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He who does not realize that mistakes can be made, will never learn something other than applications
Gregory Bateson, Mind and Nature
(about intellectual freedom)
Always allow ourselves and our colleagues to be crazy enough.
The World will tell us if we are right or wrong.
Stuart Kauffman, At home in the universe.
(And it is easily seen whether the researcher is serious or not)
The investigation into the Substance-Accident Structure of Things will be carried out purely thematically in the Non-classical Series of Essays and in the Critical Series of Essays, and, with strong emphasize on classical texts, in the Classical Series of Essays.
The present Essay and the next one will be devoted to about the same issues as has been laid down in the previous Essay on General Considerations, but now in much more detail. The next Essay, the Status Quaestionis is devoted to similar research done by other recent authors. The reader, can however skip these two Essays without any drawback in understanding the rest of this website.
Starting point, subject, and inspiration of the whole investigation carried out on this website is the Thomistic Substance-Accident Metaphysics and (the idea of) its further development.
For an easy introduction see the Essay On Being and Essence.
We spoke about the Essay on General Considerations. Here it is useful to supplement them with a general formulation of our problem that anticipates and introduces the contents of especially the present Essay.
General Formulation of the Problem investigated on this Website
Already the very beginnings of Man's philosophical ponderings about the World concerned the general quest for 'the essence of things'.
By some this essence was thought to be outside the things themselves, abiding in a special domain. This domain was supposed to host the collection of the pure 'Ideas' of those things, as PLATO called them. His pupil ARISTOTLE, on the other hand, tried to locate those Ideas within the things themselves, and developed his Substance-Accident Metaphysics. The essence or Substance of the thing was (supposed to be) that in virtue of which the thing is what it is. It is the intrinsic cause of the (specific identity of the) thing. It causes the thing to be a unity all by itself. This essence or Substance remains the same under all kinds of extrinsic changes.
Inspired by the experience of being an individual human being, and (inspired) by the subject-predicate structure of the language (which expresses in some way the basic ontological constitution of things) Aristotle considered each individual uniform thing to be constituted of several ontological parts, which are themselves not things, but that together cause the thing to be a thing.
Along these lines a metaphysics came into being that impressed later philosophers, especially St Thomas Aquinas. He developed it further, in order to obtain a rationale for the Christian Faith.
After him this metaphysics – or ontology, i.e. a theory of being(s) – became more or less mixed up with the emerging Natural Science. Purely ontological questions were confused with questions in Natural Science (and sometimes also with epistemological questions, concerning as they do, questions about our way of acquiring knowledge). And because of these confusions, the classical Aristotelian ontology was discredited.
Modern Aristotelian and Thomistic scolars, however, began to rethink the old theory of being, realizing that such a theory does belong to a different domain as scientific theories do.
Of course they are connected in some way, because they both study the same reality, but their viewpoints and intentions are different.
My website wants to continue this rethinking of the Aristotelian-Thomistic theory of being(s), i.e. the classical Substance-Accident Metaphysics.
It investigates whether such a metaphysics is still thematically possible, after we have learned so much about the World, and if so how to adapt it to modern standards.
One such modern standard is the demand that the results of Natural Science, insofar as they can be considered correct, can be seen as specifications of a general metaphysics. And the question is whether that metaphysics could be the one proposed along the lines of Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas, or some other metaphysics.
And although Natural Science is about material processes and relations, and less about things as things, it can (nowadays) contribute a lot to an understanding of what a uniform thing – as uniform thing – should be. That a Substance-Accident Metaphysics is still thematically possible is one of the theses of this Website. And that indeed Natural Science can contribute to such a metaphysics of being(s) is another thesis of this Website. Our investigation is looking for the seat of the essence of a thing, its specific identity. It tries to make the nature of such an essence explicit. And because it recognizes such an essence as a real ontological component, it opposes Nominalism. For the same reason it opposes pure reductionism. However, the 'holism' it defends is some sort of 'bottom-up' holism (This seems to be a contradiction in terms, but it isn't. It is holism because and insofar as it recognizes an essence that pervades the whole thing). The investigation presented here considers uniform things ('Totalities') versus aggregates. It considers essential determinations versus replaceable determinations (Accidents), and it considers the individuation of things versus universality. An updated Substance-Accident Metaphysics will finally be developed partly along classical lines, but for an important part of it along the lines of modern dynamical systems theory.
We will now deal with the following questions concerning the nature of the present philosophical investigation (carried out throughout this website) in more detail :
What is the Investigation about?
The investigation concerns the possibility or impossibility of a Substance-Accident Structure of THINGS, based on certain results laid down in several classical philosophical texts and also on the basis of recent knowledge concerning the (fundamental) constitution of THINGS.
