On Aristotle's hylomorphic ontology, form and matter are 'principles' or ontological factors involved in the analysis of sublunary primary substances. These factors are not substances in their own right. Now Thomas is an Aristotelian in ontology. But when it comes to God and the soul he goes Platonist. God is forma formarum, the form of all forms, and yet self-subsistent. The soul after death is capable of existing in separation from matter while it awaits the resurrection of the body. Anima forma corporis: the soul is the form of the body. But in the human case the soulic form is more than a principle invoked in hylomorphic analysis. It is capable of existence independent of matter.
The sublunary Aristotelianism and the superlunary Platonism exist together in a certain tension. Whether this tension gets the length of a contradiction is a further question.
"Get the length of" is a classy phrase which has long languished in desuetude. I resurrect it from the writings of F. H. Bradley.
There is no change without a substrate of change which, in respect of its existence and identity, does not change during the interval of the change. In a slogan: no change without unchange. No becoming other (alter-ation, Ver-aenderung) without something remaining the same. In the case of accidental change, the substrate is materia secunda, in one of its two senses, a piece of paper, say, as opposed to paper as a kind of material stuff. It is a piece of paper that becomes yellow with age, not paper as a kind of stuff. In the case of substantial change the substrate is said to be prime matter, materia prima. On the scholastic view, prime matter must exist if we are to explain substantial change. (See Edward Feser, Scholastic Metaphysics, pp. 171 ff.) Thus to the problems with substantial change already mentioned (in an earlier portion of this text not yet 'blogged') we may add the problems that are specific to prime matter. Besides the route to prime matter via substantial change, there is the route via the very procedure of hylomorphic analysis. Traversing these routes will give us a good idea of why the positing of prime matter has seemed compelling to scholastics.
Given that thought sometimes makes contact with reality, one can ask: what must real things be like if thought is to be able to make contact with them? What must these things be like if they are to be intelligible to us? A realist answer is that these mind-independent things must be conformable to our thought, and our thought to them. There must be some sort of isomorphism between thought and thing. Since we cannot grasp anything unstructured, reality must have structure. So there have to be principles of form and organization in things. But reality is not exhausted by forms and structures; there is also that which supports form and structure. In this way matter comes into the picture. Forms are determinations. Matter, in a sense that embraces both primary and secondary matter, is the determinable as such.
Proximate matter can be encountered in experience, at least in typical cases. The proximate matter of a chair consists of its legs, seat, back. But this proximate matter itself has form. A leg, for example, has a shape and thus a form. (Form is not identical to shape, since there are forms that are not shapes; but shapes are forms.) Suppose the leg has the geometrical form of a cylinder. (Of course it will have other forms as well, the forms of smoothness and brownness, say.) The cylindrical form is the form of some matter. The matter of this cylindrical form is wood, say. But a piece of wood is a partite entity the parts of which have form and matter. For example, the complex carbohydrate cellulose is found in wood. It has a form and a proximate matter. But cellulose is made of beta-glucose molecules. Molecules are made of atoms, atoms of subatomic particles like electrons, and these of quarks, and so it goes.
Hylomorphic analysis is thus iterable. The iteration cannot be infinite: the material world cannot be hylomorphic compounds 'all the way down,' or 'all the way up' for that matter. The iteration has a lower limit in prime or primordial or ultimate matter (materia prima), just as it has an upper limit in pure form, and ultimately in the forma formarum, God, the purely actual being. Must hylomorphic analysis proceed all the way to prime matter, or can it coherently stop one step shy of it at the lowest level of materia secunda? I think that if one starts down the hylomorphic road one must drive to its bitter end in prime matter. (Cf. Feser's manual, p. 173 for what I read as an argument to this conclusion.) Ultimate matter, precisely because it is ultimate, has no form of its own. As John Haldane describes it, it is "stuff of no kind." (“A Return to Form in the Philosophy of Mind” in Form and Matter, ed. Oderberg, p. 50) We could say that prime matter is the wholly indeterminate determinable. As wholly indeterminate, it is wholly determinable.
(Question: if prime matter is wholly indeterminate, is it also indeterminate with respect to being either determinate or indeterminate? Presumably not. Is there a problem lurking here?)
The Antinomy of the Existence of Prime Matter
While it is easy to appreciate the logic that leads to the positing of prime matter, it is difficult to see that what is posited is coherently thinkable. Here is one consideration among several. Call it the Antinomy of the Existence of Prime Matter. It may be compressed into the following aporetic dyad:
Prime matter exists.
Prime matter does not exist.
Argument for limb (1). There is real substantial change and it cannot be reduced to accidental change. All change is reduction of potency to act, and all change requires an underlying substrate of change that remains self-same and secures the diachronic identity of that which changes. The substrate of a change is the matter of the change. What changes in a change are forms, whether accidental or substantial. Without the potency-act and matter-form distinctions we cannot accommodate the fact of change and avoid both the Heraclitean doctrine of radical flux and the Eleatic denial of change. Or so say the scholastics. In the case of accidental change, the subject or substrate is secondary matter (materia secunda). But substantial change is change too, and so it also requires a substrate which cannot be secondary matter and so must be prime matter. Given what we must assume to make sense of the plain fact of both accidental and substantial change, “prime matter must exist.” (Feser's manual, p. 172) It must exist in reality as the common basis of every substantial change.
Argument for limb (2). Prime matter is pure potency. It has to be, given the exigencies of accounting for substantial as opposed to accidental change. As pure potency, prime matter is wholly indeterminate and wholly formless. In itself, then, prime matter does not exist. It does not exist actually, as is obvious. But it also does not exist potentially: prime matter does not have potential Being. This is because the principle of the metaphysical priority of act over potency requires that every existing potency (e.g., the never actualized potency of a sugar cube to dissolve in water) be grounded in something actual (e.g., the sugar cube). The pure potency which is prime matter is not, however, grounded in anything actual. (Note that one cannot say that prime matter is a pure potency grounded in each primary substance. Prime matter is the ultimate stuff of each primary substance; it is not potency possessed by these substances.) Therefore, prime matter does not exist. It does not exist actually and it does not exist potentially. This is also evident from the first of the twenty-four Thomistic theses:
Potency and act are a complete division of being. Hence whatever is must be either pure act or a unit composed of potency and act as its primary and intrinsic principles. (Quoted by Feser, Schol. Metaph., p. 31)
If so, prime matter does not exist. For prime matter is neither pure act nor composed of potency and act. It is interesting to observe that while purely actual Being can itself be by being something actual, purely potential Being cannot itself be by being something potential (or actual). God is actual Being (Sein, esse) and an actual being (Seiendes, ens). But prime matter is neither potential nor actual. So prime matter neither is actually nor is potentially.
It thus appears that we have cogent arguments for both limbs of a contradiction. If the contradiction is real and not merely apparent, and the arguments for the dyad's limbs are cogent, then either there is no prime matter, the very concept thereof being self-contradictory, or there is prime matter but it is is unintelligible to us. One could, I suppose, be a mysterian about prime matter: it exists but we, given our cognitive limitations, cannot understand how it could exist. (Analogy with Colin McGinn's mysterianism: consciousness is a brain process, but our cognitive limitations bar us from understanding how it could be.) But I mention mysterianism only to set it aside.
But perhaps we can avoid contradiction in the time-honored way, by drawing a distinction. A likely candidate is the distinction between prime matter in itself versus prime matter together with substantial forms. So I expect the following scholastic response to my antinomy:
Prime matter exists as a real (extramental) factor only in primary substances such as Socrates and Plato. It exists only in hylomorphic compounds of prime matter and substantial form. But it does not exist when considered in abstraction from every primary substance. So considered, it is nothing at all. It is not some formless stuff that awaits formation: it is always already formed. It is always already parcelled out among individual material substances. Once this distinction is made, the distinction between prime matter in itself and prime matter together with substantial forms, one can readily see that the 'contradiction' in the above dyad is merely apparent and rests on an equivocation on 'exist(s).' The word is being used in two different senses. In (1) 'exists' means: exists together with substantial form. In (2), 'exist' means: exist in itself. Thus the aporetic dyad reduces to the logically innocuous dyad:
1*. Prime matter exists together with substantial forms.
