Chapter 4


You would think that we have been discussing the "substance and accident" issue all this time; and in a sense we have, but in terms of parts and their unification into a whole, which in medieval times was not really much of an issue, given the notion that "matter" was a continuous "stuff."

In medieval times, the effect that was most noticed was that of the body and its many different behaviors, each of which was recognized as in some sense the "existence" of the body, but at the same time not all there was to the body's existence--and in fact, the body existed somehow independently of any (and even all?) of these acts it performed.

It was this effect which Hume and the empiricists tried to explain away by denying the real single existence of the body, and saying that it was nothing but a collection of "attributes" that happened to be together. We saw that this leaves the "togetherness" of a given set inexplicable.

We have seen how the "many" in a body gets organized into a unit, so that each part gives up its identity as a body (and some of its energy) and exists now as the unit primarily and itself only secondarily. That is, the existence of the part as a part is now outside itself in the existence of the unifying energy of the body as a whole; it exists, but its existence has to some extent been "taken over" by what is beyond it which has made it subordinate to the unit, which is now what "really" exists.

This is obviously another mode of the finiteness of a finite object, because the part contains its own opposite (the whole insofar as the part is unified into it) "within" it in a sense--at least within its meaning, defining it as a part--and yet simultaneously outside and beyond it, so that it is not the whole, which is what it "really" is.

But this works the other way, too; because the unifying energy simultaneously is the "one" energy uniting all the parts, and yet is a kind of "behavior" of each part connecting itself to each of the others, and so is a kind of "set" of internal forces. So the unifier contains "manyness" as defining it as what it is, or it leaves out of itself something of what it is to be itself.

And the result is, of course, a multiple unit, whose unity is "in" its multiplicity and whose multiplicity is "in" its unity. This is true of both systems and bodies, the only difference between them being that a system is a unified multiplicity and a body is a multiple unit.

Not surprisingly, when this multiple unit acts, it will behave in such a way that it reveals this self-contradictoriness about itself; and here we have the "substance-accident" issue or the body and its properties.

A property is a way a body acts as a whole: i.e. as these parts with this unifying energy.

First note what we were saying about finiteness: the one body acts as a unit with many acts (many behaviors); and these many acts reveal and act as the unit; they don't exist "on their own"; they are the (various) existences (because, remember, existence is activity) of the (one) body. These acts are not parts united into the whole; they are the ways the body acts because it is parts united into a whole.

That is, the properties are the observable acts or behaviors of a body. These are what act on our senses, and as "going around together" make us conclude that there is an object "out there" that is behaving in various ways, because we compare the effects (the external sensations) with those of other objects and find similarities and differences and other relations among the objects because of the external sensations we have of them. For instance, that grass and trees are green but not the same size.

How much of this is due to our indirect way of knowing things by comparing effects and arguing to similar relations among the causes, and how much is due to the object itself? Who can say, since we can't know about objects except by comparing effects. The point is that what we say about the object as multiply one is true, (provided we are careful and don't go beyond the evidence) even though the way it appears to us is not a copy of the multiple unity it has. Much of reality-as-it-is will necessarily be mysterious to us; but that should not prevent us from saying what can be said about it based on its effects on us.

And so, because we recognize the body as a unit, then these acts are recognized as acts of the body and not acts in their own right. The green-activity of the grass, for instance is not a "something"; it is how the grass is responding as a whole to light falling on it. That is, the color is an act of the grass, and is not, really, the light which is re-radiated; the color is rather the "re-radiating" itself: the absorption of energy by the grass, giving it too much energy to exist as grass, and the ridding itself of this energy back into the environment.

But it does this to (white) light falling on it because it is this particular set of atoms configured in this particular way, not because it just has these parts, nor because it has this particular unification, but for both reasons. When chemical changes occur in it in autumn, it turns yellow, because the parts are now different, though it is still grass (which implies that, though the form of the unifying energy is the same in one sense, it must exist to a different degree).

Hence, the property "points to" both the parts and the unifying energy: to the whole as a whole. If you cut your arm off, your body is still organized humanly (though your severed arm isn't); but you don't have the same properties you had before: you can't pick up things the way you used to.(1)

Because the term "property" may cause a little confusion, let me make a distinction based on the contemporary meaning of the term "substance" and not its Scholastic one:

A substance is a kind of body.

A property of a substance is an act of a body because it is the kind of body which it is.

A property of a body is an act it performs because it is the individual body which it is.

