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From potency to act: hyloenergeism

  • S.I.: Form, Structure and Hylomorphism
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Abstract

Many contemporary proponents of hylomorphism endorse a version of hylomorphism according to which the form of a material object is a certain kind of complex relation or structure. Structural approaches to form, however, seem not to capture form’s traditional role as the guarantor of diachronic identity, since more “dynamically complex” material objects, such as living organisms, seem to undergo, and survive, various structural changes over the course of their existence. As a result, some contemporary hylomorphists have looked to alternative, non-structural approaches to form. One of the leading non-structural approaches is the powers approach, according to which the form of a material object is a certain kind of power continuously activated in the object or in its material parts. In this paper, I begin by offering an overview and assessment of this powers approach to form. I argue that while the powers approach captures some crucial elements for understanding the nature of more dynamically complex material objects, when we press on the details of the view we find that it actually points to a related, but importantly distinct, third approach to understanding form, according to which the form of a material object is a certain kind of activity or process in which the material object or its parts are continuously engaged. I call this third approach “Hyloenergeism”. In the second half of the paper, I consider what such a view of material objects might look like and what its principal virtues might be.

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Notes

  1. See, for example: Brower (2014), Evnine (2016), Fine (1999), Jaworski (2016b), Johnston (2006), Koons (2014), Koslicki (2008), Marmodoro (2013), Oderberg (2007), Rea (2011), Sattig (2015) and Toner (2008, 2011a, b, 2013). See, also, the essays found in the April 2014 issue of Res Philosophica.

  2. See, for example: Fine, “Things and Their Parts”; Jaworski, Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind; Johnston, “Hylomorphism”; Koslicki, The Structure of Objects. I include Jaworski here among those that espouse a structural approach to form, since he uses the language of structure to describe his view, often speaking of the form of a material object as the “configuration”, “organization”, or “arrangement” of its parts. As we will see, however, what Jaworski means by ‘structure’ turns out to be very different from what others who espouse this sort of approach have in mind.

  3. Perhaps if some of Nico’s larger material parts are functionally defined then there will be a sense in which Nico continues to possess the same heart or the same lungs, but even in this case, it seems that none of the smaller material parts that compose those organs will have remained throughout.

  4. On Fine’s account, for example, the principal formal component of a “variable embodiment”, the type of material object that can survive at least a certain amount of variation in its material and structural parts, turns out to be neither a relation nor a structure, but a quasi-mathematical function [Fine, “Things and Their Parts”, pp. 68–69 (For a similar functionalist approach to form, see Roudaut (2018)]. And, as we’ll see, on Jaworski’s account, the formal “structures” of certain complex material objects, such as living organisms, are best understood, not as relations or as configurations of matter, but as “activities” that the material constituents of such objects undergo, or the “patterns of interaction” that such complexes exhibit (see, for example: Jaworski, Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind, p. 14–15). Even Koslicki backs off from the claim that the structures of objects are to be identified with any particular relations that hold between their parts at the end of her The Structure of Objects (p. 252). Other non-structural approaches to understanding the nature of form can be found in: Koons, “Stalwart vs. Faint-Hearted Hylomorphism”; Marmodoro, “Aristotle’s Hylomorphism without Reconditioning”; Oderberg (2014); Rea, “Hylomorphism Reconditioned”.

  5. The term ‘hyloenergeism’ is, like ‘hylomorphism’, a combination of two Greek words found in the texts of Aristotle. In the present case, the two words are ‘hyle’, which is often translated as ‘matter’, and ‘energeia’, which is sometimes translated as ‘activity’. Hyloenergeism, then, is the view that material objects are comprised of matter and activity, with activity playing the role of form. I owe the inspiration for this view, as well as its name, to Steen (2005), and his “Bare Objects, Ordinary Objects, and Mereological Essentialism”, Unpublished Manuscript, wherein Steen both introduces and names the view. Steen also suggests that such a view can be found in the later work of Roderick Chisholm (see Steen 2008). To be clear, Hyloenergeism, as a third approach, is meant to serve as an alternative to both structural and powers approaches to understanding the nature of form.

