Watson, John. “The Metaphysic of Aristotle. III.” The Philosophical Review 7, no. 3 (1898): 248. https://doi.org/10.2307/2177065
IN his discussion of the first principles of knowledge, Aristotle has shown that there can be no science of the real unless intelligence, in grasping the essential characteristics by which things are determined, always remains in unity with itself. Hence it is impossible that things should be conceived either (a) as determined by opposite characteristics or (b) as not determined at all. Whatever is conceived as real must be conceived as having fixed and determinate nature, and upon this fundamental presupposition rests the possibility of there being any science whatever. Deny this presupposition and every one of the sciences is destroyed. Metaphysic, therefore, in showing that it cannot be denied, provides the theoretical basis for all the sciences; it does for them what they cannot do for themselves. But this is not its sole function. Having established the first principles of knowledge, it has next to determine and justify the first principles of reality. Just as it has shown that, so it must show that there can be no reality unless under presupposition of certain universal and necessary principles.
What, then, are the first principles of reality? It will help us to answer this question if we pass in review the various senses in which we ordinarily speak of reality. Now, in the first place something may be said to be 'real’ which simply is or occurs, something which is 'incidental,' 'accidental,' or 'contingent.’ Secondly, we call that which is 'true' real because we believe it to express the actual nature of a thing. Thirdly, we regard the real as that which can be characterized in certain universal ways, e.g. we express 'what' it is 'how' it is ‘how great' it is 'where' it is ‘when' it is, etc. Lastly, we speak of something existing ‘potentially' or 'actually.’ We have, therefore, to ask whether it is right to characterize reality in all these senses, and what is their relation to one another. Let us, then, taking them in order, begin with 'accidental' or 'contingent’ reality.
1. Necessity and Contingency.
The conception of 'contingency’ plays so important a part in the philosophy of Aristotle, and has such far-reaching issues, that it must be examined with the greatest care. The 'contingent’ or 'accidental' is contrasted by Aristotle himself with the 'necessary’ and the 'regular’ being negatively defined as that which is neither 'necessary' nor 'regular.' What, then, is the 'necessary?' We are already familiar with one sense of the term: That is ‘necessary' which is capable of being proved, because whatever admits of proof 'cannot be otherwise' than it is proved to be. But, as we are at present enquiring into the first principles of reality, not of knowledge, the 'necessary' in this sense may be set aside. There remain three other senses of the term, which are expressly distinguished by Aristotle in various passages of his writings. These are (1) that which is effected by force or external compulsion in opposition to the natural tendency or stress of a thing; (2) that without which a thing cannot be 'good;’ (3) that which 'cannot be otherwise,' but must be as it is. The three kinds of 'necessity' here distinguished apply respectively to(a) inorganic things, (b) living beings as such, including man, (c)the eternal and unchangeable. They may be distinguished as (1) external, (2) conditional, and (3) absolute necessity. A few words in regard to each will help to bring out Aristotle's reasons for distinguishing them.
(1) Aristotle conceives of inorganic things as having a certain ‘nature,' which is 'necessary' in the sense that, while it may be suspended by some external force, it always acts in the same unvarying way when it acts at all. Thus, it is the 'nature' of a stone to fall to the earth, and it is said to fall by 'necessity;’ when, on the other hand, it ascends, it does so under the influence of an external force. The same remark applies to all inorganic things: it is the nature of the 'hot' to display only ‘heat,' of a luminous object to be only luminous, unless there is an external force which prevents them from manifesting their 'nature.' Here, therefore, we have either a necessity of 'nature' or an 'external' necessity. Inorganic things, as we may say, can be acted upon only mechanically. External or mechanical 'necessity’ is, therefore, peculiar to inorganic things, and arises from the fact that they are not capable of changing in opposite ways, but only in one way. (2) Living beings are of a more complex 'nature’ and therefore in their character as living they are not subject to external or mechanical necessity. Unlike inorganic things their changes may be in one of two opposite directions; they may either be in process of realizing their 'nature' or of failing to realize it. Thus, the 'nature' of a living being is to display those activities in which its existence may be said to consist; and indeed, as Aristotle himself tells us, the most proper, though not the only sense of 'nature,' is that realization of itself, which is characteristic of an organized being. Why, then, does it not always realize its end? Because that end can be realized only under condition that it succeeds in making the environment a means to its own perpetuation and perfection. Thus, the plant or animal cannot live without nourishment, and where this fails it must perish. Here, therefore, we have a 'conditional’ necessity. This 'conditional’ necessity, however, is not confined to plants and animals, but applies also to man as a rational being. Here, however, 'conditional’ necessity has a wider sweep and assumes a higher form. For the life of man, so far as he is rational, is not merely directed to an end, but it consists in the intelligent comprehension of that end and of the means to its accomplishment. And as man, like other finite beings, incapable either of realizing his 'nature' or failing to realize it, we have to explain why such success or failure is possible. The explanation is, as before, that man, like other living beings, is subject to 'conditional’ necessity. This may be illustrated by one of the most characteristic productions of man's rational life. Man is by 'nature' a political being, and only in a well-organized state can he realize himself. But the state is dependent upon conditions which lie beyond his power. It must have a territory, just as the plant and animal must have food, or it cannot exist at all; but the territory may be unfavorable to its perfection. It must have a population, which, however, may be of such a characters to work against the ideal of political organization; the citizens may be full of spirit, but wanting in intelligence and skills in the north of Europe, or they may be intelligent and inventive, but wanting in spirit, like the natives of Asia. The state must be sufficiently wealthy if it is to afford the necessary conditions for culture, but the pursuit of wealth may draw men away from higher things. Thus, because of that 'material' or 'conditional’ necessity, which is inseparable from human life, the complete realization of the higher life may be impeded. And, of course, the individual man is also subject to 'conditional' necessity, for he, too, may be placed in unfavorable conditions. 'Conditional’ necessity, then, is characteristic of all living beings, whether these are rational or irrational. (3) The highest form of 'necessity’ is that 'absolute' necessity, which is displayed in mathematical relations, in the changes of the heavenly spheres and in the 'eternal and unchangeable Being' or God. Here, there is neither external compulsion nor conditional necessity, (a) The mathematical relations 'cannot be otherwise.' It is true that they have no existence apart from sensible things, but they are eternal and unchangeable relations, to which all sensible things must conform. That the diagonal is incommensurable with the side of square is 'necessary' in the absolute sense of the various heavenly spheres such as the solstices and the sunrise display the same kind of necessity. They consist in fixed cycle of changes, which never began and can never end. They are, therefore, not only beyond all external compulsion, but independent of all external conditions. Their 'necessity' is that of their fixed constitution. (c) But the only being that is absolutely ‘necessary' is God. The 'necessity' here, so far from being due to external compulsion or to dependence upon 'material' conditions, consists in absolute perfection or completeness of nature. Hence, as self-sufficient, self-dependent, and freeform 'matter,’ the Divine Being can suffer no pain, but lives in eternal blessedness. It is thus evident that the fundamental idea of the 'necessary' is for Aristotle, as he tells us himself, “that which cannot be otherwise," and that
'external' and ‘conditional' necessity are marks of the finite and dependent.
