Metaphysics, by Aristotle

Book VIII

1

WE must reckon up the results arising from what has been said, and compute the sum of them, and put the finishing touch to our inquiry. We have said that the causes, principles, and elements of substances are the object of our search. And some substances are recognized by every one, but some have been advocated by particular schools. Those generally recognized are the natural substances, i.e. fire, earth, water, air, &c., the simple bodies; second plants and their parts, and animals and the parts of animals; and finally the physical universe and its parts; while some particular schools say that Forms and the objects of mathematics are substances. But there are arguments which lead to the conclusion that there are other substances, the essence and the substratum. Again, in another way the genus seems more substantial than the various spccies, and the universal than the particulars. And with the universal and the genus the Ideas are connected; it is in virtue of the same argument that they are thought to be substances. And since the essence is substance, and the definition is a formula of the essence, for this reason we have discussed definition and essential predication. Since the definition is a formula, and a formula has parts, we had to consider also with respect to the notion of ‘part’, what are parts of the substance and what are not, and whether the parts of the substance are also parts of the definition. Further, too, neither the universal nor the genus is a substance; we must inquire later into the Ideas and the objects of mathematics; for some say these are substances as well as the sensible substances.

But now let us resume the discussion of the generally recognized substances. These are the sensible substances, and sensible substances all have matter. The substratum is substance, and this is in one sense the matter (and by matter I mean that which, not being a ‘this’ actually, is potentially a ‘this’), and in another sense the formula or shape (that which being a ‘this’ can be separately formulated), and thirdly the complex of these two, which alone is generated and destroyed, and is, without qualification, capable of separate existence; for of substances completely expressible in a formula some are separable and some are separable and some are not.

But clearly matter also is substance; for in all the opposite changes that occur there is something which underlies the changes, e.g. in respect of place that which is now here and again elsewhere, and in respect of increase that which is now of one size and again less or greater, and in respect of alteration that which is now healthy and again diseased; and similarly in respect of substance there is something that is now being generated and again being destroyed, and now underlies the process as a ‘this’ and again underlies it in respect of a privation of positive character. And in this change the others are involved. But in either one or two of the others this is not involved; for it is not necessary if a thing has matter for change of place that it should also have matter for generation and destruction.

The difference between becoming in the full sense and becoming in a qualified sense has been stated in our physical works.

2

Since the substance which exists as underlying and as matter is generally recognized, and this that which exists potentially, it remains for us to say what is the substance, in the sense of actuality, of sensible things. Democritus seems to think there are three kinds of difference between things; the underlying body, the matter, is one and the same, but they differ either in rhythm, i.e. shape, or in turning, i.e. position, or in inter-contact, i.e. order. But evidently there are many differences; for instance, some things are characterized by the mode of composition of their matter, e.g. the things formed by blending, such as honey-water; and others by being bound together, e.g. bundle; and others by being glued together, e.g. a book; and others by being nailed together, e.g. a casket; and others in more than one of these ways; and others by position, e.g. threshold and lintel (for these differ by being placed in a certain way); and others by time, e.g. dinner and breakfast; and others by place, e.g. the winds; and others by the affections proper to sensible things, e.g. hardness and softness, density and rarity, dryness and wetness; and some things by some of these qualities, others by them all, and in general some by excess and some by defect. Clearly, then, the word ‘is’ has just as many meanings; a thing is a threshold because it lies in such and such a position, and its being means its lying in that position, while being ice means having been solidified in such and such a way. And the being of some things will be defined by all these qualities, because some parts of them are mixed, others are blended, others are bound together, others are solidified, and others use the other differentiae; e.g. the hand or the foot requires such complex definition. We must grasp, then, the kinds of differentiae (for these will be the principles of the being of things), e.g. the things characterized by the more and the less, or by the dense and the rare, and by other such qualities; for all these are forms of excess and defect. And anything that is characterized by shape or by smoothness and roughness is characterized by the straight and the curved. And for other things their being will mean their being mixed, and their not being will mean the opposite.

