What is it about?

In the context of Aristotle’s metaphysics and natural philosophy, the term ‘prime matter’ refers to the material cause that is both the proximate material cause of the four sublunary elements and the ultimate material cause of all perishable substances. On the traditional view, prime matter is held to be pure potentiality, that is, without any determinate nature of its own. Against this view, I argue that prime matter must be physical, extended, and movable matter if it is to fulfil its roles as the substratum persisting through the generation and corruption of these four elements, the subject in which their defining properties are found, and the material cause that individuates formally identical instances of these elements.

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Why is it important?

Argues against the widespread view that for Aristotle the substratum persisting through generation and destruction must be purely potential, with no nature of its own.


If my view is correct, then the neo-Platonic and Thomistic account of prime matter must be incorrect. That view gets the division of explanatory labor between formal and material causes wrong.

Prof. Christopher Byrne
St. Francis Xavier University

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This page is a summary of: Prime Matter and Actuality, Journal of the History of Philosophy, January 1995, Project Muse,
DOI: 10.1353/hph.1995.0023.
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