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Form v. Matter

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George Walsh - “If you talk about the glass merely in terms of the macroscopic level, then don’t you need some concept of ‘dispositions’?”

Rand - “In what way? How?”

Walsh - “Because the glass is not acting now, it’s not breaking into pieces.”

Peikoff - “Well, what’s wrong with the Aristotelian concept of ‘potentiality’? An entity has the capacity to act because of its nature.”

Walsh - “Well, the reason I was bringing this up was because I thought you rejected the concept of ‘potentiality’.”

Rand - “No. . . .”

Walsh - “I have memory or a misremembrance of someone saying that Objectivism does not accept the Aristotelian concept of ‘potentiality’.”

Rand - “Specifically, that wasn’t me. Unless it was in some context of what Aristotle makes of it, as in regard to his matter-form dichotomy.”

ITOE Appendix 285-86

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

A good help on the Aristotelian metaphysical distinction in being between matter and form is here.

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In his dissertation, Leonard Peikoff runs through various ways (compatible with each other) in which an Aristotelian can understand the following syllogism representing particulars in two different ways in its two premises.

All A is B.        (major)

This is an A.    (minor)

Therefore, this is B.

One of those ways is to see the major premise as about form separated from the particulars and to see the minor premise as about form in the matter of a particular.

“This apprehension of form in matter which FOLLOWS the apprehension of the separated structure, is to be distinguished from a quite different apprehension of the form-matter amalgam which PRECEDES the apprehension of separated structure, viz., the initial sensory perceptions of particulars qua particulars which occur as the prerequisite of the performance of the abstracting process. There are thus actually three stages in the process for Aristotle: a) Sense-apprehension of the particular qua particular prior to any abstracting process. This is an undiscriminating apprehension of the form-matter amalgam as a whole, and thus ‘accidentally’ of the formal element of the particular . . . . (The apprehension of form at this stage is ‘per accidens’ because, although we are in fact perceiving a form-matter amalgam and ‘a fortiori’ are in some sense perceiving form, we have not yet reached the stage of being able to discriminate the two elements nor thus to discern the form IN the matter. b) At some point, after repeated experiences and memorial retention, we come to discriminate the form from the matter and ‘separate it out’ in thought; we are then able, by contemplating the separated structure, to apprehend the necessary connections among its features. This is the level of rational cognition. c) Finally, we return to the particular and reintegrate the form with the matter, once again, as in stage a, perceiving the form-matter amalgam as a whole. Only we are now able to apprehend the form IN the matter; i.e., to apprehend it as a distinctly discerned structure IN this particular stuff. The perception of form in matter at this stage is thus authentic, not accidental; and we are thus able to apply to the particular the knowledge of necessary connections gained in stage b.” (134-35 n62)

Turning to the law of noncontradiction, the Aristotelian has it a truth about formal structures, which are logically correlative with matter and ontologically inseparable from it—the existence of form or matter entailing the existence of the other. “Thus, the truth of the general Law of Contradiction logically entails, according to the Aristotelians, the existence of a world of empirical particulars.” (138)

The demise of logical ontologism of the Aristotelian stripe was historically coincident the demise of Aristotle’s form-matter metaphysical amalgam (demise in Locke and others to today). (213-16, 236, 245-48) I think Ayn Rand’s theory of universal concepts based on objectively grounded essential characteristics and on the circumstance that concepts put into the slots A and B and This, above, are possessed of objective magnitude structures and particular loci in them is the bridge to right logical ontologism, right with our world and our minds in it.

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30 minutes ago, Boydstun said:

George Walsh - “If you talk about the glass merely in terms of the macroscopic level, then don’t you need some concept of ‘dispositions’?” [snipped for brevity]

Thanks, Stephen. Being in-formed matters.

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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 this basic form:

If change is real, then matter and form are real.

Change is real.

Thus matter and form are real.

The argument from limitation is much more complicated, but is more similar to what Peikoff describes in that passage. It follows from the more general act-potency distinction applied to unity and multiplicity. Any universal pattern like roundness is only made actual by being limited in a specific way, and that by virtue of which a circle is limited and remains in potency is its matter, and that by which the potency is made actual is its form. Peikoff provides a good description of how we can come to know the matter and form as limitation by contemplating and separating out the unity in the structure. Thus the grasping of concept is the grasping of form, and the formal cause relates specifically to its nature and actives, especially those internal to the kind of thing it is.

The form-matter distinction is necessary for a lot of other positions Rand wants to hold dear. For example, formal cause determines final cause. To conceive of a final cause in ethics that relates to a things nature, one needs form and matter.

