Aristotle on Form, Substance, and Universals: A Dilemma

Phronesis 16 (1):169-178 (1971)
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In book Zeta of the Metaphysics and elsewhere Aristotle appears to commit himself to the following propositions: (1) No universal can be substance; (2) Form is a universal; and (3) Form is that which is most truly substance. These propositions appear to constitute an inconsistent triad lying at the heart of Aristotle’s ontology. A number of attempts have been made to rescue Aristotle from the charge of inconsistency. Some have claimed that Aristotle did not subscribe to (1), but only to the proposition that nothing predicated universally can be substance. Others hold that, contrary to (2), form is not a universal but peculiar to each individual. Still others argue that the sense of ‘substance’ in which the species form is a substance is not the sense in which no universal is substance. I argue that none of these attempts to rescue Aristotle from the charge of inconsistency is ultimately defensible.

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