The philosophical problem of the definition of matter in twentieth-century thought
Thompson, Golden Orville
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This research is intended to clarify the definition of the term "matter." It attempts to determine the essence of matter, and ultimately requires a system of metaphysics to show the relation of matter to what is posited as real. Much experience is sensory. Sensations come from what is commonly termed the material world. The common sense man believes he has first-hand knowledge of matter. The discovery that appearances are sometimes deceptive led people to pass from a naive realism to a more critical study of matter. Science and critical philosophy have assisted in transcending naive realism. Science has explained many seeming incoherencies in sense experience. Philosophy requires that sensory experience be examined both analytically and synoptically. A philosopher must criticize the assumptions of science, and raise questions about purpose, causality, freedom and law. A scientist investigates the more immediate data, and is descriptive, rather than interpretive or normative. A comprehensive metaphysics must explain matter. Epistemological studies show that matter can never be known directly. Philosophy uses all scientific results. By reasoning it moves beyond sensory experience and attempts explanations by construction of a postulated coherent system intended to account for all facts. Explanations of this kind remain tentative and subject to reconstruction. Definition as here employed means a "real definition," or one that states the essence of a thing. This requires the building of a metaphysical structure. Issue is taken with logical positivists and others who object to metaphysics. A philosophical definition of matter is needed because philosophy includes more than science. Philosophers, because of their methodology, may discover something scientists have overlooked. The nature of matter is more important to philosophy than to science, for it relates to the fundamental problem of reality, and hence affects one's entire metaphysics. It is necessary to review the different claims of conflicting philosophies. At present, scientists hold that matter is composed of molecules and molecules of atoms. Atoms resemble minute solar systems with a certain number of protons, and usually neutrons, in the nucleus, and electrons moving in orbits about the nucleus. These particles are the ultimate units of matter. They are composed of energy which may be measured according to Einstein's formula, E=mc^2. They also have a certain mass, and many have charges of positive or negative electricity. The behavior of matter has indicated both wave and corpuscular characteristics. There are ten known particles at present. It is not known whether some of them are a part of the structure of the atom. Five additional particles are thought to exist. Interpretations of matter before the twentieth century show that materialistic thinkers generally gave more comprehensive interpretations of matter than idealists. The atomic theory was propounded by the Vaisesika of India as well as Leucippus, Democritus, and Lucretius. Energy theories began with Heraclitus, but received more specific attention from Descartes, Leibniz, Buchner, Haeckel, and Bowne. Theories that stressed motion were variations of energy theories. The older substance theory of matter has been discredited, as well as mechanical explanations that oversimplified the problems. Aristotle called attention to the relation of form to matter. The major contributions to the problem were the atomic theory, the stress on energy, and Aristotle's recognition of the importance of form. Ten philosophers of the twentieth century were selected for special study. Sellars treats matter as the ultimate reality. He portrays an evolutionary development akin to that described in Alexander's, Space, Time and Deity. The meaning of matter is best revealed in the complex activities, higher organization, and greater adaptive functions. His claims for matter are speculative rather than empirical. His proof depends on coherence. He excludes however important evidence from religious experience and history. Santayana restricts all knowledge to a knowledge of essences. Matter itself is unknowable. Some things are known about matter. It is in flux, has causal efficacy, and is dominant in every existing being. He disclaims any metaphysical knowledge of matter. Santayana's scepticism arises from his epistemological dualism. By animal faith he believes in substance and existence, but they are known only through essences. He does not remain sceptical. Faith has the last word, but Santayana contributes little to a definition of matter. Russell's logical atomism reduces matter to "events" related to one another in a "compresence." Collections of these compresent events make up a minimal region, from which is constructed the four-dimensional space-time manifold of physics. These events resemble the neutral entities of neo-realism. His definition of "events" is vague, hinting at a dynamic quality. It fails to account for the organization and complexity of nature. At best it only suggests some qualitative monism. Perry exemplifies the neo-realist position. Analysis is carried beyond the particles of matter to a realm of subsistence consisting of "neutral entities." Matter is a complex of these neutral entities. The analysis fails to account for the properties of wholes. It does not explain movement, change or process, and seems incoherent with the dynamic character or nature. Royce gives the position of absolute idealism. Matter is known in both the World of Description and the World of Appreciation. The latter gives the metaphysical clue to the ultimate truth. Matter is an aspect of the absolute mind. His pantheistic tendency leaves the status of matter difficult to delineate. Bergson traces matter and intellect to the same source. All existence originates in a series of vital thrusts. Matter is the inverse of intellect and consciousness. It is the contrast to spirit as necessity is to freedom. He distinguishes between mind and brain. He approaches an organic conception but develops no systematic metaphysics of matter. Whitehead resolves the bifurcation of nature by an organic view that makes matter one part of a dipolar reality. He provides for movement, change, development, and energy. His views are close to panpsychism. The scope of his treatment and his terminology make it difficult to criticize what appears to be increasingly adequate, the more carefully it is examined. Boodin stresses energy. He defines matter as an energy system. His cosmology is organic, creative, and everywhere controlled by spirit. The nature of matter is determined by the way it functions. His interpretation seems incomplete. Hartshorne's panpsychism reduces everything to a system of individual beings which operate according to the psychic variables of cognition, feeling, and volition. Matter is low grade mind, possessing a lower degree of psychic variability than mind. His stress like Whitehead's on some inner principle of activity in matter seems in agreement with the way matter functions. Brightman interprets the personalistic position by an immanence theory. Matter is an order of the organization of the experience of God. The activity in matter is the activity of God, willed in detail and continually energized by the will of God. Matter then, is a part of the very being of God. Einstein's formula suggests that the energy of matter must be a definite amount and hence cannot be continuous with God's activity. A metaphysics of matter involves a sketch of an entire system of philosophy. Salient points of this system are here presented. It may be classed as a type of personal idealism. The data of metaphysics may be reduced to three areas of empirical evidence: mind, matter, and organization. All facts may be placed in one of these classes. The epistemological position is dualistic, recognizing the part that mind has in the production of knowledge. Faith in the validity of knowledge is based on the coherence found in social intercourse and the use of knowledge in solving problems. The conclusions of this dissertation are as follows: 1. Matter can be analyzed into two components, energy and form, hence it is dipolar as Whitehead suggests. 2. The most coherent hypothesis to account for the data of mind, matter, and organization is a type of personal idealism which explains the cause of these data as creative acts of a personal being usually designated as God. 3. The will of God is the cause of the energy in matter. 4. The intellect of God is the cause of the form which differentiates the particles of matter. 5. Matter is a creation of God, functioning according to its inherent nature but not dependent on God for its continued existence. In this sense it is a free unit very much as described by the panpsychists. 6. The evolutionary process whereby new forms have been added to those previously held by matter is caused by an ingression of God to supply new forms at each movement from a lower to a higher level of development. 7. The complexity of organization in which matter is found on the empirical plane suggests axiological considerations in any definition of matter. It is an essential instrument in the production of the entire range of values. 8. Any definition of matter must be related to a "process philosophy" if it is to avoid the half-truths of abstraction. 9. Matter is real in the sense that it acts and is acted upon but it is dependent on God for its creation and hence is not real in the sense that a Spinozistic substance is real.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University