In chemistry a "substance" is a kind of body, not an individual body. Thus, sulfur is a "substance," hydrogen is a "substance," and so on, and so are "compounds" like water or sulfur dioxide called "substances." So what is now called a "substance" is not an individual, but a kind of body. Obviously, then, the form of the unifying energy makes the body the substance which it is; the form of the unifying energy considered as limited quantitatively makes the body the individual body which it is.

Hence, the acts characterizing a given kind of body will be the "properties of the substance," and will correspond pretty much to what we think of when we think of "properties" in general: the spectrum, the valence, the color (if it is distinctive), the size, the shape, etc., etc. Note that color would not be a property of the substance "human being," because you can be black or white or brown and still human; color in that case is a racial property, not a property of the substance.

The properties of the body, however, are what we normally think of as the "behaviors" of the body, because not all cases of the substance behave in this way, and so the act in question isn't what the body is doing as the particular kind of thing it is, but is an individual act of the particular individual body.

These properties of the body are what have traditionally been called "accidents," or sometimes "operations." What I am stressing in calling them "properties" is that there is nothing accidental about them; the body doesn't just "happen" to "have" a certain trait; it is doing something, and it is doing something because of its internal construction, given the circumstances it is in.(2)

This is certainly true of inanimate bodies; whenever they act, they are responding to the energy around them in a way that is in principle predictable; and so there is nothing "accidental" or "capricious" in their action, even if it is something like movement to another position in some field. But it is also true of apparently capricious actions we perform, as when we jump up and down and click our heels together "just for the hell of it." This action was either determined by an overflow of some joyous emotion, or was the result of a deliberate decision to do something gratuitous; but in neither case was it "accidental."

Hence, it is better to look on any act of a body as a property that reveals the body; either it reveals the body as being a given kind of body, in which case it is a property of the substance in question, or it doesn't, in which case it is a property, but a property of the body (or, as I mentioned, when there are subclasses like race, it can be a property of that subclass).

Conclusion 9: Properties of bodies are always acts, and in fact forms of activity.

This would have to be the case, because if they were "just there," there would be no way we could know them, since to know them they must either act on our senses directly (in which case they are obviously acting), or react to something we do to the body (in which case they are acting in response to our action), or act on us indirectly (in which case they make a difference in--and so act on--what acts directly on us so that we are aware of them).

They have to be forms of activity because the body itself (which has a unifying energy, with a form of activity) is a substance; and since this means that it is no other than this kind of substance, it can't perform an absolutely unlimited act, which would be what a "formless" property would be. That should be obvious.(3)

It would also seem that a property would have to be a form of energy, with a quantity of its own. This, however, would not absolutely be necessary if the body were organized with a form of activity which was either totally spiritual (as, for example, if an angel were to restrict himself to acting only humanly and organize material elements into a body), or was a spiritual act (as in normal human beings) which by nature "duplicated" itself also as a form of energy--or even (as in animals) was a spiritual act which could not act without such a "duplication." We will see the evidence that there must be such spiritual-acts-with-energy-dimensions in the next Part. Here, I am pointing out that their spirituality would allow them to be able to perform an act which had no quantity and was not therefore a form of energy, but a spiritual form of activity.

But if a body is organized with a form of (what is merely) energy,(4) then presumably it is quantitatively limited as a whole, because obviously all of its parts are also bundles of energy and have quantities--and hence there is some kind of total quantity for the body as a whole. In that case, it does not seem possible for it to perform an act which is infinitely beyond any form of energy: i.e. one which is not limited at this level at all. To have a quantity means "to be able to do this much and no more"; and that implies that the act cannot exceed the limit of its total quantity.

Hence, we can say this:

Conclusion 10: Properties of inanimate bodies are always forms of energy.

What is an "inanimate body"? Obviously, one which is not alive. Since we are nearing the end of this Part of the treatise, and the next Part deals with life, it would be well to define "inanimate" here, to prepare for the distinction to come.

An inanimate body is a body in which the quantity of the unifying energy has a determining role in what it is.

As can be seen from the hints given above, a living body seems to operate from the "top down," in a sense. In animals and human beings, the unifying activity is spiritual, and "duplicates itself" once in a limited way, making it "also" in some sense a form of energy; and this allows the animal or human to escape domination by the quantity of its energy-dimension. But even in non-sentient living bodies, the body seems to exist at an energy-level that is "too high" to be explained by the energy in the parts that formed it (physically, it is unstable), and so the form of the unifying energy seems to have "control" in some sense over how much of it there is to be, or how strong it is to be--and this is what makes the body live, as opposed to simply doing what inanimate bodies do.

And, of course, if this is the case, then it means that what makes an inanimate body inanimate and not living is that in it the total quantity imposes definite limits on what the body can do; and this is what is meant above by saying that it has a "determining role" in what the body is.