Now, we see at once that there can be nothing ‘accidental' or ‘contingent' in that which is ‘absolutely necessary.' Hence, the 'accidental' has no meaning in mathematical relations which are fixed and unchangeable. No doubt we sometimes speak of the ‘accidents' of mathematical figures, as when we say that it is an ‘accident' of a triangle that its angles are equal to two right angles; but an 'accident' in this sense is an inseparable and essential property, which, though it is not directly involved in the conception of the thing, is deducible from it by a necessary processor proof, and when proven is seen to be 'absolutely necessary.’ Nor can there be anything 'accidental' in the heavenly spheres, which are absolutely invariable and eternal. Lastly, there is nothing ‘accidental' in the 'eternal and unchangeable Being,' whose nature as absolutely perfect is the same 'yesterday, to-day, and forever.' There are therefore only two spheres within which contingency can prevail the sphere of inorganic things and the sphere of living beings Within these two spheres, while it is true that changes occur as a rule in a definite way, there yet are cases in which the rule is broken, and here the changes are said to be 'accidental. ‘Thus the phenomena of the seasons are on the whole regular, so that it is unusual to have storm and cold in the dog-days; but this rule is sometimes broken, and we call it an ' accident ' when this takes place. Again, there is a general uniformity in the spheres of organic nature and of human life; but this general uniformity has exceptions, and these we attribute to 'accident.’ Thus, every living being tends to conform to a definite type, and ‘as a rule' it does conform to that type; but sometimes we find variation from it, and this is said to be ‘accidental.' And, in the sphere of human life, we proceed by rules, which apply generally; but there are exceptions, which we attribute to 'accident' because they cannot be foreseen. Our first notion of the 'accidental' is, therefore, that which deviates from the general rule, and as such cannot be assigned to a definite principle. Aristotle, however, seeks to determine more precisely the various forms of the accidental, (I) The simplest form is that of the mere concurrence of two events which have no causal connection with each other; as, e.g., the occurrence of an eclipse when Aman is taking a walk. (2) In the case of organic beings, the 'accidental' consists in some deviation from the normal type. The formative principle is always striving to realize itself in the production of a definitely organized being, but this end may not be realized. The explanation of this anomaly must be sought in that 'conditional necessity,' which we have seen to be characteristic of living beings. For the living being cannot realize its ‘nature' without conforming to the necessary laws of the material environment, and when it fails to master the environment and turn it to its own use, there is a deviation from the normal type. The explanation of the 'accidental' is therefore to be sought in the 'matter,’ without which the formative principle is powerless, but which may be of such a character that it thwarts and prevents it from realizing its tendency. ‘Matter' is thus at once the 'necessary condition' of the existence of organized beings, and a possible source of failure. As a rule, natural organisms succeed in adapting themselves to the material conditions, and so far as this is the case, in their life; but, where something ‘accidental’ arises, as we say ‘spontaneously.' The 'accidental' in this sense is said by Aristotle, with an etymological play upon the word to be that which is 'in vain,' i.e., that which does not attain its end. Intelligent beings, on the other hand, can realize the irrational life only in so far as they bring things within the sphere of their knowledge and determine themselves by reference to them. But here also there may be a failure to realize the end, either because there are incalculable elements or because of defective will. Thus, beyond the sphere of intelligent foresight and: his conscious employment of the material conditions as means of self-realization, there are things and events which are not subject to human agency, but are the result of 'chance' or 'fortune’ It rests with 'fortune' whether the state shall be provided with the adequate supply of accessories. So 'fortune,’ good or bad, is beyond the control of the individual, because it is beyond intelligent prevision. The 'accidental' in this sense is limited to the sphere of human agency. Both arise from conditional necessity, or the dependence of the being upon the external conditions without which its end cannot be realized. The 'accidental' is, therefore, either that which deviates from the normal type of organized being, or that which lies beyond the sphere of intelligent purpose. In the latter case, however, the 'accidental' need not be unfavorable; it is only incalculable, for there is good as well as bad 'fortune.'
