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A word with various meanings in ordinary usage and with precise technical significations in law, philosophy, and theology. The term may generally mean a chance occurrence, or it may be used to describe a fall or collision, as in vehicular traffic, with or without personal injury. The adjectival form, moreover, is frequently used to refer to the less important or more superficial aspect of a thing or event. Though these meanings may be different, there is a common element among them. If used as chance, accident contrasts with the stability of order; if used as less important, accident contrasts with the essential or the necessary. The note of contrast, then, is implicit in most usages of the term. Its varied meanings are set over against a more basic, more important, usually more enduring reality that is implied in the very usage itself.

Ancient and medieval philosophers thus employed the term in enumerating accident among the predicables and in contrasting accident with substance. In their analysis, man is essentially what his substance is. While this substance remains unchanged, man remains. But man does change accidentally. He may gain weight, increase in size, become tanned in the summer, develop his knowledge, exercise his muscles, and move about from place to place in time. All of these changes are real. The essential sameness of man throughout this type of change indicates a difference of levels, that of independent and dependent, basic and proximate, fundamental and phenomenal, substantial and accidental.

When modern philosophers rejected substance and substituted phenomenon for accident, they eliminated any contrasting note from phenomenon. The phenomenon began to play the dual role of substance or subject as well as the manifestation or appearance of that subject. Hence, the terms accident and phenomenon cannot always be read simply as translations of each other or as necessarily contrasted with their correlatives, substance and noumenon respectively (see noumena; phenomena). The context must be consulted before deciding how the term accident is being used by a particular author.

This article first discusses the historical development of the concept and then presents a systematic analysis that justifies its understanding in the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition and explains its uses in Catholic theology.

Historical Development

The main stages in the evolution of the concept of accident include its origins in Greek philosophy; its development in the medieval period, particularly by St. Thomas Aquinas; and later formulations that led to the gradual rejection of the concept in modern and contemporary philosophy.


The key to the historical development of the meaning of accident is the kind of relation an accident bears to a more fundamental subject. The relative and dependent character of accident was clearly taught by aristotle in his classic resolution of the Greek philosophical controversy over the fact and nature of change. Accident was to substance as the superficial to the fundamental. But plato had prepared for the Aristotelian answer by asking in what sense being (είναι, ούσία) could be predicated of things that were different, such as rest and motion. For Plato, the problem also centered on a plurality of predicates for one subject. In the Sophist (c. 255) he states that "of those which are, some are per se, and some are related to others."

Aristotle developed these insights. He says in his Metaphysics (1030a 2023), "For as 'is' belongs to all things, not however in the same sense, but to one sort of thing primarily and to others in a secondary way, so too 'what a thing is' belongs in the simple sense to substance, but in a limited sense to the other categories." In contrast with ούσία for substance as primary being, Aristotle used συμβεβήκος for accident. This Greek term connoted "going along with" or "occurring with" something else. For Aristotle, there were nine different ways, classes or categories in which there was an "occurring with" the primary being, substance. These nine classes of accident together with substance constitute the ten categories of being. When the Greek συμβεβήκος came to be translated into the Latin accidens, the latter's etymology of "happening" or "falling upon" accented the notion of relative and dependent; it also provided the form for the later English term.


St. thomas aquinas further emphasized the relative and dependent aspect of accidents. "In the definition of an accident something is placed which is outside the essence of the thing defined; for it is necessary to place the subject in the definition of an accident" (In 2 de anim. 1.1). The reason for this necessity is that accidents "do not have a perfect essence; whence it follows that they must admit into their definition the subject, which is outside of their genus" (De ente 2).

Essence of accidents. Accident is said not to have a perfect essence; yet it does have some kind of essence. Its very state of imperfection or of being a lesser essence emphasizes a dual character: its reality as distinct from substance and its dependence on substance. In the Aristotelian and Thomistic view, an accident always has a dependent mode of existence. An accident expresses more than itself in its very aspect of lacking independence: its referent is not size alone, but the size of something; not shape alone, but the shape of something.

