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Form v. Matter

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There are two main arguments for hylemorphism: the argument from change and the argument from limitation. (And a whole bunch of secondary arguments around these.) The argument from change follows

13 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

That's why I asked before what you were trying to offer the conversation. I'm not really sure. Better to explain why you post something; I'm encouraging you to offer an insight into the conversation.

The 115s are, generally speaking, literally unable to perceive their interactions as unwanted, they have no idea why anyone would react that way

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1 hour ago, merjet said:

Why don't you ask 2046 why he felt the need to be sarcastic?

I think he told us why.

4 hours ago, 2046 said:

Whatever answer causes you to stop engaging with me

He's trying to manipulate you into silence.

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6 hours ago, Boydstun said:

Yes, Binswanger's book The Biological Basis of Teleological Concepts is very worthwhile. His treatment of teleology is narrowed to our modern usage of it in living organizations of matter, not the wider span and heritage for metaphysics down from Aristotle.

The book I've been studying for some time and continue with at present, concerning Aristotle and intellectual descendants on teleology, is Monte Ransome Johnson's Aristotle on Teleology (Oxford 2005). It is so informative and delicious. He engages, by the way, what Lennox and Gotthelf had written in this area to 2005.

A book I've studied in recent times, relevant to our cluster of topics here is Michael Ferejohn's Formal Causes - Definition, Explanation, and Primacy in Socrates and Aristotelian Thought (Oxford 2013).

A related book waiting on one of my tables is Matter and Form in Early Modern Science and Philosophy, edited by Gideon Manning (Brill 2012).

I deliberately left the name Aristotle out of the title of this thread because I want to turn over not only Aristotle's notions of form and his notions of matter, but those of Kant as well. But first I'll try to bring the information in Johnson's book to view here.

To the links to Wikipedia earlier in this thread and the link I gave to an entry in SEP on Form v. Matter, we have available also the first three entries in SEP here pertinent to our cluster of issues in this thread.

I don't pick up the sarcasm alleged above, and I don't care about it or my failure to pick it up. I appreciate the substantive remarks of 2046 concerning Aristotle's views. I appreciate the citations Merlin gave in Aristotle as well as links and questions entered by others in this thread.

I forgot to mention another book I study (meaning, I think greatly helpful) concerning teleology (or "that for the sake of which") that I should have included in the post I quoted in this post: Allan Gotthelf's Teleology, First Principles, and Scientific Method in Aristotle's Biology (Oxford 2012).

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57 minutes ago, Boydstun said:

I don't pick up the sarcasm alleged above, and I don't care about it or my failure to pick it up. I appreciate the substantive remarks of 2046 concerning Aristotle's views. I appreciate the citations Merlin gave in Aristotle as well as links and questions entered by others in this thread.

I forgot to mention another book I study (meaning, I think greatly helpful) concerning teleology (or "that for the sake of which") that I should have included in the post I quoted in this post: Allan Gotthelf's Teleology, First Principles, and Scientific Method in Aristotle's Biology (Oxford 2012).

That's because any sarcasm was accidental and not essential to our discussion on hylemorphism. While we're on the subject of Gotthelf, his festschrift Lennox and Bolton (2010) is also a good source of information about teleology, namely the first chapter by Sedley. This brings up a great point: that there is not even one "thing" called teleology. There are all sorts of versions and interpretations of it, and even in Aristotle he does not always consistently speak of teleology or the causes or form in the same way.

Another good source on the connection between the four causes and hylemorphism is Bostock (2006) Space, Matter, Time, and Form. He goes through the text parsing out a lot of different ways Aristotle uses each of these concepts, not always in coherent ways. But in the chapter on form, he spends a bit of time talking about the connection between form and the concept of a telos: getting to a goal is a way of explaining fulfilling some standard, and form is the principle that aims, or directs, what any sort of end would count as (Physics II.8 spends a lot of time on this.) In other words, achieving a purpose is the actualizing a form. This is also the basis of a notion of perfections of being, that you were talking about earlier.

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Doug, you can google that exactly. It's not on our subject area.

References to CAUSALITY in my old journal Objectivity are a nice reference to have on hand in this thread. I'll use the modern example in that last subsidiary (but start at p. 188) of the entry shortly and bring forth what all Aristotle (d.322 BCE) and perhaps Theophrastus (d. 287 BCE) should say about it from within their framework. Likely also, what Aristotelians like Avicenna (d.1037) and Theodoric of Freiberg (d.1310) and Ockham (d.1347) should say about it. And of course what we moderns should say about all that. 

