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Chapter Five

24 September, 2015 - 14:11

Substance, in the truest and primary and most definite sense of the word, is that which is neither predicable of a subject nor present in a subject; for instance, the individual man or horse. But in a secondary sense those things are called substances within which, as species, the primary substances are included; also those which, as genera, include the species. For instance, the individual man is included in the species ‘man,’ and the genus to which the species belongs is ‘animal’; these, therefore the species ‘man’ and the genus ‘animal’ are termed secondary substances …

Everything except primary substances is either predicable of a primary substance or present in a primary substance. This becomes evident by reference to particular instances which occur. ‘Animal’ is predicated of the species ‘man,’ therefore of the individual man, for if there were no individual man of whom it could be predicated, it could not be predicated of the species ‘man’ at all. Again, colour is present in body, therefore in individual bodies, for if there were no individual body in which it was present, it could not be present in body at all. Thus everything except primary substances is either predicated of primary substances, or is present in them, and if these last did not exist, it would be impossible for anything else to exist.

Of secondary substances, the species is more truly substance than the genus, being more nearly related to primary substance. For if any one should render an account of what a primary substance is, he would render a more instructive account, and one more proper to the subject, by stating the species than by stating the genus. Thus, he would give amore instructive account of an individual man by stating that he was man than by stating that he was animal, for the former description is peculiar to the individual in a greater degree, while the latter is too general …

Another mark of substance is that it has no contrary. What could be the contrary of any primary substance, such as the individual man or animal? It has none. Nor can the species or the genus have a contrary. Yet this characteristic is not peculiar to substance, but is true of many other things, such as quantity. There is nothing that forms the contrary of ‘two cubits long’ or of ‘three cubits long,’ or of ‘ten,’ or of any such term. A man may contend that ‘much’ is the contrary of ‘little,’ or ‘great’ of ‘small,’ but of definite quantitative terms no contrary exists.

Substance, again, does not appear to admit of variation of degree. I do not mean by this that one substance cannot be more or less truly substance than another, for it has already been stated that this is the case; but that no single substance admits of varying degrees within itself. For instance, one particular substance, ‘man,’ cannot be more or less man either than himself at some other time or than some other man. One man cannot be more man than another, as that which is white may be more or less white than some other white object, or as that which is beautiful may be more or less beautiful than some other beautiful object …

The most distinctive mark of substance appears to be that, while remaining numerically one and the same, it is capable of admitting contrary qualities … Thus, one and the same colour cannot be white and black … But one and the selfsame substance, while retaining its identity, is yet capable of admitting contrary qualities. The same individual person is at one time white, at another black, at one time warm, at another cold, at one time good, at another bad. This capacity is found nowhere else … It is by reason of the modification which takes place within the substance itself that a substance is said to be capable of admitting contrary qualities; for a substance admits within itself either disease or health, whiteness or blackness.

  1. Give three examples each of primary substances and secondary substances.
  2. What makes something a (primary) substance? How many criteria does Aristotle give, and what are they?
  3. Why does Aristotle think that if primary substances did not exist, nothing else could?
  4. To think about: what is Aristotle’s method in this text? How does he go about discovering the most basic features of the world?