The four degrees of form

Form first adds to matter to make a natural thing and then three later forms add to form-matter composites to make the living, the conscious and the noetic.

1.) Nature. As essentially mobile it divides into matter and form as principles of motion. Matter is fundamentally an indifference to any particular direction or operation, but selects any form that dominates over it to the exclusion of all the forms.

Aristotle hypothesized four fundamental forms that could initially dominate matter, divided by the directions of the universe to which they tended (fire and earth moved up and down absolutely, air and water so moved relatively). We’ve since replaced this idea with other hypotheses of what is moving absolutely and relatively, but through these different changing paradigms Aristotelian matter remains whatever it is either proximately or remotely the basis of relative or absolute motion. Obviously, our present notion of the elements has nothing to do with matter in this sense, and the role that earth, fire, air, and water played for Aristotle is now played by space and stuff in space.

Form adds to matter a determinate relative or absolute motion of a subject.

2.) Life. While nature moves either always or sometimes relatively, all the activities of life are absolute.  If one views an organism as a purely physical system, life adds to that system an absolute direction. For example, chemical combinations only change relatively from O2 to CO2, but animal respiration has an absolute direction. The material world knows only combination and separation, and nothing of “waste” or “material” or (a fortiori) of what acts on material to do its work. What arises in the living physical system for the first time is agency above and beyond mere interaction. 

Form as life (soul) adds agency to natural interactive action.

3.) The Conscious Subject. Usually called “sentience”, it adds objectivity to the mere agency of the subject.  What is part of an experience is part of life, and the sensed world is part of experience. While mere soul is the form of the living subject’s body, actual sentience or consciousness is the form of the objective world outside of the subject, since apart from this world there can be sensation only potentially.

Soul as sentient adds to the subjective agent a form of the exterior, objective world. 

4.) Nous. We now understand what nous is in its opposition to a conscious subject. The conscious subject has objectivity only as a component to its experience, just as form is only a component of natural being. The objective form of conscious experience is also intrinsically constituted by a subjective reality that is distinct from it. Whether one senses it as warm or cold depends on what animal he is, what colors one sees depend on the same thing, and all the arguments for the relativity or non-existence of sentient reality (Plato, Berkeley, Idealism, etc.) turn on realizing this subjective component in the experience. It’s important in this connection to remember that perspective is essential to this sort of conscious experience.

It is not just sensation that has this subjective component, but also any unconscious component to experience like personality structure, IQ, gendered existence, etc. Just how far these subjective components go is not clear, but they are deeply structural to the experience of the conscious subject.

Nevertheless, there is an object in human experience that is not perspectival, and even if it is inflected through subjective experience and historical reality it is not intrinsically constituted by it. Being, truth, unity, the real or unreal, or even the recognition of sentient experience as true or real or illusory are all purely objective. Even if we are embedded in a peculiar perspective we are nevertheless capable of hermeneutical translations of perspectives other than our own, which can only make sense by allowing us some access to, yes, “the view from nowhere”.  Even if one denies any content to this purely objective stance (which I think is false, but conceivable) being, truth, reality, etc. can only function as placeholders if we already grasp that there is something which is capable of receiving infinite possible content.

We called sensation a conscious subject because subjectivity is essential to its consciousness. We only call nous “subjective” in the sense that anything that acts is a subject, not because its subjectivity constitutes the conscious experience. The form of nous is nothing other than the form as it exists in reality, and this form of life/knowledge is “subjective” only in the sense that the subject is aware of nothing other than what is real, even of its own reality. It is for this reason that, so far as we are nous, what is subjective is simply false.

Life as Nous adds to the partial objectivity of the conscious subject the forms things entirely as they are. 

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