You are on page 1of 268


By Mariano Artigas
Renewed Fourth Edition
Translation from the original Spanish: FILOSOFA DE LA NATURALEZA Ediciones Universidad de Navarra, S.A. (EUNSA) Spain-1998

Translated by Carlo Annoscia

CONTENT PROLOGUE PART ONE I. INTRODUCTION: NATURE AND PHILOSOPHY OF NATURE 1. General Introduction 2. Historical Panorama of the Scientific and Philosophical Study of Nature 3. The concept of Nature II. THE NATURAL ENTITIES 4. Natural Systems 5. Natural Substances

6. How to Identify Natural Substances III. DYNAMISM IN NATURE 7. Natural Processes 8. The Becoming: Act and Potency 9. Unitary Processes in Nature IV. ORDER IN NATURE

10. The Natural Order 11. The Physico-Chemical Structure 12. Unity and Order in the Universe V. THE BEING OF NATURE 13. Levels of Understanding Nature 14. Material Conditions and Formal Determinations 15. The Hileo-Morphic Structure VI. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. VII. QUANTITAVE DIMENSIONS Properties Of and Relations Between Material Entities Dimensional Extension Plurality of the Physical World Quantification in Science Philosophy of Mathematics SPACE AND TIME

21. Localization and Space 22. Duration and Time 23. Unity between Space and Time VIII. QUALITATIVE ASPECTS

24. Qualitative Properties 25. Quantity and Qualities IX. ACTIVITY AND CAUSALITY OF NATURAL ENTITIES

26. Causality and Physical Activity 27. Contingency of Nature X. THE LIVING BEINGS 28. Characterization of the Living beings 29. Origin of Life and Evolution of the Species XI. ORIGIN AND MEANING OF NATURE

30. Origin of the Universe 31. Finality in Nature

32. Nature and the Human Person 33. Nature and God

I am very pleased to present this book by Professor Mariano Artigas on the Philosophy of Nature. The book covers objectives, which have been of common interest to both of us for quite some years now in our work of investigation and teaching. This is not the place to speak at length of the uninterrupted dialogue between us over this time on these objectives and on the preparations of this publication. It is enough to mention the previous manual, published in two successive editions since 1984. This book is the continuation and development of the first one. The fact of not being appearing as one of its authors does not mean that I have dissociated myself in absolute from its content (and even less from my studies on this matter). On the contrary, I believe that this manual is a full response to what is needed. As one who now receives the text of this book, I would really like to thank Artigas above all and I would dare say in the name of all his readers for the nice and deep synthesis, which he offers to us, of the philosophy of nature (which was anticipated in a different way in his work La inteligibilidad de la naturalez). His well-known competence as a philosopher of science, and as a physicist as well, explains, for me, such a promising result. However, what pleases me most, if I am allowed to use this verb of subjective nuances, is the fact that a book like this will ensure a future for the philosophy of nature. And here we touch, at least in part, those common objectives I was speaking of at the beginning. I do not believe that nowadays one may develop a speculative and metaphysical philosophy (including anthropology) disregarding science. The task of leading the scientific and philosophical thought back to a unity of comprehension (definitely analogical) passes necessarily through the philosophy of nature.. Only in this way it will be possible to repair the great breach which was produced in the ancient worldview, when traditional metaphysics witnessed the arrival of modern science. Artigas manages to give in this book, and with notable amplitude of horizons, a basic philosophical view of the natural realities of the material world, which reconciles the perennial aspects of the classical approach with a new worldview on nature, which arises from modern science. Artigas does this without an extrinsic kind of reconciling, but by re-thinking the issues from their roots. Moreover, he takes into account, in this task, epistemology as a necessary mediator between science and philosophy, evidently because the presence of the gnoseological element cannot be neglected in a realistic Aristotelian approach (not Platonic). Philosophy of nature, a bit forgotten by academician philosophers, has been on its way to revival for some time now, not in a systematic way, yet very effectively, in the notes at the margin in the work of present-day scientists, in the informal presentations, as a synthesis, which time and again appear in thousands of ways in magazines, books and other mass media. All people averagely educated are receiving nowadays philosophical ideas about the world, life, man, which become progressively crystallized in a specific perception of nature. On this basis, the great technological projects of mankind are being elaborated nowadays, while at the same time a view of man is being shaped up, which is not exempt from problematic issues. The intervention of the philosopher can cast a lot of light on this natural process, which is full of lights and shadows. The most desirable method to do this is, in my opinion, very similar to the one used by Aristotle in his own times. In consists in giving metaphysical importance to what comes to us from the natural being through the various theoretical and experiential accesses, which the world in which we live offers. Artigas book is definitely placed in this route. I look at a work like this as an

important contribution to the whole field of philosophy and to the present-day debate, which seeks harmony between the Christian faith and the scientific knowledge, not to talk about its evident usefulness for the students owing to its great capacity of presenting topics.
JUAN JOS SANGUINETI Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome


he study of nature can be carried out in two ways: scientifically and philosophically. Science looks for explanations of the natural phenomena in relation to other phenomena and causes, and it does this from specific points of view. On the other hand, philosophy of nature looks for explanations rooted in the being and ways of being of the natural entities and processes. These two approaches are autonomous although related to each other. They are different in their focuses although science leans on some philosophical assumptions and philosophy needs to take into account the progress of scientific knowledge. This chapter contains a general introduction to the philosophy of nature (Section 1), followed by an historical panorama (Section 2) and by considerations about the character of nature (Section 3) which will form the base for reflections contained in the rest of the book. 1. GENERAL INTRODUCTION

Philosophy of nature is that branch of philosophy whose task is to reflect upon the natural, or physical, world. We shall now consider the nature of this reflection and its value. This consideration shall prompt us to analyse also the achievements of natural sciences, since there is a close relationship between these sciences and philosophy of nature. 1.1. Philosophical reflection on nature

The object of philosophy is the whole reality studied in the light of the natural reason. Philosophy goes much further than the specific knowledge provided by science and looks for the most radical explanations. This is the reason why it is said that philosophy studies the reality in the light of its ultimate causes, or that it asks questions about the being of reality. According to a classical distinction, the philosophical reflection has three main objects, i.e. the world, man and God. Philosophy of nature is the philosophical reflection on the world, where world stands for the natural, or physical, world and this includes the inanimate beings (stars and planets, the physico-chemical components of matter, the physico-chemical compounds) as well as the living ones.


Relationship with other branches of philosophy

Anthropology studies the human person. Man, though, is also part of nature while, at the same time, he transcends it. Because of this, there is a close relationship between anthropology and philosophy of nature. Unquestionably the human person has spiritual dimensions which are irreducible to matter. However, man is a being characterized by an internal unity and, therefore, the study of the human person needs to take into account the conclusions of philosophy of nature. On the other hand man is, so to say, the ultimate aim of philosophy of nature owing to the central place he occupies in the natural world. It is worth noting that the main difficulties met with by anthropology derive from philosophy of nature. Actually, the tendency of explaining the human person in terms of his physical, chemical and biological components is an effect of the enormous progress of natural sciences. It is an illegitimate type of reductionism, consequence of unlawful extrapolations of scientific knowledge into areas that do not fall under the scope of science. Philosophy of nature plays an irreplaceable role in clarifying these issues. Philosophy of nature also supplies half of the basis on which natural theology is built. Our natural knowledge of God is not immediate: with the help of our natural powers we can know God only through created things. There are naturalistic stands according to which the world could be explained without making recourse to God. This mistake requires a reflection on what nature is, and this is the object proper to philosophy of nature. In the same way philosophy of nature provides the basis for metaphysics; metaphysics studies the ultimate principles of being as being which can be applied to material as well as to spiritual realities. We climb up to the general laws of being through a reflection on nature. It is actually quite difficult, not to say impossible, to build a rigorous metaphysics without taking into account an equally rigorous reflection on the physical world.


Philosophy and natural sciences

Natural sciences have a common general goal: they look for a knowledge of nature which can be submitted to experimental control. Any explanation which asks for admission into the world of experimental science needs to fulfil this minimum prerequisite1. Philosophy of nature has the obligation of taking into account the knowledge acquired by the different branches of experimental science. Its focus, though, is different: as already mentioned, it looks for the ultimate causes of nature and proposes general explanations which go much further than what is usually looked for in the experimental sciences. For instance, it proposes concepts such as substance, or act and potency in order to explain specific characteristics of nature. Such concepts are objects

For a more detailed analysis of the objectivity and truth in the experimental science see M. ARTIGAS, Filosofia de la ciencia experimental. La objectividad y la verdad en las ciencias, 2nd ed., EUNSA, Pamplona 1992.

of no scientific discipline: science studies substances and the potentialities of nature, but they do not ask the same questions as philosophy does about substance and about potentiality. Philosophy of nature needs the aid of science in different measure according to the issue which is being considered. At times ordinary experience provides a basis which is sufficient for a philosophical reflection. However, it is interesting to know what science has to say even in these cases in order to make sure that our interpretation of ordinary experience be correct. Conversely, science is constructed on some assumptions which, of themselves, are not objects of a scientific study: these, nevertheless, are their necessary premises. Concretely, science presupposes the existence of a natural order which can be known through arguments in which experiments play a central role. The success achieved by science justifies the validity of such premises, it expands them and it makes them clearer. For instance, scientific progress enables us to construct images of the world, worldviews which unify the different types of knowledge we obtain about nature in one image only. In order to construct a worldview, it is necessary to interpret and unify the various data of scientific knowledge, and this requires a certain dose of philosophical reflection. A rigorous use of philosophy of nature helps prevent the risk of extrapolating scientific methods and results into other areas of knowledge which are not properly scientific. Scientific progress can be easily and erroneously interpreted if one is not equipped with a good knowledge of philosophy of nature. For instance, at its very birth in the 17th century, modern experimental science was already accompanied by mechanism, a sort of philosophical reductionism according to which what is natural can be completely explained by the displacement of material parts. In reality, mechanism is not a science, but rather a bad philosophy. Nevertheless, mechanism has been notably influential by presenting itself, quite arbitrarily, as a consequence of the scientific progress. Philosophy of nature and natural sciences have different focuses, albeit complementary. Actually, such a complementarity was acknowledged and respected until the 19th century, when idealism invaded the field of science and, at the same time, scientists felt that philosophy was an obstacle rather than a help to their work. The result of this anti-philosophical reaction was the birth of the so-called scientism according to which experimental science is the only valid knowledge of reality. Positivism, one of its off-shoots, held the reductionist stand according to which the task of science consists in establishing relations among observable phenomena, avoiding anything which goes beyond this limit. Actually scientism is contradictory: the thesis according to which no knowledge is valid unless scientifically acquired, is not a conclusion from any science. Positivism also establishes limits which cannot be respected by science, whose progress depends on steps which need to be taken beyond mere experience. 1.4. Value and achievements of the philosophy of nature

Experience plays an important role within the philosophical method. Philosophy of nature does not seek a detailed knowledge in the way science does. Nevertheless philosophy of science leans on the knowledge provided by ordinary experience as well as by science. It is not possible to verify philosophical conclusions experimentally as it is done with the scientific ones. Such conclusions, though, will be abandoned if they do not correspond to the particular knowledge founded on experience and science. The value of the philosophical conclusions depends on two factors. First, these conclusions should correspond to genuine and well-founded problems; second, these problems should be adequately resolved by such conclusions. The existence of genuine philosophical problems is denied by those who claim that it is sufficient to explain what things are made of and how they work. There is no doubt that these two questions are important and they form the main theme of natural sciences. However, they do not exhaust all the problems presented to human mind. For instance, it is pertinent to ask for the ultimate explanation of the order present in the nature. The various types of science provide us with ever more detailed explanations about this order; they tend to cause, though, an increasing interest about radical questions rather than satisfying it. The progress of science reveals an order in nature which is ever more astonishing. Other problems refer to general explanation of entities, processes and properties of nature which go beyond the specific knowledge provided by science. Once established that genuine philosophical problems exist, how can we assess the solutions that philosophy gives? It is clear that philosophy cannot make use of the experimental control in the same way science does. Nevertheless the validity of the solutions is to be assessed in relation to the same basic canons, i.e. according to logic and experience. It has already been pointed out that the solutions must be coherent with the available data and satisfactory from the logical point of view, i.e. they should not be contradictory and they should be useful to solve those problems one tries to solve. Actually there is no automatic criterion for philosophical validity: the value of the explanations has to be established in each individual case. The achievements of philosophy of nature are different in different cases. In principle, we may expect that the most important concepts be relatively few, since philosophy of nature does not seek a knowledge as detailed as science does. The given explanations will have a permanent value inasmuch as these refer to essential characteristics of nature. We shall be able to see how philosophical concepts, proposed many centuries ago, still retain their validity, although they need to be explained in a way which is more consonant with our present knowledge. On the other hand, it is assumed that many explanations of philosophy of nature will need a periodical revision, owing to the enormous progress of science. In any case, we shall focus our attention on the most basic problems and on the most permanent explanations, by examining both in the light of the present scientific knowledge. 1.5. Themes and problems

