
loses its connection with divinity. The foregoing argument
does provide grounds to understand teotl as “the way
things are through their changes,” but it does not suggest
that the term, which is most often translated as “god,” is
unconnected to divinity in the Nahuatl mind. Two points
should be noted in response.
A first is that certain authors, Nezahualcoyotl, for example,
do question the existence of the divine and the specifics of
religious belief. In a philosophic poem entitled “I Am Sad,”
he writes:
I am sad, I grieve
I, lord Nezahualcoyotl.
With flowers and with songs
I remember the princes,
Those who went away,
Tezozomoctzin, and that one Cuacuahtzin.
Do they truly live,
There Where-in-Someway-One-Exists?48
Nezahualcoyotl is in these lines clearly expressing doubt
about life in a place after death. Must it be a place where one
in some, non-fleshy way exists? This doubt in the afterlife,
further, explains Nezahualcoyotl’s ongoing preoccupation
with death, since he is little comforted by the ordinary
stories. Yet, beyond this and similar instances of doubt, it is
important to recognize that the Nahua conception of teotl
is hardly a personal god. Teotl is rather more like a universal
energy which is formed into our specific cosmos for a
time. As pantheists, their conception of teotl was closer
to the Buddhist Nirvana or Benedict Spinoza’s substance
than the personalist conceptions of the divine that often
trouble those who would like philosophy to be strictly
naturalist. Taken together, these remarks suggest that the
Nahua tlamatinime did not think of a personal god as the
fundamental source of reality, but rather argued for a view
of the world that recognized a divinity to be present in all
features of the natural world.
A second response is that the matter is not so straightforward
in Aristotle either. One may think of the project of the
Metaphysics to be completed in either of two ways. One
way is as a general theory of substance, one that articulates
how substance satisfies the requirements for a science of
being qua being, and just in what the characteristics of that
substance consist. Another way is to consider substance’s
most exemplary case, the first mover or uncaused cause. In
the opening chapter of book VI of the Metaphysics, Aristotle
suggests that the latter is closer to his understanding. He
if there is no substance other than those which are
formed by nature, natural science [physikē] will
be the first science; but if there is an immovable
substance [ousia akinētos], the science of this
must be prior and must be first philosophy, and
universal in this way, because it is first. And it will
belong to this [discipline] to consider [theōrēsai]
being qua being—both what it is [ti esti] and the
attributes which belong to it qua being. (Met. VI.1,
Aristotle not only states that the study of this immovable
substance is best named first philosophy, its consideration
uses the Greek word theōrēsai, which is composed of the
terms theos, divinity, and horaō, to see. It would be too
much, in general, to take the etymological origin of the
word as its meaning, namely, “to see the divine,” but in
this case, Aristotle is explicitly supporting just this outlook.
What, then, is one to make of Aristotle’s approach in the
Metaphysics? Some have suggested that this is but a
holdover from Aristotle’s earlier Platonic education in the
Academy.49 Others have argued that we should rather
excise the offending passage from our interpretation of
the Metaphysics so that Aristotle completes a naturalist
account of substance in book IX, and in XII undertakes a
special investigation into a substance which is divine and
with a mind.
Yet the most natural reading would be to take Aristotle
at his word: he understands the arguments of book XII,
which investigation he also explicitly calls theology, first
philosophy par excellence. The idea would appear to be
that the first mover is a model of substance, and in that
way an answer to the general question of being qua
being.50 This would make Aristotle’s outlook generally
consistent with his arguments in the NE that theoretical
contemplation is the only way that we humans can act as
immortalizing beings, and that this is one of the reasons
why the contemplative life is the best and accompanied by
the best pleasure (hēdonē).51
What these points suggest is that there is likely not so great
a distance between Aristotle and the Nahuas in taking the
basic character of reality to be divine. Similarly, neither
view is committed to understanding the divinity of reality
to be of the sort that is guaranteed by a personal and
soteriological god.
