Aristotle on the Matter for Birth, Life, and the Elements

In Liba Taub (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Ancient Science. Cambridge, UK: pp. 79-101 (2020)
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This essay considers three case studies of Aristotle’s use of matter, drawn from three different scientific contexts: menstrual fluid as the matter of animal generation in the Generation of Animals, the living body as matter of an organism in Aristotle’s On the Soul (De Anima), and the matter of elemental transformation in Generation and Corruption. I argue that Aristotle conceives of matter differently in these treatises (1) because of the different sorts of changes under consideration, and (2) because sometimes he is considering the matter for one specific change, and sometimes the matter for all of a thing’s natural changes. My account allows me to explain some of the strange features that Aristotle ascribes to the matter for elemental transformation in Generation and Corruption II. These features were interpreted by later commentators as general features of all matter. I argue that they are a result of the specific way that Aristotle thinks about the transmutation of the elements.

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David Ebrey
Universitat de Barcelona


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