Philosophy of nature has a wide scope: it actually deals with topics such as the atom and the universe and it includes man and living organisms inasmuch as they are natural beings. It seeks an answer about the meaning of nature and about its ultimate foundations. It represents therefore the logical bridge between ordinary knowledge, science and metaphysics. We shall study the basic themes of philosophy of nature in the light of the present worldview. We propose here two fundamental characteristics of nature: its dynamism and its space-time framework. We shall show how these two distinguish what is natural from what is spiritual and what is artificial. This starting point is coherent with the present worldview, and allows us to tackle the problems of philosophy of nature from a new perspective. This approach reveals the fact that in nature physical dimensions (in relation to its space-time framework) co-exist with ontological ones (the ways of being and of operating) and metaphysical ones (which are the foundation of its being and of its operations). In the five chapters of the first part of this treatise we shall examine the concept of nature, the natural entities, the natural dynamism, the order in nature and the hileomorphic structure of the natural entities. In the six chapters of the second part we shall expand by considering the quantitative and qualitative aspects of the natural entities, their causality, the living entities and the origin and meaning of nature. 2. HISTORICAL PANORAMA OF THE SCIENTIFIC AND PHILOSOPHICAL STUDY OF NATURE

We shall consider in this section the development of the philosophy of nature along history. The birth of experimental science in the 17th century marks a key moment in this development. We shall examine the ancient times, in a broad sense, until the 17th century followed by an analysis of the subsequent development of philosophy of nature in relation to the progress of science.


Science and philosophy in ancient times

The Greek philosophers emphasised fundamental philosophical problems and gave corresponding answers to them which are still important, although limited by the scarce development of science of those times. The validity of the Greek achievements lasted some 20 centuries (and some are still valid nowadays), until the birth of the modern experimental science in the 17th century. The very beginning witnessed the confrontation of opposing views: the metaphysical one which considered nature as a divine work and the human person as endowed with a spiritual and immortal soul; and the materialistic one which tried to explain the whole reality in terms of its material components. The first view was held by

philosophers such as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the Stoics, whose ideas were inherited by the Christian tradition. The second view was held by the Atomists such as Leucippus and Democritus and their followers Epicures and Lucretius. The dilemma between the two perspectives was clearly stated by Plato in his dialogue Fedo whose protagonist is the same Socrates awaiting death in a cell in the year 399 BC. Socrates friends propose an escape from prison to him. Socrates, in his dialogue, explains how his ideas about nature have evolved. He says that in his youth he studied the opinions of the previous thinkers (Anaxagoras, Empedocles, Anaximenes, Heraclitus, etc.) about nature, moved by a desire of knowing the cause of all phenomena. He was not convinced, though, by their explanations. He adds that those thinkers had proposed explanations in terms of components and actions, without even mentioning the essences of things or finality. Actually these latter are the ones that provide the true reasons for understanding why something happens, why is it convenient for this thing to happen and what is the relation that this thing has with the divine foundation of everything. In this way Socrates pointed out two central problems concerning philosophy of nature and its relationship with science: What kind of relationship exists between these two levels of explanation? Is it sufficient to consider physical causes? Is there any finality in nature? Is there any superior plan which can account for the natural phenomena? Socrates and Plato were strongly in favour of metaphysical explanations, i.e. nature explained in terms of essence, finality and divinity. On the contrary, Democritus atomism leaned on the physical aspects as centres of explanation, i.e. the local movement of matter and atoms, of which matter is made, is enough to explain everything without making recourse to metaphysics. In ancient times this approach was followed by Epicures in Greece and by Titus Lucretius Caro in Rome. Aristotle re-considered these problems and proposed a new perspective which lasted 20 centuries. Aristotles physics is a mixture of scientific problems in modern terms and of philosophical problems, and it is the latter ones that mark the pace. It would sound anachronistic to blame Aristotle (or Plato, or the Stoics, or the people of the Middle Ages) for not having built a kind of science in modern terms. For a systematic rise of any experimental science, more than good will and interest for nature were needed: actually all this already existed. For instance, within the limits imposed by the means available in those days, the Biology of Aristotle is important and rigorous. Aristotles worldview corresponds, in a fairly adequate way, to ordinary experience. Part of it (the theory of the four elements, of the heavenly bodies and their movements and of the natural places) received its death sentence at the birth of modern science. People felt at that time that the whole Aristotelian philosophy had crumbled to pieces. However, the central ideas of Aristotles natural philosophy still preserve their value: the concept of substance, the hileo-morphic theory, the explanation of the processes in terms of act and potency, the four causes and finality are a set of bridgeideas between physics and metaphysics. They are masterpieces of achievement and constant points of reference, notwithstanding the discredit into which Aristotelianism

fell in some historical times. However, the enormous progress of science in modern times makes it necessary to revise these concepts in the light of such progresses. Aristotles physics was elaborated by Aquinas within a new perspective. By introducing the concept of creation (absent in Aristotle) and creationist metaphysics, Aquinas focused his synthesis on the act of being and the concept of participation. In this way Aristotles concepts acquire new life. The relationship between physics and metaphysics is completed. God is the efficient cause of nature (first cause that creates, preserves and participates in the action, and so accounts for the second causes), its exemplary cause (divine ideas) and its final cause (He creates a good world, out of his Goodness, for man). God directs the world with his providence: this explains the finality of nature. The freedom of creation underlines the contingency of the world. Aquinas proposed an original and very important conception of nature viewed as the realization of a divine plan through ways of being and operating which God has placed within the very things. In this way, things can cooperate towards the building of nature. He compares the divine action with that of a craftsman who can grant the power to move to the pieces he is working with, and to achieve their end by themselves. This is his basic idea which is quite coherent with the present-day worldview; in this view, morphogenesis and self-organization occupy a pre-eminent position. On the other hand, Aquinas relativised some important Aristotelian theses such as the eternity of the world and of the movement, and the astronomical theories. Aquinas synthesis contains some aspects which have not yet been fully unravelled, especially in the area of philosophy of nature. Actually, efforts have been made in this area in order to salvage the most metaphysical aspects of Aquinas doctrine separating them from the ancients worldview. These aspects, once revised in the light of a modern context, are most adequate for a deep integration of the present scientific knowledge with a philosophical perspective. 2.2. The modern experimental science

Modern science was born in Christian Western Europe in the 17th century, thanks to an intense preparatory work done in the Middle Ages which lasted various centuries (for instance in the Universities of Oxford and Paris). Modern science, though, appeared on the stage with an attitude of polemic against the previous tradition. A lack of balance, difficult to achieve in those days, caused valid aspects of the classical thought to live together with erroneous ones. Previously, the balance had leaned towards philosophy, now it started leaning in the opposite direction, owing to the success achieved by experimental science. The persistence of the initial polemic, as well as the accumulation of further equivocal stands, contributes to a poor interpretation of the relations between science and philosophy and, as a consequence, of the philosophy of nature. Work done in the Middle Ages has ploughed the furrow for the seed of modern science. It has been customary to refer to the Middles Ages as the Dark Ages, meaning an age completely uninterested to science, actually opposed to it. This does not correspond to truth. The pioneer work of the historian Pierre Duhem cast new lights on

this issue2. Duhem showed that many works of the Middle Ages had prepared the birth of modern science and the University of Paris (Jean Buridan and disciples; Nicholas Oresme, Albert of Saxony, Henry of Hesse, Marsilius of Inghen) together with the University of Oxford (Robert Grosseteste, Roger Bacon, Richard Swineshead, John Dumbleton, Thomas Bradwardine) were the leaders in this sense. For example, the theorem of Merton College about the uniformly accelerated movement is equivalent to Galileos law on the free fall. Nicholas Oresme offered a geometrical proof of this theorem by using a figure which appears to be reproduced by Galileo. Also the impetus theory of the physical school of Paris (Buridan, Oresme) provided the basis for the subsequent notions of inertia and quantity of movement3. The cultural milieu of those times was imbued with Christian ideas which also had great relevance in the only possibly viable birth of the modern science. The doctrine of creation, above all, had a great impact on the study of nature. Creation reveals the contingent character of a world freely created by God, from which the need for experience follows in order to study its characteristics. This study is possible because the world, created by a God who is infinitely wise, is rational, and because man is capable of knowing the world since he was created by God in His image and likeness with a body and with a rational soul. Stanley Jaki has extensively shown with many examples how the attempt to build a science in the great ancient cultures eventually aborted and how, on the other hand, Christianity had a beneficial influence on the birth of modern science4. Thomas Kuhn has written: From a modern perspective, the scientific activity of the Middle Ages was incredibly effective. Actually, how else could science in the western world have been born? The very centuries dominated by Scholasticism saw the restructuring of the ancient scientific and philosophic traditions, their assimilation and testing. As their weak points were discovered, they immediately became the objects of the first investigations of the modern world. All the new scientific theories of the 16th and 17th centuries have their origin in the tattered clothes of Aristotles thought torn apart by the Scholastic critique. The majority of these theories contain also key concepts created by the Scholastic science. More important than these concepts, though, is the mental framework that modern scientists have inherited from their medieval predecessors, i.e. an unlimited faith in the power of the human reason to solve problems related to nature. This point was beautifully expressed by Whitehead when he says that faith in the possibilities of science, born before the development of the modern scientific theory, is an unconscious result of the medieval theology5. This sounds totally opposed to those platitudes endlessly repeated, for instance, by the positivists according to whom theology and metaphysics had rather been a sort of a brake to the scientific progress.

See P. DUHEM, Le systme du monde. Histoire des doctrines cosmologiques de Platon Copernic, 10 volumes, Hermann, Paris 1913-1917 and 1954-1959. 3 This topic is synthetically dealt with in M. ARTIGAS, Nicols Oresme, gran maestro del Colegio de Navarra, y el origen de la ciencia moderna, Prncipe de Viana (Suplemento de Ciencias), Year IX, No.9 (1989), pp. 297-331. 4 S. JAKI, Science and Creation. From Eternal Cycles to an Oscillating Universe, Scottish Academic Press, Edinburgh and London, 1974. 5 T.S. KUHN, La revolucion copernicana. La astronomia planetaria en el desarrollo del pensamiento occidental, Ariel, Barcelona 1978, p. 171.

There were other pioneers such as Leonardo da Vinci. However the modern scientific revolution properly began with Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543) when he proposed the heliocentric theory. According to this theory the Earth does not stand still at the centre of the universe: it rather rotates around the Sun as a planet. The theory shook the worldview dominant at that time. Copernicus entitled his work De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (About the revolutions of the heavenly orbits) and dedicated it to the Pope. It goes without saying that this work did not raise any problem. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) can be considered the prophet of a new science which distanced itself from the ancient methods and aimed at the mastery of nature. His contribution to the new science was minor and his methodology is insufficient. He nevertheless had great influence in establishing a science based on experiments. Bacon proposed a new method based on induction. This consists in formulating general laws from individual cases by the use of devices such as tables of presence, of absence and of degrees. He substituted the Aristotelian and Scholastic forms (by which the nature of things was expressed) with laws. According to Bacon forms and finality of the traditional philosophy do not have a place in the modern science. He defines finality as a sterile virgin, incapable of giving fruits. Bacons ideas were widely accepted for quite a long time. They gave rise, though, to some problems, with which we are still dragging along presently, such as the sense and value of induction in science, the relationship between science and philosophy, the value of philosophy of nature. For centuries, for instance, science has been considered as inductive science; but laws such as the free fall of the bodies and gravity are not obtainable by induction, not to talk about those complex theories of physics-mathematics and the difficulty in verifying those theories with data provided by the experiments which are always fragmentary. Ren Descartes (1596-1650) had great influence on the new science. He insisted on the use of the mathematical method. He also made some partial contributions. His physics, though, was insufficient when compared, for instance, with the one of Galileo and Newton, while his philosophical background produced great historical mistakes. Actually, with his concept of evidence (clear and distinct ideas) he reduced the corporeal substance to extension. In so doing, he denied the reality of qualities and liquidated that dynamism which is so typical of matter. The new physics became firmly established only when the concepts of force and energy were introduced, and these do not appear in the limited Cartesian framework. Descartes rejected also the notions of forms, of qualities and of finality. His natural philosophy is a kind of mechanism which tries to explain everything in terms of displacements and impacts of matter. The interiority disappears to the benefit of pure exteriority: this is extended also to the living beings (with the exception of the human spirit). Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) formulated the first scientific laws of the new science: they refer to the elliptical trajectory of the planets. These laws are a first-class achievement: they integrated mathematics, data from observation (with emphasis on accuracy) and a mystical view about the order of nature. They destroyed the belief about the circular movement of the heavenly bodies.

Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was the main pioneer of the new science and the one who best perceived its nature. He obtained great achievements, both theoretical and observational (the law of the free fall of the bodies, the discovery of the satellites of Jupiter and of the Venus phases, etc.). He actually laid the foundations for the method of the new science. He stated that the objective of science is the formulation of laws which refer to changes such as the ones in the case of place, movement, figure, size, etc. He therefore gives up a knowledge based on essences, and the meaning of things: all these are proper to philosophy and theology. The famous Galileo case should not have occurred. It was the result of a convergence of misunderstandings and polemical interests. On one hand, Galileo was not in possession of conclusive demonstrations in favour of helio-centrism. On the other hand, the theological difficulties involved were really superficial and they could have been easily avoided, actually the geocentric view was never a part of the Christian doctrine. There were other circumstances which contribute to pollute the issue. Galileos punishment consisted in remaining confined in his villa near Florence. He kept working until death which occurred, due to natural causes, when he was 78. The birth of the new science was not stopped by these events6. Nevertheless, the problems about the nature and achievements of the new science kept on producing ever greater polemics and difficulties. Shortly after Galileos death the science of physics-mathematics was born thanks to the genius of Isaac Newton (1642-1727); this marked the crowning of ideas and results accumulated during centuries, and of the new methods and achievements of the modern science. Newton published his Mathematical Principles of the Natural Philosphy in 1687: in this great work he formulated the first theory of the experimental physics, i.e. the Newtons Mechanics. A new era was born. Newtons Mechanics was easily applicable to terrestrial as well as to heavenly phenomena, it achieved great continuous success in its theoretical as well as practical applications until the 20th century, and it provided the main framework for the great strides made by physics and a solid basis for the establishment of chemistry, biology and all the other branches of experimental science. The birth of the new science was accompanied by misunderstandings and polemics mostly due to the fact that it was presented as a new philosophy ready to replace the old one. The growing success of its practical applications seemed to indicate that it was the compulsory way to face safely the problem concerning the value of the human knowledge, central issue of modern philosophy. The new science was presented as an alternative to the old philosophy, with the advantage of the use of mathematics (precision and rigor in opposition to occult qualities), of the experimental approach and practical applications (empirical character and usefulness in opposition to sterile speculations), of its demonstrability and progress. In reality there was quite a bit of lack of adequate understanding of the relationship between science and philosophy, i.e. of the distinction and complementarity between the respective objectives and focuses.

A synthesis of the Galileo case and its implications can be found in M. ARTIGAS, Ciencia, razon y fe, 4th ed., Palabra, Madrid 1992 (section Galileo: un problema sin solver, pp. 15-36. See also W. BRANDMLLER, Galileo y la Iglesia, Rialp, Madrid 1987.

The difficulties were not small because the development of science as well as of epistemology was fragmentary. It is therefore understandable how different interpretations have been given to explain the relationship that exists between science and philosophy and, therefore, the philosophy of nature. The situation became clearer only in recent times. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) gave a determining twist to the problem of knowledge. He was convinced about the final validity of Newtons physics. He at the same time perceived that scientific concepts are a human construction and therefore they are our way of representing nature. He stressed too much, though, the subjective character of our concepts and interpreted the classical ideas of substance, causality and finality from this perspective. Philosophy of nature lost therefore its objectivity and became dependent on our subjective representations. Kant insisted on the fact that we cannot know things in themselves. This doctrine laid the foundation for the postKantian idealism whose main representative, Hegel, accomplished the radical divorce between science and philosophy. Philosophy of nature was born again with Romanticism and Idealism at the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th. It took the form of a Naturphilosophie, a sort of reaction against mechanism while stressing at the same time the importance of the vital, of the organic and of the system of nature. Its intuitions were mixed, though, with a tint of pantheism and with a critique of real science: this provoked a serious confusion between scientists and philosophers. The Philosophy of Nature of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) forms the second part of his Encyclopaedia of Philosophical Sciences. He supports an idealist philosophy which interprets reality as the progressive unfolding of the Idea. Nature is conceived by Hegel as a moment of this unfolding and, more precisely, the moment in which the Idea dons exteriority. Hegel seems to propose a somehow negative conception of nature. Nature appears, within the idealist system, as an unsolved contradiction. It is also stated that the Idea is inadequate to itself while donning this exteriority. It is difficult to follow Hegel when he deals with specific themes. He criticized different aspects of the science developed up to his times, and proposed hardly convincing alternatives. Actually, Hegel contributed in a decisive manner as the physicist Hermann Helmholtz said in 1862 to the modern divorce between science and philosophy: The philosophers accused the scientists of narrow-mindedness, while the scientists accused the philosophers of madness. The result was that scientists started considering the convenience of removing any type of philosophical influence from their work. Some, even among those more intelligent, reached the point of totally condemning philosophy, not because useless but because positively harmful, besides being a work of fantasy. They rejected pity to say - not only the illegitimate pretensions of the Hegelian system of dominating all the branches of knowledge, but also the legitimate claims of philosophy about its right of criticizing the sources of knowledge and the definition of the functions of the intellect7. It goes without saying that this climate was favourable to the development of a positivist mentality.

Cited by W.C. DAMPIER, Historia de la ciencia, Tecnos, Madrid 1972, p.318.

Auguste Comte (1798-1857), father of the Positivism, proposed his law of the three stages through which, according to him, humanity had passed. The present and definitive stage is the scientific or positivist one. In this stage we have stopped asking questions about the ultimate causes of things and we are happy to deal with what is accessible to the positive science, i.e. to formulate laws which are constant relations among observable phenomena. The previous stages are therefore obsolete, i.e. the mythical-theological and the abstract-metaphysical. These last two are the result of a lack of adequate instruments able to scientifically understand and control nature. There is no place for a philosophy which is not a simple methodological and unifying reflection on all sciences. Positivism is at the extreme opposite of Hegels philosophy. But the extremes touch each other: both are unjustifiable and monopolistic attempts of opposite signs. They fail to save the complementarity between science and philosophy. It is understandable how positivism exercises a certain fascination on the minds of those scientists and philosophers who want to avoid fantastic lucubration. Positivism tells us to stick to facts, to what is positive, to what is given and to its relations. Positivism ensures in this way the rigorous aspect of science which has nothing in common with fantastic constructions. Nevertheless, positivism proposes a simplistic view of science; it actually rejects the fact that there are always some philosophical assumptions, whether theoretical or gnoseological which are necessary conditions for any scientific activity (and which are backed up by the scientific progress). An interpretation of the methods and results of science is also necessary to assess its accomplishments and to achieve a unified world view. Besides, there are no such things as pure data (interpretations are always there), and science goes much further than what is observable. Finally, a positive science has never existed and it cannot exist: had contemporary science followed Comtes precepts, it would have never taken off. On the other hand, the law of the three stages, although quite popular, follows nevertheless a pre-conceived and quite simplistic scheme: relationships between philosophy, science and theology have been, and keep being, much more important and complex than what is stated by this law. 2.3. The philosophical impact of evolutionism, quantum physics and relativity

Philosophy of nature found a new challenge in evolutionism, especially from the time of the publication of The Origin of the Species by Charles Darwin in 1859. Evolutionism marked a very important step in the philosophy of nature in general and of man in particular by raising the problems of naturalism and finality. Among the authors who have centred their reflections on evolution are Bergson and Teilhard de Chardin. Henri Bergson (1859-1941) published his Creative Evolution in 1907. He maintains that the Greek interpreted time in function of eternity following, according to Bergson, the natural pattern of our intellect, made for action: by decomposing real becoming into static moments and by trying to re-compose the reality and articulating these snap-shots. This procedure, though, very similar to that of a movie, is not helpful in grasping authentic reality which is, in fact, becoming, process, evolution. This procedure, on the contrary, assumes that things are already given once and for all.

Bergsons judgment is conditioned by his basic thesis according to which becoming is the framework of reality: it is a creative becoming similar to what happens in the interiority of man. It is a life-impulse which crosses everything, so that its results are always new and unpredictable. Bergson repeats his thesis time and again, but he does not provide a serious foundation for it. The thesis seems to be endorsed by the sound criticisms of the mechanism which always accompany it. It seems that rejection of mechanism is equivalent to a proof of this thesis; hardly so. Without doubt Bergson is right when he criticizes mechanism and when he stresses, also with reason, the importance of the becoming in the reality for explaining nature. He perceives the importance of interiority and rebels against a way of thinking which considers as sufficient those explanations based on the exteriority of repeatable phenomena. The proposed alternative, though, is quite ethereal and fragmentary: it simply consists in establishing a parallelism between the human psyche, where freedom and creativity are found, and an evolution which is identified with the unfolding of a life impulse. It states that the only way of understanding reality is to place oneself in the inner of this life-stream through an intuition which goes beyond the possibilities of an analytical intellect. This processualism, centred in the natural and historical becoming, has acquired great importance in our days particularly because of authors such as Henri Bergson, Alfred North Whitehead and Charles Hartshorne. It stresses important aspects of reality; nevertheless it needs to be supplemented with a more attentive consideration about structural and stable dimensions. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955) assumed evolution to be a fact and proposed a finalist and Christian interpretation for it. Leaving aside the questionable theological conclusions of the work of Teilhard, it is interesting to stress, within the context of philosophy of nature, the importance attributed to the interiority. Teilhards basic thesis states that science, up to now, has considered the exteriority of nature. Now it is time to complete it by considering its interiority. Teilhard developed this thesis around the law of complexity-consciousness, considered to be well established on the basis of experience. According to this law, successive levels of consciousness (interiority) correspond to progressive levels of organization of matter (exteriority). On this ground, he claims that there is some form of consciousness at all levels of nature (pan-psychism) and that evolution consists in the progressive unfolding of a spiritual energy which, at some critical stages, produces qualitative leaps. This is particularly evident in the case of the origin of life and, still more, in the origin of man in whom conscious reflection appears with all its specifically human consequences. It is a kind of evolution with an ascending direction towards forms of superior material (exteriority) and consciousness (interiority) organization: it is therefore a true ortho-genesis. Finally, he projects his ideas into the future, when he states that we are in a new kind of humanity which tends towards a new critical point of integration around a personal centre which he calls Omega Point, endowed with divine characters.

