Metaphysics Essay Research Paper METAPHYSICSWhereas sciences deal

Metaphysics Essay, Research Paper


Whereas sciences deal with particular kinds of beings, metaphysics is concerned with beings as such. According to Aristotle, there is no such thing as mere being; to be is always to be a substance or object, a quantity, a quality, or a member of some other basic category.

I. Substance and Accidents

Substance is the primary mode of being according to Aristotle. The world is not one of atoms or particles, even though they have a place in the world. The basic notion of Aristotle’s logic reflects a distinction in the way reality is structured and reflects the basic way that we view reality. Substance is whatever is a natural kind of thing and exists in its own right. Examples are rocks, trees, animals and the like. For instance, a dog is basically the same whether it is black or brown. A dog would be substance because it exists in its own right; it does not exist in something else, the way a color does.

Accidents are the modifications that substance undergoes, but that does not change the kind of thing that each substance is. Accidents only exist when they are the accidents of some substance. For Aristotle, there are ten categories into which things naturally fall. They are substance and a total of nine accidents: quantity, quality, relation, action, passion, time, place, disposition (the arrangement of parts) and “rainment” (whether a thing is dressed or armed, etc)

All of these distinctions are basically logical, but in a sense they reflect the structure of reality. One never finds any substance that we experience without some accidents, or an accident that is not the accident of a substance.

II. Matter and Form

Aristotle utilized the concept of matter and form in an entirely new way, stating that everything that becomes consists of a foundation, a substratum (that which forms the foundation), and form. Aristotle’s theory was firmly rooted in his broader metaphysics, according to which all things are a combination of matter—a sometimes shadowy, indefinite substance with the potential to become most anything—and form which transforms matter into actual particular things.

Aristotle felt that part of the procedure of “becoming” required two things, the matter as a substratum and the form. The form functions, shapes and defines the thing. Both matter and the form, according to Aristotle, were transcendent and imperishable entities. Matter and form were never separated from one from the other. Matter cannot exist without form, and form cannot exist without matter. The most important and the most valuable is form. This applies equally to the creations of man and to the creations of nature.

III. The Four Causes

Aristotle’s doctrine of the four causes is easily misunderstood. To charge Aristotle with having only a dim understanding of causality, however is to accuse him of missing a target he wasn’t even aiming at. It is natural for us to think of Aristotle’s “causes” in terms of our notion of cause-and-effect, however this is misleading in several ways. We must keep this in mind whenever we use the word “cause” in connection with his doctrine.

Aristotle drew from the attempts of all his predecessors, and learned from their mistakes. There are different ways of answering the question of why things are as they are. These ways of answering correspond to four basic kinds of causes to which Aristotle taught:

? The material cause is the basic stuff out of which the thing is made. The material cause of a house, for example, would include all building materials used in its construction. An explanation of the house could not exist unless they were present in its composition.

? The formal cause is the pattern or essence in conformity with which these materials are assembled. Thus, the formal cause of our exemplary house would be the sort of thing that is represented on a blueprint of its design. This, too, is part of the explanation of the house.

? The efficient cause is the agent or force immediately responsible for bringing this matter and that form together in the production of the thing. Thus, the efficient cause of the house would include any laborers who used these materials to build the house in accordance with the blueprint.

? Lastly, the final cause is the end or purpose for which a thing exists, so the final the house’s existence because it would never have been built unless someone needed it as a place to cause of our house would be to provide shelter for human beings. This is part of the explanation of live.

In each of the four causes, you can have causes, which are more or less primary, in time or importance. In material causes, the ultimate material is called first or prime matter. Matter such as it is here and now, already formed and able to receive new form, is called secondary matter.

In efficient causes there are ultimate causes, as the architect is the man who originally causes a building, and instrumental causes, such as the workmen and their tools. In form cause, the primary form is the substantial form, what the thing is in its essence, and accidental or secondary forms, the features that come and go while the subject remains relatively one and the same. In final causes, the ultimate cause is the goal or end that lies most distant in the future, while the various goals or ends (ways or means) that are sought along the way are secondary causes.

IV. Potentiality and Actuality

Aristotle distinguishes between two types of potentiality: that which is spoken of in connection with substance (substantial potentiality), and that which is spoken of in connection with motion.

Aristotle says that what is called potentiality most fully is a principle of change in a thing that involves another thing

One type of potentiality is a potentiality for being affected or passive. This is the principle of change in the subject that is affected by the change. The converse of this is the potentiality for being unaffected or active potentiality. This is the principle of change in the subject that initiates the change. An example of a passive potentiality would be the combustibility of a match and an example of an active potentiality would be the brightness of a light bulb. Both passive and active potentialities are the same in that they are primary, but they clearly differ because, as primary potentialities they hold different relationships (active and passive) to the other thing. Aristotle argues that a thing can contain both a passive and an active potentiality only insofar as it can be thought of as separable into two things: namely that which initiates a change and that which is affected by it.

Aristotle then says that the neediness of a potentiality is “for the same thing and in the same respect” as the corresponding potentiality. That is to say, every thing, which has a potential, has the corresponding need of that potential.

