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On the several senses of 'form' in Aristotle.

Aristotle, it is well known, seems to make conflicting statements about the nature of form. (1) The most striking such conflict concerns form's priority. In the Categories, Aristotle says that [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] is secondary substance (Cat 2a16), while concrete particulars like Socrates and a horse are primary substances. In the Metaphysics, on the other hand, Aristotle says that [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] is prior to composite substances such as Socrates and a horse (Metaph 1029a32). In the Metaphysics, therefore, forms, not concrete particulars, it would seem, are primary substances. Of course, Aristotle's apparently conflicting statements are only genuinely conflicting if he means the same thing by 'form' in each statement. So, what does Aristotle mean by 'form'? As it turns out, this is a rather difficult question to answer.

Because of the centrality of form in Aristotle's philosophy, and because it is a technical notion, one might think that determining what a form is would be a relatively straightforward task. For surely, one might think, Aristotle would not repeatedly use a technical notion without defining it. So, determining what a form is should only require an inspection of Aristotle's definition. In keeping with this optimistic line of thought, one might turn to Aristotle's definition of form in his lexicon of terms. In Metaphysics V, 5, Aristotle says:
 Also, the form, i.e., the paradigm, is the formula of the essence,
 and the genera of this; (for example, in the case of the octave,
 the ratio 2:1, and in general, number) and the parts in the
 formula. (Metaph 1013a27-9)


This passage does provide some insight into the nature of form, but at the same time it also falsifies the belief that Aristotle's views about the nature of form can be discovered by a mere inspection of his considered definition. In this passage Aristotle disconcertingly identifies form with three different and not obviously commensurate types of entity. In the first instance, Aristotle says that form, which by way of an epexegetical [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]--i.e., an 'i.e.'--he takes to be equivalent to a paradigm, is the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] (formula) of an essence. Except for the fact that Aristotle identifies form with the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] of an essence rather than with essence itself, Aristotle's claim here is straightforward enough, and it forges a crucial link between form and essence. Aristotle also says, however, that the genera of an essence is form. But if he thinks, as it is plausible to suppose he does, that the formula of an essence signifies a species, Aristotle in this passage is asserting that a form can be both a species and the genus of a species. Finally, in the last part of the passage, Aristotle identifies form with any of the parts of a formula. The parts of a formula, however, include a genus and a differentia the combination of which determines a species, and so Aristotle appears to commit himself to the view that a form can be a species, a genus or a differentia.

A bit later in the chapter, Aristotle complicates matters by reformulating his definition of form in a way that brings into view two other notions. After first identifying matter with that of which something consists, Aristotle identifies form with something's essence (Metaph 1013b20-5). In saying this he is merely repeating one of the conceptions of form in the previous definition with the difference that he now identifies form with the essence rather than the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] of the essence. But he then goes on to say that the essence is the whole, i.e., the composition, i.e., the form: 'but the other in each case is a cause in the sense of essence, and this is the whole, i.e., the composition, i.e., the form' (Metaph 1013b23). Here Aristotle introduces two new notions, whole and composition, which are neither obviously the same as those in the previous definition nor indeed obvious synonyms of each other. A whole, one might think, is something that is a composite of form and matter, and so the identification of form with a whole might look like the odd if not incoherent identification of form with something that has form as a constituent. And something's composition would seem to be something akin to the structure a whole has rather than the whole itself.

The plurality of meanings of 'form' contained in Aristotle's explicit definition in his lexicon presents some difficulty, but the difficulty does not end there. For this definitional multiplicity is a manifestation of a general trend in Aristotle's use of the word 'form'. For in the Metaphysics alone, Aristotle uses 'form' in a surprisingly large number of ways. It is somewhat difficult to know when different uses of a word indicate different meanings. But Aristotle either predicates form of different entities, predicates different characteristics of form, identifies form with divergent concepts, or uses it functionally in very different ways. If each of these different uses indicates a different meaning of the word 'form', then Aristotle attaches over thirty different meanings to the word 'form' in the Metaphysics. Exhaustively listing and documenting all these meanings, though instructive, would be a lengthy affair, which has for the most part already been adequately done by Bonitz in his Index Aristotelicum. But the following list of citations should give a feel for the bewilderingly many uses of 'form' in Aristotle.

Form as art

1032b13--'For the medical art and the building art are the forms of health and of the house.'

1070b31-3--'while in things which come to be from thought the mover is the form or the contrary of the form, the causes are in one sense three but in another sense four. For the medical art is in some sense health, the art of building is in some sense the form of the house.'

Form as that which, though not generated, is the end of a change

1015a7-11--'Nature, then, is either the first matter ... or the form [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] substance, and this latter is the end of generation.'

1034b7-10--'It is not with respect to substance alone that our argument reveals that the form is not generated; the argument is alike common with respect to all primary forms, such as those of quantity, of quality, and of the other categories.'

1069b35-6--'Next, neither the matter nor the form is generated, and I mean the ultimate matter and form.'

1070a1-2--'That by which it is changed is the first mover, that which changes is matter, and that to which it is changed is the form.'

Form as that from which generation proceeds

1055b11-13--'If, then, generations in matter take place from contraries, and if they proceed either (a) from the form or the possession of form, or (b) from some privation of the form.'

Form as species

The instances of this are so numerous that it is not worth quoting passages in which it occurs.

Form as [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]

1044b12-13--'The cause as form is the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], but this is not made clear unless it includes the cause.'

1069b31-4--'The causes and principles, then, are three; two of them are the contraries, of which one is the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] the form and the other is the privation, and the third is the matter.'

