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The role of matter in Aristotle's Metaphysics books ZH

Grant number: 14/17154-3
Support Opportunities:Scholarships in Brazil - Post-Doctoral
Effective date (Start): February 01, 2015
Effective date (End): January 31, 2019
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Philosophy - History of Philosophy
Acordo de Cooperação: Coordination of Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES)
Principal Investigator:Marco Antônio de Ávila Zingano
Grantee:Simone Giuseppe Seminara
Host Institution: Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil
Associated research grant:15/05317-8 - Theories of causation and human agency in ancient Greek philosophy, AP.TEM


In my research project I aim at showing which role is played by the notion of matter in Aristotle's Metaphysics Books ZH. Although in Metaphysics Book A Aristotle mentions the material cause as one of the four causes which one has to search for in the metaphysical enquiry, in Book Z , at least at first glance, the notion of matter seems to be a sort of "unwelcome guest". In Z3, for example, Aristotle regards the criterion of "being a substratum" as not sufficient for the search of the meaning of substance, for, in this way matter would be more substance than form and composite. Nevertheless, main features of being a substance are "being a this" and "being separable", which do not belong to matter. In Z 4-6, within the logical enquiry on the notion of essence, no mention to the concept of matter is actually present. In Z10 matter regarded in itself is said to be "unknowable". In Z 11 it is said that of the composite of matter and form there is no formula if regarded with its matter, for this latter is "indefinite". All such references seem to provide us with a deflationary account of the role played by the notion of matter for the search of the meaning of substance and, as a consequence, for the more general enquiry on being. The main task of my research project consists in verifying whether Z's references to the indeterminate and unknowable character of matter are at odds with the material causality as it is proved by the physical searches (and as it is dealt with in Metaphysics A). The main hypothesis of my project is that Book H is the place where Aristotle gives its own place to material causality within the metaphysical enquiry. As a matter of fact, in H, he develops the methodological suggestion of Z17 according to which the search for the meaning of substance has now to be ruled by the explanatory meaning of substance as "principle and cause". This search amounts to explain "why a certain matter is some definite thing" and it is developed in the whole Book H. In my reading in H Aristotle bestows to matter full citizenship from both an ontological and definitional viewpoint. This fact entails, however, that the notion of matter is understood within a different framework. Namely, as something potentially determinate. If one takes on this theoretical shift it is possible to provide a reading of Book H different from its traditional one. Far from being a mere collection of appendixes to the previous Book Z, H accomplishes Z moving from the fact that "sensible substances all have matter" and that matter is, in each case, the way of being potentially something determinate (H1). In the remaining of H Aristotle fleshes out the question about the conditions of determinability of the material substratum: in H 2-3 by focusing especially on the relation between matter as potentiality and form as actuality in the composition of a sensible substance; in H 4-5 by focusing especially on the role of matter in the processes of generation and corruption. H's focus on the material aspect of sensible substances culminates in H 6, where Aristotle provides us with an account of matter which is not at odds with the unity requirement of his theory of being and definition. I argue that a unified reading of Metaphysics Book H can help us understand better also the argumentative structure of Book Z and, more generally, the role of the enquiry on the notion of substance within the whole metaphysical enquiry. (AU)

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