We are now in a better position to understand Aristotle's discussion in the Metaphysic of the 'accidental' or 'contingent.' It cannot surprise us that he should declare the 'accidental' to lie beyond the region of science; for science can-only tell us what is ‘universal,' or at least what obtains 'as a rule,' whereas the 'accidental’ by its very nature involves that which is exceptional and incalculable. Hence all the sciences, whether they are practical, productive, or theoretical, consist in a statement of necessary or general laws. Politics, for example, is a practical science; but no legislator can anticipate the accidental occurrences which may betray some unexpected weakness in the Constitution of the State. Thus, Solon, rightly maintaining that the citizens must neither be in slavish subjection to the government nor in enmity against it, gave to the people the power of electing to offices and calling the magistrates to account. He could not foresee that this rational freedom would give rise, from the force of circumstances, to an extreme democracy. Yet this actually happened; for the people were so elated by the part they played in the Persian War, that they were led to follow worthless demagogues. Here, therefore, we have an instance of the influence of a mere concurrence of circumstances. And, as we have already seen, the financial prosperity of a state is partly a gift of ‘fortune’ for which the government deserves neither praise nor blame; for 'fortune' is beyond the range of intelligent foresight. The range of the productive sciences is similarly limited. The architect has a knowledge of the laws of architecture, which enables him to construct a house, in accordance with a precise and definite plan; but he cannot possibly foresee all the 'accidental’ relations which may arise from its existence: how it will give pleasure to one man, pain to another, and a thousand other circumstances of the same kind. As these cannot be foreseen, they fall entirely beyond the range of his science. Similarly, the theoretical sciences deal with the universal nature of things, not with their 'accidental' properties. Geometry determines the essential properties of spatial figures, but it cannot state the infinite variety and complication in the shape of sensible things. There is, therefore, good reason for saying that the 'accidental’ does not fall within the province of any science. The truth is that the 'real,' in the strict sense of the term, consists in the permanent or essential nature of things, and that the 'accidental’ cannot properly be held to be 'real.' Hence Plato was not wrong in saying that the Sophist, in making reality consist in ampere assemblage of particulars, converted 'reality’ into 'unreality.' If, with the Sophist, we fix exclusively upon changing accidents, it is easy to show that there is no permanent nature in things. The 'musical’ they argue, sometimes accompanies the 'grammatical,' sometimes it does not; a thing must either be or not be, and, therefore, all is eternal, or all is in perpetual change. This reasoning overlooks the real object of science, which is not the 'accidental,' but the universal or general nature of things. For the essence of things is not incompatible with a change of the 'accidental' but maintains itself in such change.
But, though the 'accidental’ is not an object of science, we may still attempt to explain how it arises. As we have seen, it has no place in the eternal and unchangeable, for here what exists ‘cannot be otherwise.' It is, therefore, found only within the sphere of external nature or of living and intelligent beings; in other words, in those cases where there is ‘as a rule' a regular succession of changes, but where this rule may be broken. Wherever anything exists or occurs which is contrary to the general rule, there we have the 'accidental.' To have cold weather in the dog-days, for a man to be ‘white’ or 'musical,' or a cooktop cure a man of disease, are all instances of the 'accidental’ because they are all exceptions to the general nature of things. Now, the source of this deviation from rule must be sought in the 'matter' of things, which is sometimes incompatible with the realization of their universal or ideal nature. Unless we admit that there is such a limit, we must regard every series of events as absolutely necessary. In support of this view a very plausible case may be made out. Any isolated chain of events seems to be necessary and inviolable. Thus, a man is thirsty; being thirsty he goes out; when he goes out, he is killed by a fall. Each event is a fact and seems to follow necessarily from the other. But, in this reasoning, it is overlooked that each particular event, though it is no doubt due to some cause, cannot be referred to a single principle. If the connection were of the fixed and invariable character supposed, it would be possible to predict the whole sequence of events, if we only knew that the man was thirsty; and it is just because we cannot predict that sequence that we call his death 'accidental.' We know that Aman will die because we know that his organic functions must wear out, but we do not know what the particular cause of his death will be, and hence this belongs to the realm of the 'accidental.’ In the instance given, therefore, there is no necessary connection of the successive events; each has its own cause, but the one is not the cause of the other. We have here, in fact, a mere concurrence of events, not a necessary connection. The 'accidental,' then, is something which is contrary to the normal tendency or essential nature of things; and it lies beyond the realm of science, because all science is based upon a comprehension either of what is 'absolutely necessary' or what obtains ‘as a rule.'
It must be observed that, according to Aristotle's doctrine, the 'accidental' or 'contingent’ belongs to the actual world, not merely to our imperfect apprehension of it. All finite existence seems to him imperfect, just because it is dependent upon something which is not, or at least need not be, in harmony with the ideal or formative principle operative in it. 'Accident' is a necessary incident in the process by which that principle strives to realize itself under conditions which limit it. Aristotle, therefore, neither regards the 'accidental' as merely due to our imperfect knowledge nor as proceeding from an absolute limit in human intelligence. If he took the former view, he would be forced to discard the whole conception of 'conditional necessity,’ as based upon the 'material' conditions under which things exist; for, as with each extension of knowledge, the 'accidental’ would be so far resolved into the 'necessary,' it must be supposed that with completeness of knowledge it would vanish altogether. If he took the latter view, he must in consistency deny that there is any distinction between the 'necessary' and the 'accidental;’ for where all is relative nothing can be 'necessary,’ and he distinctly maintains that if nothing is ‘necessary,' there is no science whatever. What Aristotle holds, therefore, is, that our intelligence cannot reduce all phenomena to invariable laws, but that phenomena themselves are not invariable. The only absolutely invariable being is the 'eternal and immutable Being,' the only absolutely invariable changes are those of the heavenly spheres, and the only absolutely invariable relations are the mathematical. The sensible world is a region in which events may or may not be, though on the whole it is uniform; the changes of organized beings exhibit a dominant tendency with the formation of definite types, but this tendency is ever and anon broken in upon by the failure of the formative principle to overcome the resistance of 'matter;' and the sphere of human agency is imperfectly rational because the world in which it is carried on, and the conditions under which it must operate, are not perfectly fitted for the realization of what man in his idea is. Thus, while Aristotle maintains that whatever is necessary or regular can be dealt with by science, he sets aside, as beyond the realm of science, all that belongs to the individual as such. The individual has a universal nature, and with this science can deal; but the peculiarities which differentiate one individual from another Belong to the 'accidental' or 'contingent,' and fall outside of science.