Causality; Efficient V1N3 11–12, 21–30, 35–43, V1N5 69, 85, V2N1 44, 100–101, 105, V2N4 183, V2N5 22, 100, 160, V2N6 160–61165–66and Essence V1N1 37–38, V2N6 45, 55; and Explanation V1N1 37–38, V1N3 17, 21–22, 25–30, 37, V1N4 20–21V1N5 74–75, V2N1 44101–3, 105, V2N2 23–24, 28, V2N4 191V2N5 101, 103, 123, V2N6 3–4, 216; Final V1N5 69, V2N1 101–3, V2N3 7–8, 17–19, 83–84, 97–98V2N4 23, 33, 183, V2N5 100–104, 110–11, 123–26, 133, 137–38, 140, V2N6 45; Formal V1N5 69, V2N5 111–12; and Identity V1N3 10–12, 17, 21–3035–37V2N1 100–101, 105, V2N2 8V2N4 7, 9, 48, V2N5 160–61Law of V1N3 24–25V2N1 100V2N2 8V2N4 102, V2N5 21–24Learning V1N2 38–39V1N3 9, 11, 2026–28V2N2 73–76, V2N6 110, 115; Material V1N3 10, 30V1N5 69, V2N5 22; Necessity in V1N3 2, 410–12, 17, 21–273032–3335–36V1N4 10V1N5 112, V2N1 133–35V2N4 191, V2N5 23, 99–102, 149, V2N6 45; Perception of V1N1 16, V1N2 38–39, 75, V1N3 9, 112026–27, 29, 32, V2N4 200; v. Randomness V1N5 75, 85, V2N2 8, 115, 125, V2N4 187–88V2N5 160–61and Responsibility V2N3 77–78, 84, 86, 107–8, 111, V2N5 111, 139; and Scientific Law V1N3 9, 28–30, 39–40, V1N5 13–15, 74–75, 142–43, V2N1 44, 126–27, 134, V2N3 54–56, V2N5 21–24, V2N6 165–66Self-Forming V1N2 48–49, 61, V1N5 5, 74–75, 84, 89, V2N3 106, V2N5 110–11; Structuring v. Triggering V2N4 191, 198

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I also tried 115's and got a materials science workshop, Interstate 115, "17 U.S. Code § 115 - Scope of exclusive rights in nondramatic musical works: Compulsory license for making and distributing phonorecords. U.S. Code; Notes.", and "18 U.S. Code § 115 - Influencing, impeding, or retaliating against a Federal official by threatening or injuring a family member · (i) if the assault consists of a simple ...".  Wikipedia wasn't much help either.

I still have no idea what 2046 meant by 115s.

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Well, all right, you guys win. I'll not continue the serious topics I'd intended this thread for. Y'all have buried it, and such hard work is so easily buried, by your easy on-and-on snipping, side-bar trivia, and shallows. It's yours now.

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20 hours ago, Boydstun said:

Well, all right, you guys win. I'll not continue the serious topics I'd intended this thread for. Y'all have buried it, and such hard work is so easily buried, by your easy on-and-on snipping, side-bar trivia, and shallows. It's yours now.

The dominant views in 20th century philosophy of science has been backed by materialism and nominalism. We are familiar with that views challenges to cognition, intentionality, free will, personal identity, and normativity. That view however has been seriously challenged by failures and inability to integrate with new discoveries in the quantum revolution and biology.

Another branch of philosophy that the concepts of matter and form can illuminate is philosophy of mind. The two main dominant views in philosophy of mind have been some form of materialism and dualism. But they both have principal objections that have proven intractable.

Materialists say that what is real is nothing but matter. What we call mind is just a way that some matter somehow behaves, and different types of materialists take that "somehow" to be or imply different things. The dualists from whom the materialists took matter to be the first substance, say that in addition there's a second kind of substance called that has different mind-y properties. Different types of dualists break out over what those substances turn out to be.

The main problem* with materialism is the causation problem. Once you get down to the quantum level, things look less deterministic and mechanistic. The idea of irreducible fundamental particles don't have the same kind of explanatory power they were supposed to have, in addition to being unable to explain the phenomenology of conscious experience. The main problem with dualism is the interaction problem. If the mind is a self-subsisting object (what a substance is supposed to be) that is immaterial and unextended, has no size, mass, motion, etc., How then does mind act on, or get acted on by the body?

