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OUTLINES OF PHILOSOPHY OF NATURE

Carlomax47 Revised 31st March 2013

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Let us have a look at the reality that surrounds us. Actually we see it but we do not always focus our attention on it. We may be attracted by the way in which things appear to us: their color, the way in which they are made, the way in which they work, etc. But there is another way to look at the reality we see, touch and smell and, why not?...taste. For instance, we take for granted at all times that things we look at are material. However we hardly ask ourselves what it means for anything to be material, or rather what is matter?. We experience it when we break something, or when we make something, or when a stone hits our head and we feel pain. For instance, we take for granted that things move and, since we have the mind of a physicist, we start investigating the laws that rule movement. However we hardly ask ourselves what movement is. From the two examples above we realize that what they have in common is the question: What is it? The answer to this question is not given by what we usually refer to as science: the answer is given by philosophy, and when the question concerns natural realities (those we experience with our senses), the answer is given by Philosophy of Nature. Unlike philosophy of nature, science answers different types of question such as: what is this made of?, how does it work?, what is its function?, etc. To the question what is this fruit? the answer given this is an apple is not a scientific answer but a philosophical one: the answer consists in attributing to the fruit in front of me an essential characteristic which is common to many other realities I call APPLE. Now, follow this carefully because it is very important: the essential characteristic I have just mentioned is in common with many other realities and I call it essence. But if this essence is in common with many things and 1

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it is the same in all of them in reality, what makes these things exist as individual realities? Obviously it cannot be the essence. The philosopher says that although all these things have a common essence, nevertheless each of them has its own existential act or esse (from the Latin which means to be). 11. 12. 13. Therefore we see that in each reality we can distinguish an essence and an esse. I see that now you have already started thinking in a philosophical way. Is the distinction between essence and esse real? Or is it only a distinction in my mind? Examples of mental distinction are for instance the taxa in animal and plant classification such as Kingdoms, Phyla, Classes, etc., because they are constructed in an arbitrary way. But if the distinction between esse and essence was not real then we could not find any other answer to the above mentioned problem of individuation. However, the issue of individuation may draw our attention on another issue: if two apples are identical because they have the same essence and the same, external characteristics of color, shape, etc., what may distinguish one from the other? This topic requires further analysis because it is closely related to the question about matter which I have mentioned above and left unanswered. They are distinct one from the other because they have (the philosopher says) different portions of matter. You may see how the further we go the deeper the questions about this reality become. However from we have seen so far we can draw some conclusions that can help us proceed in our investigation: a. The reality we experience with our senses is not simple; it presents us with one level of composition between essence and esse (we call an individual reality ens = being or entity). The same reality is made of individuals, which need an explanation for their existence as individuals (individuation) and for their being different from one another at the level of the same species (individualization).

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The world surrounding us is a material world. What is matter? Actually we do not experience matter immediately; we experience material things, things that are individual, things that are similar to other things and different from other things. We call these things entities or entia in Latin.

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We experience things immediately as existing and existing as something specific (dog, tree, man, etc.). Things are immediately offered to our knowledge as things that are (esse) and as things that are in a specific way (essence). It is evident that something cannot be object of knowledge unless first it is (or it exists). Anything that exists therefore exists as something specific. Specific things found in nature, no matter how complex they are, present an interesting characteristic: there is in them an internal unifying principle which makes them be what they are and what they do. It means that all their parts, no matter how heterogeneous, are unified in such a way as to cooperate in the constitution of a certain thing with its own constant characteristics of being and operating (e.g. the water molecule is completely different from hydrogen and oxygen which make water, a living being is something different from the proteins and other organic molecules that make it). Things looked at from this point of view are called substances. The word substance comes from the Latin verb sub-stare (to be under), but the English to subsist can also trace its origin from the verb sub-stare. Before considering the way in which the verbs to be under and to subsist can be applied to the concept of substance let us move on and analyze further in depth how we can obtain the knowledge of such a concept. The world around us is made of substances different from each other because of what they are and of what they do. If we consider, say, a human being, we can actually verify that he changes over time, he grows and develops: John at 2 is different from John at 40. But is he? Yes and no, but obviously not in the same way. John is always the same John in the sense that I can still remind him of what he used to do with the chickens in the stay and he remembers it and laughs at it. But John is different at 40 because his hair is getting gray, and he has become taller and he knows more now than when he used to be a toddler. In other words, there is a core in natural things that remains the same and a shell that changes. The core is what philosophers call substance, the changing shell is what we call accidents. John changes accidentally over time, but John as substance remains basically the same. The difference between substance and accidents is real (i.e. not mental) and tells us a very 3

