Four Ideas of Nature and the Vindication of Aristotle

15 January 2020

Ali Sebetci

The late English philosopher R. G. Collingwood (1889-1943) argues in his influential book, The Idea of Nature,  that there have been three periods of constructive cosmological thinking in the history of European thought. They are the periods “when the idea of nature has come into the focus of thought, become the subject of intense and protracted reflection, and consequently acquired new characteristics which in their turn have given a new aspect to the detailed science of nature that has been based upon it.”1Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1945. He classifies these as (1) the Greek, (2) the Renaissance, and (3) the Modern ideas of Nature — to which we may add a fourth, the Postmodern idea of Nature. My aim in the present article is, first, to explain the essentials of the Greek idea of Nature, which is prevailingly Aristotelian; second, to show how the Renaissance, Modern, and Postmodern views have deviated from the aforesaid paradigm; and finally, to argue that these deviations prove to be misconceived and untenable.

Let it be said at the outset that there are in fact two fundamental grounds vindicating the Aristotelian conception of substance:

First of all, whereas the ultimate exclusion of “substance” was achieved in the form of quantum physics, it turns out that the resultant measuring problem cannot be resolved without distinguishing ontologically  between the physical system and the measuring instrument. Thus the very moment substance had been successfully eliminated from the domain of physics, it actually reappeared in the configuration of measurement, which simply cannot be reduced to quantum particles and fields. Aristotle’s notions of matter and substantial form as the metaphysical principles of the corporeal world have thus reasserted themselves on the grounds of physics itself.

And secondly, not only can there be no corporeal world without “form” in the precise Aristotelian sense, it turns out that neither, in the absence of form, can there be visual perception of the external world. The latter was established on rigorous empirical grounds in the groundbreaking discovery of James J. Gibson, to whom we shall return presently.2The necessity of the reintroduction of substantial forms in the resolution to the quantum measurement problem is demonstrated by Wolfgang Smith, The Quantum Enigma: Finding the Hidden Key  (Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2005). For the related discovery in the resolution to the problem of visual perception, see James J. Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception  (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986); E. S. Reed and R. K. Jones, “Gibson’s theory of perception: A case of hasty epistemologizing?” Philosophy of Science  (1978) 45, 519-30; “Gibson’s ecological revolution in psychology,” Philosophy of the Social Sciences  (1979) 9:1, 89-204. That Gibson’s game-changing discovery is almost unknown outside a narrow circle of specialists is accounted for, quite simply, by the fact that it categorically overturns the status quo.

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Collingwood summarizes the differences between the first three ideas of Nature thus:

(1) Greek natural science was based on the principle that the world of nature is saturated or permeated by mind. Greek thinkers regarded the presence of mind in nature as the source of that regularity or orderliness in the natural world whose presence made a science of nature possible. The world of nature they regarded as a world of bodies in motion. The motions in themselves, according to Greek ideas, were due to vitality or ‘soul’; but motion in itself is one thing, they believed, and orderliness another. They conceived mind, in all its manifestations, whether in human affairs or elsewhere, as a ruler, a dominating or regulating element, imposing order first upon itself and then upon everything belonging to it, primarily its own body and secondarily that body’s environment.3Op. cit., p. 3.

(2) The second of the three cosmological movements … took place in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I propose to designate its view of nature by the name of ‘Renaissance’ cosmology. The name is not a good one, because the word ‘Renaissance’ is applied to an earlier phase in the history of thought, beginning in Italy with the humanism of the fourteenth century and continuing, in the same country, with the Platonic and Aristotelian cosmologies of that century and the fifteenth. The cosmology I have now to describe was in principle a reaction against these and might, perhaps, be more accurately called ‘post-Renaissance’; but this is a clumsy term.4Ibid., p. 4.

