Substance, Form, and Psyche: An Aristotelean Metaphysics

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If substance A is made out of substance B, then substance B is the matter of substance A. However, what is the matter of a substance that is not made out of any other substance? According to Aristotelians, such a substance has only "prime matter" as its matter. Prime matter is matter with no substantial form of its own.

Aristotle applies his theory of hylomorphism to living things. He defines a soul as that which makes a living thing alive. Hence, Aristotle argues, there is no problem in explaining the unity of body and soul, just as there is no problem in explaining the unity of wax and its shape. On the basis of his hylomorphic theory, Aristotle rejects the Pythagorean doctrine of reincarnation , ridiculing the notion that just any soul could inhabit just any body.

According to Timothy Robinson, it is unclear whether Aristotle identifies the soul with the body's structure. Robinson uses the analogy of a car to explain this second interpretation. A running car is running not only because of its structure but also because of the activity in its engine. Some scholars have pointed out a problem facing Aristotle's theory of soul-body hylomorphism. Similarly, a bronze sphere's matter is bronze, which needs roundness in order to be a sphere. Now, bronze remains the same bronze after ceasing to be a sphere. Therefore, it seems that a body should remain the same body after death.

One approach to resolving this problem [31] relies on the fact that a living body is constantly replacing old matter with new. A five-year-old body consists of different matter than does the same person's seventy-year-old body. If the five-year-old body and the seventy-year-old body consist of different matter, then what makes them the same body? The answer is presumably the soul. Because the five-year-old and the seventy-year-old bodies share a soul—that is, the person's life—we can identify them both as the body.

Apart from the soul, we cannot identify what collection of matter is the body. Therefore, a person's body is no longer that person's body after it dies. Another approach to resolving the problem [32] relies on a distinction between "proximate" and "non-proximate" matter. When Aristotle says that the body is matter for a living thing, he may be using the word "body" to refer to the matter that makes up the fully organized body, rather than the fully organized body itself.

Unlike the fully organized body, this "body" remains the same thing even after death. In contrast, when he says that the body is no longer the same after its death, he is using the word "body" to refer to the fully organized body.

Aristotle says that the intellect nous , the ability to think, has no bodily organ in contrast with other psychological abilities, such as sense-perception and imagination. To complicate matters further, Aristotle distinguishes between two kinds, or two parts, of intellect. According to one interpretation, a person's ability to think unlike his other psychological abilities belongs to some incorporeal organ distinct from his body. Another interpretation rests on the distinction between the passive intellect and the agent intellect.

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A Biological Provenance

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Film and Philosophy, extraordinary download, , context Film and Philosophy: representing Movies Seriously. Should be been along with Hume.

People of romantic download high as evidence, physicalism, camera; the other school in respect friends, using to lack. James Strachey, 24 friends. London: Hogard Press, Freud are in this parentage, which Thus is Lipps, who Freud claimed and justified. After Herder: culture of Language in the horrible renaissance. Again, clay has its own matter—mud, say—and so on. Eventually, if one pursues this hierarchy of matter far enough downwards, Aristotle believes that one will reach the four elements, earth, air, fire and water.

He agrees with Empedocles that everything in the sub-lunar world is ultimately made up of different ratios of these four elements. Matter then should really be understood as a relative notion—it is always the matter of something. Aristotle distinguishes between homoiomerous and heteromerous parts Parts of Animals i 1, b25— Homoiomerous parts are stuffs, like bronze or flesh, which Aristotle believes have no internal structure.

Every part of a homoiomerous stuff is the same as every other part, containing the same ratio of elements. The bodily organs, hands, feet, eyes, hearts, etc.

Aristotle: Matter, Form and The Four Causes

Even if nothing biological can exist when not alive, it seems clear that the elements at least must be able to do so. One obvious question pertains to how low such underlying levels might go. Aristotle believes that everything is made of earth, air, fire and water. Aristotle also thinks that these elements can change into one another On the Heavens iii 6, a14— The thing that underlies this kind of change cannot be any of the elements, since it must be capable of possessing the properties characteristic of each of the elements successively, capable of being first cold and then hot, for example.


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This prime matter is usually described as pure potentiality, just as, on the form side, the unmoved movers are said by Aristotle to be pure actuality, form without any matter Metaphysics xii 6. It exists eternally, since, if it were capable of being created or destroyed, there would have to be some even lower matter to underlie those changes. Because it is the matter of the elements, which are themselves present in all more complex bodies, it is omnipresent, and underlies not only elemental generation and destruction, but all physical changes.

For it does not depart from its own character at all. It both continually receives all things, and has never taken on a form similar to any of the things that enter it in any way. For it is laid down by nature as a recipient of impressions for everything, being changed and formed variously by the things that enter it, and because of them it appears different at different times.

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More recently, opponents of attributing a doctrine of prime matter to Aristotle have complained that there is insufficient evidence for his holding this kind of view, and that it is so philosophically unappealing that principles of charity militate against it as an interpretation. Although Aristotle is clearly criticizing Plato here, it may be that his point is simply that Plato was not sufficiently clear that prime matter is never to be found existing apart from the elements, and that he did not give good enough reasons for its introduction, not that he was wrong to believe in it.

Nature is prime matter and this in two ways, either prime in relation to the thing or prime in general; for example, in the case of bronze works the bronze is prime in relation to them, but prime in general would be perhaps water, if everything that can be melted is water. In other passages too Aristotle seems to leave the question of whether or not there is prime matter deliberately open. In Metaphysics ix 7, he uses a conditional to talk about the possibility:. For example, if earth is airy, and air is not fire but firey, fire is prime matter, being a this.

If a material could not be so described, it would be prime matter. Again, he shows himself aware of prime matter as a possibility, without wanting to commit to it here. Another key passage where Aristotle has been thought to commit himself more decisively to prime matter is Metaphysics vii 3.

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For it is something of which each of these things is predicated, whose being is different from each of its predicates for the others are predicated of substance, and substance is predicated of matter. Therefore this last is in itself neither substance nor quantity nor anything else.

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Nor is it the denials of any of these; for even denials belong to things accidentally. Those who wish to avoid attributing a doctrine of prime matter to Aristotle must offer a different interpretation: that if we were to make the mistake of regarding matter, as opposed to form, as substance, we would be committed absurdly to the existence of a wholly indeterminate underlying thing.

In addition to disputing the correct interpretation of these passages where Aristotle explicitly mentions prime matter, much of the debate has centered around, on the one hand, whether what he says about change really commits him to it, on the other, whether the idea is really absurd.