Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Aristotle on Form and Matter, Actuality & Potentiality, and Change (for my Western Philosophy students)

Raphael, from "The School of Athens"

For my MCCC Western Philosophy students.


1. Explain Aristotle's idea of "form" and "matter."

A "form is what a thing really is. ("Actuality.") Aristotle links form with "function" or "telos" (the Greek word for "purpose.") For example the form of "this chair" is to be sat on; the form of "my house" is to be lived in.

"Matter" is eternal. Matter can take on different forms.

A form is non-physical, non-material. A form cannot be matter or physical for at least 2 reasons:

1. matter is always going in and out, always changing. E.g., you cut your hair; or you paint the chair; or you paint your house.
2. Things can remain the same in form even if we replace bits of matter on it. E.g., we put a new roof on the house.

2. How does Aristotle explain "change?"

There are two kinds of change.

1. "Substantial change" is when one form changes into another form. E.g., when cream becomes butter.
2. "Accidental change" is when the form stays the same but the matter gets reconfigured. E.g., when you put a new roof on the house.

Change requires stability. If there is not some unchanging form then we cannot talk about change.

3. How does Aristotle's reasoning provide an alternative to Parmenides?

Parmenides denied that change was real, because Being cannot come from Unbeing, since Unbeing cannot be thought (is nothing).

For Aristotle change is explained like this:
  Matter is eternal. So, change is not transitioning from "nothing" to something.

Change is explained by either: 1) matter taking on a different form; or 2) a form/substance changing accidentally.