The Renaissance view of nature began to take shape as antithetical to the Greek view in the work of Copernicus (1473-1543), Telesio (I508-1588), and Bruno (1548-1600). The central point of this antithesis was the denial that the world of nature, the world studied by physical science, is an organism, and the assertion that it is devoid both of intelligence and of life. It is therefore incapable of ordering its own movements in a rational manner, and indeed incapable of moving itself at all. The movements which it exhibits, and which the physicist investigates, are imposed upon it from without, and their regularity is due to ‘laws of nature’ likewise imposed from without. Instead of being an organism, the natural world is a machine: a machine in the literal and proper sense of the word, an arrangement of bodily parts designed and put together and set going for a definite purpose by an intelligent mind outside itself. The Renaissance thinkers, like the Greeks, saw in the orderliness of the natural world an expression of intelligence: but for the Greeks this intelligence was nature’s own intelligence, for the Renaissance thinkers it was the intelligence of something other than nature: the divine creator and ruler of nature. This distinction is the key to all the main differences between Greek and Renaissance natural science.5Ibid., p. 5.

(3) But by the sixteenth century the Industrial Revolution was well on the way. The printing-press and the windmill, the lever, the pump, and the pulley, the clock and the wheel barrow, and a host of machines in use among miners and engineers were established features of daily life. Everyone understood the nature of a machine, and the experience of making and using such things had become part of the general consciousness of European man. It was an easy step to the proposition: as a clockmaker or millwright is to a clock or mill, so is God to Nature.6Ibid., pp. 8-9.

The modern view of Nature owes something both to Greek and to Renaissance cosmology, but it differs from each in fundamental ways…7Ibid., p. 9. Transposed during the next half-century into terms of natural science, the idea of ‘progress’ became (as in Erasmus Darwin, Zoonomia, 1794-8, and Lamarck, Philosophie zoologique, 1809) the idea which in another half-century was to become famous as that of ‘evolution’…8Ibid., p. 10. The tendency of all modern science of nature is to resolve substance into function. All natural functions are forms of motion, and all motion takes time. At an instant, not the ‘instant’ of ‘instantaneous’ photography, which contains a measurable time-lapse, but a mathematical instant containing no time-lapse at all, there can be no motion, and therefore no natural function, and therefore no natural substance… The distinction between substance and function is exactly what modern physics denies.9Ibid., pp. 22-3.

What Collingwood calls the Greek view of Nature finds its most explicit expression in Aristotelian hylomorphism. According to the hylomorphic theory, which we shall address in more detail below, existence consists of two metaphysical constituents designated as “form” and “matter.” Briefly, Collingwood’s thesis about the history of the idea of Nature is the following: first, during the post-Renaissance period, Aristotelian constituents of form and matter had been changed by the Cartesian notions of res cogitans  and  res extensa,  thus losing their organic nexus; and second, whatever was left over — in the modern era — from the authentic notion of form was effectively reduced to the motion of matter, and hence forfeited its primary status. Nature considered as originating from a single substance: that is the modern idea of matter. We will see how this gradual degradation ends in self-contradiction in the fourth and final step in the history of the idea of Nature, wherein there is no substance at all.

The Greek Idea of Nature

The key concepts for understanding Collingwood’s historical reading are the terms form and matter. Their authentic meanings become manifest in the Aristotelian metaphor of sculpture and sculptor. A sculptor takes a piece of wood and gives it a form, originating either from his own mind or seen elsewhere beforehand, such as the face of Socrates. Once the sculptor’s work is achieved, we have a sculpture of Socrates made of wood. The completed sculpture has two constituents: Socrates’ face as form, and wood as matter. The face in the sculpture is distinguished from the wooden matter, for the face of Socrates as such is not something we can touch or hold in our hands, although we can “see” it in our mind’s eye. In the sculpture, form and matter are two so to say distinct, basic constituents, and therefore both are called metaphysical substances or principles. Substances differ from attributes in that the former are beings by themselves, whereas the latter can only exist in substances. However, there is another sense of the term substance, which occurs when we call matter a “substance” to distinguish it from form: the Latin substantia  (from sub stare) means literally “that which stands beneath” — a meaning also attached to the ideas of “support” and “substratum.”10René Guénon, The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times  (Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2001), p. 17.