2*. Prime matter does not exist in itself in abstraction from substantial forms.
Unfortunately, this initially plausible response gives rise to a problem of its own. If prime matter really exists only in primary substances, then prime matter in reality is not a common stuff but is parcelled out among all the primary substances: it exists only as a manifold of designated matters, the matter of Socrates, of Plato, etc. But this conflicts with the requirement that prime matter be the substratum of substantial change. Let me explain.
If a new substance S2 comes into existence from another already existing substance S1 (parthenogenesis may be an example) then prime matter is what underlies and remains the same through this change. Now this substratum of substantial change that remains the same must be something real, but it cannot be identical to S2 or to S1 or to any other substance. For if the substratum of substantial change is identical to S1, then S1 survives, in which case S2 is not a new substance generated from S1 but a mere alteration of S1. Don't forget that substantial change cannot be reduced to an accidental change in some already existing substance or substances. In substantial change a new substance comes to be from one or more already existing substances. (I will assume that creation or 'exnihilation' does not count as substantial change.)
If, on the other hand, the substratum of change is identical to S2, then S2 exists before it comes to exist. And it seems obvious that the substratum of substantial change underlying S2's coming to be from S1 cannot be some other substance. Nor can the substratum be an accident of S2 or S1. For an accident can exist only in a substance. If the substratum is an accident of S1, then S1 must exist after it has ceased to exist. If the substratum is an accident of S2, then S2 must exist before it comes to exist.
The argumentative punchline is that prime matter cannot exist only in primary substances as a co-principle tied in every case to a substantial form. If prime matter is the substratum of substantial change, then prime matter must be a really existent, purely potential, wholly indeterminate, stuff on its own.
The Problem of the Substrate
The problem just presented, call it the Problem of the Substrate or the Problem of the Continuant, may be pressed into the mold of an aporetic tetrad:
1. Prime matter is the substrate of substantial change.
2. Prime matter does not exist in reality except as divided among individual material substances.
3. The substratum of a substantial change cannot be identified with any of the substances involved in the change, or with any other substance, or with any accident of any substance. (For example, the substratum of the substantial change which is Socrates' coming into existence from gametes G1 and G2 cannot be identified with Socrates, with G1, with G2, with any other substance, or with any accident of any substance.)
4. There is substantial change and it requires a really existent substrate.
The tetrad is inconsistent issuing as it does in the contradiction: Prime matter does and does not exist only in individual material substances.
The obvious solution is to deny (2). But if we deny (2) to solve the Problem of the Substrate, then we reignite the Antinomy of the Existence of Prime Matter. We solved the Antinomy by making a distinction, but that distinction gave rise to the Problem of the Substrate/Continuant. We appear to be in quite a pickle. (For more on the Substrate/Continuant problem, see John D. Kronen, Sandra Menssen and Thomas D. Sullivan, “The Problem of the Continuant: Aquinas and Suárez on Prime Matter and Substantial Generation,” The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 53, No. 4 (Jun., 2000), pp. 863-885.)
The Problem of Individuation
Finally a glance at the related ontological, not epistemological, problem of individuation. This problem is actually two problems. There is the problem of individuation proper, namely, the problem of what makes an individual substance individual as opposed to universal, and there is the connected problem of differentiation, namely, the problem of what makes numerically different individual substances numerically different. It is clear that prime matter cannot be the principle of differentiation. For one thing, prime matter is common to all material substances. For another, prime matter as pure potency is indeterminate, hence not intrinsically divided into parcels. Moreover, pace Feser, prime matter cannot “bring universals down to earth” in his phrase: it cannot be the principle of individuation, narrowly construed. (Schol. Metaph., p. 199) For what makes Socrates an individual substance rather than the substantial form he shares with Plato cannot be common, indeterminate, amorphous, matter.
Prime matter is not up to the job of individuation/differentiation. It is designated matter (materia signata quantitate) that is said to function as the ontological ground or 'principle' of individuation and numerical difference. Unfortunately, appeal to designated matter involves us in an explanatory circle. Designated matter is invoked to explain why Socrates and Plato are individual substances and why they are numerically different individual substances. But designated matter cannot be that which individuates/differentiates them since it presupposes for its individuation and differentiation the logically (not temporally) antecedent existence of individual material substances. Why are Socrates and Plato different? Because their designated matters are different. Why are their designated matters different? Because they are the matters of different substances. The explanation moves in a circle of rather short diameter.
Feser considers something like this objection but dismisses it as resting on a confusion of formal with efficient causality. But there is no such confusion in the objection as I have presented it. Efficient causality does not come into it at all. No one thinks that there is an agent who in a temporal process imposes substantial form on prime matter in the way that a potter in a temporal process imposes accidental form upon a lump of clay. I can grant Feser's point that prime matter and substantial form are related as material cause to formal cause. I can also grant that prime matter and substantial form are mutually implicative co-principles neither of which can exist without the other. Granting all this, my objection remains. Prime matter in itself is undifferentiated. It it differentiated and dimensive only in combination with substantial forms. But this is equivalent to saying that prime matter is differentiated and dimensive only as the designated matter of particular individual substances. But then designated matter cannot non-circularly explain why numerically different substances are numerically different. For the numerical difference of these matters presupposes the numerical difference of the substances.
My referral list this fine morning alerts me to the fact that Patrick Toner has a blog. He is a very sharp young analytic philosopher, and politically incorrect to boot, one indication of which is an interest in Norman Rockwell. You read that right, boys and girls. Toner's political incorrectness and independence of mind more than make up for his misspelling of 'hylomorphism' as 'hylemorphism.' [grin]
Herewith, some comments on and questions about Patrick Toner's fascinating paper, "Hylemorphic Animalism" (Philos Stud, 2011, 155: 65-81).
Patrick Toner takes an animalist line on human persons. Animalism is the doctrine that each of us is identical to an animal organism. A bit more precisely, "Animalism involves two claims: (1) we are human persons and (2) human persons are identical with animals." (67)
Let's consider the second claim. Toner endorses Eric Olson's 'thinking animal' argument for (2). Based on Toner's summary, I take the argument to go as follows. I am now sitting in a chair thinking a thought T. There is also now an animal sitting in this very chair and occupying the same space. Is the animal also thinking T? There are four possibilities.
a. I am identical to the animal occupying my chair, and the thinker of my thoughts is identical to this animal.
b. I am not identical to the animal occupying my chair, but I share the space with an animal that thinks all my thoughts.
c. I am not identical to the animal occupying my chair, but I share the space with a nonthinking animal.
d. There is no animal in my chair; hence I am not not identical to it.
Of the four possibilities, Toner considers (a) to be actual. "It's the least ugly of the choices. Indeed, it's positively common-sensical, compared with the other rather nutty options." (70)
I agree that (b) and (d) can be excluded right away. But I don't see that (c) is 'nutty' and I don't see that (a) is "positively common-sensical." Common sense has nothing to say about abstruse metaphysical topics such as this one.
The Corpse Objection to Animalism
On (a), the thinker of my thoughts is numerically identical to this living human organsm with which I am intimately associated. But If I am (identically) my body, then me and my body ought to have the same persistence conditions. But they don't: when I die I will cease to exist, but (most likely) a corpse will remain. Now if a = b, then there is no time t at which a exists but b does not exist, and vice versa. So if there are times when I do not exist but my body does exist, then I cannot be identical to my body. On (a), I will not survive death, but my body will: it will survive as a corpse. Therefore I am not identical to my body.
