Concept of matter in philosophy


  • Concept of matter in philosophy

    Posted by Encyclios on April 29, 2023 at 7:08 AM

    In philosophy, the definition of matter corresponds to a constitutive principle of sensible reality in the original philosophical meaning. In ancient thought matter is, in the composition of things, the passive, feminine, chaotic element, which receives a form, in contrast to the active, forming one: in Pythagoreans matter is both father and mother, the matrix of things; taken on its own it is the opaque, shapeless, chaotic element; in reality it is always united to a form, so it is not perfectly identifiable.

    In the pre-Socratics matter is the indistinct element from which things originate; sometimes it is conceived as a set of particles.

    For Plato matter is the negative element, resistant to the impression of form that comes from the divine world, it is the dark receptacle of forms, the cause of the presence of evil (as corruption, deprivation of form) in the world and the reason for the instability of the sensory world.

    For Aristotle, matter is instead the substrate of every change, every movement of form; it is a principle of things, constitutive of corporeality. Thus conceived, matter is pure indeterminacy, knowable only indirectly, arguing its existence as necessary for the composition of reality. In this sense arises a meaning of matter as power, pure capacity, which is nothing but can become something. Matter, thus defined, of itself taken is a non-entity. Aristotle brings to its maximum development the eternity of matter as a principle.

    In Stoicism matter has again a physical connotation: it is the passive element of the Universe, but it gives corporeity to the entities. Plotinus and late Platonism affirm that matter is not life, nor soul, nor intellect, nor form, it is devoid of any determination and does not even have being. As indeterminacy it is also found in the intelligible, where, however, for the unity of it, it assumes the properties of the entity; insofar as it is joined with the concept of total otherness it is the chaotic indeterminacy from which the sensible world is drawn.

    In Christian thought matter, while retaining the general Platonic meaning of original informality, is not in itself negativity, since it is created by God, and is the potential aspect of every creature, angelic and terrestrial. In the medieval doctrine of ilemorphism, that is universal matter and form, the interweaving of matter and form concerns every creature and means the composition of beings in the two principles.

    In Renaissance thought matter is studied in its positivity: Bernardino Telesio thinks of it as visibility and corporeity; Giordano Bruno and Tommaso Campanella identify it with nature; for G. Bruno matter has in its bosom all complicated forms, and these are drawn to light as nature.

    In Descartes matter has lost all metaphysical meaning and is defined in essentially physical terms: in particular matter is extension, movement, and its objective properties are expressed in mathematical ratios; they are valid for all matter, and consequently any distinction between incorruptible celestial matter and corruptible terrestrial matter falls.

    Spinoza considers the extended matter an attribute of the divine substance; Leibniz instead defines matter as force, activity, energy: this concept will be developed in the romantic thought in conjectures about nature with theosophical perspectives. From the consideration of matter as a reality to which are attributable original properties, comes the modern materialistic doctrine that in the nineteenth-century evolutionism has its most typical expression.

    In contemporary thought, the increasing mathematization of matter has caused the abandonment of the problem of matter as a principle, substance of reality.

    Matter and form are correlative and complementary terms that indicate the constitutive principles of reality. With Aristotle, the structure of entities is explained in terms of matter and form because everything consists of an indeterminate principle and a determining principle: they correspond to power and act in the sense that every entity has a movement, a becoming that is the transition from matter to form, that is, consists in achieving a form. Only God is totally act, therefore only form, and does not presuppose a matter. This conception of the structure of things is called ilemorphism, and after Aristotle remains in Western philosophy, used both by later Platonism and Christian thought.

    In the Middle Ages developed the theory of universal ilemorphism, according to which matter and form are not entities existing separately, but every immaterial or material reality is both matter and form: the angels have a matter as well as the body has a form that in the Franciscan tradition is identified in the light. St. Thomas opposed to this doctrine stating that while power and act are concepts that apply to all entities, matter and form apply only to the corporeal ones: matter is connotation of the element that constitutes the sensory reality.

    In the Renaissance, with G. Bruno, is resumed the neoplatonic thesis of matter and form as constitutive of the whole universe, both of spiritual beings and nature. With Kant the concepts of matter and form take on a meaning no longer metaphysical, but logical-transcendental; for matter Kant means the material of knowledge, the multiplicity of phenomena, to which the activity of the subject gives the unity of a form determining it as an object.

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