Teilhards work is marred by a certain lack of methodological precision. It offers a synthesis between science, philosophy, poetry and theology, and it is difficult many times to perceive what corresponds to what, and what the foundation of the conclusions is. Nevertheless, the ideas about the interiority of nature are important, although they are found mixed together with a poorly consistent pan-psychism. At the beginning of the 20th century quantum physics and relativity caused a flood of new ideas in the philosophy of nature and in science. They clearly showed that classical physics which had been held as the definitive edifice subject only to some decorations here and there, was valid only for a restricted set of phenomena. Quantum physics is to be used whenever studies on micro-physical components of matter are involved, while the relativity theory becomes important whenever great velocities occur. The philosophical impact of these two theories has been huge, since they provide knowledge about aspects of nature which are very far from the ordinary experience and which affect basic concepts of philosophy of nature. 2.4. The revival of the philosophy of nature in our times

In the first third of the 20th century the Neo-positivists of the Circle of Vienna proposed a philosophy reduced to a logical analysis of the scientific language. In an openly scientist direction, they stated that natural science contains the whole valid knowledge about nature. In this perspective there is no room, therefore, for a philosophy of nature. However, a close analysis reveals the contradictory nature of this doctrine since it would remain senseless if its own canons were to be applied to itself: in fact, this doctrine is not a conclusion from natural science. The most systematic effort to formulate a philosophy of nature in line with the progress of science is probably the one of Nicolai Hartmann (1882-1950) who published his Philosophy of Nature in 1950 (as Volume IV of his Ontology). It was conceived as a special theory of the categories which depends, with a neo-Kantian but realistic matrix, on the status of the scientific knowledge at each moment, and renounces a positive metaphysics. Hartmann completed his philosophy of nature with the Theological Thinking, a posthumous work which was published in 1954 and where he expounds a systematic criticism against finality. The Hartmann of the first period is neo-Kantian. This strongly appears in his work although later on he includes in his thinking elements of phenomenology and maintains, against Kant, the realistic value of knowledge. He held an agnostic stand in relation to the existence of God. Sometimes he is lined up next to Aristotle. Nevertheless, he criticizes the Aristotelian ideas of substance, form and finality as next to a metaphysics which he considers not valid. According to Hartmann, metaphysics deals with issues which do not have answers, since they go much beyond what we can actually know about things. There is only room for a kind of ontology which never reaches a metaphysical level and definitive answers. It is a hypothetical and provisional kind of philosophy which tries to analyze and clarify problems by using, as a method, the analysis of the categories of our thought. In this context, philosophy of nature is conceived as an analysis of the special categories, as a philosophical reflection on the

knowledge provided by science and which, as such, participates in the permanent provisional character of this knowledge. This sort of philosophy of nature contains some interesting pieces of analysis but, at the same time, the denial of metaphysics appears quite explicitly whenever classical themes are dealt with. The Aristotelian and Scholastic ideas about substance, act and potency, the analysis of movement, forms, causality and finality are heavily criticized. It is stated that these ideas correspond to an obsolete perspective which tries to establish relations between nature and the divine. In his Theological Thinking Hartmann unleashes a systematic criticism against finality in nature, in accordance with his anti-metaphysical ideas. In the last decades of the 20th century there has been a notable revival of philosophy of nature. Many are the publications, for instance, about the indeterminism of nature, the appearance of new forms and self-organization, natural finality and teleological argument, origin of the universe, creation and cosmological argument, relations between mind and body. The protagonists of these discussions are frequently scientists and epistemologists who conceive philosophical reflection as a rational discussion which expands the achievements of both science and epistemology. They are authors with very different tendencies whose works achieve, at times, great popularity8. This new heyday of the philosophy of nature is due mainly to the existence of a new worldview. Actually for the first time in history we are in possession of a scientific worldview which is rigorous and complete and which has important philosophical implications. When we talk of a rigorous and complete worldview, we do not mean that we already know everything. What we mean to say is that for the first time in history we possess a well-tested body of knowledge about all the levels of nature and about their mutual relations: think, for instance, of the microphysics, the astrophysics, the molecular biology, and the morpho-genetic theories. There are still many question marks, true enough, but we know an important part of the basic framework in its synchronic (present state of nature) as well as in its diachronic (historical unfolding) aspects. The present day worldview stresses the importance of the dynamism of matter, the existence of special and dynamic patterns, morpho-genesis, evolution, self organization, synergism (cooperation), emergence (in opposition to the reductionism), directionality and information. We are in the presence of a new scientific paradigm which makes the mechanistic one definitively obsolete. This provides, at the same time, a very adequate basis for re-formulating the classical problems of philosophy of nature and for the study of new problems which arise from the progress of science.

Some of these authors are for instance Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Ilya Prigogine, Ren Thom, Hermann Haken, Michael Ruse, Stephen Hawking, John Barrow, Roger Penrose, Richard Dawkins, Karl Popper.



The present-day worldview provides a very good basis for characterizing nature in such a way that it will be the point of reference for all the philosophical reflections contained in this book.


Meanings of the terms nature and natural

The substantive nature has two main meanings: the first refers to the nature of something (this is what we call metaphysical meaning); the second refers to Nature in the sense of the totality of all physical beings (we shall call it physical meaning). In the metaphysical sense, nature of something means the characteristic of something or that which belongs to that thing in such a way that makes it different from anything else. The thing spoken of may be anything. Actually one can speak of the nature of man, the nature of a problem, the nature of a specific science, as well as the nature of God. In this sense, the term nature is applicable to very different realities and therefore to anything. In this case we speak of a metaphysical sense of the concept of nature because it is not limited to the physical reality (the material, the corporeal) but it includes the spiritual as well as the supernatural ones. In this sense, the concept of nature is similar to the one of essence which also expresses, in a basic way, the being of something. In the physical sense Nature refers to the totality of all natural beings and processes which, for this reason, are identified with what is corporeal or material. This meaning is clear enough in ordinary language; nevertheless problems arise when this meaning is used in rigorous terms depending on what one understands for natural being, or rather on what one understands for natural. We should therefore move from the analysis of the substantive nature to the one of the adjective natural. What do we call natural? The term natural may mean the following: a) natural in the sense of spontaneous which corresponds to an internal principle. Something is considered natural if it corresponds to the proper way of being of a subject. It can be a property or a way of behaving. In the first case, for instance, it is natural for man to be rational, since rationality is a specific characteristic of man. In the second case, natural is that activity which has an interior origin so that, although conditioned by the circumstances, it corresponds to an interior core which unfolds autonomously. In both cases, that which is natural corresponds to that which is spontaneous and is opposed to that which is violent or compelled. In this sense, the term natural is applicable to what is material as well as to what is spiritual.


Natural as distinguished from artificial: that which is artificial is a product of mans activity, unlike that which is natural. Natural as distinguished from spiritual: in this case the term natural is identified with what is material or corporeal, i.e. with what belongs to the physical level. Consequently, terms with spiritual connotation, such as rational and free are not referred to as natural. Natural as distinguished from supernatural: it is natural for man to have spiritual dimensions; in fact, these belong to his proper way of being, although they are the result of a divine action. On the contrary, a miracle, for example, or any thing beyond that which corresponds to the proper way of being of things, is supernatural. Ordinarily, that which is spiritual and that which is supernatural are confused.



The above analysis shows that the terms nature and natural are not univocally determined. We shall propose a characterization of the natural to distinguish it from the artificial and the spiritual9. 3.2 Characterization of the physical world

We shall focus our attention on two basic aspects of the natural, i.e. the existence of an autonomous dynamism and of structural patterns. They are real dimensions of the natural; actually they constantly show up in the ordinary experience as well as in the scientific knowledge. That which is natural has its own dynamism whose unfolding obeys time patterns and produces space structures which, in their turn, are the source of new unfoldings of the natural dynamism. Hence, that which is natural can be characterized by an intertwining between dynamism and space-time structuring in such a way that space-time structures revolve around specific patterns which are repeated. Nature possesses its own dynamism independently from mans action on it. Such dynamism unfolds through a great variety of processes in accordance with space-time patterns. Dynamism and structuring are basic and closely inter-related aspects of nature. Structures are the result of the unfolding of the dynamism and, in their turn, they are the sources of new unfoldings of the same dynamism. Such an intertwining between dynamism and structuring provides a decisive key for interpreting nature in a realistic way. a) The dynamism of nature

Nature has its own consistency. Man can interfere with the natural processes but he cannot change their laws. Autonomy of the natural implies, in a negative way, that it is independent from mans intervention and, in a positive way, that it has its own dynamism.

This characterization is original and it was first published in M.ARTIGAS, La inteligibilidad de la naturaleza, 2nd ed., EUNSA, Pamplona 1995. The first chapter of this book analyzes the proposed characterization, while the other chapters deal with its implications.

Dynamism comes from the Greek dynamis which means force, power, capacity. When we say that natural things have their own dynamism, we imply that they are not mere passive subjects whose movement is something added to them from outside but that they have their own activity, an internal dynamism which is only in part dependent on the actions suffered from outside. This natures dynamism is experienced at ordinary level as well as at scientific level. Before the ordinary experience, this dynamism appears at all levels: in the living, in the stars, in the atmospheric phenomena, in the air, in water and on earth, with its earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Scientific knowledge, on the other hand, shows very clearly that natural dynamism is a basic characteristic of the natural entities at all levels (microphysical subatomic particles, atoms and molecules as well as macro physical observable entities). Microphysical entities are neither passive nor immutable. Physico-chemical compounds (from the minerals to the stars, passing through the liquids and gases) have a dynamism which sometimes passes unnoticed owing to the presence of states of equilibrium. These, though, are dynamic states which can undergo changes whenever appropriate conditions are present. This dynamism is ultimately evident in the living beings. The previous considerations show the fact that there is no such a thing as a purely inert or passive matter. If sometimes material entities appear to be inert or passive it is so only in relation to certain conditions or particular points of view. They are realities found in a state of equilibrium and their components have a dynamism which can unfold in other circumstances. In a condition of equilibrium, though, the forces involved compensate one another and do not produce detectable effects. Philosophy has always been acquainted with the dynamism of natural entities and therefore it is not a new idea for it. It is present in Aristotles conception of the world, and Leibniz10 speaks clearly about it: it has been stressed in recent times from the scientific as well as from the philosophical standpoint11. In view of the fact that life is usually defined as self movement, the previous statements about autonomous dynamism of the natural may seem to dilute the difference between the living and the non living beings. Actually, life not only presupposes an autonomous dynamism but also an organization of its components which cooperate as a

See G.W.LEIBNIZ, De primae philosophiae Emendatione, et de Notione Substantiae, in C.J.GERHARDT (publisher), Die Philosophischen Schriften von Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Georg Olms, Hildesheim 1965, vol.4, pp. 469-470. 11 For instance, Antonio Milln Puelles claims that no entity is absolutely inactive. An absolutely inactive entity would be one which does absolutely nothing, not even to keep oneself in being. It would therefore be an entity kept in being by another or others. Moreover, the whole of its being would be reduced to to be kept and therefore to pure passivity, a complete being-made-by-others : A.M.PUELLES, Lxico filosfico, Rialp, Madrid 1984, p.436. Juan Enrique Bolzn has proposed a re-formulation of the philosophy of nature in which he gives first priority to the dynamism of the physical entities: J.E. BOLZAN, Fundamentacion de una ontologia de la naturaleza, Sapientia (Buenos Aires), 41 (1986), pp. 121132.

whole and make it possible for the functions proper to life to be actualized. Consequently, to have an autonomous dynamism does not necessarily mean to have life.


Structural patterns

Structuring is the second, but not less important, fundamental characteristic of the natural entities12. Nature appears to the ordinary experience as constituted by timespace structures; scientific progress entails therefore an always wider and deeper knowledge of the natural structures. Hence, it is essential to take structuring into account in order to make a realistic characterization of nature. The meaning of the term structure is wide13. In general, a structure is a distribution of parts mutually related which form a whole. The characteristic structure of the natural possesses space and time dimensions: natural entities are configured in space, and their dynamism unfolds in time. Although ordinarily the term structure is used in the sense of space dimension, here we refer also to the time dimension, i.e. both the entities and their processes. There is a great variety of structures in nature and many times they have common and repeatable characters. Nature is built around characteristic repetitive structures which we will call here patterns. Patterns are of paramount importance for an adequate representation of nature. Nature appears to ordinary experience as a totality of well define structures. The clearest example is the one of the living organisms: these have a type of structure organized as a whole in which the different parts perform specific functions and work in accordance with characteristic temporal rhythms. Non-living organisms also appear to be characterized by space and time structuring. Scientific progress widens our knowledge of the space and time structuring of nature, and this includes also those areas which are very far from ordinary experience. The examples can be easily multiplied; it is not even necessary to make recourse to specific cases: any scientific achievement is an example of this type. Actually, the knowledge sought after by the experimental sciences is the one which can be related to experimental control. Such control, though, is possible only when there are aspects which repeat themselves, at least at the beginning, and therefore, when there are patterns. Consequently, the more scientific progress advances, the wider becomes the area of phenomena which can be related to experimental control, and the wider becomes our knowledge of the space and time patterns. Nature is not only deeply marked by structuring, but also by the existence of structures which are repeated, i.e. of patterns14.