Though having an imperfect essence, accident nonetheless has an essence and may thus be compared to substance. As essences, both substance and accident are alike in that they have a capacity for existence. "In its own nature being is substance or accident" (De nat. gen. 2). Substance and accident are distinguished from each other by the precise, opposite modes of existence proper to each. The mode of existence proper to substance is per se, or independent, whereas that proper to accident is in alio, or dependent. "Similarly, 'to exist in a subject' is not the definition of accident, but on the contrary 'a thing which is due to exist in another"' (In 4 sent. ad 2). What is properly characteristic of accident is its need or aptitude for existence in another. Even in the Eucharist, after the change of the substance of the bread and the wine into the Body and Blood of Christ, the accidents of bread and wine do not cease to have aptitude for inherence in a subject; thus, although sustained by divine power, they never cease to be accidents (Summa theologiae 3a, 77.1 ad 2).

In both the natural and supernatural orders, accident is within the order of being, and it is most properly called a being of a being (ens entis ) to emphasize its everpresent dependent mode. It is also characterized as a being secundum quid (that is, relatively) in contrast with substance, which is a being simpliciter (that is, absolutely). This latter contrast also emphasizes a development in the terminology of St. Thomas for substance and accident. In his commentary on the Sentences, he uses res (thing) when speaking of substance or accident; in his later writings, however, his terminology indicates that substance and accident are principles within the order of being. Each is an essence, but only substance is perfect; accident is imperfect. By reason of the different status of their essence, they have differing capacities for existence. Substance is essence in its capacity for an independent, or per se, mode of existence. Accident is essence in its capacity for a dependent, or in alio, mode of existence. They are distinguished by their differing capacities for distinct modes of existence, while remaining interrelated as the dependent on the independent.

Distinct existence of accidents. This principle of distinction between substance and accident also serves to answer the controverted question of the distinct existence of the accident. The majority of St. Thomas's commentators, including john of st. thomas and T. de Vio cajetan, hold that in a thing there is one substantial existence with many distinct accidental existences. Some distinguished contemporary commentators, however, point to various passages in St. Thomas and advance their reasons for holding that the one substantial existence is also that whereby accidents exist [r. g. fontaine, Subsistent Accident in the Philosophy of St. Thomas and in His Predecessors (Washington 1950) 7476]. The author of this article takes the position that substance and accident have distinct existences within the one concrete thing. The argument for this view may be put as follows: "An accident really exists as a modification of a really existent substance. Only in real dependence upon substantial existence can the accidental existence be had. An identical existence could not be really dependent and really independent in the same respect. The one has to be really distinct from the other" [j. owens, An Elementary Christian Metaphysics (Milwaukee 1963) 159160].


In treating the real distinction between substance and accident, one may easily create the false impression that there is but a single kind of substance and a single kind of accident. Actually, there are many specifically different substances, and it is the substance itself that specifies the difference. "For when we say that some substance is corporeal or spiritual, we do not compare spirituality or corporeity to substance as forms to matter, or accidents to a subject; but as differences to a genus. Thus it is that a spiritual substance is not spiritual through something added to its own substance, but is such through its own substance. In the same way, corporeal substance is not corporeal through something added to substance, but according to its own substance" (De subs. sep. 6).

In a somewhat similar fashion, accident in general is distinguished into ultimate classes or genera. Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas treat the nine genera of accidents as classifications of real being. Of these nine genera, Aquinas observes that two points must be noted. "One is the nature belonging to each of them considered as an accident, which commonly applies to each of them as inherent in a subject, for the existence (esse ) of an accident is existence in another (inesse ). The other point to note is the proper nature of each one of these genera" (ST 1a, 28.2).

