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As for the members of non-substance categories, they too depend for their existence on primary substances. A universal in a non-substance category, e. Similarly, particulars in non-substance categories although there is not general agreement among scholars about what such particulars might be cannot exist on their own. The Categories leads us to expect that the study of being in general being qua being will crucially involve the study of substance, and when we turn to the Metaphysics we are not disappointed.

As we noted above, metaphysics or, first philosophy is the science which studies being qua being. In this respect it is unlike the specialized or departmental sciences, which study only part of being only some of the things that exist or study beings only in a specialized way e. Consider an analogy. There are dining tables, and there are tide tables.

A dining table is a table in the sense of a smooth flat slab fixed on legs; a tide table is a table in the sense of a systematic arrangement of data in rows and columns. Hence it would be foolish to expect that there is a single science of tables, in general, that would include among its objects both dining tables and tide tables.

Aristotle, Metaphysics, bk. 1 - Plato's Metaphysics of Form - Philosophy Core Concepts

Not all of these are healthy in the same sense. Exercise is healthy in the sense of being productive of health; a clear complexion is healthy in the sense of being symptomatic of health; a person is healthy in the sense of having good health. Other things are considered healthy only in so far as they are appropriately related to things that are healthy in this primary sense.

The beings in the primary sense are substances; the beings in other senses are the qualities, quantities, etc. An animal, e. But a horse is a being in the primary sense—it is a substance—whereas the color white a quality is a being only because it qualifies some substance.

An account of the being of anything that is, therefore, will ultimately have to make some reference to substance. Hence, the science of being qua being will involve an account of the central case of beings—substances. This, Aristotle says, is the most certain of all principles, and it is not just a hypothesis.

It cannot, however, be proved, since it is employed, implicitly, in all proofs, no matter what the subject matter.

2. The Categories

It is a first principle, and hence is not derived from anything more basic. What, then, can the science of first philosophy say about the PNC? Those who would claim to deny the PNC cannot, if they have any beliefs at all, believe that it is false. For one who has a belief must, if he is to express this belief to himself or to others, say something—he must make an assertion.

He must, as Aristotle says, signify something. But the very act of signifying something is possible only if the PNC is accepted. Without accepting the PNC, one would have no reason to think that his words have any signification at all—they could not mean one thing rather than another. So anyone who makes any assertion has already committed himself to the PNC.

One might have thought that this question had already been answered in the Categories.

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This would seem to provide us with both examples of, and criteria for being, primary substances. He does not seem to doubt that the clearest examples of substances are perceptible ones, but leaves open the question whether there are others as well. But even if we know that something is a substance, we must still say what makes it a substance—what the cause is of its being a substance. This is the question to which Aristotle next turns. To answer it is to identify, as Aristotle puts it, the substance of that thing. Presumably, this means that if x is a substance, then the substance of x might be either i the essence of x , or ii some universal predicated of x , or iii a genus that x belongs to, or iv a subject of which x is predicated.

This characterization of a subject is reminiscent of the language of the Categories , which tells us that a primary substance is not predicated of anything else, whereas other things are predicated of it. Candidate iv thus seems to reiterate the Categories criterion for being a substance. But there are two reasons to be wary of drawing this conclusion. First, whereas the subject criterion of the Categories told us that substances were the ultimate subjects of predication, the subject criterion envisaged here is supposed to tell us what the substance of something is.

So what it would tell us is that if x is a substance, then the substance of x —that which makes x a substance—is a subject that x is predicated of. Second, as his next comment makes clear, Aristotle has in mind something other than this Categories idea. For the subject that he here envisages, he says, is either matter or form or the compound of matter and form.

To appreciate the issues Aristotle is raising here, we must briefly compare his treatment of the notion of a subject in the Physics with that in the Categories. In the Categories , Aristotle was concerned with subjects of predication: what are the things we talk about, and ascribe properties to? In the Physics , his concern is with subjects of change: what is it that bears at different times contrary predicates and persists through a process of change?

But there is an obvious connection between these conceptions of a subject, since a subject of change must have one predicate belonging to it at one time that does not belong to it at another time. Subjects of change, that is, are also subjects of predication. The converse is not true: numbers are subjects of predication—six is even, seven is prime—but not of change. In the Categories , individual substances a man, a horse were treated as fundamental subjects of predication. They were also understood, indirectly, as subjects of change.

