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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 51243

Franz Brentano (essay date 1862)

SOURCE: "Potential and Actual Being," in On the Several Senses of Being in Aristotle, by Franz Brentano, edited by Rolf George, translated by Rolf George, University of California Press, 1975, pp. 27-48.

[In the following essay, originally published in 1862, Brentano discusses the nature of potential and actual being as analyzed by Aristotle in Metaphysics. Brentano examines Aristotle's definitions of potential and actual being and presents readings of them designed to resolve some difficulties within them. Finally, he explores the relationship between the two concepts, maintaining that "movement is the actuality of the potentiality."]

The two senses of being …, namely, being which is divided into the categories and potential and actual being, belong together and are intimately connected with each other.1 Thus they have in common that the science of being, metaphysics, is concerned in the same way with one as with the other,2 while, as we saw, both accidental being and being in the sense of being true were excluded from it. Since being, as the most general, is asserted of everything,3 it follows for the subject of metaphysics that it comprises everything insofar as it has extramental being which is one with it and belongs to it essentially. Hence it follows that, just as the being which divides into the categories, being in the sense now under discussion is being that is independent and outside the mind [on kath' hauto exo tes dianoias].

l. The kind of being which is divided into actual [on energeia] and potential [on dynamei] is being in the sense in which this name is applied not only to that which is realized, that which exists, the really-being, but also to the mere real possibility of being.

Potential being [on dynamei] plays a large role in the philosophy of Aristotle, as does the concept of matter [hyle]. Indeed, these two concepts are coextensive,4 while actual being [on energeia] is either pure form or is actualized by form.

There is a great difference between what we here mean by the potential [the dynaton or dynamei on] and what in more recent times is meant by calling something possible in contrast with real, where the necessary is added as a third thing. This is a possibility which completely abstracts from the reality of that which is called possible, and merely claims that something could exist if its existence did not involve a contradiction. It does not exist in things but in the objective concepts and combinations of concepts of the thinking mind; it is a merely rational thing.

Aristotle was quite familiar with the concept of possibility so understood, as we can see from De interpretatione, but it bears no relation to what he calls potential being, since otherwise it would have to be excluded from the subject of metaphysics along with being as being true. So that no doubt may remain, he mentions in Met. [Metaphysics] V. 12, as well as in IX. 1, the impossible whose contrary is necessarily true [adynaton hou to enantion ex anankes alethes] (Met. V. 12. 1019b23). The possible object [dynaton] which is associated with this impossibility is distinguished from the potential object [dynaton] which bears this name because it stands in relation to a power [dynamis]. It is the same only in name5 and must be distinguished from this potentiality along with the powers of mathematics, a2, b3, etc., which are powers only in a metaphorical sense [kata metaphoran].6 Thus he speaks here of something which really has potential being. This is based upon his peculiar view that a non-real, something which has, properly speaking, non-being (me on)7, in a manner or speaking exists insofar as it is potentially, and it is this which leads him to a special wide sense of real being, which comprises as well that which potentially is.

Now, what is this potential thing which, being real, belongs to the object of metaphysics, and which has potential being as opposed to actual being? Aristotle defines it in the third chapter of the ninth book as follows: "a thing is possible if there is nothing impossible in its having the actuality of that of which it is said to have the potentiality."8 Two things are to be noted about this definition: (1) that Aristotle seems to define a thing through itself, since he defines the possible in terms of the impossible, and (2) the definition is based upon the concept of actuality whose understanding is therefore presupposed.

The first difficulty can be resolved as follows: the impossible [adynaton] in question is the contradictory. It is opposed to the possible in the logical sense which we have just discussed and not to the potential [dynaton] which we are now trying to comprehend.

The second difficulty forces us to direct our attention initially to actuality [energeia]. Potential being cannot be defined except with the aid of the concept of actuality, for the latter is prior in both concept and substance, as we are told in Met. IX. 8: "Actuality," he says, "is prior to potentiality both in concept and in essence." Further on he continues, "It is necessary that concept and cognition of the former precede that of the latter."9 "Actuality" [energeia, Wirklichkeit] derives from "to act" (ergo, wirken), a verb having to do with motion, since, as he says, it is especially motion which seems to be an actuality.10 But the extension of the concept does not stop here.11 What then is actuality? Aristotle does not give us a definition and declares explicitly that we should not demand one, since the concept of actuality is so basic and simple that it does not permit definition but can be clarified only inductively through examples.12 As one of these he adduces the knower, if we mean by this expression a person who is presently engaged in an act of cognition; hence, this person is actually cognizing. Furthermore, a statue of Hermes is actual if it is completely sculpted, finished, and not raw wood or a marble block to which the artist has not yet put his hand. If someone knows something but is not presently engaged in the act of cognition, or if a block is rough and unsculpted, then the former is not actually cognizing, even if he could perform the act of cognition, and the latter is not actually a statue, even if it is one potentially.13 Thus we see that we are led back to potential being; it is best to clarify the concept of actuality through the relation between actuality and potentiality. They are related "as that which is actually building to that which is capable of building, as that which is awake to that which is asleep, as that which is seeing to that which has eyes shut, but has the power of sight, and as that which is formed from matter is to matter, and as the finished article to the raw material. In this contrast let one member be assigned to actuality, the other to potentiality."14 We can see from this collection of examples that something is actual if it exists in complete reality; potential being lacks this reality, although "nothing impossible will result if potential being achieves the actuality of which it is said to be capable." (see above). Thus Aristotle often uses the designation "actuality" [energeia] and "entelechy" [entelecheia] interchangeably15 where the latter means the same as consummation (teleiotes),16 as was correctly noted by Alexander and Simplicus.17 But how? A mere potentiality in things, a merely potential thing which exists, is that not a thing which exists and yet does not have existence? Is this not a contradiction and impossibility? The Megarians did indeed see a contradiction here, as often happens if one withdraws the basis of being from contradictions which ought to be resolved. Thus they denied the merely potential, and that a thing is capable of something which is not already actual in the thing. But it is not difficult, says Aristotle,18 to reduce such an assertion to absurdity. For then there would not be a builder who is not presently engaged in building, and no one would have an enduring ability. But it is certain that a person who has exercised an art does not at once lose his knowledge and his capability, and that he does not have to learn and acquire them for every new use, and it is equally certain that the artist remains an artist, even if he rests from his activity. Furthermore, nothing would be cold or hot, and Protagoras would be correct in his claim that all truth depends upon subjective sensation and opinion.19 Furthermore, the man with healthy eyes and ears would often become blind and deaf during a day since, when he closes his eyes and ceases actually to see he would, on this theory, no longer see potentiality, i.e., he would have lost the very capacity to see.20 Finally, all coming to be and passing away of things would have become a complete impossibility, for everything would be what it can be, and what it cannot be it could never become, and whatever one might say of past and future things would be a lie.21

In this way, Aristotle rebuts the Megarians and clarifies for us the existence and justification of his potential being. The additional examples which he adduces in this context serve to remove all doubt about the meaning of "potential being." But perhaps it is possible to employ in addition a manner of illucidation which we have used above in the determination of accidental being [on kata symbebekos]. I have in mind the enumeration of the different kinds of potential being, or rather of the different ways in which various things participate in this name. This can be done since "potential being" is not used univocally, but applies to the concepts which fall under it merely with a certain unity of analogy. In Met. V. 12. four modes are indicated in which something can be called potential. They all agree in that they are origins of something,22 and all of them are reduced to a single principle from which they receive the name, and therein consists their analogy.23 The first mode of potentiality which Aristotle distinguishes is the origin of motion or change in another, insofar as it is another.24 The last clause is added on since the active principle could possibly be contained in the subject, as when something moves itself. Even then it is not moving and moved, active and passive, in one and the same respect; one and the same thing acts and receives action, but not insofar as it is the same, but insofar as it is another.25 The second mode is the passive capacity, which is the principle whereby something is moved by another insofar as it is another.26 Again, the last clause is added for similar reasons, since if something is passive with respect to itself, it is active not insofar as it is the same thing but insofar as it is another. The third mode of potentiality is impassivity [hexis apatheias], as he calls it in Met. IX. 1. 1046al 1. This is the disposition of a thing which makes it altogether incapable of suffering or change, or at least which makes it difficult for it to change for the worse. It is the so-called capacity of resisting.27 Finally, the fourth mode in which something is called a potentiality is the principle not just of doing or suffering something, but of doing it well and according to desire. Thus, for example, if somebody limps or stutters we do not describe him as one who can walk or talk; rather, we use these words for those who can do these things without stumbling and error. Similarly, green wood is called non-flammable, while dry wood is called flammable, etc.28

Corresponding to these four modes of potentiality, there are four kinds of things capable,29 which are most adequately described not as "possible" [moeglich] nor as "powerful" [maechtig], but rather as "capable" [vermoegend] or "able" [faehig]. All of these are called capable relative to a capacity [kata dynamin], which does not hold for the concept which logicians connect with the word "possible" [dynaton].30 As analogous concepts all of them can be reduced to the first mode of things capable and of potentiality, to the source of change in another insofar as it is another [arche metaboles en hetero he heteron], from which they also receive their name.31 It is a question whether the here-indicated modes of potentiality [dynamis] and of things capable [dynaton] will attain our purpose, which was to ascertain the various modes of potential being. Is it perhaps the case that our potential being [dynamei on] is one and the same as the thing capable [dynaton] which was just mentioned? We must deny this if we wish to retain the concept of potential being [dynamei on], which was introduced with sufficient clarity above. Both physics and metaphysics agree that the first principle of motion is to be sought in God, but God, though certainly a thing capable [dynaton], is in no way a potential being, since he is an actual being [on energeia] in the fullest sense of the word.32 Hence this kind of thing capable [dynaton], which occupies the third position in the above order, shows us that we should not seek the modes of potential being [dynamei on] in those of the things capable [dynaton]. But how? Is there only one mode of potential being [dynamei on] and is this the concept of a genus in which all things designated by that name participate in the same manner? What will be the method by which we gain knowledge of the various modes of potential being?

The third chapter of the ninth book speaks of a thing capable [dynaton]; the entire context and the examples themselves show clearly that in this case it is identical with potential being [dynamei on], and it is said that it is found in every category.33 The same holds, of course, also of actual being [on energeia]; thus the tenth chapter of the same book and the seventh chapter of the fifth claim that in every category some objects are said to be in actuality, others in potentiality.34 If this is so, then it is clear that potential as well as actual being is said in many ways and can be called one only by analogy. This is necessarily the case with everything that reaches beyond the extension of any one category, as Aristotle clearly indicates in Eth. Nic. [Nicomachean Ethics] 1.4. 1096al9 and other places. We, too, shall give a detailed demonstration of this point, and shall recognize the principles upon which it rests.35 Consequently, Aristotle also asserts explicitly of actual being that "not everything is said to have actual being in the same, but only in an analogous way: as one is in or to a second, so a third is in or to a fourth; for some are related as operation to potency, others as form to some sort of matter."36 And with respect to potential being [dynamei on] it is a major objection to Plato and the Platonists that they did not realize how every category presupposes as a different mode of being a certain determination and mode of potentiality.37 We have already touched upon the close relation between potential and actual and being which is divided into the categories,38 and we shall encounter a consequence of this fact, viz. the variegation of the concepts of potential as well as actual being. There are as many modes of potential being and actual being as there are categories; through the latter we shall understand the number of, and differences between, the former.

But something remains to be done for the complete determination of potential being [dynamei on]. The question is at what time is something potentially; the analogous question with respect to actual being does not occasion any doubts. It would certainly be incorrect to say of a newborn child that he is capable of speaking, of walking, or even of investigating the deepest principles of science. It is necessary that he should first grow in strength, that the germ of his talent should unfold so that he may acquire the ability, which he still lacks, to do all these things. Thus it is not correct to say that earth is a potential statue, for one cannot make such a statue of it until its nature has been changed, and it has become, for example, ore.39 But how, in general, can one determine when something is a potential being?

Anything which is potentially something else does not in reality become this thing except through the influence of an efficient cause. Thus to every potential being there corresponds a certain efficient cause and its activity, whether it be artificial, where the principle of realization is external to the potential being, or natural, where it resides within the latter. Anything has potential being if either nature or art can make it actual through a single action. It is potential through art if the artist can actualize it whenever he wants to, provided only that there is no external hindrance; thus, for example, something is called potentially healthy (curable) if it can become healthy through one application of medical art. Something is potential through nature if it can be lead to actuality by its peculiar active principle or its inherent natural power, provided only that no external hindrance stands in the way. In this manner, something is potentially healthy if there is nothing in the sick body which must be removed before nature can exercise her healing force. But wherever other changes are presupposed before the proper process of actualization can begin, there is no potential being. Trees which must first be felled and dressed, or the stuff which must first transform itself into a tree, these are not potentially a house; but when the beams from which it can be erected are finished, then one can say that the house has potential being. Thus the earth is not potentially a man, and even the semen is not, but if the foetus can become an actual man through its peculiar active principle, then it is already potentially a man.40

All this confirms anew the determinations given above of the concepts of actual being [on energeia] and potential being [on dynamei] so that there can be no further doubt about the sense which Aristotle connects with the word 'being' [on], insofar as he comprehends under it not only fully actualized, but also unactualized being, which is only potentially whatever it is, and strives toward and desires its form, as it were.41

2. Connections between states of potentiality and actuality. Movement [kinesis] as actuality which constitutes a thing as being in a state of potentiality.

In the previous section we have considered what Aristotle meant by actual being [on energeia] and potential being [on dynamis]. The latter appeared as being which was as such incomplete, and this is the reason why the perfect separate substance, God, does not in any way partake of potential being, but is pure actuality. On the other hand, if a thing is composed of substance and accident, matter and form, then this imperfection results in its not being free of potentiality; for such a thing actual being consists of a union of potential being with actuality.42 This is not inconsistent, as can be seen from the definition of potential being itself.

But aside from the what of potential and actual being we have also noted a when for both. For potential being we did so following Aristotle, while it is of itself clear that for actual being the state of its actualization through form must correspond to its completion. But while there is no doubt that this union of potential and actual being actually occurs, a union of the states which correspond to one or the other does not seem possible since the state corresponding to unactualized potential being is a state prior to actualization which, however, can be brought about through a single process of becoming.… Yet even their union is in a sense not inconsistent; of course, we do not here speak of a simultaneous union, for if a body is now potentially and later actually white, then this union in the subject is not properly called a union of states, and there are no problems with respect to this matter. A simultaneous union, however, is possible in this way: something which is actually ore is in a state of potentiality with respect to a certain figure, etc. This is a union no different from those occuring between something that has actual being with a second and a third thing which has actual being, as when one and the same subject is actually a body, actually large, actually green, etc. In this case, the actuality of that which actually is does not belong to the potential object as such; for example, the actuality of the ore belongs to the ore as ore but not as a potential statue.43 In the same manner we can explain the union of something actually alive with the potential corpse, etc. But there is a second manner in which both states can be united, and this occurs in the state of becoming, on kinesei, as Aristotle calls it.

In Met. XI. 9 he gives the following remarkable definition of motion [kinesis], which is not easily comprehensible in spite of everything he has already taught us about potentiality and actuality. He says this: "The actuality (energeia) of the potential (tou dynamei ontos) as such I call movement." Similarly, in the first chapter of Book III of the Physics: "Since being of every kind is divided into actual and potential being, the actuality (entelecheia) of potential being as such is motion." And farther down: "It is obvious that the actuality of what is potential as potential is movement."44

This definition makes it clear, first of all, that by potential being or the potential (dynamei on, dynaton), we are to understand that which is in a state of potentiality; for if we were to take it in the sense in which all matter as such, even after its union with form, is to be called something merely potential, then aside from the separate substances, every form would have to be called an actuality of a potential being, and nothing peculiar to movement would have been indicated.

But there is something else which causes problems: the words "the actuality of potential being" can be interpreted in two ways, as can be seen in the following: every form or actuality which is not a separate substance can be called an actuality of something in two ways: (1) as the actuality of the substratum, for example when we say of the soul that it is the actuality of the physical body which is potentially alive;45 and (2) as the actuality of the composite which was formed from matter through its union with form, for example when we say of the soul that it is the actuality of the living being. Since in our definition movement was described as the actuality of something, viz., of potential being, the question is whether this potential being is to be construed as subject or as something which is constituted through movement. Each interpretation, despite the difference, gives a true sense which agrees with what has been said so far, and which therefore ultimately coincides with the other. Let us show this by looking at both of them more closely. According to the first interpretation, which is adopted by most commentators,46 our definition would determine movement to be a form which has the following characteristics: as it brings its subject from the corresponding state of potentiality to [the] actuality [of movement], it leaves it in a state of potentiality to another thing. This other thing is such that the subject was in a state of potentiality to it by virtue of being in a state of potentiality to the actuality of the movement itself.

To understand this, we must remember what was said in the preceding section in answer to the question at what time something is a potential being. Something has potentiality if nature or art can make it an actuality through a single action, hence if it can be actualized through a single becoming. But this becoming, even if it must be single, does not have to be momentary. If a black body becomes white through a single change, it does not follow that it changes suddenly. Thus becoming and consummation do not coincide here; first the subject partakes in becoming, and then achieves its completion. Hence, here the subject has a double potentiality, viz. (1) to the becoming of the form, and (2) to the form itself. Yet this double state of potentiality is in itself and in its concept only a single one. For if a black body is capable of becoming white through a single becoming (hence as a potentiality to the becoming-of-the-form), it is obviously in a state of potentiality to whiteness. Now, if a subject is transferred from this state of potentiality to actuality with respect to becoming, then it is also transferred to a new and heightened state of potentiality with respect to the form which is the consummation of becoming.47 It is a heightened state insofar as the state of becoming is that from which the subject immediately achieves complete actuality, while the state before the state of becoming must first be changed into the state of becoming so that the subject may thereafter be transferred into a state of consummate actuality. Hence commentators have described this state as a third, intervening, state between mere potentiality and actuality;48 this state of an actual tendency after the act is being qua movement [on kinesei], while movement [kinesis] is that becoming which actualizes but does not completely exhaust potentiality.

Thus there are no further difficulties in understanding the definition. The kind of thing something is [he toiouton esti] distinguishes this kind of union between states of potentiality and actuality from the one mentioned above in which, for example, the actuality of the ore as ore coexisted with the potentiality of being a statue.49

The authority of almost all commentators speaks for this interpretation; yet, as mentioned above, there is still another possible interpretation which has its own advantages. The first interpretation made good sense with respect to movement [kinesis], yet it does not seem free of inaccuracies. For if the double potentiality of the subject were really only one, both in itself and according to the concept (haplos kai kata ton logon, Physics III. 1. 201a32), then it would be impossible for this state to be terminated with respect to one of them, and to continue with respect to the other. For if it is terminated with respect to whatever, then it is completely terminated, hence for both. And if only the becoming of the form has become actual, while the form itself is still potentiality, it has not remained in the previous, but in a new and more advanced state of potentiality, viz. precisely its state of becoming. Thus in a sense a subject has remained in a state of potentiality, just as I can say of something which is now white and then red that it has remained in a state of actuality with respect to color, although it is now colored by virtue of a different state of actuality than before; but in the strict sense the subject has not remained in a state of potentiality; rather, it has been transferred from one state of potentiality to a second state which aims at the same form, i.e., it is in a state of becoming, which is constituted by movement.

Thus, if the great authority of the men who maintained the first interpretation did not make me hesitate, I would unquestionably prefer the second, according to which the definition determines as follows: Movement is the actuality of the potential as such, just as the form of the ore is the actuality of the ore as such, i.e., it is the actuality (energeia) which makes something that is potentially (tou dynamei ontos) into that which it is (he toiouton esti), viz. into this potential being. In other words, it constitutes and forms a potential (it constitutes and forms something which is in a state of potentiality as being in this state). After what has been said, the definition when put this way has no further difficulties. This interpretation has the advantage that it makes the definition not only more precise, but also simpler. Let the following contribute to its comprehensibility, where we make constant reference to the appropriate passages in Aristotle to show that our argumentation agrees with his meaning. We shall show (1) that there are potentialities which are constituted as such through some actuality, (2) that this is not the case with all potential states, and (3) that where it is the case, the constituting actuality is a movement.

The first point is likely to provoke the most doubt and opposition, hence we want to treat it with special care. Thus we shall conduct our proof as follows: we shall show (1) that in many cases there are two different states of potentiality which are related to the same state of actuality; and (2) that, where there is such a multiplicity of potential states, at least one of them must be constituted (or formed) by some actuality. We begin by referring back to the previous section, in which we saw that aside from that which is in a state of actuality [the energeia on], there is also being in the state of potentiality [on dynamei].50 But in virtue of what is something constituted an actual being [on energeia]? Obviously, through a form or actuality. But what about a potential being? Is it, too, constituted (formed) as such by something? It is indeed difficult to believe that a state of potentiality as such can be constituted through a form, which is, after all, an actuality;51; yet this is the case, provided only that there is a double state of potentiality with respect to the same form, as we have just said.…

Let us again consider and confirm this fact. We have said that there is often a double state of potentiality with respect to the same actuality, and this was derived from another truth which was proved earlier (p. 37), viz. that there are double states of potentiality, i.e., that there are things which, by virtue of one and the same state (one and the same in itself and in concept (haplos kai kata ton logon), have potentiality to two different actualities. For example, something which is potentially white has potentiality for whiteness and also for becoming-white by virtue of one and the same state, since a single operation, namely white-making, actualizes both (see above). From this we have concluded that if both actualities could occur only one after the other, the first of them would have to terminate the state of potentiality with respect to the second, for the two states of potentiality are one and the same. But since the subject maintained the potentiality to the second form, it could do so only by virtue of a second, new state of potentiality to this form.… It follows from this that there are two states of potentiality corresponding to this actuality. Hence there is a double state of potentiality with respect to the same actuality.

We can support this argument by a second one. If there is a state of potentiality with respect to a form from which and by virtue of which the subject can immediately attain possession of actuality, and if there is a state of potentiality with respect to the same form, from which and by virtue of which the subject cannot immediately attain possession of actuality, then these two states are distinct and there is a double state of potentiality with respect to one and the same form. But the antecedent of this conditional proposition is true, hence also the consequent. For it is true that a stone which is thrown is capable (has potentiality) of reaching a certain location toward which it has been thrown, and that from the state in which it is now, viz. the state of a-thing-being-thrown, it immediately attains a state of rest having reached its target. And it is true that a stone which rests in a certain location is capable of attaining another location since it can get there through a single throw, and yet it cannot immediately get there from the state in which it is before the throw; it must first attain the state of being-thrown. Here we have an example of two states of potentiality with respect to the same actuality. We take this argument from Aristotle himself when he says, in the second book of the Metaphysics, that there is a double way in which something comes from something, as a man from a boy who matured to manhood, or the air from water; in the first case, that which is becoming changes into that which has become, out of that which is in the process of completion (actualization) there arises the completed (the actual). "For," he says, "there is always an intermediate: just as becoming is between being and non-being, so that which is becoming is between what is and what is not."52

We take a further confirmation of our claim from the same passage: that we have here two different states follows from the fact that there is a characteristic which is peculiar to one of them, but which the other lacks. Something can pass from a state of becoming into a state of actuality, but not vice versa; for what is already white cannot become white. But from the state of potentiality prior to becoming, a thing attains the state of actuality, and conversely; for the black is potentially white, and after it has actually become white, it is potentially black and can therefore return to this state.53

But wherever such a multiplicity of potential states is found, at least one must as such be constituted (formed) through an actuality. This is perfectly clear and certain. For privation as such does not constitute anything. It is itself only accidental being [on kata symbebekos] and, taken by itself, has no existence at all;54 while matter, as such, is undifferentiated, and since it receives all its determinations from the form through which it is what it is, there can be only one matter with respect to one and the same form.55 Hence, how could this matter produce the difference between the state of becoming and the state of the potentiality to the same form prior to becoming? Impossible! Rather, only one thing is possible, viz. that the difference between the two states of potentiality is produced by a form, so that at least one of the two states as such is constituted (formed) through an actuality. And this is what we had wanted to prove in the first place, and what at first sight is liable to occasion considerable doubt, i.e., that there are states of potentiality which are constituted as such through an actuality.

One can also show this in another way once the above established proposition has been secured, i.e., that one and the same state of potentiality (one and the same both in itself and in concept, see above p. 37) is a state of potentiality with respect to two actualities. For if the two actualities considered by themselves are two, then they must be one in their relation [in der Ordnung] to this state of potentiality, and so one of them must be a function of the other [zur andern hingeordnet sein], hence must give the subject an actual tendency toward itself, i.e., toward a new state of potentiality which is closer to it, an intermediate state between the first and actuality.56

Now we come to the second point. If the preceding investigation has made it clear that many things which are in a state of potentiality are constituted as such through a form, this is not to say that this must be the case with everything that is in a state of potentiality. On the contrary, this, too, would be an error; consequently, we find Aristotle opposing it in the third book of the Physics and the corresponding part of the eleventh book of the Metaphysics. Let us now give a somewhat more complete version of his argumentation. If something is in a state of potentiality, and is constituted as such by an actuality, then (1) it must be in a state of actuality, and (2) it must, as such, have a form, and therefore an essence and a concept which determines this form, for each form issues in an essence. From this it follows, for instance, that a motionless waxen ball, which is potentially a cube, is not constituted by an actuality as being in that particular state [of potentiality]. For, of all the forms which are in a wax ball, it can only be the actuality of the wax as wax, or the softness of the wax, which lend it a certain disposition that facilitates reshaping it. But when the wax ball has become a cube, the form of the wax as wax, hence also its softness, hence everything through which the wax was formerly constituted remains; now, if this were a state of potentiality, hence a state prior to actuality, then the cube which has come about would not yet be a cube, which is contradictory. Hence, one would have to believe that it is the form of the wax ball as a sphere which constitutes the potentiality of becoming a cube; for it is indeed true that whatever has the shape of a sphere cannot at the same time be a cube. But against this a second argument can be advanced which is also decisive with respect to the previously mentioned form of the wax. The wax ball is a potentiality not only to the form of the cube but to a thousand other shapes as well. Hence, all these states of potentiality would have to be constituted through the form of the ball (or the wax) if the wax ball as sphere (or as wax) were indeed presently in a state of potentiality, and hence they would have to be identical with the sphere (with the wax) as such (i.e., in themselves and in this essence and concept). But this is impossible; for if two are identical with the same third thing, then they are identical with each other, and hence the innumerable different states of potentiality to become a cube, a tetrahedron, a dodecahedron, a icosahedron and other regular and irregular forms would have to be both in themselves and in concept [haplos kai kata ton logon] identical, although they are as different as these forms themselves which diverge from each other in a number of directions. Hence, it has been established that the wax ball by being constituted as wax through the actuality of the wax, and as a sphere through the spherical figure, is not constituted through any of its actualities as having a state of potentiality to become a cube. Hence it has a potentiality to be in this state without being constituted in this respect by any of its actualities.57

We come to the third point. Having seen that there are two kinds of states of potentiality, one of which is constituted as such by an actuality while the other is not, the question now is which states of potentiality are constituted by an actuality or, what comes to the same, which actualities constitute potential states as such.

All potential being as such stands in a relation to an active principle; for the subject is potentially something if it can become an actuality through a single act of an active principle. Thus we must also examine those states of potentiality which are constituted as such through an actuality in their relation to an active principle and its operation. Thus a state of potentiality to become something exists in a subject either before the operation, or during the operation, or after the operation of the force through whose activity it is transformed into a state of actuality. But it can obviously not exist after the activity, for if the activity has passed nothing remains that can be realized through this activity; what this activity was capable of actualizing either exists now or has existed in actuality. With respect to this activity at least it does certainly not exist in potentiality, whether or not the latter be constituted through a form. Hence, it remains to consider the states of the subject prior to and during the activity. But the state of potentiality which exists in the subject prior to the activity cannot be constituted through an actuality. For at that point there are only three forms in the subject which must be considered. One is to be envisaged as the terminus a quo for the change, as for example the spherical figure of the wax which is to be transformed into a cube. A second, which is the most deceptive and is therefore the only one considered by Aristotle, is the form which constitutes the subject as that which it actually is. In the case of the wax ball, this is the actuality which constitutes the wax as wax. Finally, there is a third form, in the case of the wax it is softness, which lends a certain disposition to the subject.58 But in considering the second point we have already shown that none of these forms constitutes a potential being as such. Hence the latter, as such, does not possess any actuality. On the other hand, the state of potentiality in which the subject is during the activity of the active principle is indeed a state which is constituted, as such, through an actuality. For the principle acts only to the extent in which the subject receives an influence, i.e., something actual. Now, if the subject is still in a state of potentiality with respect to this force and its activity, then this is due to a further state of potentiality: we have shown this above when we discussed the first point, and everything else said there applies here as well.

