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Monday, June 02, 2014


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In De Trinitate q. 5, a. 3, Thomas Aquinas distinguishes between sensible matter and intelligible matter to consider the object of mathematics.
"Mathematics does not abstract from every kind of matter but only from sensible matter. Now the parts of quantity that seem to be in a way the basis for a demonstration by means of a material cause are not sensible matter; rather, they pertain to intelligible matter, which indeed is found in mathematics, as is clear in the Metaphysics." (DeTrin.5.3.rep4)

I wouldn't identify intelligible matter with prime matter either, as prime matter indicates potency to substantial form whereas intelligible matter refers to matter inasmuch as it is the subject of quantity.

This definitely has to be added to the list. Thanks for the contribution.

Thinking about it more, there is not so much a list of the uses of matter as there are diverse orders according to which matter can be considered. You can combine members from each order and list all the possibilities, but it is probably better to consider each of the orders instead.

According to quantity:
Discrete: As 2 and 1 are the matter of 3
Continuous: As the left and right halves are the matter of the whole

According to abstraction from accidents:
Prime matter: as subject (as it were) of substance
Intelligible matter: as subject of quantity
Sensible matter: as subject of quality

According to abstraction from particulars:
Designated matter: matter as in an individual
Undesignated matter: matter as in a definition

According to proximity:
Proximate matter: as body is to animal
Remote matter: as leg, flesh, cell, molecule is to animal
Prime matter: as...prime matter is to animal
You used "proximate" to describe what I put under quantitative matter, and I appropriated the term for what you called "secondary matter". Related to this: I remember spending a lot of time wondering why Question 3 of the Prima Pars has both an article on whether God is a body and whether he is composed of matter and form. The reason is that the first considers quantitative part/whole, the second hylomorphic part/whole.

I'm hesitant to put prime matter in two of those lists, but it is the terminus of each list in a different way.

As for designated matter, it can be considered as with determinate dimensions (which fluctuates constantly in an individual) or with indeterminate dimensions according to which it is the principle of individual (regardless of its quantitative changes). This appears in De Trinitate q. 4, a. 2; a very difficult section in Thomas.

These seem to be the most important ways to consider matter in philosophy, but it comes to be used for all kinds of things. In scholastic grammar, for example: the words of a sentence can be seen as the matter of that sentence, or even the subject of a sentence as matter with respect to the predicate. These senses do not match up exactly with any of the ones above, but are related to them and derive from them.

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