The face of Socrates in the mind of the sculptor can be imposed upon the wood. However, there is a difference between the form qua  mind’s-eye view of Socrates and the form qua  imposed upon the wooden matter; for while the former may be “seen” by the sculptor alone, the latter can be seen by anyone looking at the completed sculpture. The sculptor takes out from his own mind, as it were, the form of Socrates, making it possible for others to see. Furthermore, anyone who has once seen the sculpture of Socrates may thereafter retain the philosopher’s face in his mind as well. The sculpture might be conceived of as a “transmitter” of the form of Socrates from the mind of the sculptor to the mind of those who view the sculptor’s work. The same form, therefore, can be in many minds at once, whereas the sculpture itself — a piece of wood informed by the face of Socrates — is unique and cannot be at different places in the objective world simultaneously.

The Greek equivalent of the terms form and matter are morphe  and hyle, respectively, which correspond to the Scholastic terms forma  and materia. There is a hierarchy among the metaphysical  substances of form and matter. The form is the metaphysical principle of matter, and hence it is ontologically above it. This formal principle generates matter by a metaphysical motion. In the language of geometric symbolism, if the formal principle resembles a point, the material principle would be the line drawn by a motion of this point. Or in numerical symbolism, the formal principle corresponds to constant quantity, whereas the material principle subtends to a variable. Sometimes the term being  is used for the formal principle. An existent, which is a manifested being, arises from the metaphysical principle of being.  And “Being” as such  is the universal principle of all individual beings. This principle, which is a “point” prior to manifestation, becomes a “circle” by the acquisition of a metaphysical dimension. That acquisition constitutes the substances of form and matter. The form is the center of the circle, as the matter is its circumference, where the area enclosed by this circle represents the corporeal world. If one wants to symbolize the corporeal world as the circle, alternatively, then the radii in the area enclosed by the circle would represent forms, while the origin point at the center would symbolize a principle higher even than the forms.

In this model, the center of the Universal Circle is Being, and its circumference is the materia prima. This first, archetypical and inseparable duality emerges from the symbiotic unity called yin-yang  in Taoism, Purusha-Prakriti  in Hinduism, good and evil in Zoroastrianism, light and darkness in the Illuminationist school of Islam, and truth and archetypes in Sufism. Ultimately what these all name is the same polarity, but considered in different orders of reality. “All contingent beings lie in a hierarchy stretching from prime matter to Being Itself and are united to Being like so many concentric circles echoing their common center.”11Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Life and Thought  (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1981), p. 184.

René Guénon refers to this duality as a quality-quantity polarity:

Quality and quantity are fairly generally regarded as complementary terms, although the profound reason for their complementarity is often far from being understood, this reason lying in [a] ‘polar’ correspondence… This, the first of all cosmic dualities, is a starting point, for it is situated at the very principle of existence or of universal manifestation, and without it no manifestation would be possible in any mode whatsoever: it is the duality of Purusha  and Prakriti  according to the Hindu doctrine, or to use another terminology, that of ‘essence’ and ‘substance’. Its two terms must be envisaged as universal principles, and as being the two poles of all manifestation; but, at another level, or rather at a number of different levels (for there are many levels, corresponding to the more or less particularized domains that can be envisaged in the interior of universal manifestation), these two terms can also be used analogically and in a relative sense to designate that which corresponds to the two principles, or most directly represents them with reference to a particular more or less limited mode of manifestation.12Op. cit., p. 11.

Thus, manifestation is the domain between these two metaphysical constituents; or, in other words, an existent is a “composite being.” Form and matter exhibit a common existence in a sensible entity through their composition. Every radius binding any point on the circumference to the center represents an individually manifested being. Therefore, every manifested being has an exterior (matter) and an interior (form). These two constituents cannot but occur together  in manifestation, just as we cannot observe in Nature a single geographic or magnetic north or south pole. For this reason, form and matter in the Greek idea of Nature are connected organically, like the two ends of a rope.