The only remaining question is what we should call those states of potentiality which exist during the activity of the acting principle and what to call those actualities which potentialize the subject, as it were. We commonly call them states of becoming or movement,59 and as movement they must be considered actualities which constitute a potential thing as potential. Induction shows this. While the builder builds, that with which he builds is in a state of potentiality which is constituted by actuality, but the building material as such was only a potentiality with respect to house construction and to the edifice. Either the actuality of constructing or the actuality of the edifice must therefore be that which constitutes that higher state of potentiality. But not that of the edifice, for the edifice as such is no longer a potentiality with respect to the builder and this building activity of his; hence, the actuality in question must be the building activity (oikodomesis), and this is indeed a movement (kinesis). One can give a similar demonstration with respect to all other movements.60 If that which is potentially a building is constituted as such through an actuality, then it is presently in the process of being erected, and just this is house construction, hence movement. The same occurs when something heals, when there is a revolution, a jump, etc.61 Hence, movement is the actuality of that which is in a state of potentiality as such, the actuality of the potential as potential. For example, the movement toward a quality (alloiosis) constitutes that which is becoming a quale (poion) in this state of potentiality toward a quality; similarly, the movement toward quantity (auxesis kai phthisis) constitutes that which is about to become a quantum (poson) in this state of potentiality toward a quantity; furthermore, locomotion (phora) constitutes that which moves toward a goal in this state of potentiality for a location. Now, if there is such an intermediate state of potentiality also in the domain of the substantial, then the state of substantial becoming and passing away through generation and corruption (genesis kai phthora) must be formally constituted in the same way, and these, too, will be movements.62

Aristotle, after he has advanced and positively supported his view of movement, seeks to support it further by a polemic against definitions of earlier philosophers, which seems to be aimed especially at Plato;63 he does so in the Physics III.2. and the corresponding part of the eleventh book of the Metaphysics. Here as elsewhere his polemic is never unfruitful, since it always manages to find and isolate what is correct in a mistaken position. He notes that earlier attempts had defined movement as otherness, as inequality, and as non-being. None of these definitions describe the essence of movement, for none of these need to be moved, neither that which is other, nor that which is unequal, nor that which has non-being. It is peculiar to the state of becoming that that which is in the state of becoming has a potentiality to acquire the state of that which has become, while that which has become does not have a state of potentiality to acquire that particular state of becoming from which it arose, as we have seen above,64 while, on the other hand, the equal passes into the unequal, as well as the unequal into the equal, and being into non-being, as well as non-being into being, etc.65 But what occasioned these mistaken definitions? There is indeed something in the nature of movement which could lead one to put it into the order66 of privation. Since becoming does not form a special species of things, but must be reduced to the species of accomplished being,67 as that which is growing large to largeness, and that which is in the process of acquiring a certain characteristic to that characteristic, one is inclined to take it for something indeterminate, something lacking form. What else is one to make of movement? The potentiality (dynamis) by virtue of which something is potentially is not movement, and what is actually [energeia] something is also not in motion; thus the only thing left seems to declare motion to be an unfinished actuality [energeia], an accomplished reality [entelecheia] for which there is no completion, which, unless we envisage it as a privation, seems to be a contradiction. But the puzzle is resolved in this way: as actualization [energeia], movement constitutes something as being in a state of potentiality as such, and the potential is of course incomplete;68 hence, that which completes [vollendet] is indeed a state of incompleteness;69 it actualizes a state which is prior to actuality. "Therefore," says Aristotle, "it is difficult to grasp what movement is, for one either thinks that it either has to be defined as a privation or as a potentiality, or simply as an actuality; yet none of these seem possible. Hence the indicated way is the only one that remains, namely that it is an actuality, but the kind we have described, which is difficult to grasp, but nonetheless possible."70

Thus it becomes clear how, under this interpretation of the definition, everything Aristotle teaches about movement agrees. For what we have just touched upon, viz. that movement does not form a special species of being, but follows the various species as does actuality as such, and potentiality as well, is also fully consonant with this. Movement as actuality constitutes a state of potentiality. Since the states of potentiality belong to the same genus as the corresponding states of actuality, just as the possible body belongs, with the actual body, to the genus of substance, and the potentially white belongs, with the actually white, to the genus of color and of quality, etc., in the same way the thing-in-motion [on kinesei] and motion [kinesis] must be reduced to the particular species of that which comes about through this motion, and must belong to the same genera as the complete being. This is not to say that there is a motion [kinesis] in every species of being, as there is a potentiality [dynamis] and an actuality [energeia]. A state of becoming, i.e., a second state of potentiality which is to be formed by the proper movement, can occur only where there is gradual, continuous becoming, and this can be found only where there are contrary concepts, and hence intermediate states, which are absent where there is an opposition of contradictories. The transformation from non-being to being can only be sudden and momentary. After having declared in Physics III. I and Met. XI. 971 that "there are as many kinds of movement and change as there are kinds of being," Aristotle delineates these matters at some length in the third book of the Physics (and the corresponding part of the eleventh book of the Metaphysics72) and makes the qualification that proper movement is to be restricted to the three categories of quality, quantity and location, where alone the requisite conditions are satisfied, as he shows by a careful investigation.73

Still and all, we do not actually wish to contest the first interpretation; despite the considerable formal difference of the two interpretations they do not, in the end, differ essentially, as we have already pointed out. We note that according to both of them the thing in motion [on kinesei] exemplifies a peculiar mode of union of a potential and an actual state. The second interpretation allows this union to be very clearly indicated in the definition of motion, by saying that motion is an actuality which, by producing its actual state, constitutes a state of potentiality, i.e., constitutes the potential as potential. We see that here, too, the subject which is in the state of becoming occupies an intermediate state between a more distant potentiality and actuality; but by being in this one state, it has simultaneously a state of actuality with respect to becoming, movement; it has potentiality with respect to the form which is approached through movement.

This middle state is also attained by potentialities which have the peculiar characteristic that there cannot be a complete reality corresponding to the potentiality. Just as the concept of movement has something in it which is difficult to grasp, and which at first occasions astonishment and doubts concerning the correctness of the definition (cf. Met. 1. 2; 983al4), many will find it difficult to admit, initially, that there can be a potentiality to which no actuality corresponds, at least not one which exists in rebus though perhaps one which is thought and comprised within its concept since, they will say, something is called potential only in relation to an actuality. Yet such is the case, as the example of any line and of any solid clearly shows. The line, which in actuality is one, can be halved, and thus is potentially two, and since the half is capable of further division, it is potentially four; hence, it is potentially two, four, eight, sixteen, etc. But what is the limit of this potentiality? It does not have a limit; while it is in actuality one, it is potentially infinitely many. But this potentiality is never exhausted by an actuality. The infinitely many lines which are now contained as parts in one line will never actually exist as infinitely many actual lines. Here, and wherever else we are concerned with bodies,74 the infinite exists always only in a state of potentiality, either as a state of potentiality prior to movement (one line has infinitely many parts), or as thing in motion (on kinesei), when a division into infinity is attempted. Similar considerations hold for surfaces, bodies, and other things.75

So much for being insofar as it comprises real potentiality, becoming, and that which is in a state of complete being, being in the sense of potential and actual being [on dynamei kai energeia].


1 Cf. Brandis, op. cit., III, 1, 46, n. 85 and the passage from Prantl quoted there.

2 Books VII and VIII deal with the being [on] of the categories and of substance [ousia] respectively, Book IX of potential and actual being [dynamei kai energeia on].

3 See above p. 1.

4 Cf. Zeller, Philosophie der Griechen, II, 2, p. 238, n. 5. Matter [hyle] must of course be taken in a wider sense in which it includes, in addition to primary matter [prote hyle], also the subjects of the accidents. Then Zeller's remark is correct that "a thing is potentially [dynamei] only insofar as it has matter [hyle] within itself." Met. XIV. 1. 1088bl: "The matter of each thing must be that which is potentially of the nature in question."

5Met. V. 12. 1019b21: "Some things, then, are called adynata [not potent] in virtue of this kind of incapacity, while others are so in another sense; i.e., both dynaton and adynaton are used as follows, etc." As belonging to this merely rational possibility [dynaton] he enumerates: "The possible, then, in one sense, means that which is not of necessity false; in one that which is true; in one, that which may be true." Cf. Met. IX. 1. 1046a8.

6Met. V. 12. 1019b33: "A 'potency' or 'power' in geometry is so-called by a change of meaning." Cf. Met. IX. 1. 1046a7: "Some are called so by analogy." The similarity consists in this: that just as potential being turns into actual being, so from the multiplication of the root with itself is generated the magnitude whose root it is.

7Met. XIV. 2. 1089a28.

8Met. IX. 3. 1047a24: "And a thing is capable of doing something if there will be nothing impossible in its having the actuality of that of which it is said to have the capacity. I mean, for instance, if a thing is capable of sitting and it is open to it to sit, there will be nothing impossible in its actually sitting; and similarly if it is capable of being moved or moving, or of standing or of making to stand, or of being or coming to be, or of not-being or not coming to be."

9Met. IX. 8. 1049blO: "To all such potency, then, actuality is prior both in formula and in substantiality … so that the formula and the knowledge of the one must precede the knowledge of the other."

10Met. IX. 3. 1047a30: "The word 'actuality', which we connect with 'complete reality', has, in the main, been extended from movements to other things; for actuality in the strict sense is thought to be identical with movement."

11Ibid., 6. 1048a25.

12Ibid., a35: "Our meaning can be seen in the particular cases by induction, and we must not seek a definition of everything."

13Ibid., a30: "Actuality, then, is the existence of a thing not in the way which we express by 'potentially'; we say that potentially, for instance, a statue of Hermes is in the block of wood and the half-line is in the whole, because it might be separated out, and we call even the man who is not studying a man of science, if he is capable of studying; the thing that stands in contrast to each of these exists actually."

14Met. IX. 6. 1048a36: "And we must not seek a definition of everything but be content to grasp the analogy, that it is as that which is building is to that which is capable of building, and the waking to the sleeping, and that which is seeing to that which has its eyes shut but has sight, and that which has been shaped out of the matter to the matter, and that which has been wrought up to the unwrought. Let actuality be defined by one member of this antithesis, and the potential by the other." Cf. Schwegler concerning the reading of this passage.

15 Cf. Schwegler, Metaphysik des Aristoteles, 4, 222.

16 Ancient as well as recent commentators are in disagreement concerning the distinction between "energeia" and "entelecheia", but the difference between their opinions is much larger than the difference between the concepts that are designated by these two names. They are indeed applied to different things. It is not so much the case that they differ from one another, but that each differs from itself in different uses [contexts]; for "actual being" [on energeia] is not a univocally, but an analogously used name, as we shall see when the categories are discussed. Thus it could happen that commentators came to opposing views depending on the passage upon which they focussed. Many attribute more consummate reality to entelecheia than to energeia, while Schwegler claims (op. cit.) "energeia is the activity (self-employment) in consummate being, while entelecheia is striving activity connected with dynamis." On energeia as well as on entelecheia mean that which is realized and completed through form. But while the designation "entelecheia" expresses this through the very word, the name "energeia" is taken from movements (as Aristotle teaches, cf. above, n. 10) not because that which is in motion is energeia in the fullest sense, but of all realities movement strikes our eye first. Movement is not asserted of anything that is not real, while other predicates, such as thinkable and desirable, also apply to non-being (Arist., ibid).

17 In connection with Physics 358al9 ff.

18Met. IX. 3. 1046b29: "There are some who say, as the Megaric school does, that a thing 'can' act only when it is acting and when it is not acting it 'cannot' act, e.g., that he who is not building cannot build, but only he who is building, when he is building; and so in all other cases. It is not hard to see the absurdities that attend this view. For it is clear that on this view a man will not be a builder unless he is building (for to be a builder is to be able to build)."

19Met. IX. 3. 1047a4.

20Ibid., a7.

21Ibid., a10.

22Met. IX. 1. 1046a9: "All are originative sources of some kind."

23 See below chap. 5, sect. 3.

24Met. V. 12. 1019al5: "'potency' means a source of movement or change, which is in another thing than the thing moved or in the same thing qua other, etc."

25 Cf. below chap. 5, sect. 13.

26Met. V. 12. 1019a20. "'Potency' then means the source of change or movement by another thing or by itself qua other."

27Ibid., a26: "The states in virtue of which things are absolutely impassive or unchangeable, or not easily changed for the worse, are called potencies; for things are broken and crushed and bent and in general destroyed, not by having a potency but by not having one and by lacking something, and things are impassive with respect to such processes if they are scarcely and slightly affected by them because of a 'potency' and because they 'can' do something and are in some positive state."

28Met. V. 12. 1019a23: "The capacity of performing this well or according to intention … so too, in the case of passivity." This kind of potentiality [dynamis] is here actually mentioned in the third place. According to the order which is used in IX. 1, which we have followed, and which corresponds to the order of things capable [dynata], we have introduced it as the fourth.

29Ibid., a32 ff.

30 See above, n. 5.

31Ibid., b35: "But the senses which involve a reference to potency all refer to the primary kind of potency; and this is a source of change in another thing or in the same thing qua other. For other things are called 'capable', because something else has such a potency over them, some because it has not, some because it has it in a particular way, etc."

32 In order for something to be a potential being [dynamei on] it does not suffice that the principle of an activity should be found in it; doing [poiein] must also belong to it as a proper accident (see below, chap. 5, sect. 13). This is not the case with God.

33Met. IX. 3. 1047a20: "So that it is possible that a thing may be capable of being and not be, and capable of not-being and yet be, and similarly with the other kinds of predicates; it may be capable of walking and yet not walk or capable of not walking and yet walk."

34Met. IX. 10. 1051a34: "The terms 'being' and 'non-being' are employed firstly with reference to the categories, and secondly with reference to the potency or actuality of these or their non-potency or non-actuality." V. 7. 1017a35: "Again, 'being' and 'that which is' mean that some of the things we have mentioned 'are' potentially, others in complete reality." (At this point he has already discussed the categories.) Cf. also De anima II. 1. 412a6.

35 See below chap. 5, sect. 3.

36Met. IX. 6. 1048b6: "But all things are not said in the same sense to exist actually, but only by analogy—as A is in B or to B, C is in D or to D; (for this reading cf. Bonitz, Observationes criticae in Aristotelis libros Metaphysicae [Berlin, 1842]). Some are as movement to potency, and the others as substance to some sort of matter." Cf. below, chap. 5, sect. 13.

37Met. XIV. 2. 1089a34: "Now it is strange to enquire how being in the sense of 'what' is many, and not how either qualities or quantities are many." b15: "What is the reason, then, why there is a plurality of these? It is necessary, then, as we say, to presuppose for each thing that which it is potentially." See Met. X. 3. 1054b28.

38 Cf. the beginning of this chapter.

39Met. IX. 7. 1049a17: "Just as earth is not yet potentially a statue (for it must first change in order to become brass)."

40Met. IX. 7. 1049a3: "Just as not everything can be healed by the medical art or by luck, but there is a certain kind of thing which is capable of it, and only this is potentially healthy. And (1) the delimiting mark of that which as a result of thought comes to exist in complete reality from having existed potentially is that if the agent has willed it it comes to pass if nothing external hinders, while the condition on the other side—viz. in that which is healed—is that nothing in it hinders the result. It is on similar terms that we have what is potentially a house; if nothing in the thing acted on—i.e., in the matter—prevents it from becoming a house, and if there is nothing which must be added or taken away or changed, this is potentially a house; and the same is true of all other things the source of whose becoming is external. And (2) in the cases in which the source of the becoming is in the very thing which comes to be, a thing is potentially all those things which it will be of itself if nothing external hinders it. E.g., the seed is not yet potentially a man; for it must be deposited in something other than itself and undergo a change. But when through its own motive principle it has already got such and such attributes, in this state it is already potentially a man; while in the former state it needs another motive principle, just as earth is not yet potentially a statue (for it must first change in order for it to become brass)."

41 Cf. Physics I. 9. 192b 16.

42 E.g., De anima, II. 1. 412a6: "We are in the habit of recognizing, as one determinate kind of what is, substance, and that in several senses, (a) in the sense of matter or that which in itself is not 'a this', and (b) in the sense of form or essence which is that precisely in virtue of which a thing is called 'a this', and thirdly (c) in the sense of that which is compounded of both (a) and (b). Now matter is potentiality, form, actuality."

43 Cf. Physics III. 1. 201a29. Ibid., 21.

44Met. XI. 9. 1065bl6: "I call the actuality of the potential as such, movement." Physics III. 1. 201a9: "We have now before us the distinctions in the various classes of being between what is fully real and what is potential. The fulfillment of what exists potentially, insofar as it exists potentially, is motion." Ibid. b4: "Clearly it is the fulfillment of what is potential as potential that is motion."

45De anima, II. 1. 412al9: "Hence this soul must be a substance in the sense of the form of a natural body having life potentially within it. But substance is actuality, and thus soul is the actuality of a body as above characterized."

46 E.g., Simplicius, In Aristotelis Physicorum commentarium, ed. Hermann Diels, Com. in Arist. Gr., IX (Berlin 1882), 414: "Whenever a thing changes from potentiality to actuality, with the potentiality remaining in the thing, we say it moves." Similarly Themistius and otheo.

47 Philiponus, In Aristotelis Physicorum libros tres priores commentaria, ed. Hieronymus Vitelli, Com. in Arist. Gr. 16 (Berlin 1887), 351: "They explain motion (Themistius changed this somewhat) as the first entelechy of potential being as such; for the final entelechy is the transition to the form in which it remains thereafter; by contrast, the first entelechy is the passage toward the form; and this is motion."

48Simplicius, loc. cit.: "Therefore, insofar as something is in actuality, it moves not at all. Also insofar as something potential remains potential and merely capacity, we would not say that it moves. But when it changes from potentiality to actuality, and the potentiality remains in it, then we say it moves."

49Physics III. 1. 201a29. Also Met. XI. 9.

50Physics III. 1. 201a9: "The distinctions in the various classes of being between what is fully real and what is potential…" Similarly Met. XI. 9.

51De anima, II. 1. 412a8: "Now matter is potentiality, form actuality." Met. VIII. 2. 1043a27: "One kind of it [is substance] as matter, another as form or actuality."

52Met. II. 2. 994a22: "For one thing comes from another in two ways—not in the sense in which 'from' means 'after' (as we say 'from the Isthmian games come the Olympian'), but either (1) as the man comes from the boy, by the boy's changing or (2) as air comes from water. By 'as the man comes from the boy' we mean 'as that which has come to be from that which is coming to be. Or as that which is finished from that which is being achieved' (for as becoming is between being and not being, so that which is becoming is always between that which is and that which is not; for the learner is a man of science in the making, and this is what is meant when we say that from a learner a man of science is being made); on the other hand, coming from another thing as water comes from air implies the destruction of the other thing."

53Met. II. 2. 994a31: "This is why changes of the former kind are not reversible, and the boy does not come from the man (for it is not that which comes to be something that comes to be as a result of coming to be, but that which exists after the coming to be; for it is thus that the day, too, comes from the morning—in the sense that it comes after the morning; which is the reason why the morning cannot come from the day); but changes of the other kind are reversible."

54 See above, pp. 8f.

55Met. VIII. 2. 1043al2: "The actuality or the formula is different when the matter is different."

56Met. II. 2. See above, n. 52.

57Physics III. 1. 201a31: "For 'to be bronze' and 'to be a certain potentiality [for motion]' are not the same.… (This is obvious in contraries. 'To be capable of health' and 'to be capable of illness' are not the same, for if they were there would be no difference between being ill and being well. Yet the subject both of health and of sickness—whether it is humor or blood—is one and the same.) We can distinguish, then, between the two just as, to give another example, 'color' and 'visible' are different, and clearly it is the fulfillment of what is potential as potential that is motion."

58Physics III. 1. Cf. the preceding note.

59Physics III. 1. 201a27: "[the fulfillment of] a potential thing, as thing moved, is motion, whenever this fully real being is in the process of bringing about (either itself or another)." [Brentano relies on a different reading than Ross for this difficult passage. We translate the Brentano version. The quotation continues:] "what I mean by 'as' is this: bronze is potentially a statue. But it is not the fulfillment of bronze as bronze which is motion. For 'to be bronze' and 'to be a certain potentiality' are not the same."

60Physics III. 1. 201b5: "further it is evident that motion is an attribute of a thing just when it is fully real in this way, and neither before nor after. For each thing of this kind is capable of being at one time actual, at another not. Take for instance the buildable as buildable. The actuality of the buildable as buildable is the process of building. For the actuality of the buildable must be either this or the house. But when there is a house, the buildable is no longer buildable. On the other hand it is the buildable which is being built. The process then of being built must be the kind of actuality required. But building is a kind of motion, and the same account will apply to the other kinds also."

61Ibid., a15: "Examples will illucidate this definition of motion. When the buildable, insofar as it is just that, is fully real, it is being built, and this is building. Similarly, learning, doctoring, rolling, leaping, ripening, aging."

62Physics III. 1. 201b4: "Clearly it is the fulfillment of what is potential as potential that is motion." Ibid. al0: "The fulfillment of what exists potentially, insofar as it exists potentially, is motion—namely, of what is alterable qua alterable, alteration: of what can be increased and its opposite what can be decreased (there is no common name), increase and decrease: of what can come to be and can pass away, coming to be and passing away: of what can be carried along, locomotion."

63 Cf. Alexander Aphrodisiensis, In Aristotelis Metaphysica Commentaria, Com. in Arist. Gr., I (Berlin 1891), 396.

64Met. II. 2; See above, n. 53.

65Physics III. 2. 201bl9: "This is plain if we consider where some people put it; they identify motion with 'difference' or 'inequality' or 'not being'; but such things are not necessarily moved, whether they are 'different' or 'unequal' or 'non-existent'; nor is change either to or from these, rather to or from their opposites."

66 According to the order of the Pythagoreans; cf. C. A. Brandis, ed. Scholia in Aristotelem (Berlin 1836), pp. 360a8 and 360al5.

67Physics III. 2. 201b24: "The reason why I put motion into these genera is that it is thought to be something indefinite, and the principles in the second column are indefinite because they are privative: none of them is either 'this' or 'such' or comes under any of the other modes of predication." Ibid., 1. 200b32: "There is no such thing as motion over and above the things. It is always with respect to substance or to quantity or to quality or to place that what changes changes. But it is impossible, as we assert, to find anything common to these which is neither 'this' nor quantum nor quale nor any of the other predicates. Hence neither will motion and change have reference to something over and above the things mentioned, for there is nothing over and above them."

68Physics III. 2. 201b27: "The reason in turn why motion is thought to be indefinite is that it cannot be classed simply as a potentiality or as an actuality—a thing that is merely capable of having a certain size is not undergoing change, nor yet a thing that is actually of a certain size, and motion is thought to be a source of actuality, but incomplete, the reason for this view being that the potential whose actuality it is is incomplete." De anima III. 7. 431a6: "Movement, is as we saw, an activity of what is imperfect."

69 In following the first interpretation one encounters the difficulty (cf. Brandis, op. cit., p. 358al9) that Aristotle describes movement [kinesis] not only as actuality [energeia] but also as consummate reality [entelecheia] which implies a consummation [teleiotes, see above sect. 1]. It is easy for us to explain this. Just as motion [kinesis] constitutes a state of becoming, and realizes this state, for which reason it is actuality [energeia], so it also consummates it as such and is therefore called a consummate reality [entelecheia]. It thus produces a more advanced, higher, and as it were, more consummate state of potentiality.

70Physics III. 2. 201b33: "This is why it is hard to grasp what motion is. It is necessary to class it with privation or with potentiality or with sheer actuality, yet none of this seems possible. There remains then the suggested mode of definition, namely, that it is a sort of actuality, or actuality of the kind described, hard to grasp, but not incapable of existing."

71Physics III. 1. 201a8: "Hence there are as many types of motion or change as there are meanings of the word 'is'." See also Met. XI. 9.

72 Cf. Met. XI. 11. 1067b14ff. Likewise Physics III.

73Met. XI. 12. 1068a8: "If the categories are classified as substance, quality, place, acting or being acted on, relation, quantity, there must be three kinds of movement—of quality, of quantity, of place." Similarly Physics III. For those things which do not allow an intermediate state between the state prior to becoming and actuality and for which consequently there is not motion [kinesis], (hence, as we are told, for all categories outside of quality, quantity, and place [poion, poson, and pou]) the state of potentiality prior to becoming, which is not constituted by any form as such, is to be described as a state of most proximate potentiality. The state of their becoming is the state of actuality at the first moment.

74 Cf. Physics III. 5. 204a8.

75Met. IX. 6. 1048b9: "But also the infinite and the void and all similar things are said to exist potentially and actually in a different sense from that which applies to many other things, e.g., to that which sees or walks or is seen. For of the latter class these predicates can at some time be also truly asserted without qualification; for the seen is so called sometimes because it is being seen, sometimes because it is capable of being seen. But the infinite does not exist potentially in the sense that it will ever actually have separate existence; it exists potentially only for knowledge. For the fact that the process of dividing never comes to an end ensures that this activity exists potentially, but not that the infinite exists separately."

Wilfrid Sellars (essay date 1957)

SOURCE: "Substance and Form in Aristotle," in Journal of Philosophy, Vol. LIV, No. 22, October 24, 1957, pp. 688-99.

[In the following essay, Sellars reviews the nature of substance, form, and matter as discussed by Aristotle, noting ways in which Categories, particularly statements regarding the theory of predication, can help one understand the concepts expressed in Metaphysics.]


In Categories 2 b 4 ff., Aristotle writes, "Everything except primary substance is either predicated of primary substances or is present in them, and if these last did not exist, it would be impossible for anything else to exist."1 By "everything except primary substances" he presumably means, in this context, everything which is either a secondary substance, or belongs in one of the other categories. And he is telling us that while items other than primary substances may legitimately be said to exist, their existence is essentially bound up with the fact that they are either 'predicated of or 'present in' primary substances.

What, exactly, does Aristotle mean by these two technical expressions? Leaving 'predicated of aside, for the moment, let us note some distinctive features of his account of 'present in'. "By being 'present in a subject' I do not mean present as parts are in a whole, but being incapable of existence apart from the said subject" (1 a 24-5). He then tells us (2 a 25 ff.) that "with respect to those things … which are present in a subject, it is generally the case that neither the name nor the definition is predicable of that in which they are present," to which he adds that "though the definition is never predicable, there is nothing, in certain cases, to prevent the name being used" (italics mine). He has just been pointing out that both the name and the definition of the species Man are predicable of the individual,—thus, 'Socrates is a man' and 'Socrates is a two-footed, terrestrial animal'. If we coin the expressions 'nominal predication' and 'full predication' to stand for the difference Aristotle has in mind, the question arises as to what sorts of things are fully predicable of primary substances. The list includes not only the species, but also the genera, proximate and remote. It also includes the differentiae, thus, two-footed and terrestrial. Does it include anything else? Aristotle continues the above quoted passage by giving an example of something which is nominally but not fully predicable of a primary substance. "For instance, white being present in a body, [the word] 'white' is predicated of that in which it is present; the definition, however, of white is never predicated of the body."2

In Categories 4 a 10 ff. Aristotle tells us that "the most distinctive mark of substance appears3 to be that while remaining numerically the same, it is capable of admitting contrary qualities." The question naturally arises, Is Aristotle contrasting materiate substances with items in other categories of being which, also remaining numerically the same, are incapable of admitting contrary qualities? And to this the answer is, Yes. "Thus," he continues, "one and the same color cannot be both white and black. Nor can the same action be both good and bad."

It should now be quite clear that by 'one and the same color'—'a color which is numerically one'—Aristotle does not mean a shade of color, that is to say, a repeatable or universal which is common to many individual things, but a particular, an instance of a shade of color. If we call this particular 'Tom', the idea is that Tom is, say, a white as Socrates is a man, not as Man is an Animal. The doctrine is that of the Phaedo, where (102 D ff.) distinguishing between the large thing, the large in the thing, and The Large Itself. Plato tells us that while the large thing may become small (by losing the large which is in it and, sharing in The Small Itself, acquiring a small to be the small which replaces it), the large in the thing can never be small, nor the small in the thing large.

The view which emerges from these passages is one according to which all predication is built on one fundamental form, namely 'X is a Y'. If X is a primary substance, Y is a secondary substance or thing-kind. But there are other examples of this form—thus,, 'Tom is a white'. Here Tom would be a quality in a 'primary' sense which corresponds to the 'primary' sense of 'substance'. A similar distinction is to be drawn in each of the other categories.' We shall call items such as Tom, qualia, and primary instances of the category of Quantity, quanta.5

There are, then, for Aristotle, at least two dimensions in which the being of items other than primary substances is dependent on the being of primary substances. In one dimension the 'is' of 'This white is' stands to the 'is' of 'This man is' as 'inseparable' to 'separate'.6 What they have in common can be represented by saying that they share the form 'X is a Y'. A second dimension in which beings other than primary substances are dependent on primary substances is concerned with the being of universals. This dimension is brought out by the formula

Man is = Some primary substances are men.

'Man is' is traced to 'This (substance) is a man'. In these terms the significant difference between Plato and Aristotle is that whereas the former takes 'man' to be primarily the proper name of a single entity, Aristotle takes it to be primarily a common name of many individual men (thus, Categories 3 b 15-17) and consequently refuses to treat even its derivative use in, say, 'Man is an animal' as that of a proper name.7


What light does the teaching of the Categories throw on Aristotle's analysis of changing substances into matter and form in the Metaphysics? One thinks right away of the fact that if anything is clear about an Aristotelian form it is that its primary mode of being is to be a this. Certainly the form of a materiate substance is not a universal, for, as Aristotle reiterates, the form is 'the substance of the composite, and the substance of a this must be of the nature of a this and never a universal.8 Two questions obviously arise: (I) Is the form of a materiate substance not only a this, as contrasted with a universal, but a 'primary substance' in the sense of the Categories9? (2) To what extent does the sense in which the form is present in either the composite or the matter correspond to the sense in which, e.g., the white-in-the-thing is present in the white substance?

That the form of a materiate substance is in some sense an 'individual' or 'this' is clear. Does it follow that since it is not a universal, it must be a 'primary substance' in the sense of the Categories? No; for, as we shall see, it can be 'substance' in a derivative sense as being the immanent principle or cause of a primary substance. It can be a this which is a substance as being that by virtue of which the substance in which it is present is a substance in the primary or underivative sense of the term.10 Indeed, it can even be a this in a derivative sense without being a universal, which, after all, is the heart of the matter.

But if a form is a this which is a this and substance only in a derivative sense, what is it in its own character? To use Aristotle's own example, medicine is healthy qua capable of restoring health, but in its own character, it is, say, a concoction of juices. The answer which leaps to mind, though it won't do as it stands, is that the form is, in its own character, a quale (or quantum, or combination of these or other particulars from categories other than substance), but that it is a form not qua quale, but qua that by virtue of which the primary substance in which it is present is a separate being of a certain kind. We seem to find something like this account in Aristotle's treatment of artifacts. Of particular interest in this connection is a passage in the Categories where he writes (3 b 18 ff.):

Yet species and genus do not merely indicate quality, like the term 'white'; 'white' indicates quality and nothing further, but species and genus determine quality with reference to a substance; they signify substance qualitatively differentiated.

