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.