  6. The articles from which I will be drawing Rea’s account include: Brower and Rea (2005), Rea (2010, 2011).

  7. Rea, “Hylomorphism and the Incarnation”, p. 138; Rea, “Hylomorphism Reconditioned”, pp. 353–354.

  8. Rea, “Hylomorphism Reconditioned”, p. 346.

  9. Rea, “Hylomorphism Reconditioned”, p. 348. How a fundamental power can be the actualization of some other potentiality while still being fundamental is not exactly clear, however. Koons raises this worry for Rea’s account at pp. 158–159 of his “Staunch vs. Faint-Hearted Hylomorphism”.

  10. Rea, “Hylomorphism Reconditioned”, pp. 348–349.

  11. Rea, “Hylomorphism Reconditioned”, pp. 349–350.

  12. The articles and books from which I will be drawing for Jaworski’s account include: Jaworski (2011, 2012a, b, 2013, 2014a, b, 2016a, b, 2017).

  13. Jaworski speaks of composite material objects as “consisting” of form and matter in several places, including Jaworski, Philosophy of Mind, p. 170. It is only in his Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind, pp. 327–329, that he explicitly rejects a mereological construal of hylomorphism.

  14. See, for example, Jaworski, Philosophy of Mind, p. 272; Jaworski, “Hylomorphism: What It Is and What It Isn’t”, p. 173; Jaworski, Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind, pp. 1, 8; Jaworski, “Hylomorphism: Emergent Properties”, p. 41; Jaworski, “Psychology”, p. 264.

  15. See, for example, Jaworski, “Swinburne, p. 181; Jaworski, Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind, pp. 14–15, 95; Jaworski, “Hylomorphism: Emergent Properties”, pp. 42–43; Jaworski, “Psychology”, p. 264.

  16. Jaworski, Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind, pp. 94, 97; Jaworski, “Hylomorphism: Emergent Properties”, p. 46; Jaworski, “Psychology”, pp. 268–269.

  17. Jaworski, “Swinburne”, p. 189; Jaworski, Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind, p. 97; Jaworski, “Hylomorphism: Emergent Properties”, p. 47. See also, Jaworski, “Psychology”, p. 269.

  18. Jaworski, Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind, pp. 14–15.

  19. Jaworski, Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind, p. 104. See also: Jaworski, “Hylomorphism: What It Is and What It Isn’t”, p. 182; Jaworski, “Powers, Structures, and Minds”, p. 157; Jaworski, “Hylomorphism and Resurrection”, p. 212; Jaworski, Philosophy of Mind, p. 280; Jaworski, “Hylomorphism: Emergent Properties”, p. 48–49.

  20. Jaworski, “Swinburne”, p. 182.

  21. Jaworski, “Swinburne”, p. 193; Jaworski, “Hylomorphism: Emergent Properties”, pp. 48–49; Jaworski, “Psychology”, pp. 270–271.

  22. The articles from which I will be drawing Marmodoro’s account include: Marmodoro and Austin (2017), Marmadoro (2009, 2013, 2017a, b).

  23. See, for example, Marmodoro, “Aristotle’s Hylomorphism”.

  24. Marmodoro, “Power Mereology”, pp. 113–114.

  25. The following is drawn from Marmodoro, “Power Mereology”, pp. 121–122.

  26. Marmodoro, “Powers Mereology”, p. 121–123. Marmodoro uses the language of constitution here to describe the relationship between a material object and its form, though she does not explain exactly what she means by this, or whether she intends to be using this language in the same way that it is often used in the literature on material constitution.

  27. Marmodoro, “Power Mereology”, p. 113–114; Marmodoro, “Aristotelian Powers”, p. 62.

  28. Marmodoro, “Power Mereology”, p. 112; Marmodoro, “Aristotelian Powers”, pp. 57, 59, 60, 63.

  29. Marmodoro, “Power Mereology”, pp. 111–112; Marmodoro, “Aristotelian Powers”, p. 60.

  30. Marmodoro, “Aristotelian Powers”, pp. 60–61.

  31. Marmodoro, “Do Powers Need Powers”.

  32. See, for example, Marmodoro, “Power Mereology”, pp. 113–114.

  33. Marmodoro, “Structural Powers”, p. 173.

  34. Marmodoro, “Structural Powers”, p. 172.

  35. Brower and Rea, “Material Constitution”, p. 60; Rea, “Hylomorphism and the Incarnation”, pp. 141–141; Rea, “Hylomorphism Reconditioned”, pp. 349–350.

