Hylomorphism and time

1.) Aristotle’s theory of nature rests on the insight that whenever X comes to be, the X is both the actual thing and whatever is one step away from being it, which is why if you tell me you bought pizza, coffee, concrete, lawn sod, or bookshelves, you haven’t given me enough information to know if what you bought is cooked, brewed, mixed and hardened, sprouted or assembled.

2.) This theory of potency and act is also a theory of time. If, for example, our account of time is of a sequence of events then it will collapse into unreality. There is no “previous event” that comes to be now, since a previous events are actual, and there is a contradiction in one actuality becoming another. Notice it makes no difference if one says that all times are equally real or whether only the present is. So long as time is any kind of change at all, even in thought, one can’t understand it as one actuality becoming another.

3.) It’s not state of affairs A that becomes state of affairs B, but potential state of affairs B becoming actual state of affairs B. This is true both for B’s being and its being known, and so a fortiori of B’s being true.

4.) If different times are seen as actual, we reject both A-theories and B-theories for the same reason; and Parmenides falls into contradiction along with Heraclitus. If “presentism” means only the present is actual, we are presentist; but if the opposite of the actual is the unreal, we are not.

5.) That any present time is equally well a potential later time is simply hylomorphism. It might even be the clearest manifestation of hylomorphism.

Two faces of matter

In thinking about matter or the physical I tend to see it as what makes something solid or capable of acting. The material is pinchy or capable of resistance.

Plato and Aristotle had this idea too, but it was balanced against a realization of matter as principle of corruption. The resistance that so impressed me is also what gives way to a strong-enough power, whose integrity is breakable and replaceable by some other form.

The ideas are contrary. In one matter is a strength, action, resistance; in the other it is a readiness to yield. Nothing can be in itself both of these absolutely, and so matter is relative to contraries.

Matter in itself is thus what is dominated, unified, and held together. It resists out of desire or allegiance, but this desire is alienable.

It both its faces, matter shows both a power and receptivity. The face of matter as strength or solidity also reveals it as in conflict and therefore able to be overcome or acted upon; the face of matter as principle of corruption is manifest weakness, but this weakness is also a power to survive through changes of form and so is a sort of strength. Inquiry into matter therefore always tends toward something ultimately solid and unbreakable, but this solidity is of fundamentally different kinds. In one sense we search for the elemental or basic “building block” capable of resisting all given forces thrown against it; in another sense we tend to a form that could so exhaust even a diversity of matter that nothing could alienate it. In the first line of analysis we are looking for elements, or the order of cosmic reality that is least actual and most potential. In the second we are looking for a form that everyone thought until recently was exemplified by the aeviternal existence of the heavenly bodies, but which might be the peculiar mode of existence we await in the fully realized eschaton. Among cosmic beings, the resurrected bodies of the blessed are most actual and least potential.

Matter and form

Matter is common to many substances over time: protein, elements, atoms, etc. It is also substance as common to different accidents over time: man goes from unmusical to musical.

(While defined with time, time is included as an effect. It is precisely matter’s being common that gives rise to time, as opposed to time being some sort of given or form that matter fills out.)

Form is common to many substances at once: to be a cow, be black, be standing, to be. 

Cosmological argument from exemplar causality (2)

(The likeness to the Fourth Way is obvious, but I’m here stressing the notion of exemplar as measure, and seeing measure as illumined precisely by the quantitative measure that is so often treated as an objection to the Fourth Way.)

1.) There exist things indeterminately greater and lesser, both in quality and quantity. Among the latter are things indeterminately greater and lesser in goodness, truth, dignity, etc (GTDE,) which are indeterminately such at least because they are contingent.

2.) Whatever is indeterminately greater and lesser is measured by the unity and determination of the one. This is clearest in measurements of quantity: something indefinite in its square-footage is made definite by the square foot. NB that the square foot pre-exists whatever is indeterminately such, whether as known (like a floor we are measuring) or as coming to be (like a woodland we are razing.)

3.) What is beyond all measure is by definition infinite, but this infinite is either privative, i.e. unable to be measured because it its indefiniteness, in the way space or its divisions are infinite; or positive and unable to be measured because of its definiteness. The latter will be explained in (4.)

4.) Every measure, in virtue of its unity and determination, has positive infinity. This is again clearest in quantity: the meter, gram, etc are all positively infinite in this sense. The meter has no length qua measure.

5.) So things indeterminately greater and lesser in GTDE exist relative to a positive and infinite GTDE that (from 2) pre-exists to them. This is what all call God.

Cosmological argument from exemplar causality

1.) There exist forms or energia in potentials.

2.) Potency is indifferent to many forms (minimally, a form and its privation) and is therefore indifferent to any one form.

3.) What determines something indifferent to one, acts by some pre-existing form.

4.) Therefore form in potency is from pre-existing form, and a form that pre-exists form in potency is what all call God.

Alternate (4,) using a metaphor:  

4.) A form in potency is thus a copy of a pre-existing form.

5.) The proper cause of a copy of form is a form not copied.

6.) A form not copied is a form with no principle other than itself, even in the order of existence, goodness, truth, dignity, etc.

7.) A form in the order of existence, goodness, truth, dignity, etc that has no principle other than itself is what all call God.

