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Metaphysics

Aristotle’s Hylomorphism – Derek W

We’ve all heard of the name Aristotle, especially throughout the course of this class. The Aristotle we have come to know, however, is the old, matured, and wizened philosopher. We have barely looked at Aristotle the youngster, the pupil, and the host of his precocious mind.

As a student of Plato, he studied at Plato’s Academy for 20 years before becoming dissatisfied with the direction the school went after leadership passed onto Speusippus after Plato’s death. His own philosophy was largely influenced throughout his time in his own academy: Lyceum. The denial of headmastership of Plato’s Academy led Aristotle to begin looking at and ruminating about the opposite side of Plato’s Philosophy. Attempting to come from a different angle under a different school, Aristotle was at odds with his former and late teacher on many issues. Those of which included, the separation of mind and body, consciousness and soul.

A couple days ago I came across just one of Aristotle’s ideas. For me, it appealed to my logical side and it just felt right. His theory and belief in Hylosmorphism, concerns the nature of matter, form, and nature. Ultimately, Aristotle proposes the way that we interpret the things around us and how what we see is not the true matter.

Right into it then. I’m not going to explain all the ideas of Aristotle here because that would be novel(s) worth. Instead, I want to take a close look into Hylomorphism. The main parts of Hylomorphism are: Matter, Form, and Substance.

Matter, as operationally defined by Aristotle, is the thing that makes up another thing. For example, a bronze statue’s matter would be bronze. Going deeper, Aristotle defined the bricks of a house to be proximate matter, which is the contents of an object which has it’s own contents. In the case of the bricks, the matter would be clay.

Form on the other hand, is simply the shape or form that the matter appears in. Going back to the bronze statue, the matter of bronze is shaped into the form of a statue. As we see that statue we don’t see all the individual parts of the statue and the subatomic particles that make up the proximate matter of bricks (I know this contradicts what I said earlier but I’ll explain in a second).

Finally, substance is defined as the combination of form and matter.

Another key point of Hylomorphism is the idea of different forms of substance. These forms include the Substantial, and Accidental. Essentially, Aristotle states the Substantial Form is one that consists of only the essential essence of that substance. For example the substantial form of a table is that it (depending on the person) four legs and a flat top. With substantial form, it is assuming that everyone will have an operational definition of the essences of a table. Obviously, the idea of a true substantial form not limited by the state of theory, is virtually impossible because one thing never has the same meaning for two people. On the other hand, Accidental Form. is defined by Aristotle as the NON-essential qualities of a substance. manipulating the essential qualities would change the substance into something else.      Removing the legs of a table would render it into a wooden mat or something of the like. However, a tables accidental form would still be considered a table but may have different designs, perhaps an extra central leg, again what we consider a table and how we draw that line is still shrouded in mystery. In theory, however, Hylomorphic Accidental Form makes sense.

Today, we are not limited as Aristotle was by the science of his time. We have gained insight that many philosophers of Aristotle’s era never thought possible. With the advent of subatomic theory, Aristotle’s Hylomorphism gains a whole new dimension of inquiry. If we define matter as the basic building blocks of an object, what would matter ultimately be in the world of inconceivably small particles that form objects? The matter of a bronze statue suddenly becomes, not bronze, but atoms and it’s swirling cloud of charged particles. New information, however, has called into question whether atoms really are the most basic building blocks. Atoms have already, according the Aristotle’s theory demoted every substance a layman can describe as proximate matter. Will atoms themselves be ironically demoted by an even smaller building block in our world? Each new discovery increases the depth at which Hylomorphism attempts to operate.

For me, the idea of substances being built of progressively smaller parts is soothingly logical. I find that, when I look at something, I don’t start considering the substances that have gone into constructing it right away. For example, when looking at a person, I don’t consider the organs and the cells of his or her body, nor do I consider the atoms that constitute him or her. I look at a person, something Aristotle would consider a form and in turn a substance. In my view, I really enjoy theories that make logical sense and are based on the basic experience humanity has had with the paths of thought humans take. Aristotle’s ideas are firmly rooted in logic and Hylomorphism is no exception.

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