Jean Marie Aubert stresses the importance of structuring of the natural entities as a solid basis for the reasoning of the philosophy of nature. See J.M.AUBERT, Filosofia de la naturaleza, 6th ed., Herder, Barcelona 1987, pp. 301-319. 13 See J.C.CRUZ, Filosofia de la estructura, 2nd ed., EUNSA, Pamplona 1974. 14 Our world is made of patterns. If we had to describe the fundamental property of the matter of the universe, we would have to say that matter is made or created- in such a way that it shows a continuously accelerated development of

The term structure is wider than pattern. Actually any space and time arrangement of natural has a structure. Therefore, structuring is not equivalent to existence of a pattern. We talk of patterns whenever we come across structures which are repeated. In principle any natural structure is repeatable provided that the conditions which have caused its existence, are repeated. However, we talk about patterns only when structures are actually repeated. Our world is not one among the many possible: ours is a very specific world which is marked, at all levels, by equally specific patterns. The structure of nature is deeply marked by the existence of patterns. Not everything in nature is pattern, but everything rotates around patterns. This statement has profound scientific as well as philosophical implications; it actually expresses the highly specific and singular character of our world. Space structures refer to the order which the components of the natural entities have: they can be called configurations. Time structures refer to the processes, i.e. to the unfolding in time of natural dynamism. Many natural processes unfold according to characteristic patterns which can be called rhythms. c) The intertwining between dynamism and structuring

It has been shown how natural entities possess their own dynamism and a spacetime structure: the two are also intertwined. Dynamism and structuring are constantly present in nature and condition each other. Their relationship is not only external but deeply intertwined, so that one can speak of their interpenetration or co penetration. Because of this, it can be stated that the unfolding of dynamism produces space structures, while space structuring is the origin of new dynamisms. Natural dynamism is somehow stored in space structures with their own potentialities or virtualities whose unfolding depends on the external circumstances. There is proportionality between space organization and dynamism: the unfolding of the dynamism of natural entities depends on the configuration of the latter. The structure of organs and systems in the living organisms is responsible for their specific activities and functions. What is natural is characterized by the intertwining between dynamism and structuring, which is the same as saying by its activity. Actually, this intertwining expresses the type of activity that corresponds to natural entities: natural activity is the result of an inner dynamism whose unfolding depends on the circumstances, but not only on them. The unfolding of this dynamism is intertwined with space-time structuring in such a way that dynamism and structuring are mutually conditioned, as it has already been explained: this dynamism unfolds in accordance with time patterns, and space structures are not only the result of this dynamism, but also the source of new
patterns: CARSTEN BRESH, What is Evolution?, in S.ANDERSEN A.PEACOCKE (publishers), Evolution and Creation, Aarhus University Press, Aarhus 1987, p.36.

dynamisms. Therefore, what is natural can be characterized as the intertwining between dynamism and structuring. To characterize the natural realm in this way means that strictly speaking it is not possible to really distinguish matter from the laws of its behaviour. Such a distinction is legitimate in science which uses a particular methodological perspective. Properly speaking, though, laws are found somehow incorporated or inscribed in matter and their formulation corresponds to an abstraction. It is necessary to limit oneself to experimental situations able to control the intervening factors in order to formulate scientific laws. Such laws correspond to reality, but they are valid only in very specific circumstances, and they do not exhaust the richness of the being of the natural entities. 3.3. The boundaries of the natural

Characterized in this way, what is natural can be distinguished from what is artificial and what is rational. a) Natural and artificial

Strictly speaking what is artificial lacks its own dynamism, while its natural component parts have it. What is artificial has a space-time structure which corresponds to an external plan conceived by a maker. Therefore, the structure of an artificial object is not the result of its own dynamism. Natural dynamism has its own consistency which is independent from the human will. In manufacturing, man makes use of the natural dynamism, but he cannot modify it. It is important to distinguish between ways of producing something and the final result. It may happen that mans action on nature produces entities which are identical to natural entities; these may either exist already or not, yet have the structural and dynamic unity characteristic of the natural entities. What is artificial in this case is our intervention in the process of producing such entities. Even in this case, though, we are unable to modify the original dynamism of nature: we can only channel it. We may say that there is gradualness in what is natural and in what is artificial because there are intermediate levels which participate in being in both ways, besides the pure extreme cases. However, all processes lean ultimately on the inner dynamism and structuring of what is natural. b) Natural and rational

Mans activity is the result of a dynamism which transcends those space-time structures with which it is related. Intellectual knowledge includes evidence and truth, the capacity of reflecting on the acquired knowledge, the possibility of building arguments and examining their validity. Rationality implies establishing goals and choosing means, i.e. the exercise of the will which includes freedom, capacity of loving and ethical behaviour. The exercise of these capacities is related to what is natural (we are natural beings and not pure spirits). Yet rationality transcends what is natural. While natural

dynamism is conditioned by space-time patterns, rational activity can overcome them, at least with the intelligence and the will. Mans relationship with nature is unique. Although subject to natural laws, man can nevertheless contemplate them from without, know them and use them. Man is immersed in nature while at the same time he transcends it, contemplates it, conceptualises it, objectifies and controls it. 3.4. Properties of what is natural

When we usually say that natural entities are corporeal, sensible, material, spatial-temporal, quantitative and necessary (as opposed to free) we actually refer to their properties. The following analysis will try to show how the proposed characterisation of nature as intertwining between dynamism and structuring perfectly includes these properties, and how its use may also avoid the inconveniences which may arise whenever one defines what is natural in function of those properties. a) The corporeal property

What is corporeal is usually defined as that which has space dimensions, i.e. extension. Although extension is a very important characteristic of natural entities, it is nevertheless dangerous to identify what is natural with what is corporeal because in this case the dynamism, fundamental characteristic of what is natural, would be left out. Moreover, since the term body is usually employed to indicate the solid state of matter, the identification of natural with corporeal would inevitably leave out the aqueous and gaseous systems, as much natural and important as the solid ones. The fields of forces in physics are also left out from the definition of corporeal, although they are natural and play a very important role in the sciences of nature. There is a more serious difficulty: although extension is something that belongs to what is natural, it does not really connote its proper way of being; actually even artefacts are bodies. Therefore we can say that the adjective corporeal is not sufficient to distinguish what is natural from what is artificial. On the other hand, the proposed characterization of nature in terms of dynamism and structuring does not offer the same shortcoming. Actually, it includes the dynamism proper to what is natural, it applies to entities as well as to properties and processes, it covers all the states of matter, it includes not only corporeal entities but also fields of forces which are also natural, it makes it possible to distinguish between natural and artificial. b) The sensible property

In other occasions what is natural is said to be sensible. Here a very important aspect of our ordinary experience is being stressed, i.e. the physical world as perceived by our senses. Definitely such a characterization is incomplete and lacks depth.

It is incomplete since it leaves out many natural entities such as the microphysical ones which are accessible to our observation only indirectly. This problem could be easily sorted out by expanding the notion of sensible so as to include anything which is causally related to what we can perceive with our senses. This solution is legitimate, though it requires precision for a rigorous meaning; the objection arises, for instance, that human intelligence and will act on physical realities without themselves being physical realities. It lacks depth since natural entities have sensible as well as intelligible dimensions. Moreover, the sensible refers to our possibilities of observation which are external to the natural entities. Therefore, the term sensible does not reflect the characteristics proper to the what is natural. These shortcomings are avoided if what is natural is characterized through dynamism and structuring. Dynamism does not make reference to our knowledge; it is actually found in reality. The material character of what is natural is sufficiently expressed if we include space-time structuring; at the same time we avoid defining what is natural in terms of our capacity for knowledge. c) The material property

What is natural and what is material are frequently made to mean the same thing. In this way one stumbles into a plurality of meanings included in the concept of matter. Sometime the terms sensible and corporeal are identified with the term material. In this case, we shall meet with the difficulties already mentioned with regard to these two properties. In other occasions, the term material indicates everything which acts as a component, i.e. that of which something is made. It is one of the most classical meanings of matter in philosophy as well as in ordinary life. It is, though, quite inadequate to characterise what is natural. Besides, what is material is different from what is immaterial. Actually, what is immaterial can be natural: for instance, there is a certain degree of immateriality in the sense knowledge which, nevertheless, belongs to the natural level. The material is also distinct from the rational or spiritual. In this case, it will be necessary to explain the nature of this distinction by using other explanations. In its most philosophical meaning, material is distinct from formal; moreover, what is formal is also found in nature so that it can also be considered a characteristic of what is natural natural. What is formal is more important than what is material since it makes reference to the determination of the way of being of natural entities. It seems preferable, then, to characterise what is natural in terms of dynamism and structuring. This makes it possible to distinguish what is natural from what is rational, and helps avoid the misunderstandings previously mentioned; it can actually

include, without any shortcomings, the immaterial as well as the formal dimensions of what is natural. d) Space-time properties

The term natural includes space-time structuring and, consequently, makes reference to space and time. Space and time express basic dimensions of the natural entities. Although they belong to the natural entities they are only dimensions and, as such, insufficient to characterize what is natural. Actually, even what is artificial possesses space-time dimensions. They are necessary conditions, albeit insufficient, for the conceptualization of what is natural natural. As already seen, space-time structuring is intertwined with the dynamism of which it is the result and condition. Therefore, space-time structuring alone is insufficient for the characterization of what is natural. e) The quantitative property

The quantitative property makes reference to those dimensions which stem from quantity (extension, divisibility, localization, etc.). As such, it is a primary characteristic of the physical world. Actually, any definition of nature should include a reference to the quantitative characteristics. Like space-time properties, though, (closely related to quantity) quantitative aspects are a condition, albeit not sufficient, to express the characteristics of the natural since it is also characteristic of the artefacts. Actually, quantitative aspects are unable to express the existence of a dynamism proper to what is natural. On the other hand, the proposed space-time structuring includes reference to the quantitative without reducing the natural to the quantitative. f) The property of necessity

What is natural is usually referred to as necessary in opposition to what is rational, the area of freedom. Here reference is made to the activity which is proper to what is natural: an activity whose unfolding follows necessary patterns. Although it seems legitimate to oppose natural necessity to the free activity proper to a rational being, this ultimately means denial of freedom. To say that, unlike free beings, natural entities act in a necessary way, simply means that the latter lack that freedom which is proper to rational beings. If, on the other hand, one wants to clarify what natural necessity consists in, one has to tackle the problem of determinism, an issue which is far from trivial. On the other hand, neither dynamism nor space-time structuring lead to a determinist conception of what is natural; they actually leave open the problem of indeterminism. The proposed characterisation of what is natural makes it possible to

distinguish what is natural from what is rational and avoids, at the same time, the shortcomings which may arise when it is said that what is natural behaves in a rigidly determinist way. 3.5. The Aristotelian characterization of the natural

The proposed characterisation of what is natural in terms of dynamism, structuring and their intertwining contains the essential aspects of the same characterisation proposed by Aristotle who presented nature as inner principle of activity. To cite Aristotles text: Among the existing things, some exist by nature, while some by other causes. Animals and their parts, plants and the elementary bodies (earth, fire, air ,water) all exist by naturenature is principle and cause of movement and rest for those things in which it is present immediately per se and not per accidens15. With these last words, Aristotle stresses the fact that natural is distinct from accidental (understood as that which results from the fortuitous occurrence of causes or casual). Nature, according to Aristotle, is an inner principle of activity, only present in natural entities (usually called substances)16. Natural entities par excellence are the living ones, whose development and activity are the result of inner tendencies. According to Aristotle, natural is distinct from artificial; the latter as such does not have inner tendencies (those tendencies are present only in their natural components). Natural is distinct from casual which is the result of the accidental coincidence of natural causes and which, therefore, does not have determined ends. Natural is distinct from the violent which proceeds from external causes preventing the realisation of its natural tendencies and, therefore, the achievement of its natural end. What is natural is found closely related to tendencies towards determined ends. The Aristotelian philosophy of nature is teleological, since it is centred in the finality of the substances, each with its own inner tendencies which are also cooperatively organised to form the different system of nature. Aristotles ideas are contained within a worldview which is partly obsolete owing to the progress of science. This is the reason why they are usually said to have lost value17. Without doubt the Aristotelian worldview includes theories about the four elements, natural movements and heavenly bodies: all this does not hold water nowadays. However, the Aristotelian characterisation of nature does not depend on this type of worldview and preserves its value in its essentials18.

15 16

ARISTOTLE, Physica, II, 1, 192 b 8-23. Ibid., 192 b 33-34. 17 A. Mansion, for example, who is one of the main modern scholars of Aristotle has stated that the Aristotles definition is too fragile since it is based on a very superficial analysis of the daily experience and of the ordinary language. He adds that the weakness of this definition has repercussions on his entire natural philosophy: see A.MANSION, Introduction la physique aristotlicienne, 2nd ed., Vrin, Paris 1945, p.101 18 See A.PREVOSTI, La Fsica dAristtil. Una cincia filosfica de la natura, Promociones Publicaciones Universitarias, Barcelona 1984, pp.207-239; A.QUEVEDO, Ens per accidens. Contingencia y determinacin enAristteles, EUNSA, Pamplona 1989, pp.219-261.

Is there any relationship between the Aristotelian characterisation of nature and the one we have proposed? Both stress the internal dynamism of what is natural as opposed to what is artificial. Besides, in claiming that such dynamism unfolds according to patterns, we have also stressed its directionality, and this concept is also related to Aristotelian finality. Although Aristotle does not mention space-time structuring in defining nature, nevertheless, when he describes entities and activities, he makes it understood that these exist in space and time situations. The two positions actually coincide in their general essential lines.



