Why Privation Is a Form in a Qualified Sense for Aristotle

Apeiron 57 (2):219-243 (2024)
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In Aristotle’s account of change, lacking a form is called privation (Physics I.7 191a14). For example, someone takes on the form of being musical only from previously having the privation of being unmusical. However, he also states that “shape and nature are spoken of in two ways, for the privation too is in a way form” (Physics II.1 193b19). I will demonstrate that these seemingly contradictory statements are not actually in tension. Since all perceptible matter must be enformed, we would have trouble discussing things that have yet to undergo generation, like menstrual fluid, and things that have undergone corruption, like corpses, if we did not cite the privation as a sort of form. I will argue that, given his commitment to hylomorphism, Aristotle is committed to privation being a form in a qualified sense. It cannot be a form in an unqualified sense because privation often spoils the matter such that it can no longer be reformed. The fact of the matter is we cannot draw a bright line between privation and form because the two are contraries and can be said to hold to different degrees at different points on a spectrum.


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Cara Rei Cummings-Coughlin
Morgan State University

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