St. augustine has given examples of the nine genera. "When the question is asked, how large is he? and I say he is four feet in measure, I affirm according to quantity . I say he is white, I affirm according to quality . I say he is near, I affirm something ac cording to relation . I affirm something according to position when I say he lies down . I speak accord ing to condition (habitus ) when I say he is armed . I affirm according to time when I say he is of yesterday . And when I say he is at Rome, I affirm accord ing to place . I affirm according to the predicament of action when I say he strikes and when I say he is struck, I affirm according to the predicament of passion" (Trin. 5.7).

A list of the predicamental accidents in more precise terminology would include quantity, quality, relation, action and passion, position in time (quando ), location (ubi ), situation (situs ), and condition, or habit (habitus ). It is well, however, to remember that "the original terms that Aristotle used to name the accidental categories were not substantive in form. The proper designation of the category of quantity, for instance, was to poson, the quantitative. That of quality was to poion, the qualitative. Corresponding to these adjectival forms, adverbial and verbal forms were used to name the other categories. 'The quantitative' helps keep in mind that it designates not something self-contained and as it were standing in its own right, but rather a way in which a substance happens to be" [J. Owens, An Elementary Christian Metaphysics (Milwaukee 1963) 166].

Absolute and intrinsic accidents. Of these predicaments, quantity and quality are absolute accidents and the rest are relative. While each of the predicamental accidents is, as an accident, related to the subject or substance on which it depends, only the accidents other than quantity and quality put the substance in which they inhere into relation with other things. Quantity and quality alone modify the substance in itself, that is, without further reference to other substances. Quantity confers extension on corporeal substance. Quality modifies a substance, whether spiritual or corporeal, either in itself or in its operation. Both quantity and quality thus serve in an absolute or intrinsic way for the immediate grounding of relative or extrinsic accidents; these enable substance further to relate to other things and to manifest itself in a variety of ways.

Relative and extrinsic accidents. Accidents other than quantity and quality are sometimes designated as extrinsic, a term that serves to contrast them with the two intrinsic accidents. Just as all accidents are in a sense relative, because their very essence is to have aptitude for inherence in a subject, so too are all accidents in a sense intrinsic. A real accident of its very nature belongs to a substance, and in this way is intrinsic. Those accidents, however, that put their substance into relation with other substances are properly called extrinsic. Their role and function are directed outward toward other substances, even though the accident itself is rooted in the relating substance.

The most obvious of the extrinsic or relative accidents is relation. As real, predicamental relation is distinguished from the logical relation, or the relation of reason, which exists only within the mind. As predicamental, it is distinguished from the transcendental relation, which is the very nature of some essence or principle as this relates to a complementary principle. Predicamental relation is a distinct reality by means of which the substance to which it belongs is related to another subject; its very essence is reference or order to another. Such a relation must be distinguished from the foundation that serves as the cause of relation. For example, the quality of tallness is the foundation for the real relation of similarity between tall people.

The correlative accidents of action and passion are related to the operation of an agent, although each stands in different relation to that agent. Action is the second actuality of the creature at the operational level. Since it involves the exercise of causality, it cannot be understood without an appreciation of the notion and reality of cause. Action is a further perfection of the agent, but it is extrinsically denominated by reference to the patient upon which the agent operates. Passion, on the other hand, is the accidental modification that the patient undergoes by receiving in itself the efficiency of the agent. Action and passion are really distinct categories, although both are intimately related to the efficient causality of the agent.

Finally, there are four extrinsic accidents based on quantity. The accident "when" (quando ) is sometimes, although incorrectly, identified with time. Time is based on the reality of motion, whose inner relationships provide the basis for the measuring or numbering in which time consists. Corporeal objects, existing in the changing world of time, have a type of accidental existence by reason of their temporal situation. "When" is thus a category of real being; it has extrinsic denomination from time as a measure.

Location in place provides the basis for another category, the accident "where" (ubi ). This inheres in a subject through its quantity, because of the circumscriptive containment of the subject arising from the surrounding quantities of other bodies. The ninth category, situation or posture, is an accident presupposing the category "where," which it further determined by specifying the order of the parts of the body in place. Being a passenger on the subway or bus would answer to the category "where," whereas the various stances one chooses or is forced to take on the vehicle as it becomes crowded are examples of the further determination that is situation or posture.

