Hylomorphism through temporality or vice-versa

One way to understand hylomorphism is as articulating the insight that you are now not all you were nor will be. This gives a kind of primacy to the present moment as a point of reference, that can be considered either

1.) relative to its past

2.) in itself with no relation

3.) relative to future.

1 and 2 involve some difference and some contingent being (though the degree of contingency can differ). With 2 there is no time to be otherwise and so the being is necessary.

This view does not assert the ontological priority of time. It is not necessary that time to be some background in which contingency can spread its legs. Time can simply be an abstraction of something common to all contingent and necessary beings in nature. It is also not the claim that only the present moment is real. Like presentism, this view prioritizes the present moment for being the indispensable first reference point (as it remains in Relativity by being the apex of the light cone) and, more importantly, it makes only the present moment of some observer actual, but unlike presentism it allows for both the future and past to be real by their relation to present existence (this is not a verbal distinction but an attempt to capture what we mean when we say that we are now not all we were or will be.) Hylomorphism is thus a middle ground between A and B theories, asserting that all times are real by reference to the present, which alone is actual.

From this angle, we see why potency (or matter) exists only by participation in form (or act), and why form is the culmination of some desire in matter. Everything starts by marking out a point that is here-now and then asking how one got here or what he could do, is obliged to do, could do to create a better or worse version of what he has, etc.

Hylomorphism does demand that time is real. It is true that your only knowledge of the past is in the present, and so, for all you know, there may be no past at all. This present moment has dinosaur fossils in it, perhaps another present will not. For all you know, or so the objection goes, there could be merely many  present moments, with no order among them. This is the radically simplifying view of Barbour’s Platonia. On this view, however, memory is not a cognitive function, and prudence and science (the first which plans, the second which predicts) are not intellectual activities. So such a world cannot be known by any of our faculties or methods, nor could such a hypothesis ever be tested or confirmed.

Hylomorphism demands a block universe so far as all times are real, but there is no time at which all times are actual. Nevertheless, it both allows for and seems to demand a perspective from which all times are totalized since no one temporal viewpoint suffices to explain the harmony and agreement between diverse viewpoints, either for one observer or for a multitude. This totalization for one observer is soul; for many world-soul; and any harmony between soul and world-soul in turn will have reference to another principle beyond abstractive or nature-ordering intelligence.

The clay-shape metaphor has some value for explaining hylomophism but it obscures as much as it reveals. Considered as here-now the whole statue is form. Considered as indefinitely extended into the future, the whole statue is matter (this is what we mean by saying it is contingent or, if it were living, mortal). Considered indefinitely extended into its past, the statue is the form of some matter (and so generated). Short of indefinite extension, it is possible for the statue to be the subject of accidental changes, and so to be form of some matter in a different way.

Creation is the denial of any intrinsic past-relation for a substance. This is what we mean by creation being “from nothing” (which is only clarification if not pleonasm). Said another way, creation means that something exists with a here-now that is not a terminus ad quem for anything else.

Freedom is like creation but is the denial of any intrinsic past-relation for an agent’s action in time. Freedom is absolute when the production of an action in time has absolutely no relevant past relation on the part of the agent; freedom is qualified to the degree that it falls away from this. Life has freedom to the extent that its actions are not exhausted by the temporal story that goes back indefinitely and is terminated more or less arbitrarily. Reason has freedom to the extent that individuals can be praised or blamed. God has freedom to the extent that nothing in time at all that conditions action or serves as an absolute motive of action.

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