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[Matter and Form in Aristotle’s Metaphysics] is the second surviving essay of the six to eight on Aristotle that Eliot wrote for Joachim during the Trinity term 1915.

It is frequently supposed that Aristotle’s use of ὕλη 1 involves him in contradiction. On the one hand, he speaks of τὸ ὑποκείμενον as οὐσία or of ὕλη as οὐσία 2 (1042a32: ὅτι δ᾿ ἐστὶν οὐσία καὶ ἡ ὕλη, δῆλον) 3 [and] elsewhere explains that whereas everything else is predicated of substance, substance is predicated of matter. So Zeller (I.375):

he asks the question where we ought to look for the substance of things, in the form or in the matter, or in the composite whole produced by the combination of both. But his answer is far from satisfactory. He admits that matter cannot properly be termed substance; yet on the other hand, he does not venture altogether to deprive it of this title, since it is the substratum of all being, the permanent amid change. 4

This seems to me a thorough misunderstanding. Various passages may be put together in such a way as to present obvious verbal inconsistencies. Probably the doctrine cannot be interpreted into the language of modern philosophy without the use of the concept of degrees of reality, reducing all substance to an ultimate one, in which matter and form would at last be completely unified. And as the theory stands, we may accuse Aristotle of incompleteness, if we like, but not of inconsistency.

The ὕλη of Aristotle is not to be identified with “matter” in the colloquial or the pseudo-scientific sense, although it may be said to include this. Admitted that the matter of Aristotle is usually the matter of physical objects, yet the nature of matter is not conceivable merely on analogy of touch and sight. The analysis of matter and form corresponds to the logical division into genus and species.

1024: οὗ γὰρ ἡ διαφορὰ καὶ ἡ ποιότης ἐστί, τοῦτ᾿ ἔστὶτὸ ὑποκείμενον, ὃ λέγομεν ὕλην. 5

1038: ἡ μὲν γὰρ φωνὴ γένος, καὶ ὕλη, αἱ δὲ διαφοραὶ τὰ εἴδη καὶ τὰ στοιχεῖα ἐκ ταύτης ποιοῦσιν. 6

1036: ὕλη νοητὴ δὲ ἡ ἐν τοῖς αἰσθητοῖς ὑπάρχουσα μὴ ᾗ αἰσθητά οἷον τὰ μαθηματικά. 7

And 1045a34: ἕστὶ δὲ τῆς ὕλης ἡ μὲν νοητὴ ἡ δ᾿ αἰσθητή, καὶ ἀεὶ τοῦ λόγου τὸ μὲν ὕλη τὸ δὲ ἐνέργεια ἐστιν. 8

πρώτη ὕλη 9 would thus be in a way the first genus, identical with the most general and poorest concept; indefinable (1036a: ἡ δ᾿ ὕλη ἄγνωστος καθ᾿αὐτήν) 10 as genus or as matter real only in its infima species. 11

There are doubtless difficulties in the way of this identification. For although at times Aristotle speaks of the ὕλη of mathematics, elsewhere the matter of physical objects appears to exhaust the meaning. 1044b: οὐδὲ παντὸς ὕλη ἕστιν ἀλλ᾿ ὅσων γένεσις ἔστι καὶ μεταβολὴ εἰς ἀλληλα. 12 This ὕλη of course is only actual in and through the change. While we may conceive the mathematical generaas being ὕλη of the species, perhaps this use is only κατ᾿ ἀναλογίαν 13 inasmuch as in mathematics there are properly no individuals, therefore no συμβεβηκότα 14 (1027a13: ὥστε ἡ ὕλη ἔσται αἰτία ἡ ἐνδεχομένη παρὰ τὸ ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ ἄλλως τοῦ συμβεβηκότος) 15 and also no γένεσις καὶ μεταβολή. 16

Nevertheless, I think we may conclude that from the two passages 1036a9 [and] 1045a34 that although the “matter” of mathematics is only an abstraction, the analogy, at least, is an exact one; for it is only in defect of particularity that mathematics differs: it does not demand or use the succession of data upon which the real world is based. In 1038a9, the αἰσθητὰ μὴ ᾗ αἰσθητά 17 are, I take it, introduced merely to indicate that the matter of mathematical objects is not the particular lines and ciphers but the genus (e.g., 1045a: σχῆμα) 18 of the differentia (ἐπίπεδον). 19 On the other hand, an objection occurs which seems to apply equally to aesthetic and noetic matter: if the matter is the genus (i.e., something which is as such abstract and actual only in its species), yet it appears also to be the source of particularity; that which distinguishes the form as thiscircle:

1036a2: τοῦ δὲ συνόλου (“concrete thing,” Ross) ἤδη, οἷον κύκλου τουδὶ, καὶ τῶν καθ᾿ ἕκαστά τινος ἢ αἰσθητοῦ ἢ νοητοῦ (λέγω δὲ νοητοὺς μὲν οἷον τοὺς μαθηματικούς, αἰσθητοὺς δὲ οἷον τοὺς χαλκοῦς καὶ τοὺς ξυλίνους), τούτων δὲ οὐκ ἔστιν ὁρισμός, ἀλλά μετὰ νοήσεως ἢ αἰσθήσεως γνωρίζονται, ἀπελθόντες δὲ ἐκ τῆς ἐντελεχείας οὖ δῆλον πότερον εἰσὶν ἢ οὐκ εἰσίν· ἀλλ᾿ ἀεὶ λέγονται καὶ γνωρίζονται τῷ καθόλου λόγῳ·. 20

Apparently the only existents which have no matter are the simples or indefinables τὸ τόδε, τὸ ποιόν, τὸ ποσόν (1045b). 21 But τὸ τόδε is “individual substance” (Ross), 22 and as we do not find within the finite or at least within the terrestrial range of inquiry any complete individual substance, we may say that, within our experience, it is always matter which confers particularity; or that particularity is not without matter; as all the substances which we know are analysable into form and matter.

The difficulty lies in conceiving how the matter, which as genus is more abstract than the...

Published By:   Johns Hopkins University Press