Author Topic: Hylomorphic "virtual" matter?  (Read 394 times)

Offline Daniel

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Hylomorphic "virtual" matter?
« on: November 24, 2018, 05:12:45 PM »
I'm familiar with hylomorphism, but this part still confuses me: How does "virtual" matter work exactly? (I think "virtual" is the right word...)
e.g. Suppose I have a brick named A, and then I build a house using A as one of its bricks. What then becomes of A? Is A still a substance, even though A is now part of my house's matter? (Can A simultaneously be substance and matter?) Or does A somehow lose its form, and A's matter is subsumed into the house's matter? (If so, how are we to evaluate the proposition "A exists"?)
« Last Edit: November 24, 2018, 05:16:48 PM by Daniel »
 

Offline Michael Wilson

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Re: Hylomorphic "virtual" matter?
« Reply #1 on: November 24, 2018, 08:34:40 PM »
I think you are referring to "prime" matter; not matter at all unless united with 'form'.
The brick "A" is not prime matter, but a full substance composed of both matter and form. It remains what it is, namely a brick, while at the same time, becoming part of the house.
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Offline Daniel

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Re: Hylomorphic "virtual" matter?
« Reply #2 on: November 24, 2018, 09:21:04 PM »
So the same chunk of prime matter individuates both the brick and the house simultaneously, in a hierarchical sort of way?
« Last Edit: November 24, 2018, 09:23:11 PM by Daniel »
 

Offline Non Nobis

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Re: Hylomorphic "virtual" matter?
« Reply #3 on: November 25, 2018, 01:25:11 AM »
So the same chunk of prime matter individuates both the brick and the house simultaneously, in a hierarchical sort of way?

Isn't prime matter pure potentiality? It can become anything at all. I don't see how prime matter could individuate things since it is not individuated.  ...Maybe it exists only in thought?  There aren't "chunks" of it. There isn't a "place" for it.

Can't a brick and a house both be considered as substances?  Clay stands as matter relative to the brick: it has the potency to become a brick.  The bricks stand as matter relative to the house: they have the potency to become a house. The form (of a brick, or of a house) "actualizes" the matter; the actuality is the substance.

"This house" is individuated because a form actualizes "these bricks". "The form of a house" is generic; it takes the particular bricks to individuate it.

No expertise here, but this is how I understand it now (poorly and in fragments).
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Offline Daniel

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Re: Hylomorphic "virtual" matter?
« Reply #4 on: November 25, 2018, 08:03:27 AM »
Well, they say that prime matter is "pure potency", capable of receiving any form. But that in itself seems kind of mysterious. If prime matter is pure potency, then it has no act at all--not even actual existence. And if it has no actual existence, then it doesn't even exist. I think that Aristotelians account for this by saying that prime matter never exists without form. They say that the form is what actualizes the non-existing prime matter's existence. But this seems strange, since I'd think that the matter would first need to exist before it can receive a form. (Because if it doesn't exist, it's basically a kind of non-being. But non-being doesn't have any potential, let alone the potential to be.)

Regardless, matter is what individuates one substance from another, and all matter is reducible to prime matter. (Though I suppose my "chunk" was a poor choice of words, lol)

From what I've heard, Aristotelians say that there is no such thing as a "clay brick". (What we think of as a "clay brick", they say, is no clay brick at all, but is really just a "clay-en brick" (the English doesn't work very well with "clay", but it's analogous to the distinction between a "wood brick" and a "wooden brick", or a "gold brick" and a "golden brick", or a "brass brick" and a "brazen brick").

I might be completely wrong about this, but my impression is that they are trying to say that once the one thing becomes another thing's matter, the first thing undergoes a substantial change: it loses its form and thus ceases to exist (e.g. suppose "wood" is changed into a "block"... after the change, there is no more "wood" but just a "block", though we can call it a "wooden block" since it is made "of wood"). Though they don't want to deny the wood's existence, so they say that the wood "virtually" exists in the block.
Except I'm wondering whether I'm understanding this correctly. And I'm also wondering whether the same matter can be shared between two substances (in the OP's example, the same matter would need to be in both the brick and in the house simultaneously).


The reason I ask this is because james03 posted something in a different thread, where he seemingly alluded to the fact that the universe (as a whole) has form and matter. And this reminded me of something which I had briefly thought about a while ago but later forgot about: If the universe (as a whole) is a substance, and everything in the universe is its material parts, then doesn't this imply that there exists only one creature: the universe itself? All other creatures are its matter, not substances in their own right. But this seems metaphysically counterintuitive and theologically problematic. The answer would seem to be to allow that substances can exist as matter while simultaneously existing as substances.
(I mean, does a finger have form? I suppose it does, even though it is a material part of the hand. And does the hand have a form? I suppose it does, though it is a material part of the man...)
« Last Edit: November 25, 2018, 03:34:41 PM by Daniel »
 

Offline TomD

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Re: Hylomorphic "virtual" matter?
« Reply #5 on: November 25, 2018, 11:12:32 AM »
I'm familiar with hylomorphism, but this part still confuses me: How does "virtual" matter work exactly? (I think "virtual" is the right word...)
e.g. Suppose I have a brick named A, and then I build a house using A as one of its bricks. What then becomes of A? Is A still a substance, even though A is now part of my house's matter? (Can A simultaneously be substance and matter?) Or does A somehow lose its form, and A's matter is subsumed into the house's matter? (If so, how are we to evaluate the proposition "A exists"?)