Form as that which is signified by the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]

1084b9-13--'As matter, then, the acute angle and the elements and the unit are prior, but with respect to form [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] to substance according to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], the right angle and the whole as composite of matter and form are prior; for the composite is nearer to the form [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] to what is signified by the formula, but it is posterior in generation.'

Form as essence

1032b1-2--'By 'form' I mean the essence of each thing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] the first substance.'

1035b14-16--'And since the soul of an animal (for this is the substance of an ensouled body) according to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] is the substance [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] form [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] essence of such a body.'

1035b31-3--'A part, then, may be a part of the form (by 'form' I mean essence) or of the composite of form and matter.'

Form as that to which essence belongs

1043a37-b2--'But, these contribute something to another inquiry, but they do not contribute nothing to the inquiry into sensible substances; for the essence belongs to the form [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] actuality.'

Form as differentia

1038a25-6--'If then the differentia of the differentia were taken, the last one would be the form [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] substance.'

Form as substance

1015a7-11--'Nature, then, is either the first matter ... or the form [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] substance, and this latter is the end of generation.'

1017b26--'Substance is said in two ways: it is either the ultimate subject which is not predicated of something else or that which is a this and is separable, such being the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] form of each thing.'

1022a14--' "That in virtue of which" is said in many ways. In one way, it is the form [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] substance of each thing.'

1029a29--'Accordingly, the form or what is from both would seem to be a substance rather than matter.'

Form as whole

1013b21-3--'But the other in each case is a cause in the sense of essence, and this is the whole [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] the composition [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] the form.'

1023b19-20--'Also, it means those into which a whole is divided or of which it is composed, whether this is a form or that which has a form.'

Form as that without which a thing is not a whole

1016b11-13--'Again, in one sense we say that anything is one ... but in another sense we do not say so unless the object is a whole of some kind, that is, unless it has one form.'

Form as the cause of a whole's being one

1016b11-13--'Again, in one sense we say that anything is one ... but in another sense we do not say so unless the object is a whole of some kind, that is, unless it has one form.'

1052a23--'As in the previous case, if the thing is a whole and has some [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] or form, it is said to be one to a higher degree; and most of all, if it is by nature of this sort and has something in itself which is the cause of its being continuous, and not by force as in things which are glued together or nailed together or tied together.'

Form as that which makes something continuous

1052a20-5--'As in the previous case, if the thing is a whole and has some [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] or form, it is said to be one to a higher degree; and most of all, if it is by nature of this sort and has something in itself which is the cause of its being continuous, and not by force as in things which are glued together or nailed together or tied together.'

1075b28-30--'Again, how can magnitude or what is continuous come from things which have no magnitude? For number cannot make what is continuous, either as a mover or as a form.'

Form as the cause by which matter is a thing

1041b7-8--'Thus we are seeking the cause (and this is the form) by means of which matter is something; and this is substance.'

1050a15-16--'Further, matter exists potentially because it can come to possess a form; and when it exists actually, then it exists in a form.'

Form as the first cause of a thing's existence

1041b8/1041b29--'Thus we are seeking the cause (and this is the form) through which the matter is a thing; and this cause is the substance of the thing ... And this is the substance of each thing; for this is the first cause of the thing's existence.'

Form as actuality

1043a18-21--'But those who combine both, speak of the third substance from these, the one composed of matter and form (for it seems that the formula by means of the differentiae is that of the form [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] actuality, but the formula of the constituents is rather that of the matter).'

1043a29-35--'We should not ignore the fact that sometimes we are unaware of whether a name signifies the composite substance, or the actuality [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], for example, whether 'house' signifies the composite, that is, a covering made of bricks and stones laid in such and such a manner or, the actuality [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] form, that is, a covering, whether ' line' signifies twoness in length or twoness, and whether 'an animal' signifies a soul in a body or a soul.'

1043b1-2--'For the essence belongs to the form [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] actuality.'

1050b2--'It is evident that the substance [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] the form is actuality.'

1071a8-9--'For what exists actually is the form, if separable, and what is from both.'

Form as that without which a thing does not have a nature

1015a3-5--'Thus in things which exist or are generated by nature, although there is already a constituent in them from which by nature they are generated or exist, we say that they do not yet have a nature unless they have a form or a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.].'

Form as the limit (of magnitude)

1022a4-6--'Limit means ... the form of a magnitude or of that which has magnitude.'

Form as that in virtue of which

1022a14-15--'That in virtue of which' has many meanings. In one sense it means the form [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] the substance of each thing'

1022a17-19--'That in virtue of which', then, in the primary sense means the form and in a secondary sense the matter of each or the first underlying subject of each.'

Form as that in virtue of which things are similar

1054b7-9--'Things are said to be similar, if having the same form and admitting a difference of degree, they do not differ in degree.'

Form as paradigm

1013a24-7--'A cause means ... the form [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.][TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] this being the formula of the essence.'

1034a2--'Consequently it is clear that there is no need of setting up a form as a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.][TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.].'

Form as shape/figure

1023a11-13--'For example the bronze has the form of the statue, and the body has the disease.'

Form as universal

1036a29--'Indeed, if this is not clear, it is not possible to define a thing; for a definition is of the universal [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] of the form.'

Form as a this

1049a35-6--'But if a predicate is instead a form, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] a this, each subject is matter and a material substance.'

Form as that which is a this (and is separable)

1017b23-6--' 'Substance', then, has two senses: it means the ultimate subject which is not predicated of something else, and also that which is a this and is separable, such being the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] or the form of each thing.'

1070a13-15--'In some cases, that which is a this does not exist apart from the composite substance, as in the case of the form of a house, unless it be the art of building.'