2. Truth and Error
In his attempt to determine what constitutes reality as such, Aristotle has been led to set aside the 'accidental' or 'contingent.’ There is in the world an element of 'contingency,' due to the imperfect realization of the formative principle, whether it operates unconsciously or consciously, but it lies beyond the realm of science. Science exists only in so far as intelligence is capable of grasping the universal principle immanent in things, or at least the general rule which they follow, and what is neither universal nor true 'on the whole' is not a possible object of science. His next step is to show, positively, that science consists in the comprehension by intelligence of the necessary or essential nature of reality, and that the preliminary stage, in which it deals with the ‘accidental' or 'contingent,' is beyond the realm of science. From this point of view the real is conceived as that which is grasped by thought as it is, the unreal as that which thought fails to grasp. The discussion of truth and error, therefore, follows as a natural sequence upon the discussion of 'contingency.' What Aristotle now seeks to show is, that, only in so far as the intelligent subject comprehends and expresses the necessary and universal, does he attain to the stage of science. From this stage he distinguishes the preparatory process in which intelligence is capable of either truth or error. This latter stage, which, like Plato, he calls opinion, occupies an intermediate position between sensible perception and science; it is, in fact, the stage of experience viewed from the side of the thinking subject. Sensible perception, as we have seen, is never false in so far as it is limited to its proper object; error arises only with the exercise of judgment. It is in this intermediate stage that ‘truth' and 'error,' in the strict sense of these terms, are possible, whereas at the stage of science there must be either knowledge or ignorance. ‘Truth' consists in 'right opinion,’ ‘error' in 'wrong opinion;' science cannot be 'right' or 'wrong,' because it consists in the comprehension of the permanent nature of reality, and its opposite is therefore ignorance. ‘Truth' and 'error,' in the narrower sense, obtain only where certain 'accidents' are sometimes combined and sometimes separated from a thing. Thus, they presuppose that things are in themselves subject to change and are not dependent upon the thinking subject. Truth and error, however, exist only for the thinking or judging subject. A judgment consists in bringing together in the unity of thought what is discriminated; it is not a mere sequence or concomitance of ideas, but a synthesis of ideas. Now, a judgment will be 'true' if it combines in thought what is combined in the object, and separates in thought what is separated in the object; a judgment will be 'false,' which combines in thought what is separated in the object, or separates in thought what is combined in the object. It is obvious that, while truth and error exist only for a thinking subject, they yet depend upon the actual nature of things. A judgment consists in affirming or denying a certain attribute of a thing, but the affirmation or denial is true or false, according as it expresses what actually obtains, or does not obtain, in the object. The unity of a thing will, therefore, consist in a certain attribute being combined in it, and it will lose this unity if the attribute is separated from it. Now, 'accidents,' in the strict sense of the term, may either belong or not belong to a thing. Hence, the same proposition may be at one time true, at another time false. It is thus obvious that there can be no universal judgments in regard to the separable accidents of things. Such judgments may be either ‘right' or 'wrong,' but they cannot be absolutely true. Aristotle, it must be observed, is not attempting to explain why a particular judgment is either true or false; his object is to show that there can be no absolute or universal judgment in regard to the combination or separation of 'accidents,' just because such combination or separation is not universal. We have, therefore, to exclude all such judgments from the sphere of science. The case is different where we affirm something of a thing which belongs to its essence or deny something of a thing as contradictory to its essence. Here we have universal and necessary judgments because the thing cannot exist in separation from the attribute affirmed, or in combination with the attribute denied. Thus, there can be no triangle, the interior angles of which are not equal to two right angles, and there can be no diameter which is commensurable with the side of the square. The affirmative judgment, “A triangle contains two right angles," and the negative judgment, "The diagonal is not commensurable with the side of the square," are both universal. The same thing holds
in all cases in which a property is necessarily combined with, or separated from, a thing. We cannot say that such judgments may be at one time true, at another time false; they are always true or always false. Like all judgments, their truth or falsehood depends upon their conformity with the object; but, as in the object the connection or separation of an attribute from a thing is fixed and unchangeable, the judgment which asserts or denies that attribute of the things necessarily true or false. All judgments, then, which assert the combination or separation of 'accidents’ in a subject may be both true and false; whereas judgments which assert the combination or separation of 'essential properties' must be either true or false but cannot be both. There is a third case, in which truth depends, not upon the combination or separation of an attribute, whether accidental or essential, from a subject, but upon the direct comprehension of the subject itself. This kind of truth obtains in the conception of the essential or permanent nature of a thing. Here there is no possibility of separating what is combined, or of combining what is separate; and, therefore, we must either think the objects it is, or not think it at all. Truth, in this case, consists in the conception by reason of the 'essence' of a thing, whereas truth in the former two cases, consists in the validity of the judgments we make, and depends upon the discursive intellect. It is only by a loose use of words that we can speak of 'error' in connection with the activity of reason; for ‘error,' as correlative to 'truth,' implies that we may either combine what is actually separated, or separate what is actually combined, whereas reason cannot err in regard to the 'essence' of a thing, but must either have or not have a comprehension of it. The 'essence' or permanent nature of things is not subject to change; for, if it were, we should have to maintain that reality may originate from nothing; and, as this is inconceivable, we must hold that there are permanent 'forms' of reality, which are presupposed as actual in whatever becomes or ceases. Here, therefore, we cannot fall into error, though we may have no knowledge of the 'essence' of things. Nor is such absence of knowledge absolute; it is not like 'blindness,' which excludes the possibility of sight, but implies the potentiality of knowledge, a potentiality which is realized when reason comes to a knowledge of itself. Our conclusion, then, is, that judgments which refer to the combination or separation of accidents in a thing, since they are not universal, do not reach the stage of science; and that science contains either judgments which express the necessary combination or separation of attributes as involved in a thing, or conceptions of the essential or permanent nature of real things,
3. The Fundamental Characteristics of Reality
We are now in a position to deal more directly with the problem of Metaphysic: What are the principles of reality as such? As we have seen, there is no science of the 'accidental,' or, what is the same thing, science must deal with the essential nature of reality as embodied in universal and necessary judgments, or as expressing the primary conceptions of reason. What then is the essential nature of reality?
Now the 'real' as such is commonly characterized in certain universal ways, e.g., as 'substance,' as 'quality,' or as 'quantity.’ The primary meaning of reality, however, is 'substance,’ all other determinations are referred to 'substance' as the necessary presupposition of their reality. By 'substance,' then, we mean that reality which is the primary basis of all other determinations. Whenever we speak of something as 'real' without qualification, we think of 'substance.' The reason is obvious, when we consider that 'substance' is ‘primary' in all the senses of the term. (1) It is 'primary' in the sense that we cannot define what is not itself 'substance' without introducing the conception of 'substance.' (2) It is also 'primary' in the sense that we can have no knowledge of a determinate thing unless we know what it is, as distinguished from what merely belongs to it. (3) Lastly, it is ‘primary' in the sense that whatever originates presupposes ‘something' which does not originate; this 'something’ being what we call 'substance.’