Which part of the total domain of entities is covered by the investigation, and which part is not? The investigation is first of all supposed to cover THINGS.
Which entities then are considered to be THINGS, and which are not?
I will try to expound this in the following.
First of all the investigation limits itself to material (s.l. [ NOTE 1 ]) entities, and / or entities insofar as they are material, or entities which could perhaps be interpreted as material. Hence we avoid a preconceived sharp distinction between matter and mind. So we limit ourselves to material things. Of course we shall speak about immaterial entities as well in the course of our investigation, but they are only involved in the investigation : They are (immaterial) principles found IN THINGS, and THINGS are the true subject of the investigation.
In Metaphysics immaterial THINGS are also investigated (or at least sought for), namely the so called Separate Entities, which are subsistent entities without matter. Our investigation will however not deal with such entities.
Let us now proceed to expound what we understand to be (material) things
Material things come in many varieties and levels. How are they constituted? We all have heard of electrons, protons, neutrons, mesons, atoms, molecules, and perhaps also of quantum fields and (fundamental) energy quanta. All these are fundamental in constituting macroscopic objects, i.e. macroscopic things. Should then our investigation about the Substance-Accident Structure of things naturally include (the study of) these electrons, protons, etc. as well? Or is such an inclusion perhaps not necessary or even irrelevant, because these enities are -- as it seems -- not real beings, but deficient beings? Let's try to answer these questions.
All macroscopic material systems are finally composed of quantum systems (submicroscopic systems). Even the Universe has, according to the most recent theory, originated at the quantum level, i.e. its very beginning was submicroscopic in size.
Quantum entities are entities at the lowest structural level. They comprise 'elementary particles', quantum fields, etc. They form the submicroscopic domain of Reality (s. l.), and are described by Quantum theory in the form of a mathematical quantitative evaluation of experiments and observations relating to this submicroscopical domain. All this results in a very abstract mathematical formalism.
A macroscopic Totality, i.e. a macroscopic thing, (ultimately) originates in virtue of collective behavior of quantum entities. The behavior of those entities is always directed towards one or another larger Whole (first of all, and immediately, towards a 'first-order' macroscopic Totality). Such first-order macroscopic Totalities themselves can again engage in a state of strong mutual interaction, in such a way that these macroscopic parts themselves are directed towards a new Whole, a still larger Whole (a larger-scale Totality, a second-order macroscopic Totality), and so on. In this way the whole range of macroscopical entities is formed ( NOTE 2 ).
However, one of these transitions from parts into Wholes, namely the first one mentioned, stands out clearly : It is the transition from quantum entities to first-order macroscopic entities. Quantum entities (these are the subatomic entities) turn out to have a weakened degree of reality. True reality only originates by an harmonious aggregation of many, very many indeed, quantum entities. In this way macroscopic things in their concreteness, and even perhaps space and time themselves, are so-called emergent phenomena, that originate when certain size limits are exceeded by the increase of the number of partaking quantum entities, which will engage in complex interaction. We can speak of a generation of Reality, because quantum entities all by themselves lack a full, i.e. complete, determination. And, real Being is, according to me, fully determined Being. That's why there must be macroscopic entities in a universe as ours, in order for Reality to reach, i.e. arrive, above the 'uncertainty noise' of the quanta, just like they also must get above the thermodynamic fluctuation noise, in order to be THINGS (The latter applies especially to organisms).
So Reality is an emergent phenomenon, originating from in-a-weaker-way-existing quantum entities and their mutual interactions. And although this quantum world is in a sense unreal, it generates, on the basis of collectivity, Reality, i.e. it generates THINGS (For further evidence concerning the deficient being of quantum entities, see the Essay on Quantum Mechanics).
The first- and second-, but especially the still higher-order macroscopic Totalities [In this context already atoms are macroscopic, or, perhaps better, they, and also in a sense the (smaller) molecules, form the region of transition between the true microscopic and macroscopic domains.], each for themselves have a definite own identity, their whatness. And despite the fact that higher-order entities are constituted by first-, or subordinated higher-order entities, they are not those entities. The harmonious aggregation of elements results in a new identity. This whatness is not something coming from without, it is wholly supported by the elements, and, ultimately by the quantum level, despite the fact that the relevant calculations, serving to predict the qualities of a macroscopical object totally from that quantum level, turn out to involve enormous difficulties (these difficulties are already apparent in the study of heavier atoms).
But despite these difficulties such an assumption of the appearance of macroscopic properties and things, ultimately and totally from the quantum level, is at least a reasonable working hypothesis.