The basic question of “Western” metaphysics cannot be
put into words in Nahuatl, whether three or more, because
the language has no concept of “being,” understood
PAGE 20 FALL 2018 | VOLUME 18 | NUMBER 1
either semantically or syntactically. Yet the pre-Columbian
tlamatinime (philosophers) did ask about the fundamental
character of reality. Like Aristotle who called this knowledge
sophia, “wisdom,” the Nahuas called it tlamatiliztli, which is
also best translated as “wisdom.” For Aristotle, however,
sophia consists in grasping the first principle of the science
(epistēmē) of being qua being, which he argued was
identified when one understood just in what substance
(ousia) consists. For the Nahuas tlamatiliztli consists in
understanding the way things are through their changes,
teotl, and giving it the most adequate expression one can,
namely, in poetry. The reasons for this conclusion are two:
first, one can neither grasp teotl directly, She~He is the
Wind and Night, and, second, teotl is nothing but the ways
of cosmic (punctuated) radical transformation. Finally, for
Aristotle, any account of the substance of an entity ought
to explain why it is a basic subject, and why it is an essence
(to ti esti). For the Aztecs, teotl is doubly expressed, as
some cosmos generally, as ometeotl, and as a cosmos
specifically, for example, ours, which is 4 Movement—
these are, if not the criteria, then at least the character of
teotl’s intelligibility.
The present essay thus bears several fruits for scholarship.
It is not only the first to undertake the comparative task
in thinking through the relations among Aristotle’s
ontological project and the Nahuas’ metaphysical outlook,
it is the first to look seriously at the epistemic terms used
and the specific epistemic claims each project implies.
Aristotle is traditionally taken to hold a metaphysically
realist view, since for him we can both know what there
is, perhaps by induction (epiagogē) or intuition (nous),
and what there is, ousia, is intelligible and eternal. The
Nahuas, by contrast, were quasi-realists. They did not deny
that we could know, in some sense (as mati), the cosmic
order in which we live, but they did deny that this cosmic
order was the basic character of reality itself. That reality,
the nelli teotl (true/rooted being), is only ever expressed
as a cosmic order, ometeotl, which undergoes radical,
punctuated transformations. Wisdom (tlamatiliztli) thus
consists in grasping the limits of our knowledge (mati), in
understanding the evanescence of the cosmic order itself.
A final and important fruit concerns the adequacy of these
outlooks. The philosophic task for historical works shares
something in common with anthropology and history,
namely, that it aims to describe accurately the notions
and basic frameworks which were held by historical
persons or traditions. Unlike these other disciplines,
however, philosophy also aims to evaluate the character
of the frameworks under discussion for their reasonability.
As Socrates might have asked: Are they true? The topics
of the present essay are difficult to answer generally,
and especially so in the space of a single essay. What it
is hoped is that the foregoing provides the grounds for
concluding that while quite different from Aristotle’s
substance ontological, the Nahua’s process metaphysics is
at least prima facie reasonable when considered alongside
his. Moreover, it approaches the fundamental question
of metaphysics in a way that does without the two basic
criteria which Aristotle thinks any good answer should
meet, namely, that the account address basic subjects and
essences. If the Nahua approach is the correct one, then it
would appear that not only is Aristotle’s approach likely to
be inaccurate, but much of the “Western” tradition, which
follows him to some degree, is as well. Whether the Nahua
account holds up under further scrutiny may form a task for
future research.
A version of this essay was presented at the 92nd Annual Meeting of
the American Philosophical Association Pacific Division, arranged by the
APA Committee on Native American Philosophers (2018). I am thankful
to the audience members for their feedback, which contributed to
the development of this essay. I am also thankful to the reviewers of
this essay who provided detailed comments on an earlier draft, which
resulted in a much improved version.
1. Aristotle, Metaphysics, in The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed.
Jonathan Barnes, trans. W. D. Ross, vol. 2 (Princeton: Princeton
University Press, 1984), book IV.1, 1003a20-1. To be abbreviated
Met. hereafter. When not using the English translation, or when
modifying it, I have used Aristotelis Metaphysica, ed. W. Jaeger
(New York: Oxford University Press, 1957) for the Greek source.
2. Willard Van Orman Quine, From a Logical Point of View: Nine
Logico-Philosophical Essays (Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1980), 1.