It is something of a scandal to Aristotelian scholarship that so much has been written about Aristotle's philosophical system, a system that centrally depends on the concept of a form, without some attempt having been made to make sense out of Aristotle's use of the word 'form'. Now, I do not intend to address in its entirety this problem--such a task is a project for an entire book. But in the remainder of this paper, I do attempt to disentangle somewhat the web of meanings at play when Aristotle speaks of a form.

My procedure will be as follows. I pick fourteen of the above meanings to focus on. The meanings are important enough that the list contains the most fundamental notions of form in Aristotle. I then attempt to taxonomize in a systematic manner the various meanings. In the end, I propose that all the meanings in some way or another fall under the genus--principle of order. The argument for such a claim, however, is given bit by bit so that the conclusion is reached only at the end of the paper. Now, the taxonomy by itself should be of interest, for it should show that Aristotle's use of the word 'form' is not as haphazard as it might at first seem. But, the details of the taxonomy depend on several substantive theses about Aristotle's metaphysical system. The theses will help provide the contours for the taxonomy, and the taxonomy in part justify the theses. So the process of coming to grips with Aristotle's use of the word 'form' should, in addition to creating some order out of an apparent chaos, provide a means for addressing some of the more fundamental aspects of Aristotle's metaphysical system.

I Central Meanings of 'Form'

Of the meanings of 'form' in the above list, I shall focus on the following:

1. Art

2. That which, though not generated, is the end of a change

3. Species

4. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]

5. That which is signified by the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]

6. The cause of a whole's being one

7. That which makes something continuous

8. The cause by which matter is a thing

9. The first cause of a thing's existence

10. That without which a thing does not have a nature

11. Shape

12. Universal

13. A this

14. Essence

Already the items on this list, though diverse, contain some obvious family resemblances by which some sense can be made of their being named by a single word. To a contemporary reader familiar with the distinction between use and mention, (4) and (5), i.e., [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] and that which is signified by [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], appear radically different. But Aristotle was not always scrupulous in maintaining the distinction, and so (4) and (5) need not appear at odds with each other. A [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], when used, signifies something, i.e., form, whose name, i.e., 'form', is used by Aristotle to mention the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]. Furthermore, a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], if it is a true Aristotelian definition in terms of a genus and a differentia, signifies a species. So an obvious connection exists between (3), (4) and (5). And one might contend, though I shall argue that this issue is in fact a difficult one, that an essence is a species. If so, a direct connection exists between (3), (4), (5) and (14).

Making sense of the meanings in this list by noticing family resemblances, however, can only go so far. For some very deep dissimilarities exist as well. Most noticeably, (12) and (13) look incompatible--how can a form be a this and a universal? Furthermore, (7), that which makes something continuous, does not easily fit into a nest of terms that center around the concept of a species. Nor do (1), art, and (2) that which is the end of a change. And though, (6), the cause of a whole's being one, (8), the cause by which matter is a thing, (9), the first cause of a thing's existence, and (10), that without which a thing does not have a nature, might be pressed into such a nest, they do not fit into it easily. So injecting more order into Aristotle's use of the word 'form' requires a deeper investigation into his metaphysical system.

In what follows, I articulate two basic conceptions of form and in so doing provide the basis for a taxonomical structure into which the above senses of 'form' easily fit. The interpretation has two main starting points. First, in one of its absolutely fundamental senses, 'form' means species. The only real evidence needed for such a claim is the overwhelming number of times Aristotle uses 'form' to mean species. But the fact that several of the meanings in the above list all relate directly to the concept of a species provides whatever further evidence might be needed to establish the claim. Second, a crucial distinction exists between the form of a composite of form and matter and the form of the matter of a composite of form and matter.

II Two Types of Form

Evidence for the distinction between the form of a composite and the form of the matter of a composite comes from Aristotle's distinction between two types of subject. In Metaphysics VII 13, Aristotle says:
 For we have discussed two of them: essence and a subject. And being
 a subject is two-fold: it is either (a) a this, as an animal is to
 its attributes, or (b) as matter is to actuality. (Metaph 1038b4-7)


And in Metaphysics IX 7, he says:
 The universal and the underlying subject differ insofar as the
 subject is a this and the universal is not; for example, a man is a
 subject to his affections, as are the body and the soul, and being
 musical and being pale are affections ... And whenever such
 predicates are used, each subject is a substance, but if a
 predicate is instead a form, [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] a
 this, each subject is matter and a material substance. (Metaph
 1049a27-36)


In these passages, Aristotle makes a clear distinction between subjects--a subject can be a composite of form and matter, or it can be matter. Let us suppose, then, that corresponding to these two types of subject are two types of form, what shall henceforth be called 'form-m', form of matter, and 'form-c', form of the composite. In fact, in the second passage, Aristotle provides a clue as to the resolution of the difficulty that results from his calling a form both a universal and a particular. If the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] in the last sentence is an epexegetical [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], then Aristotle holds that when the subject is matter, the form predicated of it is a particular. (This reading is supported by the fact that in the first sentence in the above passage, Aristotle uses the soul, which he elsewhere explicitly identifies as a form (DA 412a21, Metaph 1035b16), as an example of a this). Furthermore, by setting up a contrast between the two types of subject and by explicitly saying that the form predicated of one type of subject is a this, Aristotle makes it very natural to suppose that the form predicated of the other type of subject is universal. Hence, it is natural to suppose that form-c is a universal and form-m is a particular.

IIa--Form-m

What is a form-m? What is the nature of that entity that is predicated of matter as opposed to the composite of form and matter? This question, as it turns out, can be answered by focusing on the natures of the soul and the pairs of contraries that characterize the elements--for both the soul and the pairs of contraries are predicated of matter.