If indeed Reality only appears at a higher scale-level, then the domain of Metaphysics -- being a theory of Reality -- should be limited to this higher scale-level, because only really existing things are its subject (or, object, as is nowadays said). The interaction of the quantum objects results, as has been said, in (the appearance of) Reality, i.e. in the appearance of complete determination.
To figure out in what way this happens is the business of Physics.
In my view of Metaphysics these submicroscopical interactions need not to be studied as such, they should be taken for granted, and interpreted as constitutive for something to be real. This generation of reality is, to be sure, a physical process, studied in Quantum Mechanics and Cosmology.
All this entails, however, the following problem :
Metaphysics is supposed to study things in the sense of real beings, and it does so by tracking down immanent causes (if a Platonic philosophy is dismissed). These causes are themselves not things, but principles (whatever this means) of things.
But in the above sketched scenario of Quantum Mechanics it is also attempted to indicate non-real entities causing real entities. What is the difference?
As I stated in NOTE 1 radiation energy is ontologically interpreted as being material, because it is accessible to observation and experiment. To carry out such observations and experiments macroscopical equipment is needed, which means that those quantum entities are apparently able to interact with macroscopic objects. And this indeed constitutes the difference with the immanent causes found by Metaphysics. These immanent causes are just principles which cannot by their very nature interact with macroscopic objects, they are not material.
So the interactions of a great many quantum entities are the physical causes of real things, i.e. they actually create things-having-now-their-principles-making-them-completely-definite-and-determined. Of course Quantum Mechanics, which studies the quantum interactions, also discovers principles, namely the quantum laws governing those interactions. And those principles themselves are immaterial too.
But these quantum mechanical laws are inherently statistical in nature, so they do not fully determine the quantum events. So by the same reason as was stated above they will not represent metaphysical principles, which should be definite, complete determinants.
The interactions at higher scale-levels, i.e. interactions between first-order macroscopic beings (for example interactions between atoms) or between higher-order macroscopic beings, play an analogous role. They can generate intrinsic Totalities by unifying smaller intrinsic Totalities (which then lose much of their individuality or are even transformed into mere qualities of the new Whole). But they already operate totally within the domain of true reality, and should be considered by Metaphysics insofar as the degree of unity of their products is to be assessed. This assessment discriminates between aggregates and genuine Totalities on the basis of the relation between the mixtum and its elements, or in other words, on the basis of the way of being of the elements in the mixtum.
Macroscopical interactions between parts (elements) turn out to appear in several degrees, implying that Totalities -- Substances -- come in several degrees too. And this means that there will be many things that give the impression of being true Substances while in fact they turn out not to be so on further scrutinity. The same applies to being-an-individual, because individuality is inseparably connected with being-a-Substance (and with being-a-Totality).
So the investigation is first of all about THINGS, i.e. real beings, and it tries to assess which things are true Totalities, i.e. Substances, and which are not. In the latter case they are just aggregates, penultimately aggregates of true Substances (and, like all things, ultimately of quantum entities). And it is those THINGS, which are true Substances, that are the very subject (object) of the present Investigation. And with respect to those things that are true Substances it is asked in what degree they are such. Such Substances are, as will now be clear, macroscopic objects, like organisms and crystals [ Almost all mesoscopic inorganic real beings, that can be considered (single) Substances (in the metaphysical sense), are crystals]. However the investigation will not exclude atoms and molecules, which belong to the transition region between true quantum entities and true macroscopic real things. Stars and the like (but not planets and satellites) are certainly true Substances, but we will not deal with them by reason of keeping our investigation between limits.
The present investigation will moreover attempt to assess the status of Accidents and Propria (i.e. genuine properties) and of course their relations to Substance, in organisms (including man) and crystals. In doing so we will perhaps be able to locate the Essence of those beings.
So our investigation is first of all about the beingness of crystals and organisms, and to a lesser extend about the beingness of atoms and molecules, and starts from one of the best treatments of Substance and Accidents ever written, namely the one by St Thomas Aquinas. We will confront it with the nominalistic critique, and test it, by thinking it through still further, taking into account our present empirical knowledge about the constitution of the different kinds of things (This knowledge is provided by Natural Science).
A revision of the Substance-Accident Metaphysics will be the result, leaving however the discussion open in all directions.
An interesting and important aspect of such a revision I already touched upon : Totalities, Substances, consist of a harmonious aggregation, a cooperative interaction, of parts, resulting in a macroscopic (or submacroscopic) identity, i.e. a new Whole with its own identity, its own whatness.