The Fifth Postulate as postulate

Constructability is the principle of mathematical being. Mathematicals exist iff constructible.

The indefinite as such is not constructible.

Euclid’s Fifth Postulate requires the indefinite as such, i.e. “if the lines are extended indefinitely, they will intersect.”

(So the Fifth is a postulate versus an axiom or conclusion, and neither it nor its contradictory can exist or be true qua mathematical. To say the non-Euclidean is just as true as the Euclidean means that their difference is not a matter of mathematical truth.)

Sufficient physical causes

I become convinced that physical event A is sufficiently caused by B, and B by C ad infinitum since some conserved quantity in A was the same in B and C etc. I become a physicalist and/or determinist.

My account has an unresolved catch-22, since if physical causes without exception require physical antecedents the motion can never begin, just as if managerial jobs without exception require experience working as a manager then no one could ever be hired as one.

I want to remain a physicalist, so I note that it’s simply given that the motion exists, and it had to start somehow. But the observation belies my point, since the dispute has never been over whether there is motion but what a sufficient cause of it would have to look like.

It turns out that conservation laws give me infinite sufficient causes in the same way that electrical cords are of an indefinite length. Conserved quantities are homogeneous middle parts, and one can have as many such parts as he pleases. Considered precisely as multiplicable, one can have as many feet of cord or sufficient physical causes as he likes. Considered as middle, however, physical causes are conduits of higher order and thus non-interactive actions.

A cause is sufficient if I don’t need one of a different kind, and if you consider the causes as multiplicable – or anything as multiplicable in number – it certainly has such a feature. Conserved causes are infinite and sufficient like sandwich fillings are: nothing about this one requires the next one be something different in kind, and this sufficiency allows for the infinity of one being able to have as many fillers as he wants. Just not to the exclusion of bread.

Inorganic intellection

1.) The form of the known is the form of the knower. This defines objectivity. If the green I see isn’t the green of this page, then “green” is not objective.

2.) A form coming to an organ is an accidental form. Any form added to what already exists in act is an accident.

3.) The intellect knows substantial forms. The definition is stipulative. Some part of my cognitive life knows substance: let “intellect” be whatever does so. As a supporting argument, to say I only know accidents, not substances is a contradiction, since an accident contains substance in its definition.

If intellect is an organ, then a substantial form is an accidental form. The consequent is contradictory, so intellect is not an organ.

The intellect is thus a modality of substantial form, namely, as form of another. It is not the wax into which a substantial form gets pressed, but a blank slate onto which letters are written, but the sense of the analogy is this: while sensation duplicates form in different matter, intellect just is the thing known. The shape of a signet ring in wax is not a signet ring, but a letter on a slate is a letter.

Distinction from matter

Matter: a being in the substantial order common to the change of many substances. 

This is progressively distinguished from something else in the substantial order.

1.) Form. Matter is common to different substances, but something substantial not common to many substances. So something substantial is not matter.

2.) Life. Life adds to the inanimate an identity through change of parts. In one sense this belongs to some inanimate things: just as one’s possession or function of a car doesn’t change with the change of a car’s parts the changing of the parts of a living thing maintains one and the same identity. In the living thing, however, this principle of identity is not some agent outside of the material parts (e.g. a mechanic) but within them. This mechanic within the parts is something active within yet distinct from matter.

3.) Sensation. While eating preserves one living entity throughout changes in parts, it does this by assimilating the material of another while sloughing off its matter. Sensation, on the other hand, assimilates the form of another while leaving its matter within the object. There is thus a bona fine immateriality even in sensation, since what is sensed, qua objective, is being assimilated into sentient life without the matter it has as objective. Nevertheless, since this form must be physically present in the sentient being in order to be sensed, the form still exists with some matter, i.e. the matter of the medium and the matter of the body of the sentient organism.

4.) Embodied human intellection. We know that substantial forms exist, though we have no penetration into the differences constituting them. This is the minimal possible way of knowing substantial forms, but it nevertheless demands the form be present noetically in the one knowing. But while sensed forms are accidents present in different subtending matter (the object, medium, organism) substantial forms cannot be present in any subtending matter. Our knowledge of substantial form, therefore, demands the pure immateriality of our intellectual cognition. Nevertheless, this pure immateriality is of a minimal kind, as it can only penetrate into substantial form according to its quia and not its propter quid, since we gather our knowledge of substantial form only so far as it can be inferred from the accidents that we sense.

5.) Disembodied intellection. This sort of intellection does not know by starting with the accidents of things, but from its own substance. This allows for some direct and non-inferential knowledge of substance, but the lower intellects require more concepts in order to do so.

6.) Absolute intellection. There is a substance sufficing for the existence of all substance, and this is the limit of distinction from matter.

Aristotle’s theory of intellect

1.) Intellect is receives or is passive to its actuality (i.e. its object.)

(a) Experience is passive, and that we learn by experience is given from experience (b) If it were not passive to its act, the act would be innate, and therefore always thought. 

2.) The actuality of intellect is the nature of physical things.

3.) What receives actuality X lacks X. This is just the division of act and potency.

So intellect does not have the nature of a physical thing.

« Older entries