Chapter 2
Matter in Depths

1. An increasing tendency to revertto Aristotle's notion of matter in the light of the recent gainsof physics has been lately noticed. In his Physics1 and Metaphysics2, Aristotle advanced a more profound and subtler concept of matterthan the concepts of substances known in the universe. This conceptis more profound, as Professor Patrick Suppes at the StanfordUniversity (California, USA)3righteously noticed, for it goes beyond the ultimate appearanceof elementary particles. The crisis in the physics of elementaryparticles is largely responsible for the reassessment of Aristotle'sconcept of matter. Patrick Suppes observes that: "We canadopt an Aristotelian theory of matter as pure potentiality. Thesearch for elementary particles that are simple and homogeneousand that are the building blocks in some spatial sense of theremaining elements of the universe is a mistake"4.Suppes considers that Aristotle's concept of matter is fairlyimportant inasmuch as it gives a mode of cogitating physical phenomena.Indeed, it is sufficient to think of the crisis in the field ofelementary particle physics and the discovery of black holes5in the field of astrophysics to realize that we need a more comprehensiveunderstanding of matter.
Social phenomena do not require a revisionof our understanding of matter; the social cannot in itself dictatea revision of our ontological edifice. However, if science happensto impose a revision of the philosophical concept of matter in terms of philosophical details rather than in terms of materiality,then a new ontological construction may have multifold effects.Science will no doubt be the first to bear these effects, focusingon aspects that might be validated or not. Second, man's outlookon the material world and on himself will likewise be influenced.These influences may in their turn give rise to new cultural grounds in regard of the social life, and new views on the role of societyin the material world. For man is equally open to action, to socialaspects, and to cognition and the relation with the prime realitiesof the existence. If by extricating from man what is similar tothe automaton and artificial intelligence, leaving something aside,we obtain a new model on man, and if this model is largely known,then this new model will no doubt bear on the social phenomena.

2. Let us examine now Aristotle's conceptof matter. Contemplating the thingsin nature or thosecreated by man, Aristotle observes that they consist of substanceand form, like a bronze statue. The elementary substances,which many philosophers of the Ancient Greece identified withwater, fire and earth, consist in their turn of a profounder primesubstance and of form. In Aristotle's view the prime substanceis matter. The substances in the universe are subjects,which arise with space, time, quantity and quality:

"But there are different senses of 'comingto be'. In some cases we do not use the expression 'come to be',but 'come to be so-and-so'. Only substances are said to "cometo be' in the unqualified sense.

Now in all cases other than substance it isplain that there must be some subject, namely, that which becomes.For we know that when a thing comes to be of such a quantity orquality or in such a relation, or place, a subject is always presupposed,since substance alone is not predicated of another subject, but everything else of substance..."6 .
Matter is a principle (Physics, I,7, 191a) whereas simple elements like the fire, the water, theair are not principles (Metaphysics, I, 8, 988b),but as substances their substratum is matter, understood "notas what is determined in actuality but in potentiality" (Metaphysics, VIII, 1, 1042a); "matter exists potentially, just becausein certain circumstances it will proceed into its formed state,and it is in its formed state only when it is in actuality" (Metaphysics, IX,8, 1050a); "neither matter nor form are subject to generation" (Metaphysics, XII,3, 1069b), only substances are generated and perish and so doall the things which consist of substances and forms.
With Aristotle, matter is a profound substance,it is a substratum. Matter is the substratum of change. It ispotential and devoid of attributes. It is made evident by meansof a form, and so Aristotle finds it to be barely definable.

The substance in the universe andnature has matter and form.

Aristotle finds that the thesis on a uniqueprinciple of existence is untenable. Indeed, the world is notthat simple in his view, to be reduced to only one principle.Nor do the form or the matter exhibit accomplished simplicity.However, we shall not find too many prime principles (the infiniteis impossible quaactuality or as a number of principles),but only two or three:

"Granted, then, that they are a limitednumber, it is plausible to suppose them more than two. ... Onethey cannot be, for there cannot be one contrary. Nor can theybe innumerable, because, if so, Being will not be knowable ..." (Physics, I, 6, 189a).
Aristotle considers these principles to be form, privation (formlessness) and substratum (matter).We would have expected these prime principles to be only formand matter, but Aristotle seeks to solve also the problem of thecontrariety between not-existence and existence. He regards privation(formlessness) as non-existence. With this, the dilemma raisedby the paradox of existence seems to be solved but only underthe rules established by thought, as a play upon words. In defectof forms, or of forms applied to matter, we may speak of not-existence,of which something is still left: the prime matter. Not-existenceis a word, the state of not-existence is described in terms of physics qua "privation". Hence, not-existenceis still existence but more involved in profundities though onlyas a potential existence.

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