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important thing: things found in nature show a further level of composition of substance and accidents. 28. The way to be a substance is not the way to be an accident. Accidents are those ways of being that change and fall under our senses. If you prefer, accidents are the cause of the modification of our senses. However, because of the accidents modifying our senses the substance is revealed not to our senses but to our intellect. We do not see the substance with our physical eyes! That is why we say that a substance is intelligible per se and sensible per accidens. In other words, substance is the intelligible aspect of an entity, perceived by the light of the intellect. Substance is that which is and that which is in a specific way. What does the word intelligible really entail? Things are not what they are because I know them as such. It is rather the other way around: I can know what they are because they are intelligible. This statement actually rejects a subjective approach to the process of knowledge and grants the thing in itself an objective real property. It is clear therefore that intelligibility of things and mans capacity to know them make reference to a mind that conceives things as well as the human intellect, making them both suit each other in the process of knowledge, a process that engenders TRUTH. However, this truth is not the truth of my mind but the truth of things themselves: I can speak of the truth of mind (subjectively) because things that exist are true (objectively). Relegating truth to the ambit of the mind only is the legacy of Modern and Contemporary Western Philosophy which has reduced truth to the truth of ones mind. Substance is therefore that which has the act of being in a proper way and therefore subsists. That is why another way of describing (and not defining) the concept of substance is to say that substance is that which is by itself and not in another. On the other end, accidents participate in the act of being of the substance because they do not have it by themselves (we do not see the red color or 4

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100 Kgs going around on their own!). That is why we can also describe substance as that which supports the accidents (that which is under the accidents). 38. What I said in 24 above shall be now clear. Substance is that: a. Which has esse by itself and not in another. b. Which is the support of the accidents. c. However substance can also be referred to as essence in the sense that it is that which answers the question: what is this? (in Latin quid est hoc? Substance as essence refers then to the quiddity of anything, or the central intelligible core of an existing reality. 39. Things in nature are not simple, they are composite, and the latter composition is known from the analysis of those changes we call accidental. However there is another type of change which we now consider. Consider a branch of a tree. A branch is a branch as long as it remains attached to the tree and as such it participates of the substantiality of the tree, in fact it is the same tree considered in one of its parts (the branch). Once it is cut off the plant it is not branch any more, it is just wood (yes, still with the shape of the branch, but just wood). As such a piece of wood is not a new substance but, how shall we say, an aggregate of various substances (i.e. organic compounds and minerals). Left to itself a piece of wood will disintegrate and everything will be reduced to minerals, CO2 and water over a period of time by the action of micro-organisms). However we can now accelerate that process by burning it to make the change more dramatic. What has happened? Whether slow or fast the change in all the steps from cutting the branch to minerals, CO2 and water, resulted in the disappearance of a number of substances and the appearance of new ones. The philosophers call these dramatic changes substantial transformations. Substantial transformations in nature imply that something stops being what it is and becomes something substantially (and not accidentally) different. At this point it seems clear that unless there is a common substratum between the substance that ceases to be and the new emerging ones the transformation would be impossible, or in order to explain it, it would be necessary to invoke an annihilation followed by a new creation. It is this common substratum that philosophers call proto-matter (or first matter).

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But if matter does not change during the change something else must change: philosophers call this the form. We discover then a second level of real composition in natural things: matter and form. The form is that unifying principle mentioned above, which gives internal cohesion to the substances. Moreover matter and form act as internal causes of the corporeal being. Philosophers call them material and formal cause respectively. It is important to note that accidental changes occur progressively while substantial changes occur instantaneously, although they may be prepared by accidental changes to the point at which the substance is unable to offer an effective support to its esse. The composite nature of natural things is the foundation of their peculiar characteristic: change or movement in a broad sense. Already Aristotle had pointed this out when he said that a corporeal being is basically an ens mobile. Because of the possibility of change (i.e. substantial or accidental) corporeal beings are ontologically unstable: they can cease to be what they are and become something else at accidental as well at substantial level. A change always consists in the acquisition of a new way of being (perfection) and in the cessation of being what it was (privation). What do we mean when we talk of perfection of a being? A being is perfect when it has all the things that are proper to its nature, either in an actual or in a potential way. All things, in so far as they are what they are, are perfect, though many of their perfection may be latent (in potency). The perfection of man includes also his capacity of becoming an engineer, or a doctor, etc. The perfection aimed at is only possible if the thing changing has a real capacity of attaining that perfection (e.g. man can learn to become an engineer, while a dog cannot do it). Philosophers call this capacity potency, while the perfection attained is called act. Therefore any change (or movement) implies a passage from potency to act.

