What is it about?

Aristotle uses two kinds of material cause in his analysis of biological organisms: compositional mater, which persists through their birth and death; and functional matter, which consists of the organs and functional parts out of which biological organisms are made while they are alive. I argue that biological organisms for Aristotle are systematically dependent upon their compositional matter, which is responsible for many of their necessary attributes.

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Why is it important?

Many commentators on Aristotle have argued that all of the important attributes of biological organisms are explained by their formal cause, their soul. I argue that the compositional material cause of biological organisms is for Aristotle much more important than the traditional view allows; many permanent, fundamental features of living organisms are due to their matter.


This article is part of a larger project to show that material causes for Aristotle are much more important than the traditional view allows. For, the latter holds that the material causes of perceptible objects are only responsible for the accidental features of the things made from them. By contrast, I argue that although all of accidental features of perceptible objects are grounded in their material causes, it is not the case that all of the material features of perceptible objects are accidental to these objects. The matter of perceptible objects matters a great deal to them.

Prof. Christopher Byrne
St. Francis Xavier University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Compositional & Functional Matter: Aristotle on the Material Cause of Biological Organisms, Apeiron, January 2013, De Gruyter,
DOI: 10.1515/apeiron-2012-0062.
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