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Hylomorphism (or hylemorphism) is a philosophical theory developed by Aristotle, which conceives being (ousia) as a compound
of matter and form. The word is a 19th-century term formed from the Greek words ὕλη hyle, "wood, matter", and μορφή, morphē,

Matter and form
Substantial form, accidental form, and prime matter
Body–soul hylomorphism
Basic theory
Living bodies
Universal hylomorphism
Medieval modifications
Plurality vs. unity of substantial form
Thomistic dualism
Teleology and ethics
Modern physics
See also
External links

Matter and form

Aristotle defines X's matter as "that out of which" X is made.[1] For example, letters are the matter of syllables.[2] Thus, "matter" is a
relative term:[3] an object counts as matter relative to something else. For example, clay is matter relative to a brick because a brick is
made of clay, whereas bricks are matter relative to a brick house.

Change is analyzed as a material transformation: matter is what undergoes a change of form.[4] For example, consider a lump of
bronze that's shaped into a statue. Bronze is the matter, and this matter loses one form (that of a lump) and gains a new form (that of a

According to Aristotle's theory of perception, we perceive an object by receiving its form with our sense organs.[7] Thus, forms
include complex qualia such as colors, textures, and flavors, not just shapes.

Substantial form, accidental form, and prime matter

Medieval philosophers who used Aristotelian concepts frequently distinguished between substantial forms and accidental forms. A
substance necessarily possesses at least one substantial form. It may also possess a variety of accidental forms. For Aristotle, a
"substance" (ousia) is an individual thing—for example, an individual man or an individual horse.[9] The substantial form of
substance S consists of S's essential properties,[10] the properties that S's matter needs in order to be the kind of substance that S
is.[11] In contrast, S's accidental forms are S's non-essential properties,[12] properties that S can lose or gain without changing into a
different kind of substance.[13]

In some cases, a substance's matter will itself be a substance. If substance A is made out of substance B, then substance B is the
matter of substance A. However, what is the matter of a substance that is not made out of any other substance? According to
Aristotelians, such a substance has only "prime matter" as its matter. Prime matter is matter with no substantial form of its own.[14]
Thus, it can change into various kinds of substances without remaining any kind of substance all the time.

Body–soul hylomorphism

Basic theory
Aristotle applies his theory of hylomorphism to living things. He defines a soul as that which makes a living thing alive.[16] Life is a
property of living things, just as knowledge and health are.[17] Therefore, a soul is a form—that is, a specifying principle or cause—
of a living thing.[18] Furthermore, Aristotle says that a soul is related to its body as form to matter

Hence, Aristotle argues, there is no problem in explaining the unity of body and soul, just as there is no problem in explaining the
unity of wax and its shape.[20] Just as a wax object consists of wax with a certain shape, so a living organism consists of a body with
the property of life, which is its soul. On the basis of his hylomorphic theory, Aristotle rejects the Pythagorean doctrine of
reincarnation, ridiculing the notion that just any soul could inhabit just any body

According to Timothy Robinson, it is unclear whether Aristotle identifies the soul with the body's structure.[22] According to one
interpretation of Aristotle, a properly organized body is already alive simply by virtue of its structure.[23] However, according to
another interpretation, the property of life—that is, the soul—is something in addition to the body's structure. Robinson uses the
analogy of a car to explain this second interpretation. A running car is running not only because of its structure but also because of
the activity in its engine.[24] Likewise, according to this second interpretation, a living body is alive not only because of its structure
but also because of an additional property: the soul is this additional property, which a properly organized body needs in order to be
alive.[25] John Vella uses Frankenstein's monster to illustrate the second interpretation:[26] the corpse lying on Frankenstein's table is
already a fully organized human body, but it is not yet alive; when Frankenstein activates his machine, the corpse gains a new
property, the property of life, which Aristotle would call the soul.

Living bodies
Some scholars have pointed out a problem facing Aristotle's theory of soul-body hylomorphism.[27] According to Aristotle, a living
thing's matter is its body, which needs a soul in order to be alive. Similarly
, a bronze sphere's matter is bronze, which needs roundness
in order to be a sphere. Now, bronze remains the same bronze after ceasing to be a sphere. Therefore, it seems that a body should
remain the same body after death.[28] However, Aristotle implies that a body is no longer the same body after death.[29] Moreover,
Aristotle says that a body that has lost its soul is no longer potentially alive.[30] But if a living thing's matter is its body, then that
body should be potentially alive by definition.

One approach to resolving this problem[31] relies on the fact that a living body is constantly losing old matter and gaining new matter
A five-year-old body consists of different matter than does the same person's seventy-year-old body. If the five-year-old body and the
seventy-year-old body consist of different matter, then what makes them the same body? The answer is presumably the soul. Because
the five-year-old body and the seventy-year-old body share a soul—that is, the person's life—we can identify them both as the body.
Apart from the soul, we cannot identify what collection of matter is the body. Therefore, a person's body is no longer that person's
body after it dies.