In Classical Metaphysics, however, this identity is reduced to the substantial form as (intrinsic) cause. Unity, Identity and Being is enjoyed by such a form in an unqualified way and moreover in the strongest degree, and it communicates them first of all to the Matter-Form composite, and then to the Substance-Accident composite, i.e. the really existing thing. The substantial form is that something in a thing, in virtue of which that thing is a thing-with-identity-X, and this, namely X, it itself ( = the substantial form) is, i.e. exists, -- according to Classical Metaphysics -- in the strongest degree.
[The Identity of Socrates, (just) insofar as determining Socrates to be a human being -- thus not insofar as it itself exists -- is called HUMANITY in Classical Metaphysics. So HUMANITY determines, it is true, Socrates to be a human being, but only in the sense that without it he is not a human being.]
But a substantial form so taken, i.e. as a cause, turns out not to be found in things. We find it as effect, indeed as an effect of cooperative interactions at a low structural level (This lower level is in most cases still macroscopic or submacroscopical). Even a scholastic author like P. HOENEN already speaks about "totality-resultants".
The only remnant of the causal nature of the substantial form is the ordering of the parts and their interactions towards the Whole (the thing, Totality, concerned). Hence this Whole is in a sense determining the cooperative interactions of the parts. The Whole is, in a sense, presupposed by its parts.
And this is the reason why in this investigation so much thought is devoted to the way-of-being of the elements in the mixtum, to the totality view and to structural levels.
Although the scope of the present investigation is large, it cannot claim any completeness, in fact precisely because of this large scope.
The investigation, here presented, into the ontological status of macroscopic (in the sense defined) things (including process structures) enjoying intrinsic unity -- and as such then interpreted as Substances, needs to cover the entire domain of Reality. Naturally this is impossible in the course of a single actually performed investigation, the domain being much too vast.
So we are forced to exclude a number of items. Among these are the domains of the psychological, the social and the speculative theological, some relevant philosophical investigations performed earlier, like the one by Nicolai HARTMANN and the one by WHITEHEAD, but also a treatment of important fundamental scientific theories like Quantum Mechanics (and its several interpretations -- a modest attention to Quantum Mechanics is given in the Essay on Quantum Mechanics) and Relativity Theory, and also the Theory of Organic Evolution, and indeed the Theory of the Origin of the Universe itself (Big Bang Theory).
Relevant postmedieval philosophical texts are left out too, in virtue of the limitations imposed by myself.
Incompleteness is unavoidable.
Seen in this way not every philosophical system of earlier times is obsolete beforehand. And this is especially true of a certain variety of a metaphysics of Being, namely the Classical Substance-Accident Metaphysics developed by Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas. The assumption that this Metaphysics could still enjoy actuality in our times (of course not without corrections and extensions on the basis of recent insights) will be investigated on this website. However, to revive this brand of Metaphysics (also for those not inspired by Christian Theology) is not the only reason to perform the investigation. The motivation to do so, also comes from outside Classical Metaphysics. Indeed there are modern actual and interesting problems which do seem to demand a general updated metaphysics : For example the problem of the ontological status of Mathematics, i.e. of the mathematical structures objects and patterns, and the type of knowledge of these stuctures. In some circles these mathematical structures and knowledge are interpreted more or less in a kantian way, in other circles platonically, and again in other circles Mathematics is seen as just a tool, invented by us, in order to be able to study and describe the concrete physical world, or in order to design technical equipment like computers. In the 20th century this status was intensively discussed. Names like BROUWER, HILBERT, GöDEL, PENROSE, affirm this sufficiently. This discussion is far from concluded. A general theory of Being could certainly contribute to a solution, because it studies Being insofar as Being and can possibly discriminate between real Being and, say, ideal Being.
Also the ontological status of natural laws and natural constants is not clear (SHELDRAKE, 1985, 1988). Whether the World is or is not holistic, and if it is, in what way and to what extent, is also not clear. And the same applies to the long standing question about the status and place of Man in the Universe.
Further it is asked whether the World is of its nature continuous or discrete, and whether it is totally dynamic (BOHM, 1988), or just partly so.
And still much more questions arise : Does Reality (ultimately) consists of things or exclusively of processes, or just of relations? Is Reality inherently creative, or is everything already potentially present? Is only the submicroscopical (domain) fundamental (and real)? Does something like spirit, freedom and self-being exist? The status of computer simulations, relating to (the simulation of) life and intelligence, is an example of recent debate (EMMECHE, 1994, HOFSTADTER, 1979). Likewise the (ontological) status of cases such as 'virtual reality' is unclear (WOOLLEY, 1993).