On the Aristotelian view there isn't a kind of causation problem because since a substance is a composite of form and matter, there can be fundamental causal powers at the level of whole organisms that are not reducible to primitive physical simples. And there isn't the kind of interaction problem because you don't really have two separate substances interacting, you have a whole human being with an essence and identity.

Bringing back in the concepts of matter and form to human beings in ways that can avoid some of these problems. Roughly, we can treat them the same way we treat other theories in science, like say, "quark" or "gravitational field." Their value is based on their ability to integrate and explain the perceptual data.

*In saying these are main problems, I am putting forth a condensation of common threads within an array of common objections. There are many possible objections and counter-objections, I am here merely describing what I take to be the main ones.

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17 hours ago, 2046 said:

And there isn't the kind of interaction problem because you don't really have two separate substances interacting, you have a whole human being with an essence and identity.

This doesn't eliminate the "interaction problem." You framed the problem in terms of how the material interacts with the immaterial, not in terms of how separate things interact.

17 hours ago, 2046 said:

The main problem with dualism is the interaction problem. If the mind is a self-subsisting object (what a substance is supposed to be) that is immaterial and unextended, has no size, mass, motion, etc., How then does mind act on, or get acted on by the body?

Compositing the material body and the immaterial mind into a whole human being doesn't explain how the material can now affect or be affected by the immaterial, nor how the two can be a composite in the first place. How are they connected or integrated?

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On 2/17/2021 at 6:38 PM, Boydstun said:

Well, all right, you guys win. I'll not continue the serious topics I'd intended this thread for. Y'all have buried it, and such hard work is so easily buried, by your easy on-and-on snipping, side-bar trivia, and shallows. It's yours now.

To continue our discussion on the ways form and matter might be understood to apply to philosophical problems, there is another way you can see these abstract, technical theories undergird pop or folk philosophies of nature. One recent example is the dialogue between Prager and Biddle. (If you don't know who these people are, or are uninterested in them, the point I'm making isn't really about them. If you want to debate about different aspects of their interaction, please ignore this post.) 

There is something in political discourse called "horseshoe theory," according to which different versions are claiming different, mostly spurious, things, but there is a plausible version that says often times what are perceived as fundamentally opposing viewpoints actually share some more fundamental premises, and that these premises are what give rise to and motivate the opposition in the first place, which upon further inspection, turns out to be surface. An example from OPAR (146) that people might be familiar with is that subjectivism is ultimately intrinsicism and intrinsicism is ultimately subjectivism. An historical example is Nazi and Communists in Weimar Germany. There are various reasons to why this might be, but not important here.

Next, we must understand the Prager Argument. Prager's method is to proceed as follows (all actual Prager-quotes at various times which I have done my best to reconstruct into a syllogism):

If you're an atheist, you're a materialist.

If we are only matter, I am the product, and everything I do is the product, of [the matter.]

But where am I in this equation?

That's just insane!

Therefore god exists.

Biddle's unfortunate response was to not reply that there are material and formal causes, but there is matter and consciousness (and that's not something even that materialists necessarily have to deny), and to juxtapose those two as "separate things," which can lead one to assume he is endorsing (or that Ayn Rand endorsed) substance dualism.

Later Prager makes an intelligent design-type argument appealing to "complexity." He is amazed that animals urinate. He is amazed about the universe and life and the planets. How can you not believe in God? Do you think this all just happens randomly? No of course not, that's inconceivable. This is his primary "evidence" (as opposed to proof.) This type of argument is ancient, but most influentially the watchmaker analogy of William Paley is employed to argue that design implies a designer.

So we have two primary means of moving forward: materialism bad, intelligent design good. But notice the problem here. In this whole scheme of things, in both materialism and theistic design-type arguments, there is the underlying notion that whatever whole were talking about is always emerging just from the parts. The relationship between the parts and whole is that the parts give rise to the whole (reductionism) particularly their position and motion (mechanism.)

Take this paradigmatic quote from Carl Sagan, a noted atheist and materialist:

"I am a collection of water, calcium, and organic molecules called Carl Sagan."

This is not very different from the watchmaker analogy of Paley, who was trying to invoke God as the cause of the universe on the basis of the complexity of the beings arranged therein. If you were to stumble upon a watch in the forest, you would have to say oh clearly there's a watchmaker, look at this complex assembly of parts into a functioning system. The main difference between Sagan and Paley is who is whether there is a conscious being that is a watchmaker, or is the watch assembled "randomly" (in Prager's words), thus obviously the clear deduction is theism.

