I am trying to create a mind map that shows the shortest possible logical path of necessary entailments from the first principles of reason & nature, leading to the basic principles of scholastic metaphysics (i.e. distinction of act & potency, principle of causality, principle of proportionate causality etc.). At the moment, I am working on identifying a key contradiction by which we can know that form and matter are really distinct.

As of yet, I can demonstrate, in a straight line, that form and matter are real. What I am struggling with, is a simple way to show that they are also really distinct. Thus, I am seeking a contradiction entailed by the idea that form and matter could be one and the same thing.

I believe the path to the disqualification of form-matter identity must begin with knowability of truth, which necessarily entails the principle of noncontradiction, which necessarily entails the fact that "from nothing, nothing comes", which can be construed in the form "no thing can give what it does not have." I take this to be firmly established and necessarily true.

From there, form-matter identity appears to be contradictory, since form and matter have to account for the contrary features that we find in things: i.e. permanence vs. changeability; perfection vs. limitation; unity vs. distinctiveness. These contrary features are opposed to each other as privations. Changeability just is a lack of permanence. Limitation just is the lack of perfection. Distinctiveness just is the lack of unity (or sameness).

As such, the principle by which things exhibit, say, permanence, must ultimately be simply permanence. And permanence, as permanence, cannot be lacking in permanence; and thus cannot "have" any changeability. Now, since permanence does not have changeability; and since "no thing can give what it does not have", that which just is permanence cannot be the principle that also gives things their changeability. To say that permanence can give changeability is thus to say that a thing can give what it does not have, which contradicts the idea that "from nothing, nothing comes", which is to treat nothing as though it were something, which is to violate the law of noncontradiction, which would make the knowability of truth impossible.

What do you think? If we can know anything at all, it seems, then we can know that form and matter are really distinct principles. Is this correct? Is there a simpler way to demonstrate this concept?

  • "To say that permanence can give changeability…" Changeability is a lack of permanence. Nothing can give a privation, but couldn't a more "permanent" thing give a lesser degree of permanence?
    – Geremia
    Jan 31, 2020 at 21:45
  • Yes, but only if you already assume that the recipient has some internal principle whereby it can receive from another in a limited way. It seems that would beg the question. Jan 31, 2020 at 21:58
  • Also, changeability is not, strictly speaking, a lack of permanence, full stop; it is potential for permanence, or a lack of actual permanence. Thus, privation can be "given" by that which is potential, which is why matter is considered the seat of potentiality. Jan 31, 2020 at 22:06
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    – J D
    Jan 31, 2020 at 23:16
  • If one can have identical forms with distinct types of matter, and distinct types of forms of identical matter, they are independent in so far as identity of matter does not determine form and vice versa. That all matter exhibits form and that all form exhibits matter suggests both form and matter are both dependent on the mind as all concepts that represent the state of affairs are only representations of external reality.
    – J D
    Jan 31, 2020 at 23:20

2 Answers 2


You say ...

"As of yet, I can demonstrate, in a straight line, that form and matter are real."

If you can do this then you have exceeded the achievements of Kant and will soon become famous.

Your question wanders around too much for a straight answer but I would say you're stuck in the same thinking that prevents most philosophers from making progress. Perhaps you could note that despite his reputation Descartes speculated that Mind and Matter form a Unity. He could not prove they are distinct (all the way down) and it seemed to him they probably weren't.

He couldn't go further because he assumed Mind and Matter are metaphysically real. If you do this you will also go no further, as a survey of the metaphysical literature will confirm. I would suggest that all your problems with permanence, change, time and so forth stem from a reification of mental and corporeal phenomena. For a different view you would need to examine the neutral metaphysical theory endorsed in mysticism.

  • +1. You're right; I don't see how the question can be answered satisfactorily as it stands. It isn't lacking in substance; it has too much ! Let's hope a more manageable question can emerge.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Feb 2, 2020 at 21:05
  • I think you've got things backwards. Kant and the early moderns were reacting against scholastic metaphysics, in which these things were already established. Now, the scholastics were not infallible, and erred in supposing that physical truth was attainable by metaphysical methods. The early moderns are to be praised for their work in establishing an empirical method (based on metaphysical principles, such as PNC and principles of causation) to determine physical truth. But they threw out the baby with the bathwater, as the famous author Ed Feser argues in Aristotles Revenge. Feb 3, 2020 at 15:37
  • @JamesWeiss - I'm not sure I understand your point here. Kant used logic to do the sums and is a metaphysician. He just tried to it better than his predecessors and I feel he gave it a good shot.
    – user20253
    Feb 4, 2020 at 12:48

Thomist metaphysics makes use of a lot of presuppositions that contemporary philosophy considers refuted. for example, Thomists consider logical necessity arguments to be effective in specifying how our world must be, but empirical thinking starting in the 1600s has curtailed the range of "logical necessity", gradually, to -- nothing at all. For an example, see my reply on this question: Can we know that law of non contradiction is true a priori? If LOGIC is discretionary, then you can't get any necessities out of it!

Also note the above discussion shows that "from nothing, nothing comes" is -- considered false.

Your discussion presumes that there are objects one can characterize the features of, which are "permanence, changeability, perfection, limitation, unity, distinctiveness, etc. The Forms presumption you have here is contrary to pretty much all contemporary linguistics thinking. Few readers will accept anything you are presuming about the logical properties of these words or their associated concepts.


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