Toner's Response to the Corpse Objection
The Corpse Objection, in a nutshell, is that I cannot be identical to my animal body because it will survive me. My body exists now before my death and it will exist then after my death. It is the same body dead or alive. Toner's response is a flat denial of survival. My body will not survive me. Death is a substantial, as opposed to an accidental, change. When I die the animal body that I am will cease to exist and one or more new bodies will begin to exist. So it is not as if one bodily substance undergoes an accidental change, going from being alive to being dead; one bodily substance ceases to exist and one or more others begin to exist. The change is not alterational but existential. This implies that the body itself did not exist while the animal was alive. As Toner puts it:
Neither the body itself, nor any of its atomic parts, existed while the animal was alive. This just follows from the account of substance I've given, according to which substances have no substances as parts, -- there is only one substance here in my boundaries, and it's an animal. When the animal dies, whatever is left over is not the same thing that was there before. (71)
1. One question is whether, assuming that I am just this living animal body, my dying is an accidental change or a substantial change. I will suggest that it is more plausible to think of it as an accidental change.
If my dying is an accidental change, then something that exists now in one form will exist post mortem in a different form. This something could be called the proximate matter of my body. This matter is organized in a certain way and its organs and various subsystems are functioning in such a way that the entire bodily system has the property of being alive. (For example, the lungs are oxygenating the blood, the heart is pumping the blood to the brain, the pathways to the brain are unobstructed, etc.) But then suppose I drown or have a massive heart attack or a massive stroke. The body then ceases to have the property of being alive. On this way of looking at things, one and the same body can exist in two states, alive and dead. There is diachronic continuity between the living and dead bodies, and that continuity is grounded in the proximate matter of the body.
If, on the other hand, my dying is a substantial change, and I am just this living body, then at death I cease to exist entirely, and what is left over, my corpse, is something entirely new, 'an addition to being' so to speak. I cease to exist, and a corpse comes to exist. But then the only diachronic continuity as between the live body and the corpse is prime (not proximate) matter.
But what makes the corpse that comes to exist my corpse? Suppose I am just a living animal and that I die at t1. A moment later, at t2, two corpses come into existence. Which one do you bury under the 'BV' tombstone? Which is the right one, and what makes it the right one? Or suppose Peter and I die at the same instant, in the same place, and that dying is a substantial change. Peter and I cease to exist and two corpses C1 and C2 come into existence. Which is my corpse and which is Peter's? Practically, there is no problem: we look different and our looking different and having different dimensions, etc. is due to our different proximate matter, matter that is the same under two different and successive forms.
What this suggests is that dying is an accidental change, not a substantial change. It is an accidental change in the proximate matter of a human body. But if so, then the Corpse Objection holds and animalism is untenable.
There is also the very serious problem that substantial change requires prime matter, and prime matter is a very questionable posit. But I won't pursue this topic at present.
2. My second main question concerns how animalism is compatible with such phenomena as the unity of consciousness and intentionality. On animalism I am just a living human animal. The thinker of my thoughts is this hairy critter occupying my blogging chair. Is it the whole of me that is the res cogitans? Or only a proper part of me? Presumably the latter. If an animal thinks, then presumably it thinks in virtue of its brain thinking.
The animalist thus seems committed to the claim that the res cogitans, that which thinks my thoughts, is a hunk of living intracranial meat. But it is not so easy to understand how meat could mean. What a marvellous metabasis eis allo genos whereby meat gives rise to meaning, understanding, intentionality! It is so marvellous that it is inconceivable. My thinkings are of or about this or that, and in some cases they are of or about items that do not exist. I can think about Venus the planet and Venus the goddess and I can think about Vulcan even though there is no such planet. How can a meat state possess that object-directedness we call intentionality? Brains states are physical states, and our understanding of physical states is from physics; but the conceptuality of physics offers us no way of understanding the intentionality of thought.
And then there is the unity of consciousness. Can animalism account for it? At Plato's Theaetetus 184c, Socrates puts the following question to Theaetetus: ". . . which is more correct — to say that we see or hear with the eyes and with the ears, or through the eyes and through the ears?" Theatetus obligingly responds with through rather than with. Socrates approves of this response:
Yes, my boy, for no one can suppose that in each of us, as in a sort of Trojan horse, there are perched a number of unconnected senses which do not all meet in some one nature, the mind, or whatever we please to call it, of which they are the instruments, and with which through them we perceive the objects of sense. (Emphasis added, tr. Benjamin Jowett)
The issue here is the unity of consciousness in the synthesis of a manifold of sensory data. Long before Kant, and long before Leibniz, Plato was well aware of the problem of the unity of consciousness. (It is not for nothing that A. N. Whitehead described Western philosophy as a series of footnotes to Plato.)
Sitting before a fire, I see the flames, feel the heat, smell the smoke, and hear the crackling of the logs. The sensory data are unified in one consciousness of a selfsame object. This unification does not take place in the eyes or in the ears or in the nostrils or in any other sense organ, and to say that it takes place in the brain is not a good answer. For the brain is a partite physical thing extended in space. If the unity of consciousness is identified with a portion of the brain, then the unity is destroyed. For no matter how small the portion of the brain, it has proper parts external to each other. Every portion of the brain, no matter how small, is a complex entity. But consciousness in the synthesis of a manifold is a simple unity. Hence the unity of consciousness cannot be understood along materialist lines.
I tentatively conclude that option (c) above -- I am not identical to the animal occupying my chair, but I share the space with a nonthinking animal -- is, if not preferable to Toner's preferred option, at least as good as it, and not at all "nutty.' The Corpse Objection to Animalism seems like a good one, and Toner's response to it is not compelling, involving as it does the idea that dying is a substantial change, a response that brings with it all the apories surrounding substance and prime matter. Finally, it is not clear to me how animalism can accommodate intentionality and the unity of consciousness.
But perhaps Professor Toner can help me understand this better.
Here is a question for those of you who champion the linguistic innovation, 'hylemorphic.' Will you also write 'morphelogical' and 'morphelogy'? If not, why not?
'Morphology' is superior to 'morphelogy' in point of euphony. For the same reason, 'hylomorphic' is superior to 'hylemorphic.'
But even if you disagree with my last point, you still have to explain why you don't apply your principle consistently.
Why don't you write and say 'morphelogy,' 'epistemelogy,' 'gelogy' (instead of 'geology'), etc.?
We linguistic conservatives are not opposed to change, but we are opposed to unnecessary changes. "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Addendum (8 April 2014)
Patrick Toner writes:
Loved your post on the spelling of hylemorphism. I must disagree on the charge that the 'e' spelling is a novelty. I say this without any firsthand evidence. But Gideon Manning has a paper that covers the appearance of the term. According to him it showed up in English in 1888. By 1907, at least, there is an 'e' spelling of the term, in the translation of some scholastic volume into English. (DeWulf, maybe?) So both spellings go back almost all the way to the origin of the term in English. Manning himself uses the o spelling, but claims both are legitimate.
I make or imply essentially three claims in my post. The first is that the use of 'hylemorphism' is an innovation. I now see thanks to Toner that this claim is mistaken. So I withdraw it. The second claim is that 'hylomorphism' is superior to 'hylemorphism' in point of eupohony. I stick by this claim, though I admit it is somewhat subjective: one man's euphony is, if not another man's cacophany, then at least the other's non-euphony. The third claim is that the fans of 'hylemorphism' and cognates do not apply their principle consistently. For as far as I know they do not go on to say and write 'epistemelogy,' etc.
Here is a fourth point. Although the use of 'hylemorphism' and cognates is not wrong, and is not an absolute innovation (as Manning documents), it does diverge from the more common use at the present time. So what is the point of this relative innovation?
Thanks to Bill Clinton, it is now widely appreciated that much rides on what the meaning of ‘is’ is. Time was, when only philosophers were aware of this. The fact that Clinton made the point to save his hide rather than to advance philosophical logic is irrelevant. Credit where credit is due. But enough joking around.
In our recent Trinitarian explorations we have thus far discussed the ‘is’ of identity and the ‘is’ of predication. We saw that ‘The Father is God’ could be construed as
1. The Father is identical to God
2. The Father is divine.
Both construals left us with logical trouble. If each of the Persons is identical to God, and there is exactly one God, then (given the transitivity and symmetry of identity) there is exactly one Person. On the other hand, if each of the Persons is divine, where ‘is’ is the 'is' of predication, then there are three Gods and tri-theism is the upshot. Either way, we end up contradicting a central Trinitarian tenet.