But in both cases, from the standpoint of Aristotelian concepts of form and matter, as we were discussing at the beginning of this thread, the notion of an artifact is there. For Paley/Prager, the world to include the "I" that is Prager himself, is an Aristotelian artifact assembled by God, and to Sagan it is not (perhaps operating through the "blind watchmaker" of evolution.) For Descartes, similarly, the laws imparting motion to the corpuscles were provided by Divine providence.

The Paley-style appeal to complexity and intelligent design is a theistic reductionistic mechanism, but a reductionistic mechanism nonetheless, with the main point that nature is viewed as an artifact. Both the materialist and mechanistic theist share a commitment to concerning natural substances. All natural substances are mechanical things whose parts ultimately explain the whole. The objection of the theist is not any of these things, but that "randomness" is too inadequate to explain the matter in motion.

But the Aristotelian would not think this way, and Aristotelian hylemorphic theists do not endorse these kinds of arguments for theism. Under this type of view, there is a lot to say, and a lot more than just in this post, but the bottom line is the distinction between an artifact and a substance. An artifact has "accidental form," whereas a genuine natural substance like a bacterium, or a giraffe, or a person has "substantial form" and the latter is the principle of unity. The substantial form actualizes the whole, including each part of the whole, and so explains the unity of the substance. Aristotle starts using these concepts to explain change, but in Physics 1.7-8 he employs the concepts of form and matter also in explaining how we are able to distinguish a mere aggregates of parts from a unified whole, like living organisms.

 

 

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2046,

Do you think the betweenness relation can count as form for Aristotle? Say the betweenness of the district of planets with respect to fixed stars and the earth / betweenness of the point of bisection of a line segment to the segment’s end points / betweenness of the loudness of the thump of a medium tree falling to the ground with respect to the thump of a larger tree and a smaller tree? Is a matter coordinate with the proposed form (I mean Aristotle’s matter for Aristotle’s form) at hand for each (or any) of these cases?

Is Aristotle’s form such that it cannot be subsumed under his category of Relation? (How could form in any sense not be a relation in our normal, wide sense of relation?)

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2 hours ago, Boydstun said:

2046,

Do you think the betweenness relation can count as form for Aristotle? Say the betweenness of the district of planets with respect to fixed stars and the earth / betweenness of the point of bisection of a line segment to the segment’s end points / betweenness of the loudness of the thump of a medium tree falling to the ground with respect to the thump of a larger tree and a smaller tree? Is a matter coordinate with the proposed form (I mean Aristotle’s matter for Aristotle’s form) at hand for each (or any) of these cases?

Is Aristotle’s form such that it cannot be subsumed under his category of Relation? (How could form in any sense not be a relation in our normal, wide sense of relation?)

Is form just "relation"? At first glance, I'd say no. In order for something to have a relationship with something else, it has to be that specific thing having that specific relationship with this specific other thing, ie., it has to have matter. Betweeness in the examples you have is a relationship between form-matter composites.

But, that's not to say that it's entirely unrelated. The categories trace the way in which form and matter relate to substances and predicates, insofar as predication is our way of signifying different modes of being, and form and matter are two fundamental aspects of being. So the question of what relation "relation" has to form and matter is a valid one, and there must be some mode of being corresponding to each way of predication.

The only passage I know of is in Aquinas' commentary on the Metaphysics where he says "quantity" flows from the matter, "quality" from the form. "Relation" is something different because it is not a consideration of the predicate "being in a subject," but a subject "with reference to something else" (V.9.890.) 

I don't know if there's very much work on how the categories relate to hylemorphism, but there's a chapter in the Oxford Handbook of Aristotle (Studtmann, "Aristotle's Categorical Scheme") where he claims there's discrepancies between the two theories. The categories were developed early on when Aristotle was interested in logic, and still under Plato's influence for the concept form to an extent, but then hylemorphism came after he was interested in natural philosophy and gained a much more specific usage. In effect, the extreme view is that categorialism and hylemorphism represent two different theories of substances, and the latter was developed in response to the inadequacies of the first. It is only on what he calls the medieval approach that the two are made whole.

