'Substantial Forms' explained

Because Christopher Brown's excellent book "Aquinas and the Ship of Theseus" is not easily available and very expensive, I simply have to share these few paragraphs about the subject of 'substantial forms', which plays such a crucial role in the Aristotelian-Thomist metaphysics of matter and form (hylemorphism):


A substantial form configures matter so that it is this kind of substance rather than another kind. This is why Aquinas says that the substantial form gives actual being to this substance (being simpliciter), and why he says that a substance's species is derived from its substantial form.
          Aquinas's views on substantial form thus show that he is not thinking of substantial forms as equivalent to the spatial relationships that exist among that substance's material parts. This is because the substantial form of a material substance causes the parts of a substance to be what they are, and thus to be in the places that they are. Since something cannot be the cause of itself, a substantial form cannot be equivalent to the spatial relationships that obtain among a material substance's integral parts. Thus, the substantial form of a substance exists over and above a substance's integral parts, giving such parts more than a mere aggregative unity. As Aquinas goes on to say with respect to the composite whole that is one thing simpliciter, e.g. a substance: 'The composite itself is not (identical) to those things from which it is composed.' ...
          As we have seen, some substances have a special name for their substantial forms; the substantial forms of living substances are called 'souls'. Thus, some substantial forms are souls and some are not. But some souls are such that they are able to survive being separated from matter. Human souls are such substantial forms and, unlike all other substantial forms of material objects, they have operations, namely understanding and willing, that rise completely above the nature of matter, and so these substantial forms can survive apart from the matter that they naturally configure. In contrast, the substantial forms of non-human material substances are immersed in matter such that they go out of existence whenever they are separated from it. Following B. Bazan, we might refer to human souls as 'subsistent substantial forms'. Aquinas himself sometimes calls the substantial forms of nonhuman material substances 'material forms' (formae materiales) or 'natural forms' (formae naturales). 
          Since material substantial forms lose their existence whenever they are separated from matter, it stands to reason that such substantial forms have their origin in matter as well. Indeed, this is Aquinas's view. Aquinas also thinks that material substantial forms are not created by God. Material substantial forms originate by way of a natural process, and not a miraculous one. But neither are material substantial forms generated. This is because only beings, properly speaking, are generated according to Aquinas; and, as we have seen, material substantial forms are not beings but principles of being. Rather than being generated, Aquinas thinks that material substantial forms are 'educed' (educitur) from matter. For now we can note that by 'eduction' Aquinas means the drawing out of a substantial form from matter that is 'in potency' to a way of substantial being; substantial forms that are not currently configuring some matter can come to configure some matter through the actions of agents extrinsic to that matter manipulating it in various ways. 
          In contrast to material substantial forms, the human soul is able to exist apart from the matter it configures. The soul is thus a subsistent thing for Aquinas, and not simply a principle of being as are material substantial forms. The soul's subsistence is tied to its having operations that transcend matter in the relevant sense: the distinctive operations of the human soul function apart from matter, and, with God's help, the human soul as a whole can function apart from matter. However, even when it is separated from matter, a human soul remains the substantial form of a human being. Although the human soul can exist apart from matter, existing separately from matter is an unnatural state for the soul. Finally, since human souls are subsistent entities, they cannot have their origin in matter. Thus, unlike material substantial forms, human souls only exist by way of a special act of creation on the part of God.
It is important to understand that all substantial forms, except for human rational soul, are not created by supernatural intervention of God, but are educed by material substances from the passive potentiality of matter (e.g. the substantial form of water is educed from hydrogen and oxygen atoms, where it existed only in potentia). The reason is that all these substantial forms depend for their existence on the material substance they inform, and they go out of existence when the substance ceases to exist (e.g. in water hydrolysis).
          Only the human rational soul can survive the end of existence (death) of its animated body, because one of its functions is the grasping of universals qua universals, which in principle cannot be instantiated in matter, because for example the instantiation of universal of dogness in matter simply IS a dog. Therefore, the rational soul has an immaterial aspect, so that it does not fully depend on matter. Consequently, it cannot be naturally educed from matter but has to be created directly by God.

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  • #1

    homework helper (Dienstag, 20 September 2016 15:55)

    Do you know the reason why the book "Aquinas and the Ship of Theseus" is not available? I wanted to buy it, but could not find where. Any suggestions?