We explored the mereological way out and we found it wanting, or at least I found it wanting. God is not a whole whose proper parts are the Persons.
But there is also the ‘is’ of composition as when we say, ‘This countertop is marble,’ or in my house, ‘This countertop is faux marble.’ ‘Is’ here is elliptical for ‘is composed of.’ Compare: ‘That jacket is leather,’ and ‘This beverage is whisky.’ To say that a jacket is leather is not to say that it is identical to leather – otherwise it would be an extremely large jacket – or that it has leather as a property: leather is not a property. A jacket is leather by being made out of leather.
Suppose you have a statue S made out for some lump L of material, whether marble, bronze, clay, or whatever. How is S related to L? It seems clear that L can exist without S existing. Thus one could melt the bronze down, or re-shape the clay. In either case, the statue would cease to exist, while the quantity of matter would continue to exist. If S ceases to exist while L continues to exist, then S is not identical to L. They are not identical because something is true of L that is not true of S: it is true of L that it can exist without S existing, but it is not true of S that it can exist without S existing. I am relying upon the following principle, one that seems utterly beyond reproach:
(InId) If x = y, whatever is true of x is true of y, and vice versa.
(This is a rough formulation of the Indiscenibility of Identicals. A more careful formulation would block such apparent counterexamples as: Maynard G. Krebs believes that the morning star is a planet but does not believe that the evening star is a planet.)
Returning to the statue and the lump, although S is not identical to L, S is not wholly distinct, or wholly diverse, from L either. This is because S cannot exist unless L exists. Note also that while S exists it occupies exactly the same space as does L. As long as S exists, S and L are spatiotemporally coincident. What's more, they are composed of exactly the same matter arranged in exactly the same way. And yet they are not identical! Very curious. How could there be two physical things in the same place at the same time? But I have just shown that they cannot be identical. Suppose that the statue and the lump come into existence at the same time t and pass out of existence at the same later time t*. At all times they share the same matter, and at no time are they not spatiotemporally coincident. And yet they are not identical because modally discernible. In our world, L composes S now, but there are possible worlds at which L does not not compose S now.
The fact that there are bronze statues and that the statue and its matter are neither strictly identical nor strictly distinct suggests the following analogy: The Father is to God as the statue is to the lump of matter out of which it is sculpted. And the same goes for the other Persons. Each Person is to God as the statue is to the lump. Schematically, P is to G as S to L. The Persons are like hylomorphic compounds where the hyle in question is the divine substance.
Thus the Persons are not each identical to God, which would have the consequence that they are identical to one another. Nor are the persons instances of divinity which would entail tri-theism. It is rather that the persons are composed of God as of a common substance. Thus we avoid a unitarianism in which there is no room for distinctness of Persons, and we avoid tri-theism. So far, so good.
Something like this approach is advocated by Jeffrey Brower and Michael Rea, here.
But does the statue/lump analogy avoid the problems we faced with the water analogy? Aren’t the two analogies so closely analogous that they share the same problems? Water occurs in three distinct states, the gaseous, the liquid, and the solid. One and and the same quantity of water can assume any of these three states. Distinctness of states is compatible with oneness of substance. On the water analogy, the Persons are to God as the three states of water are to water.
Liquid, solid, and gaseous are states of water. Similarly, a statue is a state of a lump of matter. The main problem with both analogies is as follows. God is not a substance in the sense in which clay and water are substances. Thus God is not a stuff or hyle, but a substance in the sense of a hypostasis or hypokeimenon. Beware of equivocating on 'substance.' And it does no good to say that God is an immaterial or nonphysical stuff. God is an immaterila being, but he cannot be or be composed of an immaterial stuff. Besides, 'immaterial stuff' smacks of a contradictio in adjecto. It sounds like 'immaterial matter.' Furthermore, the divine unity must be accommodated. The ground of divine unity cannot be amorphous matter whether physical or nonphysical.
In addition, one and the same quantity of H20 cannot be simultaneously and throughout liquid, solid, and gaseous. Similarly, one and the same quantity of bronze cannot be simultaneously and throughout three different statues. Connected with this is how God could be a hylomorphic compound, or any sort of compound, given the divine simplicity which rules out all composition in God.
In sum, the statue/lump analogy is not better than the water/state analogy. Neither explains how we can secure both unity of the divine nature and distinctness of Persons.
I have also been perplexed at hylomorphism's dependence on something called [prime] 'matter', for the same reason as you give. But I think there is a way out, though perhaps not one a hylomorphist will like. You say "Something bare of determinateness is unthinkable and hence nonexistent." But I can think of three words that refer to something one might consider real yet bare of determinateness, namely mass (or energy), consciousness (considered apart from all intentional objects of consciousness), and God (of classical theism). In each case you have something that can be thought of as giving form actuality. But that leads to an inversion of hylomorphism, namely, that now it is form that is potential, and what was formally [formerly?] thought of as matter is now Pure Act. For example, a mathematical object which is not being thought of is a potential form that consciousness gives actuality as a thought. [. . .]
The reader is right to point out that there is something dubious about my claim that "Something bare of determinateness is unthinkable and hence nonexistent." Of the three counterexamples he gives, the clearest and best is "consciousness considered apart from all intentional objects of consciousness." Consciousness so considered is not nothing, and yet it is indeterminate since all determinations fall on the side of the objects. Consciousness is no-thing, a Sartrean theme which is also developed by Butchvarov.
The reader has made me see that there is a certain structural analogy between prime matter and consciousness conceived of as pure of-ness bare of all determinacy. For one thing, both, considered in themselves, are indeterminate or formless, and necessarily so. If consciousness were determinate, it would be an object of consciousness and not the consciousness without which there are no (intentional) objects. And if prime matter were determinate, it would be formed matter and thus not prime matter. Second, neither can exist apart from its other. There is no consciousness without objects, and there is no prime matter that exists on its own in the manner of a substance. So, while consciousness is other than every object, it cannot exist except as the consciousness of objects (objective genitive). And while prime matter is other than every form, and in itself formless, it requires formation to be something definite and substantial.
A third point of analogy is that both consciousness and prime matter give rise to a structurally similar puzzle. Consider a mind-independent hylomorph A whose matter (H) is prime matter and whose form (F) is composed of lowest forms. Which is ontologically prior, A, or its ontological parts H and F? If the parts are prior in the manner of pre-existing ontological building blocks -- think (by analogy) of the way the stones in a stone wall are prior to the wall -- then H could not be a 'principle' in the scholastic sense but would have to something capable of independent existence. And that is unacceptable: surely prime matter cannot exist on its own. If, on the other hand, A is prior to its parts, then the parts would exist only for us, or in our consideration, as aspects which we bring to A. But that won't do either because A ex hypothesi exists extramentally and so cannot in its ontological constitution require any contribution from us.
The consciousness puzzle is similar. Is consciousness (conceived as pure diaphanous of-ness of objects in the manner of Sartre, Butchvarov, and perhaps Moore) something really existent in itself or is it rather an abstract concept that we excogitate? In other words, when we think of consciousness transcendentally as the sheer revelation of objects, are we thinking of a really existent condition of their revelation, or is consciousness so conceived merely a concept that we bring to the data? If consciousness really exists, then we substantialize it (reify it, hypostatize it) in a manner analogous to the way we substantialize prime matter when we think of its as something capable of independent existence. And that is puzzling. How can something exist that is not an object of actual or possible awareness? If, on the other hand, consciousness is not something that exists on its own but is a concept that we excogitate, then how do we account for the real fact that things are apparent to us, that things are intentional objects for us? Besides, if consciousness were a mere concept, then consciousness as a reality would be presupposed: concepts are logically subsequent to consciousness.
So the two puzzles are structurally similar.
