Accidental and substantial forms

So what is the difference between accidental and substantial forms? 

1.) Much of what one says about substance is said of artificial things. The chair I’m sitting on or the car I drive seem to count as substances : “My car” is, as Categories would put it, neither said of nor present in another.

2.) On the other hand, if we insist that the car is an accidental whole it seems hard to distinguish from a living substance. Assemble the right parts in the right positions and you get a car, a house, a dog a boy. The contemporary mind balks at the idea that the difference between assembling a house and assembling a boy is anything more than a technical problem. Chairs are atoms arranged chairwise, dogs are atoms arranged dogwise.

3.) How is the difference between life and death be anything more than a technical problem? Whether I can break apart and reassemble a car or a cuttlefish is just a matter of skill, right?

4.) But even if assembling a chair, a dog, a car and a cuttlefish were just different possible termini of human skill, not all termini of skills arise in the same way. The piano and the radio both play the sonata – and it’s true that getting the sonata to play on either is just a matter of our technical skill of putting parts in the right positions. Just being responsible for some form coming about does not determine whether you worked as a productive cause (like the musician playing the song) or a dispositive cause (like the one in control of the radio playing the song).

5.)  There is a presumption against the dispositive causes, since to invoke them requires a productive agency to explain the form which a productive cause does not. The musician needs no additional agency to explain the sonata but the one in control of the radio does.

6.) When a skill produces a form it is accidental since the production is to be wholly responsible for the existence of something, and (leaving aside creation) when the whole existence of something depends on one another it is accidental.

7.) Not every gain or loss of form is accidental. Tibbles being alive and then dead are not different dispositions of one and the same Tibbles.

8.)  If Tibbles alive / dead is a substantial change, isn’t it just as substantial of a change to have a car, melt it down, and make a flower pot? If the only reason for positing substantial change between a living and dead cat is because a live cat is a cat and a dead cat isn’t, then isn’t a car a substance because a carwise – car is a car but a flowerpot-wise car is not?

9.) The substantiality of things is not seen in looking at them as subjects, but in considering their proper activities. The proper activity of cars and flower pots as such is driving and holding flowers, and in the absence of this proper activity (the car in the garage or the flower pot on a rack at the store) one has both cars and flower pots. But the proper act of the living being as such is to be alive, and absent this activity it is not living at all. It is in this sense that substantial forms are intrinsic to subjects in a way that accidental forms are not. In the living, this intrinsic form is an immanent activity, but there are bona fide substances that lack immanent activity. The orbiting of electrons in shells is not immanent action, but it does seem to be intrinsic to each of the elements, meaning that to change from one element to another would be a substantial change (as any chemist would also insist). One of the main points of the sciences is to get a clear look at what activities are intrinsic to natural things and which are merely contingent and therefore accidental.

10.) That which is merely intrinsic in the inanimate and intrinsic by immanence in the living is what Aristotle called nature, and it arises chiefly from form. The substantiality of the artistic device is from its material, while the form is derivative in being. So in the artificial thing material is substance and form is accidental but in natural things the form is substantial and the matter is, while not accidental, is like an accident so far as it is receptive-of-being from substantial form.

11.) The cost of denying substantiality is to do away with what is intrinsic to things, and so to do away with natures or object of science altogether.

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