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Phronimon

On-line version ISSN 2413-3086
Print version ISSN 1561-4018

Abstract

STRAUSS, Daniel. Hylozoism and hylomorphism: a lasting legacy of Greek philosophy. Phronimon [online]. 2014, vol.15, n.1, pp.32-45. ISSN 2413-3086.

Apparently philosophical reflection commenced when the awareness of diversity prompted the contemplation of an underlying unity. Thales found this principle of origination in water. Alongside elements such as water, air and fire as well as the apeiron (the infinite-unbounded) Greek philosophy successively explores different modes of explanation. Number, space and movement were succeeded by hule and morphè, where these two terms at once captured a connection between the (material) world of becoming and the world of organic life. The combination of matter and form (life) gave rise to the two terms of our investigation: hylozoism and hylomorphism. These terms are also related to the act-potency scheme and they also presuppose the relation between primary matter and substantial form. In the thought of Aristotle one can also identify energeia with entelecheia. As soon as one of the two elements present in the two terms hylozoism and hylomorphism is elevated, a monistic perspective ensues, such as found in the opposition of mechanism and vitalism. These extremes sometimes surface in the shape of physicalism and the idea of an immaterial vital force. During and after the Renaissance, the idea of the mechanisation of the universe emerged, while vitalism continued its after-effect within biology, articularly seen in the legacy of idealist morphology (Ray and Linnaeus). The Aristotelian-Thomistic substance-concept appeared to have inherent problems. On the basis of experimental data Driesch revived vitalism (and Aristotle's view of an entelechie), but did not succeed in coming to terms with the physical law of non-decreasing entropy - he had to assign the ability to his entelechie to suspend physical laws in order to account for the increasing order found in growing living entities. However, his neo-vitalist followers further explored Von Bertalanffy's generalisation of the second main law of thermodynamics to open systems. Most recently the idea of a Workmaster (Demiurge) resurfaced in theories of Intelligent Design. These developments are explained by briefly referring to Michael Behe and Stephen Meyer. The historical lines discussed demonstrate how one-sided ismic orientations may make a positive contribution to the identification of unique and irreducible modes of explanation from which scholarly research could still benefit.

Keywords : Hylozoism; hylomorphism; Greek philosophy; Aristotle; matter; form; diversity; unity.

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