We will see more of this very shortly. But first, let us draw a general conclusion about properties and the body which performs them:

Conclusion 11: Properties reveal what the body is.

Since they are acts of the body as a whole, and don't exist in their own right, then obviously their "ofness" means that they are the existence of the body--though no one of them is the complete existence of it. The body "empties itself" into its property, as it were, while remaining more than just this act; they are a special mode of the finiteness of that multiple unit which is the body.

But since the body is not just "the actor" of its properties, and is the parts united with the particular unifying energy, then it would be useful to have a term that refers to the body, not as parts united, but precisely as "the actor" and as revealed by its properties.

The nature of a body is the body insofar as it performs or can perform a property.

In other words, the "nature" of a body is the body looked on as the power to do something or other--which, of course, would be one of its properties. Thus, it is the nature of sodium to radiate out light in the yellow part of the spectrum when excited; it is the nature of the human being to see or talk; it is the nature of my dog to bark when someone leaves or comes home; it is my nature to write books on philosophy.

This last sounds a little strange, so let me make a distinction parallel to the one I made about properties:

The nature of a substance is the body insofar as it performs properties of the substance.

The nature of an individual body is the body insofar as it performs any act of that body.

We usually think of "nature" in relation to what we usually think of as a "property"; and a "property" is usually used in the sense of a "property of the substance."

Thus, it sounds quite sensible to say that the spectral lines of sulfur reveal the "nature" of sulfur, and the ability of humans to see reveals the "nature of the human being." But it becomes a little less normal to talk about the "nature" of my dog to bark when I come home, because we think of the nature as a kind of "fixed" something-or-other about the body, and not something capricious. And to say that it is my "nature" to make a given remark seems, for that reason, to imply that I was somehow "compelled by my internal makeup" to do it and "I couldn't help it, because it was my nature to do it."

But in point of fact, if I do make the remark, it is because I am so constructed that I can do it if I want to (and also, presumably, can refuse to do it if I don't want to, as we will see); and so it is because of my nature that I made the remark, even though in my case this does not imply that I "had to" do it because of my nature.

In other words, "nature" ordinarily has that "deterministic" sense to it because of the fact that we think of properties (normally) only in the sense of "properties of the substance" and use "acts" or "behavior" or "accidents" to refer to what the body as an individual does. What I am stressing in using "property" in both senses is that the capriciousness or "accidentalness" implied in the latter way of seeing things is false. These are properties, and reveal the body that is performing them, just as much as the properties of the substance do; it is just that in this case, they do not reveal the kind of body that is acting, but the individual.

That is, a person who steals has the nature of a thief. You can't say, "Well, he stole, but he's not a thief," unless you mean by the term "a person who has the vice of (habitually) stealing." Maybe he isn't a vicious thief, but he's a thief in that act, because the act can't be divorced from the body which performs it. And this is what I am getting at by the notion of the "nature of the body."

Note that this means that you can't "love the sinner and hate the sin," if that attitude implies that you divorce the sin from the sinner, as if it "just happened" and hasn't poisoned him with it. True, the sinner is not simply the sin, because the sin is an "emptying" of himself into this act, which is not his only act; but it is his and it is a way he exists. So for him to say, "I am telling a lie but I'm not a liar" is for him to utter another lie in that very statement, because he knows that the telling of a lie makes him "a person who is telling a lie," and that's what a liar is.

Hence, this notion of the "nature of the body" and the "property of the body" is a way of stressing the intimacy that there is between the (one) body and its (many) acts; that the one body "explodes," as it were, or finitizes itself into its many properties, each of which is itself as less than itself, and in fact all of which together are itself as less than itself, since it is also the parts united into the whole--and this unification of the parts is not a property, but the body looked on in a different sense.

From this we can make the following conclusion:

Conclusion 12: The properties do not exhaust the reality of the body.

This is another way of saying that the nature of the body is not all there is to the body. There is its "bodiness," the parts united to the whole.

That is, even were it possible to list absolutely all the properties of a body, including its properties as a body as well as those of it as a substance, you would still be "left" with the parts united into the whole, which would not be on the list.

Hence, the properties are a finiteness of the body; they reveal its nature; but while the nature is the whole, it is not all there is to the whole. The body is not adequately described as "the power to do A1, A2, ... An" even if this list includes every act the body ever does.

It is well to emphasize this, because science tends to confuse the body with its properties. For instance, "death" is defined in medicine as "the cessation of brain activity," as if the act (the property) that shows up on an electroencephalograph were the life of the body, instead of one of the acts that reveals the life of the body, and one of the ones whose lack reveals that the body is not organized in a living way any more, which is what death really is. That is, a corpse is obviously an inanimate body which used to be a living body; and "death" means "turning into a corpse," not "ceasing to have brain activity."