To this passage should be related Metaphysics 1042 b 9 ff.,—in which he tells us that the 'principles of the beings of things' are to be found in the attributes with respect to which the various kinds of things or substances differ from one another. To this he adds the necessary reminder that the principle of the being of a substance cannot be found simply in a category other than substance, e.g., quality: "… none of these differentiae is substance, even when coupled with matter, yet it is what is analogous to substance in each case." This remark is, in the first instance, a reference to the view that the difference is to the genus as form to matter; that is to say, the genus is a determinable which the difference makes determinate much as plane figure is made determinate by bounded by three straight lines, and still more determinate by specifying that the lines are equally long. But of even greater significance is the fact that the difference is a difference of a kind of substance, as opposed to "a quality and nothing further," by determining a way of being a substance. For it clearly won't do to treat the category of substance as the highest determinable under which the difference falls, if the difference is construed simply as a quality, for then the category of substance would simply be the category of quality.

How is this to be understood? Aristotle, like all philosophers who take substance seriously, faced a dilemma. This dilemma concerns the relation of thing-kinds or secondary substances to the criteria which things must satisfy in order to belong to these kinds. It is important to see that this dilemma depends in no way on the Socratic-Aristotelian distinction between qualities and qualia, quantities and quanta, etc., though failure to escape between the horns of the dilemma may suggest this multiplication of particulars.

On the one hand, there is a strong temptation to identify 'S1 is a K' with 'S1 is Q1 … Qn', which identification might be expressed by the equation (where S1 is an individual substance, Q1 … Qn its criterion qualities),

S1 is a K = S1 is Q1 … Qn.

The violence this does to our conceptual framework is brought out by the fact that it doesn't make sense to say 'S1 is a Q1'. And no matter how 'complex' we make the adjective 'Q1' it still doesn't make sense to say 'S1 is a Q1.' Even if 'S1 is Ql' were equivalent in meaning to 'S1 is Q1 … Qn', the question 'What kind of thing is S1?' i.e., 'S1 is a what?' is no more answered by 'S1 is Q1' (save by implication) than, as Urmson has pointed out, 'Is this apple good?' is answered by 'This apple is XYZ', where 'XYZ' is the descriptive term which specifies the criteria for good apples.

In particular, it won't do to equate 'S1 is a man' with 'S1 is human', for, outside of the textbooks, 'S1 is human' means 'S1 is like a man' (cf. 'Fido is almost human') or, more usually, like a good man (in some respect relevant to the discussion). Thus 'S1 is human', far from illuminating 'S1 is a man', presupposes it.

Since the question 'S1 is a what?' will not down, the attempt to reduce thing-kind expressions to complex adjectives leads to the introduction of a new (and pseudo-) thing-kind expression, namely 'Substratum'. It is 'a substratum' which is Q1 … Qn. The substratum is a "bare substratum" in that though 'SI is a substratum' professes to answer the question 'Of what kind is the object which is Q1 … Qn?' it fails to do so. Clearly it is words like 'man', 'horse', 'shoe', etc. which properly play this role.11

On the other hand (the second horn of the dilemma) the attempt to distinguish between the thing-kind and its criteria may lead to equally desperate expedients. For if we insist that to say of S1 that it is a K is to characterize S1 in a way which does not amount to characterizing it as Q1 … Qn, we are open at once to the challenge 'Is it then logically possible for there to be a K which isn't Q1 … Qn (although the latter are granted to be the criteria for being a K)?'; while to take the line that 'K' as distinguished from the criteria simply characterizes S as "thingish" or "substantial" is to return to the "bare substratum" of the first horn.

Now the genius of Aristotle (as well as his limitations) is nowhere better illustrated than in his treatment of substance. This becomes clear once we discover how to run between the horns of the above dilemma. And, indeed, all we need to do is face up to the fact that thing-kind words are common names and not a peculiar kind of adjective. Thus, while 'S1 is a K' implies that S is Q1 … Qn, 'K' is by no means "logical shorthand" for "being Q1 … Qn". Q1 … Qn are criteria for the application of 'K' without being "the meaning of 'K"' as XYZ, say, is the criterion for the application of 'good' to apples without being the meaning of 'good' as applied to apples. The point is not simply that there is "free play", "vagueness", or "open texture" in the connection between being a K and the qualities Q1 … Qn. The connection could be ever so tight, so tight that there is a definite set of conditions separately necessary and jointly sufficient to establish that something was a K and still 'K' would play a unique role in discourse, a role which is quite other than that of a complex adjective. Words for thing-kinds are no more shorthand for their criteria, than proper names are shorthand for definite descriptions, which serve as their criteria (cf. Wittgenstein, Investigations, 79).

I have emphasized that thing-kind words are common names. By this I mean that they are common names of individuals, not proper names of universals; and as I have already indicated, I believe that Aristotle saw this and saw it clearly. It is just because 'man' is the common name of individual men that it can "cover the whole being of individual men". ('Man' is no more the name of a part of the individuals it names, than 'Julius Caesar' is the name of a part of Julius Caesar.) Also clearly reflected in his account is the fact that while a shoe may at one time be polished and at. another time scuffed, which we may represent by the form

S1 is Q-at-t

thing-kind words do not have the form

S1 is a K-at-t.

A shoe is not a shoe at a time. Certainly there is a sense in which a piece of paper may be now a letter, now a (toy) aeroplane. But while the paper may come to be arranged in that way which makes it an aeroplane, and continue to be arranged in that way, and then cease to be arranged in that way, the aeroplane simply comes to be, exists throughout the stretch of time, and then ceases to be. To say that the paper is now an aeroplane is to say that the name 'aeroplane' is now appropriately applied to the paper. And since 'aeroplane' is the name of pieces of paper qua arranged in that manner, the name comes to be applicable to the piece of paper (the aeroplane comes to be) when the paper becomes so arranged, and ceases to be applicable (the aeroplane ceases to be) when the paper ceases to be so arranged.

We might put this by saying that aeroplane is predicable of the paper qua arranged, but the material mode of speech and the term 'predicable' should not deceive us. We can, if we like, say that 'aeroplane' means the character of being an aeroplane, and that this character is attributable to the paper qua arranged. The important thing is not to be misled by this manner of speaking into assimilating 'being an aeroplane' to 'being white'.

But not only are thing-kinds not reducible to the qualities which are their criteria, these qualities have, as criteria, their own logical peculiarities. We saw above that a shoe is not a shoe-at-t. It can now be pointed out that not only are animals not animals-at-t but to be a two-footed animal is not to be an animal which is two-footed-at-t. Again when a certain quality, say white, is a criterion quality, its character as criterion for the thing-kind name is reflected in the fact that it has the form 'white-thing' or 'white substance', where these phrases are not to be understood in terms of such contexts as 'What is that white thing over there?' To refer to something as 'a white thing' in the sense of this question is not to imply that the object would cease to be the thing it is if it ceases to be white. For the question has the force of

That thing over there, which is (now) white, of what kind is it? it is a what?

On the other hand, as the form of the criterion-predicate, 'white substance' indicates not only that to be white in this sense is not to be white-at-a-time, but implies that something which was not in this sense white would not be a thing of the relevant kind, i.e., that 'being white' in this sense is a criterion for the applicability of the corresponding common name.


Let us apply these considerations to Aristotle's account of artifacts, for example, a shoe. 'Shoe', then, is a common noun applicable to pieces of leather qua qualified by certain criterion qualities. 'Shoe' is not a complex adjective, nor is it defined by qualities, but by qualities 'determined with reference to substance'. A shoe is a this in that it is a shoe. For to be a this in the primary Aristotelian sense is to be not simply not a universal, but to be an instance of a thing kind.12

It is against this background that we can understand Aristotle's denial that matter is (save in a derivative sense) a this. For while the matter of which a shoe is made is a particular in a broad sense as contrasted with a universal, it is not a this in the sense of 'a K'. Notice that we speak of 'a shoe' but of 'a piece of leather'; 'a statue' but 'a chunk of marble'; and so on. 'Leather', 'marble', 'bronze' are not thing-kind words, and Aristotle's distinction between thises and the matter for thises reflects an important distinction. What Aristotle has in mind is that when you have said of something that it is a piece of leather, you have not classified it under a secondary substance, and that even when you say 'a piece of leather of such and such a size and shape' you have not yet characterized it as a this, though you will have done so by implication if by virtue of being a piece of leather thus qualified, it conforms to the criteria for a thing-kind, e.g., shoe.13

Now if the shoe 'as a whole' is the instance of the secondary substance shoe (a fact which reflects the role of 'shoe' as a common name), what is the form of the shoe as contrasted with its matter? Among the conditions to be met by an answer are the following: (1) The form is not a universal, yet it is not simply a this or primary substance. (2) The form is not a quale, quantum, etc., nor any combination of these, for it is that by virtue of which the shoe is a primary substance; yet it cannot be explained without reference to categories other than substance. The answer, as far as I can see, is to be found by a more careful analysis of the secondary substance shoe. We have been representing it (in the material mode, so to speak) as such and such qualities determined to substance. Would we not, however, better reflect the above analysis if we represented it by such and such qualities determined to substance in leather? If so, it springs to the attention that shoes, after all, can be made of other materials, for the attributes which justify the application of the name 'shoe' to a piece of leather can, at least in principle, be present in these other materials. Thus, the form of shoes taken universally is the secondary substance shoe as represented immediately above ('leathern shoe') without the specification of the material in which the criterion qualities are to be present. On the other hand, the form (taken universally) is not these qualities simpliciter, but these qualities determined with reference to substance (i.e., as criterion qualities for a thing-kind name) in some appropriate material or other. Thus Aristotle can say that the form of this shoe is, in a certain sense, the shoe itself. For, to follow up the above line of thought, the form of this shoe is the shoe itself qua a foot-covering made of some appropriate kind of matter. The form is in this disjunctive sense (indicated by 'some') more 'abstract' than the shoe, but it is not for this reason a universal. Furthermore, the form, in this 'abstract' (disjunctive) way includes the whole being of the individual shoe. The form qua form is incapable of separate existence as disjunctive facts are incapable of existing apart from "basic" facts, but it is not 'present in' the shoe as a quale is present in a primary substance. For the form taken universally is fully predicable of the subject. SI is not only a covering for the feet made of leather, it is a covering for the feet made of some appropriate material or other. The sense, therefore, in which the form of the shoe is present in the shoe, and is an incomplete entity incapable of separate existence, is not to be simply identified with the sense in which qualia, quanta, etc. are present in primary substances, nor is it to be identified with the sense in which universals are incapable of separate existence.14

It is, I think, clear, that something like the above distinctions can be drawn without a commitment to the theory of predication of the Categories. As far as I can see, however, Aristotle remained committed to this theory throughout his career.15 And this is the occasion to admit that Aristotle sometimes seems to think of the form of a materiate substance as a substance which is more truly substance than the substance of which it is the form—particularly in the case of living things, where Human Soul, for example, seems at times to be a thing-kind which is more truly a thing-kind than the materiate universal Man; the soul of Socrates to be in a primary sense a this, and Socrates a this in a derivative sense as having a primary this within him. To be sure, the soul of Socrates would not be primary substance in the full sense of the Categories, for it is incapable of separate existence. But, then, is any being truly capable of separate existence save those incorporeal intelligences which everlastingly think on thought?

That Aristotle could think along these lines was made possible by the fact that his theory of predication provides a built-in way of going from 'this matter is […] 'to 'a […] in this matter'. Is this not the key to Aristotle's claim that whereas 'to be man' is not identical with the essence of man, 'to be soul' is identical with the essence of soul'? For the latter treats souls as items which are not only the essence of the living things to which they belong, but themselves have an essence. What essence? Do we not have here an echo of the Phaedo? of the idea that souls are essentially alive and as alive make the composites to which they belong derivatively alive?16


1 I have found Joseph Owen's important book The Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1957) and Ellen Stone Haring's analysis of Metaphysics Z ("Substantial Form in Aristotle's Metaphysics Z," Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 10, 1957) helpful and suggestive, although I ran into the latter too late to give it more than a careful first reading.

2 The Oxford translation, which I have modified slightly, reads: "For instance, 'white' being present in a body is predicated of that in which it is present, for a body is called white: the definition, however, of the color 'white' is never predicable of the body."

3 The "appears" is undoubtedly a tacit reference to the existence of unchanging, immaterial substances. Strictly speaking, however, it is probably incorrect to say that immaterial substances are substances in the sense of the Categories, i.e., in the sense in which substances are contrasted with the qualities, quantities, etc. by which they are characterized. They are, however, beings which 'exist apart'—indeed, more truly apart than the primary substances of the Categories.

4 Cf. Ross, Aristotle, Second Edition, p. 24.

5 A no less explicit and, in certain respects, more interesting formulation of this theory of predication is to be found in Topics 102 b 20 ff. Two points require to be made about the translation: (1) 'White' in 103 b 32 should be 'the (presented) white' (to ekkeimenon leukon) to parallel 'the (presented) man' (to ekkeimenon anthropon) which the translator renders simply by 'a man'. (2) 'Essence' is here the translation of 'ti esti' and has the sense of the 'what it is' or 'identity' of something. To give something's ti esti is to identify it as, say, 'a man' or 'an animal'—or, and this is the crux of the matter, 'a white (quale)' or 'a color (quale)'. In 102 a 32 ff. Aristotle writes, "We should treat as predicates in the category of essence (ti esti) all such things as it would be appropriate to mention in reply to the question 'What is the object before you?"' Notice that the distinction between the first class of predicates and the remaining nine which is drawn in this passage is not that between substance and the various sorts of thing that can be said of substances, but rather between the identity, the ti esti of an item of whatever category in the more familiar sense, and the sort of things that can be said of it.

6 While changeable things must have qualia present in them, and in this sense cannot exist apart from qualia, they can exist apart in the specific sense in which qualia cannot; for primary substances are not present in a subject.

7 The argument of the Categories implies that while we might begin to explicate 'White exists' by saying 'White is = Some primary substances are white', the analysis would not be complete until we said something like 'White is = Some qualia are whites', though Aristotle nowhere explicitly undertakes this reduction.

8 It is perhaps worth nothing that the unmoved movers are with equal certainty not universals. Of what would they be predicated?

9 As contrasted with the use of this and related expressions in other contexts. Thus in Metaphysics VII, 1032 b 1, 1037 a 5, and 1037 b 1, this expression is applied to the form of a materiate substance as the principle by virtue of which the latter is a substance. The form is 'primary' as not itself consisting of matter and form, and as prior to the concrete individual which does consist of matter and form. Yet that the form of a materiate substance in some sense includes its matter will be argued below.

10 It is essential to realize that the idea that the concrete individual is a substance in the primary sense of 'substance' (as having separate existence) is not incompatible with the idea that there is an entity which though a substance in a derivative sense, is nevertheless prior to the concrete individual as a principle of its being.

11 The realization that 'substratum' is a stone where there should be bread, combined with the fact that the question 'S1 is a what?' will not down, soon generates a more subtle scheme. By the simple expedient of coining a new usage according to which the adjective 'white' rests on a postulated common name 'white' so that we can speak of 'a white', and, in general, of 'a Q', bare substrata are avoided by turning S1 into a bundle consisting of a Q1, a Q2 … and a Qn. Since it is a fundamental feature of logic of a set of thing-kind expressions belonging to a given universe of discourse, that no object belongs to more than one kind (unless these kinds are related as genus to species) the introduction of qualia soon leads to the feeling that no quale can be of two kinds which are not related as determinable to determinate. I have trodden this road myself in "Particulars," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 13, 1952, and "The Logic of Complex Particulars," Mind, Vol. 58, 1949. My mistake was in thinking that in the language we actually use things that are complex particulars, and 'thing-kind' words 'abstract' references to sets of simple particulars. I remain convinced, however, that there is a sense in which an ideal description of the world would be in a language of this form. In any event, Aristotle's recognition of whites in addition to white things and whiteness is clearly not motivated by a desire to avoid substrata. Nor was his doctrine of prime matter motivated by logical puzzles relating to predication. That opposite (e.g., a hot) cannot act directly on opposite (e.g., a cold) but only qualified substratum on qualified substratum is a fundamental principle of his Physics. And the very claim that first matter is, as such, 'blank' and incapable of separate existence rather than an empirical stuff such as fire or air, is argued on natural philosophical rather than narrowly logical grounds.

12 In Metaphysics 1049 a 19-b 2, which begins with the familiar characterization of prime matter as "that which is no longer with reference to something else called 'thaten'," Aristotle distinguishes between predication in which the subject is a 'this' (a concrete individual) and predication in which the subject is not a 'this' but, rather, matter. He writes: "For the subject or substratum is differentiated by being a 'this' or not being one; i.e., the substratum of modifications is, e.g., a man, i.e. a body and a soul, while the modification is 'musical' or 'pale'.… Wherever this is so, then, the ultimate subject is a substance; but when this is not so but the predicate is a form and a 'this', the ultimate subject is matter and material substance." The concluding sentence is likely to be misinterpreted and to lead to unnecessary puzzlement unless it is realized that "the predicate is a form and a 'this"' has the sense of "the predicate is 'a K' (e.g., 'a man', 'a shoe', etc.)."

13 It might be thought that 'piece of leather' is a thing-kind expression, even if 'leather' is not. Let me indicate, in an Aristotelian mood, why it is only "in a sense" that this is so. Artifacts are purpose servers. The purpose of shoes, for example—to protect and embellish the feet—is part of the very 'meaning' of 'shoe'. But pieces of leather as such are purpose-servers only by being raw material for direct purpose-servers. The context 'piece of …', 'chunk of …', etc., so characteristic of recipes, turn words for kinds of material ('leather', 'marble', etc.) into expressions which, as far as purpose is concerned, imply at most that their designata can be the material cause of items which, as correctly designated by a proper thing-kind expression (in the universe of discourse of artifacts), are direct purpose-servers. A shoe can, indeed, be part of the matter for, e.g., a store window dummy; yet it remains a purpose-server in its own right. But something which is merely 'a piece of …' is only a purpose-server in a derivative sense. The fact that leather is made doesn't mean that pieces of leather are artifacts in the primary sense of this important Aristotelian expression. Aristotle views even the elements in the context of craftsmanship (including the 'craftsmanship' of living things). It is for this reason that he views pieces of earth, air, etc. as thises only in a derivative sense.

14 That the form component of the materiate universal (secondary substance) man might also be found in other materials is suggested by Metaphysics 1036 a 31 ff.

15 See, for example, Metaphysics 1077 b 5 and 1087 a 17; also 991 a 14.

Joseph Owens (essay date 1957)

SOURCE: "The Problem of Being," in The Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian "Metaphysics," Pontifical Institute of Metaphysical Studies, 1957, pp. 35-68.

[In the following essay, Owens studies how Medieval metaphysicians interpreted Aristotle's Metaphysics. Owens observes that the two apparently contradictory notions of being identified in Metaphysics (being as either an abstract, empty concept and being as related to the concept of God) were often merged by Medieval Christian thinkers, and he reviews the debate among later critics regarding the possibility of unifying the two concepts.]

To determine whether the notion of Being in Alexander of Hales is Aristotelian or Platonic, a recent historian seeks his criterion in "the gradual separation of the Aristotelian views from the essential and fundamental teachings of Plato."1 He arrives at a clear-cut norm: "Therefore the essential difference between a Platonic and an Aristotelian conception of Being consists in this, that for the former conception, Being as Being is the ens perfectissimum; while for the latter, Being as Being is the ens commune."2

In its application to the mediaeval thinker, the norm places two alternatives. The one question is: "Does Alexander give the concept of Being a sense that makes it the proper concept of God?"3 If so, his notion of Being is Platonic. The opposite query runs: "Does our author see in the concept of Being the concept most abstract and most empty of content, which, because it has the least content, has the widest extension?"4 In this case his doctrine is properly Aristotelian.

Back of the criterion lies an easily recognizable view of the Aristotelian Primary Philosophy.5

Towards the close of the nineteenth century, Natorp called attention—apparently for the first time—to an "insufferable contradiction" in the traditional Metaphysics. He distinguished two series of texts. These expressed "mutually exclusive" conceptions of the Primary Philosophy. Natorp proceeded to excise the one set of these texts as Platonizing additions inserted by early Peripatetics.6

In strong reaction to so violent a method, Zeller pointed out that the contradiction emerged from the most fundamental of the Stagirite's doctrines. It was too deeply rooted in the whole Aristotelian philosophy to be set aside by philological criticism of certain texts.7

In the present century, Jaeger has sought a more reasonable and primarily philosophical8 solution. The Platonizing character of the texts becomes a mark of their authenticity.9 The two contradictory notions of the Primary Philosophy are actually present in the course of Aristotle's own development. There is an earlier view, which is Platonic; and there is a later one, which is properly Aristotelian. In the earlier stage, the 'object"10 of the science is a particular kind of Being—namely, supersensible or immobile Being. In the later conception, the object is not a particular type of Being, but Being in general, applicable to sensible and supersensible Being alike.11

Should this theory of the Primary Philosophy be historically correct, it will necessarily have important repercussions in any estimate of mediaeval metaphysics.

What are the consequences involved?

They seem quite evident. If a philosopher of the middle ages conceives metaphysics as the science of the Being richest in comprehension, he is thinking in a Platonic direction. If, on the other hand, he agrees that Being as Being means the Being which is widest in extension but most empty in comprehension, he is following the later and properly Aristotelian lead. The historical background restricts the question to the interpretation in the West of the newly-acquired Aristotelian text. For the study of metaphysics as a distinct science in the university circles of the middle ages was occasioned by the spread of that text in Latin translation during the first three quarters of the thirteenth century.12 In a comparatively short time the influence of the Stagirite had altered the whole external structure and technique of Christian thought.13 Accordingly, if a Christian metaphysician working in this milieu took for the subject of his science Being in general—in the sense of the 'most abstract and empty of concepts,' he was drawing the properly Aristotelian inspiration out of the texts from which he was learning his technique. But if—helped largely by the influence of traditional Augustinian thought—he equated the subject of metaphysics with the concept of God, he was interpreting the text according to the Stagirite's earlier and Platonic leanings. Such, at least, seems the way in which the above-mentioned criterion has been applied to Alexander of Hales.14

Some serious misgivings arise after a little reflection on this situation. How could any mediaeval thinker look upon Being as "the concept most abstract and most empty of content"? To the mentality of the age, untouched by Idealism, Being in some way included everything. Nothing could be added to it, neither difference nor accident. It included all its differences. In this sense the mediaeval philosophers interpreted Aristotle's doctrine that Being is not a genus.15 Unlike a generic concept, Being for these thinkers did not decrease in content according to its increase in extension. Besides enjoying the widest possible extension, it possessed in one way or another the greatest possible comprehension. It was far from being an 'empty' concept.16

On the other hand, was any Christian thinker of the middle ages free to identify the subject of metaphysics with the God of his religious faith?

Etienne Gilson has pointed out the profound difference between the Greek and the Christian notions of Being.17 The mediaeval philosophers, as they approached the Aristotelian treatises, were already equipped with the belief in a God whose very name was Being. I am who am was the way in which He had revealed Himself to Moses.18 For the Christian thinker, God was the primary and perfect instance of Being.

But this supreme instance of Being, besides being triune, was an omnipotent and sovereignly free Creator.19 In the natural as well as in the supernatural order, the nature of the First Being transcended human comprehension. Such a Being could hardly be conceived as forming the subject of a specifically human science.20 The subject of metaphysics, when brought formally to the attention of a Christian philosopher, required location in a kind of Being other than the proper nature of the primary and all-perfect type.

Neither, then, of the opposite conceptions of the Primary Philosophy seems acceptable in the mediaeval world.

In point of historical fact, the leading metaphysicians of the middle ages agreed in declaring that Being as Being was the subject of their science. They understood it to include in some way all the differences of Being. It was not an 'empty' concept. But they distinguished it sharply from the primary Being.21 They knew that Aristotle had spoken of the Primary Philosophy as the science of the highest causes and as the science of the separate Entities. They felt obliged to justify their position and to explain in various ways these other formulae of the Stagirite.

Albert the Great, for instance, had no patience with the Latin thinkers who tried to combine into one the three conceptions of metaphysics.22 The theory that God is the subject of this science he considered frankly Platonic and false.23

St. Thomas Aquinas explained that while the science treats of the first causes and the separate substances, ens commune alone can be its subject.24

Siger of Brabant declared, after considering the three views, that "the principles of a thing are sometimes not the principles of its discipline." God, though the first principle of Being, is not "the principle of Being according as it is Being."25

Duns Scotus discusses at considerable length the problems involved in the different conceptions.26 The interpretation of metaphysics as the science of Being qua Being—in the sense of Being in communi27—is for him, as for Siger, the view of Avicenna;28 while the doctrine that God and the separate substances are the subject of the science, is regarded as the position of Averroes.29 Scotus also discusses the view that metaphysics is the science of substance.30 The notion of the primary causes as the subject seems to merge for him in the conception of Being in communi.31 This latter view is the one to which he himself adheres.32

Nor does William of Ockham think differently on this particular point, as far as can be gathered from his teaching about human knowledge of God and substance. Both are known through ens communissimum.33

These mediaeval philosophers, consequently, were well aware of the different conceptions regarding the Aristotelian Primary Philosophy. If they were concerned merely with the neatest formula to delineate the science of metaphysics, they would not be raising any specially important issue. But if they were encountering trouble in expressing their Christian notion of Being in Aristotelian terms, might they not be facing a much more serious problem? Might they not be forcing their own conception of Being into formulae which could not contain it, and which under the pressure burst open in various ways?

In point of fact, the different Christian thinkers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries developed radically divergent metaphysics.34 Yet all learned their technique from Aristotle, and all couched their theses in his formulae. They held in common the doctrine of God and creatures taught by their faith. How can the all-pervasive differences in their metaphysics be explained? An adequate explanation must be given if the mediaeval controversies are to be understood. And not only the lack of agreement in mediaeval procedure, but also the subsequent discouraging history of the science up to the present day seems rooted in these diverging interpretations of the Aristotelian text at the critical period in the inauguration of Western metaphysics.

The first step in solving this problem must be a clear understanding of the doctrine of Being actually contained in the text which confronted the mediaeval thinkers.

In the Metaphysics itself, the study of Being is expressed in various ways. Sometimes the Primary Philosophy is described as the science that treats of the highest principles and causes of things.35 More specifically it seems designated as the inquiry into the causes of Being qua Being.36 It is called the science which deals universally with Being qua Being, and not with particular Being.37 Again, it is delimited to divine and immobile Being, and named 'theology'.38 In this sense it deals with Being qua Being, which now seems to become the equivalent of separate Being.39 In other places the Primary Philosophy is the science of ousia,40 of the primary ousia,41 of the causes of ousiae,42 or of the causes of the visible divine things.43 Again, it is the science of truth.44 In the Physics it is the science of form.45

Can all these different modes of expression denote the same doctrine of Being?

Aristotle himself appears conscious of no inconsistency or contradiction in these various designations. Even when raising a question that today seems to bring an antinomy to the fore, he writes as though unaware of any real difficulty.46 He does not seem in the least perturbed by what many modern commentators find embarrassing if not impossible.

Yet the texts have given rise to considerable difficulty in the history of Aristotelian interpretation. A glance over the Greek and the modern presentations of these formulae will help articulate the problem back of the mediaeval efforts to determine precisely the subject of metaphysics.

The long tradition of the Greek commentators seems to have been quite unanimous in interpreting the Aristotelian Being. As studied by the Primary Philosophy, Being qua Being,—Being in its own proper nature— somehow referred to a definite type of Being and ultimately meant divine and separate Being.

The Greek tradition may be studied as far back as Theophrastus and Eudemus, both disciples of Aristotle.

Theophrastus was the friend and heir of the Stagirite. He was not a commentator on Aristotle. But in the short treatise known as his Metaphysics, he deals with some of the leading problems of the Primary Philosophy.47 As the immediate successor of his master in the Peripatetic school, he is a witness of the Aristotelian tradition in its earliest stages.

How, and by what distinguishing marks, should we delimit the study of first principles? … the study of first principles is definite and unchanging; which is the reason also why men describe it as concerned with objects of reason, not of sense, on the ground that these are unmovable and unchangeable, and why, in general, too, they think it a more dignified and greater study.

… It is, at all events, more reasonable to suppose that there is a connexion and that the universe is not a mere series of episodes, but some things are, so to speak, prior and others posterior—some, ruling principles, and others, subordinate to them—as eternal things are prior to and ruling principles of those that are perishable. If this is so, what is their nature and in what sort of things are they found? … But if there is another reality prior and superior to the objects of mathematics, we ought to try to specify this and say whether it is a single reality in number or in species or in genus. It is, at all events, more reasonable to suppose that, having the nature of a ruling principle, they should be found only in a few things and things of no ordinary kind, if not, indeed, only in things that are primary, and in the first of all things. What, at any rate, this reality is, or what these realities are, if they are more than one, we must try to indicate somehow or other, whether in virtue of an analogy or of some other comparison. … for, the ruling principle of all things, through which all things both are and endure, is divine. 48

The Being with which the science of the 'firsts'—there is no noun in the Greek text—deals, is for Theophrastus the divine Being. It is something definite and determined. It is not an abstract or most general concept. It is located in a determined type of Being.

Theophrastus does not employ the expression 'Being qua Being' in the extant text.49 But there is no doubt that he considers the study of the first principles of all things to be the science of the unchangeable Being, in the sense of the divine Being. Through that Being all things are.

Eudemus of Rhodes poses the problem of how the science of the first principles can be the science of those subordinated to it.

If there is to be a term to the process, and there are to be some sciences or even one proper science of the principles, this science will inquire into and seek an account of why it is the science of those subordinated to it as well as of its own principles, while the others are not.50

The problem seems intelligible only if the first principles are looked upon as a definite nature. If the primary science merely considered the principles of the other sciences in a more abstract and general way, it would hardly give rise to any problem in this regard.51 Not much definite information, however, can be gathered from this brief statement of Eudemus.

