Saturday, August 9, 2008

Proximate and non-proximate hyle

…only one direction for resolving the contradiction which seems to result from the combination of hylomorphism and homonymy. Aristotle can allow, perhaps, that in addition to the human body which is necessarily actually alive there is a body which is only contingently ensouled and so only contingently alive. This body would presumably be the sort of matter Aristotle characterizes as non-proximate (Metaphysics v 6, 1016a19-24; viii 4, 1044a15-25; ix 7, 1049a24-7). Non-proximate matter is the matter which undergirds the matter actually used in the generation of some compound, even if it is not actually present or discernible in that compound. Thus, for example, while bricks and mortar are the proximate matter of the house, the clay which is the matter of the bricks is also, though non-proximately, the matter of the house, since it was used as the matter for the formation of the bricks. Although it is not so obvious in the case of a living being, whose proximate matter is already very highly structured, beneath the proximate matter will lie non-proximate matter which can then be only contingently enformed. That matter is not necessarily actually alive. This would also be the matter implicitly contrasted with what Aristotle identifies as the organic matter (De Anima ii 1, 412a28-b1), that is, the fully formed and living human matter, of an existing human being. The non-organic matter could then qualify as what continues through hylomorphic generation, in the way bronze persists through the loss and acquisition of various forms. So, there will be effectively two bodies, one organic and one non-organic, the first of which is indeed necessarily actually alive but the second of which is not. Perhaps the disinction [sic] between the organic and non-organic body parallels to some extent our own different ways of speaking of "flesh". We might say that flesh repairs itself when cut or damaged, though obviously this is said only of living flesh, even while we also speak of corruptible things as going the way of all flesh. In the first instance only we implicitly restrict ourselves to speaking of the sort of flesh which is living flesh. So too, then, with the organic body: it is a living body of which we speak, though there is also a body, the non-organic body, which goes the way of all flesh.

–– as cited in "A Fundamental Problem about Hylomorphism" by Christopher Shields

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