I have been studying Aristotle's Metaphysics and his definition of "coming to be" and "being" and with my limited knowledge I have tried to contrast his ideas to Plato's, so as to make sense of certain concepts. I do however have a hard time understanding the relationship between "form" and "being". There is specially one passage, namely Book VII Chapter 8, pg. 131 from Joe Sachs translation of Aristotle's Metaphysics that confuses me greatly:

“Now since what comes into being comes about by the action of something (and by this I mean that from which the source of its generation comes), and out of something (and let this be not the lack but the material, since we have already distinguished the way in which we mean this), and becomes something (and this is either a sphere or a circle or whatever it might be in other cases), just as one does not make the sphere, except in the incidental sense that the bronze sphere is a sphere, and one makes that.

For to make a this is to make a this out of the whole of what underlies it. (I mean that making the bronze round is not making the ‘round’ or the sphere but something different, such that this form is in something else; for if one made the form, one would make it out of some other thing, since that was assumed, in such a way as one makes a bronze sphere, in the sense that out of this, which is bronze, one makes this, which is a sphere.)

So if one were also to make the underlying thing itself, it is clear that one would make it in the same way, and the coming-into-being would march off to infinity.

Therefore it is clear that the form, or whatever one ought to call the shapeliness that is worked into the perceptible thing, does not come into being, and that coming-into-being does not even pertain to it, or to what it is for something to be (for this is what comes to be in something else, by art or by nature, or by some capacity).”

I do understand that anything that comes to be or what is "begotten", must necessarily have a source out of which it comes to be. What I try to grasp however, is the part where he says

For to make a this is to make a this out of the whole of what underlies it.

But we know that what underlies it, is the "being". So how can "being" be involved in making something? Isn't "being" always there in a timeless manner? And what is the relation of "form" to the "being" of something?

  • That's strange; books 7 has only 5 parts?! You might want to double-check. Feb 25, 2016 at 22:31
  • @Mozibur Ullah The quote is from book VII (Zeta), Chapter 8, 1033a24ff.
    – Jo Wehler
    Feb 25, 2016 at 23:46
  • @wehler: ah, ok; my mistake, I'm confusing his physics with metaphysics ... Feb 25, 2016 at 23:54
  • According to Sachs introduction, his reading is informed by Martin Heidegger, Jacob Klien and Joseph Owens. Feb 26, 2016 at 1:01

1 Answer 1


Aristotle illustrates in this passage from Metaphysics, book VII (1033a24ff) his theory of four causes:

  • "by the action of something" = causa efficiens
  • "out of something" = causa materialis
  • "becomes something" = causa formalis

The fourth cause, causa finalis, is not considered. In the passage

For to make a this is to make a this out of the whole of what underlies it.

the term "what underlies it" denotes the causa materialis: upokeimenon = the substrate.

The theory of four causes has been introduced in book I, chapter 3-7. Here Aristotle also reviews Plato's teaching.

  • @wehler: Could you tell me how "form" relates to "being" in this context?
    – O.A.
    Feb 26, 2016 at 18:36
  • 1
    @O.A. Aristotle says that form (= eidos) does not originate (= ou gignetai). He means that form is not made from stuff but shapes the stuff.
    – Jo Wehler
    Feb 26, 2016 at 18:57

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