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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

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I see that I have been demoted from 'John the Astute Commenter' to 'John the Commenter'. Perhaps, then, I should quit before I am dubbed 'John the Obtuse Commenter'.

What I have to say is that I should like more time to think over this challenge, as well as the metaphysics of accidental unities more generally. That said, it is not obvious to me that being ontologically basic means what you think it means for Aristotle. In Metaphysics Delta 11, he offers a variety of alternative formulations of what he calls "priority in being" or "priority in nature", and only one of these has anything to do with being capable of existing independently of some other entity or entities. He identifies that notion of ontological basicness with Plato, and when he discusses priority in substance in Theta 8, it's pretty clear that that's not what Aristotle has in mind. So, I would take the second horn of this dilemma. I would say that Socrates is a primary substance, and is ontologically basic, even though he cannot exist without having some accidents or other.

Now, this answer is a bit of a dodge, since it adverts to what Aristotle thinks instead of whether what Aristotle thinks is true. Perhaps Aristotle's account of ontological basicness is wrong. But I have worries about the contemporary view that ontological basicness has something to do with a capacity for independent existence. The singleton {Socrates} is less ontologically basic than Socrates even though the one exists if and only if the other exists. I would say something similar in the case of Socrates and his accidents. On this view, Socrates cannot exist without having some accidents, and the accidents exist only if they inhere in Socrates, but nevertheless Socrates is more ontologically basic than his accidents. Indeed, he is ontologically basic, full stop.

This is not fully worked out. This is something I am still thinking a lot about. As I said, I should like more time to think over this challenge before committing myself to any particular solution to it.

I tried commenting on this yesterday, but it appears my comments never got through. I'll try again. First, I think that Socrates together with his accidents is a primary substance. But I think Lewis is wrong to say that seated-Socrates is not a substance but a cross-categorical hybrid. His claim seems to rest on the invalid inference: "if 'X-ness' (e.g., 'seated-man-ness') does not name a substantial form, then instantiations of X-ness are not substances." How to justify that inference? Looks like a non sequitur to me. Aristotle discusses this in Met. VII using the example of 'white man,' which is arbitrarily assigned the name 'cloak.' A white man is surely a primary substance, even though the formula 'white man' does not express the essence of the thing (the tode ti), because it is not a species of a genus. But the essence of a substance like man does include being informed by accidental forms, such as whiteness. And the accidentally informed thing does not fail to be a substance, because when a substance is informed by accidental forms it appropriates these to itself, so that the whiteness is the whiteness OF the substance (the being of an accident is the being OF a being, i.e., OF a substance), not merely conjoined to, or together with, the substance.

John,

Since you find accidental compounds/unities in A., how would you answer David above?

Briefly, I don't understand why Lewis's inference is supposed to be invalid. Aristotle repeatedly contrasts the unity we find in 'white man' with the sort of unity we find in a substance: the latter, but not the former, is a per se unity. So, when a substantial form is predicated of some matter, we get a per se unity and therefore a substance. By contrast, when an accident is predicated of a hylomorphic compound, we get an accidental unity, which is not a substance.

David's inference, rather than Lewis's, seems invalid to me. From the fact that the essence of a substance like man includes being informed by accidental forms, it does not seem to me to follow that the result of being thus informed must therefore be a substance rather than a cross-categorical hybrid. Yes, the whiteness is the whiteness OF the substance; it inheres in the substance. But the unity involved here is not a per se unity, and Aristotle is very clear that he takes all substances to be per se unities. What we have, then, cannot be a substance, but some other kind of entity.

John,

A plausible answer. But why posit accidental unities in the first place? Doesn't the very fact that they are cross-categorical hybrids disqualify them from being entities? How can they be entities if they are not 'booked' under any category?

You are certainly right that A. takes all substances to be per se unities. Conversely too? Can we advance to a definition:

X is a primary substance =df X is a per se unity?

@John: "Briefly, I don't understand why Lewis's inference is supposed to be invalid. Aristotle repeatedly contrasts the unity we find in 'white man' with the sort of unity we find in a substance: the latter, but not the former, is a per se unity." - Yes. - "So, when a substantial form is predicated of some matter, we get a per se unity and therefore a substance." - Yes; but we also thereby get a bunch of accidental forms which are the necessary concomitants - existential sine-qua-non's - of the substance. - "By contrast, when an accident is predicated of a hylomorphic compound, we get an accidental unity, which is not a substance." - But where does Aristotle say that something which can be characterized as a *per accidens* unity (and not just as a *per se* unity) is not a substance? Doesn't he just say that a formula which expresses both essential/substantial AND accidental elements does not constitute a proper definition?

Just to clarify my first comment:
When I wrote:
"the formula 'white man' does not express the essence of the thing (the tode ti), because it is not a species of a genus"
I probably should have written:
"the formula 'white man' does not express the essence of the thing (the essence of the tode ti), because it is not a species of a genus."
I didn't mean to give the impression that *tode ti* was equivalent to 'the essence of the thing.'

My apologies for taking so long to reply. I was out of town for a friend's wedding.

Bill, I have often wondered what the motivation is for positing accidental unities. It seems clear to me that Aristotle himself does in Z.1, but it is not clear to me whether he was right to do so. I suspect that positing them had something to do with trying to avoid the various problems that plagued Plato when trying to explicate the relationship between a property and its bearer. Thus, in Z.12 Aristotle says that "'man' and 'pale' form a unity when what underlies, namely the man, has pallor as an attribute...In the present case, however, the one does not participate in the other" (1037b14-18; Bostock's translation).

I do not know whether Aristotle would accept your definition of a primary substance. His discussion throughout Z examines a variety of proposals for what a primary substance is, and being a per se unity is not mentioned. Instead, being a per se unity seems to be a necessary condition on being a substance for Aristotle.

David, I cannot find any place where Aristotle explicitly says an accidental unity cannot be a substance. But it seems clear that Aristotle rejects this possibility. In Z.12 he says that a substance is a unitary thing, and throughout Z he contrasts different kinds of unities. In Z.4, for example, Aristotle says that "there will be a formula and a definition even of a pale man, but not in the same way as there is of pallor or of a substance" (1030b12-13). Here it's very clear from the context that the reason that the definition of a pale man is not like the definition of a substance is that the substance is a per se unity whereas a pale man is merely an accidental unity. The general tenor of book Z seems to support this reading.

Again, I agree that when you have a substance you *also* have (as you put it) "a bunch of accidental forms which are the necessary concomitants - existential sine-qua-non's - of the substance". But the relationship between a substance and its accidental forms is accidental; they compose an accidental unity. And, again, I think Aristotle is clear that something is a substance only if it is a per se unity. So I think the substance is the hylomorphic compound of matter and form. That substance has to have some accidents, but the matter/form compound combined with those accidents is not itself a substance, but an accidental unity.

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