Discuss Aristotle's notion of substance: its centrality to his world view, its constituent causes and its difference from later, especially modern views of substance.
Substance is a central concept in Aristotle's ontology and metaphysics. Substance theory was created in response to Plato and his famous theory of forms. Aristotle took over Plato's use of the term ousia, but enriched its meaning. He used ousia (substance) to explain stable identity of entities in the unstable world. Substances are the basics realities of the world. Aristotle's doctrine shows substance as a self- active principle. He had defined substance as that which is separable from determinations such as those of quantity and quality. Substance, applied to actual things, had been to Aristotle, not a pure form, but individual substance- the concrete individual. For Aristotle , the essence was necessery for an individual to have existence. Substances are the primary independent existents. Since substance is the primary form of being, first philosophy should be primarily concerned with substantial being and with its causes and principles.
The various meanings that being can assume is said wholly in essential relation to substance: “to take away substance, by that very fact, means to take away being in all its meanings.” This is why substance is the “first of existent things”.Only substance merits, in the full sense, the qualification of being, insofar as it is being of itself. In the Categories Aristotle distinguishes between substances and qualities. Things exist in two ways: either by themselves or in other things. Aristotle insisted on the priority of substances: qualities etc. can only exist as properties or characteristics of substances. In simple words: things that exist on their own come before things that only exist in other things. Things that exist on their own are substances. Aristotle writes in Metaphysics “There are several senses in which a thing may be said to ‘be'. In one sense the being meant is ‘what a thing is' or a ‘this', while in another sense it means a quality or a quantity or one of the other things that are predicated as these are. While ‘being' has all the senses, the primary type of being is obviously the ‘what', which indicates the substance of the thing. For when we say of what quality something is, we say that it is good or bad, not that it is six feet long or that it is a man; but when we say what it is, we do not say ‘white' or ‘hot' or ‘six feet long', but ‘a man' or ‘a god'. All other things are said to be because they are quantities of that which is in this primary sense or qualities of it, or in some other way characteristics of it …” Substance is that which is not predicated of a subject, but of which all else is predicated. Although a primary substance exists by itself, there are in fact no primary substances that exist without secondary substances. A secondary substance will be a special class of predicates- universals, which describe a thing for example by placing it in a genus: horse, man, animal. We can think of something like the modern notion of characteristics or properties of genera and species, which define the nature of a thing and so without which it cannot exist. Secondary substances are universals and do not have existence per se. Secondary substances may be said of other things, but not so with primary substances. Secondary substance is a substance that exists by virtue of its relation to a substance, it's existence depends upon primary substance.
Aristotle also explains substantiality of individual substances and how is possible their being as individuals. He says that it is possession of the form that explains the thing's being the individual substance it is. Form according to Aristotle is indivisible. Assuming, substance can be described as a principle or cause. The same priority of form applies when change is considered. Human beings change all the time, put on weight or simply get older. But the form remains the same. To remain the human being it is necessary to be a human being and not to be made of the same material all the time.
Substance is defined precisely as that which undergoes change in change, what is at the end of any process different from what it was at the outset.
It is individuals in species that are basic substances. They are independent, identifiable subjects of predication. And their essence or form gives them this substantial being. Essence therefore seems to be the primary substance, the cause of the substantial being. The most evident examples of substances are bodies, perhaps the simple bodies, and/or the limits/surfaces of bodies. We can ask many questions here: which things are substances? We have three options: substance as matter, essence or universal. Clearly substance cannot be understood as simply matter. Substance by its definition must be independent and separable, Cannot only exist as present in or depend on another. It is impossible that matter could ever be substance in this sense. So matter cannot simultaneously be at the same time separable and individual, and therefore cannot be a substance. In the Categories Aristotle says that for example individual plant or animals are substances. These when analyzed are compounds of form and matter. But later in Metaphysic Aristotle denies it and says that compound cannot be substances. A compound cannot be a basic ingredient. Each compound contains a substance and attribute. If a compound is a compound of more basic entities, it cannot be primary and basic itself. The only remaining candidate for primary substance seems to be forms (which Aristotle calls essences). Essence in Aristotle's understanding is an individual beings, rather than universal in the manner of Platonic forms. Aristotle says, that primary substance is not, like Plato's, separable from all matter (except, perhaps, in thought). And it cannot exist if it is not the form of something. (E.g., the species-form does not exist if there are no specimens of that species.) But for Aristotle it is still separable, , because it is non-parasitic: it does not depend for its existence on the matter it's in, or on the accidental characteristics of the compound it's the form of.
Fortunately the character of the substance can be used on this occasion. For much as qualities and quantities or conditions of things can be said to be, and yet can be said to be only with respect to the basic point of reference of substance. So all matter can be said to be the substance of a thing (but only in reference to form).
It is not the formula or the definition that is identical with the concrete thing, or can be properly said to be a substance. It is what the logos formulates, the intelligible structure or make- up of the thing, what we state when we know a thing. Substance as subject matter is something that cannot be stated in words.
Substance is also described by Aristotle as a cause. It is an internal cause, which makes you to be as you are. Aristotle as the philosopher is looking for causes of things. He is particularly interested in the highest cause, the cause of all things. Aristotle believes that things happen for reasons, so must have causes. He rejects an idea that the world is dues to chance, and claims that it is rather determined. What we observe in the world are just effects, and each effect needs to have its cause. Aristotle recognized four types of causes. There are two extrinsic causes: efficient and final cause, and two intrinsic causes: material and formal. It is formal cause, which is closely related to substance. It is what makes matter into the thing it is.
The Aristotelian substance theory was very influential. Some philosophers shared his views and others did not. The concept of substance in western philosophy was used in many different ways. Some thinkers claimed that there are many substances (Aristotle), others were talking about two substances and another group of thinkers insisted that there is one substance. Spinoza, 17th century philosopher belongs to the latest group. Spinoza claimed that there is only one substance - God. Substance is one but can have many modes (individuals). Philosopher who was defending substance dualism was Descartes. He claimed that there are two fundamental kinds of substance: mental and material. His substance dualism holds that human soul or mind is an independent, separate, non-physical entity. This view allows the possibility that soul can exist on its own, after the physical death of the body.
First modern philosopher, who criticized the idea of substance, was John Locke. For him all our ideas come either from sensible physical objects or from reflections in our minds. All the qualities possessed by objects are meant to produce sensible ideas and reflections. Substance is for Locke an unknowable support for sensible qualities which are important, because they help us produce ideas of things. A substance is “I know not what” for Locke.
Another criticism comes from Hume, who believed that objects consist of qualities only. We cannot het to substance by stripping away all its qualities, because substances are just collections of qualities and nothing more than that. Hume calls substance an “unintelligible chimera” and considers it to be fiction.
Aristotelian substance in order to be the primary being must meet the specific criteria: it must be separable, in other words capable of existing independently of anything else, an individual and primary in knowledge - knowledge of it does not depend on knowledge of anything else. The idea of substance is needed because it gives explanation why things are essentially what they are; it also makes any object to be considered as a whole thing and not as a collection of parts. This unity is very important and reflects the way in which we understand the world around us. We are able to identify things only because we perceive them as individual entities. The essential unity of things which produces identities comes from the idea of substance.
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