On the one hand, matter qua  matter is capable of receiving any form in the external world; that is, hyle  can take the form of anybody other than Socrates, or that of any other thing. This principle would resemble various radiuses in distinct  circles, where the center of each represents distinct forms. On the other hand, matter may take innumerable copies of the same form so that the statue of Socrates, for instance, can be multiplied ad libitum — and this would resemble various radiuses in the same circle. The distinctive property of materia prima  is to be the lowest stratum and last substance (in the sense of sub stare) capable of receiving any particular determination without being subject to an exhaustive determination for itself. Wolfgang Smith notes that it is this materia  that has “been conceived traditionally as a primordial chaos from which the cosmos is brought forth by a determinative act, a divine command or fiat lux…” And that “Genesis refer[s] to this tenebrous realm as a tohu-wa-bohu, as ‘without form and void,’” and “Proverbs speak[s] of it as the abyssos  upon which the divine Geometer ‘set His compass’ to construct the world.”13The Wisdom of Ancient Cosmology  (Oakton, VA: Foundation for Traditional Studies, 2004), p. 29. Jacob Boehme describes this primordial chaos as a “dark fire.”14Ibid., p. 92.

It should be noted that form in the Greek idea of Nature does not amount merely to geometrical shapes and structures. Rather it is a holistic arche  which includes not only geometric shapes and structures, patterns, organizations, but also colors, textures, odors, sounds, tones, tastes, tactile and all other sensible qualities, such as non-geometric types of organizations and collaborations. It is reasonable to consider that this wholeness contains the forces that are responsible for keeping the parts of an entity together, preventing its dispersion, and giving it an identity and unity by distinguishing it from other entities. This is why the form is called the essence or quiddity, meaning that which makes a thing to be that which it is. St. Thomas Aquinas refers to this unifying principle as substantial form.

The act of the sculptor as transmitting the morphe  in his mind to the hyle  which makes possible the appearance of the formal principle in the external world — namely in Nature — is a synthesis of form and matter. We are going to denote it by “form@matter” to distinguish it from other designations. Since the hylomorphic synthesis is an act, it needs an active principle, a sculptor’s or artist’s initiation. There is an artist first of all, and then an art (form) within him. The artist,  the form in his mind,  the form to be projected into the external world,  and the matter  all correspond, respectively, to Aristotle’s efficient, final (paradigmatic), formal, and material causes. Aristotle claims that any complete explanation requires each of these four causes.15https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-psychology (Retrieved 26 December 2018). The first three are active with respect to the last, while the last is passive; the form is masculine or transmissive, and the matter is feminine or receptive. According to the idea of Nature under consideration, all existence, whether natural or artificial, arises through the actualization of matter as an unmanifested and unmanifestable potential reality by a form: that is the hylomorphic synthesis which is denoted by form@matter. Therefore the Greek idea of Nature, as explained by Collingwood, is an organic whole that appears through the hylomorphic synthesis of two indissociable constituents, and it is this synthetic character of the Aristotelian idea of Nature that was lost during the post-Renaissance era.

It is relatively easy to understand that the form is not visible in the external world before its manifestation through its associated matter. However, it is generally difficult to conceive of matter in the Aristotelian sense as in fact “invisible” both before and after the hylomorphic synthesis. Let us try to explain this with the help of a mirror metaphor: Consider that we have an extremely clean and transparent plate of glass in front of us so that we can never notice its existence. And assume that we have a source of light very different from the ordinary one that passes through the glass, without any reflection or refraction, and thus does not allow us to recognize the glass as glass. Suppose that this second kind of light cannot penetrate the glass, but only reflects. Now envisage that a figure is reflected in the glass by this light. What we see in front of us would not be the glass itself but the reflected image. On the face of such an image, we think there is an object in front of us having the reflected form, as opposed to the glass itself. In other words, we do not think that there is a glass there at all unless the form of the glass is reflected in us. When the form of glass is reflected, moreover, we conceive  but do not “see” the glass, for what we see is not the matter but the form of the glass. Now, the glass in this metaphor exhibits the “invisibility” characteristic of the material substance, for this substance is sensible neither before nor after the hylomorphic synthesis.

However, the form that is known by the mind holding it becomes visible to other minds after the manifestation that occurs in a hylomorphic synthesis. To use a brief analogy, one might say that the matter is the screen which we cannot notice unless a light is reflected in it, and forms are the images on that screen. The reason a sculptor can perceive the wood in his hands is that the wood already possesses a form of its own. Although it is not the face of Socrates, every piece of wood has a shape. Form means determination  or boundary.  A “boundless” entity could not be perceived. If the wood had no bounds — or if its bounds were so small or large that we could not recognize them — the sculptor could not perceive it in the first place. Among pure form (Being) and pure matter (materia prima),  only the former can be knowable in this regard, but the latter cannot. Nevertheless the universal hierarchy of being consists of several “layers” between these two pure principles.

