Section 3

The Philosophy of Aristotle -- Matter

by David Hume Icon

Aristotle’s Original Substance as a Universal Identity

Several moralists have recommended it as an excellent method of:

  • becoming acquainted with our own hearts, and
  • knowing our progress in virtue:
    • to recollect our dreams in a morning, and
    • examine them with the same rigour that we would apply on our most serious actions.

They say that our character:

  • is the same throughout, and
  • appears best where:
    • artifice, fear, and policy have no place, and
    • men can neither be hypocrites with themselves nor others.

The fictions of the imagination are influenced with the most unbounded liberty by:

  • our temper’s generosity or baseness,
  • our meekness or cruelty, and
  • our courage or cowardice.

These fictions discover themselves in the most glaring colours.

Similarly, there might be several useful discoveries from a criticism of the ancient philosophy’s fictions on substances, substantial form, accidents, and occult qualities.

No matter how unreasonable and capricious, these are very intimately connected with the principles of human nature.

Philosophers Often Contradict Themselves

The most judicious philosophers confessed that our ideas of bodies are just collections created by the mind, from the ideas of the several distinct sensible qualities:

  • which makes up objects, and
  • which we find constantly united with each other.

However entirely distinct these qualities may be, we commonly regard the compound they form as=

  • one thing, and
  • continuing the same under very considerable alterations.

The acknowledged composition is contrary to:

  • this supposed simplicity, and
  • the variation to the identity.

Therefore, it may be worthwhile to consider the:

  • causes which make us fall into such contradictions, and
  • means we use to conceal them.

The ideas of the several distinct, successive qualities of objects are united together by a very close relation.

The mind, in looking along the succession, must be carried from one part of it to another by an easy transition. It will no more perceive the change, than if it contemplated the same unchangeable object.

This easy transition is the effect, or rather essence of relation. The imagination readily takes one idea for another, where their influence on the mind is similar. It sees any such succession of related qualities as one continued object, existing without any variation.

The smooth and uninterrupted progress of the thought is alike in both cases. It readily:

  • deceives the mind, and
  • makes us ascribe an identity to the changeable succession of connected qualities.

The variations were insensible when they arose gradually. Those variations now destroy the identity when we:

  • change our method of considering the succession,
  • survey at once any two distinct periods of its duration, instead of tracing it gradually through the successive points of time, and
  • compare the different conditions of the successive qualities.

This causes a contrariety in our method of thinking, from:

  • our different points of view about the object, and
  • the nearness or remoteness of those instants of time which we compare together.

When we gradually follow an object in its successive changes, the smooth progress of the thought makes us ascribe an identity to the succession.

This is because the mind considers an unchangeable object in the same way. When we compare its situation after a considerable change, the progress of the thought is broken.

Consequently, we are presented with the idea of diversity to reconcile the contradictions between=

  • something unknown and invisible, and
    • The imagination supposes this to continue the same under all these variations.
  • this unintelligible something.
    • The imagination calls this a ‘substance’ or ‘original matter’.

We entertain a like notion with regard to the simplicity of substances and from like causes.

  • Object 1 is perfectly simple and indivisible.
  • Object 2 is compound and divisible, with parts strongly related to each other.

If they are presented together, the mind think of them similarly.

  • The mind thinks of Object 1 immediately with a single effort of thought.
  • The connection of parts in Object 2 unites Object 2 within itself.
  • The mind passes from one part to another effortlessly.

This is why the colour, taste, figure, solidity, and other qualities, combined in an apple are conceived to form one thing.

Their close relation makes them affect the thought in the same way as if they were perfectly uncompounded. But the mind does not rest here.

Whenever it views the object in another light, it finds that all these qualities are different, distinguishable, and separable from each other.

This view is destructive of the mind’s primary and more natural notions. It obliges the imagination to feign an unknown something, or original substance and matter as=

  • a principle of union or cohesion among these qualities, and
  • what may give the compound object a title to be called one thing, despite its diversity and composition.

‘Forms’ and ‘Accidents’ are Compound Versions of the Simple Substance

The peripatetic philosophy:

  • asserts the original matter to be perfectly homogeneous in all bodies, and
  • considers fire, water, earth, and air, as of the very same substance, on account of their gradual revolutions and changes into each other.

At the same time, it assigns to each of these species of objects a distinct substantial form, which it supposes to be=

  • the source of all those different qualities they possess, and
  • a new foundation of simplicity and identity to each particular species.

Everything depends on our way of viewing the objects.

  • When we look along the insensible changes of bodies, we suppose all of them to be of the same substance or essence.
  • When we consider their sensible differences, we attribute to each of them a substantial and essential difference.