3. The same point holds for Martin Heidegger as well, but his case
is different insofar as he sought not so much to engage in the
tradition of “Western” metaphysics as to dig beneath it. This is just
the point that he makes in the “Introduction” to Gesamtausgabe,
Band 2, Sein und Zeit (Tübigen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 1972),
available in English as Being and Time, trans. Joan Stambaugh
(Albany: SUNY Press, 1996). In light of Heidegger’s aim, one
might wonder whether a better way to his goal might not have
been simply to undertake work in comparative philosophy.
4. I of course have in mind Alfred North Whitehead’s Process and
Reality, ed. David Ray Griffin and Donald W. Sherburne (New York:
The Free Press, 1978), and Gilles Deleuze’s work in Différence et
répétition (Paris: Épiméthée Press, 2013), available in English as
Difference and Repetition, trans. Paul Patton (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1995), and Logique de Sens (Paris: Éditions de
Minuit, 1982), available in English as The Logic of Sense, trans.
Mark Lester and Charles Stivale (New York: Columbia University
Press, 1990).
5. See, for example, James Maffie, Aztec Philosophy: Understanding
a World in Motion (Boulder: University of Colorado Press, 2014),
23. I do not, of course, disagree with Maffie. The purpose of the
present essay is to clarify just what is intended by a “process”
metaphysics when faced with an articulate account which would
appear to take the substance of an entity to be just that, a
process, energeia.
6. I mean only to support the tradition notion here, to write for a
moment as the schoolmen did, that the essence (to ti esti) of an
entity is its first actuality.
7. The views on this topic are vast, but two that are of interest
are those who develop some form of the answer that forms
are particulars, including Wilfred Sellars, “Substance and Form
in Aristotle,” Journal of Philosophy, vol. 54 (1957): 688–99, and
Charlotte Witt, “Aristotelian Essentialism Revisited,” The Journal
of the History of Philosophy, vol. 27 (1989): 285–98, and others
who maintain that only some universals are not substances
(rather than no . . . are), including G. E. L. Owen, “Particular and
General,” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 79 (1978):
1–21, and Michael J. Loux, Primary Ousia: An Essay on Aristotle’s
Metaphysics Z and H (Ithaca: Cornell University Press 1991).
8. Translation is my own.
9. The connection with sight and knowing in this passage is much
closer in the Greek, since the word Aristotle here uses is “eidenai,”
which is related to the word “idea,” literally, the look of things.
10. Aristotle here references his discussion of science and art
in Aristotelis Ethica Nicomachae, ed. I. Bywater (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1984), book VI.3, 1139b22-23, and so
the present development takes these points from that work to
complete the argument. Hereafter abbreviated as NE.
FALL 2018 | VOLUME 18 | NUMBER 1 PAGE 21
11. Translation is my own.
12. Translation is my own.
13. The present study uses Bernadino de Sahagún, Florentine
Codex: A General History of the Things of New Spain, vols. 1-12,
ed. and trans. by Arthur J. O. Anderson and Charles E. Dibble
(Santa Fe: The University of Utah Press, 1953–1981), hereafter
abbreviated FC. For an example of “mati” in its use as knowledge
by acquaintance, see the description of the old merchants who
have already visited other places “in inpilhoan in ie onmatia
veca” (FC 4, 65).
14. Although it is possible that a toltecatl could have been female,
this would not in general have been the case among the Nahuas,
as women who were trained in practical affairs would have
learned different skills such as weaving. The Nahua educational
system was more gender equal with schooling for the arts used
in governing, literature, philosophy, history, law, astronomy, and
religion. I have thus used the male pronoun, since this is a more
accurate gender representation of the Nahua culture.
15. Or perhaps they might, but it would be incidental to their role as
a tlamatini.
16. Translation is my own.
17. Recall that “mach-” is the base 4 stem of mati used in passive
constructions so that the word for counselor te-ix-tla-mach-tia-ni
is a compound term indicating that the agent (ni) causes (tia)
another (te) to gain experience (ix and mach) about things (tla). It
is thus the same sort of knowledge as experience (or prudence)
that ix-tla-mati-liztli means, namely, connected experience (ix
and mati) about things (tla) -ness (liztli).
