Aristotelian and Lucretian accounts of matter

Aristotle defined matter relative to motion as a subject of change. The more familiar definition of matter is the Lucretian one that defined it relative to the sense of touch. In this sense classical physics will come to see matter as “hard” or “impenetrable”, i.e. as giving resistance to forces pushing on it. Over time the this was distilled down to its essence as whatever resisted attempts get it to change from motion to rest or vice-versa, which is now called mass. 

The definitions seem to be in tension when Aristotle sees the subject as being perfected by change. Why resist perfection? The perfection, however, comes about by overpowering and destroying whatever form the object has, which is the source of inertial resistance, i.e. mass. The Lucretian definition of matter is therefore what Aristotle would see as an account of a form as terminus a quo of a change. Newton’s first law therefore develops the Lucretian insight into the peculiar form of physical objects relative to a possible change, which is how we should understand mass.

But if mass is an account of form as opposed to matter, what’s matter? It’s whatever would be equally happy to be active or inactive, at motion or rest, but which can be counted on to hold onto whichever is more dominant. As Aristotle put it, it is the female desiring the male or, as we’ve now refined the idea, the female/nature selecting for dominant traits. If this is right, the ideal body is analogous to the perfection of pair bonding, with the glorified body being the analogue to the indissoluble sacramental bond.

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