Among contemporary scholars, there is a common, indeed perhaps it is the standard, characterization of an Aristotelian soul. According to the characterization, an Aristotelian soul is a set of powers or, depending on subtle nuances of meaning, a set of faculties or capacities. Which capacities? Those that characterize living things. Hence, all souls contain at least the capacity for nutrition and limited growth in two directions; animal souls contain in addition dispositions for perceptual activities; and human souls contain dispositions for rational thought. Jonathan Barnes provides a clear statement of a capacity account of an Aristotelian soul:
 Thus Aristotle's souls are not pieces of living things; they are
 not bits of spiritual stuff placed inside the living body; rather,
 they are sets of powers, capacities or faculties. Possessing a soul
 is like possessing a skill. (2)


Likewise, Richard Sorabji professes allegiance to the capacity account:
 Aristotle sometimes thinks of the soul as a set of capacities, such
 as the capacity for nutrition, the capacity of sense perception and
 the capacity for thought. These capacities are not a mere
 conglomeration, but are related to each other in intimate ways, so
 as to form a unity. The lowest capacity (nutrition) can exist
 without the higher ones, but not vice versa ... I shall follow
 Aristotle below, by thinking of the soul as a set of capacities.
 (3)


The capacity account is reasonably well supported by Aristotle' texts. Aristotle often talks of the soul as if it were a set of capacities. He begins the discussion of his views about the soul in de Anima with a discussion of powers and even appears to identify the soul with certain kinds of powers. He says, for instance, that plants are living because they have an originative power through which they increase or decrease in all spatial directions (DA 413a25-30). He then goes on to say: 'This is the originative power the possession of which leads us to speak of things as living at all' (DA 413b1-2). And a bit later he says: 'At present we must confine ourselves to saying that the soul is the source of these phenomena and is characterized by them, viz. by the powers of self-nutrition, sensation, thinking, and movement' (DA 413b10-13). Aristotle's analogy between soul and sight just prior to these passages also recommends an identification of the soul with capacities. At 412b17-13a13, Aristotle says that the relation of soul to body is analogous to the relation of sight to eye. Because sight is the capacity to take on the forms of objects without their matter, by analogy the soul is the capacity or unified set of capacities to engage in living activities. Finally, at de Anima 412a22-8, Aristotle, after defining the soul as the first actuality of a natural organic body potentially possessing life, goes on to say at 417a21-b2 that a first actuality is a second potentiality. Aristotle then illustrates the distinction between first and second potentialities by appealing to kinds of knowledge, an example which would, again by analogy, recommend thinking of a soul in terms of capacities.

For the present purposes, two points about a capacity account must be made. First, the notion of a capacity will have to remain unanalyzed. This conforms to Aristotle's own practice, for he is not concerned to analyze the notion. In fact, it is in this instance reasonable simply to follow Aristotle's lead and consider a capacity an [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]? that is a principle or source--it is the source of the dynamical interactions with the world an object has. This, at any rate, is precisely what Aristotle says about the soul: 'At present we must confine ourselves to saying that soul is the source of these phenomena [sensation, nutrition, thinking and movement] and is characterized by them, viz., by the powers of self-nutrition, sensation, thinking, and movement' (DA 413b10-2).

Second, Aristotle's remarks make it clear that a soul is not only a form but also the form of some matter, namely the body. At de Anima 414a15-20, Aristotle says:
 For, as we have already said, 'substance' is said in three
 ways--form, matter, and that which is from both. Of these matter is
 potentiality, form actuality. Since then that which is from both is
 ensouled, the body is not the actuality of the soul, but the soul
 is the actuality of some body ... It is not a body but something of
 (relative to) a body. (DA 414a15-20)


The soul, according to Aristotle, stands as form to the body, which is matter. Indeed, just after this passage, Aristotle criticizes earlier thinkers for not specifying the sort of body that a soul enforms. According to Aristotle, 'each thing's actuality by its nature can exist [only] with the potentiality which belongs to that thing or with its appropriate matter' (DA 414a26-7). And in keeping with these strictures, Aristotle defines the soul as the first actuality of a natural organic body potentially possessing life.

Two other important facets of Aristotle's treatment of the soul confirm its status as a form-m. In the passage from Metaphysics VII, where he distinguishes between two types of subject, Aristotle says that matter, in contrast to the composite, stands in relation to a form that is an actuality:
 For we have discussed two of them: essence and a subject. And being
 a subject is two-fold: it is either (a) a this, as an animal is to
 its attributes, or (b) as matter is to actuality. (Metaph 1038b4-7)


Aristotle, however, says in the de Anima that the soul is an actuality. Hence, the soul is correctly seen as a form-m. Furthermore, in the passage from Metaphysics IX in which he distinguishes between the two types of subject, he says that a form that enforms matter, i.e., a form-m, in contrast to form-c, is a particular. But several passages recommend treating the soul as a particular. None of the passages provide incontrovertible evidence--some scholars have denied that there are particular forms--but the following can be read as Aristotle's endorsing the particularity of the soul: DA 412a7-8, Metaph 1037a6-10. Furthermore, at Metaphysics 1039a1, Aristotle says that no universal is a substance, and at 1037a6 he says that the soul is the first substance. The inference to the soul's particularity, then, is straightforward enough. The soul is thus a form-m par excellence. And as such, it is the source of the dynamical interactions, in this case the living activities, of a material substance.

Likewise, the pairs of elemental contraries are both forms of the matter of a composite and the source of dynamical interactions. Aristotle introduces the elemental contraries into his system in de Generatione et Corruptione II 2 and 3. In chapter 2, Aristotle searches for the fundamental tangible properties. He considers different pairs of properties--hot/cold, dry-moist, heavy/light, hard/soft, viscous/brittle, rough/ smooth, coarse/fine (GC 329b20-1)--and concludes that the two fundamental pairs hot/cold and wet/dry can explain the presence of all the others (GC 330a25). For instance, something is fine because it is suitably wet--fine matter, like moist objects, conforms to the shape of a containing body (GC 330b30). Then in chapter 3, Aristotle reasons that the fundamental contraries occur in four different pairings--cold/dry, hot/wet, hot/dry and cold/wet--that account for the forms of the four fundamental elements, earth, air, fire and water respectively (GC 331a3-5).

