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Hylomorphism is a philosophical
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 theory developed by Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, which analyzes substance into matter
Matter is a general term for the substance of which all physical objects consist. Typically, matter includes atoms and other particles which have mass. A common way of defining matter is as anything that has mass and occupies volume...

 and form. More precisely, substances are conceived of as forms inherent in matter.

Medieval theologians
Theology is the systematic and rational study of religion and its influences and of the nature of religious truths, or the learned profession acquired by completing specialized training in religious studies, usually at a university or school of divinity or seminary.-Definition:Augustine of Hippo...

, newly exposed to Aristotle's philosophy, applied hylomorphism to Christian doctrines such as the transubstantiation
In Roman Catholic theology, transubstantiation means the change, in the Eucharist, of the substance of wheat bread and grape wine into the substance of the Body and Blood, respectively, of Jesus, while all that is accessible to the senses remains as before.The Eastern Orthodox...

 of the Eucharist's bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

. Theologians such as Duns Scotus
Duns Scotus
Blessed John Duns Scotus, O.F.M. was one of the more important theologians and philosophers of the High Middle Ages. He was nicknamed Doctor Subtilis for his penetrating and subtle manner of thought....

 developed Christian applications of hylomorphism.

Matter and form

In Aristotle's writings, the term "matter" (hyle
In philosophy, hyle refers to matter or stuff. It can also be the material cause underlying a change in Aristotelian philosophy. The Greeks originally had no word for matter in general, as opposed to raw material suitable for some specific purpose or other, so Aristotle adapted the word for...

) has a somewhat different meaning than the term "matter" in modern English. In modern English, the term "matter" often refers to a specific kind of substance, namely physical substance. In contrast, for Aristotle, "matter" is a relative term. For Aristotle, the question is not "Is X matter?" but, rather, "What is the matter of X?" Aristotle defines X's matter as the "constituents" of X, as "that out of which" X is made. Thus, in Aristotle's scheme, something can be matter without being physical. For example, letters are the matter of syllables. Aristotle even calls the parts of a geometrical shape (that is, of a pure geometrical shape, considered apart from any physical object having that shape) "intelligible matter".

When some X is produced, X's matter is what undergoes the change into X and remains constant throughout the process. For example, consider bronze. Bronze is the matter of both a bronze statue and a bronze sphere. When a bronze statue changes into a bronze sphere or vice versa, the bronze remains constant throughout the change. The bronze is potentially both a bronze statue and a bronze sphere: while remaining bronze, it can become a bronze statue or a bronze sphere. Thus, matter is "potentiality": M is X's matter if and only if M has the potential to be X.

Given this definition of matter, we can distinguish between what Aristotle calls "proximate matter" and what he calls "non-proximate matter". X can both have matter and also be matter. Clay is the matter of bricks, but bricks in turn are the matter of a house. So bricks both have matter (clay) and are matter (for a house). The house's proximate matter is the bricks, and its non-proximate matter is the clay, because the bricks are closer to being a house than is the clay.

Whereas matter is potentiality, form is actuality. According to Aristotle, if bronze is a bronze sphere’s matter, then roundness is its form. Bronze is potentially a bronze sphere. It becomes actually a bronze sphere when given roundness. Thus, roundness is an "actuality
Actuality may refer to:* Potentiality and actuality * Actuality film...

" of the bronze sphere—or, rather, part of the bronze sphere's actuality: it is the shape that a thing needs in order to actually be a bronze sphere. Forms need not be shapes. According to Aristotle's theory of perception, the senses perceive an object by receiving its form. The senses receive such things as colors and flavors. Thus, forms include such properties as colors and flavors, not just shapes.

Substantial form, accidental form, and prime matter

Medieval philosophers who used Aristotelian concepts frequently distinguished between substantial form
Substantial form
A theory of substantial forms asserts that forms organize matter and make it intelligible. Substantial forms are the source of properties, order, unity, identity, and information about objects....

s and accidental forms. A substance necessarily possesses at least one substantial form. It may also possess a variety of accidental forms. For Aristotle, a "substance" (ousia) is an individual thing—for example, an individual man or an individual horse. The substantial form of substance S consists of S's essential properties, the properties that S's matter needs in order to be the kind of substance that S is. In contrast, S's accidental forms are S's non-essential properties, properties that S can lose or gain without changing into a different kind of substance.

