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Sunday, August 11, 2013

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Bill,

Thanks for these remarks. I want to emphasize that I was not ignoring your question. I took my remarks concerning primary substances to be directly relevant to your question, because if you were wrong in your characterization of primary substances, then that may have opened up room for the possibility of alien supposition. The (admittedly vague) thought was that if your view of primary substance was mistaken, then it might turn out to be false that every substance is essentially its own supposit. (Also, you did state that it was your understanding of Aristotle that he maintained that every substance is essentially its own supposit. So it was not inappropriate to enter into some Aristotle exegesis since you made a claim about Aristotle's views. Nevertheless, my motive was primarily to see if I could (indirectly) address your question by challenging your set up. Even if I was mistaken, it does not follow that I was ignoring your question.)

I thought that it was dialectically legitimate to assert B given our agreement that a primary substance can be considered in abstraction from its accidents. Thus considered it plays the role of matter. By itself this is not enough to get my conclusion, but I didn't think I was begging the question. I see now that I have more to think about on this topic.

Lastly, at least as a matter of Aristotle exegesis, your first premise is controversial. Many Aristotle scholars now question the characterization of ontological basicness in terms of a capacity for independent existence. Interestingly, they do so because of their agreement with you that a primary substance cannot exist without having any accidents. Because of that, they believe that ontological basicness is not a matter of capacity for independent existence, since otherwise primary substances would fail to be ontologically basic. But this is a question of Aristotle exegesis, and you have stated your intention to avoid this. Since I have nothing else to say about your first premise, I will leave the matter where it stands.

John,

I now see that you were not ignoring my central question. Sorry.

>>I thought that it was dialectically legitimate to assert B given our agreement that a primary substance can be considered in abstraction from its accidents. Thus considered it plays the role of matter.<<

Yes, but only if there are accidental unities or what Frank Lewis calls accidental compounds such as seated-Socrates. Is this not a disputed point? Lewis rightly notes that accidental compounds are "cross-categorical hybrids" belonging to no single category. Seated-Socrates does not belong to the category of substance but also does not belong to any non-substance category.

Suppose there are no such 'kooky' objects as accidental unities as Gareth Mathews calls them. Then Socrates in abstraction from his accidents is a hylomorphic compound of prime matter and substantial form.

A logically prior question, then, is whether we are multiplying entities beyond necessity when we posit accidental unities.

Well, if we stick to the Categories, then surely my (1) is correct. But there is more to Aristotle than that book.

>>Many Aristotle scholars now question the characterization of ontological basicness in terms of a capacity for independent existence. Interestingly, they do so because of their agreement with you that a primary substance cannot exist without having any accidents.<<

I suppose the idea is that it is necessary that a substance have some accidents or other; hence substances are as dependent on accidents as accidents on substances.

But take a particular accident, being pale. It depends on Socrates, but Socrates does not depend on it. Now if each of S's accidents is like that, then we can say that substances are more o-basic than accidents because the set of accidents of a substance S depends on S, but S does not depend on that very set.

Now consider a 'proper accident.' A is a proper accident of S iff A inheres in S at every time at which S exists and in every world at which S exists.

It seems intuitively obvious to me that A depends for its existence on A but not vice versa. So, S is more o-basic than A.

Read 'S' for the second occurrence of 'A' in the second sentence of the immediately preceding comment.

You're right, you weren't ignoring my question. Sorry.

>>I thought that it was dialectically legitimate to assert B given our agreement that a primary substance can be considered in abstraction from its accidents.<<

Correct me if I am wrong, but you think of a substance together with its accidents as an accidental unity or "accidental compound" (Frank Lewis). Right? But such unities/compounds are "cross-categorical hybrids" (Lewis). That is, they belong neither to the category of substance nor to any of the non-substance categories.

By contrast, I am thinking of a substance together with its accidents as a member of the category of substance. Perhaps here is the root of our disagreement.

My claim is that if primary substances are ontologically basic, then (i) they cannot be accidental unities, and (ii) they cannot be bereft of accidents.

Some scholars (e.g., Phil Corkum) have questioned your premise 1 in the context of the Categories. In that book Aristotle tells us that if there were no primary substances there would not be any other entities (e.g., secondary substances, non-substantial universals, and non-substantial individuals). Nevertheless, there could not be a primary substance without there also being some of these other entities: Socrates, for example, could not exist without the species and genus *man* and *animal*.

I have some views about how to understand ontological basicness in the Categories, but I don't wish to publicize them here since they will likely be relevant to the first chapter of my dissertation, and for professional reasons I don't need my views accessible to Google (especially on a well-trafficked site such as yours). If you're interested in them, I'd be happy to continue that conversation over email.

I do think you're correct that the root of our disagreement is that you think of a substance with its accidents as a member of the category of substance whereas I, like Lewis, think of it is a cross-categorical hybrid. (Related: Lewis is coming out with a new book on Metaphysics Zeta this month.) I'll have to think more about your last two claims.

Your first paragraph gets at a different problem than we have discussed so far: if Socrates has ontological 'parts' such as prime matter and substantial form, then he depends on them for his existence, in which case he can't be ontologically basic. Aquinas deals with this problem by saying that matter and form are nonsubsistent 'principles' but I've never understood what exactly that comes to.

And then there is the problem of materia prima, which, because it is formless, can't exist . . . and yet must exist . . . .

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