Matter, Form, and Individuation

Jeffrey E. Brower

in The Oxford Handbook of Aquinas

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780195326093
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

Matter, Form, and Individuation

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  • History of Western Philosophy
  • Metaphysics



The aim of the article is to provide a systematic introduction to Aquinas's primary or basic notions of matter and form. Aquinas considered matter and form as if they were entities belonging to specific ontological types or categories such as concrete, individuals and properties. He identified the matter of the statue example with a lump of bronze, which he regarded as a concrete individual and he identified the forms of the same example with different shapes, which he regarded as contingent properties or accidents. Aquinas denied that matter and form could be identified with entities of either type. Aquinas believed that there is the existence of change in which an immaterial (or spiritual) substance acquires a new contingent property or accident. This change will involve the generation and corruption of hylomorphic compounds, and hence entities composed of both matter and form. The matter of this change will itself be immaterial. Aquinas thought that all of the changes belong to a single type namely, ones involving a substance changing with respect to one of its contingent properties or accidents. Aquinas described prime matter as the primary principle of individuation, even though he reserved a role for a certain type of accident to play. Aquinas invoked matter and form to account for certain relations of sameness and difference holding between distinct individuals.

Keywords: hylomorphic compounds; contingent properties; prime matter; forms; theory of individuation

Article.  8481 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Metaphysics

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