Substance and Accident
SUBSTANCE AND ACCIDENT
SUBSTANCE AND ACCIDENT (Heb. עֶצֶם and מִקְרֶה respectively). According to Aristotle (Categories, ch. 5, Metaphysics, 5:8), substance is that which is neither predicable of a subject nor present in a subject, e.g., the individual man or horse; accident, something which may possibly either belong or not belong to any one and the selfsame thing (Topics, 1:5), e.g., the "sitting position," which may belong or not belong to one and the selfsame thing (the man may be sitting at one time, not sitting at another). Aristotle further distinguishes (Categories, ch. 5) between primary substances, such as the individual man or horse, and secondary substances, such as the species "man" and the genus "animal." Accidents occur in nine categories: quantity, quality, relation, place, time, position, possession, action, and affection. This account of substance and accident was generally accepted by medieval Jewish philosophers, as, for example, Abraham ibn Daud (Emunah Ramah, 1:1), Joseph ibn Ẓaddik (Olam Katan, 1:2), and Joseph Albo (Sefer ha-Ikkarim, 2:2).
Maimonides followed Aristotle in his definition of substance as the highest, most inclusive, genus, and of accident as the universal which can be either more general or more limited than the species. Thus, for example, movement in relation to man is more general than the species; blackness is both more limited than the human species, which is not all black, and also more general, since it is found also outside of man. There are two kinds of accidents: one inheres permanently and inseparably in its subject, like the blackness of pitch and the heat of fire; the other is a separable accident, like the standing or sitting of a person (Millot ha-Higgayon, 10, tr. by I. Efros, in: paajr, 8 (1937–38), 34–65; see also, Samuel ibn Tibbon's glossary to his translation of the Guide of the Perplexed, Perush me-ha-Millot ha-Zarot, S.V. mikreh, sikhut).
Whether substance and accident are relative or absolute terms forms a significant controversy between Solomon ibn Gabirol and Ibn Daud. Ibn Gabirol holds that some things are substance in one respect and accident in another respect, while Ibn Daud maintains that the same thing cannot be both. For Ibn Daud, since the substance of a thing determines what it is, the selfsame thing cannot both be and not be a substance without being and not being itself simultaneously, which is impossible. In Ibn Gabirol's system, however, the terms substance and accident do not refer to the internal constitution of individual things but to their external relation to each other. It is the relation of things to one another in the hierarchy of emanated substances which determines their relative self-sufficiency, and hence the sense in which they are either substances or accidents.
The distinction between substance and accident also had a bearing on the medieval discussion concerning God and His attributes, for medieval philosophers inquired whether these two notions, derived from an analysis of the created world, were equally applicable to God. In addition, medieval philosophers also distinguished between essential attributes, attributes closely related to the essence, such as existence and unity, and accidental attributes, independent of the essence, such as mercy and anger, and they inquired in what way these attributes may be applied to God.
Saadiah, a representative of Kalām philosophy, investigated in great detail whether substance and each of the accidents can be predicated of God and came to the conclusion that they cannot be (Book of Belief and Opinions, 2:8–12). God who created all substances and accidents must be unlike them and, hence, he cannot be described directly by any of them. If terms referring to substances and accidents are applied to both God and creatures, they must be applied to God figuratively. He also held that such terms as living, omnipotent, and omniscient do not introduce any multiplicity into the essence of God: while men use a multiplicity of terms, the properties to which these terms refer are identical with the essence of God (Book of Beliefs and Opinions, 2:4). In passing, Saadiah refers to the distinction between essential and active (accidental) attributes (2:12; cf. 2:4), seemingly holding that essential attributes are to be understood as negations, while accidental attributes are to be understood as referring to God's actions. The same position is also held by Baḥya ibn Paquda (Ḥovotha-Levavot, 1:10). Judah Halevi, though differing from the Kalām in his overall position, follows this school of thought in his account of attributes. According to him, attributes applied to God must be understood as negations, relations, or actions (Kuzari, 2:2).
The question of divine attributes took a new turn with the beginning of the Aristotelian period in Jewish philosophy. The discussion now rested on a distinction between the views of the Islamic philosophers Avicenna and Averroes concerning attributes. Discussing essential attributes, Avicenna held that such attributes are "accidents" superadded to the essence to which they belong, while Averroes maintained that they are contained within that essence. It followed for Avicenna that essential attributes had to be understood as negations, while, for Averroes, they could have a positive meaning. Among Jewish philosophers Maimonides followed Avicenna and Levi b. Gershom, Averroes.
Maimonides inquired (Guide, 1:53) whether attributes applied to God can be understood as definitions, parts of definitions, qualities, or relations and came to the conclusion that the attributes can be none of these. Only attributes of action can be applied to God: all accidental attributes must be understood as attributes of action. In another discussion (Guide, 1:57–58) he maintained that all essential attributes must be understood as negations. Levi b. Gershom (Milḥamot Adonai, 5:3, 12) opposed Maimonides (Avicenna), holding that there exists a similarity between attributes applied to God and creatures, though such attributes (e.g., substance, one, existing, gracious, strong, mighty) are applied to God in a primary and more perfect sense than they are applied to creatures. Ḥasdai Crescas (Or Adonai, 1:3, 1–4) agreed with Levi b. Gershom that attributes applied to God can have a positive meaning though he differed from him in his understanding of God and the exact nature of the attributes.
With the decline of Aristotelian philosophy, the distinction between substance and accidents and the relation of these two notions to God and His attributes lost their importance in Jewish philosophy.