Matter (philosophy)

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Matter is the substrate from which physical existence is derived, remaining more or less constant amid changes. The word "matter" is derived from the Latin word māteria, meaning "wood", or “timber”, in the sense "material", as distinct from "mind" or "form". [1] The image of wood came to Latin as a calque from the Greek philosophical usage of hyle (ὕλη).

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.


Ancient Greek philosophy

In ancient Greek philosophy, arche (ἀρχή) is the beginning or the first principle of the world. Thales of Miletus claimed that the first principle of all things is water. His theory was supported by the observation of moisture throughout the world and coincided with his theory that the earth floated on water.

Arche is a Greek word with primary senses "beginning", "origin" or "source of action", and later "first principle" or "element", first so used by Anaximander. By extension, it may mean "first place, power", "method of government", "empire, realm", "authorities", "command". The first principle or element corresponds to the "ultimate underlying substance" and "ultimate undemonstrable principle". In the philosophical language of the archaic period, arche designates the source, origin or root of things that exist. In ancient Greek philosophy, Aristotle foregrounded the meaning of arche as the element or principle of a thing, which although undemonstrable and intangible in itself, provides the conditions of the possibility of that thing.

Thales of Miletus ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician

Thales of Miletus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, mathematician, and astronomer from Miletus in ancient Greek Ionia. He was one of the Seven Sages of Greece. Many, most notably Aristotle, regarded him as the first philosopher in the Greek tradition, and he is otherwise historically recognized as the first individual in Western civilization known to have entertained and engaged in scientific philosophy. He can also be regarded as one of the first option traders.

Thales's theory was refuted by his pupil and successor, Anaximander. Anaximander noted that water could not be the arche because it could not give rise to its opposite, fire. Anaximander claimed that none of the elements (earth, fire, air, water) could be arche for the same reason. Instead, he proposed the existence of the apeiron, an indefinite substance from which all things are born and to which all things will return.

Anaximander pre-Socratic Greek philosopher

Anaximander was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher who lived in Miletus, a city of Ionia. He belonged to the Milesian school and learned the teachings of his master Thales. He succeeded Thales and became the second master of that school where he counted Anaximenes and, arguably, Pythagoras amongst his pupils.

Anaximenes, Anaximander's pupil, advanced yet another theory. He returns to the elemental theory, but this time posits air, rather than water, as the arche. Anaximenes suggests that all is made from air through either rarefication or condensation (thinning or thickening). Rarefied, air becomes fire; condensed, it becomes first wind, then cloud, water, earth, and stone in order.

Anaximenes of Miletus Ancient Greek Pre-Socratic philosopher

Anaximenes of Miletus was an Ancient Greek Pre-Socratic philosopher active in the latter half of the 6th century BC. The details of his life are obscure and undocumented because none of his work has been preserved. Anaximenes’s ideas and philosophies are known today because of comments made by Aristotle and other writers on the history of Greek Philosophy. Apollodurus noted the dates Anaximander was alive in relation to defining historical events, and estimated Anaximenes’s lifespan to occur in same time period that Cyrus beat Croesus in the Battle of Thymbra in 546 BCE. Some of his writings survived the Hellenistic Age, but no record of these documents currently exist. As one of the three Milesian philosophers that were considered the first revolutionary thinkers of the Western world, he is best known and identified as a younger friend or student of Anaximander. Much of his astronomical thought was based on Anaximander’s, but he altered Anaximander’s astrological ideas to better fit his own philosophical views on physics and the natural world. The Ionian school was the first school on record that encouraged their pupils to constructively criticize their master’s teachings, which aptly demonstrated a tolerance toward new ideas and logic for their time. Thales taught Anaximander, and Anaximander taught Anaximenes. Each philosopher developed a distinct system of cosmology without completely rejecting their teacher’s view of universe or creating major disagreement between them. Anaximenes, like others in his school of thought, practiced material monism. This tendency to identify one specific underlying reality made up of a material thing is what Anaximenes is principally known for today. Anaximenes was the last known Milesian philosopher, as Miletus was taken over by the Persian army in 494 BC. Because none of his works contain theological references, there is no evidence as to whether or not he practiced religion or if he was an atheist.

Pythagoras of Samos, a mathematician, mystic, and scientist, taught that number, rather than matter, constitutes the true nature of things. He seems to have influenced Socrates' ideal form.

Socrates classical Greek Athenian philosopher

Socrates was a classical Greek (Athenian) philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and as being the first moral philosopher, of the Western ethical tradition of thought. An enigmatic figure, he made no writings, and is known chiefly through the accounts of classical writers writing after his lifetime, particularly his students Plato and Xenophon. Other sources include the contemporaneous Antisthenes, Aristippus, and Aeschines of Sphettos. Aristophanes, a playwright, is the only source to have written during his lifetime.

