Hylomorphism, Causal Closure, and the Fundamentality of the Familiar

David Yates

LanCog, University of Lisbon


21 October 2022, 16:00 (Lisbon Time – WET)

Faculdade de Letras de Lisboa

Sala Mattos Romão (Departamento de Filosofia)


Abstract: Hylomorphists follow Aristotle in thinking that there are fundamental complex particulars and that the form or structure of such particulars is somehow responsible for their fundamentality. So-called “staunch hylomorphists” hold that the form of a complex whole plays a fundamental role in determining the identities, and hence the powers, of its proper parts. Staunch hylomorphism faces a dilemma: how can a whole be grounded in its proper parts and yet also be fundamental, given that grounding is a relative fundamentality relation? We can put the point in terms of causation: if a whole is grounded in its parts, then its causal powers should also be so grounded, but in that case the whole cannot be fundamental. Conversely, if we endorse what Inman calls the “fundamentality of the familiar”, it seems we need to reject the idea that wholes are grounded in their parts and embrace some form of emergentism in which it is wholes that ground their parts and not vice-versa (Scaltsas, Marmodoro, Koons). In this paper I explore the possibility of a version of staunch hylomorphism based solely on the claim that there are irreducibly structural constraints on the manifestations of fundamental powers. If this is correct, then the relevant structural properties are what I will refer to as “causally fundamental”. Since they are the bearers of causally fundamental properties, complex wholes can also be treated as causally fundamental without any corresponding commitment to their fundamentality simpliciter. No special formal powers are needed, no causal closure violations are involved, and complex wholes are grounded in their proper parts. I will also suggest that, since the functional roles of components within a mechanism derive in part from structural constraints, such constraints can indeed be conceived as changing the identities of the components.