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A water molecule.
A water molecule.

Strengths and weaknesses of the matter-form model

In the previous step you have tried to identify strengths and weaknesses of the matter-form model of analysis. Here, we will take a brief look at some of the attractive features of the model, and identify some of its more problematic aspects.

Strengths of the matter-form model of analysis

  1. One attractive feature of this model, you might say, is that it is relatively simple. A vast array of natural processes, ranging from the incineration of wood or the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly to the change of colour of a rotting apple, can be described relatively easily in terms of a piece of matter that loses or acquires a certain form.

  2. Also, the model nicely accommodates the intuition that some properties of a body are essential to it, whereas others are merely accidental. The model captures this by distinguishing between substantial forms, which ground the essential properties of bodies, and accidental forms, which give rise to accidental properties.

Weaknesses of the matter-form model of analysis

  1. One point you might make is that the model is vague. To say that water behaves like water because it is H2O, or a chemical bonding of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, is to give a very concrete explanation. But to say that water behaves like water because of its form is far less concrete. To make this claim concrete, we would need to be given some further account of just what sort of thing the form of a body is. Without such an account, the form of a body remains a kind of ‘black box’ that somehow gives rise to its physical characteristics.

  2. The model says that, when wood reduces to ashes, the matter of the wood loses its form, and gains another. But where does this new form come from? The model provides no clear answer to this question, which considerably weakens its explanatory power. The scholastics themselves were aware of this problem, but did not provide a clear-cut solution.

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The Scientific Revolution: Understanding the Roots of Modern Science

University of Groningen

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