The Feminine Symptom: Aleatory Matter in the Aristotelian Cosmos

By Emanuela Bianchi | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Sexual Difference in Potentiality
and Actuality

At the start of Metaphysics VI.2 Aristotle gives an instructive summary of the “many ways” in which being is spoken (legetai pollachos). First, there is being according to accident, second, being according to the true (and not-being in the sense of the false), third, being according to the schemata of the categories (the “what,” the “how much,” the “where” and so on), and finally, besides all these, being according to dunamis and energeia.1 There is something of a teleological movement at work in this ordering, in which each account is surpassed by the next, and this is reflected in the movement of the Metaphysics over the next several books. The remainder of Book VI dispenses with being as accident, and being as truth, because, briefly put, “the cause of one is indeterminate [aoriston] and the other is an affection of thought.”2 Books VII and VIII offer a detailed investigation into categorial being in the primary sense of the “what”; here the operative question is: what constitutes the “what it is to be” (to ti ēn einai) or “essence” of primary substance which could ground the unity of a being conceived deictically as a “this”—the bronze sphere, or the living organism? Matter and form are each considered in turn as likely candidates, but the inquiry finally runs aground, and the matter-form schema is abandoned since neither can give the matter-form composite or “hylomorph”—the “this” that is Aristotle’s concern—the requisite ground for its unity. In Book IX he turns finally to the last of the four modalities of being listed in VI.2: being according to potentiality and actuality, or dunamis and energeia. (As in previous chapters I leave these terms mostly untranslated, since dunamis may be

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