Matter (2)

Artificial matter receives its order from an artist working on it, and therefore extrinsically; natural matter is ordered by a principle interior to the thing developing, or sometimes by a principle that is intrinsic to a system that includes trees and vegetation by is more universal than they are – for example, the processes that destroy trees are not processes that the tree itself executes – a tree doesn’t kill itself in the same sense as it feeds itself – but there are processes belonging to ecosystems (periodic fires, pruning done by animal feeding, perhaps even the building of beaver dams) that involve the destruction of vegetation for the maintenance of the ecosystem. St. Thomas called this latter sort of causality universal nature.

Universal nature more verifies what we mean by nature. A sign of this is that we’re more likely to call a scene of a forest “nature” than a picture of a single tree; and the science that studies nature in the most universal way (physics) is what we first mean by natural science.

Within the context of universal nature, any particular individual is matter. Universal nature moves by cycles, and these cycles are made by the arising of things, and the necessary corruption that is entailed by this. Matter taken in this sense causes time – though not “time” in the sense of an international agreement that a second will be 9 billion or so periods of caesium-133 but in the sense of mode of existence that arises from any particular thing being ordered by an interior impulse of universal nature to be other or something else. Aristotle thought that the last sphere of the heavens was the sole ultimate cause of this “order of any particular nature to being other or something else”, and so he concluded that the one motion of this sphere was the cause of one time. The theory fell through in its particulars, but the general structure of the argument remains: if the activity of one thing is the reason for why all particular natures are matter, then one time would arise from it; and if one activity of one thing is not responsible for this, then there would be as many times as there are actions of universal nature.

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