Matter (philosophy)

The term material is used in different eras, schools, disciplines and contexts discussion of philosophy as a technical term. In nature, philosophy, matter or case mostly to material entities as opposed to intangible entities such as energy or fields. In metaphysics, history has often been distinguished for the description of individual objects between a physical, tactile comprehensive advanced substrates and a geometric shaping and comprehensive union through our knowledge essential form. Conceptual history and the history of ideas is important especially the Aristotelian thesis that individual objects (so-called primary substances ) depending of form and matter exist (so-called hylemorphism ).

Another history of philosophy in a variety of contexts - among other things metaphysics, philosophy of mind and ethics - important opposition relates to the deposition of material things on the one hand and the spiritual, the psychic, the living on the other. Inter alia is in Descartes this "matter " is used as a designation of the object region of spatially extended objects (res extensa ) and assumed that beside still exists another object area, the area of intellectual or mental (res cogitans ), thus a dualism with respect to physical and mental objects is represented. Such theses are - in addition to intermediate positions as Emergenzthesen - variants against which only one such object area accept ( monism with respect to the material and mental ), either only material objects as existent look ( materialism ) or only spiritual as existent look ( ontological idealism ). References to each other class of object are then not explained in monistic theories either as false or as to fundamental objects referierend. It was also philosophically controversial and, in the case of a dualism with respect to the material and the mental, and whether welcherart an interaction between objects is beiderart. (Please see detailed Dualistic answers to the mind-body problem) If an opposition of material and the spiritual was also used for practical and philosophical contexts, spoke to the orientation of the latter in most cases a higher rank to: The path continues to carry on the good life material towards the Immaterial and spirit.

With the development of modern physics took in much of the natural philosophy term imprints and system tests on the development of physical concepts and theories reference. The recent systematic natural philosophy especially in the tradition of the so-called analytic philosophy includes corresponding widely research questions of the philosophy of physics, which also includes philosophical interpretations of physical statements about the structure of the material reality, as well as the interpretation of theoretical terms of physical theories such as " mass " or "matter " itself

  • 2.1 Philosophical interpretations of the concept of matter, the theory of relativity


Pre-Socratic natural philosophy

Aristotle presents his concept of ὕλη ( hyle, matter ) vorlegten as a range of solutions for the problems especially the Ionian natural philosophy, a common material substrate or a common fundamental constituent of all nature actually searched for his presentation and explanation to different offers. So was expelled about Thales of Miletus and Hippo on the water as raw material, while others air, breathing fire or zoom attracted.

A peculiar response submitted Anaximander. He postulated a principle, which he described as ἄπειρον ( apeiron, literally the "Unlimited " or " infinity" ) designated and that could be understood as a kind of in non- specific substance, which precedes the expression of contrasting properties and into which the distinct things pass away.


Plato taught consistent with Empedocles that homogeneous material substances are attributable to four elementary states, earth, water, air and fire. Their specific properties they declared - and this was a novelty compared to previous attempts at explanation - by each peculiar types of atoms with specific geometric shape, tetrahedron, hexahedron, octahedron, and icosahedron (see Platonic solid ).

This explanation for the material reality adds another who was referring to organisms: their specific characteristics have been trying to explain functional. For example, every organ of the body have because of the functional role that it fulfills its specific shape in the body - and lead this role it from each as good as it enables the material substrate.

In Plato's dialogue Timaeus Timaeus of Locri, the figure of a system describes the origin of the world, which introduces next intelligible forms or ideas and their pictures a "third way " of principles. This can be further defined mainly by analogy, eg compared with a plastic material into which you can push in forms. Also provides that the term " chora " use, otherwise also for "space" is. These and other formulations raise many questions of interpretation, including is controversial whether this is a principle that is inconsistent with other terms of " matter" and "space", and whether it is even possible to combine both covers.


Aristotle first used the Greek term ὕλη hyle, the previously commonly referred to linguistically timber, as a technical term of metaphysics. After Plato had called introduced the term eidos of intangible, non-material objects " ideas " or forms that served as principles of explanation for consistency and identifiability of individual objects, Aristotle taught that a " eidos " (a form ) only exist with each binding to another principle which he hyle ὕλη, so called matter (the only exception is the Divine, where only the form, but no matter vorliege ). A structural analysis of the reality of their matter by Aristotle leads on four not turn so-called composite elements ( according to him, earth, water, air and fire ). These are each determined by two forms (ground, for example by the shapes of cold and drought). The matter of these four elements is not in turn be traced back to a matter - determination; Aristotle speaks here of "first matter". This " first material" lying always present in the form of either one of the four elements, or compositions of these. The matter here is thus a non-material or non- physical principle whose Prinzipiate each material or physical.

On the principles of form and matter Aristotle introduces his doctrine of act and potency back: Matter is merely assets and disposition for receiving the form, the form, however, the active principle, which only ever gives their essential properties of matter. "Matter" so called by Aristotle ( in contrast to modern uses of the term about Newton or Descartes) a specific non-self by essential properties principle.


The Stoics used the concept of matter ( hyle ὕλη gr ) not primarily as a principle for individual objects, but for the whole world. "Matter" is in this case (in contrast to Aristotle ) used as the name of a physical, but not qualitatively determined principle. The Stoics distinguish active and passive elements. Only the former, namely air and fire, are capable of self- movement, earth and water, however, would only change if brought by active elements to it. Life and thought they were trying to explain by reference to a principle that they (spirit), referred to as πνεῦμα, " Pneuma " and explained as a mixture of the active elements.

20th and 21st centuries

Philosophical interpretations of the concept of matter, the theory of relativity

With the development of the special theory of relativity, Albert Einstein presented the famous formula E = mc ² (energy = mass · speed of light ²) on. The expressed here convertibility of the properties of mass and energy is physical facts from such as that changes the temperature of a gas affect its inertial mass and vice versa, or that ( etc. light, heat rays) can assign a "dynamic" mass of electromagnetic radiation, although here the relevant elementary particles ( the photon ) has no rest mass. This formula were given different ontological interpretations: it handle at mass and energy to the same property ( Torretti, Eddington ), or two different properties that are either convertible into one another ( Rindler ) or not ( Bondi / Spurgin ). The difficulty of the ontological treatment of the properties of mass and energy generated ontological problems for the treatment of the "carrier" of these properties: matter and fields.