Edited by 2046
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Rand had it that saying well what a thing is, in its definition, is saying what is its essential nature. What is essential in a thing’s nature is a characteristic of the thing on which the greatest number of its distinctive characteristics depend. That fundamental characteristic is explanatory of the distinct kind of thing a thing is.

Rand noted that when it comes to artifacts, such as furniture, the function of the object is part of the thing’s essential nature. It is essential to a life-jacket that it be buoyant and insoluble in water, for example. Those requirements driven by a certain function would explain why certain materials in certain assemblies can constitute a life-jacket and why certain others cannot.

Similarly, continued life and reproduction of a redbud tree will be fundamental functions with implications for what constitution and conditions are required for it to be a redbud tree.

Things not living and not a human artifact do not have functions as part of their fundamental nature. A rock can be used to throw at a critter, a rock affords the possibility of being used as a missile, but such an affordance is peripheral to its essential nature. Our capture of the essential nature of an igneous rock will not include its usefulness to man. It will include how the rock material is generated. We’ll want to say that igneous rock is rock formed through cooling and solidification of magma or lava. To define what is a solid or what is cooling, we’ll not need to bring any sort of function or genesis into our capture of their essential nature.

An explanatory characteristic in the definition of a thing, in Rand’s account, may be explanatory by cause, but it could be explanation of other sorts. Final causes figure in right definitions of artifacts and living things, but not into definitions of types of rock. Efficient causes (both in Aristotle’s generative sense and in our modern making-happen sense) figure in right definitions of types of rock, but not into definitions of solidity or of cooling.

Material causes, or anyway, specific range of material conditions, figure into all right definitions, at least by implication from essential nature. Formal causes, or anyway formal structure, I say, figure into all definitions. Genus-species is formal structure. Class inclusion and exclusion are formal structure. That is, class and sets are formal structures—tools of ours for better comprehending the world. Measurement and measurement omission in concepts and their inter-relations are formal structures.

Formal structure, it seems, figures fundamentally in artifacts. A lever has the formal structure that is the law of the lever. The buckyball (molecule of 60 carbon atoms) was invented by humans with formal specifications in view. However, it was later discovered that buckyballs have also been formed by nature in outer space. So I’d incline to not confine “formal cause” (which in our modern parlance is no cause at all, only a factor of formal structure) to designed objects.

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Right, well the difference between a natural substance and an artifact is that some things have substantial forms and some have accidental forms. Non living things like rocks still have functions as a result of having a substantial form. A rock or mineral substance's final cause is to, sit there and be rocklike, participate in the rock cycle, undergo lithification, stuff like that. (As was explained to me.) There is always final causation when there are the other 3 causes, or any causal power at all (you need finality to explain why effects are necessarily attached to their causes.) But a living thing is just capable of a certain kind of immanent causation (specifically that it furthers its own good) in ways that non living things don't have. The artifact's final cause is just imposed on it from the outside. But everything that has being in actuality has a form of some kind.

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16 hours ago, 2046 said:

A rock or mineral substance's final cause is to, sit there and be rocklike, participate in the rock cycle, undergo lithification, stuff like that.

Per my understanding: A rock has no final cause when it's just sitting there. A  final cause is teleological.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teleology A rock is given a final cause if a living thing imparts one, like David slinging it at Goliath, or a chimp using it to crack nut shells.

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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.

Edited by Boydstun
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6 minutes 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.

Indeed, even inanimate things like mineral substances have final causes in Aristotle's physics. Anything with form and matter, act and potency, has final causes. In the case of rocks, its final cause may be something from an intelligent agent like to be kicked or picked up and thrown, or it may be due to external, but non-intelligent, agency like its participation in the rock cycle or its undergoing lithification. Or it may be due to its own internal nature, like achieving a relative position of stability like sitting on the ground or sinking to the bottom of a lake, which Aristotle (300a28-31, 300b6-8) calls its achieving rest in its natural place.

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2 hours ago, merjet said:

Gibberish to some people. Are you one of them?

*whoosh*

You came across as very patronizing when explaining teleology. Were you trying to bring anything new to the conversation? If you want to check your understanding, then phrase it that way. 

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2 hours ago, merjet said:

Gibberish to some people. Are you one of them?

 

12 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

*whoosh*

You came across as very patronizing when explaining teleology. 

Huh? My writing "gibberish," which was flippant, referred to the numbers in the following.

3 hours ago, merjet said:

Aristotle, Generation of Animals 5.8, 789a8–b15
Aristotle, Physics, 2.8, 199b27-9

 

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21 minutes ago, Eiuol said:

Why in the world would you post the numbers for Aristotle when nobody was asking what teleology is, unless you didn't know that 2046 was sarcastic when he asked?

That nobody asked does not imply that nobody is interested in knowing where specifically Aristotle wrote about teleology.

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

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