Hence, while the property is the body, it also is not the body, and the body both is and is not its property or the sum of its properties. It is not surprising for science to confuse the property with the body, since (a) the property is precisely observable and the internal structure--often revealed by the property in some sense--is not, and (b) the property is the existence of the body as a whole body. But the point is that it is a finiteness of the existence of the body; and the mystery of the finite is something that scientists don't like to confront, because as an effect, opposite statements can be made at the same time; and scientists, while they are quite at home with the effects that belong to their own field, get very impatient with effects that belong to other fields--particularly philosophy--and dismiss them as "word games."

But in the last analysis, it is simply silly to say that death is cessation of brain function, if for no other reason than that if this were the case, then as soon as the brain stopped acting, the body would be dead; and people have been known to recover from a minute or two of a flat electroencephalogram. So the "definition" of death had to be extended to "cessation of brain function for twenty minutes" or some (more or less arbitrary) length of time, where the length of time now becomes crucial in "defining" death; and it is clear to anyone who doesn't have his head cast in concrete that a length of time is not what "life" or "death" means.

What is going on there is that if the brain stops functioning for ten minutes or so, it begins to decay; but decay occurs when the body is not acting at its "super-high" energy level and is falling back to its ground state as a physico-chemical system--which, of course, implies (but does not mean) that it is no longer organized in a "super-energetic" way but only as an inanimate body. Hence, the decay of the brain, which is necessary for life function, reveals the death of the body, but is not what the death of the body means, and the flat electroencephalogram for twenty minutes reveals that the brain by this time has begun to decay--and so is at a second remove from what the death actually is.

In other words, a conditio sine qua non is not the same as what it is a necessary condition for, or air would be life. Without air, we can't live; but this doesn't mean that air is our life. This kind of mistake was initiated by Hume, who, in his debunking of "causality," turned the fallacy of "post hoc ergo propter hoc" into the very definition of causality itself. We saw this in Section 2. Modes, 1.2.5 One of its implications is to say that there isn't any "substance" (in the old sense of the body itself), and there's just the "collection of attributes," which of course makes the property the same as the body. Scientists are still in the clutches of the seductive oversimplifications of Hume; and this has led them to make all kinds of silly statements--that, because they are so patently silly, they think are profound.

I should say a word about the Aristotelian notion of "nature," which is responsible for our ordinary meaning of the term. First of all, he talks about "nature" in the sense of "what is not artificial," as in "The study of nature is fascinating." What he means (and so do we) in this sense is what exists and acts because of the sources within the bodies, and what does not have its configuration imposed on it by the choice of some human (or otherwise intellectual, but finite) designer. Thus, a computer is not part of nature, because it is man-made; and an ecology is "natural" only if it is left alone and isn't tampered with.

His other sense of "nature" is the sense in which you talk of "the nature of" something; and it is very close to what I meant by the nature of a substance. It is the internal source of behavior; but for Aristotle it is a rather stable internal source, giving rise to properties of the substance or of some class of things (such as race). He speaks of habits as "second nature," meaning that after they are acquired, they lead to predictable acts in predictable situations, and are almost like properties of the substance. Thus, stealing would be "natural" to a person who has the vice of thievery, but would not be "natural" to a person who has never stolen before, and might even be contrary to his "nature" if he had cultivated the virtue of honesty.

Obviously, then, Aristotle's definition of "nature" would exclude what I called the "nature of the body" which accounts for the particular act in question.

But here I must answer the possible objection to my using "the nature of the body" for these individual acts. It would seem that no act could be "unnatural" in that sense. That is true. For an act to be contrary to the nature of the body would be for the body to perform an act which it could not perform.

But an act can contradict the nature of the substance, if it is such that, though it can be done by bodies of this type, it is for some reason not consistent with bodies of this type. Thus, it is unnatural for a human body to have a cancer, in which cells grow without regard for the body as a whole. But, of course, this is because something in the cancerous cells is blocking their regulation by the unifying energy, and the unifying energy is therefore incapable of doing what it would normally be expected to be doing--or it is limited more than normal.

It is also possible for a person deliberately to perform an act which may be consistent with himself from one point of view, but is inconsistent from another. For instance, if I tell a lie, the statement I make is perfectly consistent with the use of my vocal cords to make sounds and my pharynx to shape them into articulate sounds; and it may very well be consistent with the English language. But I state as a fact something that I know is not a fact; and so I contradict the act as a factual statement. This is contrary to the nature of factual communication, using "nature" now in the sense of "what factual communication means." In that sense, the act is "unnatural," because it pretends to be something that in fact it is not; but it is not "unnatural" in the sense that I can't do it.