I am convinced that an updated Classical Substance-Accident Metaphysics, which indeed is a theory of Being-as-such, can contribute in answering these interesting questions, or, expressed differently, that this Metaphysics is still relevant. This will be investigated on this website (but without attempting to anwer exhaustively every such question).
But also a revised metaphysics, as is attempted here, will not end up with final solutions for such problems, but it can give some more content to the relevant discussions. My experience, namely, tells me that many scientists, who take the trouble to reflect about their science philosophically (i.e. reflect about its results) have little knowledge of the true problems concerning Being, for which they are however not to blame, they are after all scientists. For Natural Science as such to be good science, it does not require that it steps outside its domain from time to time, in order to consider it from without (in contradistinction to Philosophy, which should do so).
The only thing I wish to achieve by doing my research is to provide a broader philosophical basis for answering the mentioned and related questions, and thereby making use of philosophical ideas about Being which stem from a time in which much thought was devoted to it.
At first sight, however, many modern results, which are of a fundamental nature, seem to oppose a metaphysics of Being as developed by Aristotle and St Thomas. Everywhere in my investigation I will point to them, and assess whether indeed such a metaphysics is just a historical curiosity, or that it contains some eternal truths, or results which could be further developed. With respect to this problem nothing can be proved, I just make an attempt to demonstrate that Classical Substance-Accident Metaphysics has an interesting and still relevant theme for everybody who wants to know more about the ultimate foundations of the World.
The status of this Metaphysics could, on the basis of my investigations, be summarized as follows :
The metaphysics of Being -- the Substance-Accident Metaphysics -- is in a certain sense "Anfangsgrund" ( = point of departure ) of Natural Science (and even of Logic), and in another sense an ontological interpretation of the results of Natural Science insofar as they are all encompassing, in which it is not dependent on the specific content of those results. Such a metaphysics of Being should however be able to include those results into itself as specifications (specifying its general considerations), or in other words, it should be compatible with, and, as it were, inclined towards, such specifications.
A Substance-Accident Structure is already presupposed, not demonstrated
In those texts, for example, In VII Met., lectio 3, nr. 1310--1314, where the determination of the Essence (i.e. which entities do and which do not have a true Essence, and thus, which entities are true Substances) is obtained from dialectical considerations (definitions -- of things -- as predicates of per se IS-propositions), the ontological distinction between Substance and Accident is already presupposed. The distinction between proper and non-proper definitions is -- in those texts -- based on that ontological distinction. Hence this distinction is indeed already stipulated, and the present investigation is -- among other things -- meant to test this stipulation. The ontological distinction between Substance and Accident is, it is true, taken (i.e. concluded) from the accidental change, but also here it is in fact already presupposed : Socrates is tanned (by the sun) : Here it is stipulated that Socrates, as being a human, has remained the same. But it could be imagined that something quite different (but not externally apparent) has originated in (and by) such a change (i.e. the tanning), which, however, (externally) is so similar to the previous situation that we are persuaded to indicate it with the same term. Hence it is not demonstrated that the change was only an accidental one.
The self-consciousness of whatever human being is, however, a strong hint to something remaining the same in such a change. So for Man the Substance-Accident scheme seems to be more or less demonstrated, and perhaps also with regard to the remaining organisms, but not with regard to the inorganic beings, although one attributes this scheme also to them.
This also was one of the reasons for having performed the present investigation.
A metaphysics, as proposed here, looks for the fundamentals of the material world (as defined in the first main section). But Natural Science pursues the same goal. What is the difference?
Natural Science attempts to relate the observable phenomena with each other within a theory which encompasses and explains all these phenomena. The most fundamental theories proposed by it are Quantum Mechanics and Relativity Theory. These two theories should be harmoniously combined. This effort is still going on. A definitive result is however not yet obtained.
A scientific theory not only should explain certain observed phenomena, for the treatment of which it is designed, it should also be able to make predictions regarding other observable and experimental phenomena. As long as it satisfies such empirical tests, it can remain to be accepted, otherwise it should be amended or rejected. The results of such theories are often mathematically expressed models. All the different models (modelling different phenomena) should finally comprise the whole of observable reality (including the indirectly -- via instruments -- observable phenomena, hence in the broadest sense of "observable"), thus also the life phenomena and the phenomena of consciousness.
In such scientific investigations dynamical processes are central. In it one tries to reduce all observed processes, in the form of a theory, to last (i.e. ultimate) process elements like quantum particles and fields. The (natural) restrictions (constraints) which prevail in the interactions between these basic units -- and with it also between the complex entities formed from such units -- are detected, and indicated as (fundamental) natural laws, in which, among others, a small number of natural constants play a role, entering the mathematical expression of those natural laws.