Another approach to resolving the problem[32] relies on a distinction between "proximate" and "non-proximate" matter. When
Aristotle says that the body is matter for a living thing, he may be using the word "body" to refer to the matter that makes up the fully
organized body, rather than the fully organized body itself. Unlike the fully organized body, this "body" remains the same thing even
after death. In contrast, when he says that the body is no longer the same body after its death, he is using the word "body" to refer to
the fully organized body, which (according to thisinterpretation) does not remain the same thing after death.

Aristotle says that the intellect (nous), the ability to think, has no bodily organ (in contrast with other psychological abilities, such as
sense-perception and imagination).[33] In fact, he says that it is not mixed with the body[34] and suggests that it can exist apart from
the body.[35] This seems to contradict Aristotle's claim that the soul is a form or property of the body. To complicate matters further,
Aristotle distinguishes between two kinds of intellect or two parts of the intellect.[36] These two intellectual powers are traditionally
called the "passive intellect" and the "active intellect" or "agent intellect".[37] Thus, interpreters of Aristotle have faced the problem
of explaining how the intellect fits into Aristotle's hylomorphic theory of the soul.

According to one interpretation, a person's ability to think (unlike his other psychological abilities) belongs to some incorporealgan
distinct from his body.[38] This would amount to a form of dualism.[39] However, according to some scholars, it would not be a full-
fledged Cartesian dualism.[40] This interpretation creates what Robert Pasnau has called the "mind-soul problem": if the intellect
belongs to an entity distinct from the body,and the soul is the form of the body, then how is the intellect part of the soul?[41]

Another interpretation rests on the distinction between the passive intellect and the agent intellect. According to this interpretation,
the passive intellect is a property of the body, while the agent intellect is a substance distinct from the body.[42][43] Some proponents
of this interpretation think that each person has his own agent intellect, which presumably separates from the body at death.[44][45]
Others interpret the agent intellect as a single divine being, perhaps theunmoved mover, Aristotle's God.[46][47]

A third interpretation[48] relies on the theory that an individual form is capable of having properties of its own.[49] According to this
interpretation, the soul is a property of the body, but the ability to think is a property of the soul itself, not of the body. If that is the
or [50]
case, then the soul is the body's form and yet thinking need not involve any bodily gan.

Universal hylomorphism
The Neoplatonic philosopher Avicebron (a.k.a.Solomon Ibn Gabirol) proposed a Neoplatonic version of this Aristotelian concept,
according to which all things, including soul and intellect, are composed of matter and form.

Medieval modifications
Medieval theologians, newly exposed to Aristotle's philosophy, applied hylomorphism to Christian doctrines such as the
transubstantiation of the Eucharist's bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus. Theologians such as Duns Scotus and Thomas
Aquinas developed Christian applications of hylomorphism.

Plurality vs. unity of substantial form

Many medieval theologians and philosophers followed Aristotle in seeing a living being's soul as that being's form—specifically, its
substantial form. However, they disagreed about whether X's soul is X's only substantial form. Some medieval thinkers argued that
X's soul is X's only substantial form, responsible for all of the features of X's body.[52] In contrast, other medieval thinkers argued
that a living being contains at least two substantial forms—(1) the shape and structure of its body, and (2) its soul, which makes its
body alive.[53]

Thomistic dualism
Thomas Aquinas claimed that X’s soul was X’s only substantial form, although X also had numerous accidental forms that accounted
for X’s nonessential features.[54] Aquinas defined a substantial form as that which makes X's matter constitute X, which in the case of
a human being is rational capacity.[55] He attributed all other features of a human being to accidental forms.[56] However, Aquinas
did not claim that the soul was identical to the person.[57] He held that a proper human being is a composite of form and matter,
specifically prime matter. Form and matter taken separately may retain some of the attributes of a human being but are nonetheless
not identical to that person.[58] So a dead body is not actually or potentially a human being.

Eleonore Stump describes Aquinas' theory of the soul in terms of "configuration". The body is matter that is "configured", i.e.
structured, while the soul is a "configured configurer". In other words, the soul is itself a configured thing, but it also configures the
body.[60] A dead body is merely matter that was once configured by the soul. It does not possess the configuring capacity of a human

Aquinas believed that rational capacity was a property of the soul alone, not of any bodily organ.[61] However, he did believe that the
brain had some basic cognitive function.[62] Aquinas’ attribution of rational capacity to the soul allowed him to claim that
disembodied souls could retain their rational capacity [63]
, although he was adamant that such a state was unnatural.