The form of a living being in the Greek idea of Nature is called psyche, which is the soul  in English, anima  in Latin, and nafs  in Arabic.16William Stoddart, Remembering in a World of Forgetting  (Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2008), p. 46. Aristotle describes the soul — which is the metaphysical principle of life — as the form of the living body, or in his own words, “as the first actuality of a natural body which has life in potentiality.”17Aristotle, De Anima  (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2016), p. 22. The soul organizes the body so that the body nourishes, grows, breeds, ages, and dies, unlike non-living beings. He insists that “the body which has lost its soul is not the one which is potentially alive; this is rather the one which has a soul.”18Ibid., p. xxiii. When we call a cadaver a “body” we really are only using the word in a secondary sense; the body which has lost its soul still has a substantial form, but no longer that substantial form which was once its soul. This definition of “soul” is valid for herbal and animal species as well, although there are obvious differences between them. The existence of every living organism is possible through the hylomorphic unification of soul and body, the soul being the metaphysical principle that makes the organism integral, albeit its body is ceaselessly changing throughout its life. The soul-principle is “herbal” insofar as it consists in nourishment, growth, and breeding; as “animal” insofar as it consists in perceptual and volitional acts; and as “human” insofar as it comprehends universals and abstract particulars, and carries out intellectual and intuitive acts. Once again, there is a definite hierarchical  relationship between human, animal, and herbal souls. We should note well that the human possesses animal and herbal souls as well, and that an animal possesses the herbal soul; but obviously this does not work the other way around — the higher may encompass the lower, but the lower cannot encompass the higher.19Omer Turker, Nefis, Encyclopedia of Islam (TDV, 2006) 32, 529-31.

According to Aristotle, the faculty which separates animal and human souls from the herbal soul is sensory perception.20De Sensu  1, 436b10-12. The Aristotelian theory of perception is that animals and humans feel and perceive things by receiving their sensible forms via the sense organs. A red apple has a quality of “being red” as well as possessing a particular shape, and when we see it we perceive its redness all as one with its shape. The most intimate envisagement to this understanding of perception in the modern era is the ecological theory of perception of James J. Gibson (1904-79), a professor of psychology at Cornell University.21See footnote 2. The metaphysical principle which distinguishes humans from animals is the fact that a human can perceive not only sensible but also intelligible  forms.22Aristotle, De Anima  iii 4, 429a13-18. The faculty that perceives intelligible forms is called pneuma  or nous  in Greek, spirit  or intellect  in English, spiritus  or intellectus  in Latin, and Ruh  or Aql  in Arabic.

Granted that one certainly cannot claim that Aristotelian hylomorphism was the only “idea of Nature” in ancient Greece, it can nevertheless be said that it was the prevailing paradigm of Nature right up to the sixteenth century in the West as well as the Near and Middle East, and this is why we are able to single it out in importance.

The Renaissance Idea of Nature

In the Renaissance idea of Nature, the radical dualism of Descartes’ (1596-1650) usurped the role that Aristotelian hylomorphism had played in the Greek idea of Nature. In the Cartesian ontology, Aristotelian form and matter are replaced by the substances res cogitans — which is defined as the quality of thinking, but having no extension — and res extensa — which has spatial extension, but not thought. The categories of this substance-dualism cannot be reconciled with the hylomorphic paradigm, for the definitions of the former do not allow such an organic unification as one finds in the latter. These two Cartesian substances can come together “side by side” or “one on the top of the other” only as in the case of an analytic summation to constitute a collection, but they cannot form an organic union. Therefore, it would be proper to denote “thinking being” in the Renaissance idea of Nature as “res_cogitans(+)res_extensa.” Galileo (1564-1642) and Descartes divided the world into what came to be known as “primary and secondary qualities.” They classified as “primary” such attributes as number, extension, shape, and motion, which do not depend on subjective assessments, and can be measured with a certain precision. And they classified as “secondary” such attributes as color, taste, odor, sound, and touch — that is, “qualities” properly so called — which rely on subjective perception. In the Renaissance idea of Nature, not only primary but also secondary qualities became the subject of a mechanical explanation. For instance, the color of an object, for Descartes, is related to the “spin” of the particles that constitute light. When light strikes an object, the particles that constitute light alter their rotation about their axis. Spin is what makes light have one color rather than another. There is no other meaning or reality of “color” for him.23https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/descartes (Retrieved 28 March 2018).

