Metaphysics

Metaphysics METAPHYSICS Whereas sciences deal with particular kinds of beings, metaphysics is concerned with beings as such. According to Aristotle, there is no such thing as mere being; to be is always to be a substance or object, a quantity, a quality, or a member of some other basic category. I. Substance and Accidents Substance is the primary mode of being according to Aristotle. The world is not one of atoms or particles, even though they have a place in the world.

The basic notion of Aristotle’s logic reflects a distinction in the way reality is structured and reflects the basic way that we view reality. Substance is whatever is a natural kind of thing and exists in its own right. Examples are rocks, trees, animals and the like. For instance, a dog is basically the same whether it is black or brown. A dog would be substance because it exists in its own right; it does not exist in something else, the way a color does.

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Accidents are the modifications that substance undergoes, but that does not change the kind of thing that each substance is. Accidents only exist when they are the accidents of some substance. For Aristotle, there are ten categories into which things naturally fall. They are substance and a total of nine accidents: quantity, quality, relation, action, passion, time, place, disposition (the arrangement of parts) and “rainment” (whether a thing is dressed or armed, etc) All of these distinctions are basically logical, but in a sense they reflect the structure of reality. One never finds any substance that we experience without some accidents, or an accident that is not the accident of a substance.

II. Matter and Form Aristotle utilized the concept of matter and form in an entirely new way, stating that everything that becomes consists of a foundation, a substratum (that which forms the foundation), and form. Aristotle’s theory was firmly rooted in his broader metaphysics, according to which all things are a combination of matter – a sometimes shadowy, indefinite substance with the potential to become most anything – and form which transforms matter into actual particular things. Aristotle felt that part of the procedure of “becoming” required two things, the matter as a substratum and the form. The form functions, shapes and defines the thing. Both matter and the form, according to Aristotle, were transcendent and imperishable entities. Matter and form were never separated from one from the other. Matter cannot exist without form, and form cannot exist without matter.

The most important and the most valuable is form. This applies equally to the creations of man and to the creations of nature. III. The Four Causes Aristotle’s doctrine of the four causes is easily misunderstood. To charge Aristotle with having only a dim understanding of causality, however is to accuse him of missing a target he wasn’t even aiming at.

It is natural for us to think of Aristotle’s “causes” in terms of our notion of cause-and-effect, however this is misleading in several ways. We must keep this in mind whenever we use the word “cause” in connection with his doctrine. Aristotle drew from the attempts of all his predecessors, and learned from their mistakes. There are different ways of answering the question of why things are as they are. These ways of answering correspond to four basic kinds of causes to which Aristotle taught: The material cause is the basic stuff out of which the thing is made. The material cause of a house, for example, would include all building materials used in its construction. An explanation of the house could not exist unless they were present in its composition.

The formal cause is the pattern or essence in conformity with which these materials are assembled. Thus, the formal cause of our exemplary house would be the sort of thing that is represented on a blueprint of its design. This, too, is part of the explanation of the house. The efficient cause is the agent or force immediately responsible for bringing this matter and that form together in the production of the thing. Thus, the efficient cause of the house would include any laborers who used these materials to build the house in accordance with the blueprint.

Lastly, the final cause is the end or purpose for which a thing exists, so the final the house’s existence because it would never have been built unless someone needed it as a place to cause of our house would be to provide shelter for human beings. This is part of the explanation of live. In each of the four causes, you can have causes, which are more or less primary, in time or importance. In material causes, the ultimate material is called first or prime matter. Matter such as it is here and now, already formed and able to receive new form, is called secondary matter.

In efficient causes there are ultimate causes, as the architect is the man who originally causes a building, and instrumental causes, such as the workmen and their tools. In form cause, the primary form is the substantial form, what the thing is in its essence, and accidental or secondary forms, the features that come and go while the subject remains relatively one and the same. In final causes, the ultimate cause is the goal or end that lies most distant in the future, while the various goals or ends (ways or means) that are sought along the way are secondary causes. IV. Potentiality and Actuality Aristotle distinguishes between two types of potentiality: that which is spoken of in connection with substance (substantial potentiality), and that which is spoken of in connection with motion. Aristotle says that what is called potentiality most fully is a principle of change in a thing that involves another thing One type of potentiality is a potentiality for being affected or passive.

This is the principle of change in the subject that is affected by the change. The converse of this is the potentiality for being unaffected or active potentiality. This is the principle of change in the subject that initiates the change. An example of a passive potentiality would be the combustibility of a match and an example of an active potentiality would be the brightness of a light bulb. Both passive and active potentialities are the same in that they are primary, but they clearly differ because, as primary potentialities they hold different relationships (active and passive) to the other thing.

Aristotle argues that a thing can contain both a passive and an active potentiality only insofar as it can be thought of as separable into two things: namely that which initiates a change and that which is affected by it. Aristotle then says that the neediness of a potentiality is “for the same thing and in the same respect” as the corresponding potentiality. That is to say, every thing, which has a potential, has the corresponding need of that potential. Aristotle draws a distinction between rational and non-rational potentiality. A rational potentiality is a potentiality that involves reason. Aristotle says that every rational potentiality has potential for a pair of contraries, and that non-rational potential does not.

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