The Sense of the Past: Essays in the History of Philosophy

By Bernard Williams; Myles Burnyeat | Go to book overview

FOURTEEN
Hylomorphism

I take hylomorphism to be the view that the relation of soul to body bears some illuminating resemblance to the relation of form to matter: where form is a semi-technical expression, its sense illustrated by the example of shape, but going beyond that example. I take it that such a view is advanced by Aristotle. I shall not get involved in any very detailed questions about the exegesis of Aristotle's writings about this subject. While I shall discuss one or two specific features of Aristotle's outlook, my aim is rather to consider some general features of such a view.

Its charm lies in its heroic Aristotelian capacity for compromise. It resists materialism, because it

(1.1)distinguishes between A and A's body,
(1.2)in particular, allows that A can cease to exist when his body does not,
(1.3)does not imply (and probably actually excludes) physical reductivism for mental functions.

(Among these, (1.2) will need some modification in the case of
Aristotle's own view: see below.)

On the other hand, it resists dualism, which

(2.1)achieves (1.1), but only at the cost of making 'A' the name of an immaterial item, (or some complex variant on that), which involves truth-conditions of embarrassingly heterogeneous sorts for predications about A;
(2.2)substitutes (standardly) for the apparently common-sense truth that A can cease to exist while his body still exists—it might in some versions even add to that truth—the more controversial idea that A's body can cease to exist while he still exists;
(2.3)regards the immaterial item mentioned in (2.1) as the subject of the mental predications about A.

(How far (2.2) is regarded as an embarrassment to dualism is
of course a matter of cultural climate. It tends to be cited as an
embarrassment now.)

-218-

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