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Unformatted text preview: t a structure
considered by itself, as an element, is not the structure of the syllable. The
syllable BA consists of two elements structured in a certain way; it isn’t an
unstructured collection of three things, one of which is a thing called a
So substance is the structure or form of a compound of matter and form (i.e., of
a plant or an animal). At the end of Z.17, Aristotle describes substance, in this
sense, in three ways:
1. Primary cause of being.
2. The nature (of a plant or animal).
3. Not an element, but a principle.
The resulting view is not Platonism
The form that Aristotle says is primary substance is not, like Plato’s, separable
from all matter (except, perhaps, in thought). And it cannot exist if it is not the
form of something. (E.g., the species-form does not exist if there are no
specimens of that species.) But it is still separable, in Aristotle’s sense, since it
is non-parasitic: it does not depend for its existence on the particular batch of
matter it’s in, nor on the accidental characteristics of the compound it’s the form
The form is not a “thing” in the manner of a Platonic form. It’s the way
something is, the way the matter composing an individual compound is
organized into a functioning whole.
Nor is it materialism
Why doesn’t this view collapse into materialism? That is, why isn’t the form
that can only exist in matter just a mode or modification of the matter that it informs? Why isn’t matter more basic than form in the way that the primary
substances of the Categories are more basic than their accidents? Copyright © 2004, S. Marc Cohen 7 Last modified 12/4/2004 10:49 PM The substantial form (i.e., what makes Socrates human, or, for the proponent of
individual forms, what makes Socrates Socrates) is really the basic entity that
persists through change. This may seem wrong, since when Socrates dies, his
matter persists, although he no longer exists. But when we are tracing the
history of Socrates through time, we do not follow the course of the matter that
happens to compose his body at any given moment, but that of the form that the
matter has. (Animals and plants metabolize; the matter that they are composed
of differs from time to time.) So what makes Socrates the kind of thing he is,
and what makes him remain, over time, the same thing of that kind, is the form
that he continues to have.
For Aristotle, the form of a compound substance is essential to it; its matter is
accidental. (Socrates could have been composed of different matter from that of
which he is actually composed.) Form may be accidental to the matter that it
informs, but it is essential to the compound substance that it is the form of.
Form is what makes the individual plants and animals what they are. Therefore,
it is the substance of those individuals. Copyright © 2004, S. Marc Cohen 8 Last modified 12/4/2004 10:49 PM...
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