  36. Jaworski, Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind, p. 104.

  37. Jaworski, Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind, p. 105; Jaworski, “Swinburne”, p. 193; Jaworski, “Hylomorphism: Emergent Properties”, p. 49. See also, Jaworski, “Psychology”, p. 269.

  38. Marmodoro, “Aristotle’s Hylomorphism”, p. 17.

  39. Marmodoro, “Structural Powers”, p. 171.

  40. Marmodoro, “Structural Powers”, p. 172.

  41. Jaworski, “Psychology”, p. 268.

  42. Jaworski, Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind, p. 105.

  43. Marmodoro, “Power Mereology”, p. 112.

  44. Marmodoro, “Aristotelian Powers”, p. 59.

  45. Marmodoro, “Aristotelian Powers”, p. 62.

  46. Koons, “Stalwart vs. Faint-Hearted Hylomorphism”, p. 159. Koons seems to have distanced himself from this earlier process view in more recent works, however. See, for example, Koons (2018).

  47. Austin (2017). For an interpretation of Aristotle in which form is identified with activity, see: Kosman (2013).

  48. For some (somewhat) recent attempts to enumerate all of the different species of occurrence, see, for example: Vendler (1967): Chapter 4, Kenny (1963): Chapter 8, Mourelatos (1978), Karmo (1982), Steward (1997), Galton (2012).

  49. This is not to say that occurrences are not ultimately reducible to members of these other categories. I myself do not think that they are so reducible, but here I mean only to suggest that we can start by distinguishing occurrences from objects, stuffs, properties, powers, and relations in order to better understand their nature.

  50. For a helpful overview of the progressive aspect and the various ways in which it contrasts with the perfective aspect, see: Szabo (2004, 2008).

  51. What follows is based on a category scheme for occurrences first introduced by Zeno Vendler (Vendler, Linguistics and Philosophy, Chapter Four) and Anthony Kenny (Kenny, Action, Emotion, and Will, pp. 171–186). See also: Mourelatos, “Events, Processes, and States”.

  52. We might wonder whether any occurrence could ever be completely homogeneous such that any way of dividing that occurrence would result in an occurrence of the same sort. If someone is engaged in the activity of running for half an hour, for example, we might wonder whether it is right to say that the activity of running is occurring at every second or every millisecond during that half hour, even if it is right to say that it is occurring at every minute. [For some examples of this sort of worry for this sort of analysis of activities, see: Gill (1993), Crowther (2011)] I think that someone sympathetic to this account could insist that an activity like running is indeed occurring even at these very small intervals, even if it would be hard to tell precisely what is occurring during that very small interval if we were to inspect it in isolation from the rest. But he or she might also say that homogeneity is always a matter of degree, and activities are those occurrences that have at least a high degree of homogeneity, i.e., can be divided into very small “parts” that are of the same kind or nature as the “whole”.

  53. It should be noted that Vendler himself does not use the language of “telicity” here. The terms “telic” and “atelic”, now standard in these sorts of discussions, were first introduced by Garey (1957), at p. 106. It is clear from the passage above, however, that Vendler did have this sort of distinction in mind. For more on the distinction between telic and atelic occurrences, see, for example: Kroll (2015).

  54. See: Steward (2012, 2013, 2015).

  55. See: Stout (1996, 1997, 2003, 2016).

  56. Steward, “What is a Continuant?”, p. 114.

  57. Steward, Ontology of Mind, pp. 94–95, 96, 99. See also: Steward, “What is a Continuant?”, pp. 119–120.

  58. Steward, Ontology of Mind, pp. 94–95, 96.

  59. Steward, “What is a Continuant?”, pp. 113–114. See also: Steward, “Actions as Processes”, pp. 383–384. That events, strictly speaking, do not and cannot change precisely for the reasons that Steward cites, is a widely held view. See for example: Dretske (1967), Hacker (1982), Lombard (1986).

  60. Steward, “What is a Continuant?”, p. 121.

  61. Steward, “Processes, Continuants, and Individuals”, pp. 792–793; Steward, “What is a Continuant?”, pp. 117–118, 121–122.

  62. Steward may have in mind here something like Jaegwon Kim’s analysis of events, in which the particular time at which an event occurs is essential to its identity (see, for example, Kim 1976). Whether events are indeed modally fragile in this way is, of course, a matter of some debate. I think Steward’s point is just that there appears to be at least one species of occurrence that is modally fragile in this way, and she simply chooses to call such occurrences events.

