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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q064-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 24, 2024, from

Article Summary

Viewed as arising within the framework of a more general theory of substance, philosophical treatments of matter have traditionally revolved around two issues: (1) The nature of matter: what are the distinguishing characteristics of matter or material substance(s) that define it and distinguish it from other substances, if any? (2) The problem of elements: do material things consist of elementary substances, or are there always further constituents? One possible view is that there is no fundamental level – that there are always further constituents, ingredients of ingredients. However, the view most often held by both philosophers and scientists has been that there are indeed fundamental elements out of which material things are made. Once this view is adopted, the question arises as to what they are and what properties distinguish them.

These two issues were introduced, though only gradually, in ancient Greek philosophy. A significant turn came about in the seventeenth century, in which the work of Descartes and Newton led to a picture of matter as passive, inert and dead as opposed to minds and forces, both of which were conceived as being ‘active’. Many philosophical problems and doctrines have been formulated in terms of this distinction. However, later developments in science, especially in the twentieth century, have brought about such profound changes that classical concepts of matter are no longer viable. These new developments profoundly alter the statements of philosophical doctrines and problems traditionally associated with matter.

Citing this article:
Shapere, Dudley. Matter, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q064-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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