These are changes in which substances move, or alter, or grow. What the Categories did not explore, however, are changes in which substances are generated or destroyed. But the theory of change Aristotle develops in the Physics requires some other subject for changes such as these—a subject of which substance is predicated—and it identifies matter as the fundamental subject of change a31— Change is seen in the Physics as a process in which matter either takes on or loses form.

The concepts of matter and form, as we noted, are absent from the Categories. Individual substances—this man or that horse—apart from their accidental characteristics—the qualities, etc. Although there is metaphysical structure to the fact that, e. This horse is a primary substance, and horse , the species to which it belongs, is a secondary substance.

But there is no predicative complex corresponding to the fact that this is a horse in the way that there is such a complex corresponding to the fact that this horse is white. But from the point of view of the Physics , substantial individuals are seen as predicative complexes cf. Matthen b ; they are hylomorphic compounds—compounds of matter and form—and the subject criterion looks rather different from the hylomorphic perspective.

Matter, form, and the compound of matter and form may all be considered subjects, Aristotle tells us, a2—4 , but which of them is substance? The subject criterion by itself leads to the answer that the substance of x is an entirely indeterminate matter of which x is composed a For form is predicated of matter as subject, and one can always analyze a hylomorphic compound into its predicates and the subject of which they are predicated.

And when all predicates have been removed in thought , the subject that remains is nothing at all in its own right—an entity all of whose properties are accidental to it a12— The resulting subject is matter from which all form has been expunged. So the subject criterion leads to the answer that the substance of x is the formless matter of which it is ultimately composed.

Precisely what the requirement amounts to is a matter of considerable scholarly debate, however. A plausible interpretation runs as follows. Being separate has to do with being able to exist independently x is separate from y if x is capable of existing independently of y , and being some this means being a determinate individual. So a substance must be a determinate individual that is capable of existing on its own. The matter of which a substance is composed may exist independently of that substance think of the wood of which a desk is composed, which existed before the desk was made and may survive the disassembly of the desk , but it is not as such any definite individual—it is just a quantity of a certain kind of matter.

Of course, the matter may be construed as constituting a definite individual substance the wood just is , one might say, the particular desk it composes , but it is in that sense not separate from the form or shape that makes it that substance the wood cannot be that particular desk unless it is a desk. So although matter is in a sense separate and in a sense some this, it cannot be both separate and some this.

It thus does not qualify as the substance of the thing whose matter it is. This phrase so boggled his Roman translators that they coined the word essentia to render the entire phrase, and it is from this Latin word that ours derives. It is important to remember that for Aristotle, one defines things, not words.


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That is, items in all the categories are definable, so items in all the categories have essences—just as there is an essence of man, there is also an essence of white and an essence of musical. The precise meaning of this claim, as well as the nature and validity of the arguments offered in support of it, are matters of scholarly controversy.

Man is a species, and so there is an essence of man; but pale man is not a species and so, even if there is such a thing as the essence of pale man, it is not, at any rate, a primary essence. At this point there appears to be a close connection between the essence of a substance and its species eidos , and this might tempt one to suppose that Aristotle is identifying the substance of a thing since the substance of a thing is its essence with its species.

A consequence of this idea would be that Aristotle is radically altering his conception of the importance of the species, which in the Categories he called a secondary substance, that is, a substance only in a secondary sense. But such an identification would be a mistake, for two reasons.

Since individual substances are seen as hylomorphic compounds, the role of matter and form in their generation must be accounted for. Whether we are thinking of natural objects, such as plants and animals, or artifacts, such as houses, the requirements for generation are the same. We do not produce the matter to suppose that we do leads to an infinite regress nor do we produce the form what could we make it out of?

But in either case, the form pre-exists and is not produced b As for what is produced in such hylomorphic productions, it is correctly described by the name of its form, not by that of its matter. What is produced is a house or a man, not bricks or flesh. For if gold is the matter out of which a statue is made, there was gold present at the start, and so it was not gold that came into being. It was a statue that came into being, and although the statue is golden—i. The essence of such a hylomorphic compound is evidently its form, not its matter. It is the form of a substance that makes it the kind of thing that it is, and hence it is form that satisfies the condition initially required for being the substance of something.

The substance of a thing is its form. The main question these chapters consider is whether the definition of x ever includes a reference to the matter of x. If some definitions include a reference to matter, then the link between essence and form would seem to be weakened. That is, if y is a part of a definable thing x , then the definition of x will include as a part something z that corresponds to y.