  63. Steward, “Actions as Processes”, p. 383; Steward, “Processes, Continuants, and Individuals”, pp. 805–807.

  64. Stout, Things that Happen as They Should, p. 47.

  65. Stout, Things that Happen as They Should, pp. 48-49. See also: Stout, “Processes”, pp. 21–22.

  66. Stout, “The Life of a Process”, p. 151; Stout, “Occurrent Continuants”, p. 10.

  67. Stout, Things that Happen as They Should, pp. 53–54. See also: Stout, “Processes”, pp. 24–26; Stout, “The Life of a Process”, pp. 152–153.

  68. Thus the title of his 2016 paper. In his “The Life of a Process”, Stout calls them “dynamic continuants”. Other proponents of this sort of view of processes include Galton (2008), Galton and Mizoguchi (2009) and Charles (2015, 2018).

  69. For some examples of “pure process” ontologies, see, for example: Broad (1933), Whitehead (1978), Sellars (1981), Rescher (1995, 2001, 2006), Seibt (2000, 2004, 2009, 2012).

  70. Hyloenergeism’s answer to the “Special Composition Question” is, thus, very similar to that offered by van Inwagen (1990), but it also leaves open the possibility that there are other kinds of activities or processes in which material objects can participate besides lives that would allow them to compose things larger than themselves. Van Inwagen is also explicit in his understanding of activities as complex, multi-grade relations, whereas hyloenergeism is committed to the claim that the sorts of activities or processes upon which its account of material objects is based are of an altogether different ontological category. I say a bit more about this commitment, and some reasons for why hyloenergeists might insist on it below.

  71. There is room here for a version of hyloenergeism that follows Steward’s account of processes, in which activities or processes do have temporal parts, and thus perdure rather than endure. Such a view would have the advantage of not being committed to Stout’s idiosyncratic views on the nature and identity of processes. The main reason that I have argued for a hyloenergeic account of material objects in which activities or processes do not have temporal parts is to leave room for an endurantist account of the persistence of material objects. For if activities or processes necessarily possess temporal parts, and the persistence of a material object is grounded in the persistence of an activity or process, then I do not see how that material object could be said to endure through time. My goal here is simply to argue that by placing a certain kind of occurrence at the heart of material objects, hyloenergeism is not thereby committed to perdurantism. Readers sympathetic to hyloenergeism who are not at all worried about perdurantism, however, can easily adapt the account to follow Steward’s views on the nature and identity of processes.

  72. The fact that the very same activity or process can remain throughout, and might even require, various changes (and sometimes significant changes) in the various relations that hold between the objects that participate in it is perhaps the main reason for why we should think that activities or processes are not simply complex, multi-grade relations. For in such case it seems that there is no persisting relation with which the activity or process could be identified. Now, perhaps I am wrong about that. A hyloenergeist could reply that even if it turned out that the sorts of activities or processes that I have been discussing in this paper are really just very complicated relations, it would seem that they would still have to be a very special sort of relation to be able to survive and dictate such radical structural changes. And whatever special sort of relation can do that, that is what a form is, on the proposed view.

  73. One of the key questions left unexplored in this paper is how precisely the parts of a material object, together with the particular activity or process in which they are engaged, “give rise to” or “produce” the whole of which they are parts. I think that a hyloenergeist has two options here. The first option, the “preservationist” option, would hold that when certain material objects come to participate in a certain activity or process they then compose a numerically distinct composite whole of which those very same objects are now proper parts. The second option, the “annihilationist” option, would hold that when certain material objects come to participate in a certain activity or process they themselves cease to exist, but also bring into existence some entirely new composite material object with all new material parts the nature of which is such that they are essentially engaged in the relevant activity or process. I think that Jaworski would prefer the preservationist option (see, for example, Jaworski, Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind, pp. 116–123), while Marmodoro would prefer the annihilationist option (see, for example, Marmodoro, “Hylomorphism without Reconditioning”, pp. 15–19). I am not sure which option Rea would prefer, but my guess is the former.

  74. I would like to thank Jonathan Jacobs, Susan Brower-Toland, Eleonore Stump, Fr. Ted Vitali, and two anonymous referees for helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.

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Skrzypek, J.W. From potency to act: hyloenergeism. Synthese 198 (Suppl 11), 2691–2716 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11229-019-02089-w

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