Dynamism and structuring do not have existence of their own; they are present in subjects which are the natural entities. There is a wide variety of natural entities with different degrees of individuality, unity and organization. Natural entities are represented by concepts such as substance with a long standing philosophical tradition, and system which is very much in use nowadays. We shall use both concepts and we shall try to show how the characterisation of natural entities as systems makes it possible to represent the great variety of entities in nature and to apply the concept of substance to individual unitary systems. The first section of this chapter analyses the notion of system, its implications and the types of natural systems. A notion of substance is proposed which corresponds to the natural individual unitary systems. The last section deals with the topic on how substantiality is actualized at the different levels of nature. 4. NATURAL SYSTEMS

We shall use the notion of system to represent individual entities, their groupings and their articulation in the global system of Nature. We shall continue examining its meaning and the different types of entities to which it is applied, focusing our attention on natural systems.


The notion of system

The term system comes from the Greek syn (with, together with) and hstemi (to put, to place). It expresses the idea of an object placed next to another, or others, constituting an order, a succession, a whole. It is related to the term synthesis which means composition, ordination, adjustment, harmony. It is used to designate a set of intertwined rules or principles (for instance, a system of government), a combination of bodies and movements which, although different, yet form a whole (for instance, the solar system), a set or organs or similar parts which work together in the same function (for example, the nervous system). In general, any series, or ordination, or succession is a system (political, philosophical, metric, etc.). A system is concatenation, order, correlation, harmony. Without any further detailing, the notion of system is so general that it can be applied somehow to any set whose components bear some relation to one another. However, it is a term used in those cases in which there is a very strong unity, particularly from the time in which the general theory of systems was formulated19.

This theory is based on the works of Ludwig von Bertalanffy: General System Theory, George Braziller, New York 1969; Perspectivas en la teora general de sistemas, Alianza, Madrid 1986. An analysis of the central concepts of this


It is necessary to distinguish between the scientific and the philosophical use of the notion of system. In the experimental sciences each branch adopts a particular perspective and defines systems, their properties and states in function of this perspective. For instance systems in thermodynamics and their states can be defined in terms of pressure, temperature and volume. Therefore, these systems are not a complete representation of the natural entities; they actually refer to some aspects which are selectively considered by that branch of science. On the other hand, philosophy considers systems as they are in nature but from the point of view of their fundamental way of being (without presuming to exhaust this knowledge). Our reflection will logically take into account the knowledge provided by science directing its attention, though, to the natural systems with the purpose of determining their way of being from a philosophical perspective. 4.2. Types of natural systems

There is a wide variety of systems in nature. We shall not exhaust their classification; this would involve a mammoth task and the results would not have much philosophical interest. Philosophy is interested in analysing some general types of systems and in studying the peculiar characteristics of those which present a stronger unity. It is thanks to these types of systems that nature possesses a very special organisation. We distinguish two main groups of systems in function of the integration of their components. We call unitary systems those whose components are integrated in such a way that they present the characters of unity and individuality. We distinguish these systems from those which, although possessing certain unity, do not show characters of individuality, i.e. mixtures, aggregations, systems of order and ecosystems.


Unitary systems

It is generally admitted that there are many natural entities at all levels in nature which are authentic unitary systems. They are systems in which structural and dynamic novelties appear (emergence of new characteristics). New structural patterns are formed as a result of the interaction of their components, and the characteristics of the system are not reducible to a mere sum of the characteristics of its components. These systems are individual, have a new unitary structure and possess their own dynamism. Unitary systems have different degrees of unity and organization. Some show unity at structural as well as at dynamic level: these are systems with a high level of integration, cooperation and directionality among their components. This is particularly the case of the living beings.
theory can be found in S.S.ROBBINS T.A.OLIVA: The Empirical Identification of Fifty-one Core General Systems Theory Vocabulary Components, General Systems, 28 (1983-1984), pp. 69-76.

Although unity and individuality are the main characteristics of unitary systems, this does not mean total independence of these systems from other entities, but yes a certain degree of independence, since they have their own structure and dynamism. Unity refers to the effective integration of the components of the system and it is manifested in its structuring (holism or character of totality) as well as in its dynamism (cooperation).


Other systems

Other systems have some character of unity, but they lack individuality: this seems to be the case of mixtures, aggregations, systems of order and ecosystems. In this case, the components preserve their individuality and their basic characters, while the system acquires a lesser level of individuality as compared with the one of unitary systems. Here the notion of system becomes weak, but still applicable since there are structural relations which imply a certain unity. In the case of mixtures, the components preserve their individuality without forming a new unitary system. This feature admits various levels; at the lowest it is a mere juxtaposition and the term system is loosely applied to it without much interest. However in some cases this unity is greater and the term system is used in a weak way. For instance, the natural aggregations of water in the seas and rivers are sufficiently homogeneous and, although there are no new chemical patterns in it, there are nevertheless structures and dynamisms in it of a systemic type. In the systems of order we find that their components are individual and completely differentiated systems which are ordered through stable relations so that their mutual interactions produce situations with stable characteristics. This is the case of the solar system in which the various planetary orbits follow regular patterns. Ecosystems are the object of ecology. An ecosystem is a complex system with a set of subsystems of different types. They have a certain unity since there are relations of mutual dependence among their components, and their own dynamism20. 5. NATURAL SUBSTANCES

Since ancient times the concept of substance has been used to connote natural entities. It is one of the central philosophical concepts and an object of different
The notion of ecosystem was formulated by Arthur G. Tansley in his article The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms, Ecology, 16 (1935), pp. 284-307, where he stated: Las tramas de la vida, ajustadas a determinados complejos ambientales, son verdaderas unidades a veces muy integradas, que constituyen los nucleos vivientes de sistemas, en el sentido que dan los fisicos a esta palabraDentro de cada sistema tienen lugar intercambios de muchas clases, no solo entre los organismos, sino tambien entre el mundo organico y el inorganico. Estos ecosistemas, como preferimos llamarlos, puede ser de muchas clases y tamaos, formando una de las categorias de los distintos tipos de sistemas fisicos del Universo, que van desde el Universo como un todo hasta el atomo. See P.BECO, voz Ecosistema in VV.AA., Diccionario de la naturaleza, Espasa Calpe, Madrid 1993, pp.198-202.

interpretations in every poque. We shall show how the previous considerations about natural systems cast new lights on the concept of substance and of its applications in our times.


Notion of substance

We shall first propose a characterisation of substance which will be our basis for further reflections. Substances can be characterised as entities whose way of being has three characteristics: subsistence, subjectivity and unity. Subsistence means that a substance has its own being. This makes it different from accidents, such as the size and colour which do not exist separately: they only exist as determinations of a subsistent subject. Subjectivity means that the substance is the subject of attribution of properties and activities. The term is closely related to subsistence; actually the subject to which properties and activity are attributed is the entity which has subsistence, or its own being. Unity, characteristic of the substance, consists in having an essence, or a way of being which is organised as a whole. This makes it possible to identify the subject and persists throughout the accidental changes. These characteristics summarise the classical characterisation of substance as that entity whose essence is to be in itself and not in another. Substance has a way of being organized as a whole, an essence, whose characteristic is to subsist with its own being. On the contrary, it is proper to accidents to be in another: they do not have their own being, since they are determinations of the substance. 5.2. Substance in Aristotles philosophy

The concept of substance is a central topic in Aristotles philosophy, and the way in which he characterises it still preserves a privileged position nowadays21, in spite of the criticism it has received in history. Aristotle poses the problem of substance as the key problem in philosophy, since it corresponds to establishing what an entity is, what reality is made of, and what reality is properly speaking.
The importance of Aristotles idea about substance for the study of nature has been stated in many present day studies, from perspectives which our quite different from ours. See for instance: M.ESPINOZA, Critique de la science antisubstantialiste, Theoria, 5 (1990), pp. 67-84, and La catgorie naturelle ultime, Revue de Mtaphysique et de Morale, 98 (1993), pp. 367-393.

According to Aristotle, being (ens) is spoken of with different meanings, i.e. essence, quantity, quality, etc. Its first meaning, though, is essence which signifies the substance. The fact is that when we ask: what is this? we do not say this is white or this is hot or this is three meters long. We actually say: This is a man or this is a tree. All the rest is said to be ens because it is either quantity or quality or effects of the substance. That which is not substance does not have its own existence, nor can it be separated from the substance, so that ens, in its primary meaning, is the substance. Only the substance has its own existence; moreover, all the other categories presuppose the substance and we know something in particular when we know what it is. Therefore, the substance is the first object of the philosophical study22. The term substance speaks ultimately of the way of being of those beings (entes) which have their own being (esse). For instance, to be a plant or to be a man implies a substantial way of being, different from what is expressed by the accidents, such as to be white or to be two meters long. A substance does not inhere in another and therefore is not predicated of another (the verb to inhere means that something has its being (esse) in another, that it is an accident of a substantial subject). A substance is a being (ens) capable of subsisting separately, autonomously, in itself and by itself; it is something determined, neither universal nor abstract; it has intrinsic unity, it is not a mere aggregate of multiple parts; it is act, actuality, and not potentiality without actualization23. When Aristotle applies the notion of substance to concrete entities he does so in answer to the question: what are substances? He emphasises the fact that substantiality is more clearly defined in animals, plants and their parts, and in the natural bodies (fire, water, earth and similar) with their parts and what makes them up (the heavens and their parts, the stars, the moon, the sun)24. According to Aristotle, in the material realm, only natural entities are substances. Substances are distinct from mere aggregations in which parts preserve their essence. They are also distinct from artificial entities, or artefacts, which do not have an intrinsic unity but only a functional one. Aristotles view does not include the concept of creation and, as such, is unable to give an ultimate explanation of substance. According to him, the first mover moves as a final cause, without producing being (esse). Aquinas made use of Aristotles ideas integrating them within a different perspective which rotates around creation. The material substance becomes intelligible because its reason dtre is found in creation, in the divine intelligence and will. Creation is the ultimate foundation of being in nature. The divine plan of creation is seen as the diffusion of the divine perfection and goodness with their consequent participation by the creatures (especially by man, rational creature capable of knowing and loving God), and this plan makes the created reality intelligible.

22 23

See ARISTOTLE, Metaphysics, VII, 1, 1028 a 10 b 7. Ibid., VII, 3, 1029 a 7 ss. 24 Ibid., VII, 2, 1028 b 8-13.

Aquinas perspective on substance makes use of Aristotles ideas integrated, though, into a new one which notably enriches them. Aquinas doctrine rotates around the actus essendi (the act of being) of creatures: this is received by participation from the divine Being. God does not have being (esse), He is Being. His way of being, or essence, consists in the fullness of Being, and He produces the being of creatures by creation. Created substances, in their entity as well as in their intelligibility, remit to their being (esse) which they have as their own although received by God. Their being (esse) is realised in accordance with their concrete way of being which is expressed by the essence. 5.3 Substances and unitary systems

We have characterised unitary systems as having a clearly differentiated individuality and a strong unity. Actually, substances also have these two characteristics: they are individual subjects with a structural unity. Therefore, one can say that unitary systems correspond to the notion of substance. Substances are individual systems which have that unity characteristic of a whole, have their own organisation and, ultimately, a way of being organised as a whole. For this reason we claim that unitary systems correspond to the notion of substance. There is a great variety of systems in nature and many of them are not organised as a whole. However, even these are the result of a dynamism which unfolds around unitary systems; they are made of unitary systems and are produced as a result of the interactions of the latter. We can claim that not everything in nature is substance, but everything is organized around substances.


Characteristics of natural substances

We now refer to the three basic characteristics of substance which have been already mentioned (subsistence, subjectivity and unity). They will be analysed in the light of the identification made between substances and unitary systems.


Substances are the natural entities in their full meaning

Living beings occupy a privileged position among natural entities because they are systems which show forth the organisation of nature in a most clear way; they are individual systems organised as a whole whose components cooperate in a functional way. Other natural entities have also such a strong unity as to be classified as unitary systems. The notion of substance connotes being (ens) in a primary way: this is expressed by the identification made between unitary systems and substance. Substance is that natural entity which has its own and characteristic way of being. To be a substance is the basic way of being and to be subject of accidental modifications.

