Compositional & Functional Matter: Aristotle on the Material Cause of Biological Organisms

Apeiron 48 (4):387-406 (2015)
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Aristotle uses two kinds of material cause in his analysis of biological organisms: compositional matter, which persists through their birth and death;and functional matter, which consists of the organs and functional parts out of which biological organisms are made while they are alive. These two kinds of material cause, it has been argued, have quite different explanatory roles: functional matter is required by biological organisms to perform their essential functions,but compositional matter contributes nothing necessary to them and is only responsible for their accidental properties. Against this view, I argue that biological organisms are systematically dependent upon their compositional matter and the latter is responsible for many of their necessary attributes.



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Christopher Byrne
St. Francis Xavier University

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