Now, like the soul, elemental contraries are the source of dynamical activities. Their connection to temperature and dessicative dispositions is obvious enough. Fire, for instance, as a result of having the hot as part of its form, is hot and so has the capacity to heat objects that are cooler than it. But in addition to being connected in obvious ways to temperature and dessicative dispositions, the elemental contraries are connected to the full range of tangible dispositions. Aristotle describes very briefly these connections in de Generatione et Corruptione II 2 but presents them in painstaking detail in Meteorology IV. Unqualified becoming (378b27 ff.), natural change and destruction (379a10 ff.), concoction and its species: boiling, parboiling and broiling (379a11 ff.), ripening, rawness (379a11 ff.), hardness, softness (381b23 ff.), liquefaction, condensation (382b29 ff.), solidification, melting, thickening, softening (383b17 ff.), the capacity to bend, combustibility, and inflammability (385b6 ff.)--Aristotle traces all theses dispositions to the four fundamental contraries: the hot, the cold, the wet and the dry. Furthermore, Aristotle holds the views that the elements, due to their forms, have natural places in the world towards which they tend. Earth naturally tends downwards; fire, upwards; and air and water, to intermediate positions. (Ph 205a10-2, 205a25-9, Cael 276b1ff.) Hence, the elemental contraries are, according to Aristotle, an original source of the dynamical activities of tangible bodies.

In addition to being the source of dynamical activities, the elemental contraries, like the soul, enform matter. Such a view, though it has been challenged in the twentieth century, is to be sure the historically dominant one. (4) Its credentials stem from a combination of textual evidence and its being a consequence of general principles concerning change that Aristotle articulates. A rough statement of the general principles runs along the following lines. All change involves the persistence of an underlying substratum that loses one form and acquires another. The change from an earth element to a water element, therefore, requires an underlying substratum, i.e. some matter, losing one contrary, namely the dry, and acquiring another, namely the wet. And one piece, though not the only one, of textual evidence is the following passage from de Generatione et Corruptione II 1:
 But we say that there is a matter of the perceptible bodies that is
 not separate but is always bound up with a contrary from which the
 so-called elements come to be ... However, because the first bodies
 are in this way from matter, we must explain these things,
 reckoning that there is a matter that is a primary principle which
 is not separable but is the subject of the contraries. For the hot
 is not matter for the cold nor the cold for the hot; but the
 subject is matter for them both. Consequently, among the
 principles, there is first that which is potentially perceptible
 body, second the contraries by which I mean, for instance, the hot
 and the cold, and third fire water and the like. (GC 329a24-36)


In this passage, Aristotle explicitly claims that there is a matter of perceptible bodies; that such matter is the matter for the contraries, the hot and the cold; and that the principles are (1) the elements like fire and water, (2) elemental contraries, and (3) something that is potentially perceptible body. On the most straightforward reading of this passage, Aristotle commits himself to the view that there is some matter different from the elements and different from the contraries that the elemental contraries enform.

The natures of the soul and the elemental contraries thus provide the basis for a characterization of form-m: a form-m enforms matter; it is a particular; and it is a capacity-like entity in that it is the source of the dynamical activities of the composite of it and the matter it enforms. This characterization will be very fecund, for I shall eventually argue that many of the meanings of 'form' that do not easily relate to the notion of a species do relate naturally to the notion of a form-m. Before doing this, however, I want first to treat the other concepts that shall provide the basis of a complete taxonomy of the senses of 'form' under discussion. I began the process of providing a taxonomy by articulating two basic assumptions: (1) in one of its fundamental senses, 'form' means species; and (2) there is a distinction between form-m and form-c. Form-m has been discussed. But what about form-c and species? What is a form-c? How is it related to species? And how are they both related to form-m?

IIb--Form-c

As to the nature of form-c and its relation to species, the answer I propose is simple. They are the same. A form-c, in its primary sense, is a species. To argue for this identification, however, first requires addressing the question as to the relation between form-m and form-c.

As it turns out, there is a clear connection between form-m and form-c. The connection depends on what Christopher Shields has aptly termed the 'functional determination thesis'. (5) According to the functional determination thesis, an entity, x, is a member of some natural kind F if and only if x has the capacity to engage in the activities characteristic of members of kind F. Aristotle articulates such a view at Politics 1253a19-25 but states the matter most forcefully near the end of the Meteorology:
 All these things are determined by their function: for each thing
 truly is itself when it can perform its function, for instance an
 eye when it can see. And when a thing cannot do so it is only
 homonymously what it is, for instance a dead eye or one made of
 stone. So too a wooden saw is not really a saw but is rather a
 likeness of a saw. The same is true of flesh. But its function is
 less clear than that of the tongue. The same is true of fire, but
 its function is even less clear than that of flesh. This is
 likewise true of the parts of plants and inorganic bodies like
 bronze and silver. Everything is what it is in virtue of some power
 of action or passion. (Mete 390a10-19)


The extent of Aristotle's allegiance to the functional determination thesis is quite striking. Even a kind like fire, according to Aristotle, a kind which one might think would resist determination in terms of function, is subject to it.

