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On 5/5/2021 at 4:03 AM, 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

I was thinking about this, and reading about a problem Aquinas had. Or really his Dominican brothers had and he set out to solve. It seemed like there was a problem with the concept of matter. We know God and the angels can't be material because of certain passages in the Bible. We know that the world of nature abounds with material things from common sense observation. We also know that matter provides the basis of potentialities and the substratum of change. 

Problem is, if both God and the angels are immaterial, how can the angels be different from God? God, as we know, is pure form, simple, changeless, perfect. But the angels are non-perfect. They do change, say by having this or that volition or thought. They are so individuals, say Gabriel, Michael, etc. And we know they come in different types, seraphim, cherubim and so on. But they're also supposedly pure form, or immaterial. So if matter is the principle of potentiality, complexity, limitation and so forth, how can the angels change, and be inferior to God?

Now there's a whole argument Aquinas develops in the De Ente about the existence-essence distinction and composition, and that's a whole cottage industry in itself. I'm not sure I even understand it, so I'm not going to go into that, but there is an aspect of a tangential point I want to focus on.

The view (called universal hylemorphism) that there is only one entity that is pure form (God himself) Aquinas attributes to Avicebron and attributes it resulting from a failure to distinguish between two types of matter: functional matter and prime matter. 

If the term “matter” is used in its proper and common sense [=as prime matter], it is impossible for there to be matter in spiritual substances…. But if the terms “matter” and “form” are used for any two things which are related as potentiality to actuality, then there can be no objection (unless it is a mere verbal dispute) to saying that spiritual substances have both matter and form (ODSC 1.300-302, 357-360)

What Aquinas is saying here, is that there is a functional sense in which anything that serves as a subject (or substratum) for change or in which any properties can be said to inhere, can be said to be material, in a certain sense of matter. That also means that anything that is related to a form as potentiality to actuality is matter in that sense. 

So suppose you take the view that potentiality and actuality makes sense, we can take that from the worktable of Aristotle, so to speak. But we don't need to go full on hardcore Aristotelian and take all this hylemorphism stuff. Well, as Aquinas points out, any potentiality that is related to an actuality, that serves as a substratum, is going to be matter in at least a functional sense. And the reverse for the concept of form. Aquinas introduces the whole act-potency distinction in the first place to emphasize the functional role of matter-form. So if you take the one off the table, you implicitly take the other as well.

 

 

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Posted (edited)

Interesting. Seems Aquinas was getting himself an additional layer of analogical thinking beyond Aristotle. Thanks for notice of Aquinas’ prime/functional distinction.

I do not buy that potentiality can be a substratum of change. (And down from Galileo-Descartes and Newton [and Einstein’s version], I take inertial motion as brute, requiring no cause nor substrate, only matter [non-zero mass], actual matter, and spacetime.) Potentials belong to and are followers on actualities, and they are delimitations on alterations of actualities. The notion of form that I find useful from philosophy (mine—the paper coming in July) for most promising account of distinction between and relations of science, mathematics, and logic is not complement of actualities (as potentialities are complements to actualities). Let me put my hand on the table. The spaces between the fingers of my left hand are less than the number of fingers. That is a formality belonging to a concrete actuality, but it is not complement to actuality, rather to concreteness. That feature of multiple fingers or of musical staffs is a formality in the empirical world. They follow on concretes. Like potentials, they cause nothing (they're followers, not drivers.) Concrete actuals have the causal powers. We have other mathematical formalities not in the world independently of intelligence in the world, but as our toolkit improving our facility with the formalities belonging to the world, and these stand as analytic geometry to synthetic geometry.

This is a big paradigm shift from Aristotle (or Kant). Alien to be sure outside my longtime shop.

I’ll be studying much further the next couple of years the matter-form scheme of Aristotle, the descendant Arab and Scholastic schemes, and the matter-form scheme of Kant and how they treat science, mathematics, and logic within those schemes (within their complete theoretical philosophy schemes). I aim find out (follow-on paper) if better and how is mine for comprehensive frame for the modern age of the hard sciences, mathematics, and logic.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I leave in this post for future handiness a taxonomy of interpretations of the Aristotle texts pertaining to matter and substantial change, gotten from the 2018 dissertation by Ryan Miller (a taxonomy originated in a paper by others).

(α) The persisting substratum of substantial change is something which has the nature of pure potency. This is ‘the standard prime matter reading,’ commonly associated with Aquinas.

