Aristotle's Mereology and the Status of Form
Koslicki (Kathrin)
Source: Journal of Philosophy , Dec., 2006, Vol. 103, No. 12, Special Issue: Parts and Wholes (Dec., 2006), pp. 715-736
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction (Greek removed)

  1. Like many of his contemporaries and predecessors, Aristotle was puzzled by what we may call, "The Problem of the One and the Many," namely how and whether something that has many parts can at the same time be one. He states this problem very clearly in Physics 1.2, where it is listed as among the questions concerning parts and wholes to be dealt with (somewhere): “There is, indeed, a difficulty about part and whole, perhaps not relevant to the present argument, yet deserving consideration on its own account, namely, whether the part and the whole are one or more than one, and in what way they can be one or many, and, if they are more than one, in what way they are more than one (Phy. 1.2, 185b11-14)”.
  2. Aristotle returns to the Problem of the One and the Many in the central books of the Metaphysics, and applies some of the apparatus he has developed in the interim to these questions concerning parts and wholes. In particular, in a difficult but fascinating passage at Met. Z.17, 1041b11-33, which will be cited in full and discussed in detail below, Aristotle is concerned to put forward a proposal, by means of a regress argument, designed to explain in the case of things that are "compounded", rather than "simple", how a whole is "one" and "not like a heap": very schematically, Aristotle suggests there that wholes, unlike heaps, contain or have present in them "something else" besides their elements or matter, namely form or essence and that it is the presence of this additional component which accounts for the unity observed in wholes that is lacking in heaps. In general, Aristotle finds the "whole" / "heap" distinction to be a useful tool, to which he appeals at various places within and outside the Metaphysics, to contrast mereologically complex objects which he takes to be genuinely one or unified (wholes) with mereologically complex objects which lack the sort of unity under discussion (heaps).
  3. In this paper, I examine two central issues to which Aristotle's proposal in Met. Z.17, concerning the role of form as the unifier of wholes or matter/form-compounds, gives rise:
    1. The question of whether form itself is to be viewed, literally and strictly speaking, as part of the matter/form-compound; and
    2. The question of whether form is to be regarded as itself having parts.

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