It is clear, then, from these facts that, since its substance is the cause of each thing’s being, we must seek in these differentiae what is the cause of the being of each of these things. Now none of these differentiae is substance, even when coupled with matter, yet it is what is analogous to substance in each case; and as in substances that which is predicated of the matter is the actuality itself, in all other definitions also it is what most resembles full actuality. E.g. if we had to define a threshold, we should say ‘wood or stone in such and such a position’, and a house we should define as ‘bricks and timbers in such and such a position’,(or a purpose may exist as well in some cases), and if we had to define ice we should say ‘water frozen or solidified in such and such a way’, and harmony is ‘such and such a blending of high and low’; and similarly in all other cases.

Obviously, then, the actuality or the formula is different when the matter is different; for in some cases it is the composition, in others the mixing, and in others some other of the attributes we have named. And so, of the people who go in for defining, those who define a house as stones, bricks, and timbers are speaking of the potential house, for these are the matter; but those who propose ‘a receptacle to shelter chattels and living beings’, or something of the sort, speak of the actuality. Those who combine both of these speak of the third kind of substance, which is composed of matter and form (for the formula that gives the differentiae seems to be an account of the form or actuality, while that which gives the components is rather an account of the matter); and the same is true of the kind of definitions which Archytas used to accept; they are accounts of the combined form and matter. E.g. what is still weather? Absence of motion in a large expanse of air; air is the matter, and absence of motion is the actuality and substance. What is a calm? Smoothness of sea; the material substratum is the sea, and the actuality or shape is smoothness. It is obvious then, from what has been said, what sensible substance is and how it exists-one kind of it as matter, another as form or actuality, while the third kind is that which is composed of these two.

3

We must not fail to notice that sometimes it is not clear whether a name means the composite substance, or the actuality or form, e.g. whether ‘house’ is a sign for the composite thing, ‘a covering consisting of bricks and stones laid thus and thus’, or for the actuality or form, ‘a covering’, and whether a line is ‘twoness in length’ or ‘twoness’, and whether an animal is soul in a body’ or ‘a soul’; for soul is the substance or actuality of some body. ‘Animal’ might even be applied to both, not as something definable by one formula, but as related to a single thing. But this question, while important for another purpose, is of no importance for the inquiry into sensible substance; for the essence certainly attaches to the form and the actuality. For ‘soul’ and ‘to be soul’ are the same, but ‘to be man’ and ‘man’ are not the same, unless even the bare soul is to be called man; and thus on one interpretation the thing is the same as its essence, and on another it is not.

If we examine we find that the syllable does not consist of the letters + juxtaposition, nor is the house bricks + juxtaposition. And this is right; for the juxtaposition or mixing does not consist of those things of which it is the juxtaposition or mixing. And the same is true in all other cases; e.g. if the threshold is characterized by its position, the position is not constituted by the threshold, but rather the latter is constituted by the former. Nor is man animal + biped, but there must be something besides these, if these are matter,-something which is neither an element in the whole nor a compound, but is the substance; but this people eliminate, and state only the matter. If, then, this is the cause of the thing’s being, and if the cause of its being is its substance, they will not be stating the substance itself.

(This, then, must either be eternal or it must be destructible without being ever in course of being destroyed, and must have come to be without ever being in course of coming to be. But it has been proved and explained elsewhere that no one makes or begets the form, but it is the individual that is made, i.e. the complex of form and matter that is generated. Whether the substances of destructible things can exist apart, is not yet at all clear; except that obviously this is impossible in some cases-in the case of things which cannot exist apart from the individual instances, e.g. house or utensil. Perhaps, indeed, neither these things themselves, nor any of the other things which are not formed by nature, are substances at all; for one might say that the nature in natural objects is the only substance to be found in destructible things.)

Therefore the difficulty which used to be raised by the school of Antisthenes and other such uneducated people has a certain timeliness. They said that the ‘what’ cannot be defined (for the definition so called is a ‘long rigmarole’) but of what sort a thing, e.g. silver, is, they thought it possible actually to explain, not saying what it is, but that it is like tin. Therefore one kind of substance can be defined and formulated, i.e. the composite kind, whether it be perceptible or intelligible; but the primary parts of which this consists cannot be defined, since a definitory formula predicates something of something, and one part of the definition must play the part of matter and the other that of form.