The tenth category, condition or habit (habitus ), is the accident proper to a body by reason of something extrinsic and adjacent to it that does not measure it, as does place. An example would be "clothed," in which case the body that is the subject of the accident is denominated by something extrinsic to it, namely, clothing.


St. Thomas reconciled the unity of a thing with its many divergent characteristics, activities, and changes by acknowledging the complexity within the structure of a finite thing. Unity is preserved through the uniqueness of a specific substantial nature with its proportioned substantial existence, which in turn allows for a variety of lesser perfections or accidents that have a basic exigency for inherence in the substance. Though having real status in the order of being, the accident is nonetheless a lesser being; as has been said, it is but a being of a being.

This delicate balancing of unity and plurality within the one concrete thing was not preserved by much of 14th century scholasticism. The most prominent spokesman was william of ockham, who rejected any real distinction other than between thing and thing. "In creatures there cannot be any distinction whatsoever outside the soul, except where there are distinct things" (Summulae in lib. phys. 1.14). Renaissance scholasticism, in the person of F. Suárez, lost still more the Thomistic appreciation for unity within complexity. Suárez's distinctive teaching was that "being can be predicated absolutely and without qualification of the accident" (Disp. meta. 32.2.18).

The extreme view of the distinction of accident from substance that thus developed evoked opposing reactions in modern philosophy. Authors tended to suppress either the reality of accident or the reality of substance. Although it would be simplistic to ascribe these two tendencies solely to the teaching of Suárez, it may be noted that R. descartes and G. W. leibniz read him and that I. kant knew his teaching through the Ontologia of C. wolff. The more basic reason for these opposing tendencies in modern philosophy, however, lies in the differing epistemologies of rationalism and empiricism. Rationalism, by exalting the intellectual power of man, freed man's reason from dependence on the data of sense and ascribed to reason the power of attaining easily the essences of things. Empiricism, reacting against this abandonment of the sense origins of knowledge, so deeply immersed itself in the conditions of the empirical that it precluded any intellectual discovery of the substantial essence.

Thus Descartes opted for two kinds of substance, the bodily and the spiritual, each of which he really identified with its primary property, extension and thought respectively. All other properties he regarded as but varieties of the primary property. B. spinoza sought to resolve the basic problem of unity and plurality in things by considering the Cartesian extension and thought as two modes of a unique, infinite substance. Yet Spinoza carefully refrained from calling the modes accidents. All multiplicity and apparent finiteness, for him, are mere modifications of the two attributes of extension and thought that are characteristic of the one, infinite, divine substance.

J. locke opposed the innate ideas of Descartes but accepted the Cartesian criterion of truth as the clear and distinct idea. He applied the criterion of distinctness to the point of isolating empirical qualities from any known bond with the thing of which they were supposed to be qualities. Instead of stressing the interdependence and interrelation between quality and substance, he gave to each a separate and independent status. One may speculate what influence Locke's training in Ockhamist philosophy at Oxford, had on this extreme separation of substance and accident.

Whereas Locke would allow that substance is at least an unknown support of qualities, D. hume, going further than G. berkeley in the rejection of material substance, could find no philosophical need for substance in any sense whatever. Restricting his knowledge to distinct perceptions, each of which he considered as existing independently, Hume in effect identified the accidental with the substantial. Since "every perception may exist separately, and have no need of anything else to support their existence, they are therefore substances, as far as this definition explains a substance" (Treatise 1.1.5).

Modern and contemporary philosophers have tended to repeat the position of Hume. A common view is that there is no need of substance to explain reality because everything that substance is supposed to contribute can be ascribed to phenomena. Hence, although Kant provided for the unknowable thing-in-itself, the noumenon, in contradistinction to the empirically known phenomenon, the more dominant theme in contemporary thought has been a rejection of substance.

