Holism in Aristotle's Metaphysics

Daniel Gladstone


This paper sets out to find and utilize the principles that Aristotle presents in the Metaphysics to support the existence of unified substance. This aspect of substance I refer to as holistic. I will argue that, in the context of Aristotle’s Metaphysics, holism refers to substantial unities existing as absolute indivisibles. Aristotle’s insistence that substance is only found in concretely individuated beings (i.e. mattered forms) poses serious problems for this position. I will thus focus much of my attention on this particular issue (i.e. how a plurality can be contained within an absolute unity), maintaining that Aristotle can consistently allow substance to exist in this way. I will look to two of Theodore Scaltsas’ works for guidance in this endeavour. Accepting his position, I will look to Metaphysics books IV and X, the books that discuss being and contradiction, and unity and contrariety respectively. These books will illuminate the principles that I seek. Given my discoveries here, the casting of holism that I present relies upon a reading of Aristotle’s metaphysical position regarding matter and form as strictly analytic concepts carrying no ontological weight. That is to say, they are products of conceptual analysis, performing an epistemological function, rather than pertaining to the thing under investigation as it actually is.


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