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Thanks. I'm copying out all your posts on this and pasting into a word processing file I'm keeping on this area, just to be double sure it is preserved for full followup as part of my work in progress (which should take a couple more years to complete to publication level). I have obtained the book by Bostock you mentioned, and I expect to be reading it in close parallel with Jean De Groot's Aristotle's Empiricism - Experience and Mechanics in the 4th Century BC and with the metaphysical portions of G. R. Lear's Happy Lives and the Highest Good

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Does matter in Aristotle’s matter-form metaphysical composite coincide with mass-energy in our contemporary physics? Aristotle’s metaphysical matter is not the same as the Greek elements earth/water/wind/fire nor the contraries such as heat and cold that can be possessed by some of those elements and their combinations. His metaphysical matter is substratum receptive of all coming to be or passing away and of all contrarieties. He thought potentials to be real and matter in his metaphysical sense to be potential that with form is become determinate actuality.

We sensibly say today that an electron and a positron have the potential (a reality) to come together and transform into two gamma rays. The electron and the positron have non-zero mass, and such items we customarily call matter. Electromagnetic radiation, such as gamma photons have no mass, and we call them pure energy, and we call them field particles in contrast to matter (for elementary matter, chemical elements and their particle components, or to the Greeks, earth/water/wind/fire). My question is whether what we call mass-energy in physics takes the modern role of Aristotle’s metaphysical matter in his matter-form composites.

It takes the substrate role, but obviates need for the potency role. Unlike Aristotle’s metaphysical matter, mass-energy is quantified and it continues under transformations between mass and energy in a definite constant quantity. But this character of mass-energy would seem not itself opponent to Aristotle’s matter of the matter-form composite. That quantification might be taken for merely a modern improvement on Aristotle’s (metaphysical) matter. Rather, the problem for identifying Aristotle’s concept with our mass-energy concept is that mass-energy is not fundamentally a pure potential in the world. Mass-energy is a fully determinate actual thing and any further specifications of the actual things in which it obtains do not make mass-energy more fully actual.

Of what need or usefulness is an Aristotelian concept of metaphysical matter or its combine matter-form in our physics-comprehension of the world? It would seem the concepts of potentiality and actuality are all we need keep from this work table of Aristotle for physics: electron-positron pairs are potentially gamma pairs; eigenstates of a quantum system in a state of superposition of those eigenstates—eigenstates to which the system can pass upon its encounter with a measuring device—are potentials of that actual superposed state; and so forth. Actual mass-energy is adequate as substrate of electron-positron annihilation and gamma generation. No need here for Aristotle’s receptive potency as substrate of physics-transformations so far as I presently see.

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5 hours ago, Boydstun said:

Of what need or usefulness is an Aristotelian concept of metaphysical matter or its combine matter-form in our physics-comprehension of the world? It would seem the concepts of potentiality and actuality are all we need keep from this work table of Aristotle for physics

Well, I don't think the claim is that the chemist should explain opium by saying "it has a dormitive form in its matter." But the implications for revising our concept of matter could have big picture consequences.

For one, you'd no longer have this fragmented dualistic world in which there is just these microphysical particles that somehow have no nature themselves going around in motion, and then you have a separate mental world of purposes and thought and "the soul" on the other hand (or none at all.) By rethinking modern-matter as atomic "matter as such," and thinking of it as a relative concept (relative to form, act, and potency) we get a more unified philosophy of nature that forces us to re-think how parts and wholes interact. You can have real agency and powers at multiple levels of scale.

Another way is this brings back all four causes. Matter is important, and quantification is important, and quantification is one of the principles of matter, but understanding those as abstractions, is important. By saying matter moves around according to such and such mathematical laws doesn't preclude other concepts like forms or essences or final causes, or the qualitative aspects of our common sense interaction with nature. (They are no longer seen as merely our minds representations of the world.)

Once we have all four causes operating we can begin to explain how that thing acts and is acted on in the world. (Recall why the notions of form and matter were introduced by Aristotle in the first place: to explain change.) And that brings in the notion of causal powers. A powers ontology can have a much more explanatory force in certain areas of physics right now, like quantum mechanics.*

It's just simply not true that matter consists of nature-less atoms or corpuscles moving around in the void, even according to our best physics, and yet our concept of matter lags behind in that regard. It might be that we actually took a step back with the concept, by going toward a Democritean or Epicurean turn during the Scientific Revolution, due to steps already taken by Scotus and Ockham, and going back to an Aristotelian conception of relative matter might allow more progress.

*See the 2019 paper "Cosmic Hylemorphism" in the European Journal for  Philosophy of Science by Oxford philosopher William R Simpson. Or the work of Stephen Mumford on powers and dispositions.