Systematic Analysis

While many contemporary philosophers thus tend to disregard the distinction between substance and accident, and therefore to reject the concept of accident itself, this concept continues to be important in scholastic philosophy and theology. The following more systematic explanation may serve to justify the retention of the concept in philosophy and to outline its many important uses in Catholic theology.


The various philosophical positions with respect to accident in modern thought may be grouped under four headings, namely, (1) rationalist, (2) empiricist, (3) Kantian and (4) contemporary scientific. Though differing superficially, these positions have much in common; moreover, they must all confront the perennial problem of reconciling unity and plurality as these are found in the concrete existing thing.

Rationalism, as exemplified in the thought of Descartes and Spinoza, really identifies substance and accident or substance and mode while accenting the reality of substance. Empiricism, as exemplified in Hume's formulation, rejects substance while ascribing to perceptions or phenomena the substantial mode of independent existence. Kantian criticism explicitly retains the unknown noumenon, or thing-in-itself, and the known phenomena that, together with the space-time forms within the knower, are materially constitutive of sensible intuition; with the noumenon unknown and unknowable, however, for all practical purposes only the phenomena are retained. Hence rationalism, empiricism, and Kantian criticism effectively retain only one ultimate level of reality. The same may be said of the contemporary scientific view; so far as it accords any objectivity to accident, it regards phenomena such as light, color, heat and sound as various types of motion. Physical scientists and contemporary naturalistic philosophers speak of systems rather than of substance, although they continue to designate the entities and particles within their systems in terms once used to describe substance. Since this manner of thinking equivalently rejects a substance-accident dualism, it amounts to maintaining that matter and motion (or matter in motion) exist either independently or dependentlyin other words, are either substances or accidents. Hence, the contemporary scientific position, like its three predecessors, reductively retains but one ultimate level of reality.

The basic issue is whether reality is sufficiently explained when only one level of reality is retained or whether the facts expostulate a radical dualism that accentuates the relatedness and dependence of realities at different levels. In effect, the philosophical problem may be stated either as the problem of substance or as the problem of accident. If substance is rejected, either theoretically or practically, its intelligible characteristics, both generic and specific, are transferred to the phenomena. But then what is to be said of the phenomena? A duality of levels of reality is denied while a term is retained, namely, phenomenon, whose etymological meaning is "that which appears or is manifest," and which itself connotes the presence of something else that does not appear or is not manifest. The same is true of the term accident, which means "occurring with" or "happening to" something else.

The resulting inference is more than a carry-over of Aristotelian prejudices that have been inherited along with a Greek-derived language. What it indicates is, rather, that the mind dealing with the data of experience recognizes two complementary, mutually related roles within a thing, one of which is dependent, the other independent. Plato sought answers to the problem that arises when one subject is considered to be the recipient of many different predicates. The full answer is more than the substance-accident dualism as elaborated by Aristotle, but this dualism is integral to the solution of the problem. As Aquinas has demonstrated, beneath such diversity there must be something basic, primary, and independent, for this alone can account for the unity that is known. The alternative is a meaningless regression to infinity. The basic and independent source of a thing's unity and the ultimate subject of all predication is substance (ST 1a, 11.1 ad 1).

Substance-accident dualism cannot be appreciated in any epistemology that severs the bond of relatedness between substance and accident and presumes to treat of either as though it were independent of the other. Original knowledge of substance and accident in any explicit way is a simultaneous recognition of the independent-dependent duality found in the things of experience. By a gradual process of increasingly perfected knowledge, the mind comes to know the precise characteristics of substance and of accident in general. Proper knowledge of the specific kind of substance, while varying in its degree of difficulty, corresponds to the perfection of knowledge of its accidents, for these both manifest the substance and are dependent on it.