18. This phrase, the way things are through their changes, is my best
translation of “teotl.”
19. Ballads of the Lords of New Spain: The Codex Romances de
los señores de la nueva españa, transcribed by John Bierhorst
(Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009), fol. 19v-20r. Hereafter
abbreviated as RS.
20. The topic of truth and knowledge is a difficult one in Nahua
thought, and it is not directly the focus of the present essay.
The following may suffice for the present. The present account
is likely closest to Miguel León-Portilla’s in the first and third
chapters of La filosofía nahuatl: Estudiada en sus fuentes,
seventh edition (Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma
de México, 1993), originally published in 1956. He argues there
that poetry is this highest form of knowledge and truth available.
What the present account adds is that this is the case because
of a metaphysical conception of the universe, and not our
epistemic access to this reality. This approach stands at some
distance from two further accounts. A first is Willard Gingerich
in “Heidegger and the Aztecs: The Poetics of Knowing in Pre-
Hispanic Poetry,” in Recovering the World: Essays on Native
American Literature, ed. Brian Swann and Arnold Kruptat (Los
Angeles: University of California Press, 1987), 85–112, argues
that the Nahuas had an understanding of truth and knowledge
that was close to Martin Heidegger’s sense of alētheia, as he
develops that notion in some of his later writing, such as “Vom
Wesen des Grundes,” in Wegmarken, Gesamtausgabe, Band
2 (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 1976), 73–108. A second
approach is James Maffie’s in “Double Mistaken Philosophical
Identity in Sahagún’s ‘Colloquios y Doctrina Cristiana,’” Divinatio
34 (Autumn-Winter 2011): 63–92, argues that the Nahuas had a
path-seeking understanding of truth and knowledge, rather than
a (traditionally “Western”) truth-seeking understanding.
21. Translation is my own.
22. Translation modified.
23. There is, additionally, the thornier problem concerning the
methodological status of the Metaphysics: Is it dialectical, or is
it somehow the demonstrative science Aristotle develops in the
Organon, or perhaps neither? Perhaps, as Terence Irwin suggests
in Aristotle’s First Principles (New York: Oxford University Press,
1988), Aristotle is using a sort of “strong” dialectic here. Or
perhaps the character of demonstrative science in the Organon,
as it is generally understood, is not accurate, as Patrick Byrne
suggests in Analysis and Science in Aristotle (Albany: SUNY
Press, 1997). There is also the possibility that Aristotle modified
his position, and that the best resources for his methods may
be found in his biological works. This is a view that Gorgios
Anagnostopoulos supports in “Aristotle’s Methods,” in A
Companion to Aristotle, ed. Gorgios Anagnostopoulos (Malden,
MA: Wiley-Blackwell Publishers, 2013). For the present work, I set
this problem aside as either solution would suffice, though I note
that some such position is necessary for Aristotle’s argument
24. Translation modified.
25. Translation modified.
26. That Aristotle’s argument in the Metaphysics turns on showing
that the desired science of being qua being study a matter which
specifies both a basic subject and an essence is uncontroversial.
Aryeh Kosman, for example, in The Activity of Being: An Essay
on Aristotle’s Ontology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press,
2013), 23, notes that the whole argument of the metaphysics
follows these two criteria into Aristotle’s discussion of subject
and predicate, form and matter, and so on. What the present
account does suggest is that Aristotle establishes these criteria
much earlier than is typically identified, neither in book seven,
as is often argued, or (even) in book five, as Kosman holds. The
result supports the contention that the main chapters of the
Metaphysics be read as a single, coherent argument.