Heraclitus held that all is flux. In such a system there is no need for or possibility of matter. Leucippus held that there exist indivisible particles, atoms, underlying existence.

Heraclitus pre-Socratic Greek philosopher

Heraclitus of Ephesus (; Greek: Ἡράκλειτος ὁ Ἐφέσιος, translit. Hērákleitos ho Ephésios; was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, and a native of the city of Ephesus, then part of the Persian Empire. He was of distinguished parentage. Little is known about his early life and education, but he regarded himself as self-taught and a pioneer of wisdom. From the lonely life he led, and still more from the apparently riddled and allegedly paradoxical nature of his philosophy and his stress upon the heedless unconsciousness of humankind, he was called "The Obscure" and the "Weeping Philosopher".

Leucippus Ancient Greek scholar

Leucippus is reported in some ancient sources to have been a philosopher who was the earliest Greek to develop the theory of atomism—the idea that everything is composed entirely of various imperishable, indivisible elements called atoms. Leucippus often appears as the master to his pupil Democritus, a philosopher also touted as the originator of the atomic theory. However, a brief notice in Diogenes Laërtius’s life of Epicurus says that on the testimony of Epicurus, Leucippus never existed. As the philosophical heir of Democritus, Epicurus's word has some weight, and indeed a controversy over this matter raged in German scholarship for many years at the close of the 19th century. Furthermore, in his Corpus Democriteum, Thrasyllus of Alexandria, an astrologer and writer living under the emperor Tiberius, compiled a list of writings on atomism that he attributed to Democritus to the exclusion of Leucippus. The present consensus among the world's historians of philosophy is that this Leucippus is historical. The matter must remain moot unless more information is forthcoming from the record.

Empedocles held that there are four elements, from which things are derived, Earth, Water, Fire and Air. Some added a fifth element, the Aether, from which the heavens were derived. Socrates accepted (or at least did not reject) that list, as seen from Plato's Timaeus, which identified the five elements with the Platonic solids. Earth was associated with the cube, air with the octahedron, water with the icosahedron, fire with the tetrahedron, and the heavens with the dodecahedron.

Aristotle, rejecting the atomic theory, instead analyzed the four terrestrial elements with the sense of touch:

He developed Socrates' ideal form into a theory which aimed to explain existence through the composition of matter and form. He conceived of matter as a passive possibility that something might be actualized by an active principle, a substantial form, giving it real existence. The theory of matter and form came to be known as Hylomorphism.

Aristotle's ideas had little impact on the ancient world. The rise of Stoicism represented the return to earlier ideas. Their categories were an attempt to explain all existence without reference to anything incorporeal.

Philo held that matter is the basis of evil.

Plotinus revived the ideas of Plato and Aristotle.

Medieval philosophy

Many Christians, such as Augustine of Hippo, accepted Plotinus as the greatest of the pagan philosophers. Parts of Plotinus' Six Enneads were translated into Arabic as the Theology of Aristotle , leading to a blossoming of Aristotle's philosophy in the Islamic world. This Islamic version of Aristotle eventually reached the University of Paris and the attention of scholastic philosophy, and the work of Thomas Aquinas.

Modern science

From a philosophical viewpoint, the term "matter" still is used to distinguish the material aspects of the universe from those of the spirit. [2] The rise of modern chemistry and physics marked a return to the atomic theories of Leucippus. Quantum physics and special relativity however, complicate the picture through the identification of matter and energy, particle and wave.

See also


  1. Oxford English Dictionary : "matter"
  2. Henri Bergson (2004). "Introduction". Matter and Memory (Reprint of edition of 1904 ed.). Courier Dover Publications. ISBN   0-486-43415-X.

Further reading

Related Research Articles

Classical element concepts in Ancient Greece

Classical elements typically refer to the concepts, rejected by modern science, in ancient Greece of earth, water, air, fire, and (later) aether, which were proposed to explain the nature and complexity of all matter in terms of simpler substances. Ancient cultures in Greece, Babylonia, Japan, Tibet, and India had similar lists, sometimes referring in local languages to "air" as "wind" and the fifth element as "void". The Chinese Wu Xing system lists Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water, though these are described more as energies or transitions rather than as types of material.

Air is one of the four classical elements in ancient Greek philosophy and in Western alchemy.

Pre-Socratic philosophy philosophical school

A number of early Greek philosophers active before and during the time of Socrates are collectively known as the pre-Socratics. Their inquiries spanned the workings of the natural world as well as human society, ethics, and religion, seeking explanations based on natural principles rather than the actions of supernatural gods. They introduced to the West the notion of the world as a kosmos, an ordered arrangement that could be understood via rational inquiry.