Let us see if we can abstract the common pattern. You have a term X and a distinct term Y. The terms are introduced to make sense of a phenomenon Z. Z is the analysandum whose analysis into X and Y is supposed to generate understanding. X cannot exist without Y, hence it cannot exist on its own. The same goes for Y. The terms cannot exist without each other on pain of (i) hypostatization of each, and (ii) consequent sundering of the unity of Z. (The diremption of Z into X and Y gives rise to the ancient problem of the unity of a complex which no one has ever solved.) That the terms cannot exist without each other suggests that the unitary phenomenon Z is split into X and Y only by our thoughts such that the factoring into X and Y is our contribution. On the other hand, however, the terms or factors must be capable of some sort of existence independent of our conceptual activities if the explanation that invokes them is an explanation of a real mind-independent phenomenon.
Here is a sharper form of the common aporia. Both prime matter and pure consciousness are real. But they are also both unreal. Nothing, however, can be both real and unreal on pain of violating Non-Contradiction. How remove the contradiction without giving rise to a problem that is just as bad?
I don't say that the aporiai are insoluble, but I suspect that any solution proffered with give rise to problems of its own . . . .
Recent posts have discussed hylomorphic dualism in the philosophy of mind. It is a serious contender in the arena of competing positions -- unlike say, eliminative materialism, which is not. (If you think I'm just gassing off about EM, read the entries in the eponymous category.) But now I want to take a step back from the special topic of the mind-body problem to the more general theme of hylomorphic ontological analysis as such. In this post I examine some ideas in John Haldane's "A Return to Form in the Philosophy of Mind" in Form and Matter: Themes in Contemporary Metaphysics, ed. David S. Oderberg, Blackwell, 1999, pp. 40-64. But first some background.
In the 20th century Anglosphere, most philosophical analysis has been conceptual and linguistic. Moore and Russell were major practitioners. Decidedly less popular has been phenomenological analysis. Think Husserl. And least popular has been ontological analysis. The Iowa School (Gustav Bergmann and Co.) and Thomism are the two major representatives of it. Ontological analysis takes as its object the (mind-independently) existent. It operates on the assumption that ordinary particulars have ontological constituents, and it tries to specify what these constituents are. These constituents are of course not spatial parts and they 'lie deeper' (whatever exactly this means) than the targets of chemical and physical analysis. They are items like these: universals, tropes, non-relational ties, Castaneda's ontological operators, Armstrong's thin particulars, Bergmann's bare particulars, and others besides.
2. Hylomorphic analysis is one type of ontological analysis. One analyzes meso-particulars such as a statue or a horse into form (morphe) and matter (hyle) among other constituents. These constituents are sometimes called principles, using the word in an old-fashioned way. Thus one speaks of the principium individuationis, the principle of individuation, or of the soul as life principle. The principle of individuation is not a statement or proposition but a real factor 'in' things that accounts for their numerical difference.
3. What motivates the hylomorphic approach? John Haldane has something interesting to say on this point:
. . . a condition of there being something for thought to take hold of is that the something has structure. Equivalently, a condition of there being thought is that there be relevant structuring principles (sortal and characterizing concepts plus logical constants.)
So we arrive at hylomorphic analysis. Every particular may be understood in terms of the instantiation of a formal principle. Its form makes it to be the kind of thing it is, providing its definitive structure, its characteristic powers and liabilities, and so on. However, since, ex hypothesi, things of the same specific sort have formally identical principles there arises the question of numerical difference. The analysis is completed by introducing the idea of matter as that which is structured and is the basis of numerical individuation within species. (49-50)
The motivation for hylomorphism is something like this. Thinking, in virtue of its intentionality, refers beyond itself to what it is not, namely, to 'objective' things and states of affairs. Whether thinking succeeds in referring beyond itself to things that exist independently of thought is of course a further question; but it is clear that thinking and indeed all forms of intentionality purport so to refer. For example, my perceiving of a distant mountain purports to reveal a physical object that exists whether I or anyone perceives it. This purport is part of the very sense of outer perception. Borrowing a line from the neglected German philosopher Wolfgang Cramer, outer perceiving is of objects as non-objects. The meaning, I hope, is clear: in outer perceiving the object is intended as more than a mere intentional object or accusative of awareness; it is intended as precisely something that exists as a non-object, as something that exists in itself, apart from the consciousness that posits it as existing in itself.
Now if one, setting aside skeptical worries, simply assumes that thought sometimes makes contact with reality, then one can ask: what must real things be like if thought is to be able to make contact with them? What must these things be like if it is to be possible for thought to "take hold of" them as Haldane puts it? The answer is that these mind-independent things must be conformable to our thought, and our thought to them. There must be some sort of isomorphism between thought and thing. Since we cannot grasp anything unstructured, reality must have structure. So there have to be principles of form and organization in things. But these formative principles must form something or determine something which, in itself, is at least relatively formless or indeterminate. There must be something which, in itself is (relatively) formless, is susceptible of being informed, or receptive of formation. In this way matter comes into the picture.
4. But now let's consider some puzzles. The proximate matter of a chair consists of its legs, seat, back. But this proximate matter itself has form. A leg, for example, has a shape and thus a form. (Form is not identical to shape, since there are forms that are not shapes; but shapes are forms.) Suppose the leg has the geometrical form of a cylinder. (Of course it will have other forms as well, the forms of smoothness and brownness, say.) The cylindrical form is the form of some matter. The matter of this cylindrical form is wood, say. But a piece of wood is a composite entity the parts of which have form and matter. For example, the complex carbohydrate cellulose is found in wood. It has a form and a proximate matter. But cellulose is made of beta-glucose molecules. Molecules are made of atoms, atoms of subatomic particles like electrons, and these of quarks, and so it goes.
The idea is that hylomorphic analysis is iterable. The iteration has a lower limit in prime or primordial or ultimate matter (materia prima.). Ultimate matter, precisley because it is ultimate, has no form of its own. As Haldane describes it, it is "stuff of no kind." (50)
Now one puzzle is this. Prime matter is not nothing. If it were nothing, then there would be no proximate matter either. Consider the lowest level of proximate matter. Consider a particle whose matter is prime matter. If prime matter is nothing at all, then this smallest particle could not exist, (since it is built up out of its components and one of them does not exist), and nothing having it as a component could exist. So prime matter is not nothing. But it is not something either. For if it were something it would have form or structure or organization. Obviously nothing can exist that is not definite and determinate. If you say the indeterminate, the apeiron, exists, WHAT are you saying exists? WHAT are you talking about? There has to be a whatness, a form, for it to be intelligible to say that something exists. 'X exists' says nothing. Recall the isomorphism between thought and reality that is part of the motivation for hylomorphic analysis. Something bare of determinateness is unthinkable and hence nonexistent.
We are driven to the conclusion that prime matter is not nothing and also not something. This certainly looks like a contradiction. But it is a contradiction apparently forced upon us if we embrace hylomorphic ontological analysis. For this analysis is iterable. One cannot stop shy of primate matter, for if there is no ultimate matter then there is no proximate matter either.
To avoid the contradiction one might say that prime matter, though not something actual is not nothing in that it is pure potency: the pure potentiality to receive forms is essentially the way Haldane puts it. (50) Does this help? Not much. What exactly is the difference between a pure potentiality to receive any form and nothing at all? Something that is not F or G or H, etc. but is receptive to these forms has no determinate nature. Without a determinate nature, how can it be anything at all?
5. Furthermore, a pure potency cannot be an ontological building block out of which to construct something actual. So should we say that prime matter is a mere abstraction? But then forms free of matter would also be mere abstractions. How can a substance be built up out of abstractions?
This second problem concerns the status of the so-called 'principles' form and matter. They don't have an independent existence, else they would be substances in their own right. Is their status then merely mental? That can't be right either since a hylomorph (a hylomorphic compound) cannot be compounded of components whose status is merely mental. Why not? Well, the typical hylomorph enjoys extramental existence, and it is difficult to see how such a thing could be built up out of constituents whose status was wholly intramental.
This post continues my critique of hylomorphic dualism in the philosophy of mind. (See Hylomorphism category.) I will argue that hylomorphic dualism inherits one of the difficulties of compound substance dualism. But to understand the latter, we need to contrast it with simple or pure substance dualism. By 'substance' I mean primary substance, prote ousia in roughly Aristotle's sense. (But I hope to avoid exegetical bickering.) S is a primary substance if and only if S is broadly logically capable of independent existence.