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What is in potency respect to a certain act (perfection) cannot by itself move towards that act. To affirm the opposite is contradictory because this would imply that the thing changing at the same time has and has not that act. It follows that anything moving needs to be moved by an external agent. The philosophers express this by saying quidquid movetur ab alio movetur. The external agent acts as an efficient cause. In our analysis of the corporeal entities in nature we have discovered the existence of causes: i.e. material cause, formal cause, efficient cause. Philosophers identify a fourth called final cause. This simply means than any entity changes (passes from potency to act) in view of an end. So far we have seen that to be for any corporeal being means to be in a certain way: this can be substantial or accidental, in potency or in act, in potency and act at the same time but not in same way (when the corporeal being moves). These different modalities of being are the expression of the analogical property of being (to be). To be can be said (predicated) of everything that is but with a difference in each case, yet preserving a common meaning. The analogical characteristics of being is also shown in the case of God. The being of God is different from the being of man: man has esse, God is his own esse; mans intellect is cognitive, Gods intellect is creative, etc. Aristotle had already identified 10 supreme genera (categories or predicamentals) which are different ways of being namely substance and 9 accidents (quantity, quality, ubi, situs, quando, actio, passio, relation, habitus). Let us see how they come about in the case of Peter: He is a man (substance) He is good (quality) He is tall (quantity) He is Anthonys son (relation) He is in his room (ubi) He is seated (situs) He has a hat (habitus) He arrived at 7:00 pm (quando) He is writing (actio) He is thirsty (passio).

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Can one define the categories or predicaments? Strictly speaking you can not since there is nothing else before them save being (esse). They can 7

actually be described and in general we can say that substance is the one that subsists that is, it is by itself, while accidents are those which are in the substance, i.e. their being is to be in the substance. To be properly corresponds to the substance whereas the accidents participate of the being of the substance. 63. Therefore, the 10 supreme genera can be said (predicated) of anything that exists. But if above them there is only being (esse), can anything be said about being as such, i.e. without any other determination? Let us clarify this point: there is no such a thing as esse without any other determination because to be is to be always in some way. When we say being we actually mean two things: a) that which exists or has esse (ens) b) the very act of being (esse) 66. Therefore we should ask: can anything be said about being considered as that which has esse, but from the point of view of its esse and not its essence? The metaphysics of being (ens) as being (esse) acknowledges the existence of some characteristics that are proper to it, but unlike the supreme genera, they do not add anything new to it, e.g. when I say this cat has a red fur, red adds something to the substance cat. In other words, these characteristics are interchangeable with being: e.g. being is good or good is being. The characteristics of being as being are different ways of looking at being: truth is being insofar as it is knowable; good is being insofar as it is desirable; one is being insofar as it is undivided; beauty is being insofar as it is object of admiration because of the harmony between its parts. All these characteristics are interchangeable with being. They are called transcendentals (as opposed to predicamentals) because, like being, they lie above and beyond the supreme genera (they transcend the supreme genera). It is important to notice the fact that the transcendentals are not ways in which a subject perceives them, but they are real characteristics of being as being. In other words: I know things because they are knowable and not vice-versa; I desires thing because they are good and not vice-versa; I admire things because they are admirable and not vice-versa; things have unity not because I ascribe unity to them.

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Let us step back after this analysis. I see a cat on the road, then another cat and then another. How many substances have I seen? The answer is three, since that which subsists by itself is the substance. I have seen three subsisting entities therefore I have seen three substances. Actually I have not seen substances with my eyes or in general with my senses. I have seen the substance with my intellect because substance is what the philosophers call an intelligible. The substance is however intelligible through its accidents which are perceived by my senses. That is why the philosophers say that substance is intelligible per se and sensible per accidens. Why can I call cats the three swaging creatures I have seen on the road? Because I see in them something in common which makes them be what they are and act in a cattish way. We have already seen what that thing is, the form or internal unifying principle. When the cat dies its form disappears and is replaced by something else, it is what trans-form-ation means. The form is also referred to as essence (when for instance it is in our mind in our process of knowing it and where it becomes a concept) or to nature (when it is considered as principle of operations). Please draw your attention on the fact that the form (the essence) can be lost in a substantial transformation, but it may reappear at some other time in actualizing the being of another similar entity. If it can reappear, where has it gone during the transformation? The philosophers say that it has reverted to the potency of matter. Pure matter, considered in itself, is pure potency capable of being actualized by any possible form provided there is an adequate efficient causality able to make the matter pass from potency to act. If a corporeal entity can lose its being without its essence being lost, then there is a real difference between being (to be) and to be something specific (essence). As long as an essence is not actualized in reality it does not have status of entity (as a matter of fact it is nothing). An entity is an actualized essence, and what actualizes it is what philosophers call its act of being (esse). In a previous analysis and in a different way we have reached the conclusion of the existence of a composition of essence and act of being in corporeal entities, a composition that is also common to created spiritual realities (such as angels). Corporeal entities can then lose their being in the sense that they can stop being what they are and become something else (substantial 9