27. Translation modified.
28. Michel Launey is the first to have coined the term
“omnipredicative” to characterize the specific features of
Nahuatl grammar in his Une grammaire omniprédicative: Essai
sur la morphosyntaxe du nahuatl classique (Paris: CNRS Press,
1994), but similar insights were made by others at about the
same time, for example, J. Richard Andrews in the first edition
of his Introduction to Classical Nahuatl (Norman: University
of Oklahoma Press, 1975). Launey’s first grammar book
appeared in 1979 in French as Introduction à la langue et à la
littérature aztèques, vol. 1: Grammaire (Paris: L’Harmattan). For
a development of the grammatical scholarship on Nahuatl, see
James Lockhart’s “Editorial Preface” to the bilingual edition
of Horacio Carcochi’s Grammar of the Mexican Language With
an Explanations of Its Adverbs (1645), ed. and trans. by James
Lockhart (Stanford: Stanford University Press (2001), vii–xxii. The
primary and most updated account of omnipredicativity, which
the present essay uses, is Launey’s explanation in “The Features
of Omnipredicativity in Classical Nahuatl,” Sprachtypologie und
Universalienforschung 57 (2004): 49–69.
29. The root of this word, chihua, means “to act” or “to do,” and has
a reflexive prefix mo- added. It is not, then, related to the system
of verbs deriving from . Any connection between being and
becoming, conceptually and linguistically present in English, is
thus artificial, resulting from translation of Nahuatl into English.
30. The analogy is not exact, but I have in mind Thomas Aquinas
in De ente et essentia in English translation as Thomas Aquinas
on Being and Essence, trans. Armand Maurer (Toronto: Pontifical
Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1968).
31. This is against Jacques Soustelle’s claim, which he develops in
chapter seven of La vie quotidienne des aztèques à la vielle de
la conquête espagnole (Paris: Hachette, 1955), that this sort of
knowledge was confined to an elite or at least selective class of
individuals in Nahua culture.
32. The translation is my own. The reader should recall that “o” is
often recorded as “u,” and “u” is sometimes recorded as “v,” so
that “vme” is here a transcription for “ome,” meaning “two” or
33. Angel Garibay, Historia de la literatura náhuatl, vol. 1 (Mexico
City: Porrúa Press, 1953), 128–30. Alfonso Caso makes a case for
this in his La Religión de los Aztecas (Mexico City: Enciclopedia
Ilustrada Mexicana, 1936), 8.
34. Historia-Tolteca Chichimeca, ed. and trans. by Luis Reyes García,
Paul Kirchoff and Lina Odena Güemes (Puebla: Fondo de Cultura
Económica, 1976), 166. I have followed Miguel León-Portilla’s
Spanish in La filosofía Nahuatl, 149.
35. Códice Matritense de la Real Academia, VIII, fol. 175v, which
is available online
sahagun-codices-matritenses. Last accessed June 20, 2018.
The present translation follows Miguel León-Portilla’s Spanish
translation in La filosofía nahuatl, 151.
36. See especially chapters three and seven of Soustelle’s La vie
quotidienne des aztèques à la vielle de la conquête espagnole
PAGE 22 FALL 2018 | VOLUME 18 | NUMBER 1
for a more careful analysis of the relationship of the Mexica to
their predecessor cultures, and the Toltecs and Chichimecas in
37. For further development, see Alfredo López Austin, Cuerpo
humano e ideología: Las concepciones de los antiguos Nahuas,
vol. I (Mexico City: Universidad Autónoma de México, 1984), 55–
38. Historia de los Mexicanos por sus pinturas, originally published
by Joaquín García Icazbalceta in Teogonía e Historia de los
Mexicanos: Tres Opúsculos del Siglo XIV, ed. Ángel Garibay,
(Mexico City: Porrúa Press, 1965), 23.
39. Ibid.
40. Ibid., 25.
41. This line of argument stretches back at least to Hermann
Bayer’s “Das aztekishe Götterbild Alexander von Humbolt,” in
Wissenschaftliche Festschrift zu Enthüllung des von Seiten S.
M. Kaiser Wilhelm II, dem Mexicanischen Volke zum Jubiläum,
seiner Unabhängigkeit Gestiften Humboldt-Denkmals… (Mexico
City, Müller hons., 1910), 116. It is a line of argument of course
continued in Soustille’s La vie quotidienne des aztèques, Miguel
León-Portilla, even in his more recent Aztecas-Mexicas: Desarrollo
de una civilización originaria (Mexico City: Algaba Press, 2005),
and also James Maffie’s Aztec Philosophy: Understanding a
World in Motion.