Substance as being (ens) in its primary meaning, expresses what a natural entity is par excellence. For this reason, the notion of substance is a basic category needed in order to conceptualise the physical world: it expresses being (ens) in its proper sense, and everything else is referred to it. To say that substance is the central category is the same as saying that all the other aspects of nature presuppose it and refer to it. The real existence of natural unitary systems shows the fact that substance is not a simple mental need, it actually reflects real ways of being. The natural substance is not an object of fantasy added to the data provided by experience (as Empiricism teaches); it is a real entity, the centre of the intertwining between dynamism and structuring. Substance is the primary way of being and all the other ways of being make reference to it, i.e. aggregations of substances and accidents.


Substances are the subject of natural dynamism

Natural unitary systems are in no way passive subjects; on the contrary the dynamism of nature unfolds in them in a specific way: they are the source of specific activities. Dynamism is not a mere movement added from without to the unitary systems; it is rather the result of an energy which unfolds from within according to certain patterns. Following the identification of substance with natural unitary systems, one can say that substances are the subjects of the natural dynamism. Substances are the centre of dynamism and structuring; this fact is clearly shown by science whose method of investigation is specific and different from the philosophical one. Actually, the quest for organizations characterised by unity which are at the origin of processes, and which are the natural results of these processes, occupies a very important place in science. Such organisations are the unitary systems. The intertwining between dynamism and structuring is clearly evident in them; their dynamism, characterised by a unity of efforts, bears relation to their structure which, in its turn, is the result, as a whole, of natural processes. Unitary systems, and therefore substances, are the results of the unfolding of natural dynamism. Their existence depends on specific conditions and, if these are not present, systems fail to come into existence and, if they exist, they would stop existing. This is equivalent to saying that natural substances do not have absolute consistency, independent from the circumstances. Their being and activities are contingent since they depend on contingent conditions. Therefore natural substances are not immutable, indestructible and absolutely permanent subjects. Substances are ultimately immersed in the natural dynamism of which they are source and result. They keep in existence as long as suitable conditions persist, and unfold their dynamism through processes usually called accidental changes since the substance is not radically affected by them. On the contrary, when those conditions suitable to their existence disappear substantial changes intervene in which the whole

substance is transformed. The system then loses its characteristic consistency and another system, or others, is produced. The consistency proper to each substance is related to its structural unity. c) The substance is a structural unity

It was pointed out that the term substance refers to the structural unity; if there is no unity there is no true substance but a mere aggregation. Again, this characteristic becomes evident when the substance is identified with the natural unitary systems, so called because of their structural unity. Structural unity implies a certain order. This unity is particularly strong when there is an authentic organization and not just a generic type of order. In this case the components cooperate towards the existence and activity of the system in a functional way. This is particularly evident in the case of the living beings in which the structure prevails over the components: considered in their specific materiality, the components change continuously while the basic structure persist throughout these changes. Moreover, the existence and activity of each component is conditioned by the cooperative functionality of the other components within the structural organization as a whole. The natural substance has, therefore, its own way of being and this is characterized by a specific structural unity; it is a basic core which persists throughout multiple changes which do not manage to modify it (accidental changes). Its way of being can nevertheless be changed into another way of being when suitable conditions cease to be present (substantial change).


Mechanism, subjectivism, processualism

We shall consider some conceptions about the substance which are quite different from the one so far considered: the Cartesian mechanism, the Kantian subjectivism and the processualism.

a) The Cartesian mechanism

Mechanism had already been proposed by the ancient atomists (Leucippus, Democritus, Epicures, Lucretius Caro). With the systematic birth of modern physicsmathematics in the 17th century, mechanism was defended by scientists and philosophers as a philosophy pretty coherent with the new science. It became very influential in the 18th and 19th centuries. The mechanistic philosophy was explicitly formulated by Descartes. The central tenets of the Cartesian mechanism are the following: a corporeal substance is nothing

but extension, all the properties of a substance are aspects of quantity, (i.e. dimensions, form and movement), the whole movement is nothing but local movement (i.e. displacement of parts of matter)25. In this perspective, nature is left without internal dynamism. More precisely, Descartes considered the movement of the bodies as the result of an original impulse communicated to them by God when He created them. He added that, owing to the divine immutability, the quantity of this movement would remain constant in time26. On the other hand, the Cartesian mechanism eliminates the distinction between the natural and the artificial: everything corporeal can be explained in accordance with the same principles. For instance, living beings would basically be like any other machine. The only distinction admitted by Descartes is between the corporeal-material and the spiritual. In accordance with this radical dualism, the human being is composed of two complete substances, soul and body which communicate between themselves in an extrinsic way, without ever establishing one substance only. Descartes defined substance as that thing which exists in such a way that does not need any other thing in order to exist27. This definition, though, is quite confusing. Actually, the same Descartes immediately realized that, strictly speaking, this definition can only be applied to God while creatures need divine intervention in order to exist. Descartes claimed that the existence of the thinking I is the basic certitude and the foundation of any other certitude. The I thinks, doubts, understands, conceives, states, denies, wants, imagines and feels: it is a thinking substance or res cogitans. The material substance, on the other hand, is a res extensa: its essential character is extension, while qualities are nothing but modifications produced by the matter in a knowing subject. Substances have a principal attribute which constitutes their essence: in the case of the soul, it is thought, and in the case of the bodies, it is extension28. The identification of the corporeal substance with extension presents difficulties, since extension is an accidental characteristic and, as such, unable to be the foundation of that unity required by the substance. Descartes claims that extension corresponds to the clear and distinct idea one has about bodies; actually, it is an image which can be studied in a geometrical way. In his efforts to provide a philosophical basis for the new mathematical science of nature, Descartes reduced the corporeal substance to its geometrical aspects. This reduction cannot be founded rigorously and presents serious difficulties. For instance, one of the difficulties is related to the knowledge of substances: how can we know a corporeal substance after stripping it of all its properties and reducing it to pure extension? It is an issue at loggerhead with reality. Within the perspective of Descartes, the corporeal substance lacks internal dynamism and tendencies and is reduced to a kind of passive and inert substratum. The
See R.DESCARTES, Principia Philosophiae, 1st part, No. 53 (in Oeuvres, published by C.Adams and P.Tannery, Vrin, Paris 1964, Vol. IX-2, p.48), and 2nd part, No. 23 (ibid., p.75) 26 Ibid., 2nd part, No.36 (in Oeuvre, Vol. IX-2, pp.83-84). 27 Une chose qui existe en telle faon quelle na besoin que de soi-mme pour exister: R.DESCARTES, Principia Philosophiae, op.cit., 1st part, No.51 (in Oeuvre, op.cit., Vol.IX-2, p.47). 28 Ibid., No.53 (in Oeuvre, op.cit. Vol.IX-2, p.48).

consideration of this fact sparked the subsequent criticisms against the concept of substance in general and the rejection of the concept of natural substances in particular. Critics have not realized, though, that what they rejected was the Cartesian concept of substance. The mechanistic image is just a partial explanatory model with serious limitations also in the field of physics-mathematics. The basic mechanistic ideas are now obsolete. Actually, even in the classical physics there were already topics (such as forces and fields of forces) which could hardly be compatible with a mechanistic view. Nevertheless, the success of the new physics was frequently used as a proof in favor of mechanism. Many centuries had to pass before the limitations of mechanism appeared in the scientific field. The scientific revolutions of the 20th century (quantum physics and relativity theory) have clearly shown how the mechanistic models are just one type among many possible ones: they represent only some aspects of nature and are not applicable to the study of many phenomena. The identification of the corporeal with an inert and passive kind of matter, reduced to pure extension and exteriors, is a residue of the Cartesian mechanism which has played a very important role in the western thought.

b) The Kantian subjectivism

According to Kant substance is one of the a priori categories and, as such, it does not have its origin in experience but it is condition and possibility of experience. Knowledge proceeds as follows: senses provide only incoherent impressions, while thought gives order to them. At first, this ordering takes place in space and time which are a priori forms of the sense knowledge. Afterwards, concepts are formulated which are also a priori and which make experience intelligible. Substance is one of these concepts, a pure form which does not correspond to any thing real, but to our way of conceptualizing. One cannot think without the notion of substance which expresses that which remains throughout the changes. Such a notion enables us to organize experience in an intelligible way. It is impossible to represent changes without a subject of change, and this subject is what we call substance. In the Kantian perspective substance is an a priori condition of knowledge which enables us to think the phenomena as permanent in time, and makes it possible to determine time. Substance is conceived as an inert and passive substratum, without its own life: it is a notion which refers to the permanence of phenomena in time. Kants ideas are conditioned by the definitive value that Kant attributed to Newtons physics for which he tried to give a philosophical justification. Substance, then, became Newtons matter: its quantum (or quantity) remains, and this corresponds to the constancy of Newtons mass conceived as quantity of matter. The scientific progress has shown the limits of the Newtonian physics and therefore the limits of the Kantian stand which intended to justify the definitive validity of this type of physics.

Kant correctly realized that science would become constructive if based on mathematics. This is very important: actually the concepts of physics-mathematics are not only obtained by abstraction, they are also constructed by us. It is understandable, then, that, in using the concept of substance as the foundation of science, Kant also claimed this concept to be our construction. Kants merit consists in having pointed out the fact that, in order to assess our knowledge of nature, it is necessary to consider the way in which we conceptualize. Nevertheless, he failed to explain how our knowledge could have a real validity. The Kantian stand is conditioned by a false dilemma: is our knowledge totally derived from sense experience, or is it totally a work of our intellect? Senses and intellect, totally separated from each other, would be united through intellectual categories whose value is difficult to justify. In reality, there is a deeper continuity and interpenetration between sense knowledge and intellectual knowledge, so that we know the natural substances intellectually through their sensible accidents. There is no doubt that the substance is a mental category, yet it ca be used to represent reality.


Processualism and energysm

Since the 17th century experimental sciences have emphasized the importance of concepts such as force and energy which refer to the natural dynamism. In our own times, doctrines such as dynamism, energysm, and processualism have had an even greater impact in emphasizing the relevance of forces, energy and processes as dynamic aspects of nature. These doctrines represent a healthy reaction against mechanism. However, in some cases they are a bit exaggerated, since they seem to grant the status of substance to dynamism, and to deny the structural aspects of nature. For instance, according to some forms of processualism, stability in nature is nothing but a moment within a continuous flux, and the latter would be the authentic natural reality. Henri Bergson is one the classical representatives of processualism. The background of all his work is a kind of dualism which opposes the static to the dynamic, and in which the dynamic is the winner. Bergson successfully emphasized the importance of the dynamic aspects against mechanism. He went so far, though, as to grant the status of substance to change. Bergson criticized, with reasons, the characterization of some aspects of reality as absolute stillness. He claims that dynamism is not something which is added to a still reality. He reached the conclusion (difficult to be accepted) that although changes occur, nevertheless things do not change, in other words, change does not need a subject. There is movement but there is no inert and invariable moving object: movement does not imply something that moves29. Bergson may have held this stand owing to the polemical character of his reflections. Actually, it is true that there is no inert and invariable object behind any change, but it is also true that there is an active and variable subject.


H.BERGSON, El pensamiento y lo moviente, La Pleyade editions, Buenos Aires 1972, pp. 120-121.

Following Bergsons thinking, Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) represented nature as a process, as a continuous becoming. He defines substance as an activity process: the existence of a real entity is its own activity of becoming. Duration is inherent to the nature of substance. Hence he states : a real entity is a process and cannot be described in terms of morphology of some stuff30. A real entity is active, and the ultimate nature of things is activity. The substance is activity. Whitehead sees his thesis justified by physics. Like Bergson, Whitehead adopts an evolutionary type of worldview in which nature is creative. The category of ultimate is creativity or creative action; it is pure activity which lacks its own characteristic (like the matter of Aristotle) but does not appear without some characteristic. For Whitehead, substance is a kind of acting which has a particular form, or characteristic. There cannot be any acting without some form or characteristic, and vice-versa. There is proportion between creativity (or activity) and characteristic (or form) similar to the one between matter and form in Aristotle. According to Whitehead, activity becomes the ultimate condition of nature. Acting cannot be separated from the one which acts; there cannot be acting agents without actions, the essence of an acting agent implies its acting. The nature of the acting agent will be determined by the characteristic of its actions. In this perspective, the acting agent is the result of its own actions. The being of a real entity is determined by its own acting. To be and to become are not separable. Being includes becoming, the former is determined by the latter. The way in which an entity becomes determines what that entity is: this is the principle of the process. The metaphysics of Whitehead is an elaboration of what is implied in the principle of the process. In this way we reach a philosophy of the process. The activity of the real agent has to be self-creative. The ultimate ontological nature of a real entity or substance is self-creative activity. Any activity is the self-establishment of an agent. The selfcreation is not something isolated or self-sufficient. The substance needs to be internally related with other entities, from which it obtains its own characteristics: it has an emergent character. This perspective is also a philosophy of the organism which stresses the interconnection among all the real entities. The result is an evolutionary process from which new emergent syntheses are created. Whiteheads worldview is evolutionary, organicist and emergentist. These are characteristics which have acquired great importance in our present times in accordance with an evolutionist image of nature. These aspects, emphasized by Bergson, are integrated by Whitehead in a kind of philosophy which is difficult, somehow confused and with some pantheist trends, but with a lot of prestige nowadays. It is worth noting how this kind of worldview emphasizes the following ideas: a) b) c) d)

the real unity of each entity and of all entities as a whole; the characteristic of the reality as a process; the central place occupied by action; the rejection of the mechanistic-atomistic point of view.

