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"Rational Scientific Theories from Theism"

 

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Previous: 4.4 Dispositions in nature Up: 4. Power and Substance Next: 4.6 Discussion

4.5 The proposed ontology

On the basis of the previous scientific analyses and the above generalization, I claim first that every existing object is composed of some underlying stuff or substance with some given set of causal powers or propensities, and that it is moreover composed according to some form or structure. We may think of those forms as being spatial4.5arrangements or fields. This can be done at any stage of scientific analysis, wherever we believe we have a complete set of the causal powers exhibited by an object. We may or may not think we have knowledge of some fundamental level.

Let us make a second philosophical step and consider that substance itself. What is it? Its essence is some set of causal powers. Therefore, from the Eleatic and pragmatic points of view, all we can (and need to) say is that the substance is that set of causal powers. This is to identify complete sets of causal powers as substantial objects and such objects as complete sets of causal powers.

We are thus making an ontological move, as powers are no longer all properties or properties of properties. More fundamental powers are taken instead as the substance of which objects can be made. This will also suggest a grammatical move of the powers, from being adjectives within predicates to being subjects and objects. We have now to envisage powers and propensities as nouns, as discussed below.

While this approach and that of Aquinas are both inspired by Aristotle, we end up with different formulations. We distinguish form from underlying substance, but we differ in where we attribute an object’s causal principle, the active powers that lead it to act and interact. For Aquinas, the object’s form is a description of everything that makes the object what it is and so includes its causal principle. His underlying substance is what is left, namely the ‘pure potency’ that is in-formed to make a specific object. In this book, by contrast, ‘form’ is taken to refer to purely static or categorical properties, and an object’s causal principle - its active powers - is taken to be a certain feature of its underlying substance, not of its form. Aquinas groups causal principles and anatomical shapes together within ‘form’ and distinguishes both from substance as pure potency, whereas I group causal principles and substance together and distinguish both from anatomical shapes. In my opinion, Aquinas has too many concepts packed within the meaning of ‘form’. This not only often leads to confusion for readers but also hinders the scientific investigation of details of microscopic structures and of powers of those structures.


Previous: 4.4 Dispositions in nature Up: 4. Power and Substance Next: 4.6 Discussion

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