In some cases, a substance's matter will itself be a substance. If substance A is made out of substance B, then substance B is the matter of substance A. However, what is the matter of a substance that is not made out of any other substance? According to Aristotelians, such a substance has only "prime matter" as its matter. Prime matter is matter with no substantial form of its own. Thus, it can change into various kinds of substances without remaining any kind of substance all the time.

Basic theory

Aristotle applies his theory of hylomorphism to living things. He defines a soul as that which makes a living thing alive. Life is a property of living things, just as knowledge and health are. Therefore, a soul is a form—that is, a property or set of properties—belonging to a living thing. Furthermore, Aristotle says that a soul is related to its body as form to matter.

Hence, Aristotle argues, there is no problem in explaining the unity of body and soul, just as there is no problem in explaining the unity of wax and its shape. Just as a wax object consists of wax with a certain shape, so a living organism consists of a body with the property of life, which is its soul. On the basis of his hylomorphic theory, Aristotle rejects the Pythagorean
Pythagoreanism was the system of esoteric and metaphysical beliefs held by Pythagoras and his followers, the Pythagoreans, who were considerably influenced by mathematics. Pythagoreanism originated in the 5th century BCE and greatly influenced Platonism...

 doctrine of reincarnation
Reincarnation best describes the concept where the soul or spirit, after the death of the body, is believed to return to live in a new human body, or, in some traditions, either as a human being, animal or plant...

, ridiculing the notion that just any soul could inhabit just any body.

According to Timothy Robinson, it is unclear whether Aristotle identifies the soul with the body's structure. According to one interpretation of Aristotle, a properly organized body is already alive simply by virtue of its structure. However, according to another interpretation, the property of life—that is, the soul—is something in addition to the body's structure. Robinson uses the analogy of a car to explain this second interpretation. A running car is running not only because of its structure but also because of the activity in its engine. Likewise, according to this second interpretation, a living body is alive not only because of its structure but also because of an additional property: the soul is this additional property, which a properly organized body needs in order to be alive. John Vella uses Frankenstein
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus is a novel about a failed experiment that produced a monster, written by Mary Shelley, with inserts of poems by Percy Bysshe Shelley. Shelley started writing the story when she was eighteen, and the novel was published when she was twenty-one. The first...

's monster to illustrate the second interpretation: the corpse lying on Frankenstein's table is already a fully organized human body, but it is not yet alive; when Frankenstein activates his machine, the corpse gains a new property, the property of life, which Aristotle would call the soul.

The problem of living bodies

Some scholars have pointed out a problem facing Aristotle's theory of soul-body hylomorphism. According to Aristotle, a living thing's (proximate) matter is its body, which needs a soul in order to be alive. Similarly, a bronze sphere's (proximate) matter is bronze, which needs roundness in order to be a sphere. Now, bronze remains the same bronze after ceasing to be a sphere. Therefore, it seems that a body should remain the same body after death. However, Aristotle implies that a body is no longer the same body after death. Moreover, Aristotle says that a body that has lost its soul is no longer potentially alive. But if a living thing's matter is its body, then that body should be potentially alive by definition.

One approach to resolving this problem relies on the fact that a living body is constantly losing old matter and gaining new matter. Your five-year-old body consists of different matter than does your seventy-year-old body. If your five-year-old body and your seventy-year-old body consist of different matter, then what makes them the same body? The answer is presumably your soul. Because your five-year-old body and your seventy-year-old body share your soul—that is, your life—we can identify them both as your body. Apart from your soul, we cannot identify what collection of matter is your body. Therefore, your body is no longer your body after it dies.

Another approach to resolving the problem relies on the distinction between proximate and non-proximate matter. When Aristotle says that the body is matter for a living thing, he may be using the word "body" to refer to the matter that makes up the fully organized body, rather than the fully organized body itself. Unlike the fully organized body, this "body" remains the same thing even after death. In contrast, when he says that the body is no longer the same body after its death, he is using the word "body" to refer to the fully organized body, which (according to this interpretation) does not remain the same thing after death.

