Four Categories of Being

I still have no idea what a substance is, and only a rough one of what a universal is.
But, at least, I do know what an accident is.

My last post on Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” didn’t amount to much, I know. But now it will get worse. Because I need a long digression in order to prepare the terrain for that elusive thing which is understanding. Aristotle first defines substance in the “Categories“, a work usually considered to be prior in time to the “Metaphysics”, and one which should be read first too. There he explains the foundations of many terms he uses afterwards in all of the corpus. There is also where he introduces his famous ten categories of being. All I want here is to get to the first category, but allow me to walk the whole way there.

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What the Hell is Substance?

Is a horse a substance? Is a man? What about a statue of a horse and a man? Is its underlying matter the substance, or is it its form? Or is it the compound of both matter and form what a substance really is? Maybe there is no substance. Doubts, doubts and more doubts…

For the vast majority of my life, I have favored reading nonfiction over fiction, using the argument that since “truth is stranger than fiction”, why waste my time with “invented truths”? Needless to say that I was profoundly wrong. But I say that now just to explain why, during that same stretch of my life, I have read nonfiction as if it were fiction. I read it page by page, enjoying the mystery of understanding gradually unfold in front of my eyes, yearning to reach the end of the book as if the murderer of an Agatha Christy’s story would be revealed. It was this naive (not to say stupid) that I made a feeble attempt to face Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” three years ago. The trauma was so strong that only now I am recovering. Boy, I wish I believed in God or any lesser superstition! Because now I’ll need all the help I can muster to wrestle with this tome.

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O.P.A.R. – Commentary: Man Qua Man

“The lower conscious species may be said to survive by “instinct,” if the term means an unchosen and unerring form of action (unerring within the limits of its range). Sensations and percepts are unchosen and unerring. An instinct, however—whether of self-preservation or anything else—is precisely what a conceptual being does not have. Man cannot function or survive by the guidance of mere sensations or percepts. A conceptual being cannot initiate action unless he knows the nature and purpose of his action. He cannot pursue a goal unless he identifies what his goal is and how to achieve it. No species can survive by regressing to the methods of more primitive organisms.”
Leonard Peikoff, “O.P.A.R.”, pages 193-194.
(Sanichar, the “wolf-boy”, forces us to think what really makes us men. If reason is our basic means of survival, and we have no instincts, how did he survive?”)

As I said in my crazy post about “Dune“, reason is the word of Objectivism. Chapter 5 of O.P.A.R. established that it is only through reason (not emotions) that we acquire knowledge about the world; and Chapter 6 has established that it is only through reason that man survives. I will no longer delve into (i) for now, but I think (ii) needs a little more attention.

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The Forgotten Book of the “Metaphysics”

Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” begins by saying that “All men by nature desire to know.” He, of course, regarded as “men” a select few — the Greek citizens — not the majority of the Greek people made up of slaves — beings who had allowed themselves to be conquered, inferior beings — much less the non-Greek barbarians. Perhaps the problem is precisely this: most of us must be descended from slaves, and as Will Durant put it, it must have been slavery that prepared us for the habit of toil. If this were not the case, we wouldn’t work so hard and think so little. Because when I look around me, I do not see many people interested in knowing. In fact, I see almost no one.

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