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Fr. 382

September 1, 2013

Aristotle begins Chapter 5 of Categories by distinguishing between primary substance and secondary substance. This distinction is a logical claim with important ontological underpinnings. Simply, a primary substance is a thing or being in which certain properties inhere that cannot itself be said to inhere in any other thing or being. A secondary substance is similar, albeit slightly more limited in scope. A secondary substance is a type of thing or being in which certain properties inhere that does not itself inhere in any thing or being other than primary substances. Simply, one can read “primary substance” as an independent, self-sufficient being and “secondary substance” as a type of being.

Aristotle then advances six further claims concerning substances. The first begins at 3a9:

“For a primary substance is neither said of a subject nor in a subject. And as for secondary substances, it is obvious at once that they are not in a subject. For man is said of the individual man as subject but is not in a subject: man in not in the individual man” (3a9-12).

This claim asserts that an individual thing or being (e.g. Simone) cannot be a property (i.e. predicated) of another individual thing or type of thing. By contrast, one can appeal to secondary substances, that is, species (human) or genera (animal), in speaking of Simone; these types are predicated of Simone. Yet the species of human maintains an existence independent of its instantiation in Simone, unlike other properties, such as the color red or the quality of sitting down. As such, Aristotle extends the above claim to secondary substances, as well as primary substances. Similarly, he also groups the differentia under this heading, noting that “footed” is a property said of the species of humans, but not said to be in the species of humans.

The second claim advanced by Aristotle is that substance is predicated synonymously of that which it is predicated. For “the primary substances admit the definition of the species and of the genera, and the species admits that of the genus (3b3-4).” Simply, the secondary substance animal is predicated synonymously of all beings which might be said to be animals. In labeling a dog, a cat, and a rabbit “animals”, one emphasizes those properties that are common to them all. The term “animal” denotes a number of properties that apply universally to these primary substances: a nutritive faculty, sensation, growth, decay, etc. Synonymous things are “precisely those with both the name in common and the same definition (3b7-8).” That is, synonymous things manifest the same properties (e.g. animality), while also sharing in a wider term (e.g. animal) by which they are commonly identified.

Aristotle’s third claim is as follows: “every substance seems to signify a certain ‘this’…for the thing revealed is individual and numerically one (3b10-12).” As such, this claim is restricted to primary substances, as follows from the definitions of primary and secondary substance given above. Here, Aristotle simply asserts the brute individuality of each primary substance, to which one appeals in the use of the demonstratives “this” or “that.” “This” cat is a discrete entity from “that” cat; “this” cat cannot be a predicate of “that” cat (or vice versa), for one recognizes that each of the two cats is an animal, ontologically independent of the other.

Fourth, Aristotle asserts that there is no contrary to substances, primary or secondary. One cannot identify the primary substance Simone and then successfully locate the contrary of “Simone.” This would seemingly be “not-Simone.” The possibility of such a contrary substance is clearly doubtful, at best; it would prove difficult to identify those features directly opposite to Simone by which one might even recognize her contrary. Additionally, Aristotle extends this assertion to other categories of things, such as definite quantity, as “there is nothing contrary to four-foot or to ten (3b29-30).” The possibility of such a contrary is precluded by the same considerations given above to the possibility of “not-Simone”; there simply are no primary qualities by which one could plausibly identify an opposite.

The fifth claim made by Aristotle consists in that substances do not admit of greater or less. For “any given substance is not called more, or less, that which it is (3b36-27).” Furthermore, “if this substance is a man, it will not be more a man or less a man either than itself or than another man…(F)or one man is not more a man than another…(3b37-4a1).” Seemingly, if a substance persists (e.g. Simone), it retains its identity regardless of any changes or modifications to its being. For instance, were Simone to lose a hand in a car accident, one would not consider her to be any less a substance than before. Certain properties that inhere in Simone have been modified, but the brute individuality that identifies her as a primary substance remains1.


1 It is unclear, however, just how far one can pursue this type of absolute identity between the various possible modes of a substance. Does there exist a point or situation at which one might consider the matter or constituent parts or properties that comprise Simone as something other than Simone? Regardless, it seems that Aristotle’s overall point would still hold: Cyborg Simone is no more a substance than Mutant Simone or Simone herself. It is the brute individuality, the necessity of the demonstrative “this”, that underlies a primary substance.

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