In Metaphysics -- and this investigation is concerned with the Substance-Accident Metaphysics -- Man (in the form of the experience of being a human being) is, in a sense, the point of departure, without thereby ending up into an anthropological consideration.
The phenomenon of being-a-human, being-a-person, is indeed the source of inspiration for a more general consideration dealing with to be an individual, to be an intrinsic Totality, self-being, existence, and also for a general consideration about the essential, and the accidental, about having an identity (a whatness), and so on.
So it is desired to extend the consideration, concerning those phenomena as experienced by humans with regard to their Being, mutatis mutandis to ALL real (versus ideal) beings. Or, in other words, one wants to see whether, and if so, in what way, these phenomena also occur in other real beings, thus whether they also have an identity, individuality, an intrinsic whatness and intrinsic unity, and what it means for them having accidents, and so on.
In all of this a 'what is it' question can also be asked with regard to every existing entity, thus not just about the entity "man", but also the entity "horse", "stonefly", "red", "paternity", "1.50 meter (long)", "cutting", "being cut", etc.
If one, starting with any such entity, keeps on asking, i.e. transforming the questioning into a recursive process by applying the (same) "what is it" question to each answer in turn, then one ends up with final (highest) genera. In Logic such genera are interpreted as the most general concepts (here : first intentions). In Metaphysics they are interpreted as the most fundamental ways of Being (within the sphere of real beings). When specified, these ways of being together form, in each separate case, a complete set of determination types making up the ('phenotypical') appearance of an individually existing being. Such a subsisting individual being, for instance Socrates, but also, say : the dog Dena, or an individual quartz crystal (pointed to with the finger), a Methane molecule, etc., will always be at the center of consideration within the Substance-Accident Metaphysics, and consequently at the center of the present investigation. This Metaphysics detects the constitutive and modal ontological principles of individual beings insofar as individual beings.
These individual beings are, it is true, also investigated in Natural Science, however not insofar as individual beings. In scientific considerations they figure as simple or complex elements in processes.
In the Substance-Accident Metaphysics the individual beings as such are the subject of the investigation, in the course of which one, as it were, descends into the core of such an individual being in order to detect intrinsic causes, which themselves are not individual beings (anymore). So the point of orientation always is the 'heart' of each thing, i.e. the thing looked at from within.
Despite this difference, as compared with Natural Science, in approaching Reality, this Metaphysics must incorporate a number of fundamental and other relevant results of Natural Science. This because ultimately they both investigate the same world anyway.
In the Non-classical Series of Essays, namely where Determinations (insofar as Determinations) are being dealt with, we will encounter a further difference between Metaphysics and Natural Science. There we shall see that the parts of a unified ('einheitliches') being, for instance of an organism, in a physical context (i.e. a physical approach) are (seen as) things, while in a metaphysical context (i.e. a metaphysical approach) they are not (seen as) things but determinations ( of that unified being). This, because Metaphysics indeed wants to express this aspect of unity in each being.
Natural Science, just a quantitative consideration?
In the present investigation much use will be made of results obtained by Natural Science. But isn't it so that because of this, our intended metaphysics would then turn into a purely quantitative consideration, or, at least would be contaminated with quantitative features, which, as one sometimes says, do not belong to Metaphysics? In other words, is then the method not kept pure anymore? Such questions arise because it is sometimes asserted that Natural Science approaches Reality only in a quantitative way, and that it consequently neglects the qualitative aspect in its entirety. However, this is not more than a -- often emotionally colored -- myth.
Material qualities always have (i.e. imply) an intrinsic quantitative pattern. This fact is already clearly expressed by the measurement of the intensity of a quality. When measuring the temperature, for instance, one makes use of the quantitative effect, which is the expression of the intrinsically quantitative in the qualitative : One measures the intensity on the basis of the increase in volume that a certain material undergoes when it is heated. This is the measurement by means of a thermometer. In virtue of such measurements and of the comparison of their results one obtains insight into an intrinsic feature of the relevant quality, resulting in itself becoming better known. Hence (the) quality is not neglected. Precisely because in Natural Science (ultimately) observation decides between right or wrong, the quantitative consideration should always refer to a qualitative one, which means that the quantitative consideration should be verified by observation, and observation directly relates to quality : The purely quantitative (if something like that would indeed exist in the real world) is not observable. Observability requires a certain factor to be present in the thing to be observed, and this factor we call the qualitative.
The quantitative and the qualitative interpenetrate completely, implying that nothing is omitted in a quantitative treatment, because this interpenetration is total.
Of course the ultimate 'essence' of the qualitative is not known by Natural Science, but this applies to the quantitative as well. Both cannot be truly defined.
