— (pt. II, ousia and matter)

Aristotle divides ousia from what is accidental (both accidents and accidental wholes), and from another (which again is accidental) and so it makes sense to say ousia is  substance. But it is not enough to divide ousia from what is accidental, one must also consider how what is essential is ousia, and how it is not. There are two aspects to this: one needs to consider how ousia relates to the what it is to be; a phrase of Aristotle’s own which is therefore guaranteed to have some relation to ousia (why else would he coin the phrase?) and considering how it relates to matter and the universal.

 

Matter seems most of all to be ousia or substance, simply because we are at a loss over what exists when we take it away. Take away shape, position of parts, order, motion, etc. and one is left with whatever was shaped, positioned, ordered or moved – which is clearly the elemental parts that compose something. Such a thing is a fundamental foundation of all, and so most of all what exists. Aristotle’s first response to this is categorical – on such an account, “matter” as such is the unshapen, unpositioned, unordered, etc. that is, it is undetermined and no particular thing, but something isn’t said to be when it is like this. If anything, matter seems more opposed to being; and at any rate it is not what one means when they speak of being or existing.

 

It’s crucial to notice what Aristotle doesn’t repudiate in the previous argument: namely a.) he admits that matter is fundamental, and b.) we are at a loss to say what there would be, if not for matter. And so in order to preserve the sense in which to be or to exist is fundamental, though opposed to matter, we must a.) attribute to matter a derivative foundational character, that is, we must say it is fundamental though an effect of something more prior, and b.) we are at a loss to understand this thing that causes it – it seems that we must understand it in large part by understanding its relation to matter. Just as matter is understood by a negation of the secondary and accidental forms that are given to us by sensation, so too being in its fullest sense must be what is prior to even the matter we attain by the removal of these accidental forms. Matter, in other words, is an intermediary between accidental forms and being in the sense of ousia. It makes sense that the first attempt to rise above sheer bovine sensation would be to the doctrine that all is matter, even though such a doctrine is completely opposed to the awareness we have that what exists is definite and a determinate this (what Aristotle called a tode ti and the Medievals called a hoc aliquid). A materialist metaphysic is utterly incapable of explaining the definiteness of things, that is, why some things are this and not that.

 

Being is thus the arche or principle that makes matter a fundamental principle, that is, being is the principle that appropriates matter, even in its own foundations, for its own realization of itself. Being first shows itself as a dynamic actor upon matter, though not an extrinsic actor (for what is extrinsic to a thing is not that in virtue of which it exists by itself and therefore is ousia or substance). Being is like a doctor healing himself or a barber shaving himself, that is, an interior form (medical art or shaving know-how) that acts upon matter which is also ones own; being is the self as prior to matter acts upon matter. Being (at least material being) makes itself with matter and in matter.

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