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Ontology, session 4

Substance and accident

1. introduction

- Aristotle‘s solution to the problem of homonymy (roughly): „Whatever there is is not just homonymously called being because it coheres in first beings, i.e. substances“.

- substance – ousía – substantia – essence – hypokeimenon – being – Wesen

- warning: differences between Cat. 5 and Met. VII (Z). -„Jedes Wesen hat ein Wesen.“ („Every substance has an essence“) Cf. Loux 117-128.


Ousiai in Cat. and Met. IV 2


inheres in Y as its substratum iff (1) X inheres in Y, (2) X depends on Y (i.e. X cannot exist separately from

Y), (3) but X is not a part of Y (acc. to Cat. 2, 1a23):

X inheres in as its substratum





is predicable






the white colour of the wall in this lecture hall


According to Cat. 5 an ousia is a „that“, „indivisible and numerically one“ („Individuum“). A substance may gain or loose properties (but only accidental ones) and still remain the same (Cat. 5, 4a16ff): „The most

distinctive mark of substance appears to be that, while remaining numerically one and the same, it is capable of

admitting contrary qualities. [

warm, at another cold, at one time good, at another bad.“ (tr. Edghill)

The same individual person is at one time white, at another black, at one time


Substance as first being, Cat. 5, 2b6ff: „Everything except primary substances is either predicated of primary substances, or is present in them, and if these last did not exist, it would be impossible for anything else to exist.“

All beings cohere in first beings (Met. IV 2, 1003a34-b12): „There are many senses in which a thing may be said

to 'be', but all that 'is' is related to one central point, one definite kind of thing, and is not said to 'be' by a mere

ambiguity. Everything which is healthy is related to health, one thing in the sense that it preserves health, another

in the sense that it produces it, another in the sense that it is a symptom of health, another because it is capable of

it. And that which is medical is relative to the medical art, one thing being called medical because it possesses it,

another because it is naturally adapted to it, another because it is a function of the medical art. And we shall find other words used similarly to theseSo, too, there are many senses in which a thing is said to be, but all refer to one starting-point; some things are said to be because they are substances, others because they are affections of substance, others because they are a process towards substance, or destructions or privations or qualities of

substance, or productive or generative of substance, or of things which are relative to substance [

].“ (tr. Ross)

3. Problems

3.1 Really all properties? What is left then?

Essential and accidental properties must be distinguished. Essential properties define what a thing is, accidental ones rather what way it is: Cat. 5, 2b28-36, 3b9-23. Aristotle‘s answer in Met. VII (Z) is, very roughly put: „The name ‚Max‘ at least sometimes denotes an ousia 1 , i.e. some combination of a certain matter and some ousia 2 , a ‚form‘.“


Difficult: Is an ousia 2 rather a species or rather an individual essence? (Lit.: Frede / Patzig, Met. ZH) Met. VII (Z 8, 1034a5ff): „To d’hapan êdê to toionde eidos en taisde tais sarxi kai ostois Kallias kai Sokrates, kai heteron men dia tên hylên - hetera gar, - tauto de tôi eidei.“ / „And when we have the whole, such and such a form in this flesh and in these bones, this is Callias or Socrates; and they are different in virtue of their matter (for that is different), but the same in form; for their form is indivisible.“

are prior to their members; they determine, so to speak, the identity of their members. As

Thus, we can identify

what a given person is by saying that it is a human being, what a given animal is by saying that it is a dog, and what a given plant is by saying that it is a geranium or, perhaps, an oak tree. Now, the insight underlying the

Aristotelian conception of a kind is that to identify what a concrete particular is is to identify its core ‚being‘ or essence. So the kinds to which concrete particulars belong mark them out as things having the essences they do

]. [

T]he things

which a concrete particular belongs, then, provides us with existence conditions for that particular. [

A concrete particular is such that were it not to exemplify its proper kind, it would not exist. The kind to

Loux, 119f: „Kinds [

Aristotelians have characterized them, kinds mark out their members as what they are. [



that belong to the kind geranium will have a characteristic shape; their hieight and weight will each fall within a

certain range; their leaves will be of a certain shade of green; their flowers will have a certain configuration.


cannot be

reduced to properties].“


is because it belongs to the kind that it possesses these properties and not vice versa. [Kinds

3.2 In what sense is a substance called independent? Causally? Logically? Dependent entities: the white colour of the wall, the edge of the cube, the hole in the piece of cheese 1 , Mr X’s shadow etc.

Lewis Carroll „Alice in Wonderland“, ch. 6: „`All right,' said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone. `Well! I've often seen a cat without a grin,' thought Alice; `but a grin without a cat! It's the most curious thing I ever say in my life!'“

Accidents are not necessarily properties (they never are in Meixner’s terminology (cf. 38)) Dependent and independent individuals according to Meixner, 38-41:

- „individual“ as a primitive term which cannot be defined („particular“ is used similarly, but is strictly speaking a broader term)

- not predicable, not multi-local, complete in themselves („gesättigt“), but no states of affairs

- candidates: thoughts, gods, numbers, sets, bodies and persons

1 Cf. David and Stephanie Lewis, 'Holes', Australasian Journal of Philosophy 48 (1970), pp. 206—212.