'Substance' being thus the necessary presupposition of all real conception, knowledge and existence, the main object of Metaphysic must be to determine the true nature of 'substance. ‘Now, earlier thinkers conceive of 'substance' either as ‘essential nature' of things, or as (2) that which is universal, or as (3) the 'genus' or 'class' to which things belong, or as (4) the 'primary’ basis or 'substrate' of things. It will be convenient to begin with the last.
(1) Is substance the Substrate of Things?
The question as to whether 'substance 'is the 'substrate' of things comes to this: Is 'substance' that of which certain characteristics are predicated, but which is never itself predicated of anything else? At first sight this conception of 'substance' seems to agree with the nature of real 'definition;' for 'substance’ is certainly presupposed in every 'definition,' and, therefore, it cannot be referred to anything more primary. But, though no doubt 'substance’ is the primary basis or substrate of all predication, this is not an adequate conception of it. Is this ‘primary’ basis the 'matter,’ or the 'form,’ or the concrete thing? To answer this question, we must specify what we mean by 'primary basis.' If it merely means that which cannot be predicated of anything else, why should not ‘matter' be regarded as 'substance? ‘Corporeal substances, e.g., have certain affections, and produce or are capable of producing certain changes, and they also possess length, breadth, and thickness. All these we predicate of them, but these are not their 'substance.' What, then, is their ‘substance?' Apparently, that indefinable 'something’ which remains after the elimination of these predicts, and this ‘something’ must be the ‘matter.’ Now, it would make all knowledge and reality unmeaning if we identified it with the indefinable. We must, therefore, seek for a more adequate definition of 'substance' than that which says that it is the 'substrate' of all determinations. No doubt it is so, but this is not its essential feature. ‘Substance' is rather that which is 'separable' not from all determinations but from such determinations as those of quantity and quality. It is, therefore, not indeterminate like 'matter,' but essentially 'determinate.’ When 'substance' is thus conceived, it is obvious that it must be either the 'form’ of things, or the 'formed matter.’ We shall, therefore, enquire whether 'substance’ is the 'form' or the 'formed matter.' And, as it is usually admitted that there is something ‘substantial' in sensible things, we shall in the first instance limit ourselves to these, reserving the question as to the existence and nature of supersensible things to a later stage of the enquiry.
(2) Is Substance the Form or the Formed Matter
After his usual method, Aristotle begins his discussion of the question as to whether the substantial reality of things consists in their 'form,’ or 'essence,’ or in the ‘formed matter,’ by a review of current conceptions. The ‘essence' of a thing, it will be said, is what the thing is in itself, as distinguished from what it happens to be under certain changing circumstances. What a thing is in itself we must understand to be what is inseparable from its existence. Hence what is 'accidental' cannot belong to it ‘in itself’ no doubt we sometimes say that a surface is white 'in itself,' meaning that it is the surface, not the interior of the body, which is white; but of course 'whiteness' does not belong to the 'essence' of a surface, which need not be white. The 'essence' of a thing therefore belongs to the thing ‘in itself,' in the strict sense that the thing cannot be otherwise. And as the 'essence' must be ‘determinate,' it can only be expressed in a conception which 'defines' or 'determines' what it is ‘in itself.' You cannot 'define' a thing by predicating quality, quantity, time, place, or motion of it; you must in your definition express what it cannot be, and unless you state what distinguishes or characterizes it you do not define it. Hence the 'definition' of a thing cannot be expressed in the genus alone, but only in the genus together with the ‘differentia.' Man, e.g., cannot be defined as 'animal,' but only as ' two-footed animal.' A 'definition,' then, in the strict sense of the term, is a conception of what a thing is ‘in itself’ as a determinate thing, not what it may happen to be, or of the genus to which it belongs. Hence, only a 'substance' can properly be 'defined.' In a secondary sense, however, all determinations of a thing may be said to 'define’ it, because, though they do not express what it must be, they express what it is under certain conditions.
To the doctrine that the 'essence' of a thing is that which is inseparable from its existence, the objection may be raised that there are cases in which a thing cannot exist without a certain characteristic, and yet this is not contained in its definition. There is no obliquity of vision without the eye, or equality without quantity, or sex apart from the animal, but 'obliquity,’ ’Equality,’ and 'sex' are not part of the 'definition’ and yet they seem to belong to the 'essence' of the thing. Aristotle's answers, that such characteristics do not belong to the 'essence' of the thing in the sense that they are contained in its 'definition’ but are merely 'inseparable accidents;' they are predicated of it, not involved in its conception, and therefore they are not part of its definition. A definition, we must therefore observe, not only expresses what belongs to a thing 'in itself,' but what the thing is ‘in itself.'
''So far Aristotle has contended (1) that the ‘reality' or 'substantiality' of things must not be sought in their 'matter’ but in their 'form' or 'essence' (2) that this 'form,' unlike the 'matter ‘is 'determinate' (3) that the 'essence' is expressed in the 'definition’ which states, not the 'genus' or 'class’ but the species (4) that the 'essence' excludes all mere predicates of thing, even when these are inseparable from the thing. Already, therefore, he has indicated his divergence, not only from the physical philosophers, but from the Platonic. He agrees with the latter in denying that reality can be found in the indeterminate ‘matter' or in the 'accidents' of a thing, and in affirming that it must be sought in the 'form' or 'essence;' but, in maintaining that the 'form’ is 'determinate' and that the conception therefrom' is expressed in the 'species’ not the 'genus’ he has prepared the way for his own theory. For the Platonists regard the ‘form' as the 'genus’ and therefore they make it abstract; whereas Aristotle, holding that the 'form' is the 'species’ makes it the differentiating characteristic of the real thing. Thus, he has prepared the way for his own doctrine, that the 'essence' constitutes the specific nature of things themselves, and therefore cannot be separated from them. It is this last point that he now goes on to accentuate.
