DE&E: Chapter 6:1

We’re getting into the home stretch. Having considered essence, and the logical intentions, and substances material and immaterial, it’s now time, evidently, to consider accidents!

We should now see in what way there are essences in accidents, having said already how essences are found in all types of substances.

This strike me as odd, as I usually think of a substance as having an essence and accidents. Essence and accidents are opposed: a thing has its essence, and it has accidents, and they are different. But here, Thomas is saying that there are essences in accidents.

Now, since, as said above, the essence is that which is signified by the definition, accidents will thus have essences in the same way in which they have definitions.

It seems to me that here we’ve gone from “essence” in a metaphysical sense to “essence” in a logical sense. An accident, i.e., whiteness of a thing, has a definition; and this is an essence. It’s not the same as the essence of a dog, or a man; but it’s still in some sense a whatness, a quiddity. So I would say that we’re using the term “essence” analogically, here, not so?

But accidents have incomplete definitions, because they cannot be defined unless we put a subject in their definitions, and this is because they do not have absolute existence per se apart from a subject,….

Right: you can’t have whiteness just floating around loose. It has to be the whiteness of something in particular, of a subject. A white dog, a white horse, a white flower.

…but just as from the form and the matter substantial existence results when a substance is compounded, so too from the accident and the subject does accidental existence result when the accident comes to the subject.

Things kind of begin to rhyme, don’t they?

Thus, neither the substantial form nor the matter has a complete essence, for even in the definition of the substantial form we place something of which it is the form, and so its definition involves the addition of something that is beyond its genus, just as with the definition of an accidental form.

OK, now I’m confused. “…neither the substantial form nor the matter has a complete essence…” — Is Thomas simply saying that in a material substance the essence includes both form and (non-signate) matter? “…in the definition of the substantial form we place something of which it is the form…” — i.e., matter? It would seem that this is what he is saying. And so the definition involves the addition of something beyond its form: non-signate matter, in the one case, and the subject, in the other. OK, he’s still drawing parallels.

Hence, the natural philosopher places the body in the definition of the soul because he considers the soul only insofar as it is the form of the physical body.

I’m not sure what the import of this is. Certainly, a natural philosopher, a physicist or biologist (is that what Thomas means?) has a different view of the body and the soul; to them, the body is primary, and the soul (if it exists) is something tacked on. The soul needs a subject to be the soul of.

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