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Also, it doesn't seem like matter-energy would be, if we take this train of thought for a second, convertible to matter-form necessarily, as if energy is being compared to form here. Aristotelian matter would subsume both notions of material-ness in the modern sense of "being composed by particles containing mass and taking up space," and energy as "the capacity to do work."

Incidentally Heisenberg, while not a wholesale Aristotelian by any means, noticed something like this about the implications of quantum theory. In his 1958 work Physics and Philosophy he says a whole bunch of stuff along those lines, including: "If we compare this situation with the Aristotelian concepts of matter and form, we can say that the matter of Aristotle, which is mere 'potentia,' should be compared to our concept of energy, which gets into 'actuality' by means of the form, when the elementary particle is created" (p. 134.)

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On 1/25/2019 at 9:19 AM, Boydstun said:

.. . .

One book I’ve found helpful in tracing the rise, the variations, and the fall of the actual/potential partition in the history of philosophy (from Aristotle to early modern), as well as occurrences of the actual/potential distinction in contemporary science is Handbook of Potentiality (Engeland and Quante, editors, 2018). There is an excellent chapter “Potentiality in Physics” by Max Kistler in the Handbook. He sorts out what is and is not an occasion of metaphysical potentiality in the various modern physics concepts, classical and quantum, going under such names as potentials and capacities. 

Kistler deals with Heisenberg 1958. I can't get back to it just now. But I certainly intend to get back to it. On discussions of 'prime matter' as finding a home in modern physics, I'll yet be looking at Nicolescu's "Hylemorphism, Quantum Physics, and Levels of Reality" and Oderberg's Real Essentialism.

No, I wasn't comparing energy to form. Only mass-energy (the whole bundle) to Aristotle's matter for his matter-form.

2046, I greatly enjoy your inputs.

None of my physics professors (about a dozen) nor I thought of particles as having no nature. They have certain distinct natures and potentials.

Are you thinking that to have a nature a particle must have an end, like the root of a plant or nerve of an animal?

The Democritean or Epicurean turn during the Scientific Revolution was supplanted by the Chemical Revolution, thermodynamics, electromagnetic theory, statistical mechanics, quantum physics and chemistry, solid state physics, and so forth. The atoms of the old philosophers, and their fans such as Boscovich, Descartes, or Newton yielded little to no advance, and they have been kept rightly distinct from and are in fact irrelevant to modern physics, chemistry, and other contemporary science pertaining to matter. (I mean physical science that is gotten hold of by the physics, chemistry, biology, or engineering majors.)

I agree that taking matter-fields (mass-energy) as acting according to principles we have discovered of it in physics is perfectly compatible with the sequence of micro-events that yield gravitropism (of any sort) of certain sorts of uprooted plants (and perfectly compatible with any devices we engineer). Those roots have their own distinctive natures at their own level, as does the diesel engine. We do have real, distinctive powers at all levels, and so far as I’ve gotten into these books and papers on Aristotle so far, it seems we do it all just fine in our modern scientific understanding, do it sufficiently, with full integration and without the Aristotelian (varieties of) hylomorphism.

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2 hours ago, Boydstun said:

No, I wasn't comparing energy to form. Only mass-energy (the whole bundle) to Aristotle's matter for his matter-form.

Oh okay. Yeah the more I think about it, the more I think it would have to be matter-form composites as a whole applying to both mass and energy. Energy would have to be a way of conceiving of part of an already-enformed piece of matter, in other words a whole substance, in order to be a real thing capable of physical description. But really I don't know much about it. I'll check out the Handbook.

The Oderberg book, Real Essentialism is something I've been reading, and had been influencing a lot of my understanding.

 

3 hours ago, Boydstun said:

None of my physics professors (about a dozen) nor I thought of particles as having no nature. They have certain distinct natures and potentials.

Are you thinking that to have a nature a particle must have an end, like the root of a plant or nerve of an animal?

But that's precisely what the early moderns did believe. And it's because if the atoms had any parts to them, they wouldn't be atoms. They serve to give substances their properties, so they can't themselves have properties or parts. They have to be simples to be the ultimate grounding for any other substances. Another consequence is that they couldn't have any potentialities, they have to be fully actual. 

Since this is now hard to maintain, you might get something like a neo-Humean view that there are just certain regularities in the phenomena. Or you might get some sort of instrumentalist view, or some sort of "brute fact" type view. My point is that, if you think these are problematic and that scientists are observing electrons acting like electrons for a reason, you very quickly get to the view that we come to know material things only because they fall into a consistent natural kind knowable because of their causal powers. In other words: through their real essences.

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