42. Translation is my own.
43. This translation of Tezcatlipoca is a contentious one. Frances
Karttunen, in the entry to the name in her An Analytical Dictionary
of Nahuatl (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983), notes
that although the stem poc, from poch-tli for “smoke” exists,
there is no corresponding verb poca. It might rather be related to
the word ihpotza, which would have the intransitive verb ihpoca,
meaning to belch, or perhaps even give forth smoke. What is
critical for the present analysis, however, is the uncontested
term tezcatl, mirror, which is amply attested as metaphor for an
object which lights up another.
44. This analysis follows, grosso modo, the analysis León-Portilla
provides in chapter three of La Filosofía Nahuatl.
45. Codex Chimalpopoca: The Text in Nahuatl with a Glossary and
Grammatical Notes, ed. John Bierhorst (Tuscon: University
of Arizona Press, 1992), 87. Hereafter abbreviated as CC. All
translations of this text are my own, though in this case, because
it accepts Bierhorst’s corrections, the resulting translation is
46. See, for example, the stories of the four creations of humans in
parts one and three of the Popul Vuh, Dennis Tedlock (New York:
Simon & Schuster, 1996).
47. Translation is my own.
48. Cantares Mexicanos, fols. 25r and v. Translation is slightly
modified for readability from Miguel León-Portilla’s in Fifteen
Poets of the Aztec World, 93.
49. This is especially Werner Jaeger’s view as expressed in Aristoteles:
Grundlegung einer Geschichte seiner Entwicklung (Berlin,
Weidmann, 1923), English translation by Richard Robinson,
Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of his Development (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1934).
50. This is the view developed in different ways by Günther Patzig in
“Theologie und Ontologie in der ‘Metaphysik’ des Aristoteles,”
Kantstudien 52 (1960–1961): 185ff; reprinted in Articles on
Aristotle: 3 Metaphysics, ed. J. Barnes, M. Schofield, and R.
Sorabji (London: St. Martin’s Press, 1979), 33ff, and chapter
seven of Kosman’s The Activity of Being. The unified view likely
finds its earliest source, among “Western” commentators, in
Thomas Aquinas’ Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, trans.
John Rowan (Notre Dame: Dumb Ox Books, 1961).
51. This is the view of Aristotle’s contemplative life that C. D. C. Reeve
develops in chapter six of Action, Contemplation, and Happiness
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
Dance as Native Performative Knowledge
Shay Welch
Over the past few decades, there has been an upsurge in
Native American performance arts to revisit and remember—
to tell through retelling—stories of the past and how they
have shaped Native identities and knowledges as those
stories, identities, and knowledges have struggled to
survive continued expropriation, abuse, and erasure. Native
dance, specifically, has experienced a revitalization through
a number of Native artists’ endeavors to interweave the
traditional with the contemporary. Native performance arts
companies such as Native American Theatre Ensemble,
DAYSTAR, Institute of American Indian Arts, Dancing Earth
Contemporary Indigenous Dance Creations, Oxlaval Q’anil,
Native Earth Performing Arts, Turtle Gals Performance
Ensemble, Spiderwoman Theater, and Red Arts Performing
Arts Company have utilized embodiment and motion as a way
of accessing and extracting blood memory to communicate
such knowledges to Native and non-Native audiences. In the
Foreward of Native American Dance: Ceremonies and Social
Traditions, Richard West explains that
Dance is the very embodiment of Indigenous values
and represents the response of Native Americans
to complex and sometimes difficult historical
experiences. Music and dance combine with
material culture, language, spirituality, and artistic
expression in compelling and complex ways, and
are definitive elements of Native identity.1
Beyond the articulation of identity, dance within the Native
American worldview is deeply entrenched in and as ways
of knowing. Charlotte Heth explains: “Indeed, in Indian life,
the dance is not possible without the belief systems and
the music, and the belief systems and the music can hardly
exist without the dance.”2
In 1921 the Canadian Department of Indian Affairs issued
the following Circular decree:
I have, therefore, to direct you to use your
utmost endeavours to dissuade the Indians from
excessive indulgence in the practice of dancing.
