Substances and Universals in Aristotle's Metaphysics

Substances and Universals in Aristotle's Metaphysics

Substances and Universals in Aristotle's Metaphysics

Substances and Universals in Aristotle's Metaphysics


In this book, Theodore Scaltsas brings the insights of contemporary philosophy to bear on a classic problem in metaphysics that stems from Aristotle's theory of substance. Scaltsas provides an analysis of the enigmatic notions of potentiality and actuality, which he uses to explain Aristotle's substantial holism by showing how the concrete and the abstract parts of a substance form a dynamic, diachronic whole.


A substance is a composite particular. If it is composed of further particulars, will the substance itself be one or many? If composed of universals, can the substance be particular? Does composition preserve the identity, the number, or the type of entity the substance's constituents are? Is composition itself an entity in the substance? Are there different types of composition of constituents within one and the same substance? Is the substance itself identical to some, but not all, of the constituents that make it up?

These are the questions that exercise Aristotle's thought in the central books of his Metaphysics. His answers have been found to be aporetic, if not contradictory. the text is often ambiguous, and certainly more examples and richer terminology would have narrowed down the possible interpretations of key passages. Nevertheless, I believe it is possible to extract a coherent metaphysical theory from these books, a theory that succeeds in offering satisfactory answers to questions that are as central and legitimate metaphysical concerns nowadays as they were when Aristotle raised them.

The general problems on which Aristotle focuses are the following. What type of entity is the matter of a substance? How does the matter contribute to the particularity of a substance? Is the substance over and above its matter? If it is--by the form--what type of entity is the form, and how does it contribute to the particularity of the substance? How are the various constituents of a substance unified into a single entity, and what determines the identity of the resulting entity?

Central to Aristotle's investigation is a further problem whose resolution guides most of his metaphysical theory; namely, what a subject is in itself.

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