Three Dualisms Distinguished
A. Simple or Pure Substance Dualism. This is the view that I am identical to my soul or mind. (And the same goes for you.) In Cartesian terms, I am identical to a res cogitans, a thinking thing or thinking substance. If so, my body is not a part of me. I am not a compound of soul and body; I am a simple substance.
B. Compound Substance Dualism. This is the view that I am a composite of soul and body, which implies that my body is a proper part of me. Thus I have two proper parts, soul and body, the first essential to me, the second accidental. I cannot exist without my soul, but I can exist without my body, where 'can' expresses broadly logical possibility.
(A) and (B) are mutually exclusive. Assuming the truth of Cartesian dualism, they are also jointly exhaustive. So if you are a Cartesian dualist, you must choose between saying that you are your soul (mind) or that you are not your soul but a composite of soul and body.
C. Hylomorphic Dualism. This is the view that I am a compound of soul and body, but with the difference that the soul is the form of the body. Anima forma corporis. The idea is not that the soul is like a form or analogous to a form, but that the soul is a form. Hylomorphic dualism is not a species of Compound Substance Dualism for the simple reason that form and matter are 'principles' invoked in the analysis of primary substances but not primary substances themselves. But it is dualistic in that mind and body are mutually irreducible. A form is not a primary substance because it is not broadly logically capable of independent existence.
A Problem with Compound Substance Dualism
Suppose we ask a simple question. Using 'think' in the broad Cartesian way, to cover all manner of intentional states including perceiving, imagining, remembering, etc., who or what is it that thinks when I think? Who or what is the subject of thinking? There are only two possibilities given the above. Either a soul thinks when I think, or a soul-body composite thinks when I think. (The brain no more thinks than my eyeglasses see.)
The Compound Substance Dualist must say that a soul-body composite thinks when I think. Now soul = mind = thinking substance (res cogitans). So CSD implies that when BV thinks there are really two thinkers, the thinking substance which is a proper part of BV, and the whole BV as soul-body composite. (The point is made in a different way by Eric T. Olson in "A Compound of Two Substances" in Soul, Body, and Survival, Corcoran ed., Cornell UP 2001, p. 75.) Here is the way Olson puts it:
. . . compound dualism entails that there are at least twice as many thinking things as we thought there were. You are a compound of a body and a soul. But that soul is itself rational and conscious. So there are two thinking things sitting in your chair, a soul and a compound, reading an essay that was co-written by simple and a compound philosopher.
Obviously, this won't do. Well, why not just say that the soul does not think, that only the compound thinks? One might say that soul and body are each sub-psychological, and that to have a psyche and psychic activity (thinking), soul and body must work together. Soul and body in synergy give rise to thinking which qualifies the whole man. But this makes hash of substance dualism. For one of the reasons for being a substance dualist in the first place is the conceivability of disembodied thinking. (We'll have to look at Kripke's argument one of these days.) Disembodied thinking is obviously inconceivable if it is a soul-body composite that thinks. Second, if it takes a soul and a body working together to produce thinking, then the soul is not a mind or thinking substance -- which again makes hash of substance dualism.
For these and other reasons, CSD is to be rejected, and simple or pure dualism is to be preferred if one is to be a substance dualist.
Hylomorphic Dualism Faces a Similar Problem
Now let's confront the hylomorphist dualist with the question about the subject of thinking. Who or what thinks when thinking occurs in BV? For the HD-ist it is the composite of soul and body, form and matter. Thus the soul by itself is subpsychological and so does not think: the subject of thinking, that which thinks, is the soul-body composite. But when we turn to the 'king' of the hylomorphic dualists, Thomas Aquinas, we find him saying things about the intellect that run directly counter to this.
In the Summa Contra Gentiles, Book II, chapters 49-51, we find a variety of arguments to the conclusion that the intellect is a subsistent form and so not dependent for its existence on matter. This is not the place to examine these arguments, some of which are defensible. Now since the intellect is that in us which thinks, the same ambiguity we found in Cartesian dualism, as between pure dualism and compound dualism, is to be found in Aquinas. Is it the composite that thinks, or a part of the composite? The answer must be that it is a part of the composite that thinks, the res cogitans on the Cartesian view, the intellectus on the Thomist view. And note that both must be viewed as substances, as capable of independent existence. Aquinas expresses this by referring to the soul as a subsistent form.
But 'subsistent form' smacks of contradiction. How can a form be subsistent? To say that a form is subsistent is to say that is is a primary substance, that is is broadly logically capable of independent existence. But a form is precisely not a primary substance but a 'principle' invoked in the analysis of primary substances. Aquinas cannot do justice to his own insight into the independence of the intellect from matter from within the hylomorphic scheme of ontological analysis he inherits from Aristotle. This bolded (and bold) thesis is central to my critique of hylomorphic dualism. His metaphysica generalis is at war with his special-metaphysical insight into the independence of intellect from matter.
Let me spell this out just a bit. Aquinas' method of ontological analysis is hylomorphic, in terms of matter (hyle, materia) and form (morphe, forma). He applies this type of ontological analysis across the board. Of course, the world is not form and matter 'all the way down': this style of analysis reaches a limit with materia prima, prime matter. Nor is the world form and matter 'all the way up': this style of analysis reaches a limit with God who is pure form, the "form of all forms" (forma formarum). These limits, however, remain within the ambit of hylomorphic analysis and do not show that the analysis does not hold across the board. So, naturally, Aquinas applies this style of analysis to minds.
So I cannot see that hylomorphic dualism is any improvement over pure substance dualism. It is rather a step backward. And as I tried to show here the notion that HD can solve the interaction problem -- assuming as I do not that it is a genuine problem -- is chimerical.
Naturally, since I am a hylemorphic dualist, I completely disagree with Bill here. Let’s start with the last charge -- that hylemorphic dualism “make[s] an exception in the case of the human soul [that] is wholly unmotivated and ad hoc and inconsistent with hylomorphic ontology.” That the view is not “unmotivated and ad hoc” is easily shown. Bill himself would surely acknowledge that there are serious philosophical arguments for hylemorphism, even if he doesn’t accept that view himself. He would also acknowledge that there are serious philosophical arguments for dualism, a view he is sympathetic with. But then he should also acknowledge that someone could find both sorts of arguments convincing. And in that case he should acknowledge that someone could have good philosophical reasons for thinking that there must be some way to combine hylemorphism and dualism.
I agree that there are serious arguments for hylomorphism, and I especially agree that there are strong arguments for dualism. And I agree that someone who finds both hylomorphism and dualism persuasive will have a motivation to try to combine them by showing how the special-metaphysical thesis of dualism can be accommodated within the general-metaphysical scheme of hylomorphism.
But if one has good arguments for position A and good arguments for position B, it doesn't follow that one has good arguments for the combined position A + B. For there may be a good reason why the two positions cannot be combined. And so it is in the present case. The case for hylomorphism and the case for dualism do not add up to a case for hylomorphic dualism. So while I agree with Ed that one who has good reason to be a hylomorphist and good reason to be a dualist will be powerfully motivated to combine the two positions, I do not agree that the reasons for hylomorphism and dualism, respectively, add up to reasons for the hylomorphic dualism. A psychological motivation is not the same as a justificatory reason.
Nor, contrary to what Bill implies, is Aquinas somehow departing radically from Aristotle. For Aristotle too was committed both to hylemorphism and to the view that the intellect is immaterial -- indeed, to the view that the active intellect is immortal. To be sure, that does not by itself show that Aristotle’s views are identical to or entail Aquinas’s; the Averroists took Aristotle’s position in a very different direction, and contemporary commentators often find it simply puzzling. But the reason they do -- namely, that it seems odd to say both that the soul is the form of the body and that one of its capacities is somehow separable from the body -- is similar to the reason Bill finds Aquinas’s position puzzling. Needless to say, Aristotle had no Christian theological ax to grind; he was simply following the philosophical arguments where they led. There is no reason to accuse Aquinas of doing anything different, and it is hardly unreasonable to suggest that the way to harmonize the various aspects of Aristotle’s position is the way Aquinas does. That does not mean that one might not still question whether Aquinas’s position is ultimately coherent (as Bill does), or criticize it on other grounds. But the charge that it is “wholly unmotivated and ad hoc” -- a piece of Christian apologetics with no independent philosophical rationale -- is, I think, completely unwarranted.