It is also obvious that, if substances are in a sense numbers, they are so in this sense and not, as some say, as numbers of units. For a definition is a sort of number; for (1) it is divisible, and into indivisible parts (for definitory formulae are not infinite), and number also is of this nature. And (2) as, when one of the parts of which a number consists has been taken from or added to the number, it is no longer the same number, but a different one, even if it is the very smallest part that has been taken away or added, so the definition and the essence will no longer remain when anything has been taken away or added. And (3) the number must be something in virtue of which it is one, and this these thinkers cannot state, what makes it one, if it is one (for either it is not one but a sort of heap, or if it is, we ought to say what it is that makes one out of many); and the definition is one, but similarly they cannot say what makes it one. And this is a natural result; for the same reason is applicable, and substance is one in the sense which we have explained, and not, as some say, by being a sort of unit or point; each is a complete reality and a definite nature. And (4) as number does not admit of the more and the less, neither does substance, in the sense of form, but if any substance does, it is only the substance which involves matter. Let this, then, suffice for an account of the generation and destruction of so-called substances in what sense it is possible and in what sense impossible — and of the reduction of things to number.

4

Regarding material substance we must not forget that even if all things come from the same first cause or have the same things for their first causes, and if the same matter serves as starting-point for their generation, yet there is a matter proper to each, e.g. for phlegm the sweet or the fat, and for bile the bitter, or something else; though perhaps these come from the same original matter. And there come to be several matters for the same thing, when the one matter is matter for the other; e.g. phlegm comes from the fat and from the sweet, if the fat comes from the sweet; and it comes from bile by analysis of the bile into its ultimate matter. For one thing comes from another in two senses, either because it will be found at a later stage, or because it is produced if the other is analysed into its original constituents. When the matter is one, different things may be produced owing to difference in the moving cause; e.g. from wood may be made both a chest and a bed. But some different things must have their matter different; e.g. a saw could not be made of wood, nor is this in the power of the moving cause; for it could not make a saw of wool or of wood. But if, as a matter of fact, the same thing can be made of different material, clearly the art, i.e. the moving principle, is the same; for if both the matter and the moving cause were different, the product would be so too.

When one inquires into the cause of something, one should, since ‘causes’ are spoken of in several senses, state all the possible causes. what is the material cause of man? Shall we say ‘the menstrual fluid’? What is moving cause? Shall we say ‘the seed’? The formal cause? His essence. The final cause? His end. But perhaps the latter two are the same.-It is the proximate causes we must state. What is the material cause? We must name not fire or earth, but the matter peculiar to the thing.

Regarding the substances that are natural and generable, if the causes are really these and of this number and we have to learn the causes, we must inquire thus, if we are to inquire rightly. But in the case of natural but eternal substances another account must be given. For perhaps some have no matter, or not matter of this sort but only such as can be moved in respect of place. Nor does matter belong to those things which exist by nature but are not substances; their substratum is the substance. E.g what is the cause of eclipse? What is its matter? There is none; the moon is that which suffers eclipse. What is the moving cause which extinguished the light? The earth. The final cause perhaps does not exist. The formal principle is the definitory formula, but this is obscure if it does not include the cause. E.g. what is eclipse? Deprivation of light. But if we add ‘by the earth’s coming in between’, this is the formula which includes the cause. In the case of sleep it is not clear what it is that proximately has this affection. Shall we say that it is the animal? Yes, but the animal in virtue of what, i.e. what is the proximate subject? The heart or some other part. Next, by what is it produced? Next, what is the affection-that of the proximate subject, not of the whole animal? Shall we say that it is immobility of such and such a kind? Yes, but to what process in the proximate subject is this due?

5

Since some things are and are not, without coming to be and ceasing to be, e.g. points, if they can be said to be, and in general forms (for it is not ‘white’ comes to be, but the wood comes to be white, if everything that comes to be comes from something and comes to be something), not all contraries can come from one another, but it is in different senses that a pale man comes from a dark man, and pale comes from dark. Nor has everything matter, but only those things which come to be and change into one another. Those things which, without ever being in course of changing, are or are not, have no matter.