This sense of "unnatural" is used in "Natural law" theory of immorality; but since it is such a very tenuous sense of "natural" and "nature," I do not use it in my own ethical theory, which is a version, as we will see, of natural law ethics.

In any case, if I lie, then in my sense I am revealing my nature as a liar in this case; and if I have heretofore cultivated truthfulness, this act is contrary to what my nature used to be; but once it is done--and while it is being done, my nature is not just that of a truth-teller any more.

Let me now make a couple of additional definitions that might be helpful:

An intrinsic property is a property that the body has as not reacting to some activity acting on it.

A reactive property is a property that the body performs when reacting to some activity acting on it.

Thus, the size of a body, its shape, and in living bodies things like remembering or thinking (when not "provoked" by seeing something that reminds you of something) or any spontaneous act would be intrinsic properties, either of the substance or the body as an individual. The weight of a body (its response to a gravitational pull), the color, the position, or in living bodies acts like seeing, or even emotions like fear of some object would be reactive properties, because they are a response to some energy coming into the body from outside.

A couple of definitions dealing with a couple of intrinsic properties:

The size of a body is the distance between its outermost parts.

The "outermost" parts, of course, will be those exerting the least field-force on each other; because "distance" here is to be taken in the sense defined earlier: the force of a field. Obviously, the distance in this case will be the internal distance of the unifying energy (which is the internal field that unites the body).

This is the property called "extension" by the Scholastics, who defined it as "having parts outside of parts." That is, there have to be distances within the body for it to be extended.

This leaves open the possibility that there can be bodies that have no size at all, because they don't have parts at distances from each other. And there probably are such bodies: free electrons or protons, for instance. A proton is more massive than an electron, but it isn't necessarily "bigger." What each seems to be is the source of an electrical field, which can (within the limits of the uncertainty principle) be located in space, and which, because the field grows stronger and stronger the closer you get to its center, has a "scattering profile" of repulsion of particles of opposite charge--which, however, gets smaller the more energetic the particles fired at it gets.

I am not saying that electrons and protons have no size, because they might be configurations of quarks at distances from each other; but it certainly looks as if they are sizeless.

The shape of a body is its internal field with the parts in position in that field.

That is, the size of the body is just the distance of the parts that are farthest apart; but if you take all the parts and their distribution in the field, you get the configuration of the body; and "spatial configuration" is another way of saying "shape."

The mass of a body is the property of the body by which it acts gravitationally.

You could say that it was its gravitational field and not be far wrong. Mass also is the property by which the body resists a change of motion, as Newton said; but basically what this means is that it resists changing the gravitational interaction it is having with other bodies; that is, once it is in equilibrium gravitationally, it tends to stay that way unless forced out of it by the introduction of outside energy.

Of course, since God is not a body, we can say the following:

Conclusion 13: God has no size, shape, or mass, or any other property, strictly so-called.

That is, any "property" God has has to be a way of describing existence itself, taken absolutely without qualification or quantification. But it is not an "act" he performs; because "all" of his acts are just the one act: Absolute Existence.

Note that if God is sizeless, this does not mean that he is a point, because a point has no size but does have position, and we saw that God is not in any position. It is just that "How big is God?" is a meaningless question, which "immensity" does not really answer any more than "tininess/"(5)



1. Note the interesting fact that if you sever the "arm" of a starfish, it is still organized as a starfish, and grows the rest of the body, while the original starfish grows a new arm.

2. "Accident" (accidens) is the Latin translations of Aristotle's word that means "accompaniment." The idea is that it is something that sort of "happens to" (accidit) be present "in" the substance. A "property" is a "proper accident," meaning that it is "proper" that this happens to be in the substance; and so it doesn't just happen to be there. My contention is that there are no acts that the body "just happens" to perform.

3. Clearly, if Jesus is in fact God, then the act which organizes his body is the Infinite Act; in which case, Jesus can "perform" the Infinite Act. But it would be a little difficult to call this a "property" in any meaningful sense, since it would be identical with the act unifying the body insofar as that act was not "emptied" and did not restrict itself to being just human activity.

4. What turns out, in other words, to be an inanimate, or at least non-conscious, body. What I am getting at is that this would not be true of conscious bodies, since their organization is in some sense spiritual, as we will see in the next Part.

5. Actually, the Scholastic notion of the "immensity" of God is precisely this notion that there is no real size to God; but it wanted to emphasize that God was "beyond" mere size.