Aristotle draws a distinction between rational and non-rational potentiality. A rational potentiality is a potentiality that involves reason. Aristotle says that every rational potentiality has potential for a pair of contraries, and that non-rational potential does not. For example, medical knowledge can produce either illness or health and a hot thing can only produce heat. The reason he gives for this is that a rational potential is a rational account and a rational account necessarily reveals the need of its object as well as its object. A non-rational potential cannot produce or receive contraries since contraries cannot occur in the same thing at once. A rational potentiality can produce contraries only because the contraries are not in a thing. Aristotle notes that a complete potentiality implies a partial potentiality, but that the converse is not generally true.

Aristotle says that a potential is “a potentiality to do something, to do it at some time, and to do it in some way (and however many other conditions must be present in the definition)”. A potentiality is said to be realized when the change described takes place. A non-rational potential is realized when its conditions are met and there is no external barrier. A rational potentiality requires an element of “desire or decision” before it is necessarily realized. Clearly, a rational potentiality cannot possibly be realized in both of its contrary ways at once.

Having finished with his discussion of potentiality, Aristotle now moves on to look at actuality. Since actuality is the realization of potentiality, there will be two types of actuality correspondent to the two types of potentiality previously mentioned. Aristotle says that “in some cases the actuality is that of motion in relation to potentiality, and in other cases it is the actuality of substance in relation to matter”. He describes actuality in relation to potentiality with a series of analogies. Some of these analogies seem to be illustrative of actuality as motion.

Finally, Aristotle addresses the question of how we assign potentialities to things. He says that in the case of rational potentiality, we say that A is potentially B if A realizes B whenever it wishes to and nothing external prevents it. In the case of passive (non-rational) potentiality, we say that A is potentially B if nothing internal prevents it from doing so. For example, wood is potentially a fire. This is a case of passive potentiality. In the case where potentiality is internal to the thing we say that A is potentially B if nothing external prevents it from realizing B. For example, a seed in soil is potentially a tree. Aristotle doesn’t mention active non-rational potentiality, but it is probably the same.

V. Unmoved Mover

In general, Aristotle does not seem to think that a cause necessitates effect. However, the Unmoved Mover is a special case. Since motion is necessary, the Unmoved Mover must exist, and it must at all times produce motion. Aristotle makes an important distinction, between necessity-as-compulsion, and simple necessity. Nothing compels the Unmoved Mover to exist or to cause motion—He is an absolute first principle, unaffected by anything else. The unmoved mover exists and acts with necessity, in the sense that it is impossible that the mover not exist or not act. Simple necessity is a condition that “could not be otherwise.”

Aristotle argues that the Unmoved Mover must be immaterial, since if He were material, He could move other things only by moving Himself, which would raise the necessity of explaining the motion of the Mover. Like Plato, Aristotle quickly concludes that this immaterial being must be a mind. The most interesting inference about the Unmoved Mover that Aristotle draws concerns the issues of potentiality and actuality. Aristotle explains the possibility of enduring substances that endure through time by distinguishing potentiality and actuality. An enduring thing is called a (primary) substance. Each substance has a fixed essence, which determines which properties or attributes it can possess, either potentially or actually. Aristotle uses the word “potentially” in two different ways. Sometimes it means “merely potentially”. The potential properties of a substance are constant over time: What changes is which of these properties are actual and which are not. These variable properties are called “accidents”. All change is change in the accidents of a substance.


Aristotle viewed ethics as an attempt to find out our chief end or highest good. Aspirations and desires must have some final object or pursuit. The chief end, according to Aristotle, is happiness. Unlike Plato’s self-existing good, Aristotle believed happiness must be based on human nature, and begin from the facts of personal experience. It must be found in work and life; that true happiness is found in the active life of a rational being or in a perfect realization and outworking of the true soul and self throughout a lifetime.

Aristotle, according to Sanderson Beck, considered the life of money making constrained, because wealth is only good as a means. He found that human good is the exercise of human faculties especially reason, according to the best virtues which, when done over a lifetime, results in happiness. The virtuous person is more likely to be happy permanently. A person can be happy even if they are under duress financially if they bear the burden with grace. Aristotle believed that good was actual not just something could be merely obtained.

He believed that ethical qualities could be destroyed by excess or defect. Even too much of a good thing could be bad. For example, if someone fears everything, they will become a coward, while someone who has no fear acts recklessly. Someone who overindulges in pleasures is undisciplined, while those who avoid every pleasure are insensitive.

Humans have the ability to control desires. He calls this “moral virtue” and is the focus of morality. Our ability to control our desires is not instinctive, but learned from both teaching and practice. Problems can occur if we regulate our desires too much or too little. “Intellectual virtue” is the purely rational part; the part responsible for the ability to contemplate, reason and formulate scientific principles.

Friendship is vital to the human soul according to Aristotle. If not itself a virtue, then it can be associated with virtue and is helpful living a moral life. A true friend, according to Aristotle, is a second self, and the true moral value of friendship lies in the fact that the friend presents to us a mirror of good actions, and makes us more aware of our conscious and our appreciation of life. Aristotle believed that to be happy you need good friends—not too many as it is more practical to have just a few intimate friends.

“For without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods.”

Our virtues and morals form our ethics. Choice is critical in ethics. We have the ability to choose between good and evil. Good conduct arises from habits that occur because of repeated action and correction. Socrates believed that knowing what is right always results in doing it. Aristotle disagreed. Not doing what is right, even after giving it much thought, is a failure in morality.

According to Aristotle, we are genuinely happy when we are virtuous and moral.


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