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Aristotle's Four Causes

Boris Hennig

This book examines Aristotle’s four causes (material, formal, efficient, and final), offering a systematic discussion of the relation between form and matter, causation, taxonomy, and teleology. The overall aim is to show that the four causes form a system, so that the form of a natural thing relates to its matter as the final cause of a natural process relates to its efficient cause. Aristotle’s Four Causes reaches two novel and distinctive conclusions. The first is that the formal cause or essence of a natural thing is not a property of this thing but a generic natural thing. The second is that the final cause of a process is not its purpose but the course that processes of its kind typically take.

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Chapter 4. The Inseparability of Matter



The Inseparability of Matter

I have argued that the matter of a natural thing may be taken to be what corresponds to the tode (“this”) in Aristotle’s complex phrase tode ti (“this something”). It is important to keep in mind that tode refers to matter only as part of this phrase. At the end of Metaphysics Ζ 3, Aristotle suggests that if there were anything left after denuding a thing to a bare and isolated tode, this thing would indeed be the primary subject of predication. He immediately adds, however, that a bare tode cannot be primary substance because it is not separable and not a tode ti (1029a27–30). In De Generatione et Corruptione I 5, Aristotle likewise emphasises that matter could not be anything without affections and forms (320b16–17). It is nothing in itself. Now if a bare, isolated tode does not refer to anything, matter is not what it refers to. Tode refers to matter only as part of the phrase tode ti. The most important thing about matter is thus that it cannot be understood apart from the thing it is matter of.

In this chapter, I ask why and in what sense the matter of a thing is inseparable from this thing. Some think that matter is an attribute of a sensible substance, so that it is inseparable in the same sense in which all attributes of a thing are inseparable from this thing. Others think that substances...

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