Medieval modifications

Many medieval theologians and philosophers followed Aristotle in seeing a living being's soul as that being's form—specifically, its substantial form. However, they disagreed about whether X's soul is X's only substantial form. Some medieval thinkers argued that X's soul is X's only substantial form, responsible for all of the features of X's body. In contrast, other medieval thinkers argued that a living being contains at least two substantial forms—(1) the shape and structure of its body, and (2) its soul, which makes its body alive.

Thomistic Dualism

Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas, O.P. , also Thomas of Aquin or Aquino, was an Italian Dominican priest of the Catholic Church, and an immensely influential philosopher and theologian in the tradition of scholasticism, known as Doctor Angelicus, Doctor Communis, or Doctor Universalis...

 claimed that X’s soul was X’s only substantial form
Substantial form
A theory of substantial forms asserts that forms organize matter and make it intelligible. Substantial forms are the source of properties, order, unity, identity, and information about objects....

, although X also had numerous accidental forms that accounted for X’s nonessential features. Aquinas defined a substantial form as that which makes X's matter constitute X, which in the case of a human being is rational capacity
Reason is a term that refers to the capacity human beings have to make sense of things, to establish and verify facts, and to change or justify practices, institutions, and beliefs. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, ...

. He attributed all other features of a human being to accidental forms. However, Aquinas did not claim that the soul was identical to the person. He held that a proper human being is a composite of form and matter, specifically prime matter. Form and matter taken separately may retain some of the attributes of a human being but are nonetheless not identical to that person. So a dead body is not actually or potentially a human being.

Eleanore Stump describes the soul alone as configured, while the soul together with matter is a “configured configurer”. A dead body is merely matter that was once configured by the soul. It does not possess the configuring capacity of a human being.

Aquinas believed that rational capacity was a property of the soul alone, not of any bodily organ. However, he did believe that the brain had some basic cognitive function. Aquinas’s attribution of rational capacity to the soul allowed him to claim that disembodied souls could retain their rational capacity, although he was adamant that such a state was unnatural.

The problem of the intellect

Aristotle says that the intellect (nous
Nous , also called intellect or intelligence, is a philosophical term for the faculty of the human mind which is described in classical philosophy as necessary for understanding what is true or real, very close in meaning to intuition...

), the ability to think, has no bodily organ (in contrast with other psychological abilities, such as sense-perception and imagination). In fact, he says that it is not mixed with the body and suggests that it can exist apart from the body. This seems to contradict Aristotle's claim that the soul is a form or property of the body. Thus, interpreters of Aristotle have faced the problem of explaining how the intellect fits into Aristotle's hylomorphic theory of the soul. To complicate matters further, Aristotle distinguishes between two kinds of intellect or two parts of the intellect. These two intellectual powers are traditionally called the "passive intellect
Passive intellect
Passive intellect is a term used in philosophy to refer to the material aspect of the intellect , in accordance with the theory of hylomorphism.-Aristotle:In Aristotle's philosophy of mind, the passive intellect...

" and the "active intellect
Active intellect
The active intellect is a concept in classical and medieval philosophy...

" or "agent intellect".

According to one interpretation, a person's ability to think (unlike his other psychological abilities) belongs to some incorporeal organ distinct from his body. This would amount to a form of dualism. However, according to some scholars, it would not be a full-fledged Cartesian dualism. This interpretation creates what Robert Pasnau has called the "mind-soul problem": if the intellect belongs to an entity distinct from the body, and the soul is the form of the body, then how is the intellect part of the soul?

Another interpretation rests on the distinction between the passive intellect and the agent intellect. According to this interpretation, the passive intellect is a property of the body. In contrast, the agent intellect is a substance distinct from the body. Some proponents of this interpretation think that each person has his own agent intellect, which presumably separates from the body at death. Others interpret the agent intellect as a single divine being, perhaps the Unmoved Mover
Unmoved mover
The unmoved mover is a philosophical concept described by Aristotle as a primary cause or "mover" of all the motion in the universe. As is implicit in the name, the "unmoved mover" is not moved by any prior action...

, Aristotle's God.