For more about this see : HOENEN, 1947, philosophie der Anorganische Natuur, Chapter 4, pp. 195, and Van MELSEN, 1955, Natuurfilosofie, Chapter 5, pp. 245.
In the foregoing the general method is already outlined, resulting in the realization that the present investigation is not a scientific one, i.e an investigation not along the lines of Natural Science. Consequently the method does not consist in the triplet Induction--Deduction--Verification (by observation and experiment), but looks more like a contemplation, and an effort to determine the content of analogous concepts, like cause, being, form, matter, individual, etc. It is a systematic consideration of ontological principles, which, as was explained earlier, constitute an individual being as individual being.
Besides some results of Natural Science, the present investigation uses, to be sure, historical texts, but is not meant as an exegesis.
It also is not a historical research with respect to certain personalities or philosophical ideas. It is a thematical research. Its theme being the one expounded above.
The investigation takes its departure from a framework already laid down in Antiquity and Middle Ages, and tests whether this framework is specifiable in terms of modern data from, among others, Natural Science and Mathematics.
With this it is also immediately clear that the present investigation is not an inquiry about (the methods of) Natural Science, because it is ontological in its nature and intent, not epistemological.
The mentioned framework from which the investigation orients itself is chosen to be the Aristotelian-Thomistic Substance-Accident Metaphysics, because it is :
The exclusive application of the Human Example is not sufficient to uncover universally valid Criteria for something to be a Substance
The expositions in the classical texts concerning the Substance-Accident Scheme pretend to be valid for at least every concrete material thing. However they are satisfied with their using almost exclusively the Human Example (for instance in De Ente et Essentia). This is understandable because Man is in a way transparent in this respect. His intrinsic unity, for example, is directly perceived by him. The other things, to which the metaphysics, expounded in the texts, should apply too, were less known in those times than they are today. Nevertheless they were involved in the ancient discussions concerning the Substance-Accident Scheme, albeit often in a more or less physical context. But Man remained the point of reference, and one generalized the metaphysical results obtained from reflections about Man.
It is however questionable whether such a generalization is significant, legitimate and objectively correct. As will turn out in the rest of this website things are different in cases other than Man.
So it is to be expected that it is methodically necessary to use, not only the Human Example, but also, as often as possible, other examples, from the organic as well as from the inorganic world, insofar as we know these domains at present. With respect to the latter I think about atoms, molecules and crystals. The latter two are discussed in the Middle Ages under the name "mixta perfecta". Especially our present knowledge of crystals will be very instructive regarding the discussion concerning the Substance-Accident Scheme. These and other lower beings behave, as has been said, differently as compared with Man with respect to this Scheme :
An individual human being is a very complex whole. In virtue of this complexity it is possible that a fixed core remains the same despite all kinds of changes happening to that whole. In this way we automatically have to do with a distinction between genuine properties (these are constant) and states (these can be replaced by other states). In the case of simpler Totalities however, like small molecules, the relative contribution of genuine properties could turn out to be drastically increased, resulting in the distinction between genuine properties and states becoming less significant, or taking on a totally different appearance. Also with respect to individuality great differences are encountered.
In order to avoid illegitimate generalizations of some results found in Man, it is necessary to investigate other beings.
The Human Example could moreover be misleading because of the problematic ontological status of Man (See the Essay on The Mind-Body Problem). Dualistic positions often cause authors to wriggle into strange corners by conjuring up all kinds of 'exceptions' when dealing with general metaphysical problems (like we see in BOYER, 1947, HOENEN, 1947, Van MELSEN, 1964, GRACIA, 1988, and also in works of medieval authors). By setting up these ad hoc 'exceptions' such authors can hold on to some philosophical positions which are in line with some preconceived convictions of them.
Necessity of Empirical Testing
Metaphysics as theory of Being refers to the same reality as does Natural Science. The degree of generality of their considerations however differs fundamentally, as well as their viewpoints and methods. Besides the fact that they both involve non-empirical principles (which are made explicit -- as principles -- in Metaphysics, also the ones that cannot be made explicit in Natural Science), they also base themselves on empirical data (this is certainly the case in, for example St Thomas' writings). insofar as Metaphysics involves observable data it must test its results (just like Natural Science) empirically. Hence its findings (expressed in assertions), for example concerning the Totality-character of organic and inorganic mixta (atoms, molecules, crystals and higher inorganic wholes), should be empirically tested with respect to our present knowledge of these mixta, insofar as this knowledge is relevant.
I will demonstrate that this testing will teach us a great deal, and that new and unexpected problems will pop up which demand an explanation and solution. These solutions will update and deepen Metaphysics.
