Hylemorphic ontology

1.) Things around me allow for different instances of what they are. This is a sheetrocked, painted wall but some walls are wooden and varnished, unfinished cinderblocks, etc. This fact is in play in every word we speak other than proper nouns. In this sense, no particular is equal to what it is since what it is – essence – is realizible in different ways.

2.) On the other hand essence is wholly realized in its instance. My sheetrocked painted wall needs nothing added to it to be a wall.

3.) This gives different senses of the whole essence. From (1) the whole essence is richer and broader than any instance while (2) requires the whole essence be present in each instance. This requires introducing into essence itself diverse principles that can account for the diverse ways in which essence is whole. Matter makes it whole in sense (2), hence the talk about sheetrock vs cinderblock walls. Form makes a whole in sense (1), which is why we spontaneously call forms ideas, though in fact form is a principle of the idea, just as the reality.

4.) So far as both are principles, they stand to the composite as parts to whole, and both are completed in it. The relation of the principles to each other is different. Then this form is fuller and richer than material due to having more possibilities. Matter is more ontologically impoverished, e.g.  sheetrock-for-a-wall is a lot more restricted than wall. This also shows the derivative and secondary character of matter since as sheetrock-for-a-wall exists only after wall is given as a principles (even if no principle exists as its composite does.)

5.) Form and matter are principles of some whole, but the thing-that-is-matter need not be understood as matter. Cinderblocks-for-a-wall are also things in themselves in addition to being principles of another.

6.)  Matter is a lot easier to understand when it is also a thing since, under that condition, it has a form that allows us to understand what it is in sense (1) and we have a form to understand it relative to as explained in (4). Matter is more difficult to understand when it is only a principle and not also a thing. That said, when matter is also a thing it causes accidental changes so if some change is not accidental its matter is not a thing, which from (3) lacks a principle giving rise to an idea of itself.

7.) Form is opposite to matter and is easier to understand when it is only a principle and not a thing. We have always spontaneously understood forms as ideas just as we understand matter as stuff. But just as matter is most material when it is a principle and not a thing, forms are most fully forms when both a principle and a thing. This is the mode of existence unique to the human soul as intellectual.

8.) Seen from this angle the intractable debates between “dualists” and “Naturalists” are easy to understand, as dualism consists in seeing the life of human beings as a thing and not a principle and naturalism consists in seeing it as a principle and not a thing. Both arise from the inability or unwillingness to posit things outside the material order, and the simplest part of the material order at that (since neither side accounts for matter as such.) In this simplified ontology, matter is uniformly existent real stuff, making either nothing alive (mechanism/ reductionism/ ghosts in the machine) or everything alive in exactly the same way (panpsychism.) When one’s basic options are between so many reductiones ad absurdum, he might as well pick his philosophy at random or, better yet, with an eye to whatever will pass peer review.


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