Primary and Secondary Substance

I am a primary substance, and so are you. “Man” is a secondary substance. Man o’War was a primary substance; “Horse” is a secondary substance. “Man” and “Horse” are also species.

I’ve been pondering this for a while now, trying to figure out why secondary substances are called substances, and I think I’ve got it. When I apprehend a particular man, someone I see on the street, for example, my intellect apprehends him as a universal, “Man”. Thus, the primary substance, this man on the street, form my intellect as the secondary substance “Man”.

So primary and secondary substances are very naturally related. A secondary substance is a primary substance as apprehended.

I also have a conjecture about how these terms got their names. I’m betting that somewhere St. Thomas, or possibly Aristotle, says something like, “The word substance is used in two senses. The primary sense is thus and so, and the secondary sense is thus and so.” He might even note that this man in the street is prior to this species, “Man”, which is why the primary is first and the secondary is second.

One Response to “Primary and Secondary Substance”

  1. niggardly phil says:

    This is well written.

    Aristotle’s Metaphysics book Delta is a gathering of meanings and formulas for various words.

    in chapter 8, there is the following:

    It follows, then, that ‘substance’ has two senses, (A) ultimate substratum, which is no longer predicated of anything else, and (B) that which, being a ‘this’, is also separable and of this nature is the shape or form of each thing.

    Aristotle combines these two senses in his phrase, a “this such” – this man, or this tree.