Accident and Substance: Aquinas, Aristotle, and Digital Music

“Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century, drawing on Aristotle, had attempted to reconcile transubstantiation – the metamorphosis of the consecrated wafer and wine into the the body and blood of Jesus Christ – with the laws of physics.

Aristotle’s distinction between the ‘accidents’ and the ‘substance’ of matter made it possible to explain how something that looked and smelled and tasted exactly like a piece of bread could actually (and not merely symbolically) be Christ’s flesh. What the human senses experienced was merely the accidents of bread; the substance of the consecrated wafer was God.”

-Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve

The Aristotelean concepts of accident and substance used by Aquinas form the complicated relationship entangled in digital music. For we know that there are two factors at play: code and the music that comes from our speakers.

The question then becomes which of these is the accident and which is the substance?

Accident and substance determines how we go about music and its relationship to the Internet. This connection will not only grow but become more complicated with time. What will become the accident in the future? Which will be the substance? Is it a question of servant and master?


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