A Hylomorphic Theory of Composite Material Substances

Shane Maxwell Wilkins, Fordham University


The Problem of Material Constitution is the fact that five apparently plausible, commonsense features of the ontology of material object are jointly inconsistent. Many solutions to the problem have been proposed, but each involves some radical revision to common sense. My goal is to dissolve the problem by showing that one of the assumptions upon which it trades is not only false, but not actually part of common sense at all. My answer is to endorse hylomorphism, a metaphysical thesis that says material objects are not just heaps of parts, but genuine wholes unified into a new item by the structuring of their parts into a functional unit. Several contemporary thinkers have endorse this idea, but they have not seen one implication of hylomorphism, namely that the matters so structured into a new unity do not remain numerically identical as they become parts of new wholes. The hydrogen atom in isolation at one instant is not the same as the hydrogen atom that is part of the water molecule at the next instant. I attempt to defend this conception of parthood and fend off some objections. The payoff is that endorsing this thesis allows us to see that one of the putatively commonsense features of our ontology of material objects is not, in fact a part of common sense, but rather a relic of a certain kind atomistic, 17th century conception of matter, the denial of which simply dissolves the Problem of Material Constitution.

Subject Area

Metaphysics|Philosophy|Medieval history

Recommended Citation

Wilkins, Shane Maxwell, "A Hylomorphic Theory of Composite Material Substances" (2015). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3684727.