Materialism vs. hylomorphism

Any principle that explains parts through wholes is formal and any principle reducing or explaining wholes through parts is material. Analyzing the actions of the organism through cells or smaller parts makes the latter material, to explain the actions of a cell through some principle that preserves or stabilizes the whole by selecting or arranging certain parts is formal. Materialism is the claim that the only legitimate account of things is to analyze the action of wholes into parts, making “the whole” nothing beyond the sum or its parts, and certainly lacking any holistic principle. Hylomorphism allows for the truth of all material accounts but does not limit itself to them, and so cannot be a materialist theory. While Naturalist hylomorphism is possible, most versions are not.

Atomic theory since Bohr starts from a notion of the atom as intrinsically stable and therefore from a formal and not material account. So far as Chem. 101 has electron shells, stable orbitals, the octet rule, etc it gives formal and not material accounts.

In light of this, materialism proved too limited and is no longer plausible. The attempt to preserve some of the ethical parts of the theory was replaced by physicalism or Naturalism, but (non-Naturalist) hylomorphism by definition includes all scientific data consistent with Naturalism, and differs only in the philosophical arguments that attempt to limit explanatory possibilities to the Naturalist domain.

Any holism makes the stability of the whole an explanatory principle subordinating the actions of material and is therefore teleological. We spontaneously object to teleological accounts from a sense that nature isn’t conscious, the response to this acknowledges the core of the objection by noting that even human art at its most goal-oriented is also not conscious. Dancers and musicians have to get to the point where their actions are non-conscious. It’s precisely the expertise of nature that makes its teleology non-conscious (cf. the critique of consciousness in the name of life here)

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