Because of his acceptance of the functional determination thesis, one can attribute to Aristotle the following bi-conditional schema concerning kind membership:

I. x is a member of species F if and only if x is capable of performing those activities characteristic of Fs.

This schema already brings the connection between form-m and form-c into view. According to I, something is in a species just in case it has the capacities for engaging in activities characteristic of that species. But, because a form-m is the capacity-like entity that is the source of the dynamical interactions of a composite of form and matter, something can only be a member of a species if it has an appropriate form-m. A fire element, for instance, is in the species, fire, if and only if it has the form-m, in this instance the pair of contraries hot and dry, that is the source of those activities characteristic of fire. This fact about the relation between form-m and kind membership is captured by the following bi-conditional schema:

II. x is capable of performing those activities characteristic of Fs iff x has matter enformed by a form-m, i.e., a source of dynamical activities, that is ordered toward F-ness.

Theses I and II, then, combine to entail the following bi-conditional schema:

III. x is a member of a species F if and only if x has matter enformed by a form-m, i.e., a source of dynamical activities, that is ordered toward F-ness.

Now, III does not specify the domain of the variable x. But Aristotle clearly thinks that composite substances are those entities that are members of species, at least if those species are natural kinds. This is such a basic presupposition of Aristotle's physical-metaphysical treatises that it hardly needs corroboration. In order to appease the ardent skeptic, however, one can cite de Anima 434b12. There, Aristotle says that an animal is an ensouled body. Hence, it is not the form of the animal, i.e., the soul, that is an animal; nor is it the matter, i.e., the body. Rather, the composite of form and matter is the animal. Hence, the variable in III should be seen as ranging over composites of form and matter.

With the view that it is composite substances that are members of natural kinds in hand, the connections between form-m, species and form-c become clear. If members of species are composites, a species, because it is the composite's form, is form-c. Hence, we have supplied the identity of form-c and species. Moreover, according to III any composite substance, x, will have a form-c, i.e., be a member of a species F, if and only if x has some matter enformed by a form-m that orders x towards F-ness. In this way, the two notions of form coalesce into the following relations: form-m is the form of the matter of a composite, c, and as such is necessary and sufficient for c's being a member of its species, i.e., for c's having a form-c. Furthermore, the form-m that enforms c's matter is a particular--for instance Socrates' soul is a this--soul--while c's form-c is a universal--for instance Socrates' species, i.e., human, is universal.

It is worth pausing at this point to note that these connections between types of form, matter and substance allows for the identification of form-m with one of the senses of 'form' above, i.e., that without which a thing does not have nature. For, in the sense of 'nature' articulated in the Physics, a nature is a principle of motion. As such, a nature is form-m; and so, trivially, without a form-m something would not have a nature.

III An Initial Taxonomy

By making the distinction between form-m and form-c and characterizing them appropriately, one can inject some order into Aristotle's apparently disorderly use of the word 'form'. So far, the meanings of 'form' from the above list cluster in the following way:

Form-c

3. Species

4. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]

5. That which is signified by the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]

12. Universal

Form-m

10. That without which a thing does not have a nature

13. A this

This leaves the following meanings to be explained:

1. Art

2. That which, though not generated, is the end of a change

6. The cause of a whole's being one

7. That which makes something continuous

8. The cause by which matter is a thing

9. The first cause of (something's) being

11. Shape

14. Essence

As noted above, (6), the cause of a whole's being one, (7), that which makes something continuous, (8), the cause by which matter is a thing, and (9), the first cause of a thing's existence, do not obviously or easily fit into a cluster of terms associated with species. By now it should be clear, however, that this does not present an intractable problem, for they may fit easily into a cluster of terms associated with form-m. This will then leave (1), art, (2), that which, though not generated, is the end of change, (11), shape, and (14) essence.

IV Some Further Distinctions

(8) and (9) come from Aristotle's discussion of substance in Metaphysics VII 17. At 1041b7-8, Aristotle says: 'Thus we are seeking the cause (and this is the form) by means of which matter is something; and this is substance' (Metaph 1041b7-8). And near the end of the chapter, he says: 'And this is the substance of each thing; for this is the first cause of being' (Metaph 1041b26-7). Now, Metaphysics VII has been the source of so much scholarly controversy that any conclusions made about it must be accompanied with some reservation. Nonetheless, there are reasons for supposing that the form Aristotle mentions here is form-m. In the first instance, Aristotle denies at 1039a1 that anything that belongs universally can be a substance. Form-c, however, is universal. Furthermore, just prior to the quotation at 1041b7-8, Aristotle says that the question he is pursuing in the chapter is: why is the matter some one thing? And he then says that the answer is: 'because it has that which is the essence of a house; and because a man is this, or, a body has this' (1041b5-6). Hence, in one stroke Aristotle brings into view both matter and the fact that what explains matter's being something is some particular, i.e., a this. He then immediately identifies the this in question with form. Form-m, however, is precisely a particular form that, in enforming matter, makes matter something.

There is one final piece of evidence supporting the identification of the cause by which matter is a thing and the first cause of a thing's existence with form-m. In the penultimate sentence of the Metaphysics VII 17, Aristotle says:
 Since some are not substances of things, but those that are
 substances are formed according to nature or by nature, it would
 seem that the substance of these is this nature, which is not an
 element but a principle. (Metaph 1041b28-31)


Aristotle here says that those objects that are substance are formed according to nature or by nature. The substance of such substances, he concludes, is this nature. Keeping in mind the need for interpretive caution, one can nonetheless maintain that Aristotle identifies the object he is pursuing in the chapter with a substance's nature. But, if 'nature' here means a principle of motion, the identification of form-m with the senses of 'form' in question is directly supported. Of course, 'nature' might, like 'form', have many meanings, and so this passage does not provide incontrovertible proof that the form in question is form-m. Nonetheless, the combined weight of the evidence gives credence to the claim that the cause of matter's being a thing and the first cause of something's existence is form-m.