Is the 'form' or 'essence’ separable from the thing, or does it not rather constitute the very nature of the thing? As we have seen, a thing is not dependent for its reality upon the accidents which it may at any given time possess. The existence of a man does not depend upon his being ‘white’ and therefore we cannot say that 'to be man' is 'to be a white man.' In the conception of a man as a 'two-footed animal’ the essential nature of the man is defined, but in predicating ‘white' of a 'man' we merely state what may or may not belong to him. The conception of 'man' involves or is identical with the conception of 'two-footed animal,' but it does not involve the conception of 'white.’ ‘Hence we cannot pass from one 'accident' to another. Because 'man' is 'white,' it does not follow that he is ‘musical,' for any accident may or may not belong to a subject. Now, if the conception of a thing is identical with its 'essence,' it is obvious that the 'essence' cannot be separated from the thing. Hence the Platonists, who make this separation, destroy both knowledge and reality. How can we know a thing without knowing what it actually is? But we cannot know what it actually is, if the ‘essence,' without which it is inconceivable, is separated from it and given an independent existence? Nor can the thing exist apart from its 'essence.' If we say that a thing is 'good,' we must mean that the thing itself realizes the 'end' which constitutes its real nature; but if, with the Platonists, we make this ‘good' of the individual an abstract 'good,' we take the life out of the thing, and it ceases to be 'good.' If we say that a thing ‘exists,' we must mean that the thing itself 'exists;' but if we make 'existence' something separate and independent, the thing itself can no longer be said to 'exist.' If we say that a thing is a 'unity,' we must mean that this determinate thing is 'one;' but if 'unity' is separate from the thing and exists by itself, the thing ceases to be a 'unity.' Either the reality of a thing is constituted by its 'essence,' or it has no reality. The impossibility of separating the 'essence' from the thing of which it is the 'essence, ‘is at once evident if we give to each a different name; for a difference of name indicates a difference of conception. There must, therefore, be a conception of the individual substance, and a conception of the 'essence,' and each will be exclusive of the other. But the 'essence’ is itself held to be a ‘substance,' having an individual reality, and, therefore, we must have the conception of its 'essence,' and so on ad infinitum. Thus, we never reach a conception of the real 'essence' at all. Why should we not admit at once, what we have to admit in the end, that in the conception of the ‘essence’ we know the actual nature of the thing? In truth, there is no distinction in thought between the 'thing' and its ‘essence,' and, therefore, to know the 'thing’ is to know its ‘essence,' to know the 'essence ‘is to know the 'thing.' We must, however, deny that knowledge of the 'essence' involves knowledge of the 'accidental' characteristics of a thing. If that were true, we should lie open to the sophistical objection that as the accidental states of a thing are infinite, there is no identity in things. This objection we avoid by maintaining that the identity of a thing consists in its unchanging 'essence,' which is unaffected by the changes in its accidental states.
There can be no reality, then, and no knowledge of reality unless things have a permanent or essential nature which can grasped by thought. But sensible things originate, and we have therefore, to reconcile the permanence of their 'essence' with their origination. If the 'essence' does not originate, how is origination to be explained? To prepare the way for an answer to this question we must distinguish the various forms of origination. Things originate either by 'nature' or by art, or spontaneously. The explanation of the origination of things, however, in all cases involves an answer to these three questions: (1) by means of what did this thing come into being? (2) 'out of what' did it arise? (3) 'what' did it become?
(a) In explaining what is involved in the generation of 'natural' things, Aristotle confines himself to organized beings. For, though 'natural’ things, in the widest sense of the term, include inorganic things, these do not originate, and, therefore, we may say that 'natural ‘origination is always the process by which organic things come into being, (I) By means of what does an organized being originate when it arises by ‘nature' and not 'spontaneously?’ Obviously by the intermediation of another organic being of the same type. The two things in fact are called by the same name because they belong to the same species. Here we have an instance of a name being applied; they get the same name because they have the same essential nature. (2) 'Out of what' does an organized being originate. It originates out of something which contains potentially what it becomes. The potential ‘nature' of the thing we therefore call its 'matter.’ The 'seed’ is the 'matter' of the plant or animal, or the seed is the 'material’ of the developed thing. What does the thing become? It becomes actually what its 'nature’ permits it to become. There is in it a formative principle which operates under the conditions involved in its 'matter,' and so far as this principle realized, its 'nature’ is realized. Only when so realized is it a 'substance,' with an individual or determinate 'nature.'
(b) Artificial things, unlike 'natural’ things, have no formative principle in them, and are produced only by the agency of a being external to them, (1) The 'means’ by which they are produced is the human agent, in whose will it lies whether they shall or shall not come into being, and who brings them into existence by the exercise of his intelligence in accordance with the principles of a particular art. Just as the name of an organized being expresses the peculiar principle operative in it, so the human agent receives his name from the art he exercises. (2) That ‘out of which' the artificial thing is produced is the matter, which must be capable of taking on a certain form. Thus, the human agent is limited by the 'material conditions,' just as the ‘natural' being is limited by its 'matter.' (3) The object which is realized is the 'form’ given to the special ‘matter.' As this ‘form' must first exist in the mind of the agent, we may say that in sense the 'form' arises from the 'form.' Even when the agent produces something out of its opposite as when the physician produces 'health' out of 'disease' the principle is the 'form' as conceived in his mind. In bringing the thing into existence, the agent makes a regress in thought from the end to be attained, until he reaches the idea of something which he can effect, and, starting from this point, he sets in operation a train of causes which may result in the realization of the 'form.' The 'form’ is thus at once the 'beginning' and the end. (c) In 'spontaneous’ origination, a thing comes into being neither by 'nature' nor by 'art,' though it may in other cases arise either 'naturally' or 'artificially.' (1) That by means of which a thing arises ‘spontaneously' is the 'matter' not the 'form. ‘What so arises is due neither to the operation of the formative principle of 'nature,' nor the intelligent principle of 'art,' but to accident. Thus, 'health' may arise, without the intervention of the physician, by the 'spontaneous' occurrence of 'heat,' which may be the first step to 'health' or even a 'part' of 'health.' (2) That 'out of which' the 'form' arises is the 'matter,' which, however, in this case is also that 'by means of which the 'form’ arises. (3) What comes into being is the 'form.' Thus, ‘health' is the 'form' which results from the ' spontaneous' action of 'heat.'