Clearly, Aristotle had no Christian axe to grind. And so if the active intellect (nous poietikos) mentioned in De Anima III, v (430a) is a subsistent element of the human soul, capable of existence independent of matter, then Aquinas' position on the human soul would have been anticipated by Aristotle, and what I said, or rather suspected, about Aquinas implanting Christian notions in the foreign soil of Aristotelianism would be insupportable. But the interpretation of De Anima III, v is a vexed and vexing matter as the material in the hyperlink Ed provided makes clear. If, as some commentators maintain, Aristotle is discussing the divine mind and not the human mind, then it cannot be maintained that Aristotle was anticipating Aquinas.
The important question, of course, is whether the human soul, or any part theoreof, can be coherently conceived as a subsistent form, whether this is maintained by Aristotle or Aquinas or both. Ed now addresses my puzzle head on:
The soul is, for Aquinas, the form of the body. So how could it possibly exist apart from the body? Bill asks why things should be any different with human beings than they are with Fido. But Aquinas is quite clear about the answer to that question: The difference is that the human soul carries out immaterial operations (i.e. intellectual ones) while a dog’s soul does not. And if it operates apart from matter and agere sequitur esse, then it must subsist apart from matter.
I grant that the human soul, unlike the canine, carries out immaterial operations. The argument is this:
a. The human soul engages in immaterial operations b. Agere sequitur esse: whatever operates I-ly must be (exist) I-ly. Therefore c. The human soul, qua executing immaterial operations, exists immaterially.
But how is this relevant to the issue I am raising? Let's assume that the above argument is sound. What it shows is that the human soul enjoys an immaterial mode of being. But it does not show that a form of an animal body enjoys an immaterial mode of being. It is one thing to establish that the human soul, or an element thereof, exists immaterially; quite another to show that this immaterial element is a form. I hesitate to say that Ed is conflating these two questions. What he might be doing is begging the question against me: he may be just assuming what I am questioning, namely, that the human soul is a form, and then taking an argument for the immateriality of the soul to be an argument for the immaterial existence of a form of the human body. Quoting further from Feser:
Necessarily, a form is a form of that of which it is the form. But a subsistent form is possibly such as to exist apart from that of which it is the form. These propositions cannot both be true.
That they can both be true can be seen when we keep in mind how Aristotelians understand concepts like necessity, possibility, essence, and the like. Suppose we say that it follows from the nature or essence of a dog that it has four legs. Does that mean every single dog necessarily has four legs? No, because a given dog might have lost a leg in an accident, or failed to develop all four legs due to some genetic defect, or (if only recently conceived and still in the womb) may simply not yet have developed all four legs. What it does mean is rather that a mature dog in its normal state will necessarily have four legs. As Michael Thompson and Philippa Foot have emphasized, “Aristotelian categoricals” of the form S’s are F convey a norm and are not accurately represented as either existential or universal statements of the sort familiar to modern logicians. “Dogs have four legs” is not saying “There is at least one dog, and it has four legs” and neither is it saying “For everything that is a dog, it is four legged.” It is saying that the typical dog, the normal (mature) dog, has four legs.
I of course agree with the bit about the dog and his nature. But I question its relevance to my point. I grant that from the fact that it is the nature of a dog to have four legs it does not follow that every dog has four legs. In parallel with this, Ed seems to be suggesting that while it is the nature of a form to be a form of something, it does not follow that every form is a form of something. I deny the parallel. The claims are on different levels. The 'canine' claim is about a particular nature (essence), dog-nature. My claim is about the principles (in the scholastic sense) deployed by hylomorphic ontologists in their ontological assays. A form is a 'principle' not capable of independent existence in the manner of a primary substance.
How form and matter operate in the analysis of material substances becomes clearer if we examine a criticism the distinguished Aristotelian Henry Veatch lodges against Gustav Bergmann. (See here for the rest of the post from which the following blue section is excerpted and for bibliographical data.)
Veatch Contra Bergmann
Veatch now lodges a reasonable complaint against Bergmann. How could "matter or bare particulars [be] among the ultimates that one arrives at in a process of analysis. . ."? "For how could anything which in itself is wholly indeterminate and characterless ever qualify as a 'thing' or 'existent' at all?" (81) On Bergmann's assay, an ordinary particular has more basic entities as its ontological constituents. But if one of these constituents is an intrinsically indeterminate and intrinsically characterless entity, how could said entity exist at all, let alone be a building block out of which an ordinary particular is constructed?
For Veatch, form and matter are not ontological atoms in the way bare particulars and simple universals are ontological atoms for Bergmann. "Matter and form are not beings so much as they are principles of being." (80) 'Principle' is one of those words Scholastics like to use. Principles in this usage are not propositions. They are ontological factors invoked in the analysis of primary substances, but they are not themselves primary substances. They cannot exist on their own. Let me try to make Veatch's criticism as clear as I can.
An ordinary particular is a this-such. The thisness in a this-such is the determinable element while the suchness is the determination or set of determinations. Veatch's point against Bergmann is not that ordinary particulars are not composites, this-suches, or that the thisness in a this- such is not indeterminate yet determinable; his point is that the determinable element cannot be an ontological atom, an entity more basic than the composite into which it enters as ontological building block. The determinable element cannot be a basic existent; it must be a principle of a basic existent, where the basic existent is the this-such. This implies, contra Bergmann, that what is ontologically primary is the individual substance, the this-such, which entails that matter and form in an individual substance cannot exist apart from each other. They are in some sense 'abstractions' from the individual substance. The form in a material this-such is not merely tied to matter in general, in the way that Bergmannian first-order universals are tied to bare particulars in general; the form is tied to the very matter of the this-such in question. And the same goes for the matter: the designated matter (materia signata) of Socrates cannot exist apart from Socrates' substantial form.
Veatch says that Bergmann cannot have it both ways: "His bare particulars cannot at one and the same time be utterly bare and characterless in the manner of Aristotelian prime matter and yet also be 'things' and 'existents' in the manner of Aristotelian substances." (82-83)
The point I want to underscore is that, as Veatch puts it, "Matter and form are not beings so much as they are principles of being." Ed continues,
Similarly, to say “Human souls are associated with bodies” is to say that the human soul in its normal state is associated with its body, just like the human hand in its normal state is associated with its body. But it doesn’t follow that it cannot exist apart from the body, any more than it follows that the hand (at least while its tissues are still alive) can exist apart from the body. And again, the reason this is possible with the human soul and not with Fido’s soul is that the human soul, unlike Fido’s soul, carries out immaterial operations even when it is associated with the body.
Here again I think Ed is failing to engage the problem I raised. I do not question that the human soul in its normal state is associated with its body. And I do not question that it can exist apart from its body. What I am questioning is the conceptualization of the human soul as a form. And so, while Ed has said many things with which I agree, he has not given me a reason to retract my criticism. To put it another way, he has not given me a reason why I should accept argument A below over argument B:
Argument A: The human soul can exist apart from its body; the human soul is the form of the human body; therefore, there are forms that can exist apart from the matter they inform.
Argument B: The human soul can exist apart from its body; no form can exist apart from the matter it informs; therefore, the human soul is not the form of the human body.
I have another argument that Ed may recall from our discussions at my old Powerblogs site, namely, an argument based on the premise that a form cannot be a subject of experience, which is what a soul must be. But that's a separate post.
