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Fr. 383

September 2, 2013

There remains, however, a need for additional clarification concerning Aristotle’s dismissal of the claim that “one substance is not more than another (we have said that it is)” (4a35-36). One could read this to mean that Simone, for example, is more a substance than Theresa. Upon further reading, this seeming ambiguity neatly resolves itself, acquiring two distinct dimensions. First, “of the primary substances one is nor more a substance than another: the individual man is no more a substance than the individual ox” (2b26-28). Hence, a comparison between Simone and Theresa of this kind is misguided.2 The second dimension provides a meaning by which to understand Aristotle’s claim: “…if the primary substance did not exist it would be impossible for any of the other things to exist. Of the secondary substances the species is more a substance than the genus, since it is nearer to the primary substance” (2b6-9). As nothing would exist independent of primary substances, primary substances are more substance than secondary substances. Likewise, within the category of secondary substance, species is more substance than genera, for it is closer to the primary substance in definition. In sum, this accounts for Aristotle’s gradations of substance (i.e. primary and secondary).

Finally, Aristotle advances his (arguably) strongest claim concerning substance in noting that “what is numerically one and the same is able to receive contraries” (4a10-11). Here, the formulation seems slightly at odds with that of the Scholastic textbook: “A substance…is capable of receiving contraries while remaining numerically the same”. The primacy of the operative conditions of substance seems to be obscured. Aristotle seems to indicate: if something is one and the same (i.e. a substance), then it is able to receive contraries. By contrast, the Scholastic text suggests: if something is a substance, then it capable of receiving contraries and remaining numerically the same. Formally, the “numerically one and the same” has shifted from the antecedent of the conditional to its consequent. The consequences for Aristotle’s conception of substance are unclear. Depending upon the logical schematization of the above positions, the conditions under which the Aristotelian and Scholastic formulations are true do not always align with one another.

Additionally, some of Aristotle’s examples seem disputable. He contends that “a colour which is numerically one and the same will not be black and white, nor will numerically one and the same action be good and bad…” (4a14-16). Concerning black and white, apart from pure black and pure white, all points on the color continuum between these extremes consist in a composite of black and white, i.e. grey. Any grey might be said to share in the natures of both black and white. Likewise, can an action be only good or bad? Are there some actions that share in the nature of both? Even an action that might seem indisputably good (e.g. murdering a tyrant) will have some detractors (those who consider killing, regardless of context, morally reprehensible). This complication seems to consist in the fact that truly mutually exclusive opposites of the kind Aristotle posits do not seem to retain their mutual exclusivity away from ideality. In fact, most opposites seem to operate on a continuum of the sort seen above. There are, however, certain examples (odd and even, for instance) that speak to the sort of mutual exclusivity posited by Aristotle.


2 The same reasoning applies to one species in comparison with another and, likewise, to a comparison between genera.

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