A proper understanding of the nature of accident is of special importance for Catholic theology and doctrine. For example, a sound theological statement of the mystery of human and angelic supernatural participation in the divine life requires the utmost precision regarding the substantial and accidental orders, for only if this distinction is maintained can both the reality of the divine indwelling be preserved and the error of pantheism be avoided. The meaning of created grace as a prerequisite for man's living union with God involves a new mode of accidental existence within man, while preserving intact man's essential humanity and God's transcendent deity.


The doctrine most commonly associated with philosophical teaching on substance and accident is that of the eucharist. Of this mystery, the Council of Trent declares: "This Council teaches the true and genuine doctrine about this venerable and divine sacrament of the Eucharistthe doctrine which the Catholic Church has always held and which she will hold until the end of the world, as she has learned it from Christ our Lord himself, from his Apostles, and from the Holy Spirit, who continually brings all truth to her mind. The Council for bids all the faithful of Christ henceforth to believe, teach, or preach anything about the Most Holy Eucharist that is different from what is explained and defined in this present decree" (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 1635). "If anyone says that the substance of bread and wine remain in the holy sacrament of the Eucharist together with the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ and denies that wonderful and singular change of the whole substance of the bread into the body and the whole substance of the wine into the blood, while only the species of bread and wine remain, a change which the Catholic Church has most fittingly called transubstantiation: let him be anathema" (Denzinger 1652).

Four hundred years after Trent, Pope Pius XII stated in Humani generis (1950): "Some even say that the doctrine of transubstantiation, based on an antiquated philosophical notion of substance, should be so modified that the real presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist be reduced to a kind of symbolism, whereby the consecrated species would be merely efficacious signs of the spiritual presence of Christ " (Denzinger 3891). In 1965 some Catholic theologians continued to question the relevance of the substance-accident dualism for Eucharistic theology. They denied that the Council of Trent used substance as a technical philosophical term and maintained, on the basis of contemporary science, that fundamental changes within a thing, such as bread, are not substantial changes. Further, their argument calls attention to the fact that Trent did not use the term accident but the term species.

In reply, one must distinguish the scientific, the philosophical, and the theological levels involved in this questioning. The critique given for the rejection of substance-accident dualism by contemporary science and by modern philosophy may be taken on face value for purposes of argument. But one may add a further question: What evidence is there that contemporary scientists use the expression substantial change in the same way as philosophers use it, especially scholastic philosophers whose terminology is a requisite for understanding the statements of the Council of Trent? As Pope Pius XII insisted in Humani generis, "the things that have been composed through common effort by Catholic teachers over the course of the centuries to bring about some understanding of dogma are certainly not based on any such weak foundation. These things are based on principles and notions deduced from a true knowledge of created things. Hence, it is not astonishing that some of these have not only been used by the Ecumenical Councils, but even sanctioned by them, so that it is wrong to depart from them" (Denzinger 3883).

Historical development. The fact is that the Eucharistic teaching of the Council of Trent represents a definitive formulation culminating the gradual growth of the Church's understanding of its traditional belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. The Fathers of the Church all taught that after the consecration, Christ is truly present and that bread and wine are no longer present. Further statements seeking greater understanding of the mystery were a later development beginning with paschasius radbertus, who in 844 published the first monograph on the Eucharist, De corpore et sanguine Domini. Paschasius raised the problem of the objectivity of the appearances of bread and wine while affirming the real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ. Two centuries later berengarius of tours, maintaining that his position had the support of the New Testament and the Fathers, taught that the doctrine of the real presence and of substantial conversion is against reason. lanfranc, in his De corpore et sanguine Domini, replied: "We believe that the earthly substances are converted into the essence of the Lord's body, the species of the things themselves being preserved and certain other qualities." The teaching of Berengarius was condemned by several synods, including those at Paris, Tours, and Rome, and also by the Sixth Council of Rome (1079) at which Pope Gregory VII required that Berengarius profess his belief that "the bread and wine are substantially changed into the true, proper, and life-giving flesh and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Denzinger 700; cf. 690).

