Before describing the process for the emergence of cancer using Aristotle’s four causes and hylemorhism, the basic metaphysical picture needs to be clear. Books can be and should be written about this topic. What follows is an attempt to briefly highlight a few important Scholastic concepts related to the accidental mode of being and kinds of change. I will mostly use the following texts for those interested in delving further into the topic.
Coffey P (1914). Ontology: or, The theory of being; an introduction to general metaphysics, Longmans, Green and co. (link)
Coffey P (1938). The Science of Logic: Conception, judgment and inference, P. Smith. (link)
Joyce GH (1916) Principles of logic, Longmans, Green and Co. (link)
Mercier DF (1916) A Manual of Modern Scholastic Philosophy, London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd. (link)
Oderberg DS (2007) Real Essentialism, Routledge. (link)
Rickaby JJ (1916) General Metaphysics, London, Longmans. Green. And Co. (link)
One way to try and wrap one’s brain around these concepts is by making use of an example. Let’s consider the addition reaction of hydrogen bromide and propene. Well described here. The process has two stages, protonation and nucleophilic addition. For the purposes of this post I will concentrate on the nucleophilic addition process.
The Accidental Mode of Being
An accident is a mode of being that is really distinct from that of a substance. Accidents are contingent modes of being (Figure 2) and there are different kinds of accidents (see below).
An accidents can be described as (Coffey, 1914):
I) Inhering in something. An accident can either inhere in a substance or in another accident which ultimately inheres in a substance.
II) Affecting, determining or modifying the substance or accident it inheres.
III) Accidents exist for the perfecting of substance. In other words, the final cause of an accident is a substance.
IV) “Something whose essence is rather the determination, affection, modification of an essence than itself an essence proper, the term " essence "designating properly only a substance.”
V) A substance is prior (ontologically, not temporally) to accidents as they sustain them. In other words, an accidents’ existence depends on the existence of a substance. A substance is the material cause of an accident.
VI) The formal effect of an accident is to give a substance real and definite determination.
VII) Proper accidents have no efficient cause. Common accidents have efficient causes. See below.
VIII) Accidents are informed by the substantial form of the substance it inheres.
Kind of Accidents (Figure 3):
Proper and common
Proper accidents are “those which have such an adequate and necessary ground in the essence of the substance that the latter cannot exist without them”.
In the example the act of being a carbenium ion (a proper accident) necessarily “flows” from the essence of prop-2-ylium (a substance). Or, the act of being a compound with the molecular formula C3H7 (another proper accident) necessarily “flows” from the essence of prop-2-ylium.
A common accident is (From Coffey (1914, p238) “one which has no such absolutely necessary connection with its substance as a "property" has ; one which, therefore, can be conceived as absent from the substance without thereby entailing the destruction of the latter's essence, or of anything bound up by a necessity of thought with this essence.” In other words, common accidents do not necessarily flow from the essence of a substance and may thus be absent.
In the example, the different isotopes of carbons or hydrogens are common accidents. Prop-2-ylium can be a combination of any of the carbon and hydrogen isotypes. 12C may be absent but it still is prop-2-ylium.
Common accidents can be divided into inseparable and separable.
Inseparable and separable
Inseparable accidents “may be such that in the ordinary course of nature, and so far as its forces and laws are concerned, they are never found to be absent from their connatural substances”.
One way to distinguish between a proper accident and an inseparable accident is to distinguish between essential species and infima species as argued here. A proper accident is something that distinguishes between different essential species and an inseparable accident is something which distinguishes between infima species.
On this view, 12C13CH4 and 12C2H4 are essentially the same species but belong to different infima species. The (12C13C) is an inseparable accident of that particular infima species and is never found absent from it. The (12C13C) inseparable accident is also what distinguishes it from another infima species with (12C) as its inseparable accident.
Separable accidents “may be such that they are sometimes present in their substances, and sometimes absent”. These kinds of accident are the most numerous and include such things as habits, location, hair color (or even the presence of hair), a functioning immune system etc.
In the example this might be something like its kinetic energy or position relative to other substances or state it is in etc.
Intrinsic and extrinsic
The next division is between extrinsic and intrinsic accidents. Extrinsic accidents do not affect the substance intrinsically; they “do not determine any real change in a substance”. They are accidents relative to other substances. The relative position of a substance compared to another, or the posture relative to another. Extrinsic accidents are relational.
Intrinsic accidents affect, modify or determine a substance in some manner ant they are either modal or absolute.
Modal and absolute
A modal accident is an accident of a substance “which does not seem to involve any new or additional reality in the substance, over and above the modification itself. Such, for instance, are motion, rest, external form or figure, in bodies” (see figure about accidents).
An absolute accident “is one which not merely affects its substance intrinsically, giving the latter an actual determination or mode of being, of some sort or other, but which has moreover some entity or reality proper to itself whereby it thus affects the substance, an entity really distinct from the essence of the substance thus determined by it. Such, for instance, are all vital activities of living things”. Quantity and quality are absolute accidents.
Quantity and Quality
Quantity is the “fundamental accident whereby material substances are all capable of existing extended in space. Quantity can be discrete parts or continuous (Coffey, 1912).
Definition from Mercier, A manual of modern scholastic philosophy, vol. I, p540: "a thing divisible into parts which are in it and each of which is capable of existing as an individual. Quantity is the first accident of all to modify a material substance".
As an example, a proton of prop-2-ylium is a discrete quantity and the charge is a continuous quantity.
Quality is a logical attribute and “can be predicated of a subject”. In other words, a quality is some aspect of a substance that can be used to describe or “to tell us in what the thing consists, or what is its nature”. A quality can be acquired, operative, a state or shape.
In the case of prop-2-ylium, its potential energy may be an acquired quality, its positive charge may be an active operative power.
Like substances, accidents can be described by means of a Porphyrian tree. Below are examples of accidents including rationality, a skin cell, skin color and water "inhering" in a living substance (Figure 4). See if you can make a tree for a few of the accidents of prop-2-ylium.
Next is to conceptualize the various kinds of change, substantial change and accidental change (becoming as opposed to being See Coffey P (1914), p32-68).
Substantial change can be (See Figure 5):
1) An accident becoming a substance (re4). E.g. a prop-2-ylium molecule as a quantity of a living substance (an accident) changing to a prop-2-ylium molecule on its own (substance) as a result of urinary excretion.
2) A substance becoming an accident (re3). E.g. a prop-2-ylium molecule (substance) on its own being ingested and undergoing substantial change to become an accidental quantity of a living substance.
3) A substance becoming another substance (re1). E.g. an electron (substance) colliding with a positron (substance) and undergoing substantial change into a Z-boson. Or, prop-2-ylium combining with bromide and undergoing substantial change into 2-bromopropane.
Accidental change can be (Figures 3 and 5):
If we are to describe the emergence of cancer using Scholastic-Aristotelian metaphysics, one important question is to ask whether cancer can be described as a substance or an accident?
A few arguments will be made in the relevant post later. For now, keep in mind a few of these concepts as they are important to describe the process of cancer emergence. Next… causality and cancer evolution.