Aristotle on the Purity of Forms in Metaphysics Z.10–11

Ergo: An Open Access Journal of Philosophy 7:1-33 (2020)
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Aristotle analyses a large range of objects as composites of matter and form. But how exactly should we understand the relation between the matter and form of a composite? Some commentators have argued that forms themselves are somehow material, that is, forms are impure. Others have denied that claim and argued for the purity of forms. In this paper, I develop a new purist interpretation of Metaphysics Z.10-11, a text central to the debate, which I call 'hierarchical purism'. I argue that hierarchical purism can overcome the difficulties faced by previous versions of purism as well as by impurism. Roughly, on hierarchical purism, each composite can be considered and defined in two different ways: From the perspective of metaphysics, composites are considered only insofar as they have forms and defined purely formally. From the perspective of physics, composites are considered insofar as they have forms and matter and defined with reference to both. Moreover, while the metaphysical definition is a definition in the strict sense of 'definition', the physical definition is a definition in a loose sense. Analogous points hold for intelligible composites and geometry. Finally, neither sort of definitional practice implies that, for Aristotle, forms are impure.

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Samuel Meister
University Tübingen


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