What is Aristotle and Matter – Form Relationship?

What is Aristotle and Matter – Form Relationship?

June 26, 2021 Off By Felso

When Aristotle’s thoughts are considered as a whole, it is seen that he put forward views on many different subjects such as existence, knowledge, principles of reasoning, nature, the world of living things, astronomy, spirit, politics, morality and art. In this context, the matter-form relationship is one of the important subjects of Aristotle’s philosophy.

The foremost of all these issues is undoubtedly the subject of existence. Because the problem of existence was the most important problem of philosophy for many Greek thinkers and had a central position in the teachings of the first systematic thinkers, Plato and Aristotle.

All the philosophical views put forward by Aristotle are ultimately either related to the problem of existence or can be based on his views on this subject. Therefore, it would be useful to begin an examination of Aristotle by addressing his understanding of being.


Aristotle has always been somewhat of a Platonist in his philosophical views, but differed from his teacher on many important points. One of the places where this distinction emerges most clearly is the subject of existence.

Aristotle, like Plato, thought that there must be an essence or form that remains unchanged despite all the changes in nature. Plato argued that immutable essences, that is, ideas, are separate from visible things, reality is ideas, and visible things do not have a reality in themselves, but are real to the extent that they share the idea.

This view was based on the assumption that the visible universe and the ideas are separate (dualism) and that the visible universe has no reality in itself. It is appropriate to start Aristotle’s understanding of being with his teacher’s criticism of these two basic assumptions.


He adopted the concepts of form (eidos) or idea of ​​Aristotle’s teacher and used them frequently in his works. But the meaning he attributes to them is different from the meaning his teacher attributes.

Aristotle never thought of form or idea separately from visible things, he argued that it is immanent in visible things, that it manifests itself in visible things and gives them their form (Zeller, 2008: 241).

This claim leads to the conclusion that reality or truth is not separate from the visible universe and must be sought in visible things themselves. That’s why Aristotle, unlike his teacher Plato, always gave importance to nature studies. But this should not make us think that Aristotle attributes reality to matter.

Just like his teacher, Aristotle was attributing reality to form, essence or idea. But for him this essence was an essence (ousia) that developed in visible things. That is, the idea was not a reality separate from visible things, but the form or essence realized in visible things. Thus, visible things consisted of the realization of form or essence (Gökberk, 1994: 81).

Even though plaster has not yet become a sculpture, the possibility of being a sculpture exists in it in a latent state, in a potential state.

Aristotle, unlike his teacher Plato, never thought of the idea or form separately from visible things, and argued that it is immanent in visible things. Thus, contrary to Plato’s dualist understanding that separates ideas from visible things, Aristotle stated that reality and reality are in the visible universe and there is no other truth independent of the visible.

Aristotle’s unique understanding of being, which deals with visible things, that is, matter (hyle), together with idea, essence or form, brings many question marks with it. The chief of these is the question of what is the relationship of visible things and ideas, or matter and essence.

This question also appeared in Plato, and it was asked how ideas give existence to visible things. In response to this question, Plato suggested some concepts such as “joining”, “taking a share”, “being present” and eventually needed the existence of an intermediary God named Demiourgos.

There is no need for such a mediation in Aristotle’s understanding of matter and form (or essence). Because matter and essence are no longer separate from each other. However, it will still be necessary to explain how matter and form, which are structurally different from each other and have no common characteristics, can interact with each other, and what is the relationship between them.

Aristotle thought that matter gained reality only through form, took shape and assumed certain qualities, and came into existence thanks to form. On the other hand, he argued that the form can only realize itself in matter, and that if there were no matter, the form would never reveal itself. Thus, he transformed the relationship between matter and form into a relationship of interdependence.

If matter had no form, no form that makes it perceptible to us, it would remain in a chaotic state, that is, in a state of non-existence. Because, according to Aristotle, a substance that has not gained form and the form has not yet realized itself cannot be considered to have come into existence (Sahakian, 1997: 69).

For this reason, Aristotle always saw form as reality and being itself, and it was necessary for something to gain reality and existence.