As far as I know, Aristotelianism and Thomism state that a material being is always potentially sensible. For example, there are microorganisms that we cannot see with the naked eye. But if we use a microscope, we can sense them. There seems to exist an identity between ens materiale and ens sensible. However, why is a material being always potentially sensible?

Aristotelianism or Thomism probably deny the existence of a material being that is not sensible, even potentially, as incoherent. What is the reason of such incoherency? What is there in material beings that make them always sensible, at least potentially?

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    The question seems to be interesting even without a relation to Aristotle and Acquinas. Do we count EM field, which only reveals itself indirectly, as "sensible"? At which point do we stop counting use of instruments as still just "extending" senses? Can they only rearrange light, like ordinary microscopes and telescopes, or do electron microscopes and cloud chambers also count? What does it mean to be material for something not sensible directly or indirectly even with instruments? – Conifold Sep 23 '15 at 0:59
  • @Conifold excellent questions – Geremia Jun 3 '16 at 20:09

All material beings are going to be sensible, on Aquinas's view. (Can't speak for Aristotle for sure, but I imagine the answer would be the same.)

The reason is that for insofar as a being is material, it also has determinate dimensions. To have matter is to have some quantity of stuff among your parts, which means that you have to be extended in space. This is just to say that all material objects are bodies having three dimensions that occupy space.

But once you we know a thing is a body, then we know it is going to be sensible (at least in principle) as well. What the senses are, on Aquinas's view, is instruments for receiving the sensible qualities of bodies, such as color, texture, and so on. For a body not to be sensible it would have to have a surface that simply lacks color and texture and taste and smell and so on.

Note that all of the above are meant as observations of nature--strictly speaking insensible material objects might be metaphysically possible. Maybe God could make a body that doesn't have any sensible qualities, but the point is this doesn't seem to happen in nature.

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It you had a material thing that was not potentially sensible it could never be necessary, as a part of a material explanation. There could be no material interaction in which it took part, or you would see the results of the interaction and indirectly be sensing the object.

So, by even the weakest notion of Occam's Razor, it is an entity without necessity. It might exist, but it could never matter, and we are free to ignore it without being led into error.

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  • While a material thing that was not sensible may not be necessary as part of a material explanation, would you say it may be necessary for a correct explanation. I'm thinking of ideas like String Theory, or the multi-verse view, assuming their correctness. – Nick Jun 13 '15 at 19:45
  • I think that a Thomist would not have the bias against the supernatural that leads us to want to label those things material. He would happily leave them immaterial things which lent material things structure. (I think perhaps we might be better off doing so as well, the obligatory physicalism of science is wearing thin philosophy.stackexchange.com/q/18033/9166.) – user9166 Jun 13 '15 at 21:10
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    It's an interesting point you raise in your linked question. I don't think these issues are restricted to the material world. They also exist in our abstractions and our inner world. I read an excellent book on these issues a couple of years back - Beyond the Limits of Thought by Graham Priest. – Nick Jun 13 '15 at 21:41

It depends of you want to say by "material". Cause I only hold one definition of material that is material is something that have a concrete position I cant say, from my point of view, that all material things are sensible, i.e., all material things can interact with our senses.

An example is some waves: the wavefront, on contact with some body, have a completely defined position but it dont mean that you can feel it because our senses have limitations.

Of course you can know that these waves exist but you never can feel them (if you continue being a human), you only can feel some other kind of information that show that they are real.

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    By ens materiale (material being) I mean ens mobile (changing/changeable being). – Geremia Jun 12 '15 at 7:48
  • The question being asked is specifically within the Thomistic/Aristotelian framework... The answer seems to be operating from a type of generic empiricist framework. – virmaior Jun 13 '15 at 9:54

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