Aristotle’s Understanding of MetaphysicsJune 26, 2021
In his metaphysics, Aristotle first addresses the question of “what really exists”.
The discipline named metaphysics is the most general and basic science that investigates the first principles and causes of everything that exists and tries to show what it means to exist, in contrast to the special sciences that try to find the causes and first principles of the types of things that make up their subjects. In Aristotle, metaphysics is the science that deals with the existing in terms of being, and investigates what it means to be something that exists.
His metaphysics is largely based on his views on logic and his work in biology. Accordingly, from the logical point of view, “to exist” is, in his eyes, to be something that can be talked about and fully defined. However, for his work in biology, “being” means being in a dynamic process, a process of change. Therefore, “to exist” means to be something for Aristotle.
Therefore, what really exists in him is not universals as in Plato, but individuals, beings with a certain nature that we denote as “that”. They are the subjects to whom the categories such as quantity, quality, relation, place, basic quality or predicates that Aristotle mentions in his works on logic can be attributed. Here, Aristotle calls this subject “substance” to which all categories are attributed. Accordingly, to exist in Aristotle is to be a certain kind of substance. Substance is also defined as an individual being that emerges as the product of a dynamic process. From this point of view, metaphysics is the science at the root of all beings, which examines existence, i.e., existing substances and the causes of substances, in other words, the processes that bring substances into existence.
What really exists in Aristotle are individual beings, primary substances—individual humans, plants, particular rocks, and animals—of which forms are abstractions made of themselves. According to Aristotle, the individual being is a composite being. It has two elements, form and matter. In other words, an individual or first-order substance, in addition to its “what”, also has its “that”, which consists of properties unique to it, that is, that it is “that thing” rather than something else. Here, the terms used by Aristotle when distinguishing “what” and “that” are matter and form, respectively. Accordingly, substance consists of a substance and a form; Of these, matter, in its simplest form, is the support or material from which an individual substance is made, whereas form is the physical shape, structure, arrangement or function that that thing has, in short, what makes it whatever it is.
Although Aristotle distinguishes between matter and form, he takes care to point out that in nature we have never encountered a form devoid of matter or a substance devoid of form. Everything that exists exists as a concrete individual, and everything emerges as a unity of matter and form. Thus, substance or primary substance is a composite entity consisting of form and matter. Therefore, in Aristotle, it is not possible to talk about separate forms, a world of Ideas outside the sensory world. Form does not exist in a separate place but in this sensuous world and as one of the components of substance, the essence embodied in individual substance.
According to Aristotle, the distinction between matter and form is a distinction that must be applied to everything that exists in nature. Accordingly, let us consider, for example, a silver plate made by an artist. In the silver plate in question, as in everything else, two elements, matter and form, are distinguished from each other. The substance of the silver plate is the metal from which the plate is made, while its form is the structure, arrangement or shape given to the silver by the craftsman who made the plate. However, the same distinction applies not only to artifacts but also to natural objects, such as a piece of silver that has not yet been worked by the craftsman. Accordingly, silver has an observable structure, a quality that is different from a similar piece of gold or copper. This is its form. The matter of silver, on the other hand, consists of four elements, earth, air, water, and fire, from which silver is in the final analysis. Of course, the proportions of the elements that make up silver form part of the form of silver. Because Aristotle attributes the difference between silver and other metals or substances to the difference in the proportions of the elements. As for the elements themselves, namely earth, air, water and fire themselves, Aristotle says that they are also composed of matter and form. Accordingly, these elements are explained through pairs of opposing qualities such as hot and cold, wet and dry. For example, the form of fire is hot and dry, whereas the form of earth is cold and wet. Their substances are completely obscure or or not, which Aristotle calls the first substance (prote hyle).