Spontaneous generation disproven theory of life arising from nonliving matter

Spontaneous generation refers to an obsolete body of thought on the ordinary formation of living organisms without descent from similar organisms. The theory of spontaneous generation held that living creatures could arise from nonliving matter and that such processes were commonplace and regular. For instance, it was hypothesized that certain forms such as fleas could arise from inanimate matter such as dust, or that maggots could arise from dead flesh. A variant idea was that of equivocal generation, in which species such as tapeworms arose from unrelated living organisms, now understood to be their hosts. The idea of univocal generation, by contrast, refers to effectively exclusive reproduction from genetically related parent(s), generally of the same species.

Ancient Greek philosophy

Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BC and continued throughout the Hellenistic period and the period in which Ancient Greece was part of the Roman Empire. Philosophy was used to make sense out of the world in a non-religious way. It dealt with a wide variety of subjects, including astronomy, mathematics, political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric and aesthetics.

Plato describes the "Form of the Good", or more literally "the idea of the good", in his dialogue the Republic (508e2–3), speaking through the character of Socrates. Plato introduces several forms in his works, but identifies the Form of the Good as the superlative. This form is the one that allows a philosopher-in-training to advance to a philosopher-king. It cannot be clearly seen or explained, but once it is recognized, it is the form that allows one to realize all the other forms.

Platonism philosophical theory

Platonism, rendered as a proper noun, is the philosophy of Plato or the name of other philosophical systems considered closely derived from it. In narrower usage, platonism, rendered as a common noun, refers to the philosophy that affirms the existence of abstract objects, which are asserted to "exist" in a "third realm" distinct both from the sensible external world and from the internal world of consciousness, and is the opposite of nominalism. Lower case "platonists" need not accept any of the doctrines of Plato.

Ionian School (philosophy) Greek philosophy centred in Miletus, Ionia in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE

The Ionian school of Pre-Socratic philosophy was centred in Miletus, Ionia in the 6th century BC. Miletus and its environs was a thriving mercantile melting pot of current ideas of the time. The Ionian School included such thinkers as Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, and Archelaus. The collective affinity of this group was first acknowledged by Aristotle who called them physiologoi (φυσιολόγοι), meaning 'those who discoursed on nature'. The classification can be traced to the second-century historian of philosophy Sotion. They are sometimes referred to as cosmologists, since they were largely physicalists who tried to explain the nature of matter.

In philosophy, hyle refers to matter or stuff. It can also be the material cause underlying a change in Aristotelian philosophy. The Greeks originally had no word for matter in general, as opposed to raw material suitable for some specific purpose or other, so Aristotle adapted the word for "wood" to this purpose. The idea that everything physical is made of the same basic substance holds up well under modern science, although it may be thought of more in terms of energy or matter/energy.

Atomism is a natural philosophy that developed in several ancient traditions.

The unity of opposites is the central category of dialectics, said to be related to the notion of non-duality in a deep sense. It defines a situation in which the existence or identity of a thing depends on the co-existence of at least two conditions which are opposite to each other, yet dependent on each other and presupposing each other, within a field of tension.

The term Stoic categories refers to Stoic ideas regarding categories of being: the most fundamental classes of being for all things. The Stoics believed there were four categories which were the ultimate divisions. Since we do not now possess even a single complete work by Zeno of Citium, Cleanthes or Chrysippus what we do know must be pieced together from a number of sources: doxographies and the works of other philosophers who discuss the Stoics for their own purposes.

Ionian Enlightenment

The Ionian Enlightenment was a set of advances in scientific thought, explanations on nature, and discovering the natural and rational causes behind observable phenomena, that took place in archaic Greece beginning in the 6th century BC. This movement began on the Ionian coast of western Anatolia by small numbers of forward-thinking Greeks from cities such as Miletus, Samos, and Halicarnassus. They saw the world as something ordered and intelligible, its history following an explicable course and its different parts arranged in a comprehensible system. Most historians agree that Thales, one of the Seven Sages of Greece, started this movement by predicting a solar eclipse that actually occurred, though some believe this feat to be false.

The theory of Forms or theory of Ideas is a philosophical theory, concept, or world-view, attributed to Plato, that the physical world is not as real or true as timeless, absolute, unchangeable ideas. According to this theory, ideas in this sense, often capitalized and translated as "Ideas" or "Forms", are the non-physical essences of all things, of which objects and matter in the physical world are merely imitations. Plato speaks of these entities only through the characters of his dialogues who sometimes suggest that these Forms are the only objects of study that can provide knowledge. The theory itself is contested from within Plato's dialogues, and it is a general point of controversy in philosophy. Whether the theory represents Plato's own views is held in doubt by modern scholarship. However, the theory is considered a classical solution to the problem of universals.

Apeiron is a Greek word meaning "(that which is) unlimited," "boundless", "infinite", or "indefinite" from ἀ- a-, "without" and πεῖραρ peirar, "end, limit", "boundary", the Ionic Greek form of πέρας peras, "end, limit, boundary". It is akin to Persian piramon, meaning "boundary, circumference, surrounding".