In the Renaissance idea of Nature, matter (matterᴿ) is in a sense the opposite of matter in the Greek idea of Nature (matterᴳ). If we translate the Cartesian res extensa  into the language of the Greek idea as formᵉˣᵗ, then matterᴿ would correspond to something like formᵉˣᵗ@matterᴳ. However, this matterᴿ differs greatly from matterᴳ for the following two reasons: first, as matterᴳ was an insensible substance, matterᴿ takes on a kind of “corporeal” existence as it now possesses form; secondly, since corporeal existence in the Greek idea of Nature (formᴳ@matterᴳ) has been transformed into formᵉˣᵗ@matterᴳ, it has lost the “secondary” qualities which it once possessed via metaphysical forms. In other words, all the qualities of matter that can be perceived with the five sensory organs are no longer regarded as constituents of form, and they are reduced merely to the mechanical properties of matterᴿ. And when it comes to non-living being in the Renaissance idea of Nature, there is but a single “substance,” namely matterᴿ.

The notion of the living being in the Renaissance idea of Nature can be translated into the language of the Greek idea as formᶜᵒᵍ(+)matterᴿ. Formᶜᵒᵍ in this formulation is nothing but a small subset of formᴳ. Termed “bifurcation” by Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947),24The Concept of Nature  (Cambridge University Press, 2015). this formulation is directly related to the fundamental epistemological discussions about the mind-body problem and how the subject knows the object. Nearly all of us still hold this problematic paradigm of non-living matter and living beings in the Renaissance sense of matterᴿ and formᶜᵒᵍ(+)matterᴿ, respectively.

Wolfgang Smith reminds us, nevertheless, that all of this confusion is confronted with the triumph of James J. Gibson:

By way of painstaking empirical investigations, he became convinced that prevailing theories of visual perception [deriving from formᶜᵒᵍ(+)matterᴿ] are in fact untenable. The very notion that “the eye sends, the nerve transmits, and a mind or spirit receives” needs to be radically modified. In the final count, perception is to be conceived as an act, not of the body, nor of a mind, nor indeed of the two operating in tandem, but of the mind-body compound, conceived holistically as a single entity. What Gibson terms the perceptual system is not a sum of parts, nor can the perceptual act be dichotomized into stimulus and response. And as to the famous “perceptual image” whether conceived as existing physiologically in the brain or psychologically in the mind — he concludes that the concept is spurious. What is perceived, Gibson finds, is not an image, but quite simply the external environment; in a word, the so-called ecological theory of perception is non-bifurcationist. “This distinction between primary and secondary qualities is quite unnecessary,” writes Gibson, and is in fact “wholly rejected” in his approach. One is amazed to see how this sober scientist was able, by way of hard-headed inquiry based squarely upon empirical findings, to deconstruct the Cartesian edifice. He shows that the customary neurological and computer-theoretic approach to perception is flawed, and can at best yield results of a secondary nature — a recognition which can be seen as a decisive limit theorem pertaining to cognitive psychology.25Op. cit., p. 232-3.

The Modern and Postmodern Ideas of Nature

When we come to the Modern idea of Nature, we find that an altogether new paradigm has emerged, and that the distinction between living and non-living being — even as it was still conceived in the Renaissance — is jettisoned entirely. In this idea of Nature, all existence is formed from a single substance which is the modern sense of matter (matterᴹ).26We can call it the “modern realist” idea of Nature. In the modern idealist idea of Nature the substances of soul and matter do not reduce to matter in the modern sense, but rather to the modern sense of form (formᴹ). In this understanding, even formᶜᵒᵍ is not distinct from, nor reducible to, the “substance” of matterᴹ, since it is nothing but a by-product of the motion of matterᴹ within space-time — that is, of sensible natural processes. Therefore, regardless of whether it is alive or dead, there is in no natural being a metaphysical substance such as form, soul, or spirit independent of and irreducible to matterᴹ. The entire ontology of the Modern idea of Nature consists of the sensible matterᴹ which resides on the spatio-temporal level of reality. There are no other domains or tiers of reality beneath, above, or beyond it. The first three of the four Aristotelian causes have been effectively eliminated, and thus Nature and the things within it no longer need an artist nor an aim and art.

