Aristotle (384–322 BC)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A022-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 16, 2018, from

12. From being to substance

In Metaphysics IV 2 and VII 1 Aristotle argues that, since substance is the primary type of being and other beings are in some way dependent on substances, the science of being must primarily be concerned with substance. The arguments of IV 4–5 describe some features of substances; they must be subjects with stable, objective, essential properties. Books VII–IX describe these subjects more fully, by re-examining the conception of substance that is presented in the Categories and Physics (see §§7–8).

Aristotle observes that we regard substance both as ‘a this’ and as ‘essence’ (or ‘what it is’). We might assume that these two descriptions pick out two sorts of substances – a particular subject (‘this’) and a universal (‘what it is’), corresponding to the first and second substances of the Categories. Aristotle, however, insists that his question ‘What is substance?’ will be satisfactorily answered only when we have found the one thing that best satisfies the conditions for being both a subject (a ‘this’) and an essence (‘what it is’). Whatever best satisfies these conditions is primary substance.

The different candidates that Aristotle considers for this role are matter, form and the compound of the two. He argues against the first and third candidates, and defends the second. He regards matter and compound as types of substance, but argues that they are secondary to form because they do not meet the relevant conditions to the same degree. To show that form is primary substance, he argues that a form is both a subject and an essence of the right sort. In books VIII–IX he clarifies his answer by identifying form with the actuality for which the matter is the potentiality.

Citing this article:
Irwin, T.H.. From being to substance. Aristotle (384–322 BC), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A022-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

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