Ontological Separation in Aristotle’s Metaphysics

In: Phronesis
Author: Emily Katz 1
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  • 1 Department of Philosophy, Michigan State University, South Kedzie Hall, 368 Farm Lane, Room 503, East Lansing, mi 48824, USA

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Ontological separation plays a key role in Aristotle’s metaphysical project: substances alone are ontologically χωριστόν. The standard view identifies Aristotelian ontological separation with ontological independence, so that ontological separation is a non-symmetric relation. I argue that there is strong textual evidence that Aristotle employs an asymmetric notion of separation in the Metaphysics—one that involves the dependence of other entities on the independent entity. I argue that this notion allows Aristotle to prevent the proliferation of substance-kinds and thus to secure the unity of his metaphysical system.

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  • 13

    E.g. Corkum 2008, 68; G. Fine 1984, 35; Gill 1989, 38; Michael Loux 1991, 261; and Morrison 1985a, 137.

  • 19

    See e.g. G. Fine 1984; Witt 2003, 81; and Makin 2003, most clearly at 229. Russell Dancy (1978, 404-5) takes ontological inseparability, and presumably ontological separability, to be some kind of existential relation: so the incapacity to ‘survive the loss of’ A designates inseparability from A. See also Kung 1978, 159. More recently, Corcilius and Gregoric claim that when Aristotle uses unqualified separation terminology ‘he always means that x can exist independently, or independently of y’ (2010, 90; see also 95). (Peramatzis 2008, 187-8 n. 2, gives a long list of commentators who share this view.)

  • 28

    Panayides 1999, 336 argues that Aristotle sometimes but not always takes priority in substance (what I am calling ontological priority) to be A’s capacity to exist without B and B’s incapacity to exist without A (what I am calling existential opm). Jonathan Beere argues that Aristotle has a ‘broad construal of priority in being’ (2009, 299): he has one set of criteria for relations between perishable things (priority ‘in being and form’), and another for relations between eternal and perishable things (non-reciprocal implication of being) (296-7). Both are kinds of ontological priority (299). See also Ross 1924, vol. 2, 414.

  • 30

    Peramatzis 2011, 13; see also 203-10. This is formulated slightly differently in 2008, 189.

  • 32

    E.g. Corkum 2008, 75; Beere 2009, 298-9; Peramatzis 2011, 241-3.

  • 51

    E.g. G. Fine 1983, 27; Polansky 1983, 62; Gill 1989 34, 83; Witt 1989, 146-7; Lewis 1991, 34, 326; Charlton 1994, 48-9; Bostock 1994, 83; Sharples 1999, 87; Reeve 2000, 99; Beere 2009, 280, 282.

  • 53

    Trans. Thompson, in Barnes 1984. In other cases Aristotle clearly means mere ‘distinctness’. E.g. Hist. an. 2.12, 504a5-8, Metaph. A.1, 980a20-4.

  • 61

    E.g. Gill 1989, 37 and Loux 1991, 263. But cf. Spellman 1995, 86-97; Peramatzis 2011, chh. 7 and 12; and Devereux 1992, 129.

  • 70

    See also my 2014, 346.

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