The fourth and terminative stage in this story is the Postmodern idea of Nature, wherein matterᴹ has lost its status qua  substance altogether. There is no absolute “reality” at this stage, as reality itself has been relativized absolutely; to document the details of this degeneration would require an article unto itself. For our purposes here it is sufficient to point out that the problematic of the nihilist Postmodern idea of Nature amounts to the self-contradictory assertion that the only absolute truth is that there is no absolute truth.

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If one can, even for a moment, suspend that wonder caused by the dazzling light of technological advancements wrought by the Modern idea of Nature — a light which tends to blind us to its philosophical deficiencies — it is actually not so difficult to recognize that the multi-tiered ontology of Aristotle has, in actual fact, been vindicated against the deviations and truncated alternatives which began to present themselves in the post-Galilean era. And this vindication has come about — as indicated at the beginning of this article — by way of rigorous empirical studies and philosophical argumentation. Consequently, it is time we ceased our blind chase after the myth of “modern progress,” as the crackling and self-destruction of post-Aristotelian ontology has now become far more recognizable — however many remain to be persuaded.


Ali Sebetci is a professor of physics from Turkey where he taught at various universities, having published several papers in international journals on modeling and simulation of atomic and molecular clusters, and has presented his research in many respectable conferences. He is also an active peer-reviewer for various international scientific journals.
Dr. Sebetci has a long-standing interest in the philosophy of science in general as well as the Sophia Perennis in particular, and is translator of Wolfgang Smith’s masterworks The Quantum Enigma and Ancient Wisdom and Modern Misconceptions into Turkish.

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Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1945.
The necessity of the reintroduction of substantial forms in the resolution to the quantum measurement problem is demonstrated by Wolfgang Smith, The Quantum Enigma: Finding the Hidden Key  (Brooklyn, NY: Angelico Press, 2005). For the related discovery in the resolution to the problem of visual perception, see James J. Gibson, The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception  (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986); E. S. Reed and R. K. Jones, “Gibson’s theory of perception: A case of hasty epistemologizing?” Philosophy of Science  (1978) 45, 519-30; “Gibson’s ecological revolution in psychology,” Philosophy of the Social Sciences  (1979) 9:1, 89-204. That Gibson’s game-changing discovery is almost unknown outside a narrow circle of specialists is accounted for, quite simply, by the fact that it categorically overturns the status quo.
Op. cit., p. 3.
Ibid., p. 4.
Ibid., p. 5.
Ibid., pp. 8-9.
Ibid., p. 9.
Ibid., p. 10.
Ibid., pp. 22-3.
René Guénon, The Reign of Quantity and the Signs of the Times  (Hillsdale, NY: Sophia Perennis, 2001), p. 17.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Islamic Life and Thought  (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1981), p. 184.
Op. cit., p. 11.
The Wisdom of Ancient Cosmology  (Oakton, VA: Foundation for Traditional Studies, 2004), p. 29.
Ibid., p. 92.
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle-psychology (Retrieved 26 December 2018).
William Stoddart, Remembering in a World of Forgetting  (Bloomington: World Wisdom, 2008), p. 46.
Aristotle, De Anima  (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2016), p. 22.
Ibid., p. xxiii.
Omer Turker, Nefis, Encyclopedia of Islam (TDV, 2006) 32, 529-31.
De Sensu  1, 436b10-12.
See footnote 2.
Aristotle, De Anima  iii 4, 429a13-18.
https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/descartes (Retrieved 28 March 2018).
The Concept of Nature  (Cambridge University Press, 2015).
Op. cit., p. 232-3.
We can call it the “modern realist” idea of Nature. In the modern idealist idea of Nature the substances of soul and matter do not reduce to matter in the modern sense, but rather to the modern sense of form (formᴹ).