Saturday, January 19, 2013

Athenian Form and Matter

We have got a dispute on our hands as to how properly (or best) to analyze reality, the world. Plato has the theory of Forms, Aristotle the theory of form and matter. What motivates their respective positions? Here is what I suggest. They were both familiar with the fact of human consciousness. For Plato the big question was: what to make of it. There are two items: sensory experience and thought. The question is: to which to accord primacy? Which furnishes knowledge? He reasoned that it can’t be the deliverances of sensory experience. They’re unstable. Their yield doesn’t deserve to be crowned knowledge. So it can only be thought, pure and unadulterated. Mathematical forms are, after all, quite stable. Now, as a process of human consciousness, thought is independent of sensory experience. (So Plato argued.) So the object of thought could be known in abstraction from the object of sensory experience. Thus the separation of Forms from terrestrial tangibles. Aristotle came along and kind of changed the subject. Human consciousness was taken as a given. It was the starting point. Hence, there was no compulsion to speculate about it. (It wasn’t worth speculating about, he held.) What was left to do was inquire as to its deliverances. What is found in consciousness are things, ones that are perceived through the senses. They are found to be analyzable as dually composed of form and matter. As goes the realm of tangibles, form is inseparable from matter.

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