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Aristotle On Substance, Matter, And Form

1583 words - 6 pages

1. Matter underlies and persists through substantial changes. A substance is generated (destroyed) by having matter take on (lose) form.1. A house is created when bricks, boards, etc., are put together according to a certain plan and arranged in a certain form. It is destroyed when the bricks, boards, etc., lose that form.2. An animal is generated when matter (contributed by the mother) combines with form (contributed by the father).2. This suggests that the primary substances of the Categories, the individual plants and animals, are, when analyzed, actually compounds of form and matter. And in the Metaphysics, Aristotle suggests that a compound cannot be a substance (Z3, 1029a30).3. This may seem a strange move for Aristotle to be making. But the idea may be this: a compound cannot be a basic ontological ingredient. Cf. these compounds:a brown horsea scholarEach of these is a compound of substance + attribute:a brown horse = a horse + brownnessa scholar = a human + educationIn these cases, the compound is a compound of entities that are more basic. ("A scholar is not an ontologically basic item in the world - a scholar is just a human with a liberal education.")4. If then primary substance (in the Metaphysics conception of primary substance) cannot be a form-matter compound, what is primary substance? The possibilities seem to be: matter and form. (Aristotle actually discusses more possibilities - this is a simplification.)5. In Z3, Aristotle considers the claim of matter to be substance, and rejects it. Substance must be separable and a this something (usually translated, perhaps misleadingly, as "an individual").1. Separable: to be separable is to be nonparasitic. Qualities, and other non-substances of the Categories, are not separable. They only exist in substances. Separability, then, amounts to independent existence.2. This something: [there is much dispute over what Aristotle means by this odd locution] "Individual" comes close, except for the suggestion that only a primary substance of the Categories could count as a "this something." Perhaps an individual plant or animal counts as a this something, but perhaps other things do, too. For Aristotle seems to count form as, in some way, a this something (e.g., H1, 1042a28). But, as a rough gloss, individuality seems to be what is at issue.3. Now it may seem puzzling that matter should be thought to fail the "separability/individuality" test. For:1. Separability: It seems that the matter of a compound is capable of existing separately from it. (The wood of which a tree is composed can continue to exist after the tree has ceased to exist.)2. Individuality: We can certainly pick out a definite, particular, batch of matter as a singular object of reference: "the quantity of wood of which this tree is composed at this time."4. But perhaps Aristotle's point is not that matter is neither separable nor individual; all he is committed to saying is that matter fails to be both separable and...

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