There is difficulty in the question how the matter of each thing is related to its contrary states. E.g. if the body is potentially healthy, and disease is contrary to health, is it potentially both healthy and diseased? And is water potentially wine and vinegar? We answer that it is the matter of one in virtue of its positive state and its form, and of the other in virtue of the privation of its positive state and the corruption of it contrary to its nature. It is also hard to say why wine is not said to be the matter of vinegar nor potentially vinegar (though vinegar is produced from it), and why a living man is not said to be potentially dead. In fact they are not, but the corruptions in question are accidental, and it is the matter of the animal that is itself in virtue of its corruption the potency and matter of a corpse, and it is water that is the matter of vinegar. For the corpse comes from the animal, and vinegar from wine, as night from day. And all the things which change thus into one another must go back to their matter; e.g. if from a corpse is produced an animal, the corpse first goes back to its matter, and only then becomes an animal; and vinegar first goes back to water, and only then becomes wine.

6

To return to the difficulty which has been stated with respect both to definitions and to numbers, what is the cause of their unity? In the case of all things which have several parts and in which the totality is not, as it were, a mere heap, but the whole is something beside the parts, there is a cause; for even in bodies contact is the cause of unity in some cases, and in others viscosity or some other such quality. And a definition is a set of words which is one not by being connected together, like the Iliad, but by dealing with one object.-What then, is it that makes man one; why is he one and not many, e.g. animal + biped, especially if there are, as some say, an animal-itself and a biped-itself? Why are not those Forms themselves the man, so that men would exist by participation not in man, nor in-one Form, but in two, animal and biped, and in general man would be not one but more than one thing, animal and biped?

Clearly, then, if people proceed thus in their usual manner of definition and speech, they cannot explain and solve the difficulty. But if, as we say, one element is matter and another is form, and one is potentially and the other actually, the question will no longer be thought a difficulty. For this difficulty is the same as would arise if ‘round bronze’ were the definition of ‘cloak’; for this word would be a sign of the definitory formula, so that the question is, what is the cause of the unity of ‘round’ and ‘bronze’? The difficulty disappears, because the one is matter, the other form. What, then, causes this-that which was potentially to be actually-except, in the case of things which are generated, the agent? For there is no other cause of the potential sphere’s becoming actually a sphere, but this was the essence of either. Of matter some is intelligible, some perceptible, and in a formula there is always an element of matter as well as one of actuality; e.g. the circle is ‘a plane figure’. But of the things which have no matter, either intelligible or perceptible, each is by its nature essentially a kind of unity, as it is essentially a kind of being-individual substance, quality, or quantity (and so neither ‘existent’ nor ‘one’ is present in their definitions), and the essence of each of them is by its very nature a kind of unity as it is a kind of being-and so none of these has any reason outside itself, for being one, nor for being a kind of being; for each is by its nature a kind of being and a kind of unity, not as being in the genus ‘being’ or ‘one’ nor in the sense that being and unity can exist apart from particulars.

Owing to the difficulty about unity some speak of ‘participation’, and raise the question, what is the cause of participation and what is it to participate; and others speak of ‘communion’, as Lycophron says knowledge is a communion of knowing with the soul; and others say life is a ‘composition’ or ‘connexion’ of soul with body. Yet the same account applies to all cases; for being healthy, too, will on this showing be either a ‘communion’ or a ‘connexion’ or a ‘composition’ of soul and health, and the fact that the bronze is a triangle will be a ‘composition’ of bronze and triangle, and the fact that a thing is white will be a ‘composition’ of surface and whiteness. The reason is that people look for a unifying formula, and a difference, between potency and complete reality. But, as has been said, the proximate matter and the form are one and the same thing, the one potentially, and the other actually. Therefore it is like asking what in general is the cause of unity and of a thing’s being one; for each thing is a unity, and the potential and the actual are somehow one. Therefore there is no other cause here unless there is something which caused the movement from potency into actuality. And all things which have no matter are without qualification essentially unities.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 12:59