If I understand your question correctly, then "virtual" is the correct word. However, the example you give is not a case in which brick A exists virtually in the house since the house is not a true substance in its own right, i.e. it does not have substantial form but merely accidental form. https://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/04/nature-versus-art.html Ed Feser has a number of helpufl posts on this distinction, here is one such post.

Now, anything that is part of something with an accidental form, e.g. a house, still exists in its own right. So in a house, brick A exists, plain and simple. This is different in the case of substances. Take for example a glass of water, which is by Scholastics considered a true substance (at least I have never come across a Scholastic philosopher who disputed this, although there is nothing in hylomorphism per se that prevents one from denying this). Hydrogen atoms are certainly present in the water. However, they are not really present in the way that brick A is present in the house. Rather, they are present virtually.

This can be boiled down into two basic points. First, by saying the hydrogen exists virtually, we are denying that it actually exists as having a substantial form. In other words, in my glass of water, nothing has the form of hydrogen. The glass is a glass of water. And the more we break the water into smaller pieces, it remains true that what is present is water, not some accidental collection of hydrogen and oxygen particles. There may be other things mixed with the water, for example, a variety of minerals. These would have substantial forms present. However, the hydrogen atoms would not. Put simply, there is no hydrogen present.

The second point about virtual existence however is that the water has the power to produce the hydrogen atoms in the sense that hydrogen atoms can be "extracted" as it were from the water. So if we break down the water, we will get hydrogen. This is not, so the Scholastic claims, because hydrogen exists formally in the water, the same way that the brick exists in the house. Rather, the thing that explains this is precisely that hydrogen exists virtually in the water, i.e. in potency.

Hopefully this is helpful. It is just my understanding, so I could be wrong about these points. I also would note that I am not endorsing this understanding of nature, merely attempting to explain the Scholastic approach.
 

Offline Daniel

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Re: Hylomorphic "virtual" matter?
« Reply #6 on: November 27, 2018, 12:45:20 PM »
TomD - Thank you, that was helpful. I just read Feser's article... I had not realized that Scholastics deny that artifacts are true substances with substantial forms.
 

Offline Daniel

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Re: Hylomorphic "virtual" matter?
« Reply #7 on: November 28, 2018, 07:43:49 AM »
All right, so back to the question about the universe. As far as I'm aware, the universe is a real substance, not merely an abstraction. And the universe is natural, not artificial. It has matter, a substantial form, a creator, and an innate telos. Yet Aristotelians don't hold that the universe is prime matter informed by Plato's "World Soul". (If they did, that would be a denial of all other substances, since all objects would then not be substances at all but would be nothing more than the material parts of the universe.)

edit - Or maybe Aristotelians hold that the universe is an abstraction, not a real substance? Maybe they say it has no substantial form?
« Last Edit: November 28, 2018, 09:12:17 AM by Daniel »
 

Offline John Lamb

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Re: Hylomorphic "virtual" matter?
« Reply #8 on: November 28, 2018, 10:00:55 AM »
edit - Or maybe Aristotelians hold that the universe is an abstraction, not a real substance? Maybe they say it has no substantial form?

Aristotle said that what is real, or reality, is based primarily on the "individual substances," and the abstract concept is modelled after those substances. Plato had it more or less the other way around, having the universal concepts or Ideas as the primary realities with the individuals being modelled after them.

So, yes, for Aristotle there is no real substance called "the universe," but this is rather an abstraction representing the sum of all the individual substances in existence. But for Plato, there is the universal Idea of substance which exists first, and all individual substances are members of this original Form.



I think the two can be reconciled in that the Aristotelian view is most sensible from the point of view of the human mind reasoning from what it knows first (the visible universe), but the Platonic view is most sensible from the point of view of the divine Mind which creates all things in their proper order and hierarchy. Plato is correct in the order of being to identify the Ideas existing in the divine Mind as the first principles of reality, and Aristotle is correct in the order of (human) knowledge to identify the individual substances as the first principles of reality (because these are what we know first).

I think it might be right to reconcile the two in this way, because of themselves Aristotelianism can easily descend into a kind of materialism where the whole is forgotten for the individual, and Platonism can easily descend into a kind of pantheism where the individual is subsumed into the whole. The temptation with Platonism is to think that the concept in your mind is identical to the eternal Idea existing in the Mind of God, rather than being merely modelled after it; this leads to the confusion of the human mind with the divine Mind and ends with the notion that everything exists in your mind and that your conscious individual existence is some kind of illusion or distraction from the divine reality which is your ("higher") mind (I think this is basically what certain sects of Hinduism teach).
« Last Edit: November 28, 2018, 10:09:23 AM by John Lamb »
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Offline Daniel

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Re: Hylomorphic "virtual" matter?
« Reply #9 on: December 24, 2018, 10:34:57 AM »
All right, here's a new question:

The human is undeniably a true/natural substance. And the human's matter is its body, i.e. all its various organs that make it up, correct? So hylomorphism would seem to suggest that these organs themselves are not substances?
 

Offline Michael Wilson

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Re: Hylomorphic "virtual" matter?
« Reply #10 on: December 26, 2018, 08:33:22 PM »
Organs are substances that depend on the body for their existence, which in turn itself depends on the soul.
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"My brothers, all of you, if you are condemned to see the triumph of evil, never applaud it. Never say to evil: you are good; to decadence: you are progess; to death: you are life. Sanctify yourselves in the times wherein God has placed you; bewail the evils and the disorders which God tolerates; oppose them with the energy of your works and your efforts, your life uncontaminated by error, free from being led astray, in such a way that having lived here below, united with the Spirit of the Lord, you will be admitted to be made but one with Him forever and ever: But he who is joined to the Lord is one in spirit." Cardinal Pie of Potiers