From the middle of the 11th century onward, theologians used accident interchangeably for appearances, species, and qualities when dealing with the Eucharistic transformation of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. The term transubstantiation was used by alan of lille in his Theologicae regulae (c. 1200) to indicate the type of change that is there taking place.

It remained for St. Thomas Aquinas to treat extensively of substance and accident as these relate to the intelligibility of statements concerning the Eucharist. By developing Aristotelian insights on the interdependent, but really distinct, character of substance and accident, and their simultaneous knowability through the natural functioning of the intellect in its dependence on the senses, Aquinas was able to formulate an acceptable accounting of the mystery of transubstantiation. The divine power in and after the consecration, in a manner transcending man's comprehension, sustains the real accidents of bread and wine without their connatural substances. Since the species of bread and wine are the natural objects of the senses and declare to reason the presence of bread and wine, the species serve as a sacramental sign; these require an act of faith in the presence of the Real Food, who is the living Christ physically present beneath the appearances. St. Thomas in his explanation uses the terms accidents and species interchangeably (ST 3a, 75.5).

The formulations of the dogma of the Eucharist as proposed by Trent should thus be understood against the background of their development within the living theology of the Church, which includes not only the work of the great scholastic theologians, but especially other conciliar teachings, such as those of the Councils of Rome, Constance and Florence.

See Also: eucharist (as sacrament); substance; act; form; quality

Bibliography: c. ferro, Enciclopedia filosofica, 4 v. (Venice-Rome 1957) 1:2938. r. j. deferrari et al., A Lexicon of St. Thomas Aquinas (Washington 194853) 1:910. r. e. mccall, The Reality of Substance (Washington 1956). l. de raeymaeker, The Philosophy of Being, tr. e. h. ziegelmeyer (St. Louis 1954) 195204. c. a. hart, Thomistic Metaphysics (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1959) 215239. m. m. scheu, The Categories of Being in Aristotle and St. Thomas (Washington 1944). a. j. osgniach, The Analysis of Objects (New York 1938). c. davis, "The Theology of Transubstantiation," Sophia (Melbourne, Australia, April 1964). h. b. green, "The Eucharistic Presence: Change and/or Signification," Downside Review, 83 (1965) 3248. paul vi, "Mysterium fidei" (encyclical, Sept. 3, 1965), The Pope Speaks, 10 (1965) 309328.

[r. e. mc call]


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The word accident is derived from the Latin verb accidere, signifying "fall upon, befall, happen, chance." In its most commonly accepted meaning, or in its ordinary or popular sense, the word may be defined as meaning: some sudden and unexpected event taking place without expectation, upon the instant, rather than something that continues, progresses or develops; something happening by chance; something unforeseen, unexpected, unusual, extraordinary, or phenomenal, taking place not according to the usual course of things or events, out of the range of ordinary calculations; that which exists or occurs abnormally, or an uncommon occurrence. The word may be employed as denoting a calamity, casualty, catastrophe, disaster, an undesirable or unfortunate happening; any unexpected personal injury resulting from any unlooked for mishap or occurrence; any unpleasant or unfortunate occurrence that causes injury, loss, suffering, or death; some untoward occurrence aside from the usual course of events. An event that takes place without one's foresight or expectation; an undesigned, sudden, and unexpected event.

Accident is not always a precise legal term. It may be used generally in reference to various types of mishaps, or it may be given a technical meaning that applies when used in a certain statute or kind of case. Where it is used in a general sense, no particular significance can be attached to it. Where it is precisely defined, as in a statute, that definition strictly controls any decision about whether a certain event covered by that statute was in fact an accident.

In its most limited sense, the word accident is used only for events that occur without the intervention of a human being. This kind of accident also may be called an act of God. It is an event that no person caused or could have prevented—such as a tornado, a tidal wave, or an ice storm. An accident insurance policy can by its terms be limited to coverage only for this type of accident. Damage by hail to a field of wheat may be considered such an accident.