(8) and (9) can thus be grouped with the terms associated with formm. Before continuing the discussion of the senses of 'form', however, it will be useful to explain briefly what might be meant by Aristotle's description of form-m in Metaphysics VII 17. What does it mean to say that a form-m is the cause by which matter is a thing and the first cause of a thing's existence?

To answer this question, consider something, m, that is the matter of some composite, c. For instance, suppose m is the body of a living organism. In order for m to be the matter of c, it must have a form-m, in this case a soul, that orders c to c's species. (Recall that the functional determination thesis requires there to be a source of the activities of a substance that are characteristic of that substance's species.) In other words, Aristotle accepts the following principle:

IV. m is matter for composite, c, if and only if there exists a species (form-c), F, such that (1) c has F and (2) m has a form-m that orders c toward F-ness.

According to this principle, insofar as something is the matter of a composite, its being what it is, namely the matter of a composite, requires it to be enformed by a form-m. For instance, insofar as something is the body of a living organism it must have a soul.

This principle asserts a de dicto and not a de re necessity about the matter of a composite. It does not assert that the matter of some composite is necessarily enformed by some definite form-m. Such a thesis would encounter insurmountable difficulties in the case of prime matter, which can take on all the elemental forms. Rather, it asserts that necessarily, any matter of a composite is enformed by a form-m that is the source of those activities characteristic of entities in the composite's species. Nonetheless, because something can count as the matter of a composite substance only if it is enformed by a form-m, insofar as some matter just is the matter of a composite, form-m is the cause of that matter's being something. For instance, a soul is the cause of some body's being the matter of a living organism--for without the soul, the body is no longer the matter of a living substance. Hence, form-m can be described as the cause (explanation) of some matter's being what it is, namely the matter of a composite. And in addition to its being the cause of matter's being a thing, form-m, as was made clear previously, is necessary and sufficient for some composite substance's being a substance. Hence, it is also legitimately described as the first cause of a substance's being. (6)

The identification of form-m with the cause of matter's being a thing and the first cause of something's existence has an interesting result concerning essence. In Metaphysics VII, 17, Aristotle says that the form he has identified as substance is an essence. It would follow then that form-m is essence. This runs counter to the natural view, however, that an essence is a species. Such a view is supported by the facts that a [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]?signifies something's essence, and typically an Aristotelian [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] consists of a genus and differentia that combine to determine a species. The correct conclusion to draw is that Aristotle's use of the word 'essence' is ambiguous. In one sense it means form-c; in another it means form-m. Given his willingness to use 'form' in so many ways, finding an ambiguity in his use of 'essence' can hardly be objectionable.

What, then, about the senses of 'form' according to which form is the cause of a whole's being one and the cause of something's being continuous? The complete story concerning these notions requires some account of Aristotle's theory of matter. But it should be intuitive enough at this point that they can be identified with form-m. By enforming a chunk of matter, a form-m creates a unified composite, i.e., a whole, which belongs to a species and in so doing accounts for the continuity of the enformed matter. For instance, a soul, in enforming a body, causes (explains the being of) a composite living organism, a composite that has as matter a continuous chunk of living material.

Three meanings remain--art, the end of generation and shape. The first two of these meanings can be accommodated by appealing to one of Aristotle's distinctions in Metaphysics V 1. Aristotle thinks that there are three types of principles: principles of knowing, becoming and being: 'It is common to all principles, then, to be the first from which a thing either exists or is generated or is known' (Metaph 1013a17). Hence, because form is a principle, it can be expected to have three aspects. The senses of 'form' so far discussed have been form under the aspect of a principle of being. As a principle of knowing, however, form is art. And as a principle of becoming, form is the end of a change.

Form as a principle of becoming and its relation to form-m and form-c deserves some comment. First, it is not clear that as the end of a change a form must be either form-m or form-c. Consider, for instance, a generation. Not only is the having of a soul the end of a generation but so too is belonging to a species. Hence, I will suppose that both form-m and form-c can be an end of a change. Furthermore, Aristotle thinks that in every change there is some matter that acquires a form. Hence, there must be forms for each of the types of change, namely substantial, quantitative, qualitative and local. So far, however, form has been related only to substance--form-c is a species in the category of substance and form-m is a source of dynamical interactions that order a composite toward a species in the category of substance.

Despite their relation to substance, the categorial features of both form-c and form-m lend themselves to a conceptual extension to accidental categories. A form-c is, categorially speaking, a shareable feature of a composite, while a form-m is a particular feature of some matter of a composite. These categorial features, however, can apply to features in the other categories. A universal quality, for instance roundness, is a shareable feature of round spheres, while a particular quality, for instance this roundness, can be thought of as a particular feature of the matter of the sphere. So, in a relaxed sense, there are both forms-c and forms-m in any category in which change occurs. Interestingly, a progression of just this sort from form in the category of substance to form in the other categories, a progression that is fueled by the metaphysical requirements of change occurs in Metaphysics VII 9: 'It is not with respect to substance alone that our argument reveals that form is not generated; the argument is alike common with respect to all primary forms such as those of quantity, of quality and of the other categories' (Metaph 1034b9-10).

So only shape remains. Shape, however, will be easiest to handle by first considering the way in which form-m and form-c can be brought under a single genus. Progress has been made by noticing the differences between form-m and form-c. But is there some way of unifying them? Is there some commonality that would allow them to be placed under a single genus? As it turns out, there is a way to classify form-m and form-c under a single genus thereby increasing the order in Aristotle's use of the word 'form'. The genus under which the two concepts of form so far examined fall is principle of order ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]).

