I'm referring to this page as a primary source of information.

I don't get what Artistotle wants to show here. Or I didn't get the main idea he wanted to express. Let's take another example from those on the Wikipedia page. According to Aristotle cause the following statement is true :

"My glass marble is now an iron marble, it's the same."

Because everything is the same except the material. (Iron vs Glass)
- The design is the same : It's a marble
- The final cause is still the same : I want to play marbles.

That doesn't seem right to me because there is one thing this theory doesn't cover. How can this iron marble the same than my glass marble ? It doesn't even have the same physical properties (weight for instance...). Though only the material changed. It would be the same with the sock example. If there is a hole in my whool sock and I cover it with a silk patch and I repeat this operation a countless number of time. That will still be my sock but it won't be a whool sock but a silk sock (I admit it, it might not be comfy).

Did someone understand what is this "material change" Aristotle is talking about ? The material may vary if it's only the same 'type' of material ?

Or maybe my english is too bad and I don't know what defines the word "material".

  • 1
    Do you ever studied Aristotle's Metaphysics ? According to A, the "essence" of an individual is its "form" and not the matter; so - he think - if only the matter changes, the individual does not. It is A's theory ... But you may think to yourself: the cells of your body change (they are replaced by new ones); so, from birth to death, you are still the "same" ? Mar 18 '14 at 13:49
  • It also depends on the definition of "the same" as pointed out on Wikipedia. But no I never studied A's Metaphysics.
    – Depado
    Mar 18 '14 at 15:13
  • 2
    Of course, my observation is not a critic ... I mean that is hard to read ancient texts (Plato, Aristotle) with "modern eyes"; we know a lot about physics, biology, and so on. But still some deep problems are debated and without a definitive solution: one of this is the problem of Personal Identity; onother is related to Essentialism. Mar 18 '14 at 15:20
  • Sorry if my answer to your comment seemed like I took offense of it. No offense taken of course. Thanks for the links, I enjoy finding new sources and new reading sources ^^
    – Depado
    Mar 18 '14 at 15:38
  • 1
    No problem; but do not underestimate Aristotle ... Today we are not accustomed to speak of "essence": but think to a chair; what is its "definitional characteristic" ? Four legs ... obviuosly no. If it is made of wood ? ... obviuosly no. We have to think something like its "fuction". Thus, when we will try to define the essence of "man", or of "the Good", it will be much harder. Mar 18 '14 at 15:47

This is controversial, both as an interpretation of Aristotle, and as a solution to the problem, but my view is that Aristotle believes in relative identity. In other words, It is possible for the marble to be the same marble, but different materials. It is possible for you to be the same human organism, but a different collection of cells, etc. This is because, as Mauro points out in the comment above, Aristotle ties the identity over time of a composite material object to the form of the object rather than its matter. As long as the same form remains actively shaping the matter into a unity, then the individual bits of matter can come and go, while the composite remains the same.


There are 2 things that would help you explore this further.

The first is how Aristotle defines 'Substance' in the context of his '10 Categories of Being' (Organon - Categories - start with the primary source here (part 5), or look for a translation in your first language, and a secondary source discussion here).

In layman's terms, I like to think of this as 'the goo from which the universe is made, that we recognise as something because it has a particular form'.

But ... what do we really recognise? Content or form?

If we knew each other and you saw me from a distance, recognised me, and waved, you'd have seen my form, but you'd simultaneously have recognised me. Are these 2 things or 1?

In your example, in basic terms, if you pointed at the marble, and asked, 'What is it?' Your simplest, shortest, most precise answer in each case would have to be, 'It's a marble'. But what is it that makes it a marble?

This brings me to the second thing that will help out - Aristotle's four principles of causation, referenced in your link - material, formal, efficient and final. They're interdependent. The marble is a marble because it conforms to the ideal of 'marbleness', the material it's made of allows it to display that form, for that to happen, someone somewhere (we're talking of a man-made object here) must have made it, and to do that, they must have had a reason, the simplest, most obvious one being, 'to make a marble'. Sure, your material can change, but what happens to the other elements of the marble when you focus just on the material? Do they suddenly disappear?

And where does substance fit in?

Some questions for you to ponder on as you explore this subject. Enjoy!

  • Wow. Thanks a lot really. I enjoyed your answer because you show me a new way of seeing things and the way Aristotle reflected on that subject.
    – Depado
    Mar 19 '14 at 11:10

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