A third interpretation relies on the theory that an individual form is capable of having properties of its own. According to this interpretation, the soul is a property of the body, but the ability to think is a property of the soul itself. If that is the case, then the soul is the body's form and yet thinking need not involve any bodily organ.

Recently, with the advent of computers, a new interpretation has emerged; to wit that most if not all of what constitutes intellect is an information-processing process, executing by means of sequences as well as parallel activations of electro-chemical changes in neurons and neural connections. The general "how" of how the mind "executes its thinking processes" on the brain can be understand in direct analogy to how software information processing processes execute on a computer. Analogy may be too weak a word. It may in both cases (computer and brain) be, in essence, the same kind of relation that holds between an abstract information-processing process (software, or the mind) and cascades of changes of state of physical hardware. That is, it may in both cases be the emergence of complex and abstract information processing from regulated coordination of very large numbers of simple physical changes.

Teleology and ethics

Aristotle holds a teleological
A teleology is any philosophical account which holds that final causes exist in nature, meaning that design and purpose analogous to that found in human actions are inherent also in the rest of nature. The word comes from the Greek τέλος, telos; root: τελε-, "end, purpose...

 worldview: he sees the universe as inherently purposeful. Basically, Aristotle claims that potentiality exists for the sake of actuality. Thus, matter exists for the sake of receiving its form, and an organism has sight for the sake of seeing. Now, each thing has certain potentialities as a result of its form. Because of its form, a snake has the potential to slither. Hence, we can say that the snake ought to slither. The more a thing achieves its potential, the more it succeeds in achieving its purpose.

Aristotle bases his ethical
Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality—that is, concepts such as good and evil, right and wrong, virtue and vice, justice and crime, etc.Major branches of ethics include:...

 theory on this teleological worldview. Because of his form, a human being has certain abilities. Hence, his purpose in life is to exercise those abilities as well and as fully as possible. Now, the most characteristic human ability, which is not included in the form of any other organism, is the ability to think. Therefore, the best human life is a life lived rationally.

Hylomorphism and modern physics

The idea of hylomorphism can be said to have been reintroduced to the world when Werner Heisenberg
Werner Heisenberg
Werner Karl Heisenberg was a German theoretical physicist who made foundational contributions to quantum mechanics and is best known for asserting the uncertainty principle of quantum theory...

 invented his duplex world of quantum mechanics.

"In the experiments about atomic events we have to do with things and facts, with phenomena that are just as real as any phenomena in daily life. But atoms and the elementary particles themselves are not as real; they form a world of potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts ... The probability wave ... mean tendency for something. It's a quantitative version of the old concept of potentia from Aristotle's philosophy. It introduces something standing in the middle between the idea of an event and the actual event, a strange kind of physical reality just in the middle between possibility and reality."

See also

  • Endurantism
    Endurantism or endurance theory is a philosophical theory of persistence and identity. According to the endurantist view material objects are persisting three-dimensional individuals wholly present at every moment of their existence...

  • Hyle
    In philosophy, hyle refers to matter or stuff. It can also be the material cause underlying a change in Aristotelian philosophy. The Greeks originally had no word for matter in general, as opposed to raw material suitable for some specific purpose or other, so Aristotle adapted the word for...

  • Hylozoism
    Hylozoism is the philosophical point of view that all matter is in some sense alive. This may include the view that "inanimate" matter has latent powers of abiogenesis, a widely held position in the scientific community...

  • Identity and change
    Identity and change
    The relationship between identity and change in the philosophical field of metaphysics seems, at first glance, deceptively simple, and belies the complexity of the issues involved. This article explores "the problem of change and identity".- Change :...

  • Inherence
    Inherence refers to Empedocles' idea that the qualities of matter come from the relative proportions of each of the four elements entering into a thing. The idea was further developed by Plato and Aristotle....

  • Materialism
    In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

  • Substance theory
    Substance theory
    Substance theory, or substance attribute theory, is an ontological theory about objecthood, positing that a substance is distinct from its properties. A thing-in-itself is a property-bearer that must be distinguished from the properties it bears....

External links

  • Concise Britannica
  • Oderberg, David. Hylomorphic Dualism. http://www.reading.ac.uk/AcaDepts/ld/Philos/dso/papers/Hylemorphic%20Dualism.pdf


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