Summary Against Modern Thought: Substance & Being vs. Matter & Form

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

Back to basics this week, with some important links which do a better job summarizing these topics than I can do easily.

Chapter 54 That composition of substance and being is not the same as composition of matter and form (alternate translation)

1 Now composition of matter and form is not of the same nature as composition of substance and being, although both result from potentiality and act.

Notes About matter and form we have done much already. Substance: “signifies being as existing in and by itself, and serving as a subject or basis for accidents and accidental changes.” A piece of wood can be lying on its side, upright, painted white or plain, yet it is still a piece of wood.

It is necessary, therefore, to recognize in each thing certain secondary realities (see ACCIDENT) and also a permanent fundamentum which continues to exist notwithstanding the superficial changes, which serves as a basis or support for the secondary realities — what, in a word, we term the substance. Its fundamental characteristic is to be in itself and by itself, and not in another subject as accidents are.

2 First, because matter is not the very substance of a thing, else it would follow that all forms are accidental, as the early natural philosophers maintained; but matter is part of the substance.

Notes There has to be permanent fixtures of form; there is something that makes all chairs chairs. Incidentally, see also nominalism.

3 Secondly, because being itself is the proper act, not of matter, but of the whole substance: for being is the act of that whereof we can say that it is. Now being is said, not of matter but of the whole. Therefore we cannot say of matter that it is, but the substance itself is that which is.

4 Thirdly, because neither is the form being itself, but they are related as things in an order: because form is compared to being as light to enlightening, or whiteness to being white.

5 Also, because being itself is compared as act even to the very form. For in things composed of matter and form, the form is said to be the principle of being, for the reason that it is the complement of substance, whose act being is: even as transparency is to the air the principle of being lightsome, in that it makes the air the proper subject of light.

6 Wherefore in things composed of matter and form, neither matter nor form, nor even being itself, can be described as that which is. Yet the form can be described as that whereby it is, or asmuch as it is the principle of being: but the whole substance is what is; and being is that whereby the substance is called a being.

Notes In being were everything, then there’d be no differentiating anything that exists.

7 But in intellectual substances, which are not composed of matter and form, as shown above, and wherein the form itself is a subsistent substance, the form is what is, and being is the act whereby it is.

8 Consequently in them there is but one composition of act and potentiality, a composition namely of substance and being, which by some is said to be of what is and being, or of what is and whereby it is.

9 On the other hand in things composed of matter and form there is a twofold composition of act and potentiality: the first, of the substance itself which is composed of matter and form; the second, of the already composite substance, and being, which composition can also be said to be of what is and being, or of what is and whereby it is.

Notes So much is straightforward. The real magic happens next and last, because act and potentiality apply to things in the material world, but also to created things in the spiritual world, like our intellects and angels.

10 It is therefore evident that composition of act and potentiality covers more ground than composition of form and matter. Wherefore matter and form divide a natural substance, while potentiality and act divide being in general. For this reason whatever is consequent upon potentiality and act, as such, is common to created substances whether material or immaterial; for instance to receive and to be received, to perfect and to be perfected. Whereas whatsoever things are proper to matter and form, as such, for instance to be generated and to be corrupted and so forth, are proper to material substances, and are nowise applicable to created immaterial substances.

Notes Which boosts the point of our intellects being subsistent.

6 Comments

  1. Au contraire, he was quite aware that wholes had properties possessed by none of the parts — due to formal causes.

  2. “First, because matter is not the very substance of a thing, else it would follow that all forms are accidental”

    Boy does Aquinas stumble over something here, huh? He never came close to imagining the complexity of nature. And of course, it would most certainly not mean that all forms are accidental, any more or less than if from Free Will and everything after Creation. Besides, “accidental,” like “the very substance,” is a subjective notion.

    JMJ

  3. @JMJ:

    “Boy does Aquinas stumble over something here, huh? He never came close to imagining the complexity of nature. And of course, it would most certainly not mean that all forms are accidental, any more or less than if from Free Will and everything after Creation. Besides, “accidental,” like “the very substance,” is a subjective notion.”

    Explain to us what Aquinas means by “accidental” and what is the relation of that with his apparent lack at imagining (interesting choice of words) the “complexity of nature” or how “accidental”, in the sense Aquinas is using, is a “subjective notion”.

    This will be positively *hilarious*.

  4. it would most certainly not mean that all forms are accidental

    Didn’t some folks argue previously that there were no essences (essential forms)? If there are no essences, all that is left is accidental forms. Again, if matter is not a substantial form — and it cannot be, since the matter of a living body is constantly changing — and matter is “all there is,” then there can only be accidental forms. QED.

    Besides, “accidental,” like “the very substance,” is a subjective notion.

    Consider Bacon’s big blue bouncy ball. If we paint it black, as the Stones suggested, it would still be a ball. If we shrank it, it would still be a ball. If we took it from Bacon and gave it to Hume, it would still be a ball. The distinction between accident and substance is not quite the same as between adjective and noun, but that might do for a first approximation. The actual distinction, if you pardon the pun, is between that which subsists in itself and that which subsists in another. You cannot have bouncy without a bouncy thing; you cannot have blue without a blue thing. These can be considered “in themselves” only as intellective objects.

    This is not especially subjective. (You say ‘subjective’ like it was a pejorative….) Not like ‘the complexity of nature’ is subjective.

    A proper accident is one which follows from an essential form. Hence, man has a sense of humor because he is a rational animal, but his skin color does not follow from his nature.

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