Teleology and ethics

Aristotle holds a teleological worldview: he sees the universe as inherently purposeful. Basically, Aristotle claims that potentiality
exists for the sake of actuality.[64] Thus, matter exists for the sake of receiving its form,[65] and an organism has sight for the sake of
seeing.[66] Now, each thing has certain potentialities as a result of its form. Because of its form, a snake has the potential to slither.
Hence, we can say that the snake ought to slither. The more a thing achieves its potential, the more it succeeds in achieving its

Aristotle bases his ethical theory on this teleological worldview. Because of his form, a human being has certain abilities. Hence, his
purpose in life is to exercise those abilities as well and as fully as possible.[67] Now, the most characteristic human ability, which is
not included in the form of any other organism, is the ability to think.[68] Therefore, the best human life is a life lived rationally

Modern physics
The idea of hylomorphism can be said to have been reintroduced to the world when Werner Heisenberg invented his duplex world of
quantum mechanics. In his 1958 textPhysics and Philosophy, Heisenberg states:

In the experiments about atomic events we have to do with things and facts, with phenomena that are just as real as
any phenomena in daily life. But atoms and the elementary particles themselves are not as real; they form a world of
potentialities or possibilities rather than one of things or facts ... The probability wave ... mean[s] tendency for
something. It's a quantitative version of the old concept of potentia from Aristotle's philosophy. It introduces
something standing in the middle between the idea of an event and the actual event, a strange kind of physical reality
just in the middle between possibility and reality

See also
Endurantism Materialism
Hyle Substance theory
Hylozoism Substantial form
Identity and change Vitalism
Inherence Moderate realism

1. Physics 194b23-24 5. Physics 195a6-8
2. Physics 195a16 6. Metaphysics 1045a26-29
3. Physics 194b9 7. On the Soul 424a19
4. Robinson 18-19 8. On the Soul 418a11–12
9. Categories 2a12-14 45. Vella 110
10. Cross 34 46. Caston, "Aristotle's Psychology" 339
11. Kenny 24 47. Caston, "Aristotle's Two Intellects" 199
12. Cross 94 48. Shields, "Soul as Subject"
13. Kenny 24 49. Shields, "Soul as Subject" 142
14. Leftow 136-37 50. Shields, "Soul as Subject" 145
15. Kenny 25 51. Pessin, Sarah (April 18, 2014)."Solomon Ibn Gabirol
16. On the Soul 413a20-21 [Avicebron]" (
ol/). In Zalta, Edward N. The Stanford Encyclopedia of
17. On the Soul 414a3-9
Philosophy (Summer 2014 ed.). Retrieved October 13,
18. On the Soul 412a20, 414a15-18 2015.
19. On the Soul 412b5-7, 413a1-3, 414a15-18 52. Kenny 26
20. 412b5-6 53. Cross 70
21. On the Soul 407b20-24, 414a22-24 54. Stump, "Resurrection, Reassembly, and
22. Robinson 45-47 Reconstitution: Aquinas on the Soul" 161
23. Robinson 46 55. Leftow, "Soul, Mind, and Brain" 397
24. Robinson 46 56. Stump, "Resurrection, Reassembly, and
25. Robinson 47 Reconstitution: Aquinas on the Soul" 165
26. Vella 92 57. Eberl 340
27. Shields, Aristotle 290-93 58. Eberl 341
28. Shields, Aristotle 291 59. Stump, "Resurrection, Reassembly, and
29. On the Soul 412b19-24 Reconstitution: Aquinas on the Soul" 161

30. 412b15 60. Stump, "Non-Cartesian Substance Dualism and

Materialism without Reductionism" 514
31. Shields, Aristotle 293
61. Stump,"Non-Cartesian Substance Dualism and
32. Shields, "A Fundamental Problem"
Materialism without Reductionism" 512
33. On the Soul 429a26-27
62. Stump, "Non-Cartesian Substance Dualism and
34. On the Soul 429a24-25 Materialism without Reductionism" 512
35. On the Soul 413b24-26, 429b6 63. Stump, "Non-Cartesian Substance Dualism and
36. On the Soul 15-25 Materialism without Reductionism" 519
37. Robinson 50 64. Irwin 237
38. Caston, "Aristotle's Psychology" 337 65. Metaphysics 1050a15
39. Caston, "Aristotle's Psychology" 337 66. Irwin 237
40. Shields, "Some Recent Approaches" 165 67. Nichomachean Ethics 1098a16-18
41. Pasnau 160 68. Nichomachean Ethics 1098a1-5
42. McEvilley 534 69. Nichomachean Ethics 1098a7-8
43. Vella 110 70. Heisenberg, W. (1958). Physics and Philosophy.
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External links
hylomorphism (philosophy) -- Encyclopædia Britannica

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