DE&E: Chapter 6:4

Thomas goes on about accidents that are a consequence of matter:

Among the accidents that are consequences of matter there is found a certain diversity.

I’m tempted to give some facetious examples here, but I’ll restrain myself.

Some accidents follow from the order the matter has to a special form, as the masculine and the feminine in animals, the difference between which is reduced to the matter, as the Philosopher says in X Metaphysicae cap. 9 (1058b21-23). Hence, the form of the animal having been removed, these accidents do not remain except in some equivocal sense.

I don’t really understand the phrase “the order the matter has to a special form”. In fact, I don’t really understand what it means for one thing “to be ordered to” something else. A “special form” is, presumably, the form of a species; but both the males and females of a species belong to the same species.

By “the form of the animal having been removed”: does Thomas mean, if the animal dies? The remaining body would then (for a time) have the remains of male or female organs, but would no longer truly be masculine or feminine?

Other accidents follow from the order the matter has to a general form, and so with these accidents, if the special form is removed, the accidents still remain in the thing, as the blackness of the skin of an Ethiopian comes from the mixture of the elements and not from the notion of the soul, and hence the blackness remains in the man after death.

And here, “general form” is presumably the form of a genus.

I vaguely remember that the species is related to the essence of a thing, and the genus to its matter. Is Thomas saying that there are no “black” souls, but that there are masculine souls and feminine souls?

I’m finding these examples to be unhelpful, as Thomas is clearly presuming upon a shared understanding that I’m not acquainted with.

4 Responses to “DE&E: Chapter 6:4”

  1. Brandon says:

    The idea, I think, is that males and females of a species are of one species. So they have one (kind of) form. So the difference between male and female is not a difference of form. But it’s a pretty hefty distinction, at the same time, much more than (say) the distinction between pale and dark, so how to explain the difference? That’s the question Aristotle asks in the Metaphysics passage; and he concludes that “male and female, while they are modifications peculiar to ‘animal’, are so not in virtue of its essence but in the matter.” So men and women (say) don’t differ in the form, ‘human’, but in how their bodies are organized by it (or, to put it in other terms, the particular way their matter is ordered to, i.e., disposed to, being human when it gets the form). I think you’re exactly right about the death of the animal part: take the form of man or woman away and what you have is no longer human but a corpse, and therefore not, in the proper sense, a man or a woman. So it doesn’t have male parts or female parts; it just has the parts of a corpse that correspond to male parts or female parts.

    In the Ethiopian case, though, a black man’s corpse stays black, because it is not (unlike sex) due to how the matter is disposed to being human, but how it is disposed to being something more general. I’m not quite clear what he has in mind in this case, but I think he may mean that the blackness has to do with how one’s matter is disposed to being a body, and so it stays as long as there’s a body.

    It’s an interesting passage in its own right; it shows that Aquinas doesn’t think of race as a fundamental biological characteristic, or an essential human feature — it’s just a matter of how the elements of your body happen to be mixed together (and the proportion of the mixture) so as to make it look a certain way, exactly as happens with any other body.

  2. Will says:

    Thanks for that, though I’m still considerably puzzled.

    Perhaps he’s simply saying that masculinity and femininity are essential properties of a human being: matter that is formed by the human essence has one or the other, and when that form goes away, the matter no longer has that property. Other features of the body are not due to the essence, and so when the essential form is lost (i.e., the creature dies) they remain.

    OK, that goes a long way to explain the example; but the whole thing is still fuzzy to me. I suppose I don’t need to understand all of it.

    As regards masculinity and femininity not being a difference of form, but solely of matter…that doesn’t seem right, somehow. It seems to me that I’m not merely a human being, I’m a man…and that’s part of my essence. Souls may not be male or female, but surely they are masculine or feminine?

  3. Brandon says:

    ‘Essence’ can be a slippery term in itself, but I think you more or less have the idea. What might be a better route is to focus on the notion of species: men and women are not different species of the genus ‘human’ (however much they may seem like it sometimes); they are different kinds of members of the species ‘human’. At the same time, this difference isn’t like the difference between having black skin and having white skin, or the difference between being tall or short, or anything like that. So it’s an accident — you don’t have it in virtue of your own specific form, which is just to be human — but it’s an accident that is closely tied to what it is to be human. Thus it’s not that the difference is solely one of matter, but that it’s a difference we have given that there are two basic ways for matter to be organized by the specific form, a male way and a female way. It has to have something to do with the specific form, because when the specific form goes away it goes away too — if the corpse is not (in the strictest sense) human, it is not (in the strictest sense) a man. But it can’t be simply due to specific form, because then men and women would be different species. So Aquinas, following Aristotle, uses the latter consideration to conclude that it must be explained by matter; but the former requires that it’s not merely a material difference, but a material difference that depends on having a human form. (If souls are masculine or feminine, I’m inclined to think that this is the result of having a man’s body or a woman’s body, and the reactions, aptitudes, &c. that follow on that, and thus wouldn’t be the explanation of the difference between man and woman.)

    I think you’re probably right that not a huge amount hinges on our having a precise idea of this particular point.

  4. Will says:

    OK, that helps. Thanks! (Gotta do Aristotle at some point.)