A policy of insurance, by its very nature, covers only accidents and not intentionally caused injuries. That principle explains why courts will read some exceptions into any insurance policy, whether or not they are expressly stated. For example, life insurance generally will not compensate for a suicide, and ordinary automobile insurance will not cover damages sustained when the owner is drag racing.

Accident insurance policies frequently insure not only against an act of God but also for accidents caused by a person's carelessness. An insured homeowner will expect coverage, for example, if someone drowns in his or her pool, even though the accident might have occurred because someone in the family left the gate open.

Not every unintended event is an accident for which insurance benefits can be paid; all the circumstances in a particular case must first be considered. For example, a policeman who waded into a surging crowd of forty or fifty fighting teenagers and then experienced a heart attack was found to have suffered from an accident. In another case, a man who was shot when he was found in bed with another man's wife was also found to have died in an accident because death is not the usual or expected result of adultery. However, the family of another man was not allowed to collect insurance benefits when he was shot after starting a fight with a knife. In that case, the court ruled that deadly force was a predictable response to a life-threatening attack, whether the instigator actually anticipated it or not.

Different states apply different standards when determining if an accident justifies payment of benefits under workers' compensation. Some states strictly limit benefits to events that clearly are accidents. They will permit payment when a sudden and unexpected strain causes an immediate injury during the course of work but they will not permit payment when an injury gradually results from prolonged assaults on the body. Under this approach, a worker who is asphyxiated by a lethal dose of carbon monoxide when he goes into a blast furnace to make repairs would be deemed to have suffered in an accident. However, a worker who contracts lung cancer after years of exposure to irritating dust in a factory could not claim to have been injured

in an accident. Because of the remedial purpose of workers' compensation schemes, many states are liberal in allowing compensation. In one state, a woman whose existing arthritic condition was aggravated when she took a job stuffing giblets into partially frozen chickens on a conveyor belt was allowed to collect workers' compensation benefits.

Insurance policies may set limits to the amount of benefits recoverable for one accident. A certain automobile insurance policy allowed a maximum of only $200 to compensate for damaged clothing or luggage in the event of an accident. When luggage was stolen from the insured automobile, however, a court ruled that the event was not an accident and the maximum did not apply. The owner was allowed to recover the full value of the lost property.

Sometimes the duration of an accident must be determined. For example, if a drunken driver hit one car and then continued driving until he or she collided with a truck, a court might have to determine whether the two victims will share the maximum amount of money payable under the driver's liability insurance policy or whether each will collect the full maximum as a result of a separate accident.


Automobiles "No-Fault Automobile Insurance" (In Focus); Automobiles "What to Do If You Are in an Auto Accident" (Sidebar); Insurance.


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ac·ci·dent / ˈaksidənt/ • n. 1. an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury. ∎  a crash involving road or other vehicles, typically one that causes serious damage or injury. ∎ inf. used euphemistically to refer to an incidence of incontinence, typically by a child or an animal.2. an event that happens by chance or that is without apparent or deliberate cause: the pregnancy was an accident. ∎  the working of fortune; chance: he came to Harvard largely through accident.3. Philos. (in Aristotelian thought) a property of a thing that is not essential to its nature.


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accident something that happens; (philos.) attribute of a subject. XIV. — (O)F. — late L. accidēns, -ent-, f. prp. stem of accidere happen, f. AC- + cadere fall; see CASE, -ENT.
So accidental XIV.


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accident an accident waiting to happen a potentially disastrous situation, especially one brought about by negligent or faulty procedures; a person certain to cause trouble.
accidents will happen (in the best regulated families) however careful you try to be, it is inevitable that some unfortunate or unforeseen events will occur. Proverbial saying recorded from the mid 18th century.
See also chapter of accidents.


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accident (ak-sid-ĕnt) n. a traumatic incident involving any part of the body. Accident and emergency (A and E) medicine is a specialized area of patient care dealing with acute illness.