To indulge ourselves in both these ways of considering our objects, we suppose all bodies to have at once a substance and a substantial form.

The notion of accidents is an unavoidable consequence of this method of thinking with regard to substances and substantial forms.

We cannot refrain from thinking of colours, sounds, tastes, figures, and other properties of bodies, as existences which cannot be separate.

  • We need something inherent to sustain and support them.

If we never discover any of these sensible qualities, we can never fancy a substance to exist.

The same habit which makes us connect cause and effect, makes us here depend every quality on the unknown substance.

  • The habit of imagining a dependence has the same effect as the habit of observing that the dependence exists.

However, this conceit is no more reasonable than any of the foregoing.

Every quality is a distinct thing from another.

It may be conceived to exist apart and may exist apart from:

  • every other quality, and
  • that unintelligible chimera of a substance.

But these philosophers carry their fictions still further in their feelings on occult qualities. Both suppose:

  • a substance supporting, which they do not understand, and
  • an accident supported, of which they have as imperfect an idea.

Therefore, the whole system is entirely incomprehensible. Yet it is derived from principles as natural as any of these above-explained.

Aristotle’s Philosophy is False

There are levels of opinions based on the people’s level of reason and knowledge:

  • the vulgar,
  • a false philosophy, and
  • the true.

The true philosophy approaches nearer to the feelings of the vulgar, than to those of a mistaken knowledge.

It is natural for men, in their common and careless way of thinking, to imagine a connection between objects that have been constantly found united.

Habit has made it difficult to separate the ideas.

Thus, they think that such a separation is impossible and absurd.

But philosophers who can think above this habit immediately:

  • perceive the falsehood of these shallow feelings, and
  • discover that there is no known connection among objects.

To them, every different object appears entirely separate.

They perceive that it is not from a view of the nature and qualities of objects that we infer one from another, but only when we have observed them to have been constantly conjoined.

But they frequently search for the qualities which make up this agency, instead of:

  • drawing a just inference from this observation, and
  • concluding that we have no idea of power or agency, separate from the mind and belonging to causes.

They are displeased with every system that tries to explain this power. Their shallow error is that they think that there is a natural and perceivable connection between the sensible qualities and actions of matter.

They have some genius to free themselves from this shallow error.

But they do not have enough genius to stop themselves from chasing this connection into matter* or causes.

*Superphysics Note: Because the power does not originate from matter, but from their own minds.

Had they fallen on the just conclusion, they would have returned to the shallow situation.

They would have regarded all these dissertations with indolence and indifference.

At present, Aristotle’s followers seem to be in a very lamentable condition.

Their condition is similar to how poets have described the punishment of Sisyphus and Tantalus. It is most tormenting to eagerly seek something that:

  • will forever evade us, and
  • is impossible to ever exist.

Nature seems to have observed a kind of justice and compensation in everything.

  • She has not neglected philosophers more than the rest of the creation.
  • She has reserved them a consolation amid all their disappointments and afflictions.

This consolation is principally in their invention of the words= ‘faculty’ and ‘occult quality’.

Some deep words mean a significant and intelligible idea.

After the frequent use of such words, we usually omit the deep idea and just keep the habit of recalling that idea when we want. Likewise, some shallow words mean totally insignificant and unintelligible ideas.

After the frequent use of such words, we usually put them on the same footing as those deeper words. We imagine the shallow words to have a secret meaning, which we might discover by reflection.

The resemblance of the deep and shallow words:

  • deceives the mind as usual, and
  • makes us imagine a thorough resemblance and conformity.

Through this, these philosophers set themselves at ease. They finally arrive, by an illusion, at the same indifference, which:

  • people attain by their stupidity, and
  • true philosophers by their moderate skepticism.

They need only say:

  • that any phenomenon, which puzzles them, arises from a faculty or an occult quality, and
  • that there is an end of all dispute and enquiry on the matter.

The Peripatetics were guided by every trivial propensity of the imagination.

Their most remarkable are their sympathies, antipathies, and the idea that nature abhors a vacuum.

There is a very remarkable inclination in human nature to:

  • bestow the same emotions on external objects, which it observes in itself, and
  • find everywhere those ideas which are most present to it.

This inclination is suppressed by a little reflection. It only takes place in children, poets, and the ancient philosophers.

It appears:

  • in children, by their desire of beating the stones which hurt them,
  • in poets, by their readiness to personify everything, and
  • in the ancient philosophers, by these fictions of sympathy and antipathy.

We must pardon:

  • children, because of their age, and
  • poets, because they follow implicitly the suggestions of their fancy.

But what excuse do our philosophers have in such a weakness?