Now it is evident from this analysis of the three modes in which takes place, that in no case is there any origination of the 'form’ per se, or of the 'matter' per se. Whether the origination is ‘natural,' 'artificial,' or 'spontaneous,' what comes not being is the concrete individual, as the union of 'matter' and ‘form.' This is confirmed by the fact that we name a thing by reference to the 'matter,' but in such a way as to indicate that the ‘matter' has received a certain 'form.' We do not call a statue ‘stone,’ but 'of stone;’ which indicates that the statue is not 'matter,' but 'formed matter.' The same thing is shown where the thing which is produced arises out of the opposite. When a man is cured by a physician, we do not call him ‘diseased' but 'healthy,' although the 'diseased' man is the ‘matter' out of which the healthy man is produced. The reason plainly is, that we recognize that there has been a transition from ‘privation' to 'actuality,' resulting in the production of a transformed 'matter' or concrete individual. There is, therefore, no production of either 'form' or 'matter,' but only of a 'determinate being.’ And we can readily see that the 'form' cannot be produced. If it were produced, it must be produced 'out of something;’ but this something must have 'form,' and must, therefore, itself be produced, and so on ad infinitum. There is, therefore, no origination of the pure 'form,' but only of the ‘formed matter' or the concrete individual. This holds good in all cases; for, as we have seen above, what originates ‘naturally' or 'spontaneously,' as well as what originates ‘artificially,' is always a 'determinate thing,' not a pure 'form.’
Now, if there is no origination of a 'pure form' but only of the concrete individual, the Platonic doctrine evidently fails to explain how there can be any process of generation. Its 'forms' or ‘ideas' are eternal and unchanging, and the whole process of generations therefore left unexplained. If 'ideas' are 'beyond' individual things, as the Platonists admit, the origination of individual things is inexplicable, for origination is the becoming of individual things which are neither 'matter' nor 'form,' but a union of both. It is no doubt true that the thing ‘by means of which ‘something comes into being may be identical in 'form' or 'idea' with that which it produces. All-natural things are of this character; a 'man,' e.g., produces a 'man' of the same 'form' as himself. But this does not show that there is only one 'form' of ‘man' which exists per se. The identity of two things is not their numerical sameness, but their identity of type. The 'man’ who is productive of another 'man’ is a distinct individual, existing under particular ‘material' conditions, though both agreeing to possess the same 'form.' Thus, all generation implies a particular 'matter,' and, indeed, this particularity of the 'matter’ is the condition of the separate existence of each thing. If there were nothing but 'form,' there would be no definite individuals.
We have thus seen that there is no origination of the pure ‘form,' but only of the individual substance. It may similarly be shown that in all the other modes in which the process of the world is displayed, there is no origination of the fundamental relations by which things are characterized. An individual thing may undergo a change of quantity or quality, but quantity and quality do not themselves change. There may be a change in the quality of 'wood’ but not in quality itself. An 'animal' may increase or decrease in size, but quantity itself does not increase or decrease. The same principle therefore applies to all changes, whether these consist in the generation of substances or in the changes of substances themselves, namely, that nothing changes except that which is determinate; the only difference being that an individual substance is always produced by another substance of the same nature, whereas changes in quality, quantity, etc., occur in each substance after its origination.
The whole gist of Aristotle's reasoning lies in his contention, that the 'substance' of actual things is not the pure 'form' but the concrete individual. This does not mean, as is abundantly clear, that the real is the individual as it presents itself to sense at some given moment, but the individual which in all its changes maintains its permanent and indestructible 'nature' or 'form.’ ‘Things arise and perish, but to exist at all they must obey the law of their being. Aristotle is a thorough Platonist in denying that the reality of a thing is exhibited in the phases which it displays from moment to moment. What a thing is can only beknown by grasping the 'form' which characterizes it and governs the whole of its process. The individual is by ‘nature’ of a definite and unchangeable type, and beyond this type it cannot pass. No doubt there are exceptions to this law, arising from the failure of the formative principle to master the material conditions; but so far as an individual can have any real existence, it conforms to the universal type of its class. On the other hand, the type or species has no separate existence, and the confusion of the individual with the type is of the Platonists. Because the real nature of a thing cannot be known from its temporary phases, they were led to suppose that the only reality is that of the universal 'form’ not seeing that the 'form’ per se is no more real than the 'matter.' The only real existence is the individual How, then, is one individual differentiated from another? If each individual is real only because in it the formative principle of the species is operative, and if this principle is identical in every member of the species, must we not hold that the only reality is the species? If every 'man ‘is a 'two-footed animal,' and his being so constitutes his reality, what is there to distinguish one individual from another? Aristotle accuses the Platonists of making the 'genus' the only reality; is it any improvement in principle to make the 'species' the only reality? Does he not unwarrantably assume that there are distinct individuals, whereas he ought to say that there are only distinct 'species? ‘Aristotle’s answer is that the 'substance' of the individual is not the 'essence' or 'type,' though there is no individual without it, but the 'essence' or 'type' as realized under conditions peculiar to each individual. These conditions cannot be precisely specified, because each individual differs in numberless ways from every other, but we can express them summarily by the term ‘matter.' By 'matter' he therefore means the totality of conditions by which each finite thing is determined as finite, and which make its existence unique. Were there no such conditions, there would not be a number of individuals. 'Matter’s thus the condition of distinction and finitude; and, as we shall afterwards see more distinctly, where there is no 'matter' there is only a single reality which is pure ‘form' or 'actuality.' Each finite thing, however, realizes its type only under conditions peculiar to itself, or, in Aristotelian phraseology, ‘matter’ is the principle of divisibility? This being so, the finite being is always individual concrete, a being existing under particular conditions. It is for this reason that Aristotle insists so strongly and repeatedly that neither the form nor the matter can be generated. If the 'form' were generated, we should have a creation or an absolute origination of reality out of nothing, and to Aristotle this seems utterly inconceivable; if 'matter' is supposed to be generated, we fall into the equal absurdity of speaking of ‘conditions' as existing where there is nothing of which they are ‘conditions;’ for 'matter' has no existence per se, but is merely the limit of real things. What is generated is always a concrete thing, possessing the inalienable characteristics of its type, but limited by conditions which the formative principle working in it cannot transcend. The whole process of generation is from concrete individual to concrete individual; at least this is true of all natural and artificial products, and it is so far true even of things which arise spontaneously that the product, though not the cause, is always a concrete individual. Certainly, things arise by means of one another, but the thing which comes into being, like that which produces it, has an individual existence of its own. So firmly is Aristotle convinced that individuality is the basis of all finite reality, that he applies the same principle in explanation of the changes which things undergo during the course of their individual life. There is no process in abstract quality, or quantity, or time, or place. The nature of these abstract 'relations,' if we may so term them, can be expressed in universal propositions, but they have no reality in themselves. Every real determination of things is a determination of the individual. We have even less right to hypostatize 'quality’ or 'quantity,' or 'time,' or ‘space,' than to hypostatize the 'essence' of things. Things conform to the laws of these universal characteristics just as they conform to their type, but the reason is that they are determinations of things viewed in the abstract medium of thought, apart from their reality as embodied in things. The actual world is thus, for Aristotle, a world of individual things, each bearing within itself the universal nature of its species but having an existence of itself and passing through its own cycle of changes. We are here, however, met by a difficulty. If all science is of the universal, and all reality is individual, how can there be a science of reality? To answer this question, we must first consider more carefully what is involved in definition.
