Aristotle, that all change takes place as a result

Aristotle, an ancient Greek philosopher and scientist, attempted to understand the changes that take place in the natural world. Of his works, his Physics serves as an account of the order of nature. Aristotle believed that there must be certain principles of nature that could be used to explain all natural processes in the universe. Aristotle reasoned that all change takes place as a result of four different types of causes that explain why change occurs. He famously thought that every physical object is a compound of matter of form –– his doctrine known as “hylomorphism” (Ainsworth, Thomas, pg. 1). However, several issues threaten the foundation of his account of hylomorphism. For instance, Aristotle’s argument for the relationship of the human soul and body, his response to the issue of individuation, and his conception of “prime matter” highlight areas where his logic contradicts his hylomorphic account of physical reality.  Thus, through the use of generalizations and the contradictory nature some of his logic, Aristotle’s hylomorphic account is not entirely correct. Form and matter are first introduced by Aristotle in the first book of Physics. Aristotle, in an attempt to account for the changes that occur in the natural world, explained how substances cannot come into existence “ex nihilo,” meaning that nothing comes from nothing (Ainsworth, Thomas, pg. 1). He used this concept as the framework for his hylomorphic argument. According to Aristotle, form must be one of the principles of nature. For instance, something comes to being by obtaining a distinctive form, such as a newborn child becoming an adult. Since the child was disposed to becoming this form, the form (the idea of the mature specimen) must have existed before the child matured into an adult. Moreover, another principle of nature is the privation (or absence) of form, which suggests that something comes to be from its opposite. Finally, the third principle of nature is matter, which Aristotle argued remains constant throughout the entire process of change. Aristotle concluded that matter is formed into the substance it is by the form it has. For example, a plant’s form determines the properties and activities of every physical component of that plant. The matter, however, is simply determined by the plant so that these particular different properties and activities appear and take place. Aristotle takes this idea of matter and form and then applies it to all physical substances.   One significant problem with Aristotle’s hylomorphic account of physical reality is his rationale for the relationship between the soul and the body of humans. For instance, Aristotle insisted that “a human being is composed of a rational soul, which is the form, and an organic body, which is the matter” (Ainsworth, Thomas, pg. 3). Aristotle, in support of his understanding of hylomorphism, used an example of a bronze statue. For instance, he discussed how when an amount of bronze becomes enformed with the shape of Hermes, a statue of Hermes comes into existence (Shields, Christopher, “A Fundamental Problem”). When this bronze is melted down and recast as a statue of Domitian, the Hermes statue goes out of existence and a statue of Domitian comes into existence (Shields, Christopher, “A Fundamental Problem”). However, the bronze, which first acquires and then loses one shape and then takes on a new shape changes shapes, is only contingently enformed by either shape (Shields, Christopher, “A Fundamental Problem”). By this logic, it appears that any matter which “underlies generation is only contingently enformed by the form from which is acquired in the process of generation” (Shields, Christopher, “A Fundamental Problem”). Therefore, according to Aristotle, a human body is enformed by the soul whose body it is (Shields, Christopher, “A Fundamental Problem”). However, a body (the matter of a human being), unlike bronze, cannot lose its form (soul) and remain in existence. So Aristotle suggests that a dead body is more like a statue of body than it is like a real body. What is problematic, however, is that Aristotle’s argument suggests that no human body is contingently ensouled, but rather is essentially ensouled and ceases to exist at the moment it loses its soul (death) (Shields, Christopher, “A Fundamental Problem”). Since matter, according to hylomorphism, is contingently enformed, bodies, which Aristotle also treated as matter, should also be contingently enformed.  Yet, if bodies are only bodies when they have lost their souls, then they are necessarily enformed (Shields, Christopher, “A Fundamental Problem”). Therefore, it appears that Aristotle contradicted himself, as he argued that human being’s matter must be contingently alive, so that it can serve as the underlying thing that remains when a human comes into existence, but also that it must be essentially alive, because it is functionally defined (Ainsworth, Thomas, p. 3). The idea of individuation serves as another problem for Aristotle’s hylomorphic account of physical reality. Aristotle attributes the cause of individuation to matter rather than form. For example, think of a set of twins. The set of twins are composed numerically of the same matter, have the same form, are compounds of matter and form, and therefore, it is possible that the twins are numerically the same. However, according to Aristotle, two different people cannot be numerically the same. Thus, if Aristotle’s argument is valid, at least one of the premises of the argument must be false (Ainsworth, Thomas, pg. 8). Yet, Aristotle believed that the essence of such a hylomorphic compound is evidently it’s form, not its matter, which is evidenced when he said “by form I mean the essence of each thing, and its primary substance” (Metaphysics, Book VII). Thus, Aristotle contradicts himself as he attributed the cause of individuation to matter even though the core of his hylomorphic account is that form is what explains what makes substances one thing rather than multiple things.Aristotle believed that everything in existence is made of earth, air, fire, and water and that these elements can change into one another (Ainsworth, Thomas, pg. 4). Moreover, Aristotle argued for the existence of prime matter, which is the matter of the elements, where each element is a compound of this matter and form (Form vs. Matter). Aristotle held that prime matter is “pure potentiality” which means that it can take on any form and, thus, is entirely without any essential properties of its own. In Physics i 7, where Aristotle provided his broad overview on change, he used the terms “underlying thing” and “thing that remains” (Ainsworth, Thomas, pg. 6). For instance, he wrote “for man remains a man and is such even he becomes when he becomes musical whereas what is not musical or is unmusical does not continue to exist” (Physics i 7 pg. 9). Moreover, he described how “there must always be an underlying something, namely that which becomes” (Physics i 7 pg. 9). However, in the case for accidental change and the matter in substantial change, Aristotle’s assumptions can be challenged (Ainsworth, Thomas, pg. 6). For instance, “in the elemental generation case, perhaps there is no thing that remains, just an initial element that underlies” (Ainsworth, Thomas, pg. 6).  However, this logic is inconsistent with Aristotle’s “ex nihilo” argument that nothing can come to being out of nothing. For example, in the case of elemental generation, “if there is no thing that remains, how can water changing into air be differentiated from change whereby water vanishes into nothing, and is instance replaced by some air which has materialized out of nothing?” (Ainsworth, Thomas, p. 7). Moreover, the idea that prime matter does not have essential properties makes it difficult to justify its existence. For instance, “how can prime mater be invisible, or eternal, or the ultimate bearer of properties, if these are not properties that belong to it essentially?” (Ainsworth, Thomas, p. 6). Thus, these internal inconsistencies and contradictions of Aristotle’s logic regarding prime matter discredit his theory of hylomorphism.  


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