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.

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