Aquinas on Forms, Substances and Artifacts

In: Vivarium
Anna Marmodoro University of Oxford, Faculty of Philosophy

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Ben Page University of Oxford, Faculty of Theology

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Thomas Aquinas sees a sharp metaphysical distinction between artifacts and substances, but does not offer any explicit account of it. We argue that for Aquinas the contribution that an artisan makes to the generation of an artifact compromises the causal responsibility of the form of that artifact for what the artifact is; hence it compromises the metaphysical unity of the artifact to that of an accidental unity. By contrast, the metaphysical unity of a substance is achieved by a process of generation whereby the substantial form is solely responsible for what each part and the whole of a substance are. This, we submit, is where the metaphysical difference between artifacts and substances lies for Aquinas. Here we offer on behalf of Aquinas a novel account of the causal process of generation of substances, in terms of descending forms, and we bring out its explanatory merits by contrasting it to other existing accounts in the literature.

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