Alexander of Aphrodisias, the first of the Greek commentators on the Metaphysics, regards 'philosophy' as a generic science. The Primary Philosophy, one of its species, is the science of the divine. This Primary Philosophy is universal, because it deals with what is primary in the sense of causing Being to all other things.

There is the genus, that is, the common nature of Being, knowable by the common and generic philosophy, and the parts of Being knowable by the parts of philosophy. In this way each of these latter—namely, the sciences which come under philosophy as a generic science—will be the science of one of the species of Being.… At the same time he also showed us in these words how philosophy is a single science—for it is so by being universal. Its species are as many as those of Being. For its species are:—1) The Primary Philosophy, which is also called in an eminent sense wisdom, being the science of the eternal and immobile and divine things. For wisdom is the universal and primary science, as it is the one concerned with Being qua Being but not particular Being. There is under it

  1. the Primary Philosophy, which deals with the primary Entities,52
  2. Natural Philosophy, which deals with natural things, in which are found movement and change,
  3. the science which treats of things done; for some Beings are of this nature.

That the philosophy which treats of Being qua Being is one in genus, he explained also through what he said at the very beginning of the Book: 'This science is identical with none of those which are called particular'—namely, the science which deals with the principles and the first causes and Entity. It is at the same time primary and universal; for in things that are denominated from one thing and in reference to one thing, the primary instance is also universal, by reason of its being the cause of Being to the others also, as he himself will say in Book E of this treatise.53

According to this statement of Alexander, the Primary Philosophy deals with the immobile and primary Entities. These divine Entities seem to be equated with 'Being qua Being' and distinguished from particular Being. The science is universal, because what it treats of is universal as the cause of Being to the other things.

In the earliest of the commentators, accordingly, the universality of the Aristotelian 'Being qua Being' is the universality of the divine Entities. This Being is universal by way of reference, for it is the cause of all other Being. The Being treated of by the Primary Philosophy, therefore, does not seem to be regarded as universal after the manner of an abstract concept.

Pseudo-Alexander54 has the same general doctrine. He distinguishes explicitly the two kinds of universality, and excludes the ordinary type from the Primary Philosophy. He feels obliged to defend the Stagirite's use of the term 'universal' in the case of things expressed by way of reference to a common cause. Aristotle designated the primary instances in such things, he thinks, as 'universal' in order to conform to accepted custom.

But if there is also another Entity which is immobile and separate, this Entity will be prior to the physical, and the science dealing with it will be philosophy and the primary science of all, and universal as by reference to the others—not as comprehending them, but as primary; and it will be the office of this science to investigate and treat of Being qua Being, and what the nature of Being is,. And I think that when he asked whether the Primary Philosophy is universal, he was not asking about the universality which we understand as comprehending the others,55 but universality in the sense of 'belonging to the better things' and 'having greater worth'. 56

… It is also clear that when he called Being in the eminent sense of Being—I mean, the first principle—universal, he did not so designate this principle as being predicated universally of many things, but as involving in its own removal the removal of the other principles. But for what reason at all does he call the present science and its principle 'universal'? The reason is that we are accustomed to call things that involve in their own removal the removal of others 'more universal' than the things thereby removed.… In following this custom he called them 'universal.'57

'Being qua Being' seems in this explanation of Pseudo-Alexander to coincide with the Being of the immobile and separate Entities, as the nature treated of by the Primary Philosophy. The problem of its universality is carefully articulated in terms taken from the Stagirite's own text. Universality in the sense of 'comprehending' its inferiors is not found in 'Being qua Being.'

Syrianus collates the question with the doctrine expressed in Book a of the Metaphysics.

For if the highest knowledge is that of the highest Being, and if a thing excels to the same extent in truth and clarity of knowledge as in worth, as has been said in the lesser of the alphas, there will be a science of Being qua Being, and not merely that, but even the fairest and best of sciences. … for the primary science may rightly be held to deal with what is primary, and the best with what is best, and the all-embracing with what is all-embracing. 58

The species of philosophy seem related to the genus in the same way as with Alexander.

In fact, however, just as the one and all-embracing philosophy is related to all Entities, so also are its species to the species of Entities. The Primary Philosophy, then, will deal with intelligible Entity, that concerned with the heavens will treat of the Entity that is eternal though mobile, and another with the Entity that is in the process of generation and corruption.59

In this explanation also, 'Being qua Being' seems to be equated with one kind of Entity as the theme of the Primary Philosophy. This is intelligible Entity, the highest and richest in content.

Asclepius similarly introduces the Aristotelian metaphysics as the science which treats of the divine.

And finally, in this treatise he discourses to us about the entirely immobile things. This is theology; for such a consideration corresponds to the divine things. For this reason it has also been entitled 'Metaphysics', …60

'Being qua Being,' accordingly, is meant by Aristotle to stand for 'Being par excellence,' namely the intelligible Beings.

In these words Aristotle wishes to show us that there is a science which is that of Being according as it is Being, in the sense of Being par excellence. This Being par excellence he calls good and primary and having fertile power; and from it do all other things proceed… It is evident that from Being par excellence and simply such, that is, the absolutely primary Entity, Being proceeded to these things, because of its fertility.… Absolutely primary Entity, for instance, are the Intelligibles which are Beings, after them are sensible things, which hold the second place, third are the accidents, as even these are Beings. 61

The universality of the science is explained by its 'primary' nature.

If there is also an immobile Entity, as indeed there is, this is the prior and primary philosophy, and for this reason universal, since it is primary in so far as it has the principles of all things in itself.62

He who knows the principles knows also the things which follow from the principles.63

Knowing the primary Entity, metaphysics knows all the others.

… he has now added what that science is—that it is indeed the universal philosophy, differing from the others in so far as each of those deals with particular Being, while philosophy deals universally with Being in so far as it is Being, not with particular Being. In every case, therefore, science deals eminently with the primary instance, just as in the case of reference to man; for knowledge is of the man and not of the statue, for instance, that is, of the image; for these are because of the man. If, likewise, in the present case all other things are because of the absolutely primary Entity, and all things depend upon it, of this kind of Entity then must we seek out the principles and the causes.64

For Asclepius the knowledge of all Being is the knowledge of the primary Being. Just as it is the man himself that is contemplated in his statue or image, so it is the Being of the immobile Entities that is studied in all other types of Being.

With Eustratius, in the early twelfth century, Being qua Being likewise means the Being of the immobile Entities.

Wisdom is the science of Beings qua Beings—the Beings that are immobile and unchanging and always remaining the same, and forever abiding in immo-bility and possessing in this immobility Being in all truth.65

A patristic witness to the Greek tradition is found in Clement of Alexandria. Speaking of 'theological' study, he says: "Aristotle calls this type metaphysics."66 No one in ancient times, as Natorp admits,67 doubted that the Primary Philosophy and 'theology' were one for Aristotle. On into the twelfth century, the apparently unanimous tradition of Greek thought seems to have equated the Aristotelian 'Being qua Being' with the Being of the separate Entities, as the theme treated by the Primary Philosophy.

It is true that the philosophy of Theophrastus is not necessarily that of the Stagirite. With Alexander, who lived five centuries afterwards, the notion of the Primary Philosophy need not be presumed to correspond in all details to the original Aristotelian conception. The long period of time between the two different ages may easily have had its corroding effects. In the later Greek commentators other viewpoints played an important role. Syrianus and Asclepius, for instance, were under strong Neoplatonic influence. But at least these writers are witnesses that the Greek tradition throughout all these centuries considered the Stagirite's 'Being qua Being,' as the theme of the Primary Philosophy, to mean ultimately the divine and separate and immobile Being.

During the Christian middle ages, on the other hand, and down to the beginning of the modern era, the Aristotelian formula 'Being qua Being' was interpreted as ens commune in a sense opposed to the divine Being. It meant the Being with the widest possible extension, and included in some way the greatest possible comprehension; but it was clearly and consciously distinguished from the Being of God.

The nineteenth century revival of interest in the Aristotelian text did not at first bring this problem to the fore.

Ravaisson, for instance, seems aware of no special difficulty.

Being qua Being does not allow itself to be confined to any one class; its causes are not diverse and particular, but universal and uniform; it can be the object only of a universal science.

The science of the first principles, First Philosophy can therefore be defined 'the universal science of being qua being.'68

The pioneer French commentator locates this Being in the divine thought which appears universally in all things.

Each particular Being or each nature is an imperfect act, or a movement, of which the Thought is the cause, the purpose, and the essence; or, to reduce movement to its principle, it is the desire by which the divine Thought, present to all the potencies which matter includes, makes them come to existence and to life …

One and the same Being, which is none other than the Thought or the intuition of itself, appearing in the different potencies of matter, under countless forms and in countless different operations … such is the general conception in which is summed up the whole of Metaphysics.69

This interpretation follows the general line of the Greek tradition. It also accentuates the role of final causality in the Aristotelian notion of Being.

Schwegler, after a penetrating study of Aristotle's analysis of sensible Being, comes to the following conclusion:

"The only true ousia … is the divinity.… God is the ousia … that metaphysics seeks. The idea of God is therefore the theme, the end, and the driving motive of the whole Aristotelian metaphysics … From what has been said it is doubly clear how far metaphysics is for Aristotle a theology." 70

This conception, too, approaches the spirit of the Greek interpreters. Being qua Being is the divine Being.

Bonitz repeats the language of the early commentators, without calling attention to any special problem concealed under the phrasing.

The universal genus of philosophy pertains to the universal genus of Beings, just as in other cases also the same genus, in either the sensible or the knowable order, pertains to the same genus either of sensation or of knowledge; and each of the species of being … is comprised by one of the species or branches of philosophy. 71

Therefore theology is the primary discipline, and in so far as it is the first of all, it can be called universal, since all the others have to seek their first principle in it.72

Zeller seemed conscious of no special difficulty lying under this phraseology of the Metaphysics.

The science of the ultimate grounds of things must go through the whole world of things, and must take them back, not to finite principles, but to their eternal causes, and, in the last resort, to that which is unmoved and incorporeal, from which proceeds all movement and formation in the corporeal world. This science is the First Philosophy, which Aristotle also names Theology, and its task is to investigate all actuality and the ultimate grounds thereof, which, as being ultimate, are necessarily also the most universal, and concern, not any part of the actual, but the whole.73

In reply to Natorp's critique of the Metaphysics, Zeller pushed the problem further back. He still maintained that Aristotle actually united the two conceptions of the science. But the union does involve a fundamental contradiction. Its roots lie in the double sense of the Aristotelian ousia.

In Aristotle's orbit of thought, therefore, there is between the metaphysical ontology and the theology not only no opposition, but, on the contrary, a connection so close that both belong to one and the same science. In accordance with its content, this science can be called both the science of Being and the science of the Divine. Aristotle considers as pure Being … only the immaterial, and therefore unchangeable, Being. Another question, deserving of separate treatment, is whether this view can be maintained without contradiction. This question can be answered only in the negative. But the difficulties arising here have their roots too deep in the whole of the Aristotelian system to be set aside by the critical methods of philology, through the excision of particular sections and an altered interpretation of single passages. For its ultimate reason lies in that double sense of the concept of [ousia] which permeates the whole of the Metaphysics. This consists in the fact that finally, as in Plato, only form without matter can be something actual in the fullest sense, an [ousia] or an [energeiaon]; while, on the other hand, actuality can be so little denied to individual things and to matter, that only the indi-viduals may in fact be [prōte ousia]. According to the first viewpoint the investigation of [ousia] must limit itself to immaterial and unchangeable Being, the [theƚa]; according to the other it must embrace on equal footing all Being, including the corporeal. 74

Zeller, accordingly, places the contradiction at the very root of the Aristotelian Being—in its ousia or 'Beingness.' This denotes on the one hand pure form, on the other the individual. These two conceptions, which were ultimately one in Schwegler's interpretation,75 are for Zeller mutually exclusive.

Grote sees no problem in uniting the Aristotelian descriptions of the Primary Philosophy.

The highest and most universal of all theoretical Sciences is recognized by Aristotle as Ontology (First Philosophy, sometimes called by him Theology) which deals with all Ens universally quatenus Ens, and with the Prima Moventia, themselves immovable, of the entire Kosmos.76

With Natorp the serious implications of the two-fold interpretation of the Metaphysics come to light.

Natorp first shows that the Aristotelian 'Being as Being' is the most abstract, i.e., most empty of notions.

The [prōtai arkhai kai aitiail form its object. The word [prōtos] here has, naturally, Aristotle's hardened, technical sense of the conceptually fundamental, of what lies at the basis of everything. It is a question therefore of the most universal, the most abstract, in whatever can be the object of scientific examination. This highest, because the most universal and most abstract object, is, however, as we will learn from Gamma 1, the fundamental concept of 'object in general.…77

After treating of the other way in which Aristotle is considered to have spoken of the science, namely, as dealing with supersensible entity, Natorp continues:

That this ambiguous conception of the theme of the [prōtēphilosophia] contains an insufferable contradiction, … does not seem up to the present time to have been made clear. A science which treats of Being in general and as such, must be superior in exactly the same manner to all those sciences which deal with any particular sphere of Being. This science cannot at the same time be identical with any one of them, be it the most important and the most excellent … On these premises, from which our chapter took its point of departure, it is impossible to have as a result that the [pro̵te̵ philosophia] should in fact on the one hand be the universal science, the science that is basic for all, but on the other hand be one and the same as the science of immaterial, unchangeable Being, as of the most excellent class of Being.78

Natorp considers that he is calling attention to a point that up to his own time had not been brought out clearly. This point is that the two views of the Aristotelian Metaphysics are mutually exclusive and contradictory.

In Natorp, then, for the first time in the history of modern Aristotelian criticism, there appears the realization of a serious problem behind the different formulae.

Natorp proceeds to show that metaphysics cannot be identified in Aristotle with 'theology.' …79

In establishing his view that Being in the most abstract sense is the 'genuinely Aristotelian concept'80 of the object of metaphysics, Natorp excises the texts which state the opposite conception.81 In order to explain a number of other texts82 he must also admit a frequent use by Aristotle of the word 'first' in a sense quite different from what he has isolated as 'the hardened technical sense of the conceptually fundamental.'83 He is fully conscious that the entire Greek tradition definitely held the view which he is destroying, namely, that the Primary Philosophy is the science of supersensible Being.84 This view he considers to date from very close to the time of Aristotle. Its origin and the consequent textual interpolations are to be sought among minor Peripatetics. 85

Clodius Piat, writing at the beginning of the present century, still sees no difficulty in unifying the different Aristotelian formulae.

'First Philosophy' has for its object Being considered as such.… In this way, metaphysics is the science of the principles and the causes of Being taken as such. By that very fact it is the science of the first principles and the first causes; … it is the perfect science. And one may add that it is also the most noble. It is proper, then, to regard as such the science that finds in God both its ideal development and its highest term …

If God is not only the metaphysician par excellence, but also the supreme object of metaphysics, this science merits a name more precise than those which have been given it previously. It was defined at first:—The science of Being; then:—The science of the first causes and the first principles. We can now provide a more concrete notion of it:—Metaphysics is theology. 86

Gomperz, on the other hand, sees the same fundamental contradiction as Zeller in the Aristotelian Being. He considers it hopeless.

In different passages of his 'Metaphysics' Aristotle has, in truth, adopted fundamentally different attitudes towards this question; he has defined the truly existent, … now in the one, now in the other sense. The contradiction is glaring, and, in fact, generally recognized. No attempt to minimize its significance could possibly succeed. Followed into its consequences, the conflict is between the recognition of the world of experience on the one hand, and the transcendental world on the other.87

Apelt reduced the various senses of the Aristotelian Being to the copula.… 88

This Being is an empty notion.89

Hermann Dimmler, writing about the same time as Piat, employed, like Apelt, a grammatical approach to the Aristotelian problem of Being. The entire doctrine of Being was based on the function of the copula in a sentence.

The investigation was limited to the 'is' predication. This consists in predicating that what is asserted in the subject of the sentence is that which is designated in its predicate. This predication takes place by means of the copula …

Accordingly, the whole Aristotelian doctrine of Being is built up on the concept of Being as expressed in the form of the copula. 91

For G. Rodier, the Aristotelian 'Being' pertains to things by reference to substance and by analogy. These two ways of conceiving Being are ultimately identical.

Thus the two conceptions of Being basically coalesce. For, according to the first, all that which is not substance itself is something pertaining to substance. According to the second, every part of substance is to its contrary or to its privation what complete substance is to its contrary or to its privation … In other words, complete Being is substance, and all other things of which one asserts Being are not comprised under the extension of ousia as its species, but in its comprehension as its parts. 92

The Aristotelian 'Being' is therefore far from 'empty' in comprehension. It is individual; but the only complete individuality, pursues Rodier, is that of pure act. Yet matter must be real. This is the only inconsistency in Aristotle; but it is radical and grave. 93

Octave Hamelin blames the confusion rather on a faulty notion which is prevalent in regard to Aristotle's epistemology. Hamelin identifies the notions of substance and Being as they are treated of by metaphysics.

The treatment of substance as substance or of Being as Being is a science apart, the supreme science, the one which Aristotle calls first philosophy and which after his time has been called metaphysics.94

Hamelin then enters into a long discussion about the nature of the universal in Aristotle.95 Only the element of comprehension is essential to the Aristotelian universal, he finds, and not the element of extension. 96

… science does not require as object in the eyes of Aristotle universals properly so-called. It can get along perfectly without the extensive element in the genera, it can get along even without the genera. 97

In fact, the universal, in the ordinary acceptation, cannot be the object studied by any science whose subject matter is real.

… for that which is common to several things is not, as such, enclosed in any one of them. For Aristotle, you have precisely there a character which prevents it from being a reality.98

The Aristotelian form, then, has a universality that is not of the same type as the commonly accepted notion of the universal. This peculiar doctrine of form enables the object of first philosophy to be an individual.

Besides, even if the role of the form were not as manifestly preponderant in the reality of the composite substances, this would be of slight importance, since these substances are still not the realization of what is most substantial; and, according to Aristotle, Being as Being is not to be sought among them, nor even, to speak properly, at the root of any one of them. The object of first philosophy, says Aristotle, is Being as Being. But it must not be believed that Being as Being is a universal, a character common to all Beings … If Being, insofar as it regards all Beings, can be called universal, it is by a particular kind of universality. It is universal because it is primary and the foundation of analogy. Being as Being, because primary, becomes a type, it is imitated by other Beings. Each of these models itself upon it. But it is apart from them all, and that in a real, not logical, sense; and the true name of first philosophy is Theology. In a word, the object of first philosophy is an individual. Now this individual, as Aristotle repeats unceasingly in different ways of expression, is a pure form. It is a pure form, because its function is to explain the other Beings and because the true explanation consists in calling upon the end, and, in the last analysis, the form. The form explains all the rest and is self-sufficient in its own right.99

Hamelin's interpretation follows the general lines of the ancient Greek commentators. He emphasizes the resolution of Aristotle's notion of Being into that of form. In calling attention to the peculiar nature of the form's universality, he suggests that the root of the trouble is the misunderstanding of the phrase 'Being as Being' in the sense of a universal object.

Werner Jaeger's well-known thesis maintains that the different ways of expressing the object of metaphysics indicate two mutually contradictory conceptions of the science in Aristotle.

This gloss does not remove the contradiction. On the contrary, it only makes it more obvious. In attempting here to combine the two definitions he understands by a universal science a science of the 'first' object, which is a principle in a more comprehensive sense than are the other kinds of being; but in [G] I and the beginning of E universal meant that which does not refer to any particular part of being at all, and Aristotle could not and does not assert that the immaterial movers of the stars are not 'particular beings' nor 'one sort of being.' …

These two accounts of the nature of metaphysics certainly did not arise out of one and the same act of reflection. Two fundamentally different trains of thought are here interwoven. It is obvious at once that the theological and Platonic one is the older of the two, … When metaphysics is defined as the study of being as being, on the other hand, reality is regarded as one single, unified series of levels, and this therefore is the more Aristotelian account of the two, that is to say, the one that corresponds to the last and most characteristic stage of his thought.100

In the earlier or Platonic stage, Aristotle merely replaced the Ideas by the prime mover. The earlier metaphysics was exclusively the science of supersensible Being, and not of Being as such.101

This theory makes the Metaphysics fragmentary from a doctrinal as well as from a literary point of view. The treatises contain two contradictory conceptions of the Primary Philosophy.

Jaeger's theory draws its strength from the brilliant manner in which it is supported by years of painstaking historical and philological research. Jaeger seems simply to take for granted, however, that the primary notion of the phrase 'Being as Being' is the concept of abstract, universal Being. He does not consider the possibility that its original and primary meaning in Aristotle may have been something radically different. Nor does he take into account the peculiar nature of the Aristotelian universal as pointed out by Hamelin.

Sir David Ross admits two 'genuinely Aristotelian' views.

Aristotle has in the main two ways of stating the subject-matter of metaphysics. In one set of passages it is stated as … the whole of being as such. This view is expressed throughout Book [G], and occasionally elsewhere; it is implied also in the description of [sofia] as being occupied with the first causes and principles, sc. of reality as a whole. But more frequently metaphysics is described as studying a certain part of reality, viz. that which … (exists independently) … In E an attempt is made to reconcile the two views.… In studying the nature of pure being, form without matter, philosophy is in effect coming to know the nature of being as a whole.

Both views are genuinely Aristotelian, but the narrower view of the scope of metaphysics is that which is more commonly present in his works, and more in keeping with the distrust of a universal science expressed in the Posterior Analytics.102

The description of metaphysics as the study of first causes and principles is reduced by Ross to the conception of the science as the study of 'the whole of being, as such.' Jaeger, on the contrary, reduces this formulation to the earlier or 'theological' stage of Aristotle's reflection.103

Carlini notes the problem, without accepting any particular solution.104

Hans v. Arnim refuses to admit any real difference in the two descriptions of the Primary Philosophy as separated by Jaeger.

I do not, in fact, admit that in K (and in [G] and E) any contamination of two contradictory conceptions regarding the object of metaphysics, which must arise out of two different sources of thought, is to be seen.105

We find neither an earlier nor a later conception in Aristotle …, but always this one only, which we must recognize as the carefully weighed conviction of the philosopher. Whenever the Primary Philosophy is signalized as the science of the eternal, the separate, the immobile, this is a designation a parte potiori. It in no way excludes the other and secondary types of Being—insofar as they stand in relation to this primary Being through which they are called Beings—from treatment in this science. Only the first Being, the godhead, joins in itself the Eleatic characteristics of true Being—independent self-subsistence, eternity, and immobility.106

In v. Amim's view there is only one Being in Aristotle which meets the requirements of Parmenides. All other things are called Beings through reference to it. The science that studies Being as such is therefore the science of separate Being. The different designations of the Primary Philosophy denote the one single science.

Endre v. Ivanka likewise sees no contradiction in the science of the supersensible as the universal science of Being, nor does he notice any greater emphasis of either formulation in the different treatises.

There never was an Aristotelian metaphysics which did not proceed from the analysis of sensible substance and acquire the concept of its object—supersensible Being as the highest and first Being—from the comparative study of the different specific levels of Being. (This was the only way possible after the Platonic identification of the most perfect with the most universal). In this way it was the universal science of Being. Just as little was there ever a metaphysics that dealt with sensible substance for its own sake, … And even if … the one viewpoint actually were more strongly emphasized in the earlier parts and the other in the later, still an internal contradiction of the two conceptions would never result, …107

But Emilio Oggioni, in the wake of Jaeger, still finds successive stages of development in the Metaphysics. In the earliest, metaphysics was conceived as the science of the Platonic supersensibles, which were devastatingly criticized. In the second stage, it was the science of the causes. As such it was shown to be impossible. Then it was determined as the science of Being qua Being.108 But within the notion of Being qua Being, Oggioni finds three different though closely related significations.

The expression 'science of Being qua Being' receives, in these Aristotelian writings, three different and closely connected significations. If they are not kept clearly distinct, they render the progress of the thought particularly difficult to understand.

  1. The science of Being qua Being specifies, in some 'real' or being, the necessary conditions of reality or of actual existence—that is, the 'minimum' required for its cognoscibility in reality, all its determinations which remain when cognition prescinds from all that it can prescind from, without altogether ceasing to have an object. In this case the science of Being qua Being is a purely formal science, insofar as it determines the necessary conditions which render possible the real, or actual being in general, without, however, pronouncing on its actual reality. In this case the science of Being qua Being is a formal ontology.…
  2. The science of Being qua Being determines the totality of sufficient conditions regarding the actual existence of one, some, or all the 'reals' or Beings, that is, the objects of actual or possible cognition. In opposition to the preceding case, the science of Being qua Being has now a character of reality. It is metaphysics in the current sense of the word.…
  3. Insofar, finally, as Aristotle determines the metaphysical principles of the real (which are evident for him through actual cognition) by the more mediate concepts, … he then conceives—though rarely and secondarily—the science of Being qua Being as that which deals with the ontological determinations which, according to his doctrine, explain the real in its actual metaphysical nature.109

'Being qua Being,' according to this analysis, can mean in the Aristotelian treatises either I) Being in general, II) substance, or III) (rarely and secondarily) substance determined by accidents.

Leon Robin, like Hamelin, finds the solution of the question in the peculiar nature of the Aristotelian universal.

However, if it is indeed the truth that Being 'as Being' is not a genus, is it not true, on the other hand, as we have seen, that it is a universal attribute? Consequently, Being 'as Being' would be the universality of Being; in short, a universal of which philosophy would be the science. Now, such a way of presenting things is very plain in the Metaphysics,… But, on the other hand, assertions … which assign to philosophy as its object those Beings which are the stars and that separate and immobile Being which is God,—suppose an entirely different conception.110

Robin terms this a "capital problem."111 Aristotle's solution, on the basis of the primacy of the First Being, calls for explanation. The 'analogy' of Being provides the answer.

That is how Being 'as Being' is at the same time an individual and a universal, the supreme universal because it is the supreme individual and because it has the power to make itself universal in repeating itself, but with an exactitude that is always weaker. Its universality, however, is founded, it must be well understood, on its necessity, … and, if all the existences in which it repeats itself and which imitate it do not receive it in the same degree, nevertheless they are all related to it. In this manner its universality is, in them, but an identity of relation or an 'analogy."112

In the same manner, each category in the sensible individual 'imitates' the fundamental category of substance.113 In this way the unity of the First Substance is extended to all things.

The individual unity of the first substance is found universally, through analogy, in all these singular things. 114

A still more recent comment admits that the object of metaphysics is much wider than the supersensible world. It professes, however, to see no inconsistency in Aristotle's different ways of expressing this object.

In the first Book of his Metaphysics, Aristotle describes first philosophy as the science of the ultimate causes of the whole of reality.… As a result, the supersensible world, which is the proper domain of first philosophy in this sense that it is studied by no other science, is not identified purely and simply with the object of metaphysics: This latter is much more vast.… In other places Aristotle insists rather on the supersensible character of the object of metaphysics, because that is a domain which is properly reserved to first philosophy. W. Jaeger is wrong then in considering these two conceptions as irreconcilable. The manner in which they are found mingled with each other in the work of the Stagirite indicates clearly that the author did not conceive them as opposed one to the other. Besides, this is what he expressly affirms in Methaph. VI, 1, 1026a22-32 and IX, 7, 1064bl4: the priority of metaphysics over the other sciences involves necessarily the universal character of its object.115

Quite similarly, Giovanni di Napoli admits Jaeger's twofold conception,116 but asserts that the two notions radically imply each other in Aristotle's thought. Only by studying sensible things precisely as Being can human thought attain the Immobile.

This means that in the thought of Aristotle the two views of metaphysics radically imply each other: metaphysics as the science of Being qua Being conditions metaphysics as the science of the Immobile; only by transcending the physical level (and that means considering not only that which is, but Being qua Being) is it possible to reach the Immobile.117

A. H. Armstrong, on the other hand, returns to the ancient Greek view. The First Philosophy studies Being at its highest level, and in this way treats Being as such.

It is therefore Substance which Metaphysics studies … Furthermore, there are different grades of Substance. Besides the separate substantial individual beings which are subject to change, … there are, Aristotle says, separate substances which are free from change, pure actualities with no potency in them at all. These are the highest class of substantial being, the most completely real things that exist. It is therefore on them that Metaphysics concentrates, because by studying being at its most perfect and complete it obtains the fullest possible knowledge of being as such. It is therefore First Philosophy because it studies the primary forms of being and Theology because these primary beings are divine.118

The results of the long centuries of interpretation regarding the Aristotelian 'Being qua Being' may now be briefly summed up.

In the Greek tradition, 'Being qua Being' seems to be ultimately identified with the Being of the separate Entities. Among the Arabs there appears with Avicenna its interpretation as Ens commune. In this sense the Aristotelian phrase was understood in the mediaeval universities. It was not considered as an 'empty' concept, yet it was sharply distinguished from the most perfect Being. These two general interpretations, though understood in various ways, have been revived in the present era. Some moderns have professed to see an incurable contradiction between the two conceptions. Others think they follow with perfect consistency from Aristotle's fundamental doctrines of ousia and of the universal. Apparently, then, a thorough investigation, unprejudiced by any positions adopted in advance, is alone adequate for the inquiry. Only after such a study will one be in a position to declare what notion of Being actually lay in the texts before the mediaeval thinkers during the all-important formative period of Western metaphysics.

As recent writers have advocated such different approaches to the problem, and since the approach has considerable influence on the solution, the proper method of entering upon the investigation should first be determined.

This in itself is no easy task. Yet the manner in which the centuries have unfolded the problem should furnish at least some guidance. What light does the historical sketch that has just been concluded throw upon the situation? Does it indicate the correct way in which the Aristotelian treatment of Being should be approached?

