The role of matter in Aristotle's metaphysics

Beverly Katherine Hinton, Marquette University


In this dissertation, I defend an interpretation of Aristotle's principle as the ground for complexity. I claim that while the principle of matter is not a principle of determinateness, it acts as the potentiality for determinateness in natural substances. Because natural substances express their natures causally, there is a need for a subject that can accommodate discretely manifested functions. The principle of matter allows these functions to operate independently by means of spatially distinct bodily organs. Both of the major interpretations of matter in Aristotle result in a reduction of this principle to the principle of form. The traditional prime matter position holds that matter is some sort of infinite potentiality for form, but this potentiality is either seen as a derogation of form or merely as a location for the manifestation of form. The functional matter position interprets matter as always the matter that is functionally suited for a certain form, but this results in matter being reduced to a lower level of form. In this study, I first analyze matter as the subject of change (Physics) and conclude that such a subject must be able to allow for both the replacement of determination and the persistence of the substrate. This is only possible if the principle of matter allows determinations to be manifested outside each other. I then show how this is consistent with an account of elemental change and biological generation (Generation and Corruption, Generation of Animals). Finally, I show how a principle of matter as the ground of complexity can explain the role of matter within the definition (Metaphysics). The principle of matter answers the need of accommodating complexity within the definition of a unified essence.

Recommended Citation

Hinton, Beverly Katherine, "The role of matter in Aristotle's metaphysics" (1997). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9811390.