You should suppress any dances which cause
waste of time, interfere with the occupations of the
Indians, unsettle them for serious work, injure their
health or encourage them in sloth and idleness.
You should also dissuade, and, if possible, prevent
them from leaving their reserves for the purpose
of attending fairs, exhibitions, etc., when their
absence would result in their own farming and
other interests being neglected. It is realized that
reasonable amusement and recreation should
be enjoyed by Indians, but they should not be
allowed to dissipate their energies and abandon
themselves to demoralizing amusements. By the
use of tact and firmness you can obtain control and
keep it, and this obstacle to continued progress
will then disappear.3
FALL 2018 | VOLUME 18 | NUMBER 1 PAGE 23
... This truth is not a simple duality as is familiar in Euro-Western thought. Indigenous truth operates from recognition and integration of included thirds (Léon-Portilla, 1963;Maffie, 2014;Purcell, 2018;Rivera Cusicanqui, 2020): two things can form a third and/or one thing can inherently, necessarily, and peacefully consist of multiple equal parts. However, we do not have the vocabulary in English to fully understand the concept as Indigenous Aymara/Bolivian sociologist Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui (2020) illustrates: ...
Full-text available
Introduction This essay suggests that sociologists should integrate into their critical research work on the Americas an Indigenous critique/method based on Indigenous knowledge. As a mixed Indigenous scholar, I have been frustrated by the lack of frameworks based explicitly on Indigenous knowledge rather than merely referencing that knowledge. Methods Strong foundations of ancient Indigenous thought and philosophical tradition—which often differs dramatically from Western traditions—are identified and explored through three concepts: Ch'ixi, the Indigenous pragmatic, and Mexica concepts of Truth. These are identified and discussed using authoritative historical and contemporary sources. I provide potential pathways for usage of these concepts in the results and discussion. Arguments and controversy for accepting the validity of Indigenous sources are also addressed. Results and discussion Discussions of specific empirical questions and puzzles related to already familiar concepts and analyses such as systemic racism theory, multi-raciality, religion, and postcolonial theory are explored. The paper concludes that Indigenous theory is underexplored but is critical to liberation of Indigenous people and has legitimate academic value that scholars need to recognize.
... At base, teotl takes concrete form as ometeotl, in existing relations of doubling activities. 62 One of these doubling activities is space, beginning with cardinal coordinates (giving primacy to East and West), and another is time, which is progressively doubled through its interlinking cycles (e.g. the thirteenth day and the twentieth day). Aztec relational metaphysics thus appears to have implied a different sense of time, one which did not sit easily with the Christian time. ...
Full-text available
Hermeneutic philosophy, and Paul Ricoeur’s formulation of hermeneutics in particular, faces a serious challenge, not from external sources, but from internal proponents of the program. In what might be called the Collapse Challenge, Ricoeur’s understanding of the hermeneutic circle is criticized for making use of structuralist methods that are no longer considered viable. Rather than look to replace Ricoeur’s work with an external model, the present essay draws on his late model of translation to suggest two viable paths forward beyond the Collapse Challenge. To develop these paths, the essay gives two concrete cases, one using Confucian philosophy, which is comparative, another using Aztec philosophy, which is syncretic.
book IV.1, 1003a20-1. To be abbreviated Met. hereafter. When not using the English translation, or when modifying it, I have used Aristotelis Metaphysica
  • Metaphysics Aristotle
Aristotle, Metaphysics, in The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes, trans. W. D. Ross, vol. 2 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), book IV.1, 1003a20-1. To be abbreviated Met. hereafter. When not using the English translation, or when modifying it, I have used Aristotelis Metaphysica, ed. W. Jaeger (New York: Oxford University Press, 1957) for the Greek source.
23. I do not, of course, disagree with Maffie. The purpose of the present essay is to clarify just what is intended by a "process" metaphysics when faced with an articulate account which
  • James See
  • Maffie
See, for example, James Maffie, Aztec Philosophy: Understanding a World in Motion (Boulder: University of Colorado Press, 2014), 23. I do not, of course, disagree with Maffie. The purpose of the present essay is to clarify just what is intended by a "process" metaphysics when faced with an articulate account which would appear to take the substance of an entity to be just that, a process, energeia.