A position in the philosophy of mind that is currently under-represented and under-discussed is Thomistic or hylomorphic dualism. Whereas the tendency of the substance dualist is to identify the person with his soul or mind, the hylomorphic approach identifies the person with a soul-body composite in which soul stands to body as form (morphe) stands to matter (hyle). In a slogan: anima forma corporis: the soul is the form of the body. To be a bit more precise, the soul is the substantial form of the body, a form that makes of the matter it informs a human substance.
This is not a version of substance dualism since soul and body on the hylomorphic scheme are not (primary) substances in their own right. We define a (primary) substance as anything logically (as opposed to causally) capable of independent existence. Fido is then a substance but his soul is not inasmuch as his soul cannot exist on its own. And the same goes for Fido's body: it cannot exist on its own. Fido's corpse can exist on its own, but it is not his body. A dead dog is not a dog: 'dead' in 'dead dog' is an alienans adjective. It functions like 'decoy' in 'decoy duck.' Strictly speaking, a body is a body only when animated by a soul, and a soul is a soul only when animating a body. The composite is what lives and dies, death being the separation of soul and body.
So far, so good.
Now comes the tricky part. For Thomas, the soul of a human being — or the intellective part of the soul of a human being — is not merely a substantial form, but also a subsistent form, a form that can exist on its own. This is the element of Platonism that remains in Thomas's Aristotelianism. This subsistent form can survive separation from the body. The theological motivation for this is perhaps clear: there must be something that bridges the temporal gap between death (separation of soul from body) and resurrection of the body and concomitant reunification of body with soul. That which grounds personal identity over the temporal gap is the soul as subsistent substantial form. Whether there is a need for such a ground is a question that cannot be discussed at the moment.
So although Thomist dualism is distinct from Platonic or Cartesian dualism, it is still a rather robust form of dualism, more robust than the dualism of the epiphenomenalist, say. As long as we don't confuse dualism with substance dualism, there is no reason that I can see for not describing Thomas's hylomorphic theory of mind as dualistic.
So much for a brief sketch of the hylomorphic position. I wish I could report that I find it unproblematic. But I don't. I'll mention one problem now, others later.
How can a substantial form exist apart from that of which it is the form? Is it not necessarily tied to that of which it is the form? After all, it is so tied in the case of non-humans like Fido. Fido is a composite the components of which cannot exist on their own. Why should it be any different in the case of the human soul if the human soul is indeed the form of the human body?
The problem here, in short, is that there is a tension between soul as substantial form and soul as substantial subsistent form. Ontologically, one wants to protest, a form is not the sort of entity that could be subsistent. Necessarily, a form is a form of that of which it is the form. But a subsistent form is possibly such as to exist apart from that of which it is the form. These propositions cannot both be true.
I find it hard to resist the suspicion that what Aquinas has done is implanted Christian elements into the foreign soil of Aristotelianism. Christianity requires that the soul be capable of independent existence. But no form, by its very nature as form, is capable of independent existence. Simply to make an exception in the case of the human soul is wholly unmotivated and ad hoc and inconsistent with hylomorphic ontology.
(Further tantalizing wrinkle: Aquinas describes God as forma formarum, form of all forms, but also as ipsum esse subsistens, self-subsistent existence. So God is a self-subsistent form. He is a form that does not inform anything. More grist for the mill.)
Favoring as I do constituent ontology, I am sympathetic to that type of constituent ontology which is hylomorphic ontological analysis, as practiced by Aristotelians, Thomists, et al. The obscurity of such fundamental concepts as form, matter, act, potency, substance, and others is, however, troubling. Let's see if we can make sense of the relation between form and matter in an artifact such as a bronze sphere. Now those of you who are ideologically committed to Thomism may bristle at an exposure of difficulties, but you should remember that philosophy is not ideology. The philosopher follows the argument to its conclusion whether it overturns his pet beliefs or supports them, or neither. He knows how to keep his ideological needs in check while pursuing pure inquiry. If the inquiry terminates in an aporetic impasse, then so be it.
1. Although it perhaps requires arguing, I will here take it for granted that form and matter as these terms are used by Aristotle and his followers are items 'in the real order.' 'Item' is a maximally noncommittal term in my lexicon: it commits me to very little. Anything in whatever category to which one can refer in any way whatsoever is an item. 'Real' is that which exists whether or not it is an intentional object of an act of mind. So when I say that form and matter are items in the real order I simply mean that they are not projected by the mind: it is not as if bronze spheres and such have form and matter only insofar as we interpret them as having form and matter. The bronze sphere is subject to hylomorphic (matter-form) analysis because the thing in reality is made up of form and matter. 'Projectivism' is off the table at least for the space of this post. I am thus assuming a version of realism and am viewing form and matter as distinct ontological constituents or 'principles' of compound substances.
2. The foregoing implies that the proximate matter of the bronze sphere, namely, the hunk of bronze itself, is a part of the bronze sphere. After all, 'ontological constituent' is just a fancy way of saying 'ontological part.' But an argument I now adapt from E. J. Lowe ("Form Without Matter" in Form and Matter: Themes in Contemporary Metaphysics, ed. Oderberg, Blackwell 1999, p. 7) seems to show that the notion that the proximate matter of a compound material substance is a part of it is problematic. The argument runs as follows.
A. If the hunk of bronze composing the sphere is a part of the sphere, then either it is a proper part or it is an improper part, where an improper part of a whole W is a part of W that overlaps every part of W.
B. The hunk of bronze is not an improper part since it is not identical to the bronze sphere. (One reason for this is that the persistence conditions are not the same: the piece of bronze will still exist if the sphere is flattened into a disk, but the sphere cannot survive such a deformation. Second, the two are modally discernible: the hunk of bronze is a hunk of bronze in every possible world in which it exists, but the hunk of bronze is not a sphere in every possible world in which it exists.)
C. The hunk of bronze is not a proper part of the bronze sphere since there is no part of the bronze sphere that it fails to overlap.
D. The hunk of bronze is not a part of the bronze sphere.
E. The composition of form and matter is not mereological. (Lowe, p. 7)
This raises the question of how exactly we are to understand form-matter composition. If the proximate matter of a substance cannot be a part of it in any sense familiar to mereology, the form-matter composition is 'unmereological,' which is not necessarily an objection except that it raises the question of how exactly we are to understand this unmereological type of composition. This problem obviously extends to essence-existence composition.
3. Now let's look at the problem from the side of form. Could the spherical form of the bronze sphere be a part of it? A form is a principle of organization or arrangement, and it is not quite clear how an arrangement can be a part of the thing whose other parts it arranges. Lowe puts the point like this: ". . . the arrangement of certain parts cannot itself be one of those parts, as this would involve the very conception of an arrangement of parts in a fatal kind of impredicativity." (p. 7)
4. In sum, the difficulty is as follows. Form and matter are real 'principles' in compound substances. They are not projected or supplied by us. We can say that form and matter are ontological constituents of compound substances. This suggests that they are parts of compound substances. But we have just seen that they are not parts in any ordinary mereological sense. So this leaves us in the dark as to just what these 'principles' are and how they combine to constitute compound material substances.
Hardly anyone reads Gustav Bergmann any more, but since I read everything, I read Bergmann. It is interesting to compare his style of ontological analysis with that of the great hylomorphic ontologists, Aristotle and Aquinas. The distinguished Aristotelian Henry B. Veatch does some of my work for me in a fine paper, "To Gustav Bergmann: A Humble Petition and Advice" in M.S.Gram and E.D.Klemke, eds. The Ontological Turn: Studies in the Philosophy of Gustav Bergmann (University of Iowa Press, 1974, pp. 65-85)
I want to focus on Veatch's comparison of Aristotle and Bergmann on the issue of prime matter/bare particulars. As Veatch correctly observes, "all of the specific functions which bare particulars perform in Bergmannian ontology are the very same functions as are performed by matter in Aristotle . . . ." (81) What are these functions?
Interactionist substance dualism in the philosophy of mind is supposed to face a devastating objection, the interaction objection. In the first part of this post I will present this objection in its traditional form and suggest that it is not all that serious. In the second part, however, I take the objection seriously and consider whether Aristotelian- Thomistic hylomorphism has the resources to counter it.