Mon 15 Jan 2007
There is a kind of paradox attached to the Aristotelian notion of substance. For “substance” is distinguished from the so called “accidents,” and is said to be the true goal of our minds’ quest for knowing. As it is not one of the accidents, substance is not something sensible; no description can ever give you the substance of a thing. And yet, it’s only through the sensually observable (hence through the accidents) that the human mind can arrive at the substance of the thing. This process usually goes by the name “abstraction” – we abstract what is substantial from what is accidental in order to arrive at the essence of a thing. But accidents are essential to material substances. And some accidents are called essential properties, while the others are ‘merely accidental’. But how can we distinguish the essential properties from mere accidents without first knowing the substance? And how can we arrive at the substance of a thing without first being able to distinguish an essential property from a quality that is merely accidental?
What do we know when we know the substance of a thing? What makes us think substance can really be known at all? And if it can be known, what must the mind do to reach and articulate it with out obscuring it further?