There can be no knowledge unless thought is capable of grasping the 'form' of things, for the 'form ‘is essential to the existence of the individual, and the individual is the real. This comprehension of the 'essence’ is 'definition' it is the meeting-point of thought and reality. Now, a 'definition,' like every other 'conception,’ involves the combination in thought of distinguishable ‘parts' or 'elements,' and a conception will take its distinctive character from the nature of the ‘parts' or 'elements ' so combined. But what are we to understand by these 'parts?' The term 'part' has various meanings. In one sense a 'part’ is a unit of measure, e.g., an inch, a pound, a degree. As we are here dealing, not with quantitative relations, but with 'substance,' it is evident that a 'part' in this sense irrelevant to our enquiry. Our present question is: What is it meant by the 'parts' of 'substance?' for 'substance' is the main object of Metaphysic. Obviously, the answer will depend upon what we mean by 'substance.' If by 'substance' is meant the concrete thing, then by the 'parts' we may mean their ‘matter,' as a distinguishable element in the whole. And this will hold good whether the matter is something sensible or is only an object of thought. Thus, in the concrete statue, the 'matter’ may be 'brass,' and this is a 'part' in the sense that it is an element in the integral whole. Or, again, in a circle, the 'matter’ may be the segments without which the individual circle cannot exist. Now, the brass or the segments, though they are conceived as part of the concrete thing are not a part of the form. The conception of the statue, as it exists in the mind of the sculptor, or of the circle as present to the thought of the mathematician, has no 'matter,' and, therefore, its ‘parts' must be purely ideal. This is the universal character of all conceptions in which 'parts' of the form are grasped by thought as 'parts' of an ideal whole. Now, it is only in such conceptions or definitions that thought grasps the ‘essence ' of things. Matter per se is indefinable because it has no fixed and determinate nature, and, therefore, it cannot aid in the definition of the real, which as real is determinate. It is not a definition of 'man' to say that he has bones and sinews and flesh, because these are not 'parts' of the form or essence of 'man,’ but of the matter, and the matter does not determine the nature of 'man.' Hence the definition of a thing must express its 'essential' nature or 'form.' And a definition consists of ‘parts' combined into unity. Thus, to define the acute angles to conceive of it as a 'part' of the right angle; the definition of a semi-circle is the conception of it as 'part' of a circle;’ the definition of a finger presupposes the conception of the whole organism, of which the finger is a 'part.' It is, therefore, by the conception of 'parts' as combined in a whole that the 'essence' of a substance exists for thought. There can be no conception of 'animal' without the conception of 'soul' as the unity which is differentiated in the various functions of animal life. We must, therefore, distinguish the conceptual ‘parts' as combined in a unity from the 'parts' of the body as such. The latter do not define the nature of the animal, and hence, apart from the conception of the soul as the combination of the functions of which they are capable, they are merely 'matter,’ i. e., the conditions under which the 'soul' operates. We call heart and brain and hand, as physical things, by the same name as these conceived in their functions as 'parts' of 'soul.’ The definition of a thing is, therefore, the conception of the 'parts' of the ‘essence,' in the sense just explained. Hence, we cannot 'define' the concrete thing, but only the 'essence.'
There is a certain difficulty in determining what are the 'ideal' as distinguished from the 'material 'parts. This difficulty does not arise where the same 'form’ is found combined with different ‘matter,' but only where the same 'form' is always united with the same 'matter,' as in the case of the human organism. Certain thinkers, observing this fact, have been led to separate between ‘form' and 'matter' in an illegitimate way. Thus, the Pythagoreans hold that the continuous lines of the triangle, circle, etc., belong to the sensible 'matter,' while their 'form' consists only in numbers or is discrete. The Pythagorean view compels us to regard as identical such different things as the number and the line; and hence it logically leads to the conclusion that all things are identical in 'form,' however great their difference may seem to be; in other words, that there is no difference between one thing and another; which is absurd. This untenable doctrine shows how difficult it sometimes is to separate the 'form' from the 'matter.' There are cases where the 'form' can only be conceived as combined with a certain 'matter.' 'Man,' as sensitive being, cannot be conceived without sensitive 'parts,' and these 'parts' must be conceived as relative to functions of the soul.' The concrete 'man’ is, therefore, the union of 'soul’ and 'body,' and neither can be separated from the other.