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Shvoong Home>Social Sciences>Education>Metaphysics (Aristotle) Summary

Metaphysics (Aristotle)

Article Summary   by:hsnbwn     Original Author: husen
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Metaphysics

Aristotle defines metaphysics as "the knowledge of immaterial being," or of "being in the highest degree of abstraction." He refers to metaphysics as "first philosophy", as well as "the theologic science."

Substance, potentiality and actuality

Aristotle examines the concepts of substance and essence (ousia) in his Metaphysics (Book VII), and he concludes that a particular substance is a combination of both matter and form. As he proceeds to the book VIII, he concludes that the matter of the substance is the substratum or the stuff of which it is composed; e.g., the matter of the house are the bricks, stones, timbers etc., or whatever constitutes the potential house, while the form of the substance is the actual house, namely 'covering for bodies and chattels' or any other differentia (see also predicables). The formula that gives the components is the account of the matter, and the formula that gives the differentia is the account of the form.

With regard to the change (kinesis) and its causes now, as he defines in his physics and on Generation and Corruption 319b-320a, he distinguishes the coming to be from: 1) growth and diminution, which is change in quantity; 2) locomotion, which is change in space; and 3) alteration, which is change in quality.

The coming to be is a change where nothing persists of which the resultant is a property. In that particular change he introduces the concept of potentiality (dynamis) and actuality (entelecheia) in association with the matter and the form.

Referring to potentiality, this is what a thing is capable of doing, or being acted upon, if the conditions are right and it is not prevented by something else. For example, the seed of a plant in the soil is potentially (dynamei) plant, and if is not prevented by something, it will become a plant. Potentially beings can either 'act' (poiein) or 'be acted upon' (paschein), which can be either innate or learned. For example, the eyes possess the potentiality of sight (innate – being acted upon), while the capability of playing the flute can be possessed by learning (exercise – acting).

Actuality is the fulfillment of the end of the potentiality. Because the end (telos) is the principle of every change, and for the sake of the end exists potentiality, therefore actuality is the end. Referring then to our previous example, we could say that an actuality is when a plant does one of the activities that plants do.

"For that for the sake of which a thing is, is its principle, and the becoming is for the sake of the end; and the actuality is the end, and it is for the sake of this that the potentiality is acquired. For animals do not see in order that they may have sight, but they have sight that they may see."

In summary, the matter used to make a house has potentiality to be a house and both the activity of building and the form of the final house are actualities, which is also a final cause or end. Then Aristotle proceeds and concludes that the actuality is prior to potentiality in formula, in time and in substantiality.

With this definition of the particular substance (i.e., matter and form), Aristotle tries to solve the problem of the unity of the beings, for example, "what is it that makes a man one"? Since, according to Plato there are two Ideas: animal and biped, how then is man a unity? However, according to Aristotle, the potential being (matter) and the actual one (form) are one and the same thing.

Published: February 09, 2012   
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