(β) The persisting substratum of substantial change is something which is not pure potency. (i) If the something is featureless and omni-potent, this is the ‘prime matter’ position of most late Scholastics, including Ockham, Scotus, and Suarez (with variations), now defended by Christopher Byrne. It is closely related to the Averroistic solution to the Problem of the Mixt, because it presumes that there can be sub-substantial subjects. (ii) If the something has no actual features, but a somehow specified potency, this is the position of Richard Rorty (1974) and (tentatively) John MacFarlane. (iii) If the something is what is actually generically true of the elements, which are not themselves composed, then this is the anti-prime-matter position of Hugh King and Robert Sokolowski. (iv) If the something is a relatively simple homoeomerous substance with normal properties or an assemblage thereof, this is the anti-prime-matter position of Daniel Graham and Christopher Shields. (v) If the something is a property, then this is the ‘Weak Revisionary Interpretation’ of Mary Louise Gill and Montgomery Furth. It is closely related to the Avicennian solution to the Problem of the Mixt, because it presumes that properties can transfer between substances.

(γ)  The persisting substratum of substantial change is pure potency, not something. This is the position suggested by Aquinas in De Principiis Naturae and defended by Dermot O’Donoghue, Friedrich Solmsen, Joseph Owens, Patrick Suppes, Patrick Toner, and Anna Marmodoro. It is also the position taken by Richard Rorty in his dissertation, Christine Korsgaard in an unpublished paper, and with somewhat different auxiliary assumptions by Mary Krizan.

(δ)  The substratum of substantial change does not persist through that change. This is the ‘Strong Revisionary Interpretation’ of Barrington Jones, William Charlton, Sarah Broadie, and Michael Rea.

(ε)  Substantial change occurs without a substratum. This is the position that both Aristotle and the Eleatics regard as unintelligible.

(ζ)  Substantial change does not occur. This is the Eleatic position in its Empedoclean guise.

Edited by Boydstun
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Would it be obtuse for me to ask what particular perceptual or empirical data serves as the motivation for investigations into these ideas, and how those data govern, guide, and reign in the selection among the alternatives proposed as corresponding to reality, to those most promising?

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On 5/5/2021 at 1:32 PM, 2046 said:

"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"

I'd like some clarification about form and matter before I get to my main thought. I was under the impression before that form is the abstract or categorical nature of a particular (in the same way "this particular table" can belong to the category "kitchen table"); that substance is what particulars can be made out of; from my reading of this thread, that matter (according to Aristotle) is a substance without form yet - so matter is potential in the sense that it is something concretely real and can change in numerous ways, but no determinate course of change. Form would give matter a determinate nature with that additional categorical information.

I'm confused by the part where Heisenberg says "by means of the form", because what about a form is doing anything? It seems to me that form and matter are necessarily simultaneous, describing and explaining two aspects of the same thing (concretes).

On 5/5/2021 at 7:03 AM, Boydstun said:

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.

This might be a useful thought, I've been using it to think about a different problem, but it might apply here.

The concept information basically specifies potential in quantitative terms. Although it originated in exchanging messages between people, it can be translated into other areas of thought quite easily. Especially physics. Information is inescapable because it gives the possible states of something that exists, and it could be applied to either concretes or abstractions - the states of a particle, or the possible values of a letter in a message, respectively. I'm not sure how much this relates to your research or investigations right now, but it might be fruitful to explore.

I'm suggesting that perhaps information (in the formal Shannonian sense) is what actualizes mass-energy into something "more". Information, although not itself able to exist independently of a particular, will provide context and a relationship to other particulars with mathematical precision. What I'm getting is that maybe the modern concept information helps improve on the distinctions Aristotle made about form. 

 

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Posted (edited)

SL,

Aristotle was trying to supply an account of change that would apply to all cases of change. He was also trying to solve puzzles composed by earlier philosophers. Parmenides had had it, for example, that change is not possible because it would require being to come out of not-being (and, to boot, the later being could not come out of being because being already is). Aristotle was trying to give a more nuanced and sound-sense view of the world, and as well he was aiming for an all-encompassing view of things.

Parmenides would have it that fire could not come out of air because air is air and not fire. Having air come out of fire would be tantamount to having being come out of not-being. Aristotle would reply that fire does not come out of air as air, but it can come out of air which is not yet fire but has a potentiality to become fire. (Today we do not take air and fire to be rock-bottom elements as had the Greeks, but we could say along Aristotle’s lines---though with less urgency over Parmenides and his conundrums---that fire can come to be out of the potential of oxygen plus certain materials for becoming fire. Or getting down to our own elementary items in the world, we could say that radiation that is pure energy can come about from states of motion certain bodies that have potential for those states of motion and radiation production [e-m radiation from acceleration of an electron] or can come about from bodies with potential for conversion into pure-energy radiation [gamma from electron-positron pair annihilation].) By his act-potency division, Aristotle can have things A come out of things not-A without being subject to the charge from the Parmenides set of committing the error of thinking something can come from nothing. But further argument with the Parmenides crowd has to run a few more rounds, which Aristotle runs, and by the end of the match, Aristotle will have had to introduce distinctions between form, matter, and privation and more generally between act, potency, and privation.

