The Architecture of Matter: Galileo to Kant

By Thomas Holden | Go to book overview

4 The Actual Parts Doctrine and the Argument from Composition

Wise men who are asked about the soul answer that they have no idea what it is. If they are asked what matter is, they give the same reply. It is true that some professors, and above all some schoolboys, know it all perfectly; and when they have repeated that it is extended and divisible, they think they have settled everything; but if they are asked to say what this extended thing is, they find themselves in difficulty. 'It is composed of parts,' they say. And these parts, what are they composed of? Are the elements of the parts divisible? Then they are dumb or talk a lot, which is equally suspect.

Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary (1764), entry on 'Matière'


I Introduction

In the previous chapter I looked at one attempt to argue from the actual parts doctrine to the supposed corollary of ultimate parts: the argument from the definiteness of parts to ultimate parts. I concluded that this argument fails. In the present chapter, I want to look at another sort of argument from actual parts to ultimate parts that also enjoyed much currency in the early modern period: the argument from composition.

The argument from composition runs as follows. Given the actual parts analysis of matter, material bodies are essentially composite or compound structures. We then add the claim that such complex, composite entities are ontologically derivative, depending for their existence on the prior existence of their parts. And if the parts are themselves also composite, then they in turn depend for their existence on the prior existence of their parts. But (according to the current argument) if the whole original is to

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