Matter (1)

Matter makes something material, and material is what makes things up: building materials make up buildings; course materials make courses; and materialism is the idea that nothing is real except what makes things up. But to make something up involves a double life, namely to exist a.)  prior to the thing made, and b.) while it exists. The first sense is matter simply, because at this stage one has nothing but ones materials – like a stack of boards to make a house or pollen to make honey or fuels to make fire. Matter simply is thus an initial stage of existence – it is whatever is ordered to be X prior to being X. This order is of different kinds: in artificial things the order comes from outside the materials; in natural things there is some sort of intrinsic ordering carrying the process through from its initial stages.

Matter is thus first an imperfect state of something. Incompletion or imperfection defines the way in which matter is prior and causative. This sense of imperfection is not attributable to the material thing that might pass away to become some other material thing – dead lions feed buzzards. All that is meant here is that matter pure and simple is found at the initial stages of the process that is completed in the generation or sustaining of some material thing.

This incompletion or imperfection is not eliminated by the process coming to an end, since material things can always be taken as the first stage in a process to be different or something else. At the very least, all of them (with the exception of the universe as a whole) can be a part of the process of movement from here to there. If there were something that could only change by changing place (which is what everyone after Aristotle thought of the stars and planents) it would be less material than things that come to be and pass away.


  1. Mike Gantt said,

    February 5, 2011 at 6:08 am

    Matter is temporal. What is unseen is eternal.

    Your post deals with the transition of matter from one stage to another. I have no argument with it, but it does provoke me to call attention to the invisible dimension of spirit which exists alongside the dimension in which matter exists. It is this unseen dimension which is largely ignored in our age, even by Christians. For Christians tend to acknowledge it only theoretically and, if practically, only in select, prescribed events called “worship.”

    It is this inattention to the spirit world that makes our study of matter devoid of context and, more universally, drains the life out of our lives.

  2. G. Kyle Essary said,

    February 5, 2011 at 8:55 am

    I’m glad you’re doing this brief series on matter, because I’ve wondered about it quite recently. I’m also wondering what it means in light of this thesis from the 24 Thomistic propositions: “However, the corporeal creature is composed of act and potency even in its very essence. These act and potency in the order of essence are designated by the names form and matter respectively” Is this saying that in corporeal objects, matter is a potency? It seems to me that the actuality of the corporeal object would be in its combination of matter/form. Although I guess form can be actual without any matter, whereas I’m not sure matter can be actual without form. I’m sure that I’m missing something and would love your help in understanding this proposition.

    • Ed L said,

      February 5, 2011 at 12:45 pm

      Matter is potency in corporeal objects. More on this can be found in St. Thomas’ “De Principiis Naturae.” Also, Aristotle’s Physics I.7 is relevant.

    • February 5, 2011 at 1:31 pm

      Matter is the ability to recieve determination X (a form) and so its whole being hangs on this determination. Matter is to form what a walk to the store is to a store. If the store burns down while you’re walking, whatever else you are doing, you aren’t taking a trip there. You cease to be going there the instant there isn’t any there there.

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