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Metaphysics - Aristotle on Substance Matter and Form...

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Copyright © 2004, S. Marc Cohen Last modified 12/4/2004 10:49 PM 1 Aristotle on Substance, Matter, and Form Metaphysics Γ : the study of being qua being Aristotle often describes the topic of the Metaphysics as “first philosophy.” In Book IV.1 ( Γ .1) he calls it “a science that studies being in so far as it is being” (1003a21). (This is sometimes translated “being qua being.”) What does this mean? S studies x qua y ” means that x is the subject matter of science S , and y is the aspect of x under which S studies it. Thus, physics studies natural objects—things that are subject to change. These are things that come into being and go out of being. So physics studies certain beings (the natural ones), and it studies them in so far as they are subject to change. Metaphysics , on the other hand, studies beings in general (not just changeable ones) and it studies them “qua being”—in so far as they are beings. But in Γ .2 Aristotle reminds us (as he frequently says elsewhere) that “being is said in many ways”. (There were intimations of this in the Categories , where we learned about the ten categories of being.) But this does not mean that the term being is “homonymous” (i.e., equivocal or ambiguous). Rather, the term is applied to one central case, and all other uses of the term are explicated with reference to the central case. G. E. L. Owen has given the label focal meaning to this kind of multivocity. Example Take the term healthy . Many different things can be called healthy: a person, a diet, a complexion, etc. But they aren’t all healthy in the same sense. A person is healthy because he has health; a diet is healthy because it leads to health; a complexion is healthy because it is indicative of health. Notice that in all cases there is reference to health . And what is the central case of health? What is it that is healthy in the primary sense? Clearly, a person (or animal, or plant). A diet is healthy only because it makes a person healthy, and a complexion is healthy only because it indicates that the person who has it is healthy, whereas a person is healthy because he has health (and not because of his relation to other things that are healthy in some more central way than the way a person is healthy). So one might say that persons are healthy in the primary sense of the term, while diets and complexions and the like are healthy only in secondary senses of the term.
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