Aristotle’s positions beget new apparent puzzles, the exact puzzles and possible solutions (within Aristotle or confronting him with our own understanding) shifting some with differences in interpretation of Aristotle’s texts taken together. Today, too, philosophers take up puzzles and positions taken in the past of this 2600-year intellectual adventure on the trail of what is. Puzzles and new challenges for placing all things in a comprehensive framework arise today also from advances in the sciences and the formal disciplines of the last couple of centuries. Some philosophers are still attracted to puzzle origination and to modern response to classical puzzle-makers such as Zeno. I’m set more on puzzles arising naturally in structuring an all-encompassing framework. The deliciousness is in the creative reasoning and the vista.

It is not obvious generally to the educated public why philosophers are thinking about the things they are thinking about and discussing and why they are using the special terminology they are using. It is better as we come to know what was in the philosopher’s culture (supposing the philosopher is not from our own culture) and what philosophers and science and religious views they were working among. With whom exactly is Hume arguing? What were their specific views? Why is his use of rational so much narrower than our common use today (and why from us: “and you care so much about that rational/irrational why?”), and why was there no need for him to explain such a narrow usage among the philosophic minded in his day? Nowadays scholars have opened to light of day more on whom Hume was arguing and on whom Kant or Descartes were arguing than had come to light when I began to study philosophy 54 years ago.

The little paper I wrote in my first philosophy course freshman year was titled “Change and Consciousness in the Experience of Time.” We were free to choose our own topic and study for the term paper. It was not a topic that had come up in this introductory course, and that was fine with our professor. He was a Thomist and had introduced us to the concepts of “prime matter” and “substantial form” that I’m lately learning anew and more about. But I want to mention that for main paths down from Aristotle, including for Thomist philosophers, there is an approach to philosophic concepts and questions much in keeping with your sort of concerns for Why these philosophic concepts and issues? Our professor had come to the point in his lectures when he would set forth an elaborate version of first-cause argument for the existence of God (a proof he thought right), but he began in this unforgettable way: he held up his hand and told us his proof would begin by crooking his little finger, which he did. Then it was on to explanations and causes for what had just transpired, covering bases all around, on back to the existence and some basic nature of God from only a natural, rational basis (not on basis of authority or feeling). So as with Aristotle, the philosophy enterprise in metaphysics and epistemology takes off for these Catholic philosophers with natural everyday phenomena, then on to sophisticated questions and answers and satisfactions (or not) with them. Though I don’t remember them now, I’m sure our professor began his introduction to such concepts as prime matter with questions and answers concerning things in ordinary experience.

Edited by Boydstun
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5 hours ago, Eiuol said:

I'd like some clarification about form and matter before I get to my main thought. I was under the impression before that form is the abstract or categorical nature of a particular (in the same way "this particular table" can belong to the category "kitchen table"); that substance is what particulars can be made out of; from my reading of this thread, that matter (according to Aristotle) is a substance without form yet - so matter is potential in the sense that it is something concretely real and can change in numerous ways, but no determinate course of change. Form would give matter a determinate nature with that additional categorical information.

Well, from my understanding, a substance is a particular, and is a matter-form composite. So it's not what particulars are "made out of" (like, eg., the modern chemistry term.) And matter-sans-form wouldn't be a substance, it would be prime matter. Prime matter, while a real feature of the world, isn't concretely real, or isn't a concrete, in the sense that it isn't any thing unless made determinate by form. Or at least that's the A-T line of thought (Cf. the Oderberg book mentioned earlier.) Scotus and Suarez think that prime matter can exist by itself, related to their views on the aforementioned existence-essence distinction and composition.

6 hours ago, Eiuol said:

I'm confused by the part where Heisenberg says "by means of the form", because what about a form is doing anything? It seems to me that form and matter are necessarily simultaneous, describing and explaining two aspects of the same thing (concretes).

Yes, in natural substances, it is. Or at least if you're taking the A-T line of thought. All prime matter can do is be receptivity for a form, which is not to say it is acting in the sense of an entity. But existence is a separate act from the act of essence, at least in principle. (So like, I can think about the essence of a unicorn without thinking it has an act of existence.) Act in this sense means actualization of a potentiality, so "by means of the form" just means a potential that is actualized (enformed [or informed however you want to spell it.]

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