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Friday, June 06, 2014


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A quick note on prime matter...

That Bobik passage regarding prime matter seems fundamentally wrong to me. No individual thing can be considered (intelligibly) as prime matter. That's because prime matter isn't an individual thing--it's not a substance. Prime matter (I think) is STUFF. For Aquinas--who uses the form/matter conceptual apparatus for things like numbers and God (God's essence, e.g., plays the role of matter/the 3 persons the role of form)--prime matter is matter in the PRIMARY sense; stuff by which there are things that are 3-dimensional and take up space. But prime matter has no definite form--if (per impossible) it did, it would be a hylomorphic compound. Prime matter is, thus, pure potentiality. On Aquinas's view, though, not even God could create prime matter that is not the prime matter of some hylomporphic compound (Scotus disagrees). It's not like there can be a hunk of prime matter existing in its own right as if it were a substance.

Personally, I think that if one adopts the form/matter, act/potency conceptual framework, prime matter makes a good deal of sense. I look forward to the aporia.

Right, Tully.

Prime matter is pure potency, wholly indeterminate, bare of every form whether accidental or substantial. As you say, it is not a substance. It is a 'principle' invoked in the analysis of substances.

Hylomorphic analysis has an upper limit and a lower limit. The upper limit is pure form, form without matter. Aquinas speaks of God as the *forma formarum,* the form of all forms. The lower limit is prime matter.

If you drive DOWN the hylomorphic road to the bitter end, you arrive at the dead-end: prime matter. So there is a certain 'logic' to the positing of prime matter. It is similar (but not the same) as the 'logic' of the positing of bare particulars, as in Gustav Bergmann.

I hope to exfoliate the aporias in separate posts. But for now we can notice the following tension: On the one hand prime matter, as a principle involved in the analysis of primary substances, must be a real ontological factor in things, especially since it is supposed to underlie real substantial change, as when an animal dies or is born. But on the other hand, it is the emptiest of empty abstractions. How?

As you say, PM is stuff. I add: the ultimate stuff out of which everything is made. So it must be something real (extramental). But nothing bare of all form can be real. So it's an abstraction created by the mind. But then it cannot be the ultimate real stuff of all real things.

Do you agree that there is a problem here?

I add: the ultimate stuff out of which everything is made. So it must be something real (extramental). But nothing bare of all form can be real. So it's an abstraction created by the mind. But then it cannot be the ultimate real stuff of all real things.

Do you agree that there is a problem here?

I agree that there are some bullets to bite if one holds that there is prime matter, but I don't know that they are bigger bullets than one has to bite in denying prime matter.

I'd need to go back and look at Aquinas (I haven't thought much about this in 8 or 9 years), but the view might be something like this:

Prime matter is not an abstraction (for one, when one abstracts one considers the form of a thing). Prime matter is stuff. We mght posit that there is such stuff for a couple reasons: (1) There is substantial change, (2) There are material things (it ain't just bundles of forms all the way down to the basement and there is a basement). Still, some prime matter can be distinct from other prime matter. I have prime matter and you have other prime matter. But those distinct hunks of stuff are not such that they can account for an individual substance. Though distinct hunks of prime matter from each other, of themselves they lack determinate dimensions and are not individuals or particulars. My prime matter might be sufficient to account for my being distinct from you, but it can't account for why I am this particular individual and you are this particular individual.

But, again, we shouldn't think of prime matter as existing in its own right. It has to be part of some substance. The prime matter can be characterized as having determinate dimension, not intrinsically, but because it's the prime matter of a substance with determinate dimension (dimensions it has as accidents perhaps?...though for Aquinas the determinate dimensions of origin are perhaps essential for the substance).

There are lots of complications I'm glossing over and there are many (prime matter is that in virtue of which a substance is a material substance; but the material substance is that in virtue of which the prime matter exists; but that which individuates the material substance...) I'd need to think more about this to say anything more helpful. But I have remodeling to do.

I'll take a shot at this.

In any substantial change there is always a change in species, but not always a change in genus. At the very least, it is never the case that some body leaves the genus of body in undergoing a substantial change. (As you said, we are speaking of substantial change and not annihilation.) Now some accidents belong to a substance in virtue of its specific form (such thinking and willing for man) and some belong to it generically and are not necessarily lost when a substance undergoes a substantial change according to species (such as quantity, weight, shape).

An example: Jake jumps off of a building. Before reaching the ground, he has a heart attack and dies. And then after some more falling, the corpse hits the ground. If you're using an equation to determine when the body will hit the ground, you don't have to do two separate calculations for before and after the heart attack. The laws of gravity are to with respect to bodies generally, so as long as a body remains within the genus "body", the laws of gravity can ignore this change entirely. This holds good for quantity and its accidents, and any accidents that belong to bodies as such.

So, with respect to the continuity question: the accidents of quantity and where-it-is remain with the body through death (for at no point does it cease to be a body). So how can you say which corpse was Peter's body? Why, it's the one that is in the place where Peter's body was!

I'm not sure what others will say about this response, but it's important to say that quantity and so on don't belong to prime matter because prime matter is not a thing, but a principle of thing. It is certainly real (for if the principle of a thing does not exist, neither does that thing), but it does not exist as a thing (a substance) and so does not have accidents.

Can I ask if prime matter has mass? Tully, I think, will say Yes, Nightingale will say No, and Bill will see this as aporetic.


If only philosophy could be like mathematics. . . .

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