The problem, as the historical survey should make evident, will center upon the Aristotelian universal in relation to Being, and still more ultimately upon the relation of form to individual thing. the controversy in the wake of Natorp and Jaeger emphasizes the first consideration. Is the universal synonymous with the real for the Stagirite? Or are the two opposed to each other? Does a thing increase in reality as it becomes more universal? Or, on the contrary, does universality involve abstraction, and so make the most universal the most abstract and therefore the least real? In a word, is there any abstraction in the Primary Philosophy? Back of these queries, as appears from the reflections of writers like Zeller and Hamelin, is the still more fundamental relation of form and individual. Is the Aristotelian form individual of its very nature, or does it require a further principle as matter to individuate it? The form can be seen quite readily as the principle of universality. Is it also the principle of individuality? If it is both, then the universal and the individual should coincide not only in the supersensible, but in all Beings. The greater the universality, the higher would be the degree of reality and Being. But the difficulties in conceiving the form as the principle of individuation in sensible things seem evident. If matter, accordingly, must be the individuating principle, then the universal will be abstract. The greater the universality, the less will be the reality and the degree of Being. The problem therefore hinges ultimately upon the character of the Aristotelian form, and its relations to the universal and the singular. But all these operative notions—universal, singular, individual, matter, form—have been understood in various senses throughout the long history of Aristotelian influence. Their rendition in other languages and in different philosophical background has often obscured their sense. Yet to grasp precisely what they meant for the Stagirite is essential for the study of Being. Through these notions must the problem be approached. But how is one to arrive at their original signification in the Lyceum?

The only means at hand today are Aristotle's own writings and the available historical and philological knowledge of the setting in which these were composed. The correct approach, accordingly, will necessitate an investigation of the nature of the Stagirite's writings and their immediate background, his use of terms and concepts, and the exact rendition of his thought in the English language. Such preliminary considerations of technique may seem laborious. But they are indispensable if the problem of Aristotelian Being is to be adequately studied in the setting which history has imposed upon it, namely, in terms of the universal and the real, and ultimately in function of the form and the individual.


1 "Schon in der Gegenstandsbestimmung der Metaphysik zeigt sich das allmähliche Loslösen der aristotelischen Anschauungen von wesentlichen und grundlegenden Lehren Platos." Johann Fuchs, Die Proprietäten des Seins bei Alexander von Hales, p. 45.

2 "Darin besteht also der wesentliche Unterschied zwischen platonischer und aristotelischer Seinsauffassung, dass für erstere das Sein als Sein das ens perfectissimum ist, während für letztere Sein als Sein das ens commune ist." Ibid., p. 48.

3 "Die Frage lässt sich konkret so formulieren: Gibt Alexander dem Seinsbegriff einen Sinn, der ihn zum eigentlichen Gottesbegriff macht und der darum alles endliche und veränderliche Sein nur im Sinne einer unvollkommenen Erfüllung, einer Erfüllung per participationem umfasst?" Ibid., p. 49.

4 "Sieht unser Autor im Seinsbegriff den Inhaltsleersten und abstraktesten Begriff, der, weil den geringsten Inhalt, den weitesten Umfang hat?" Ibid., p. 49.

5 Fuchs (ibid., p. 46, n. 1) cites Jaeger for this interpretation of the Metaphysics.

6 Texts and references infra, pp. 53-55, nn. 77-85.

7 Text, infra, p. 52, n. 74.

8 Cf. W. Jaeger, Aristoteles, p. 5 (trans. Robinson, p. 7).

9 Cf. op. cit., p. 217 (trans. Robinson, p. 210).

10 Aristotle does not speak of the 'object' of a science. He merely names what the science treats, either in the accusative case after a verb, or in the genitive after a noun; or, more frequently, with the preposition 'about.' The Arabians—in accord with their general usage of the passive participle for the object of any activity—employed the participle MAWDŪ, meaning 'that which is posited.' This was the same term which they used for the subject of predication (cf. A-M Goichon, Lexique, pp. 438-439; Vocabulaires, p. 40a). The Latins translated the term in both cases by subjectum. They spoke accordingly of the 'subject' of a science. At K 4, 1061b31, Aristotle uses the corresponding Greek word …, in the plural, for the things of which a science treats. Zabarella, a leading representative of the Peripatetic tradition in the late Renaissance, still uses subjectum. Cf. De Natura Logicae, I, 14; Opera Logica (1594), col. 33 ff. But among the Scholastics there appears with the close of the thirteenth century the term objectum. Duns Scotus, while using both words in practice, considers objectum the more proper term. "Sed loquimur de materia circa quam est scientia, quae dicitur a quibusdam subjectum scientiae, vel magis proprie objectum, sicut et illud circa quod est virtus, dicitur objectum virtutis proprie, non subjectum." Quaest. Metaph., Prologus, 10; in Op. Om., VII, 7a.

The transition from subjectum to objectum, as may be seen in the above text, was not difficult. 'Objectum' had been used for the object of the generic 'habitus' as well as for the object of a faculty. This was the Aristotelian … [subject] (cf. H. Bonitz, Ind. Arist., 64al8-35). St. Thomas Aquinas, however, seems careful in using subjectum in regard to science, even while employing objectum in reference to the more generic 'habitus'. ". sic enim se habet subjectum ad scientiam, sicut objectum ad potentiam vel habitum." Summa Th., I, 1, 7c; 7a2-4.'Cf. L. Schutz, Thomas-Lexikon, pp. 536; 725.

On account of possible doctrinal implications, it is safer when dealing with the different writers to retain the particular mode of expression that was customary at the time.

I am indebted to Dr. Emil Fackenheim, of the University of Toronto, for the information here and elsewhere regarding the usage of arabic terms.

11 W. Jaeger, Aristoteles, pp. 222-228 (trans. Robinson, pp. 214-219).

12 Cf. M. Grabmann, Die lateinischen Aristotelesübersetzungen des 13. Jahrhunderts, pp. 1-169.

13Ibid., pp. 1-2.

14 Cf. J. Fuchs, op. cit., pp. 48-49.

15 E.g., "Sed enti non potest addi aliquid quasi extranea natura, per modum quo differentia additur generi, vel accidens subjecto; quia quaelibet natura essentialiter est ens; ut etiam probat Philosophus in III Metaphys. (comm. 1), quod ens non potest esse genus." St. Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate, I, Ic.

16 G. Rodier describes—without accepting—the different tendency of the more modern approach. "Si nous demandons, en effet, à Aristote ce qu'il faut entendre par l'être, ce qu'il y a de plus immédiatement saisissable dans sa réponse est à peu près ceci: L'être n'est qu'un terme vide, qui ne correspond à aucune réalité et à aucun concept." L'Année Philosophique, XX (1909), 1. Being is not even a concept, but merely an empty term. R. G. Collingwood (An Essay on Metaphysics, pp. 6-20), for instance, interprets the Aristotelian Being qua Being in this sense. Being so understood is the equivalent of 'nothing.' Ibid., p. 14. On the gradual 'emptying' of the notion of Being during the late mediaeval and post-Scholastic periods, cf. Andre Marc, L'Idée de l'Etre, pp. 1-11; E. Gilson, L'Etre et l'Essence, pp. 121-212; Being and Some Philosophers, pp. 76-137.

It is true that ex professo commentators remain as a rule too close to the text of the Metaphysics to use the term 'empty' in describing the Stagirite's Being qua Being. Apelt, however, writes of the Aristotelian Being: "Das 'Seiende' ist also fur sich genommen noch gar nichts weiter als ein leeres, weisses Blatt, auf das erst etwas geschrieben werden muss, wenn es Bedeutung bekommen soll." Beiträge zur Geschichte der Griechischen Philosophie, p. 112. But others, though more cautious in their language, tend towards the same conception. Natorp (text infra, p. 53, n. 77) considers the Aristotelian Being qua Being as the "most abstract object" and as "object in general," somewhat in the Kantian sense. Jaeger denies in it any "determined Being" … Aristoteles, p. 227 (cf. trans. Robinson, p. 218; text infra, pp. 59-60). On the Kantian background involved in this approach cf. C. Arpe, … Aristoteles, p. 8, n. 2.

17 E. Gilson, The Spirit of Mediaeval Philosophy (trans. A. H. C. Downes), pp. 64-107.

18Exod., III, 14 (Vulgate). Cf. E. Gilson, op. cit., pp. 51-52.

19 William of Auvergne has the merit of focusing mediaeval attention upon this difference between the Greek and the Christian conceptions. In the still early stages of the Aristotelian influence in the university circles, the militant theologian-bishop of Paris designated clearly the fundamental point of cleavage. "De tribus causis, quae videntur in errorem praemissum Aristotelem, et alios induxisse,—Causae autem erroris istius videntur potissimum fuisse tres. Harum prima fuit ignorantia eorum, qua non intellexerunt verbum creatoris, neque virtutem ipsius verbi. Est enim non solum enunciativum, ut ita loquamur sed etiam imperativum imperiositate forti in ultimitate fortitudinis propter quod ejus imperio obediunt non solum ea quae sunt, sed etiam ea, quae non sunt, et non solum in faciendo, et non faciendo, quae mandaverit, aut prohibuerit, sed etiam in essendo, et non essendo, in fiendo, et non fiendo; … Secunda causa fuit ignorantia libertatis ipsius creatoris, qua operatur absque eo, quod prohiberi possit ullo modorum ab eo, quod vult, aut cogi ad id, quod non vult: ipsi autem opinari nixi sunt sicut praedixi tibi, quod operaretur per modum naturae, et juxta ordinem ipsius, cum ipse operetur per electionem, et voluntatem liberrimam.… Tertia causa fuit qua opinio eorum erronea, qua putaverunt elongationem posse aliquid apud creatorem, et aestimaverunt creatorum longe esse a quibusdam, et prope quibusdam, et propter hoc ipsum non operari per se, aut minus operari. Non intellexerunt igitur supereminentiam creatoris, et amplitudinem, ac fortitudinem virtutis ejus, qua attingit a summo universi usque deorsum, et a primo creatorum usque ad novissimum, omnia continens, tenens, et retinens, prout vult, et quamdiu vult, alioquin reciderent in non esse, unde educta sunt ab ipso, et per ipsum." William of Auvergne, De Universo, I-Iae, 27; ed. Orleans (1674), I, 623b-624a. Cf. ibid., cc. 17-30, pp. 611-629.

From the Greek side, Galen had expressed the same view. "It was not in itself sufficient merely to will that they should come to be made of this nature. For if he had wished to make the stone instantly into a man, it was not in his power. And it is here that our own doctrine, and that of Plato and of all the Greeks who have correctly undertaken the treatment of nature, differs from that of Moses. For Moses, it suffices that God willed that matter be given a formation, and there-upon it has received that formation. He considers that all things are possible to God, even if He wishes to make ashes into a horse or an ox. We do not think that way, but say that some things are impossible by nature, and these God does not even attempt. He only chooses the best from among the things that were possible to be made." C. Galen, De Usu Partium, XI, 14,905-906; ed. Helmreich, II, 158.17-159.3.

These two appraisals, by a Christian and a Greek respectively, agree in signalizing the same fundamental difference between the doctrine of Genesis and the tradition of the Greeks. In the Christian teaching, the power of God is infinite; for the Greeks, it is finite. Perfect Being for the Greeks meant limitation and finitude; for the Christians, the perfect Being is infinite. Limitation for the Christians denotes imperfection; while for the Greeks, imperfection was implied by infinity. Cf. J. Chevalier, La Notion du Nécessaire chez Aristote, pp. 187-188; F. M. Cornford, Plato's Cosmology, p. 36. H. Guyot, in concluding a survey (L 'Infinité Divine depuis Philon le Juifjusqu à Plotin, pp. 1-32) of the Greek notion of infinity up to Philo, writes: "En somme, l'esprit grec aima trop la mesure et la proportion pour s'être résolu à voir dans l'Infinité le comble de la perfection … En tout cas, le Principe premier—Eau, Fini, Atome, Idée, Pensée—est concu des l'origine et par la suite comme détermine." Ibid., p. 31.

Origen, at the meeting-point of Greek philosophy and Christian revelation, encountered serious difficulty owing to the Greek equation of finitude with perfection and knowability. "For if the divine power were infinite, it would of necessity not know itself; for by its nature the infinite is incomprehensible." De Principiis, II, 9, 1; ed. Koetschau, p. 164.5-6.

20 E.g. "Metaphysica vero, ut est nobis possibilis nunc, non est principaliter scientia, propter quid de Deo; … Aliter potest dici, quod passio prius conclusa quia, de Deo semper est posterior et remotior ab ejus essentia, quia propinquoir effectui, ex quo concluditur, ita quod semper in passionibus proceditur quia; cujus signum est, quia Trinitas, quae illi essentiae singularissimae inest, ex nullo effectu concluditur." John Duns Scotus, Quaest. Metaph., 1, 1, 45; in Op. Om., VII, 34b-35a. Cf. Op. Ox., Prologus I, 2, 13 (14); ed. Garcia, I, 14-15.

At best, according to Scotus, a metaphysics with the primum ens as its subject could be only per accidens of God. "…igitur Metaphysica et naturalis scientia sunt de eodem per accidens; sed de Deo est naturalis magis per accidens, quia summa descriptio, ad quam pervenit de ipso, quasi remotior est a quidditate Dei, quam summa Metaphysici." Quaest. Metaph., I, 1, 49; Op. Om., VII, 37a. Cf. J. Owens, Mediaeval Studies X (1948), 175-176. Scotus describes the different status of a metaphysics in God or in the angels, Quaest. Metaph., I, 1, 40; v. VII, p. 32a.

21 For a general conspectus of the Scholdstics on this question, cf. Francisco Suarez, Disputationes Metaphysicae, I, 1; in Op. Om., XXV, 2-12; especially no. 26, p. Ila.

22 ",… et hi more Latinorum, qui omnem distinctionem solutionem esse reputant dicentes subjectum tribus modis dici in scientia, scilicet quod communius subjicitur, aut certius, aut in scientia dignius: et primo modo dicunt ens in ista subjici scientia, et secundo causam, et tertio modo Deum: et hanc scientiam non a toto, sed a quadam sui parte dignissima vocari divinam. Sed ego tales logicas consequentias in scientiis de rebus abhorreo, eo quod ad multos deducunt errores." Albertus Magnus, Metaph., I, 1,2; in Op. Om., VI, 6b.

23Ibid., pp. 4a-5b; 6a.

24 "Ex quo apparet, quod quamvis ista scientia praedicta tria consideret, non tamen considerat quodlibet eorum ut subjectum, sed ipsum solum ens commune." St. Thomas Aquinas, in Metaph., Prooemium; ed. Cathala, p. 2b. Cf. J. D. Robert, Divus Thomas (Piacenza), L (1947), 220-221.

25 "Dicendum quod haec scientia debet considerare de per se consequentibus ad ens, quae sunt enti propria; cuiusmodi sunt partes seu species et passiones quae non faciunt ens cuiusmodi sunt partes esse aliquid scientiae particularis. Nunc autem principium est de consequentibus ad ens, non communius ente neque aequale, nec collocat ens in aliquo genere particulare; quare, etc.

Et de Primo Principio essendi debet haec scientia inquirere passiones non reales: cuiusmodi sunt perfectionum causa et sic de aliis; multitudo enim attributorum Deo nihil est extra intellectum.

Videndum etiam est quid est et si est. Tamen entis, secundum quod ens, non est principium qui a tunc omne ens haberet principium.

Ad rationes cum arguitur, dicendum quod aliquando principia rei non sunt principia doctrinae, …" Siger of Brabant, Quaest. Metaph., 2; ed. Graiff, p. 5.8-22.

26 John Duns Scotus, Quaest. Metaph., I, 1; Op. Om., VII, 11-37.

27Ibid., nos. 21-27; pp. 21-25.

28 Cf. "Dico ergo impossibile esse ut ipse Deus sit subjectum hujus scientiae, quia subjectum omnis scientiae est res quae conceditur esse, et ipsa scientia non inquirit nisi dispositiones illius subjecti." Avicenna, Metaph., I, 1; fol. 70rl-2. Cf. trans. Horten, p. 7. Also: "Oportebit tunc ut ens in quantum est ens sit subjectum: quod est convenientius. Monstrata est igitur destructio illius opinionis qua dicitur quod subjectum hujus scientiae sunt causae ultimae. Sed tamen debes scire quod haec sunt completio et quaesitum ejus." Ibid., I, 1, fol. 70 vl; Horten trans. p. 14. Cf. Siger of Brabant, op. cit., pp. 3-4.

29 Duns Scotus, Quaest. Metaph., I, 1, 4; VII, 13. Cf. Averroes: "Naturalis consyderat de formis materialibus, secunda autem de formis simplicibus abstractis a materia, et est illa Scientia, quae consyderat de ente simpliciter. Sed notandum est, quod istud genus entium, esse, scilicet, separatum a materia, non declaratur nisi in hac scientia naturali. Et qui dicit quod prima Philosophia nititur declarare entia separabilia esse, peccat. Haec enim entia sunt subjecta primae Philosophiae, …" Averroes, Physica, I, 83FG; Venice (1562), fol. 47r2-vl.

30 John Duns Scotus, loc. cit., nos. 28-33; pp. 25-28.

31Ibid., no. 21; p. 21a.

32 Cf. Adnotatio of M. de Portu, in Duns Scoti Op. Om., VII, 37b-39b; C. L. Shircel, The Univocity of the Concept of Being in the Philosophy of Duns Scotus, pp. 90-94.

33 "Secundo dico, quod communissimum quod potest apprehendi a nobis est ens quod est univocum omni enti reali. Aliter non possemus habere aliquam cognitionem nec de deo nec de substantia." William of Ockham, in Sent. I, 3, 8E. Cf. ibid., Prologus, III, 7S.

34 "… une extrême diversité de points de vue se fait jour sur presque toutes les questions." E. Gilson, La Philosophie au Moyen Age, (1944), p. 413.

35 Aristotle, Metaph., A 1,982al-3; 2,982b9-10.

36 [G] 1,1003a26-32; E 1,1025b3-4; K 1,1059al8-20.

37 [G] 1,1003a21-24; K 3,1060b31-32.

38E 1,1026al9-23; K 7,1064bl-6.

39E 1,1026a23-32; K 7,1064b6-14.

40B 2,996b31; 997al-2; 11; Z 1,1028b4-7; [L] 1,1069al8.

41 [G] 3,1005a35.

42Ibid., 2,1003bl8; H 1,1042a5; [L] 1,1069al8-19.

43E 1,1026al6-18.

44A 3,983b2-3. Cf. W. D. Ross, Arist. Metaph., I, 128.

45Ph., I 9,192a34-36; cf. II 2,194bl4-15.

46 "One might be in aporia about whether the science of Being qua Being is to be regarded as universal or not. … if there is another nature and Entity, separate and immobile, the knowledge of it must be different and prior to natural philosophy, and universal by being prior." K 8,1064b6-14. Cf. E 1,1026a23-32.

47 Cf. W. D. Ross, Theophrastus Metaph., pp. xi-xxi.

48 Theophrastus, Metaphysics, I, 1-4; trans. Ross-Fobes, pp. 2.2-4.5.

49 Natorp (Philos. Monatsh., XXIV, 1888, pp. 546-548) claims that Theophrastus intends in this document to deal with only one part of the Primary Philosophy.—The text seems to offer no grounds for such a distinction. For general interpretation of the document, cf. A. M. J. Festugiere, Rev. Neoscol. XXXIII (1931), 40-49; on the relation of document to the Aristotelian Metaphysics, cf. E. Zeller, Abh. Berl. Akad. (1877), 146-150.

50 Eudemus of Rhodes, Fr. 4; ed. Mullach, Fragmenta Philos. Graec., III, 224 (Wehrli, Fr. 34, p. 23.27-29). On the interpretation of the fragment, see P. Merlan, From Platonism to Neoplatonism (2nd ed., 1960), pp. 208-209.

51 Natorp (loc. cit., p. 548) interprets the text of Eudemus in the 'abstract' sense. On the historical origin of this modern contrast of 'ontology' with the particular branches of philosophy, cf. E. Conze, Der Begriff der Metaphysik bei Franciscus Suarez, p. 65. In such a conception no problem can arise in the mutual relations of their respective objects. "Hier wird kein Verbindungsglied zwischen dem Sein und den immateriellen Substanzen mehr gesucht, sie werden einfach gegenuber gestellt, wie der allgemeine Teil dem besonderen." E. Conze, ibid., pp. 64-65.

52 'Entity' is used here to translate ousia. Cf. infra, Chapter Four, pp. 138-153.

53 Alexander of Aphrodisias, in Metaph., 245.29-246.13. On the lines introducing the three-fold division, cf. trans. Sepulveda (1551), fol. 43rl: "Prima enim philosophia, quae proprie sapientia nuncupatur, quaeque de sempitemis ac immobilibus divinisque considerat, philosophiae pars est. Itaque sapientia licet universalis et prima sit, ut quae de ente in eo quod est ens, non de aliquo ente contempletur, subjicitur tamen philosophiae; sub hac itaque collocatur tum prima philosophia, …" Italics mine, indicating words added or changed in the interpretation of the difficult Greek text. Cf. Alexander, op. cit. (ed. Hayduck), pp. 18.8-11; 171.5-10; 250.30-32; 266.2-14.

Alexander (ibid., p. 245.23-24) explains the [to genei] at line 6 of the passage just cited, in a way that makes it a Dative of Respect. On this Dative in the original Aristotelian text, cf. infra, Chapter Seven, a), n. 55.

54 The commentaries on Books E-N which have come down under Alexander's name are by a much later writer. Cf. F. Ueberweg, Geschichte der Philosophie, I, 564; W. D. Ross, Arist. Metaph., II, 347.

55 Cf. [D] 26,1023b29-32.

56 Alexander, op. cit., p. 447.22-32; cf. A. Mansion, Rev. Neoscol. XXIX (1927), 329.

57Ibid., p. 661.33-39.

58 Syrianus, in Metaph., p. 55.3-16.

59Ibid., p. 58.12-15.

60 Asclepius, in Metaph., p. 1.17-20; cf. pp. 2.9-20; 3.25-4.3. Asclepius (ibid., pp. 235.13-236.6) explains the Primary Philosophy as genus (p. 235.15) and as species (p. 236.1-2), using to a considerable extent the words of Alexander quoted above, n. 53. As with Alexander, the divine Being seems distinguished from 'particular Being'—"Wisdom is therefore the par excellence science of the immobile and eternal and divine things, and it deals with Being qua Being, but not particular Being." Ibid., pp. 235.33-236.1.

61Ibid., pp. 225.14-226.25.

62Ibid., p. 364.22-25; cf. p. 226.2-5.

63Ibid., p. 235.12-13; cf. p. 364.17-19.

64Ibid., p. 232.4-11.

65 Eustratius, in Eth. Nic., p. 42.10-12.

66Stromata, I, 28, 176; PG VIII, 924A.

67 P. Natorp, Philos. Monatsh., XXIV (1888), 63-64.

68 "L'être en tant qu'être ne se laisse circonscrire dans aucune classe; les causes n'en sont pas diverses et particulières, mais universelles et uniformes; il ne peut etre l'objet que d'une science universelle.

La science des premiers principes, la philosophie premiere peut donc être définie 'la science universelle de l'être en tant qu'être'." F. Ravaisson, Essai, I, 354; cf. I, 378-379

69 "Chaque être particulier ou chaque nature c'est un acte imparfait, ou un mouvement, dont la Pénsee est la cause, la fin, et l'essence; ou, pour réduire le mouvement à son principe, c'est le désir par lequel la divine Pensée, présente à toutes les puissances que la matiere enferme, les fait venir à l'existence et à la vie.…

Un seul et même Etre, qui n'est autre que la Pensée ou l'intuition de lui-même, apparaissant dans les puissances différentes de la matière, sous mille formes et en mille opérations différentes, … telle est la conception générale dans laquelle se résume toute la Métaphyique." Ibid., II, 564-565.

70 … A. Schwegler, Metaph. Arist., IV, 35.

71 "Pertinet autem universum genus philosophiae ad universum genus entium, sicut alibi etiam idem genus vel sensibile vel scibile eidem generi vel sensus vel scientiae subiicitur; singulae autem species entis … singulis speciebus sive doctrinis philosophiae continentur…" H. Bonitz, Arist. Methaph., II, 174.

72 "Igitur theologia prima est doctrina, et quatenus prima est omnium, universalis potest dici, quum reliquae omnes ex illa summum debeant repetere principium." Ibid., II, 285.

Other writers of the same period likewise saw no difficulty in combining the different Aristotelian formulae. E.g., "Da nun die Metaphysik das Seyende als solches in Betrachtung zieht, so hat sie zu ihrem Gegenstande vorzugsweise die ursprünglichen, unveränderlichen Wesenheiten." Franz Biese, Philosophie des Aristoteles, I, 364. Cf. also W. Christ, Studia in Aristotelis Libros Metaph., pp. 98-99; W. Luthe, Begriff und Aufgabe der Metaphysik des Aristoteles, p. 15. J. Glaser (Die Metaphysik des Aristoteles, pp. 58-61) encounters no trouble, but for another reason—the different formulae seem in Hegelian fashion to express different moments of the metaphysical object. Cf. ibid., pp. 244-249.

73 Edward Zeller, Aristotle and the Earlier Peripatetics, (trans. Costelloe and Muirhead, London: 1897), I, 291-292. Cf. ibid., pp. 290-295.

74… E. Zeller, AGP, 11 (1889), 270-271.

75 … A. Schwegler, Metaph. Arist., IV, 118.

76 G. E. Grote, Aristotle (1883), p. 423.

77…P. Natorp, Philos. Monatsh., XXIV (1888), 39. In a footnote, Natorp calls attention to the deepseated difference, from the epistemological viewpoint, between the Aristotelian and Kantian notions. Aristotle does not make the investigation concern the conditions and laws of the objectivity of knowledge. The Aristotelian Being is not intended as a mere condition of knowledge. Ibid., p. 39, n. 5.

The one reference given by Natorp (ibid., p. 39, n. 3) for his interpretation of Being as in the sense of the 'most abstract' is A 2,982a26.

78Ibid., pp. 49-50.

79Ibid., 52-53.

80Op. cit., p. 548.

81 Cf op. cit., pp. 51-52; 55; 549-554.

82op. cit., pp. 542; 544-545; 547. Cf. pp.39; 53; 54-55.

83Op. cit., pp. 39. Cf. note 51, supra.

84Op. cit., pp. 63-64.

85Op. cit., pp. 64-65; 546; 548-549. Aurelio Covotti reacted to Natorp on this point in practically the same way as Zeller (cf. supra, n. 74).… A. Covotti, Rivista di Filologia, XXIV (1896), 350-351. (In Da Aristotele ai Bizantini, pp. 55-56).

For Covotti, the two conceptions of the Primary Philosophy are in fact contradictory, because the Aristotelian Being qua Being has two mutually contradictory senses, the one universal, the other individual. This expresses clearly the contrasts involved in the modern problem of interpreting the Aristotelian Being. One side appears as universal, and, in Zeller's (loc. cit.) words, pure form and object of pure knowledge. The other side is the singular, the concrete, and the real. Covotti sees the contradiction running through both the earlier and later parts of the Metaphysics, as he divides the treatises. Cf. A. Covotti, op. cit., p. 73.

86 "La 'philosophie première' a pour objet l'être considéré comme tel. Chacune des autres sciences n'embrasse qu'une portion définie de la réalité; …

Ainsi, la métaphysique est la science des principes et des causes de l'être pris comme tel. Par là même, c'est celle des premiers principes et des premières causes; … c'est la science parfaite. Et l'on peut ajouter que c'est aussi la plus noble. II convient, en effet, de regarder comme telle la science qui trouve en Dieu et son développement idéal et son terme le plus élevé.…

Si Dieu est non seulement le métaphysicien par excellence, mais encore l'objet suprême de la métaphysique, cette science mérite un nom plus précis que ceux qu'on lui a donnés précédemment. On l'a d'abord définie; la science de l'être; puis: la science des premières causes et des premiers principes. On peut en foumir maintenant une notion plus concrète: la métaphysique, c'est la théologie." Clodius Piat, Aristote, pp. 1-5.

Eugen Rolfes took the same view. "So sucht denn auch die Metaphysik die Gründe des Seienden als solchen zu erkennen.… Die Metaphysik hat also zweierlei zu betrachten, einmal das Seiende im allgemeinen nach den ihm zukommenden Bestimmungen und dann die letzten Gründe alles Seienden. Es sind das aber keine zwei getrennten Objekte, sondern das zweite ist mit dem ersten gegeben, insofern ja nichts ohne seine Gründe gewusst sein kann: …" E. Rolfes, Aristoteles' Metaphysik (1904), p. 1. Similarly also P. Alfaric, Aristote, pp. 11-13.

87 T. Gomperz, Greek Thinkers (trans. G. G. Berry, 1912), IV, 77.

88 … O. Apelt, Beiträge zur Geschichte der griechischen Philosophie, p. 128.

89 Cf. supra, n. 16.…

91 "Die Untersuchung beschränkte sich auf die Ist-Aussage. Diese besteht darin, dass ausgesagt wird, das im Satzubjekt Angegebene sei das im Satzprädikat Bezeichnete. Diese Aussage erfolgt mittelst der Kopula…

Die ganze aristotelische Seinslehre baut sich demgemäss auf dem Seinsbegriff auf, wie er in der Form der Kopula zum Ausdruck kommit." H. Dimmler, Ousia-Lehre, p. 49. Cf. Festgabe G. v. Hertling, pp. 64-67.

An approach from the viewpoint of logic may be seen in R. Demos, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, V (1944-1945), 255-268.

92,,. G. Rodier, L'Année Philosophique, XX (1909), 5. For P. Eusebietti, writing about the same time as Rodier, the object of the Primary Philosophy was the supreme pair of contraries. "A me basta aver messo in rilievo questo che nessuno ancora … a fatto notare; che secondo Aristotele la filosofia prima ha per obietto la suprema coppia di contrarii, l'essere ed il non essere, alla quale qualisivoglia altra coppia si riconduce: …" AGP, XXII (1909), 541; cf. pp. 536-539. Cf. infra, Chapter Nineteen, n. 38.

93 G. Rodier, op. cit., p. 11.

94 "La théorie de la substance comme substance ou de l'être en tant qu'être est une science à part, la science suprême, celle qu'Aristote appelle la philosophie premiêre et qu'on a appelée après lui la métaphysique." 0. Hamelin, Le Système d'Aristote, p. 394.