Indeed, z must stand to y in the same relation that the definition of x stands in to x ; that is, z is the definition of y. So, according to this principle, the definition of a thing will include the definitions of its parts. Consider as a definiendum a universal, such as man , and its definiens, rational animal. The parts of this definiens are the universals rational and animal. If these parts are, in turn, definable, then each should be replaced, in the definition of man , with its own definition, and so on.

In this way the complete and adequate definition of a universal such as man will contain no parts that are further definable. All proper, or completely analyzed, definitions are ultimately composed of simple terms that are not further definable. But the implication of this idea for the definitions of hylomorphic compounds is obvious: since matter appears to be a part of such a compound, the definition of the compound will include, as a part, the definitions of its material components.

And this consequence seems implausible to Aristotle. A circle, for example, seems to be composed of two semicircles for it obviously may be divided into two semicircles , but the definition of circle cannot be composed of the definitions of its two semicircular parts. For, as Aristotle points out b9 , semicircle is defined in terms of circle , and not the other way around. His point is well taken, for if circles were defined in terms of semicircles, then presumably semicircles would be defined in terms of the quarter-circles of which they are composed, and so on, ad infinitum.

Aristotle flirts with the idea of distinguishing between different senses in which one thing can be a part of another b33 , but instead proposes a different solution: to specify carefully the whole of which the matter is allegedly a part. His point seems to be that whereas bronze may be a part of a particular statue, neither that particular batch of bronze nor even bronze in general enters into the essence of statue, since being made of bronze is no part of what it is to be a statue. But that is only because statues, although they must be made of some kind of matter, do not require any particular kind of matter.

But what about kinds of substances that do require particular kinds of matter? Thus there may after all be reasons for thinking that reference to matter will have to intrude into at least some definitions. The point is not just that each particular man must be made of matter, but that each one must be made of matter of a particular kind—flesh and bones, etc.

Perhaps his point is that whenever it is essential to a substance that it be made of a certain kind of matter e. A kind of matter, after all, can itself be analyzed hylomorphically—bronze, for example, is a mixture of copper and tin according to a certain ratio or formula logos , which is in turn predicated of some more generic underlying subject.

The reference to matter in a definition will thus always be to a certain kind of matter, and hence to a predicate, rather than a subject. One then locates the definiendum in one of the sub-genera, and proceeds to divide this by another differentia, and so on, until one arrives at the definiendum species. This is a classic definition by genus and differentia.

For example, if one uses the differentia footed to divide the genus animal , one then uses a differentia such as cloven-footed for the next division. This proposal shows how a long string of differentiae in a definition can be reduced to one, but it does not solve the problem of the unity of definition. At this point, we seem to have a clear idea about the nature of substantial form as Aristotle conceives of it.

A substantial form is the essence of a substance, and it corresponds to a species. Since it is an essence, a substantial form is what is denoted by the definiens of a definition. Since only universals are definable, substantial forms are universals. University of Victoria, March Metaphysical Explanation.

Commentator: Paul Audi. Aristotle on Artifacts. Commentator: Simon Evnine. Aristotle on Logic and Science. Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Brazil, March Natural Priority in Aristotle. Commentator: Alan Code. Is the Syllogistic a Logic? Is Aristotle an Aristotelian Realist? Ontological Dependence Conference, Colorado, March Commentator: Christian Lee. Aristotle on Logical Consequence. Context and Causal Selection. Commentator: Jonathan Payton. Louis, February Commentator: Christopher Frey. Contingency in the Metaphysics of Time.


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Ontological priority

Aristotle on Existence. Louis, March Commentator: Robin Smith. Commentator: Tim Clarke. Aristotle and the Foundations of Logic. Andrews, June Aristotle on Reference and Generality. Commentator: Scott O'Connor. Commentator: Jeff Brower. Aristotle on Logic and Science. Universidade Estadual de Campinas, Brazil, March Natural Priority in Aristotle. Commentator: Alan Code. Is the Syllogistic a Logic? Is Aristotle an Aristotelian Realist? Ontological Dependence Conference, Colorado, March Commentator: Christian Lee. Aristotle on Logical Consequence. Context and Causal Selection.

Commentator: Jonathan Payton. Louis, February Commentator: Christopher Frey. Contingency in the Metaphysics of Time. Presentism and Distributional Properties. Commentator: Andrew Bailey. Aristotle on Quantification.

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