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transformations), or they can stop being in a certain way and begin being in a different way (accidental transformations). Philosophers refer to corporeal realities looked at from this perspective as contingent in being. 77. However, corporeal realities, with the exception of man, act in a necessary way, in the sense that they carry out their operations in a no-choice situation. If corporeal entities act in a necessary way, they are predictable and as such one can always trace a cause of an effect. However, if they are predictable, in what sense can one speak of chance and chance events? Is there any pure chance? An event can be said to happen by chance for two reasons: a. It may be the result of the crossing of two or more causal events, e.g. the flower pot that falls on the head of a passerby being pushed inadvertently by the tenant of the 10th floor in a building; b. Sometime things fail to act in the way in which they are supposed to owing to the limitations of their material constitutions. In both cases the unpredictability of the outcome may be referred to as chance event. 80. To be contingent means not to have full possession on ones own being, not to be able to give being to one self. In fact an adequate efficient cause is needed to produce a new being (to move from potency to act an external cause is needed). If the world was a world of pure contingency nothing could have come to be. If contingent realities (material realities) cannot give being to themselves reason demands that they receive it by participation from a being who necessarily has being by essence, i.e. he does not need to receive it from another cause, otherwise existence would be inexplicable. To have being by essence means to be being by essence, to be its own being. This is what we call God or Ipsum Esse Subsistens (3rd Way of St Thomas Aquinas to demonstrate the existence of God who is also creator). Is the world eternal or it had a beginning? If it had a beginning is it going to end sometime?

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To say that the world has always existed implies that the world exists necessarily! If an entity exists necessarily it cannot be said that it is indifferent for it to be or not to be, since it is in a necessary way. However, entities of the material world appear to have an ontological instability owing to their composite makeup: they can lose their esse! They can, by corruption, cease to be what they are and become something else. In these so called substantial transformations an entity loses its esse because its form is replaced by a different one which in-forms the same prime matter, whereas the previous form reverts to the potentiality of the prime matter. In other words, it can be educed from the prime matter some other time when a proportionate efficient cause acts on it. It seems therefore that, although material entities are not necessarily, at least form and prime matter may be necessarily, i.e. they do not have in themselves any tendency to disappear from existence as co-principles of material entities. It is true that they could be annihilated by God if he wanted to. On these grounds there is no rational argument which may support the thesis that the material world, as a whole, had a beginning and will have an end: actually it looks everlasting although individual beings come and go. In fact Aristotle considered it to be eternal, i.e. without beginning and without end. No wonder then if Aristotle identified being (that which is) with substance and Plato did the same with form (which he called idea) in this way attributing esse to form which exists in a world outside of the individual material realities called Hyper-uranium!!! It is also easy to understand how pantheistic stands may spring as conclusions of philosophies which do not have a clear conception of a world distinct from God, on the grounds of the eternity of the world (since God and the world are eternal they are the same thing). Only by Revelation one knows that the material world had a beginning in time, (creation). By this act, God participated his esse - which is his way of being - to creatures, in such a way that their esse becomes a constitutive part of their individual ontological structure. However, the way of being of God is To Be, (he is a necessary Being), whereas the way of being of creatures is contingent.

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On this ground proto-matter and form are not necessary per se but ab alio (i.e. they depend on the creative esse participated in the esse of God. And so, although there is nothing in them that bespeaks of their incapacity of being corrupted, nevertheless they had a beginning with Creation (i.e. they are immortal but not eternal), as co-principles of corporeal entities and therefore always together. It is interesting to note that Aristotle was partly right in holding that being was substance (substance subsisting per se), since truly esse pertains to substance but only in the order of formal causality because of its form, and not in that of efficient causality which, in this case, is divine. Therefore substance is that which subsist ab alio and not per se. Forms of corporeal beings cannot subsist (do not have their own esse) without matter, (although esse can be attributed more appropriately to the form) since esse belongs to the whole composite (matter + form). In the case of man his soul (form) can subsist independently from the body because the esse of man belongs to his soul primarily, whereas the body participates of the esse of the soul. This can be demonstrated by considering mans intellectual operations.

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