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Francis Garden - 1878 - Table of contents

Diccionario filosófico
Complete edition

Diccionario de Filosofía
Brief definition of the most important concepts of philosophy.


A Dictionary of English Philosophical Terms Francis Garden

Vocabulary of Philosophy, Psychological, Ethical, Metaphysical
William Fleming

Biografías y semblanzas Biographical references and lives of philosophers

Brief introduction to the thought of Ortega y Gasset

History of Philosophy Summaries

Historia de la Filosofía
Explanation of the thought of the great philosophers; summaries, exercises...

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Jaime Balmes

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Zeferino González

Vidas, opiniones y sentencias de los filósofos más ilustres
Complete digital edition of the work of Diogenes Laertius

Compendio de las vidas de los filósofos antiguos

A brief history of Greek Philosophy
B. C. Burt


A Short History of Philosophy





Form. The distinction between matter ὔλη and form μορφή or εἶδος, and their concurrence in the σὐνολον, as constituting real existence are an important element in the Aristotelian philosophy.


Mere matter cannot constitute anything, till it receives some sort of form, which gives it determinate and distinct existence, makes it what it is. Matter antecedent to the reception of any form was called by philosophers elementary or materia prima. Of course such matter can be neither seen, felt, or in any way conceived. Every object of perception is ipso facto recognised as something, and has therefore some form. Only Ralpho in Hudibras,

                      "¾¾¾ professed
        He had first matter seen undressed;
        He took her naked all alone,
        Before one rag of form was on."

When the word matter is used in this sense, it is in antithesis to form not to mind; and it may easily be seen that it need not mean anything corporeal. Virtues, vices, heresies, and the like, have in the language of the schools their matter and their form. A man is in material heresy who makes a statement in verbal opposition to the orthodox faith, but he is not formally a heretic unless he means and prefers the position thus opposed to the truth. An act may have the matter of schism, but is not formal schism in him who commits it without knowing the circumstances of the case, or the questions with which it is connected.

The form then of anything is that which constitutes it what it is. This matter, whether mental or corporeal, constitutes nothing till it has received form. The formal cause then (see Cause) is that which determines anything in its distinct being.

Now, in ordinary modern language form is used rather in contradistinction to that which is real; a use almost the opposite of the philosophical, in which latter the form is nearly equivalent to the essence. The employment of the term by Bacon, as identical in meaning with the vera differentia and the natura naturans, is in accordance with this.

The true force of the word comes out clearly in the following:
            "Anzi è formale ad esto besto esse
             Tenersi dentro alla divina voglia;
             Perch' una fansi nostre voglie stesse."
                                     DANTE, Paradiso, III.

Carey renders the tercet thus:
            "Rather it is inherent in this state
             Of blessedness, to keep ourselves within
             The Divine Will, by which our wills with His are one."

Sir Frederick Pollock as follows:
            "In this blest state it is essential hence
             To the Divine Will to conform the thoughts,
             That our wills together may make one."

And Mrs. Ramsay:
           "For 'tis essential to this life of bliss
           To hold ourselves within the Will Divine,
           That thus our wills should be at one with His."


Of these the two latter keep nearer to the force of formale than the first. Still essential is infelicitous, for it means of or belonging to the essence, and not therefore necessarily constituting it. It would have been better both in respect of philosophical exactness and retention of the scholastic costume of the Divina Commedia to have rendered formale literally by formal, the rather that all three translators do so in the conclusion of the immediately preceding canto. A note would have explained to the ordinary reader the force of the term.

I have hitherto been dealing merely with the Aristotelian and subsequent scholastic force of the word form. In ancient times it ran through various shades of meaning pretty correspondent to those which it bears among ourselves. Plato in the Republic uses it as we should in contradistinction to the reality, the true ἰδέα. And it seems often to have been taken as nearly synonymous with σχῆμα, outward shape or fashion. But in grave discourse since Aristotle we may expect to find a distinction, and μορφή or form appropriated to the real being of that to which the term is applied.

Trench, in his New Testament Synonyms, 2nd series, has a valuable article on the three words, μορφή, σχῆμα and ἰδέα, together with the cognates of the two former, μετασχηματίζειν and μεταμορφοῡν, and Professor Lightfoot furnishes a most profound note on the word μορφή in connection with the sublimest application that was ever made of it, in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Philippians.(1)

Whatever variations may be found in the use of the word, the strict scholastic meaning should be kept carefully in mind by the student of our old writers, although with them too, it will be found used sometimes exactly, sometimes loosely.

For the phrase "under the forms of bread and wine," see Species.


(1) It is worth remarking that St. Paul denotes a mere outward appearance, without inward reality, not by the word μορφή, but by μόρφωσις.—Rom. II. 20, 2 Tim. III. 5.



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