Matter (philosophy)

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).

Matter - Basic Concept of Dialectical Materialism

The term matter [2]is the basic category and root of dialectical materialism. Matter is then the objective reality that exists outside and independently of consciousness. Matter is simply the opposite of consciousness (mind).

The mode of existence of matter is self-movement. All movements, changes and developments of matter proceed in space and in time and establish the unity of the material world. They are described by the basic dialectical laws.

The natural sciences, especially physics, investigate the various manifestations of matter, and dialectical materialism, which is common to all manifestations. The successes of modern physics are not contradictory but based on the general property of matter to be objective reality.

The term matter is not equal to the term material. All materials are matter, but not vice versa. The corresponding adjective materialistic is shortened to material, but can have very different meanings, such as philosophical, material, monetary (often pejorative), concerning vital necessities, economical and thus can lead to confusion.

Matter and the unity of the world

Dialectical materialism does not explain the material unity of the various things of the world in the existence of an absolute basic substance or a natural basic principle, but in the fact that the different forms of matter

arise apart, interact and yourself to transform into each other. Very important in demonstrating the unity of natural phenomena were the discovery of the law of the conservation and transformation of energy and the equivalence of mass and energy. HEISENBERG: "All elementary particles can be converted into other particles in bursts of sufficiently high energy, and they can turn into energy, such as radiation, so here we actually have the definitive proof of the unity of matter." [3]

Movement, space and time as forms of existence of matter

Everything in nature is in motion, in incessant becoming and passing away. Matter and movement are inextricably linked. The movement is the way of being of matter. The doctrine of the unity of matter and movement also makes it possible to understand the dialectical connection between movement and rest and to reject metaphysics in this question.

For SPINOZA, movement is not an attribute of matter, but has external causes. This separation of matter and movement, which characterizes metaphysical materialism, requires external forces, ultimately leading to God, as concluded by NEWTON.

For the French materialists of the eighteenth century, above all HOLBACH and HELVETIUS, matter is everything that affects our senses (sensualism). This concept of matter, through its epistemological aspect, already has a decisive effect on the materialism of the 16th and 20th centuries. 17th century The predominant substance concept of matter, however, remains essentially influenced by mechanics. According to the state of development of the natural sciences of that time, the French materialists equated matter predominantly with material whose structure they conceive in the sense of atomism. Even FEUERBACH.

Hegel rejects a natural emergence of material things, a development of matter from itself, and expressly reserves the movement and development to the "idea" which is supposedly underlying things.

For dialectical materialism the movement is absolute, the rest only relative. ENGELS: "The possibility of relative rest of the body, the possibility of temporary states of equilibrium is essential condition of the differentiation of matter and thus of life."

All movement, change and development of matter takes place in space and in time. Space manifests itself in the extension of material things, in their position to each other and in their distance from each other, in their coexistence. Time appears in the duration of material processes and in their succession, in the successive existence of things and states.

Matter and consciousness

DESCARTES is the first to express matter primarily as a counterpart to the mind. At the beginning of the twentieth century, Lenin philosophically took this into account in his world-famous polemic "Materialism and Empirio-criticism": "Matter is a philosophical category for describing the objective reality given to man in his sensations, which is copied, photographed, imaged by our sensations and exists independently of them. "[4] If the terms matter and consciousness are understood as basic philosophical concepts (categories), then they should be able to be determined by clarifying their relationship to each other. Logically obvious and consistent is the disjunctive formulation of their interrelationship. [5]Friedrich Engels points out in Ludwig Feuerbach and the outcome of classical German philosophy in 1886 that there is a problem on whose solution every other philosophical decision depends: "The great fundamental question of all, especially newer, philosophy is that of the relation of thought and being ..., the mind to nature ... The question: what is the primordial, the mind or the nature? ... As this question was answered one way or another, the philosophers split into two large camps Those who professed the originality of the spirit toward nature, and in the final analysis assumed a world-creation of some sort ... formed the camp of the idealists, the others who regard nature as the original are the materialists. " The materialistic concept of matter claims, above all, gnoseological significance, since objective knowledge of reality is supposed to make scientific knowledge possible.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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:

  • Air is primarily wet and secondarily hot.
  • Fire is primarily hot and secondarily dry.
  • Earth is primarily dry and secondarily cold.
  • Water is primarily cold and secondarily wet.

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. 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.[6] The rise of modern chemistry and physics marked a return to the atomic theories of Leucippus. Quantum physics and Relativity however, complicate the picture through the identification of matter and energy, particle and wave.

See also


  1. Oxford English Dictionary: "matter"
  2. Kosing, A .: Marxist Dictionary of Philosophy. -Verlag am Park, Berlin.- 2015
  3. Werner Heisenberg: Physics and Philosophy. - 6th edition, - Stuttgart: Hirzel, 2000. - p. 224
  4. W.I. Lenin: materialism and empirio-criticism. Dietz Verlag Berlin 1971 Written in May 1908 p. 124
  5. Karl Marx / Friedrich Engels - Works. Dietz publishing house, Berlin. Volume 21, 5th edition 1975, unchanged reprint of the 1st edition 1962, Berlin / GDR. Pp. 259-307.
  6. Henri Bergson (2004). "Introduction". Matter and Memory (Reprint of edition of 1904 ed.). Courier Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-43415-X.

Further reading

  • Henry Laycock, Theories of matter (essay; PDF)
  • Gideon Manning (ed.), Matter and Form in Early Modern Science and Philosophy, Leiden, Brill, 2012.
  • Ernan Mc Mullin (ed.), The Concept of Matter in Greek and Medieval Philosophy, Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 1965.
  • Ernan Mc Mullin (ed.), The Concept of Matter in Modern Philosophy, Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 1978.
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