A form-c is a principle of taxonomical order while a form-m is a principle of dynamical order. Aristotle, it must be admitted, does not stress the connection between order and the two types of form. But his definition of disposition ([TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]) in Metaphysics V does provide some evidence for such a taxonomy. A disposition, he says, is an order of that which has parts with respect to place, potency or species (Metaph 1022b1-4). An order with respect to place is a position. And an order (or a principle of order) with respect to a potency is plausibly interpreted as a form-m. Now, it might seem clear that an order with respect to a species would simply be a species. Interestingly, however, not everyone understands Aristotle in that way. Notably, Aquinas understands an order with respect to species as a differentia in the category of quantity. (7) Now, one type of differentia in the category of quantity is shape--for geometrical figures differ from one another in virtue of their shapes. So, one might interpret Aristotle as holding that one type of disposition is shape. Regardless of whether or not Aristotle has shape in mind in this passage, however, it would seem that a shape is a kind of order--it is the order of the parts of a material substance with respect to themselves. On this understanding, shape presents a nice contrast with position, which is a spatial ordering of the parts of a material substance with respect to something extrinsic to them.

V A Final Taxonomy

It would seem that the following differentiation of the genus order is in order:

order

taxonomical dynamical spatial

a. intrinsic--shape

b. extrinsic--position

And with such a differentiation, the following taxonomy of the eanings of 'form' falls into place:

Principle of order--Form

With respect to knowing

(1) Art

With respect to becoming

(2) The end of change

With respect to being

Taxonomical--Form-c

(3) Species

(4) [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]

(5) That which is signified by the [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]

(12) Universal

(14) Essence

Dynamical--Form-m

(6) The cause of a whole's being one

(7) That which makes something continuous

(8) The cause by which matter is a thing

(9) The first cause of a thing's existence

(10) That without which a thing does not have a nature

(13) Particular

(14) Essence

Spatial

(11) Shape

This taxonomy provides a systematic way of understanding what at first seems a chaotic nest of meanings. One might, of course, object that the taxonomy is artificial, that the various senses of 'form' resist such a neat classification. And such a charge may in some ways be justified. Nonetheless, systematicity is better than chaos. Furthermore, the taxonomy arises from plausible interpretive assumptions. It is plausible to suppose that the notion of form is intimately linked to the notion of order; the distinction between the two fundamental types of form, form-m and form-c, is well supported by Aristotle's texts; and there is no conceptual strain produced by placing both notions under the genus order. So even if some artificiality has crept in, the taxonomy does flow naturally enough from Aristotle's texts. And indeed, without some such organization, Aristotle's system suffers from an intolerable number of ambiguities and must in the end be judged to be far too chaotic to be of significant philosophical interest.

(1) Aristotle uses three words--[TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]--that are commonly translated into English as 'form'. In this chapter, my focus will be on Aristotle's use of the word [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]. Aristotle, however, uses [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] almost interchangeably, and so much if not all of what is said about [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] is equally applicable to [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]. His use of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.], however, differs in some important respects from his use of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] and [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.].

(2) Jonathan Barnes, 'Aristotle', in Greek Philosophers: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2001), 275

(3) Richard Sorabji, 'Body and Soul in Aristotle', Philosophy 49 (1974), 64-5

(4) To deny that the elemental contraries enform matter is to deny the existence of prime matter. Among those who have denied that Aristotle thinks there is prime matter are H.R. King, 'Aristotle Without Prime Matter', Journal of the History of Ideas 17 (1956) 370-389; W. Charlton, Aristotle's Physics Books I-II (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1970); Barrington Jones, 'Aristotle's Introduction of Matter', Philosophical Review 83 (1974) 474-500; M. Schofield, 'Metaph. Z 3: Some Suggestions', Phronesis 17 (1972) 97-101; D. Stahl, 'Stripped Away: Some Contemporary Obscurities Surrounding Metaphysics Z 3 (1029a10-26)', Phronesis 26 (1979) 177-80; and M.L. Gill, Aristotle On Substance (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press 1989).*

(5) Christopher Shields, Order in Multiplicity: Homonymy in the Philosophy of Aristotle (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1999), 33

(6) This line of interpretation provides an interesting possibility concerning Aristotle's claim at de Anima 412b 20-5, 412b27-13a2 that a dead body is only homonymously a body. Aristotle's claim there has been the source of considerable scholarly speculation and criticism. In an influential article, J.L. Ackrill, 'Aristotle's Definitions of [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.]' Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 73 (1972-3) 119-33; reprinted in J.Barnes, M. Schofield, and R. Sorabji, eds., Articles on Aristotle, Vol. IV (London: Duckworth 1978), 65-75, argues that this doctrine of Aristotle's threatens the intelligibility of his hylemorphic framework. Bernard Williams, 'Hylomorphism', Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 4 (1986) 186-99, argues that the doctrine is intelligible though has counter-intuitive results. Christopher Shields, Order in Multiplicity: Homonymy in the Philosophy of Aristotle (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1999), ch. 5, presents a sustained examination of the doctrine within a larger treatment of homonymy in Aristotle. Within the present framework, Aristotle's claims might be interpreted as follows: If the second occurrence of 'body' in 'a dead body is only homonymously a body' is understood as meaning the matter of a living organism, then it is true that a dead body is not a body. Hence, the first occurrence of 'body', i.e., the occurrence that follows 'dead', could not have the same meaning as the second occurrence. Again, if 'body' literally means matter of a living organism, then 'body' in 'dead body' must not be 'body' in its literal sense. A dead body, in other words, is only homonymously a body.

(7) Thomas Aquinas, Commentaries on Aristotle's Metaphysics, trans. John P. Rowan, (Notre Dame, IN: Dumb Ox Books 1995) 373
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