95Op. cit., pp. 394-400.

96Ibid., p. 396. Cf. G. Rodier, Aristote: Traité de l'Ame, II, 19.

97 "… Ia science ne réclame pas pour objet aux yeux d'Aristote des universaux proprement dits. Elle se passe parfaitement de l'élément extensif dans les genres, et elle se passe même aussi des genres." 0. Hamelin, op. cit., p. 398.

98 "…car ce qui est commun à plusieurs choses n'est, comme tel, enfermé dans aucune d'elles. Pour Aristote, c'est précisément là un caractère qui l'empêche d'être une réalité." Ibid., p. 400. Cf. L. Robin, text infra, n. 112. Schwegler had already pointed out the tendency of the Aristotelian philosophy to identify the universal and the individual in the highest instance of each, namely in the divinity. Cf. supra, n. 75.

99 "Quand même d'ailleurs la part de la forme ne serait pas aussi manifestement prépondérante dans la réalité des substances composées, cela serait de peu d'importance, puisque ces substances ne sont pas encore ce qu'il y a de plus substantiel et que, selon Aristote, l'être en tant qu'être ne doit pas être cherché parmi elles, ni même, à proprement parler, au fond d'aucune d'entre elles. L'objet de la philosophie première, dit Aristote, est l'être en tant qu'être. Mais il ne faut pas croire que l'être en tant qu'être est un universel, un caractère commun à tous les êtres … Si l'être, en tant qu'il se retrouve à propos de tous les êtres peut être dit universel, c'est d'un genre particulier d'universalité: il est universel parce qu'il est premier et fondement d'analogie. L'être en tant qu'être, étant premier, devient un type, il est imité par d'autres êtres. Chacun d'eux se règle sur lui. Mais il est à part d'eux tous, et cela réellement, non logiquement; et le vrai nom de la philosophie première, c'est la Théologie (E, 1.1026al8). En un mot, l'objet de la philosophie première est un individu. Or cet individu, comme Aristote le répète sans cesse avec des expressions diverses, est une pure forme. II est une pure forme, parce que sa fonction est d'expliquer les autres êtres et que la véritable explication consiste à invoquer la fin, et, en dernière analyse, la forme. La forme explique tout le reste et se suffit à elle-même." O. Hamelin, op. cit., pp. 404-405, (texts cited by courtesy of Presses Universitaires de France). Similarly, J. Chevalier:. … l'être en tant qu'être est à la fois en soi et universel." La Notion du Néessaire chez Aristote, p. 172.

100 W. Jaeger, Aristotle (trans. Robinson), pp. 218-219. Cf. pp. 216-218 (Aristoteles, pp. 226-228).

101Aristoteles, p. 228 (trans. Robinson, p. 219).

102 W. D. Ross, Arist. Metaph., I, 252-253.

103 W. Jaeger, Aristoteles, pp. 197-198; 226 (trans. Robinson, pp. 191-192; 217).

104 Carlini ends his critique of the double conception of the Primary Philosophy: "In fine: che A. stesso adattasse con un mero accomodamento esteriore una sua precedente trattazione a un intendimento addirittura opposto a quella ch'essa realmente aveva, è, per lo meno, una congettura che lascia molto perplessi." Arist. Metaf., pp. xxv-xxvi. Cf. ibid., pp. 193-194, n. 1, … Estratti, p. 104, n. 3. Cf. ibid., p. 65, n. 1, for Carlini's reduction of the science of the causes and of truth to that of 'Being qua Being.'

M. Gentili, Rivista di Filosofia Neoscolastica, Suppl. XXVII (July 1935), 25-30, following Jaeger's interpretation, distinguishes three different positions of the problem of Being in the Metaphysics; first as immobile Being, then as Being in general, and finally as the immanent act in sensible Becoming. The link between the first and third positions was not perfectly achieved by Aristotle, though it is demanded by the exigencies of his thought and still remains a living problem. "Tra le due posizioni la saldatura non è speculativamente perfetta; ma la sua perfezione è richiesta dall'intima energia del pensiero aristotelico e costituisce quindi compito e problema vivo per chi consideri l'aristotelismo come la prima posizione storicamente sistematica dei problemi della filosofia." Ibid., pp. 28-29.

105 "Ich gebe nämlich nicht zu, dass im K (und im [G] und E) bezüglich des Gegenstandes der Metaphysik Contamination zweier widersprechender Auffassungen anzuerkennen ist, die aus zwei verschiedenen geistigen Schöpfungsakten stammen müssen." H. v. Arnim, Wien. Stud., XLVI (1928), 20.

106Ibid., p. 32, Cf. Gotteslehre, pp. 3; 46.

In ZH, accordingly, ousia does not mean for v. Arnim, an abstract generic notion as Jaeger understands it, but an individual Being.… Wien. Stud., XLVI (1928), 45.

107 "Ebensowenig wie es eine aristotelische Metaphysik gegeben hat, die nicht von der Analyse der sinnlichen Substanz ausgegangen ist und die den Begriff ihres Gegenstandes, des übersinnlichen Seins als des obersten und ersten Seins, nicht aus der vergleichenden Betrachtung der Stufenreihe der verschiedenen Seinsarten gewonnen hatte (was ja auch der einzig mögliche Weg war, seit dem die platonische Identifizierung des Volkommensten mit dem Allgemeinsten gefallen war) und die nicht in diesem Sinn Allgemeinwissenschaft vom Sein gewesen wäre, ebensowenig hat es je eine Metaphysik gegeben, die die sinnliche Substanz um ihrer selbst willen behandelt hätte … Und selbst wenn wirklich … in den früheren Teilen der eine, in den späteren Teilen der andere Gesichtspunkt stärker betont würde, so wiirde daraus noch immer nicht ein innerer Gegensatz der beiden Auffassungen folgen, …" E. v. Ivánka, Scholastik, VII (1932), 23-24.

108 Cf. infra, pp. 102-104.

109 "L'espressione 'scienza del ente in quanto ente'riceve, in questi scritti aristotelici, tre significati diversi e strettamente connessi, che per non essere tenuti chiaramente distinti, rendono particolarmente difficile la comprensione del procedimento del pensiero.

  1. La scienza dell'ente in quanto ente individua in qualche reale o ente le condizioni necessarie della realtà O dell' esistenza attuale, cioè il 'minimum' richiesto per la conoscibilita di esso reale, tutte quelle determinazioni di esso che rimangono qualora la conoscenza prescinda da tutte quelle da cui può prescindere, senza tuttavia cessare di avere un qualche oggetto. In questo caso la scienza dell' ente in quanto ente è una scienza puramente formale, inquanto essa determina le condizioni necessarie che rendono possibile il reale o l'ente attuale in genere, senza tuttavia pronunciarsi sulla sua effettiva realtà. In questo caso, la scienza dell' ente in quanto ente è un' ontologia formale …
  2. La scienza dell' ente in quanto ente determina la totalità delle condizioni sufficienti che spiegano l'esistenza attuale di uno, pifi o tutti i reali o gli enti, cioè gli oggetti di conoscenza attuale o possibile. In opposizione al caso precedente, la scienza del ente in quanto ente, ha ora un carattere reale, è una metafisica nel senso corrente della parola …
  3. In quanto finalmente Aristotele determina i principi metafisici del reale, di cui gli consta per effettiva conoscenza, per lo più mediante concetti, … egli concepisce talora, benchè più raramente e in via secondaria, la scienza dell' ente in quanto ente, come quella che si riferisce alle determinazioni ontologiche che, secondo la sua dottrina, spiegano il reale nella sua effettiva natura metafisica." Emilio Oggioni, La 'Filosofia Prima' di Aristotele, pp. 64-65.

110 "Cependant, si c'est bien la vérité que l'être 'en tant qu'être' n'est pas un genre, n'est-il pas vrai, d'autre part, on l'a vu, que c'est un attribut universel? De la sorte, l'être 'en tant qu'être' serait l'universalité de l'être, bref, un universel duquel la philosophie serait la science. Or, une telle façon de présenter les choses est très nette dans la Métaphysique, … Mais, d'un autre côté, des assertions … qui assignent à la philosophie pour objet ces êtres que sont les Astres et cet être séparé et immobile qu'est Dieu,—supposent une conception toute différente; …" L. Robin, Aristote, pp. 106-107.

111Ibid., p. 107.

112 "Voilà comment l'être 'en tant qu'être' est à la fois un individu et un universel, l'universel suprême parce qu'il est l'individu suprême et qu'il a le pouvoir de se faire universel en se répétant, mais avec une exactitude toujours plus faible. Son universalité, toutefois, se fonde, il importe de le bien comprendre, sur sa nécessité,… et, si toutes les existences dans lesquelles il se répète et qui l'imitent ne le reçoivent pas au même degré, elles se rapportent néanmoins toutes à lui, de telle sorte que son universalité n'est, en elles, qu'une identité de rapport ou une 'analogie':.…" Ibid., p. 108. Cf. supra, nn. 97-99.

113 L. Robin, op. cit., pp. 108-109.

114 "L'unité individuelle de la substance première se retrouve universellement, grâce à l'analogie, en toutes ces choses singulières." Ibid., p. 109. Robin stresses the feature of 'imitation' in the Stagirite's doctrine of Being. This view and the resultant 'analogy' may be also seen in Hamelin, supra, n. 99.

115 "Au livre I de sa Métaphysique, Aristote décrit la philosophie première comme la science des causes ultimes de la réalité entière.… Il en résulte que le monde suprasensible, qui est le domaine propre de la philosophie première en ce sens qu'il n'est étudié par aucune autre science, ne se confond pas cependant purement et simplement avec l'objet de la Métaphysique: celui-ci est beaucoup plus vaste.… A d'autres endroits Aristote insiste plutôt sur le caractère suprasensible de l'objet métaphysique, parce que c'est là un domaine qui est réservé en propre à la philosophie première. W. Jaeger a donc tort de considérer ces deux conceptions comme inconciliables: la manière dont elles se trouvent entremêlées dans l'œuvre du Stagirite indique clairement que l'auteur ne les conçoit pas comme opposées l'une à l'autre; c'est ce qu'il affirme d'ailleurs de façon explicite dans Métaph. VI, 1,1026a22-32 et XI, 7,1064bl4: La priorité de la métaphysique sur les autres sciences entraîne nécessairement le caractère universel de son objet." Gerard Verbeke, Revue Philosophique de Louvain, XLIV (1946), 206, n. 3.

116 G. di Napoli, rivista di Filosofla Neoscolastica, XXXIX (1947), 220.

117 "II che vuol dire che nel pensiero di Aristotele le due visuali della metafisica si implicano radicalmente: la metafisica come scienza dell' essere in quanto essere condiziona la metaficisa come scienza dell' Immobile; soltanto superando il piano fisico (e cioè: studiando non solo ciò che è, ma l' ente in quanto ente) è possibile arrivare all' Immobile." Ibid.

118 A. H. Armstrong, An Introduction to Ancient Philosophy, p. 87. For more recent surveys of the problem, see S. Gómez Nogales, Horizonte de la Metafisica Aristotelica (1955), pp. 173-196; V. Décarie, L 'Object de la Métaphysique selon Aristote (1961), pp. xxvii-xxviii; P. Aubenque, Le Problème de l'Être chez Aristote (1962), pp. 1-13.


The writings of Aristotle and of Plato are cited with the abbreviated titles given in Liddel and Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon (1940), I, xix and xxxiii respectively, except that Rep. is used for Plato's Republic. Outside the Metaphysics, the Books of the Aristotelian treatises are quoted by Roman, and the chapters by Arabic, numerals. In view of the four different ways of enumerating the Books of the Metaphysics (cf. synoptic tables in A. Mansion, Rev. Néscol., XXIX, 1927, p. 307, n. 2; A. Nolte, Het Godsbegrip by Aristoteles, p. 5, n. 9), the most convenient policy is to use the traditional Greek letters. This manner of citation allows the title Metaph. to be omitted, except in immediate sequence to citations from other Aristotelian treatises.

The text of Plato is quoted according to the Stephanus pagination. Aristotle, the Greek commentators, and the Index Aristotelicus of Bonitz are cited by page and line of the Prussian Academy editions.

The following abbreviations for periodicals and collections are used:—

Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie.
American Journal of Philology.
Abh. Bayr. Akad.
Abhandlungen der Philosophisch-historischen Classe der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.
Abh. Berl. Akad.
Abhandlungen der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, Philos.-histor. Classe.
Bayr. Sitzb.
Sitzungsberichte der Philos.-histor. Classe der Bayerischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.
Berl. Sitzb.
Sitzungsberichte der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin, Philos.-histor. Classe.
Classical Quarterly.
Classical Review.
Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum.
Class. Phil.—
Classical Philology.
Encyc. Brit.
Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Journal of Philology.
Patrologia Graeca (Migne).
Patrologia Latina (Migne).
Philos. Monatsh.
Philosophische Monatshefte.
Rev. Néoscol.
Revue Neoscolastique de Philosophie.
Rh. Mus.
Rheinisches Musaum fur Philologie.
Wien. Sitzb.
Sitzungsberichte der Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien, Philosophisch-historische Klasse.
Wien. Stud.
Wiener Studien.

Monographs are cited with full title or with easily recognizable shorter form. The few strongly abbreviated titles used are italicized in parentheses immediately before the full title given in the Bibliography, pp. 475 ff.

Richard Rorty (essay date 1973)

SOURCE: "Genus as Matter: A Reading of Metaphysics Z-H," in Exegesis and Argument: Studies in Greek Philosophy Presented to Gregory Vlastos, edited by E. N. Lee, A. P. D. Mourelatos, R. M. Rorty, Van Gorcum & Company B. V., 1973, pp. 393-420.

[In the following essay, Rorty reviews what he describes as a significant difficulty in the reading of Metaphysics, namely that it appears to lack unity and a conclusion. Rorty locates the primary source of the substance-form puzzle in Book Z, and argues that by understanding Aristotle's claim that genus is matter, a claim not often taken seriously, certain difficulties in Book Z are eliminated.]

One difficulty in reading the Metaphysics is to locate the conclusion of the argument.1 The difficulty is so great that many have concluded that there is no conclusion, and no unity to the treatise. Now, it may well be that what we call a "treatise" is in fact a collection of scraps. Perhaps all that we shall be able to find is variations on a theme, rather than a sustained argument. Nevertheless the only way to tell how much unity there is is to try out various unifying schemes and see how soon they fail. Two such schemes are fairly familiar. Both take the question which the treatise is supposed to answer to be "What is substance?" and both take the conclusion to be that substance is form. One scheme (Ross's) thinks this to be established at the end of Z, and regards H, [O], and I as appendices, with [L] introducing a new subject—theology.2 The other scheme (the Thomistic view typified by Owens) takes the end of Z as expressing a problem (how can substance be form?) which is only resolved in [L]. On this latter view, finding out about the pure actualities which are the Unmoved Movers is necessary in order to understand what substance is, because only thus do we get the [en] to which all other senses of "substance" are related by [pros en] equivocity.3

The problems with both of these unifying schemes are as familiar as the schemes themselves. In the Ross scheme, it is hard to say just what we have learned when we learn that substance is form. We knew long before the end of Z that "form" was one sense of substance; what light is shed by telling us that it is the primary sense? Further, it looks as if Aristotle would like to say that an individual thing is the same as its form, but Z, 17 gives us no help in seeing how this might be possible. In the Owens scheme, we have to say that we do not really understand what a horse is unless we understand what God is, and we also have to make sense of a form which is the form of no matter and of an actuality which is the actualization of no potentiality. Again, neither scheme seems to allow enough weight to H, [O] and I. On both, the only really important passage in all three books is the claim in [O] that actuality is prior to potentiality—a claim which underlines unhelpfully the conclusion of Z, 17.

In this paper, I want to suggest how one might read the central books as centering on the end of H rather than of Z—so that the conclusion of the treatise comes in the last lines of that book:

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.4

This interpretive scheme is not original; something like it has been suggested often by Randall, McKeon, and others. But I think that it needs to be backed up by fairly detailed analysis of how this conclusion relates to the topics discussed in Z, and this is what I propose to do here. I shall claim that the plausibility of saying that substance is form only appears when this is taken together with the claim that proximate matter and form are identical. I shall be arguing, further, that to understand this latter claim one needs to take Aristotle's claim that genus is matter more seriously than it is usually taken. Roughly, I construe Aristotle as saying that the unity of genus and differentia in the definition somehow mirrors the special sort of unity which is the unity of form with proximate matter, and that appreciating this fact clears up the puzzles of Z. In order to make this out, however, I shall have to give an account of these puzzles. This account will necessarily be brief and dogmatic.

In imagining Aristotle's motives for writing the Metaphysics, one runs least risk of anachronism if one views him as primarily concerned with refuting his predecessors. Whatever else the question "What is Being?" might have meant to Aristotle, it certainly at least meant "What is wrong with the sort of thing Plato and Democritus said about what really exists?" Accordingly, I think that the question "What is substance?" which begins Z should be seen as meaning at least "What is wrong with the kinds of reductionisms discussed in A—the over-emphasis by Pythagoreans and Platonists on formal causality, or by materialists on material causality, which produces the notion that only forms are real, or the notion that only matter is real?" This way of putting it, however, suggests that there is no problem about substance until technical philosophical senses of terms like [eidos] and [hulē have been mastered. A better way of putting the question, I think, is as follows: "How shall we reconcile the division within common sense which on the one hand suggests that practically every noun refers to a substance and on the other hand suggests that only relatively few nouns refer to substances?" Or, putting it another way: "How shall we reconcile the common-sensical notion (expressed at, e.g., Categories 2b27) that everything that is neither predicable of nor present in another thing is equally a substance with the fact that scientific explanation suggests that certain substances or putative substances (the four elements, atoms, numbers, Forms) are the realities behind the appearances?" The temptation to say that only a few things are substances, and that these things are far from common sense, is just the same temptation which leads present-day readers of The Scientific American to say that science has shown that only elementary particles are real. We may assume that this reductionistic temptation was as current then as now. The primary purpose of the Metaphysics, in my view, and especially of Z-H, is to guard against such temptations.

We may state the temptation a bit more exactly, and relate it to the opposition between Platonists and materialists, as follows. Aristotle acknowledges two broad, and conflicting, sets of criteria for substantiality. The first is the one laid down in the Categories, out of which I shall pick as basic the notion of determinability—a notion which Aristotle expresses as follows:

It seems most distinctive of substance that what is numerically one and the same is able to receive contraries.5

I shall call this the "logical" criterion of substance. I do not think that this criterion can be made precise, since there seems no neat way to explain why "the white thing" … could not admit such contraries as being now here and now there, or being now a sock and later (when torn into strips and knotted together) a tourniquet. So it is not clear why, on this criterion, calling something a dog or a sock is a predication in the category of substance whereas calling it white is not. There certainly is an intuition that when we call it a dog or a sock we are saying what kind of thing it is, but not when we call it white—but I doubt that this intuition is capable of precise analysis which would deal with borderline cases.6

Contrasted to this logical criterion, there is what I shall call the "physical" criterion of substantiality—the criterion of self-reliance. The locus classicus for this criterion is in Z, 16:

Evidently even of the things that are thought to be substances, most are only potencies—both the parts of animals (for none of them exist separately; and when they are separated, then too they exist, all of them, merely as matter) and earth and fire and air; for none of them is a unity, but as it were a mere heap, till they are worked up and some unity is made out of them.7

This latter sort of criterion comes out in the places where Aristotle says that a thing is "one in a still higher degree" if it is "naturally continuous" … and that only immaterial substances are "one without qualification".… It is this criterion which supports the Thomist reading according to which the Unmoved Movers are the only substances in the full sense of the term. This criterion, like the criterion of determinability, cannot be made precise, nor does Aristotle try to do so. It is thoroughly unclear whether, on this criterion, only a full-fledged cultured adult male counts as a substance or whether babies also count. Mules do not make the grade (cf. 1034al, a passage I shall discuss more fully later) but perhaps an amoeba would. Aristotle does not, as far as I know, invoke this criterion anywhere except in the middle of the Metaphysics—and it comes in there only for certain dialectical reasons which I shall be talking about later. What I want to emphasize here is not that Aristotle is torn by conflict between self-reliance and determinability as criteria for identifying [ousia] but simply that both are criteria which he feels able to appeal to without argument. The bland [phaneron de hoti] which begins the passage just quoted, in spite of the fact that the passage flatly contradicts the standard list of paradigm cases of substance given at [D] 8 and Z, 2, shows that the notion that only a few so-called substances might really be substances was a philosophical commonplace which Aristotle was not prepared to reject out of hand.

These two criteria of substantiality can conflict (as they do in the cases of mules and detached human hands) but it is important to see how they also complement each other. A thing has to have some degree of self-reliance—some ability to persist despite whatever other forces are at work in the universe—in order to have determinability. If there were such a thing as prime matter, it would be a bare substratum which would let itself be called by the name of whatever accidental quality it exhibited at the moment; it would not be capable of alteration—for this is change against a background, and there would be no enduring features to, provide such a background. Only what is strong enough to possess a nature, and retain it through some period of time, can be passive enough to undergo alteration. So the two criteria go together naturally up to the point at which we begin asking what counts as nature, and begin to look askance at common-sensical distinctions between essential nature and accidental qualities. We ask such questions, and begin to wonder whether common-sense is drawing lines in the right places, when we realize that certain borderline cases of substance present exceptionally attractive opportunities for gaining certainty, or explanatory power, or both. When it turns out that such peculiar entities as geometrical shapes or atoms can be known with more certainty than common-sense entities, or can be used to explain common-sense entities better than common-sense entities explain themselves, then two things happen: first, efforts are made to show that these entities are better examples of substance than more familiar examples, and second, the original substance-accident distinction begins to be dropped in favor of the distinction between reality and appearance.

Aristotle is notable among Greek philosophers for his refusal to invoke the appearance-reality distinction—for his unwillingness to go against common sense. The Metaphysics, on the view I am offering, is an attempt to show that we can do justice to scientific knowledge without adopting what Strawson would call a "revisionary metaphysics"—a reductionism of either the Platonist or the materialist sort. These reductionisms start by pushing one or the other of the two criteria of substantiality beyond its proper limits. The Platonist form of reductionism seizes on such abstractions as the Good, the Equal, and the Circle and notes that they satisfy the "physical" criterion of substantiality to an eminent degree. The claim of the Platonic Forms to be more real than common-sense things is based on their eminent self-reliance—their immunity to pressure from other things, their immutability and eternity. The reasons which impel one to think that Socrates is a better example of a substance than a drop of water impel one also to think of the Form of Man, if such there be, as an even better example. From this point of view, the whole sensible world can come to look like merely so much matter—or, if this seems too paradoxical, so much appearance. The materialist form of reductionism, on the other hand, works with the logical criterion of substantiality—determinability. Let us, the materialist says, press the notion of substance as that which receives contraries a little farther. We do not say that it is the red which changes between crimson and vermillion, but, say, the red book. But why stop with the book? It is the same stuff that was once a tree and is now a book. So let us look down to the ultimate determinables—the elements or the atoms. There we will find the determinable in an eminent degree, and we shall consign all the usual paradigms of substance to the role of transitory accidents of this more profound substratum or, if this seems too paradoxical, to the role of mere appearance.

Now one way to deal with these promotions of borderline cases of substance to the status of paradigms would be just to distinguish sharply between questions about what is real, about what is knowable with most certainty, and about what is the most powerful tool of scientific explanation. One could then insist that these questions have nothing in particular to do with each other. But this is not the line Aristotle takes. He is convinced, for better or worse, that there is a powerful case to be made for departing from common-sense paradigms and proclaiming that substance really is substratum, and another powerful case for proclaiming that it really is form. He thinks that the only way to defeat the reductionists is to find some way in which the common-sense paradigms of substance can be both form and substrate, rather than constructs out of these, or combinations of these, or appearances of these. Aristotle could simply, like an ordinary-language philosopher, have appealed to paradigm cases and then gone on to argue that the reductionists were misusing words like "one" when, for example, they insisted that abstractions like the Platonic Forms were more clearly unities than any sensible thing. Again, he could have distinguished the question "Which things are substances?" from the question "What is it about substances which makes them substances?" and accused the reductionists of confounding these questions. But he did neither. Instead, he takes the view that the [sunolon]—the composite of form and matter—can only be called a substance if it can somehow be shown to be identical both with form and with matter; if it is a third thing distinct from both form and matter, it will not make the grade. Still another tactic which he might have adopted is the Strawsonian sort of "parasitism" argument—in which one would say to both varieties of reductionists that the unfamiliar notions (separable forms, or invisible substrata) which they employ could only have been given sense by reference to the so called "composites" which are the common-sense paradigms of substance. But he does not do that either. Instead, he takes the technical philosophical notions of "substrate" and "form" as, if anything, more intelligible and better understood than the familiar notion that Socrates is a substance. He tries to clarify the latter by reference to the former.

Given this set of tactics, the central question for defending the common-sense notion of substance against reductionist attack is how to construe the relation between matter (the ground of the composite's determinability) and form (the ground of the composite's self-reliance) in some way other than as the relation between the composite itself and its accidents. If we do use this latter model, we either turn the matter into an accident of form ("Plato thought nature but a spume that plays/Upon a ghostly paradigm of things") or else, with the materialists, turn form into an accident of matter. Either way of looking at the composite will deprive the composite itself of the status of substance and force us to regard it as some other ("underlying") substance plus assorted accidents. So the defense of substance against reductionist attack ultimately depends upon being able to provide a different sort of connection between the formal and the material aspects of a substance than either the connection between that substance and its attributes, or the connection between that substance and its parts.

The need for a special connection here is a recurrent theme in Aristotle. Consider the following texts, one from the Categories, one from Z, and one from [G]:

Yet genus and species do not merely indicate quality, like the term "white"; "white" indicates quality and nothing further, but species and genus determine the quality with reference to a substance; they signify substance qualitatively differentiated.8

Nothing, then, which is not a species of a genus will have an essence—only species will have it, for these are thought to imply not merely that the subject participates in the attribute and has it as an affection, or has it by accident.9

In general, those who talk like this (denying the principle of contradiction) do away with substance and essence. For they must say that all attributes are accidents, and that there is no such thing as "being essentially a man" or "an animal" … but if all statements are accidental, there will be nothing primary about which they are made, if the accidental always implies predication about a subject. The predication, then, must go on ad infinitum.10

The first and second of these passages merely say that there is something special which distinguishes the relation between the name or the formula of a species and that to which it applies from the relation between any other sort of name or formula and that to which it applies. The third passage should, I think, be read in the light of Anscombe's point that Aristotle in his discussion of the law of contradiction in [G] is talking not about what is ordinarily so-called but about a principle that says "If [fa], '[f]' being a predicate in the category of substance, then 'not [fa]' is an impossible proposition."11 It should be contrasted with Aristotle's occasional suggestion that "substance is predicated of matter."12 This latter notion is tempting but insidious, since it would cut off the infinite regress suggested by the third passage cited only at the cost of a fatal concession to what I have been calling reductionism. If we were to admit that to call something a man is to be saying it is what stands to the thing's matter as the man's paleness stands to the man. Aristotle's program would be hopeless. If we take the third passage together with the second, we can see the problem presented as looking like this: "When we say that something is a man, we are saying something about what form this matter has, but we cannot be predicating qualities of a bit of matter. Nor can we be predicating form of a bit of matter, for the matter doesn't exemplify the form—only the composite does. So in order to avoid an infinite regress, and to avoid agreeing with Anaxagoras that all things are together ([G], 4) and with Protagoras that all opinions are true (G, 5) we must find some way of saying something about the matter which is not ordinary predication." This search for a new logical relation … is not distinguished by Aristotle from the search for a new sort of metaphysical relation distinct from "being present in a subject" … which will link form and matter. Both searches are, I suggest, assimilated to the question of Z, 12: What is the relation between "animal" and "two-footed" in the definition of "man" which will permit this definition to attribute one characteristic rather than two? The answer to all three problems Aristotle takes to be given, in one way or another, by the potentiality-actuality distinction. So this latter distinction will, if it works, solve problems about predication left over from the Categories as well as refuting the metaphysical reductionists.

So far I have been giving a general description of what I take to be the central theme in Aristotle's over-all philosophical program. I want now to make things a little more concrete and to go through some of the chapters of Z in order to show how this program gets worked into a form which leads up naturally to the question about unity posed in Z, 12 and the answer offered to this question at H, 6. This will be a matter of picking out texts like plums and, by focusing on just a few texts, hoping to exhibit an order in the discussion which is hardly apparent when one reads straight through. I shall start with the insistence on the identity between the individual substance … and what it is to be that substance … in chapter 6, since I want to read the remainder of Z (and H) as an answer to the question, "How is this identification possible?"

The general argument for this identification is that without it we have an infinite regress. Aristotle first trots out a reminder of the third man argument (1031a3 ff.) in connection with Platonic Forms, and then generalizes the argument by saying that

The absurdity of the separation (between an individual thing and its essence) would appear also if one were to assign a name to each of the essences; for there would be yet another essence besides the original one, e.g. to the essence of horse there will belong a second essence.13

I take this to be saying: if every true subject-predicate statement expressed a relation between two things, then an infinite regress of predication would ensue. In particular, if we unwisely called the essence of X "Y," then the statement "X is Y" would look like an expression of a relation between two things. The regress (essences of essences of essences with, presumably, a new substrate for each new essence to inhere in) of Z, 6 would thus be engendered by the same mistake as was the regress (substrates … of substrates of substrates, each substrate having its own essence) of [G], 4. In both cases, we would err in assuming that the logical relation between subject… and predicate must mirror a relation between an independently characterizable substrate and an essence or form. Ordinary language wisely calls both Socrates and his essence …"man," and wisely calls the accidental feature … which is being a white man "being a white man," rather than using a snappy one-word expression like "cloak" (as he suggests we might in Z, 4.1029b28 ff.). The connection between the two regresses emerges when we see that predicating "man" does not signify a relation between two things in the way in which predicating "white man" does—even though to truly apply either expression requires that some character be embodied in some substrate. If "man" were taken as an ellipsis for "such and such features inhering in such and such a substrate," then each of the two things related would themselves split into "what it is to be X" and "the substrate of which 'X' is a character," and these two will split, and so on—engendering ramified regresses in both directions. Aristotle thinks that we stop all such regresses by realizing, first, that mere qualities don't have essences (1030a l2-14 again) and, second, that not every predication can be the predication of a mere feature.… If this were the only sort of predication there were, he thinks, predication would never get started, because the question "What are you talking about? Where is the subject … ?" would never get answered.