In fact this business of empirical testing boils down to the following :
To check if, and how, the general metaphysical principles allow themselves to be specified. A correct Metaphysics can easily be specified by all new empirical data. These data are supplied by Natural Science (and these data are not just ordinary observations, but often theorized observations obtained by sophisticated equipment and theory). Of course Natural Science is (also) subjected to interpretations (i.e. interpretations done by itself), which could be right or wrong, and it is not cleared of the possibility of generating false theories. Hence the mentioned correction business is in a sense mutual.
This "can easily be specified by all new empirical data" does definitely not mean that these data could be deduced from the general metaphysical theory. This is impossible, because (1) between the general metaphysical theory and the empirical data (more or less theorized by Natural Science) stands the observation and consequently an induction, and (2) also because a general metaphysical theory leaves open several possibilities, i.e. it is compatible with several specifications.
Also, the general metaphysical theory cannot be derived from data obtained by Natural Science, because these data always are directed to near (i.e. ontologically local) causes only, while general Metaphysics considers (ontologically) remote causes. The near causes are, it is true, connected (by and in Natural Science) with their effects through abstract laws, but those near causes themselves always belong to the same order of reality (order of being) -- which means that they should in principle be observable -- as do their effects. Whether, and if so, how, these abstract laws are indeed special principles of being (i.e. special ontological principles), and what then are the general ontological principles, Natural Science cannot decide, because such matters are not empirically determinable.
So the point of the above mentioned possibility of specification is that the general metaphysical theory should be able to include these new empirical data, or, expressed differently, that the general metaphysical theory should be compatible with these special data, subject to, and insofar as, these data are firmly established.
The Substance-Accident Metaphysics is neither a Rational Construct, nor a Philosophy of Man
A reason to investigate (with a metaphysical evaluation in mind) the things themselves anyhow, is to guarantee that the metaphysics to be erected or revised does not become just a rational or logical construct, but is founded in the whole of Reality with which it deals ( NOTE 3 ). The construct should be isomorphic with the universal constitution of ALL things, in order not to be just a rational construct. Self-reflection is to be sure important, but can, when applied unconsciously one-sidedly, lead to a not intended projection of the substance-accident situation in Man (Essence, genuine properties and states, the way of individuality, the way of being a Totality) ONTO every other thing. This we see happening for example in St Thomas' De Ente et Essentia.
Hence an investigation of several other different examples (in addition to Man) will provide much insight with respect to a whole series of problems relating to the Substance-Accident Scheme, and contribute to the detection of the correct criteria for being-a-Substance. In so doing it will be prevented that the formulated criteria will be moulded after the Human Example only, which would result in those criteria becoming not universally applicable anymore, transforming the Theory of Being into a theory of (i.e. exclusively about) Man.
Also the discussion with Nominalism (which takes place on many occasions in the present investigation) will gain in significance when we consider the above, because Nominalism accuses Metaphysics for setting up just rational or logical constructs, which, according to Nominalism are exclusively related to our way of knowing and predicating, and not to the way of being of things.
Moreover the difference between a metaphysical approach and a scientific approach will once again gain in clarity in the course of such discussions.
Concerning crystals an extensive Crystallography is given, supplemented with an Essay about their thermodynamics. All this in order to better understand a crystal as a product of a dynamical system. The dynamical law of such a system causes their internal structure, which in turn causes their intrinsic shapes.
A comparable approach will be followed with respect to Organisms.
1. 2. 3. 4.
If he does so, then he (or she) is directly dealing with a modern update of the Substance-Accident Metaphysics (1.). Then (2.) he submerges himself in some relevant classical texts, which formed the inspiration of the present investigation. Then he will consider all kinds of problems concerning the very possibility of such a metaphysics (3), and can, on the basis of 1., judge whether these problems are correctly solved, or whether there are some which yet remain to be solved. Maybe the reader can solve these remaining problems with the aid of 1. Finally he can study the several types of beings in more detail (4), and then draw his own conclusions with respect to their ontology (Ontology is the science dealing with possible theories of Being). But of course, when he already has a sufficient background with respect to Crystallography an Biology, he can skip 4 alltogether.
2. 3. 1.
In following 2. 3. 1. the reader will first introduce himself into the metaphysics of Being by reading some basic texts from one of the founding authors (2.), then he will be confronted with some modern critical notes (3.), and finally he reads a proposed revised metaphysics of Being, and can reflect upon it.
Here the reader does not want to be engaged with classical texts at all. He reads directly the updated version (1.), and studies the critical notes (3.) afterwards.
For a more detailed scheme of the present investigation see the HOMEPAGE itself.
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