For a development of the grammatical scholarship on Nahuatl, see James Lockhart's "Editorial Preface" to the bilingual edition of Horacio Carcochi's Grammar of the Mexican Language With an Explanations of Its Adverbs (1645), ed. and trans
Michel Launey is the first to have coined the term "omnipredicative" to characterize the specific features of Nahuatl grammar in his Une grammaire omniprédicative: Essai sur la morphosyntaxe du nahuatl classique (Paris: CNRS Press, 1994), but similar insights were made by others at about the same time, for example, J. Richard Andrews in the first edition of his Introduction to Classical Nahuatl (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1975). Launey's first grammar book appeared in 1979 in French as Introduction à la langue et à la littérature aztèques, vol. 1: Grammaire (Paris: L'Harmattan). For a development of the grammatical scholarship on Nahuatl, see James Lockhart's "Editorial Preface" to the bilingual edition of Horacio Carcochi's Grammar of the Mexican Language With an Explanations of Its Adverbs (1645), ed. and trans. by James Lockhart (Stanford: Stanford University Press (2001), vii-xxii. The primary and most updated account of omnipredicativity, which the present essay uses, is Launey's explanation in "The Features of Omnipredicativity in Classical Nahuatl," Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung 57 (2004): 49-69.
Alfonso Caso makes a case for this in his La Religión de los Aztecas
  • Angel Garibay
Angel Garibay, Historia de la literatura náhuatl, vol. 1 (Mexico City: Porrúa Press, 1953), 128-30. Alfonso Caso makes a case for this in his La Religión de los Aztecas (Mexico City: Enciclopedia Ilustrada Mexicana, 1936), 8.
166. I have followed Miguel León-Portilla's Spanish in La filosofía Nahuatl
  • Historia-Tolteca Chichimeca
Historia-Tolteca Chichimeca, ed. and trans. by Luis Reyes García, Paul Kirchoff and Lina Odena Güemes (Puebla: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1976), 166. I have followed Miguel León-Portilla's Spanish in La filosofía Nahuatl, 149.
Müller hons., 1910), 116. It is a line of argument of course continued in Soustille's La vie quotidienne des aztèques, Miguel León-Portilla, even in his more recent Aztecas-Mexicas: Desarrollo de una civilización originaria
  • M Kaiser Wilhelm
M. Kaiser Wilhelm II, dem Mexicanischen Volke zum Jubiläum, seiner Unabhängigkeit Gestiften Humboldt-Denkmals… (Mexico City, Müller hons., 1910), 116. It is a line of argument of course continued in Soustille's La vie quotidienne des aztèques, Miguel León-Portilla, even in his more recent Aztecas-Mexicas: Desarrollo de una civilización originaria (Mexico City: Algaba Press, 2005), and also James Maffie's Aztec Philosophy: Understanding a World in Motion.
Hereafter abbreviated as CC. All translations of this text are my own
  • Codex Chimalpopoca
Codex Chimalpopoca: The Text in Nahuatl with a Glossary and Grammatical Notes, ed. John Bierhorst (Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 1992), 87. Hereafter abbreviated as CC. All translations of this text are my own, though in this case, because it accepts Bierhorst's corrections, the resulting translation is close.
Press, 1979), 33ff, and chapter seven of Kosman's The Activity of Being. The unified view likely finds its earliest source, among "Western" commentators
This is the view developed in different ways by Günther Patzig in "Theologie und Ontologie in der 'Metaphysik' des Aristoteles," Kantstudien 52 (1960-1961): 185ff; reprinted in Articles on Aristotle: 3 Metaphysics, ed. J. Barnes, M. Schofield, and R. Sorabji (London: St. Martin's Press, 1979), 33ff, and chapter seven of Kosman's The Activity of Being. The unified view likely finds its earliest source, among "Western" commentators, in Thomas Aquinas' Commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics, trans. John Rowan (Notre Dame: Dumb Ox Books, 1961).