This is Aristotle's master argument for "substance" being a distinct category irreducible to "quality" or anything else. It is a bad argument because it confuses the sound point that, in Anscombe's words, one cannot "identify a thing without identifying it as a such-and-such"14 with the unproven Strawsonian claim that a language-game which contained only quality-terms and demonstratives could not be played. But I do not want to criticize it here—only to emphasize that the insistence on the identity of a thing with its essence is no momentary whim on Aristotle's part, but rather a doctrine which he thinks we must cling to at all costs unless we are to fall into the arms of Anaxagoras and Protagoras. To deny this identification is to make everything (or at least every common-sense thing) an "accidental" … entity, that is, an entity which is really two entities tacked together by what Aristotle calls "mere juxtaposition"… So it seems at least prima facie reasonable to take this identification as the object of concern throughout Z.

Going on now from Z, 6 to 7-9, the discussion formed by these three chapters begins by identifying essence … and form …: "By form I mean the essence of each thing and its primary substance,"15 So it looks as if we could treat "substance," "form," and "essence" as synonyms. But if we do, Aristotle point out, we run into paradox. For particular substances, or at least sublunary ones, are generated out of matter, and "contain" matter, in the sense that they are "capable of being and not being" (1032a l5-23). But specific forms don't get generated nor have such a capacity. So how can we avoid thinking of the form as "just a part of the individual substance? Aristotle begins to tackle this question at 1033a2, where he asks whether "matter is part of the formula … of a thing," and concludes that "the brazen sphere has matter in its formula" (1033a6). A bit later, in chapter 8, he decides that "'man' and 'animal"' correspond to "brazen sphere in general.… "16 The point of both passages seems to be that we should not think of form as a list of qualities which, if stuck onto "matter," will produce an exemplar of the species in question. Rather, it must be thought of as those qualities which, if used to transform certain particular sorts of substance (e.g. brass in the case of the sphere, flesh in the case of the man), will produce such an exemplar. So to know the "formula" … of a given "form" …, we have to know which sorts of substance are appropriate proximate material causes of instances of that form. Since a definition … is the formula … of an essence (1031al3), and since form and essence have just been identified, we now seem to be saying that to know what a given form is you have to know what sort of matter it fits—but more, that the form includes the matter in some generalized, [holōs] way. Aristotle does not present this conclusion as a solution to the puzzle of how we can avoid thinking of form and matter as two distinct parts, but it seems to show that "part" is the wrong word. We have not yet solved the problem of how the ungenerated can be identical with the generated, but we have at least smuggled in a reference to generability in the definition of the ungenerated. We still do not know how to identify a "this" … with a "such" … (1033b22) but at least we see that you cannot, pace Platonists, know what a "such" is (for most cases of "such") without knowing that it is the sort of thing which gets exemplified in a "this."

The next three chapters—10 to 12—-seem like so many independent treatments of the same problem: viz. the formula which tells us what makes a given substance the substance it is is going to tell us about the form of the substance, but it has to do so by telling us just enough about the matter to prevent the Platonist reductionism decried in chapter 9, while not enough to lead us back into the materialist reductionism decried in chapter 3. Consider the three questions which lead off these three chapters:

ch. 10: must the formula of the parts be present in the formula of the whole or not? (1034b23-24)

ch. 11: what sort of parts belong to the form and what sort not to the form but to the concrete thing? (1036a26-27)

ch. 12: wherein can consist the unity of that, the formula of which we call a definition, as for instance, in the case of man, "two-footed animal", for let this be the formula of man, why then is this one and not many, viz. "animal" and "two-footed"? (1037bl1-14).

Chapters 10 and 11, I think, are inconclusive discussions of the difficulties presented by the upshot of chapters 7-9, and it is only in chapter 12 that a breakthrough is made. In chapter 10 we gloss the point that "man" corresponds to "brazen sphere" in general by the notion that forms considered as universal … are not substances but rather are "something composed … of this particular formula … and this particular matter … treated as universal …" 1035b27-30). This suggestion will, if my interpretation is right, be taken up in chapter 12 in the notion of genus-as-matter. But here in chapter 10 it is pushed aside in favor of the Platonist notion that "only the parts of the form … are parts of the formula …" (1035b35) and that matter is "unknowable in itself'.… More generally, it is pushed aside in favor of a distinction between parts of the composite … and parts of the form (1035a30-32). If one read chapter 10 as Aristotle's last word on the subject, one would conclude that he had given up on the attempt announced in chapter 6 to identify a substance with its form. But going on to chapter 11 we find an anti-Platonist polemic (1036b8 ff.) culminating in the remark that "to reduce all things to Forms and to eliminate the matter is useless labor; for some things surely are particular forms in a particular matter"—a remark which is explicated by noting that "an animal is something perceptible, and it is not possible to define it… without reference to movement—nor, therefore, without reference to the parts being in a certain state" (1036b22 f., 28 f.). Chapter 10 and 11 taken together leave the status of the project of getting the individual and the essence together up in the air.

In Z, 12, on the other hand, we get the first clue about how we might develop the notion of "matter treated as universal" which came up in chapter 10. In chapter 12, we are told that, despite what has been said in chapter 10 about the distinction between parts of the composite and parts of the form, still

surely all the attributes in the definition must be one; for the definition is a single formula and a formula of substance, so that it must be a formula of some one thing; for substance means a "one" and a "this," as we maintain.14

This suggests that the program of chapter 6—identifying the particular … and the essence—is still alive. Aristotle, in other words, is not yet willing to say that the definition gives the form qua immaterial and that matter only comes in at the level of the composite. Somehow we have to get matter into the form, and immediately following the passage just quoted we take up the topic of the genus—a topic of which little has been heard so far in Z. The relevance of the topic comes out at 1038a6 where we get the notion of the genus "existing as matter." The full passage is:

If then the genus absolutely does not exist apart from the species-of-a-genus, or if it exists but exists as matter (for the voice is genus and matter, but its differentiae make the species, i.e. the letters, out of it) clearly the definition is the formula which comprises the differentiae.18

Now this passage is in one way grist for my mill and in another way very embarrassing. What I want to argue is that Aristotle thinks that we can get matter into the form by taking the genus, which on anybody's account is a component of the definition, as representing the matter of the composite. But if this is what Aristotle were up to, one would not expect him to conclude the sentence just quoted by saying that the definition is the formula which comprises the differentia. Saying this suggests that because the genus is a sort of matter it does not count for purposes of giving a definition. I have to explain away this suggestion as best I can by noting that Aristotle restricts his consideration in the passage just quoted to "definitions reached by the method of division" … As Ross notes, the contrast seems to be with definitions which give "components" …, a contrast drawn at 998b13 and at 1043a20. In the latter passage, Aristotle says the "division"-definitions tell us about the logos of the form and the actuality … whereas "component"-definitions tell us about matter. So since Aristotle in chapter 12 says he is going to talk first about the former sort of definitions, we might assume that he was going on to tell us about the other sort of definition, and would there have given the genus its due weight. But I am not happy about this, because the distinction between the two sorts of definitions, if my over-all interpretation is right, is a phony one—one which breaks the unity which Aristotle at the very outset of chapter 12 says he is concerned with (the unity between animal and two-footed) by speaking as if each component got treated in a separate sort of definition.

All that I really need to claim for chapter 12, however, is something non-controversial: i.e. that there Aristotle asks the question which he answers in what I am viewing as the dénouement of the central books—H, 6. The question posed at the beginning of chapter 12 is answered there as follows. Aristotle begins the chapter by saying that we shall now return to the difficulty about how definitions and numbers can be one, and then goes on to say

What then is it that makes man one; why is he one and not many, e.g. animal plus biped, especially if there are, as some say, an animal-itself and a biped-itself'? … 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?19

Now for my purposes it would be much nicer if Z had ended with 12 and we had gone on to H immediately. For my interpretation requires one to treat the remainder of Z (chapters 13-17) as a collection of miscellaneous ruminations on various topics; I cannot find any way to treat them as contributing to the swelling theme which seems to me to connect Z, 12 with H. So let me quickly go on to make two small remarks about these last five chapters, and then get down to business by explaining how I think Aristotle might have thought that the passage just quoted from H answered the problems of Z.

The first remark is that the surprising "physical" definition of "substance" at the beginning of Z, 16 (which I quoted earlier) fits in fairly well with the notion that Aristotle was getting ready to take the notion of genus-as-matter seriously. If he is going to say that there is matter in the definition of a substance because reference to the genus is reference to the matter, then, since he is very clear that substances can't be composed of other substances, or at least not of other actual substances …, he might well be nervous of thinking of the material causes of substances (e.g. the four elements, flesh and bone, etc.) as substances. He might be saying to himself something like this: "if the genus 'animal' in the definition of 'man' is a way of referring to the matter of men—the kind of flesh and bones which are common to men and horses—then flesh and bones shouldn't be given the status of substance in their own right." This line of thought might explain why here in Z, 16 and again in H, 3 (cf. 1043b20 ff.) he says that they are not substances but are mere potencies. He does not, I think, need to say this; he could just say that a piece of flesh was a perfectly good actual substance viewed in its own right and a perfectly good potentiality viewed in a relational … way, as material cause of a man. What Aristotle ought to have said was that something can be actually X and potentially Y, and that the question "Is it a mere potency or does it exist in actuality?" is misguided. This is, in fact, the line he tacitly takes in most of his discussions of matter as "that out of which" …—though, never, as far as I know, explicitly. But in Z, 16, in what seems to be the throes of an anti-materialist polemic thrown in to balance the anti-Platonist polemic of chapters 14-15, he insists that the elements, parts of animals, etc. are not substances—thus betraying a good deal of his over-all project—while at H, 3 he casually tosses out artifacts as substances, thus making all the talk about brazen spheres wildly misleading.

My second remark about these last five chapters is that Z, 17, despite many commentators, simply does not look like the conclusion of anything. Aristotle does say there that the answer to the question "Why is the matter so-and-so?" is "because of the form" and adds that form is substance (104lb5 ff.). But this is no news, and saying this doesn't solve any of the problems about how substance can be form which have taken up most of the previous chapters. In the very last lines of the chapter we are told that substance is nature … which is not an element … but rather a principle …, and presumably we can identify [eidos] and nature, in this context (1041b30 ff.). But what we want to know is how something can be a principle without being an element, for this is precisely the puzzle about the unity of substance and of definition which was raised back at chapter 12 and is still unresolved. Owens rightly thinks of Z as ending by saying "Substance must, somehow, be form—but we still have to see how it can be."

So much for the remainder of Z. I come now to my main point, which is that the passages which I have quoted from H, 6 are supposed to solve the problems of Z. Ross says that Aristotle goes from a "static" treatment of substance in Z to a "dynamic" treatment of change in H.20 What he has in mind is that in H Aristotle introduces the potentiality-actuality distinction which has been practically absent in Z. But this suggests that the treatment of substance is over, whereas at the beginning of H, 1 and again at the beginning of H, 2 it is explicitly substance and its nature which is announced as the topic. On my view, it would be closer to the truth to say that Z was a "philosophical" or "logical" or "verbal" … treatment of substance whereas H was a "physical" or "scientific" … treatment of the same topic, although Aristotle himself uses [logikōs] to refer simply to the first two-thirds of Z, 4.21 In H, it is as if Aristotle had said to his students, "All right now, outside of metaphysics class, what answer would you give to the question of what ties form and matter together?" The answer is, of course, that the efficient cause does. (What unites the lump of bronze with the spherical form? The sculptor does.) Viewed in this light, matter is no longer the name for a special sort of quasi-substance, which is in some funny way "a part" of every generated substance, but rather is the proximate material cause. Various different substances are the proximate material causes of other substances, and not every substance can be matter for every other substance. ("Each thing has some matter which is proper … for it," Aristotle says at H, 4.22) To put it another way, a substance is the proximate material cause of another substance only when it is that substance potentially: "the proximate material cause … and the form … are one and the same thing …"—the passage I quoted at the very beginning (1045bl8 ff.). Seen in this light, the question of Z, 12—what unifies the genus with the differentia?—becomes pointless. "It is," as Aristotle says, "like asking what in general is the cause of unity … the potential and the actual are somehow one. Therefore there is no other cause here unless there is something which caused the movement from potentiality to actuality" (1045bl9-23).

This approach to the problem, however, seems to confuse the history of the genesis of a particular exemplar of a specific form with the definition of that form. After all, isn't the definition supposed simply to signify the formal cause, rather than summing up the whole causal situation within which the formal cause works? In answer to this, Aristotle has to say something which he never says explicitly but which he must maintain if he is to regard H, 6 as his answer to the question of Z, 12. He has to say that genus, in a definition by genus and differentia, somehow signifies the material cause of the individuals of the species defined. In other words, he has to say that, e.g., animality stands to rationality as the brass of the statue stands to its shape. The proximate material cause of a man is that sort of organic material which can be called "animal" but cannot be called "human." As he puts it at I, 8:

The matter is indicated by negation, and the genus is the matter of that of which it is called the genus.23

If we do not think of the genus of an individual as telling us about its proximate material cause, the claim in H, 6 that the unity of definitions is simply the sort of unity which unites the proximate material cause with the form will have to be taken as merely a loose analogy. On that view, H, 6 would simply be saying "the relation between the term referring to the genus and the term referring to the differentia in the definition is like the relation between proximate material cause and form simply in that both pairs express the determination of the relatively indeterminate. In the loose sense in which we can identify what exists potentially with the indeterminate and what exists actually with the determinate, we can identify the unity of the first two with the unity of the second two." But on the view I want to present, Aristotle is saying more than this, both in H, 6 and in the various passages (such as the one just quoted) where he speaks of genus as matter. All these latter passages can, at a pinch, be taken as expressing merely a loose analogy between two sorts of things which have the feature of indeterminacy in common. But I think that Aristotle had more than a loose analogy in mind, and that the way to flesh out the notion of genus-as-matter is to think of him as saying that the genus is a name for the sort of thing that an exemplar of a species of that genus can be made out of.

Now all this may seem a little wild, for we are used to thinking of the genus as a universal, as an abstraction. Although Aristotle does sometimes explicitly contrast these two notions …—e.g. at 1028b35—there are other occasions where he seems to bring them together. Thus at 1038b33 ff. he says that because there cannot be a particular animal existing apart from some particular species of animal, and because the differentia cannot exist separately either, we see that "no universal attribute is a substance."24 Again, in the familiar passage from Categories 2b7 ff., we are told that genus is less substance than species because it is further from primary substance. This latter passage, is, I think, often unconsciously interpreted as meaning that "animal" is a more abstract term than "man," and thus less capable of being used to refer to a particular. But this line of thinking neglects the fact that Aristotle didn't have the notion of "an abstraction" and that his use of the term "universal" … is so baffling that it is very difficult to back up any claim that he thought of certain things as universals and others as particulars. All that Aristotle says in defense of his claim about genus in the Categories passage is that it is less informative to tell somebody that Socrates is an animal than to say that he is a man, but this leaves wide open the question whether the genus may not be used to refer to a class of what we, if not Aristotle, would call particulars. To put all this another way, when we want to disparage something ontologically we call it a mere abstraction, whereas when Aristotle wants to disparage something ontologically he calls it "indeterminate" or "indefinable" … or "just a potentiality.…" Aristotle's main objection to calling a genus "substance" is not that it has a merely notional existence, nor that is just a group of the thing's qualities arbitrarily marked off from another group of qualities called the differentiae, but rather that it's just a substrate …, just a sort of matter.… It is worth nothing that in his formal definition of "genus" in [D] there is no trace of the notion of genus-as-universal; rather he distinguishes genus as "race," genus as the first mover of the race (as in the Hellenes as descendants of Helen), and then lumps all the other senses of "genus" under "matter"—"For," as he says, "that to which the differentia or quality belongs is the substrate, which we call matter."25

But still, it might be objected, Aristotle seems perfectly clear in the passage cited from Z, 13 about a particular animal that nothing exemplifies a genus without exemplifying one of the species of that genus. So how can one say that to refer to a genus is to refer to a proximate material cause, or to any sort of particular? Here I have two separate replies to make. The first is that when discussing mules (and other freaks …) Aristotle seems to be saying that you can have things that fall in genera but not in any species. The second point is something I have touched on previously—the fact that Aristotle is hopelessly torn on the questions of whether something which is a potentiality … also counts as a "this" …, and of whether the sort of thing which is a proximate material cause for something else is also a particular in its own right.

To begin with the mules, Aristotle says at 1033b-1034a2 that the "genus next above them" common to horses and asses is in both horse and ass, just as the mule is: "For that which would be common to horse and ass, the genus next above them, has not received a name but it would doubtless be both, in fact, something like a mule."26 It is far from clear what "both" adds to "common to horse and ass," and the context of the passage does not, as far as I can see, offer any clear direction. The context is the claim that "that which generates is of the same kind as what is generated, in the sense of having the same form," and Aristotle seems to be saying that even in the case of "unnatural" generations …, freaks, the principle is preserved because just as in the normal case the sire and the colt have the same form so in the freakish case the sire and mule share the same "genus next above." But this still does not tell us how to take "both." I think, however, that Ross's note on the passage probably tells us all that Aristotle has in mind. He says:

Aristotle's account is that the form of the mule is not the same as that of its sire, the horse, since this has failed to master the opposition offered by the material element coming from the dam, the ass; but it is identical with the generic form of the sire, since this is also the generic form of the dam and thus has no opposition to conquer. Thus the mule is a sort of abstract universal, with the generic qualities common to horse and ass but without (or at least not having all) the specific qualities of either. (Italics added.) 27

My only hesitation over Ross's interpretation concerns the claim that the mule is a sort of abstract universal. This seems to me to be pushing Aristotle's brief and temporary identification of genus and universal in Z, 13 beyond its proper bounds. Rather, the point is that the mule is a potentiality …—one of those heaps … discussed in the "physical" definition of "substance" in Z, 16. It is a heap that walks like a substance, so to speak, but we can tell that it is not a substance because, like all freaks, it cannot reproduce and, pathetically enough, has no "prime"…28 It is "incomplete" or "unfinished" …, like a severed part of an animal—Aristotle's paradigm of a heap.29

On the strength of this passage about mules, I am prepared to claim that though Aristotle may have held that no substance exemplifies a genus without exemplifying a species …, he also held that some things30 … can do so. To see how he could have held this doctrine, however, one has to recognize his embarrassment in the face of the question: which, if any, things are "thises" without being substances? Here the tension which appeared in the employment of both the logical and the physical definitions of "substance" shows up again with a vengeance. The trouble may be put as follows: we start out in the Categories and the Topics with the notion that there are two sorts of things in the world—[ousiai] and [sumbebekota], essential unities like Socrates and accidental unities like "white man." This seems to engender no metaphysical perplexity because the accidental unities are always firmly attached to primary substances. But when we come to matter, potentiality, and similar indeterminate … things, we can't fit them under either of these two headings. A piece of dirt is not an accidental unity …, and it is not a substance either, according to the physical definition. Such pieces of matter cannot be called "thises" …, even though they look for all the world like particulars. So one can imagine Aristotle reconciling the passage concerned with particular animals with the passage about mules (1038b38 ff. with 1033a34ff.) by saying, "But a mule isn't even a 'this' … and so can hardly be a 'particular animal'.…" If he takes this line, he has to say that nine-tenths of the world is "matter," "potentiality," "indefinite," and so on. But this is embarrassing, for the natural scientist ought to know the matter of things … as well as their shapes (cf. Physics B, 2). More generally, it is embarrassing to say that matter is "unknowable in itself (1036a8-9, quoted above), for this means that nine-tenths of the world is unknowable, including all the processes of coming-to-be of natural things.

One might think that Aristotle can avoid embarrassment by saying, as I suggested earlier he might, that anything that is a potentiality is also actually a something-or-other. On this view, everything that is called "potentiality" or "matter" would be a primary substance viewed in some special, functional … way. I think that this line would indeed have saved Aristotle a lot of trouble, but I have a hunch about why he takes it only tacitly and never explicitly. The reason, I think, is that he was afraid that if one began seeing a "this" possessing a form … and thus falling within a species … everywhere there was a material cause …, then the distinction between substances and accidental unities would begin to give way. This point may be brought out by noticing the discussion in [0], 7 of the question "Is earth potentially a man?" His answer is "No, but rather when it has already become seed … and perhaps not even then" (1049al-2). He goes on to say that something is a house potentially … only if "nothing in the thing acted upon—i.e. in the matter—prevents it from becoming a house."31 This is a slippery slope, because it suggests that instead of having the world neatly blocked out into species of substance which can be matter for one another we get a potential X … only after a whole series of accidental changes (alternations …) have brought a Y just to the brink of toppling over into being an X. So we cannot say that primary substances which are in species Y are the proximate material causes for the coming-to-be of primary substances which are in species X, but rather those Y's which have been worked up a lot. I think that Aristotle may have noticed that pressing the question "When is Y a potential X?" seemed to "substantify" accidental states of bodies, and dimly saw that if one once began to chop up the realm of the indefinite into quasi-unities one would be well on the road to, as we would put it, a law-event framework of scientific explanation as opposed to a thing-nature framework. So I think he may have subconsciously decided to play it safe by accepting the embarrassments I listed above—those brought on by the physical definition of substance. More generally, he may have recognized that if he once admitted the relevance of accidental change … to substantial change … he would have betrayed his whole anti-reductionist program, and may have recognized further that looking too closely at material causes would have made this relevance obvious; so he preferred to save the program by condemning nine-tenths of the world to the realm of the potential, the accidental, and the unintelligible. (He got away with this move until, with the rise of the law-event framework in the New Science of the Renaissance, Descartes remarked that it wasn't what Aristotle called "accidental" that was unintelligible, it was Aristotle's notion of "potentiality" itself.32

If we assume that the first set of embarrassments were the ones Aristotle preferred, at least while he was writing the central books of the Metaphysics, then I can sum up my interpretation of the relevance of H, 6 to Z, 12 as follows. Aristotle should be thought of as saying something like this. Substances look as if they have two parts, form and matter. But actually the matter is just the sort of thing that the genus-term in the definition refers to—-something that is not a "this" at all, some indefinite stuff. So it isn't a real part of the substance at all—it is just the substance potentially. So the reason why a man is one thing, and why "two-footed animal" is the definition of one thing, is the same: that what looked like two "thises" (or, worse yet, two "suches") was really just one. "Two-footed" doesn't refer to one batch of qualities and "animal" to another. Rather, "animality" is different in horses and in men—there really isn't anything common at all, for even what we call "common" is different.33 The fact that there isn't anything common reflects the fact that the material cause of the substance was not a "this," but just undifferentiated animal goo. We only thought that there was a problem about the unity of definition and the unity of substance because we thought that "two-footed" stood to "animal" as "white" stands to "man"—but the former relation is actualization, which is not, like predication, a dyadic relation between two things but a pseudo-relation between one thing and one non-thing.

This ends my account of what Aristotle must have had in mind if he intended H, 6 to be the conclusion of the discussion begun in Z. I shall conclude the paper by noting what is wrong with Aristotle's solution to his putative problem. The first difficulty lies on the surface. If the genus refers to the proximate material cause, it does so because there is a difference between different pieces of matter—some can become an X and some can't. Animalish stuff can become a man and watery stuff cannot. Genus-species definitions are only going to work if genera draw real lines in nature; but if matter is not a "this," is not a substance viewed in a functional way, there are no lines to be drawn. We would not even be able to say that a mule is an animal, for example. Aristotle's solution depends upon saying that terms signifying genera do not stand for collections of qualities, but if they do not then there will be no way of giving meaning to genus-terms.

The second difficulty emerges when we remember that all this was supposed in the end to answer the question, "How can the particular and its essence be the same thing—as Z, 6 said they were?" The answer we have developed to this question has proceeded through the following steps:

  1. Form does not exclude matter; rather there must be reference to the matter in the definition.
  2. Including the genus-term in the form makes the formula of the form, which is also the formula of the essence, be the formula of matter as well as of shape-as-opposed-to-matter.
  3. So since the only apparent difference between the particular and its essence was that there was matter in one and not, as we had thought, in the other, we are now, given a better understanding of essence, in a position to understand their identity.

Put this way, the sophistry is obvious. The most we can get out of the reference to matter which the genus-term gives us is the fact that we should expect some accidental features or other in the particular. That is, the best face we can put on (3) is to interpret it as saying that anything which has a given form will also have some other features—accidental features like paleness, snub-nosedness, and so on. I think that Aristotle did have something like this in mind. He may have thought that he had finished the job once he had shown that anybody who understands the definition of "man" will expect there to be something indefinite about a man, because he understands that the reference to indefinite animality in the definition implies that men are generated—and generated things have that funny "capacity for being and not being" (1032a21 ff.) which is their matter, and which makes it possible to tell different exemplars of a form apart. But all this amounts to is the point that if you know what a man is you will know that there are more things to know about men than that they are men. We still do not have any way of making sense of the claim that Socrates, who is pale, and was generated, is the same as the form man which is not pale and was not generated.

However, if we go back to the problem for the sake of which the claim about the identity of the particular and the essence was made, things may look a bit better. The problem was that if "Socrates is a man" expresses a relation between two things, one of them will be a substrate and the other will be something predicated of that substrate—but the substrate will have an essence which is predicated of it, other than man. Thus an infinite descending regress will be engendered. In terms of this problem, we may think of Aristotle as saying: this only appears a problem because people think of the matter in the composite as forming a substrate of which the essence is predicated, but we have now seen that that matter was (a) never a "this" in the first place, and so never had an essence, and (b) doesn't exist any more anyway, since it is only what the substance was potentially. But this solution just dodges the real issue. We can set up the infinite regress without using the notion of "matter" at all. As long as we have a distinction between essence and a collection of accidents, it doesn't matter whether the substance was generated out of proximate matter or not. The problem is the accidents, not the matter. For the friend of the infinite regress can simply say: we predicate the essence not of some mysterious thing called "matter," but simply of something characterized as "that there white and short," for example. If, pace Aristotle and Anscombe, we think that for purposes of getting a language-game going "white and short thing" is just as good as "man," we can dismiss the spectre of an infinite regress simply by saying, first, that sentences get meaning by being used in connection with other sentences, not by any language-world relation, and second that even if a "foundational" view of language or of knowledge were correct, there is no special virtue in "man" which "white and short" lacks; either would be an equally good candidate for being taken as "identical" with the thing of which it is said.

To sum up these criticisms of Aristotle, I am arguing that he makes the following identifications in the hope of backing up his conviction that the essence-accident distinction is real and important. He identifies the ensemble of accidents in a particular substance with the matter "in" it and the matter in it with the proximate material cause of its generation. He then says one or the other of two things, depending on the context and his mood: either that the material cause isn't a "this" at all, but merely a potentiality, or that though perhaps the material cause was a full-fledged substance it now, having perished in the course of the genesis of the new substance, does not exist. But this is a conjuring trick. Aristotle moves from saying that the substance has accidents because it came from a material cause which was not quite mastered by form to saying that insofar as it has accidents it somehow still is that old material cause. But this amounts to saying that insofar as something has—actually has—certain qualities it is merely a potentiality. This makes no sense at all. All of Aristotle's complicated moves about the unity of the particular composite substance and the unity of the formula of the essence are just one long attempt to find a way of saying that accidents do not count. But he might as well have said this in the first place, and spared us the argument of Z-H, for the upshot is the absurdity that a set of actual features of Socrates are simply Socrates qua potential.34

One last criticism of Aristotle and I shall stop. I have argued that Aristotle thinks that actualization is a unique sort of metaphysical glue, distinct from inherence, just as the relation between "animal" and "two-footed" is a unique sort of logical glue, distinct from predication. But he turns right around and spoils this by talking about potentialities for accidental change, matter for quality and quantity as well as for substance, and so on.35 He becomes so infatuated by the potentiality-actuality distinction, so to speak, that he forgets that the whole point of it was to keep the substance-accident distinction sharp and begins to apply it all over the place. In the end, he is reduced to saying such things as that the "primary" sense of "matter" is "matter for generation," and that matter for alteration and locomotion is only a derivate notion,36 just as he's said in Z,4 that only substances have definitions and an essence in the strict sense, but that accidents do in derivative senses.37 But this strict-vs.-derivative distinction is just whistling in the dark; for Aristotle to resort to it is for him to insist that his reductionist opponents are wrong without arguing that they are wrong.

The interpretation I have offered here has two obvious defects: it fastens on certain texts and turns a blind eye to others, and it presents Aristotle as offering what may well seem an awkward and verbal solution to a pseudo-problem. All I can say in its defense is that it is hard to find an interpretation of Z-H which has neither of these faults, and that I think that this one ties together some interesting passages which many other interpretations leave dangling.


1 This paper was read (under the title "Two Concepts of Mules," suggested to me by Elliot Skinner) at the Summer Institute in Greek Philosophy and Science held in Colorado Springs in the summer of 1970.I am grateful to the audience on that occasion, and especially to Bernard Williams, for helpful criticisms. I am also grateful for some very acute criticism to Edward Lee and to John Robertson, and to Gregory Vlastos for kind encouragement and advice.

2 Cf. W. D. Ross, Aristotle's Metaphysics (Oxford, 1958), vol. 1, pp. xci-cxiv; Aristotle (New York, 1959), pp. 168-70. For a more detailed and careful defense of the view, see Ellen Haring, "Substantial Form in Aristotle's Metaphysics Z," Review of Metaphysics, 10 (1956-57), 308-32, 482-501, 698-713.

3 Cf. Joseph Owens, The Doctrine of Being in the Aristotelian Metaphysics (Toronto, 1951), pp. 374-77, and also chapters 16 and 19.

4 1045b17-24.

5 4al0-ll.

6 For attempts to firm up this intuition, see Manley Thompson, "On the Distinction between Thing and Property," in The Return to Reason, ed. John Wild (Chicago, 1953), pp. 125-51, and G. E. M. Anscombe and P. Geach, Three Philosophers (Oxford, 1961), esp. pp. 18, 34. Whether one can firm up the distinction between kinds of things and properties of things depends upon whether one is allowed to use such terms as "thing" or "object" rather than dismissing them as "pseudo-concepts" (cf. Anscombe and Geach, p. 36). To put it another way, it depends upon whether Greek phrases… are permitted to stand on their own feet rather than immediately giving rise to the question "The white what?" It is not clear to me what could settle this sort of issue, largely because it is not clear to me what could settle the larger issue between those who think that essence and necessity are relative to descriptions and those who think that they are not. On the latter, see Kripke's attempt to revive an Aristotelian outlook, pace Quine and Wittgenstein, in "Naming and Necessity," Semantics of Natural Language, ed. Davidson and Harman (Dordrecht, 1972), esp. pp. 264 ff. with n. 12. See also the exchange between Sellars and Strawson in a symposium on "Logical Subjects and Physical Objects," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 17 (1957), 441-87.

7 1040b5-10.

8 3b18-20.

9 1030al2-14.

10 1007a20-23, 33 ff.

11 Anscombe and Geach, p. 44.

12 For a discussion of six texts in the Metaphysics in which this notion occurs, see Richard J. Blackwell, "Matter as a Subject of Predication in Aristotle," The Modern Schoolman, 33 (1955), 19-30. Three of these (988a8-13; 995b36; 999a32-b2) are relatively easily dismissed as occurring in passages in which Aristotle is interpreting Plato, or setting up a problem in Platonic terms, and this is the line Blackwell follows. The fourth (1029a20-25) is, I think, rightly treated by Blackwell as a corollary of the claim that "substance is matter," which is the alternative discussed and rejected in Z. 3. I am not sure that either of the other two passages (1043a3-7 and 1049a34-bl) can be set aside in the ways in which Blackwell attempts. The former (in H.2) might be viewed as occurring in the same sort of context as the Z.3 passage—since these two chapters both advertise themselves as concerned with substance-as-matter. But H.2 is sufficiently mysterious, in various ways, as to require extended treatment. The sixth last passage occurs in [0].7—a chapter which I argue below (pp. 415-16) shows Aristotle in the throes of a problem ("when does an X become a potential Y?) which threatens the whole scheme he has erected at the end of H. The problems connected with this last chapter tend to be discussed in terms of the notion of "prime matter," of which, I think, the most thorough exploration is in papers by Owens, McMullin, Fisk, Nielsen, and Sellars in The Concept of Matter, ed. E. McMullin (Notre Dame, 1963). The view presented by Owens permits one both to take the notion of prime matter seriously and to give the notion that "substance is predicated of matter" a respectable place among basic Aristotelian doctrines. I do not think it should be given such a place, but to argue the point would require debating some of Owens' fundamental methodological and interpretive assumptions.

13 103lb28-31.

14 Anscombe and Geach, p. 10.

15 1032b2-3. I do not know whether Aristotle has just forgotten his use of [prōtē ousia] in the Categories, or whether he remembers it and is invoking the identification made in the previous chapters.

16 1033b24-6: I take [kai] to mean "or" here, so that Aristotle is saying that both "man" and "animal" stand to "brazen sphere in general" as Callias stands to some given individual brazen sphere, not that "man-and-animal" is the parallel to "brazen sphere in general."

17 1037b24-27.

18 1038a5-9.

19 1045al4-17, 20-31.

20 Ross, Aristotle's Metaphysics, vol. 1, p. cxxiv.

21 Cf. 1029b13, with 1030a27 ff.

22 1044a18 ff.; cf. Physics 194b8 ff.

23 1058a23-24.

24 1038b35.

25 1024b8-9.… For 6ther genus-as-matter passages, cf. (in addition to 1058a23 ff., previously quoted) 1057b38 ff. and 1038a8.

26 1033b34-34a2.…

27 Ross, vol. 2, p. 189.

28 Cf. De Anima 432b22 ff.

29 Note the etymological connection between being [ateles] and existing [ouk entelekheia]. On freaks as incomplete, note the use of [pērōsis] in the [sōros] passage (1040b9 ff.) previously cited from Z, 16. There may be a confirmation of the Whorf hypothesis in the fact that the Greek for "mule" is "half-ass".… The English pun is not present in Greek, but nevertheless those accustomed to putting down mules in this way may be more ready to assign them a low rank in the scale of beings.

30 Cf. 1041b29.

31 1049a9 ff.

32 See, for example, Descartes' sneer at the definition of motion as "the actualization of the potential, qua potential" (Oeuvres, ed. Adam et Tannery, vol. 10, p. 426, Haldane and Ross translation, vol. 1, p. 46).

33 1058a2-5.…

34 Those familiar with Anscombe's treatment of matter as principle of individuation ("The Principle of Individuation," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, supplementary volume 27 (1953), pp. 83-96, esp. pp. 92 ff.) will realize that I would take issue with her claim that Aristotle thinks of a thing's matter as something distinct from the ensemble of its accidents, and that he wants a principle of individuation which is something other than that ensemble. But I cannot discuss the issue in the present space.

35 Cf., e.g., the use of [hulē topikē] at 1042b6.

36De Gen. et Corr. 320a2 ff.

37 1030al8-bl4.

Abraham Edel (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: "The Character of Aristotle's Thought and His Philosophic Method," in Aristotle and His Philosophy, The University of North Carolina Press, 1982, pp. 30-39.

[In the following essay, Edel reviews Aristotle's method of philosophical analysis, noting its strengths and weaknesses. Edel states that Aristotle's "mode of inquiry" is characterized by a common-sense attitude, by pluralistic contextualism (that is, the notion that an idea must be understood within a specific, rather than universal, context), and by his treatment of the world as possessing a single order of nature.]

The analytic character of Aristotle's thought is inherent in his method. He does not first get an idea, work out its implications, and then go looking for evidence. Instead, he first assembles a wide array of opinion and information in the form of common beliefs (endoxa), including previous theories, common linguistic usage, and reported observations. He then takes the greatest pains with the formulation of a problem and with a systematic breakdown of its issues. Here especially he develops the difficulties and puzzles and apparent contradictions that have emerged in traditional beliefs. Then he sifts thoroughly for what can hold up and what cannot and makes distinctions, offering solutions that will reconcile or harmonize the divergent elements in the theories, usages, and observations that have not been rejected or wholly reinterpreted.

Aristotle is not, however, merely analytical. His thought is also structural and systematic. There is always a systematic concern operative in his thinking, in two senses. First, he constantly employs a whole framework or network of concepts, in terms of which he formulates the problems of a given field. (The analysis of these concepts is, of course, a great part of his philosophical work.) And second, in working in any one domain he seems to carry with him a web of specific theory developed in other domains, so that the ramifications of one part of knowledge on other parts of knowledge are always near the surface. For example, he considers the suggestion that the world is elliptical in shape and revolves around one central point within itself; this, he notes, means we will have to allow some empty space for it to revolve through, whereas if it is spherical we will not need such an assumption—and he has earlier already rejected the possibility of empty space. In general, he is sensitive to the biological pre-suppositions of ethics and politics, the physical assumptions of metaphysics, and the psychological assumptions of the theory of knowledge. The cross-references in the corpus are not merely an editor's delight, but integral to his structural way of thinking. Whether the result is an Aristotelian "system" need not concern us now. This stress on structure sharply differentiates Aristotle from Socrates, who will plunge in anywhere and seems content with digging up any contradiction that will stimulate the mind of the interlocutor and shed light on a particular interest.

Besides the ability to analyze and to deal in structures, two other qualities usually found in outstanding philosophers are speculative capacity and originality. If "speculative" indicates ranging insightfully over wide problems, then of course Aristotle is a speculative thinker. If, however, it be taken in the sense of a soaring mind that leaps to imagine possible worlds, that constantly asks for alternatives to the principles it has settled on and speculates what the world would be like if that rather than this were so, then Aristotle either does not have this capacity in high degree or else he mutes it. He often seems too earthbound and too ready to accept as final the principles of order that have emerged from his inquiry, too ready to dismiss possibilities for which there are no existent specimens to examine. On the other hand, his creative originality should not go unrecognized simply because he seems to be extracting his conclusions from the examination of his predecessors and adding on to their work. In fact he is the great master in original concept formation, and he plays with traditions as a great musician works up older themes into a novel pattern. The concepts Aristotle fashioned, and the way of looking at the world they embodied, provided a framework for sophisticated thought in which men could for a time make advances in understanding their world and themselves.

Whether the works bear the stamp of a great scientist as well as a great philosopher is more debatable. The biological writings have won admiration not only for their scope and foundational character but also for their detail of observation. In comparative studies Aristotle shows tremendous insight in ordering descriptive materials and in sensing useful analogies. Again, he is quick to theorize and ready to offer explanations. Indeed, sometimes he jumps for explanations too quickly, without waiting to check the fact he is setting out to explain. Thus he gives the example, cited above, that the surface of a mirror becomes clouded red when a menstruating woman looks into it (and he adds, "If the mirror is a new one the stain is not easy to remove"), and he goes on right away to offer complex explanations in terms of his theory of vision why this should happen.1 On many occasions there is an element of credulity in his acceptance of alleged facts, even where, as in this case, he could have arranged for tests. But there is no gainsaying his ingenuity in fashioning alternative explanations on the basis of his own hypotheses, even in relatively unsuccessful domains such as meteorology, as well as in his treatments of psychological and political phenomena (he was a political scientist, not merely a political philosopher). Take, for example, his complex reckoning with prophecy in dreams.2 He notes first that small stimuli in waking life may go unnoticed because competing greater impulses crowd them out, but that in sleeping, with the competition cut off, a faint echo may be heard, like distant thunder and lightning. The problem of explaining successful prophecies is then posed as showing the relation of small stimuli to large events. Aristotle suggests three relations: signal, cause, and coincidence. A person might prophesy his coming illness because its first beginnings reverberated loudly in sleep and so signaled its coming. Or he might foresee doing something because the small beginnings of intention had come in a dream, and so begotten the action. Where the dreamer does not initiate an event, what happens is best understood as coincidence; most dreams do not coincide with what happens, so it is not surprising that an occasional one does.

In general, then, Aristotle's strength lay on the observational side in gathering and systematizing data. It was perhaps too early for controlled experiment. On the theoretical side it lay in ingenuity of explanation, but he sometimes pressed general theories into particular explanations without sufficient precision to test them against alternative possibilities.

It is not easy to decide which of the shortcomings of Aristotelian science are to be attributed to lack of specific qualities of scientific intellect. Some may follow either from immature development of specific sciences in his day, or from a lack of precision in instruments, or simply a lack of instruments (he did complain that insects were too small for observation), or an insufficient development of mathematical tools. The growing field of the philosophical history of science has not yet sufficiently explored these questions.

There are further specific attitudes that stand out in Aristotle's mode of inquiry: a stubborn commonsense attitude, a sensitivity to contextual differences, and a special kind of one-world outlook. These also require our preliminary attention.

Aristotle is often extraordinarily commonsensical. He has an essentially realistic orientation to the phenomena of a field and a stubborn how-is-it-used attitude to the meaning of terms. He has little patience with those who raise dialectical difficulties about the reality of initial phenomena. If a man denies motion (says Aristotle in the Physics), no physicist will have anything to do with him. More precisely, his point is that such disputes do not fall within the work of the physicist, but concern another scientist—the metaphysician. We shall see later how he deals with Zeno's paradoxes that seem to impugn the reality of motion. Again, if a philosopher wants to elevate Being into an ultimate One which is the reality of all that is, Aristotle sometimes invokes minute logical objections stemming from his logical views. More often he simply says that there are many senses of being (is) as well as many senses of one; in fact, things can be one by being of the same material, or by being instances of the same form, or by being continuous—as when they are stuck together by glue! Such calculated commonsensicality has the same sobering effect as Socrates' talk of carpenters and doctors and things of the marketplace, and of course like Socrates' method it goes through the commonplace to deal with difficult and complex problems.3

Sometimes, however, Aristotle's realism leads him into dogmatism. Thus, maintaining that not every doubt deserves inquiry, he says, "Those in doubt whether one ought to honor the gods and love one's parents or not, are in need of punishment, while those who doubt whether snow is white or not, lack perception."4 Again, in the Physics he takes it to be obvious that things have natures. Yet this, far from being an obvious phenomenon, is a very sophisticated thesis. There is thus the danger that his sense of realism, while salutary in many contexts, may in others be blind to possible differences of interpretation when one interpretation is already built into the alleged phenomenon.

A commonsensical attitude may, even more, be a way in which significant philosophical views are introduced and taken for granted. It is one thing to attack as near madness the doctrine that all is one and immovable ("no madman is so out of his senses as to think that fire and ice are one; but in dealing with things that are fine and things that through habit appear fine, some people on account of madness seem to find no difference");5 it is quite another to let such a passionate devotion to common sense establish the epistemological principle that whatever contradicts sense-perception is erroneous, or the ontological principle that whatever physical account may be given of sense-qualities, their observational properties are not to be denied or their reality impugned by "reduction." Indeed, we shall see that at a number of critical points—in analyzing the infinite, continuity, and the properties of motion, as well as the relation of potentiality to determinism—the commonsensical attitude becomes almost a technical philosophical instrument. In the light of the range of the commonsensical we shall therefore have to pay close attention to the occasions of its use in different contexts and see both its strengths and its weaknesses.

The second important attitude in Aristotle's mode of inquiry may be described as a kind of pluralistic contextualism: the meaning of an idea has to be understood in a specific context of inquiry; there is no universal context, and hence no possibility of dispensing with contextual reference. This attitude emerges clearly in his treatment of philosophical ideas, in the so-called philosophical lexicon of Metaphysics 5. Take, for instance, the term principle (archē). This has a sonorous sound; it conveys the idea of what is basic or fundamental in the area under investigation. Philosophy generally takes the notion for granted. Yet what, after all, is a principle? It is refreshing to see Aristotle dip down to the ordinary meaning of the Greek term, which is simply "beginning" or "starting point." He illustrates with the examples that the starting point of a journey is the beginning of travel and that the keel of a ship is the beginning of its construction, carefully pointing out that the latter is an internal part of what is constructed. Once we recognize the basic contextualism we find it hard thereafter to make philosophical sense of the use of a concept or a principle without specifying the kind of activity or inquiry involved. Principles or judgments of priority or primacy unavoidably pinpoint relations in some ordering. They are context-bound. (Even the sense "governing principle" comes from an ordinary usage—archai could also mean the rulers of government.) Of course some contexts become standardized for philosophical inquiry. Aristotle distinguishes repeatedly between the order of learning and the order of logical demonstration; in the one, perceived particulars will provide the starting point, in the other, primary premises. The contextual reference is usually not far below the surface. It may involve terms that are needed to enter into a basic definition in the field, or initial phenomena for investigation that are not to be denied, or regular starting points for understanding development, and so on. For example, a house is logically prior to the process of building because the account or statement (logos) of the process refers to the house, but the account of the house does not include the process of building.6 (Of course, the particular process is temporally prior to the particular house.)

Such contextualism does not necessarily guarantee that the outcomes will be different. The contexts may be different, but the principles or starting points specified may turn out on investigation to be related or to converge in various ways on a single outcome. Any discovered unity would thus be subsequent to the inquiry, not laid down in advance.

There is a sense—and this is the third fundamental attitude in Aristotle's inquiries—in which he does approach the world as one world. He treats it as a single order of nature with no impassable barriers, with none of the cleavages that have characterized modern thought at least since the seventeenth century, and modern philosophy since Descartes: the partition of man from nature, spirit from matter, mind from its objects, in one or another explicit or subtle form. Aristotle asks questions we would not dream of asking, which at first seem odd and then shock us out of our presuppositions. Thus he wants to know whether, if a house grew up by nature, it would grow up in the same way as we would build it. He decides it would—for is not man in his crafts only imitating natural processes? Does not the doctor cure by trying to reproduce nature's operations? Aristotle's favorite paradigm of nature's operations is the doctor curing himself as patient—that is, nature raised to a conscious level. Now we moderns may find Aristotle's doctrinal view of the architecture of house-building archaically limited; we may suspect that he is having nature imitate man rather than the reverse. Yet there may be much to learn from his easy passage from one to the other. Think how much effort we spend today on the similar question whether the brain is a machine, some of us ingeniously multiplying the powers of the machine to approximate the variegated powers of man, and others, fearful of the continuity of man and machine, insisting on the uniqueness of consciousness. Whatever Aristotle's specific scientific errors and naïvetés, we cannot dismiss his one-world attitude as an immature pre-Cartesianism. It is a genuine, sophisticated philosophical alternative that he can help us understand and that we may today be better able to evaluate. After all, how can one simply settle by postulation whether spirit is or is not a separate stuff out of which thoughts and feelings are constituted? The answer has to be the cumulative outcome of investigation into one field after another, of psychological investigation added to physical and biological investigation.

In considering Aristotle's one-world attitude as a characteristic mode of thought we have passed from qualities of thought to principles of philosophical outlook. There are accordingly other matters that would clamor at this point for a place in our inventory—e.g., his attitude toward change, toward evolution and history, as contrasted with the search for a rational eternal order. Such questions can best be considered in relation to his philosophical concepts, to which we turn shortly. There is, however, one general matter in his method that has wide ramifications and ought to be considered before we go on, namely his attitude toward language and the place of language analysis in philosophizing. Precisely because linguistic analysis looms large in contemporary philosophy and because there has been some tendency to look back to Aristotle as having been engaged in a comparable practice, it is important to see both what he says on the question and what he does in his actual philosophizing.

There is, of course, a close relation in Aristotelian writing between logic, reason, and speech. The term logos (plural logoi) is kin to legein (to speak) and refers to a proposition, an account or formula, and becomes extended to mean a rational explanation or theory. On occasions Aristotle contrasts the adverb logikōs with phusikōs, or sometimes logoi with pragmata. The first may set off a logical or dialectical argument against a scientific one, but the scientific one could be of the order of theoretical results as well as an appeal to observational fact. Sometimes when Aristotle contrasts logikōs and phusikōs it is almost as if he were contrasting theoretical considerations with factual ones. The distinction between logoi and pragmata is more often one between the conclusion of an argument based on assumptions, and the obvious reality (how things stand).7 The exact shade of contrast in both formulations doubtless varies with the context. We shall have occasion to examine specific contexts later.

We have already seen that Aristotle includes what people say and think or believe among the data or received opinions (endoxa) he records at the outset of an inquiry and that he follows this up by exploring shades of usage. It is perfectly clear that he expects to learn a great deal from the analysis of linguistic usages. Now this is a trap for modern interpreters, for modern linguistic thought has been intensely concerned with specifying a general relation between the structure of language and the structure of reality. It has been easy (much too easy) to say that for Aristotle speech embodies reason and reason grasps the structure of things, so that the structure of speech is the structure of the real—that, for example, because speech takes a subject-predicate form, therefore reality consists of substances and their properties. Such a generalization, we shall see, is misleading. It is not even to be assumed that for Aristotle the logical—linguistic is a separate order from the real or that its correspondence with the real poses a general problem. They may just be two modes of investigation or inquiry, one logical or dialectical, the other physical or scientific. Talking about things is itself a natural phenomenon; things get talked about just as they get played upon in other ways in this world, and so how we think about them and how we embody that thought in speech may give us clues to what they are like. Both our thoughts and our speech are therefore part of the evidence in any inquiry.8 There will be all sorts of occasions on which linguistic formulations may be misleading. While there are appropriate names to distinguish some processes, such as "drizzle" when drops are small and "rain" when they are large, there are other cases in which the physical analysis clarifies the linguistic: Aristotle analyzes the process of boiling and then points out that the (apparently) common use of the term boiling to mean heating gold or wood is only metaphorical since the process is physically different.9 Similarly, linguistic form may mislead us on appropriate category: "to flourish" has the same verbal form as "to cut" or "to build," but the first denotes a quality, while the others denote actions.10 Again, there are cases in which Aristotle seems to be giving a linguistic analysis but is really drawing on linguistic corroboration for a physical analysis. In discussing growth and the addition of one thing to another, he wonders why when mixing water and wine we say we have more wine as a result rather than more water. It is clear that we do so because the function (ergon) of the mixture is to serve as wine; later on he points out that when we put in too much water the result is water.11

On critical occasions, when a conflict arises, Aristotle is quite explicit. In Metaphysics 7, when he is failing to solve the problem of substance in purely logical terms, he says, "We should certainly inquire how we should speak on each point, but not more than how the facts actually stand."12 Further on in the same inquiry he says, "It is clear that if people go on in their customary way of defining and speaking it is not possible to answer and resolve the difficulty."13

If we look not for a correspondence of structures but to the simple fact that he spends much time analyzing what we ordinarily say and showing complex patterns of usage with a high degree of sensitivity, we have again to note that he does this to offer partial evidence for one or another thesis. For example, presenting the view that body has three dimensions, he points out that we say "both" of two things or two people, but not "all," whereas of three we say "all"; thus we are following nature, since three dimensions give us a complete body, and "complete" and "all" do not differ in form.14 Linguistic usages are thus part of phenomena and so can serve evidentially for a thesis. Linguistic analysis, then, although it does play a large part in his inquiry when he wants greater precision or feels it necessary to fashion a technical term, is not for Aristotle a separate mode of analysis. But he does end with a set of highly refined terms that he uses in carrying out analyses in special fields from physics to politics. What, then, is the relation of his refined technical language to the ordinary language he uses?

We can distinguish three different levels of concepts conveyed by his terminology. At the top are the highly general concepts—matter, form, nature, potentiality, actuality, substance, and so on. These are very technical, and Aristotle is obliging enough occasionally to show how he has fashioned them. In the middle are concepts with only a moderate amount of fashioning, often expressed by ordinary words standardized for the purpose—for example, most of what he calls the "categories" (quality, quantity, place, time, action, etc.), and change and its species. At the bottom are concepts conveyed by the little words. These are not necessarily the imposing little words such as the what-is or the one, for these, in the guise of Being and Unity, already had an exalted metaphysical place in Platonic construction, and we have suggested that Aristotle in a commonsensical way tried to prick the Platonic balloon of inflated concepts. They have their place in Aristotle too, but chiefly as problems at the top. The heavy work at the bottom is done by the little words of ordinary discourse, such as from, out of, in, having, prior, now, and the like. Of course, there are also the little words that are used as a source for middle-rank terms like some of the category terms and the four causes: how big, what sort, when, where, out of what, whence, for the sake of and so on. Actually, we find an even wider range of little words in specific analyses throughout the corpus. They are especially resorted to at critical points in the analysis of more complex conceptions. Not only are in and now used in analyzing place and time, but subtle problems of mathematical continuity rest on a basic consideration of together, apart, touching, next, and so on. Problems of the motion of physical elements involve up, down, right, left, front, and back. Biological questions such as the order of development of parts of the body and functional relations therein prompt an aside on the meanings of prior, just as the relation of offspring to seed leads Aristotle to reflect on the meaning of one thing's coming from another. The question as to what constitutes a single physical movement necessitates an account of the different senses of one.

Of course, such a distinction between levels does not mean that some terms may not operate in different ways on different levels. Matter and form in the sense of material and shape are certainly ordinary terms. As a relative distinction on the middle level, Aristotle turns them into two of the four causes. Matter in a basic sense and especially form as essence become high-level. Similarly, place is an ordinary word, but as a category it is elevated to at least middle rank.

There is no simple uniform relation in Aristotle between ordinary language and technical language. The latter is not built up in a formal way out of the former, as complex definitions may be constructed out of simple elements. Nor is it one-directional; that is, no technical term on every occasion of its use is analyzable as a combination of elements in ordinary (bottom-level) language, with (of course) contextual differentiation. In fact, Aristotle is occasionally ready to refine the smaller, ordinary word by the more technical ones. In discussing the order of development of bodily parts, he distinguishes the meanings of prior first by applying his technical distinction between final cause and efficient or generative cause and then by breaking the latter into agent and instrument.15 Similarly, in Metaphysics 5, prior seems to be explicated by reference to already established technical terms. Again, in discussing the relation of body and psyche, two senses of for the sake of are distinguished—one the end or purpose for which, and the other the person for whom.16

We cannot classify Aristotle in the modern sense as either a formalist or an informalist; he does not fashion his philosophical terms by precise combinations, logically explicit, out of simpler elements, nor does he use them merely as pointers to variegated contexts of ordinary language. He seems to have achieved something different, a kind of conceptual network, generated out of ordinary uses to be sure, but presupposing always some factual picture, some governing purposes, and sometimes a specific model of construction. The resulting network is different from either the formalist's system or the informalist's studied pluralism. Each concept reaches over to the others and only gradually becomes intelligible as its relations to the others and their grounding in existent phenomena are revealed.…


1On Dreams 459b27 ff.

2On Prophecy in Sleep 1.

3 The complex problems on this point are dealt with in chapter 7 below. There are important differences of direction between Socrates and Aristotle here. In one sense, Socrates is trying to rouse the mind of the hearer through the material into a flight to ideas, whereas Aristotle is using the ordinary material to keep the flight responsible. Socratic method has long challenged philosophers who attempt to locate its effect and its logic as well as its charm; see Nelson 1949; Vlastos 1956, introduction; and Edel 1963, ch. 4.

4Top. 105a3 ff.

5Gen. Corr. 325al9-23.

6Part. An. 646a25-29.

7 See, for example, Gen. Corr. 325al3-19 (the passage just preceding the one in n. 5 above). Aristotle reports the argument—from initial general assumptions—of those who reach such conclusions as that motion does not exist. He says they go further and disregard observation as necessary to following logos. Their beliefs seem to follow in terms of the logoi, but to believe them in view of the pragmata is near madness.

8 It is important at the outset to contrast this interpretation of Aristotle, which sees the linguistic as furnishing partial evidence, with some current interpretations that draw sharp distinctions between the linguistic and the empirical. The latter want to decide precisely where Aristotle is engaging in a linguistic inquiry (and so "doing philosophy"), and where an empirical inquiry (and so "doing science"). This attitude is a familiar one in contemporary linguistic analysis, which has made serious contributions to Aristotelian studies by sharpening our linguistic sensitivity and occasionally by furnishing modern linguistic tools, but at some points it creates obstacles by applying its own doctrines of language rather than looking through Aristotle's eyes at how he saw language. Some of the issues involved will be discussed later in this book, but one fundamental point should be noted in a kind of preview. This is that Aristotle looks at words from the point of view of things, not things from the point of view of words. At the beginning of the Categories, when he defines homonymy and synonymy, he says that things are homonymous if they share the same name but the name has a different definition in the two cases, and synonymous if they share the same name and its definition is in both cases the same. (If this sounds outrageous to modern ears, please remember Aristotle was there first—we are the ones who re defined it.) We are more linguistically oriented when we start with words and call the words equivocal or univocal, and speak of the words as synonymous. Ackrill 1963, p. 71, in his comment on the same passage in the Categories, explains this whole point clearly and adds, "It is encumbent on the translator not to conceal this, and, in particular, not to give a misleadingly linguistic appearance to Aristotle's statements by gratuitously supplying inverted commas in all the places where we might feel that it is linguistic expressions that are under discussion." We shall have occasion to come back to this important topic in several different contexts later on.

The significance of this fundamental point is that Aristotle does not have to segregate language in general from things in general as a sharply distinct order. Of course there are the different inquiries mentioned—one logikōs, a dialectical inquiry, and one physikōs, a scientific inquiry—but we would be hard put to construe the first as pure language and the second as pure observation. There is for Aristotle, then, no general or metaphysical question of the correspondence of language and reality, or whether the structure of language mirrors the structure of reality, such as modern philosophers like to raise about language and about Aristotle. (There are notions of correspondence in his theory of truth, but that is another matter.) It is doubtless a perfectly reasonable question to raise on some presuppositions, but not on Aristotle's.

Some illustrations of the effect of these modern approaches on interpretations of Aristotle will be found later when we compare different modern philosophical viewpoints on specific passages and issues in the corpus.

9Meteor. 347alIf., 380b28ff.

10Soph. Ref: 166b 16 f.

11Gen. Corr. 321a29-b2, 322a31 f.

12Meta. 7, 1030a27 ff. "How the facts actually stand" translates to pōs echei. The "fact," in this context, turns out to be a reiteration, no matter which way we choose to speak, that in a primary sense definition and essence belong to substance. "How things stand" has here, then, more of the character of an established principle from which usage must not detract.

13Meta. 8, 1045a20 ff.

14Heav. 268a16 ff.

15Gen. An. 742a19 ff.

16Psych. 415b20 f.

Aristotle's Works: Titles, Abbreviations, and Translations

Wherever possible, the English titles have been used rather than the Latin versions, except for Historia Animalium, Parva Naturalia, and Magna Moralia, whose Latin titles seem firmly entrenched. In the case of Aristotle's chief psychological work (Latin, De Anima), the current English translation, On the Soul, seems likely to mislead; I have resorted to On the Psyche, staying close to the original Greek term, which has become an established English word.… Where abbreviation is desirable the following are used:

Soph. Ref
On Sophistical Refutations
On the Heavens
Gen. Corr.
On Generation and Corruption
On the Psyche
Part. An.
Parts of Animals
Gen. An.
Generation of Animals


Edel, Abraham. 1963. Method in Ethical Theory. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Nelson, Leonard. 1949. "The Socratic Method." In his Socratic Method and Critical Philosophy, chapter 1. Translated by Thomas K. Brown, III. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Vlastos, Gregory. 1956. Plato's Protagoras. New York: Liberal Arts Press.

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Principal English Translations


Practical Science: Ethics And Politics