A.N. WHITEHEAD, Process and Reality. An Essay in Cosmology , Harper & Row, New York 1960, p.55.

Processualism presents difficulties, though, because it gives little importance to that consistency which is proper to each substance; and because of the unilateral criticism of the classical notion of substance, of self-creation and of the pantheist tendencies. At the same time, the structural and stable aspects of reality seem to evaporate. Some times it is said that the natural is ultimately nothing but energy: this would consist in an ultimate substratum of dynamic type whose concentration would produce the bodies (sub-atomic particles, atoms, molecules and bigger bodies). This energysm is in line with dynamism and processualism: the equivalence between mass and energy which is a consequence of the relativity theory, is often mentioned as an argument in its favour. This equivalence would show up, for instance, in the production of sub-atomic particles starting from energy, and of energy from sub-atomic particles in the reverse process. An attempt is made to identify energy with the proto-matter of philosophical tradition, as if this concept could now find a physical realization. In this case, everything would be made of energy and the physical particles would be nothing but concentrated energy31. Sometime it is added that matter has the nature of a process32, since the different forms of energy can be transformed into one another. These statements should be understood within the framework of the critique against the atomistic mechanism and are somehow valid within this context. The atomistic mechanism claimed that matter is made of indivisible particles and, as such, unable to undergo transformations: they could only change place. However, the microphysical world is in reality an extremely dynamic one. This, though, does not justify the reduction of matter to energy. Actually, energy, and the particles dealt with by physics, does not correspond to either intuitive or philosophical concepts; they are theoretical constructions which, although very much related to reality, establish this relationship by conceptual and experimental means whose meaning cannot be directly extrapolated to philosophy33. Energysm is particularly suggestive when a metaphorical, rather than literal, meaning is attributed to it. Energysm and processualism emphasize, with reasons, the fact that dynamism is inscribed within the very heart of nature, and that the individual as well as the structural aspects of nature are lumped together in the unfolding of a natural
Werner Heisenberg is one of the physicists who formulated the quantum mechanics in the 20s. He maintained that All the elementary particles are made of the same substance, i.e. energy. They are the forms that energy needs to acquire in order to be converted to matter: W. HEISENBERG E. SCHRDINGER M. BORN P. AUGER, Discussione sulla fisica moderna, Einaudi, Turin 1959, p.17. 32 Karl Popper says that: Matter is not a substance, since it is not preserved. It can be destroyed and created again. Even the most stable particles, the nucleons, can be destroyed by collision with their anti-particles, and their energy is transformed into light. Matter appears to be a very compressed kind of energy which can be transformed into other forms of energy and, consequently, has the nature of a process, since it can be converted into other processes such as light and, of course, movement and heat: K. POPPER J.C. ECCLES, El yo y su cerebro, Labor, Barcelona 1980, p.7. 33 Actually the Einsteins equation is a mathematical relation established between physical magnitudes: the mass (and not matter) and the energy. The equation means that the values of the magnitudes involved are related through the formula E=mc2 where E is energy, m is mass and c is the speed of light in the vacuum. Here, therefore, we are not dealing with statements on the concepts of matter and energy in a philosophical sense, but of magnitudes which are defined in accordance with the procedures of the physics-mathematics.

dynamism which produces a big cosmic process. However, in some cases they appear to reduce nature to its dynamic aspects and deny the consistency of the structural aspects. In reality, only the combination of the dynamic and the structural can provide an adequate representation of nature. 6. HOW TO IDENTIFY NATURAL SUBSTANCES

Up to now we have dealt with the existence of entities which can be called unitary systems or substances, we have analyzed their main characteristics and we have used some illustrative examples. In order to achieve a wider perspective, we shall now ask ourselves which of the natural entities can be actually considered substances. We shall answer while keeping in mind that, according to our way of setting the problem, this question can be formulated in a different way, i.e. which systems can be actually considered natural unitary systems. There is no doubt that this question is philosophically interesting for three reasons. First, the notions of system and substance would remain at an abstract level unless we actually apply them to natural entities. Second, the study of these examples provides a solid basis for a faithful representation of nature, on which a further philosophical reflection can be carried out. Third, since this study compels to apply the notions of system and substance to real entities, the former will be enriched in their meaning. We have already stressed that the basic characteristics of the natural unitary systems are individuality and unity. We have also said that unity can be referred to structural aspects (structural unity) as well as to dynamic aspects (operational unity much related to directionality). Therefore, such characteristics will be used as criteria of substantiality. We shall now consider how these characteristics appear to ordinary experience and to the scientific knowledge.


Substance and ordinary experience

The ancients used the concept of substance when dealing primarily with living beings. As far as inorganic matter is concerned (elements and compounds), the application of the same concept differed variously according to different ideas which were quite weak. The consolidation of the physics-mathematics in the 17th century and of the mechanism (its self-appointed philosophical ally), meant the abandonment of the notion of substance. The focus was diverted onto the quantitative properties of matter which could be studied with the aid of mathematical concepts. Even living beings were now considered as mere aggregations of physical components. There was no well-founded knowledge of the microphysical structure of matter up to the first part of the 20th century, and a detailed knowledge of the physico-chemical aspects of life had to wait until the middle of the same century. Scientific progress was accompanied by a progressive awareness of the fundamental role played by the holistic and directional aspects of the systems. This is to say that at present we are able for the first time to determine rigorously the way of being of the natural systems.

With the present scientific knowledge available, we can actually claim that only the living beings, among the natural entities accessible to our ordinary way of knowing, are natural unitary systems: other entities are either aggregations or fragments. This explains the fact that there were many perplexities in the past when one wanted to apply the notion of substance to non-living beings. Actually, there are other unitary systems in nature, but they do not appear as such to our ordinary experience: they do so only after being scientifically investigated. The non-living unitary systems are microphysical entities (atoms, molecules, and macromolecules) with a notable structural unity; they exist, though, only as parts of aggregates or of greater systems. In any case it is evident that only the ordinary experience is insufficient to determine with rigor which systems may be considered unitary systems. We shall therefore consider the types of unitary systems present at the different levels of nature in the light of the knowledge provided by science. 6.2. Substance and science

We shall distinguish three levels in nature: the biological which includes the living beings; the microphysical which includes the non-living entities of very small size that cannot be observed directly; and the macro-physical which includes the non-living entities of bigger size.


Substance at a biological level

Living beings are natural systems with a high degree of individuality. Some exist in colonies with divisions of functions among the individuals. The majority, though, have a well-defined individuality when compared with entities. There is also a great structural as well as dynamic unity in living beings. The parts of a living being are components of an organism which is structured according to a unified plan, and they carry out cooperative functions which support one another and contribute to the unified activity of the living being. Therefore, living organisms can be said to be natural unitary systems (although in some cases their individuality appears to be reduced, or their organization is rudimentary) and the concept of substance can be properly applied to them. Actually, we are in the presence of the most clear case of natural substances. Reducing living beings to cybernetic systems has introduced scepticism on the possibility of considering living beings as substances. Descartes claimed that living beings are machines and, as such, mere combinations of physical components exactly in the same way they are in a mechanical machine. Such mechanistic ideas are actually inadequate to explain the characteristics of living beings. Nevertheless, in our times they have been reconsidered in a more sophisticated way, taking into account our present-day knowledge about cybernetic systems. Such systems have properties such as feedback and homeostasis which are also properties of living beings. Since there should be no

need to attribute to living beings characteristics which go beyond what is material, it seems possible to claim that living beings are just cybernetic systems with a highly sophisticated type of organization34. There is no doubt that living beings are cybernetic systems: many of their aspects are being clarified as the understanding of these systems progresses. This is, though, perfectly compatible with our characterization of the natural, i.e. natural entities, unitary systems and natural substances. However, it is not compatible with a mechanism of Cartesian type which reduces living beings to a simple aggregation of parts; in this perspective, these parts are unable to form a new structural and dynamic unity, or a new way of being35.


Substance at a microphysical level

The substances found at this level are sub-atomic particles, atoms, molecules and macromolecules. We shall consider them in this order. The sub-atomic particles which are the constituents of matter, are, according to a well-proved model called standard model, six types of leptons (or light particles) and six basic types of quarks which constitute the heavier particles by couples or triads. These particles, as well as the ones made of quarks (such as the proton and the neutron), correspond to four fundamental interactions (strong nuclear, weak nuclear, electromagnetic and gravitational). Many of these particles are very ephemeral (they last just for a small fraction of a second), and it is very difficult to determine the nature of all of them although in many cases their behaviour is very well known. For instance, they exhibit properties of waves as well as of particles without a clearly established status. New theories are being proposed in order to solve this issue; they are much deeper than the present ones and their experimental verifiability is, at present, very difficult. In this situation, it is possible to say that the more stable particles (such as the proton, the neutron and the electron which have well-established properties of mass, charge, spin, half-life, way of interacting) can be considered substances, at least when they exist in an independent way. These three particles can exist as free particles. They are also the components of the atoms: when considered in this state, they are definitely parts of a new unitary system, i.e. the atom36.

This thesis is widely defended from a perspective which presumes to be in accordance with a Thomistic philosophy in P.CHALMEL, Biologie actuelle et philosophie thomiste, Tqui, Paris 1984. 35 Actually in the work mentioned in the previous note Chalmel reaches the same conclusion; he states that living beings are cybernetic systems, and criticizes some vitalist ideas. At the same time, though, he rejects the Cartesian mechanism and holds that living beings are substances. Cf. ibid., pp. 312-313 and 318-319. 36 One can find a more detailed discussion on this topic in M.ARTIGAS, El problema de la substancialidad de las particulas elementales, Pontifical Lateran University, Rome 1987. Another realistic perspective, different though from the previous one, can be found in R.HARR, Varieties of Realism, Blackwell, Oxford 1986 (with many points in common with the experimentalism maintained by IAN HACKING, Representing and Intervening, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1983).


There are ninety-two basic types of atoms in nature which have well-defined structures: a very stable nucleus made of protons and neutrons, and a peripheral area occupied by electrons at different energetic levels determined by quantum laws. When on their own, they can be said to constitute true unitary systems (and therefore substances), since they show a characteristic unitary structure with a corresponding unitary dynamism; this structure, as well as the set of properties which depends on it, is fairly stable. Molecules are made of atoms: they also have their own structuring and dynamism proper to the unitary systems and are different from a mere aggregation. In order to separate their components it is necessary to trigger processes able to alter the forces which keep the same components together. Something similar happens with the macromolecules (e.g. the biochemical components of the living beings: proteins, nucleic acids, etc.) whose structure and dynamism are very specific since they have a very complex organization. It is an easy job to apply the notion of unitary system and of substance to molecules as well as to macromolecules. In summary, microphysical systems have a structure and a dynamism proper to unitary systems and therefore they can be properly referred to as substances, at least whenever they have an independent existence. This last clarification is important because in many cases they form part of other systems. In these cases, although preserving many of their properties, they become parts integrated in higher structures which are new unitary systems


Substance at a macro physical level

With the exception of the living beings, the new states of matter are formed as a result of aggregations of microphysical systems. It is understandable, therefore, that these states are not properly speaking unitary systems although our ordinary experience may be deceived. This makes it difficult many times to apply the concept of substance to the non-living entities. There are systems at meso physical levels (i.e. visible entities but not too big) and macro physical levels (big sizes) of the inorganic world which show different degrees of unity, integration, dynamism and functionality. For this reason they are considered as aggregations of different substances in a heterogeneous kind of combination. We shall show some examples out of many. At geophysical level, minerals are, in many cases, aggregations of different chemical substances in a more or less pure state. It is necessary to process them in a complex way in order to obtain chemical substances in a pure state; even in this case, though, the solids obtained are atoms or molecules bound together by forces. The earth as a whole, together with the atmosphere, forms a system which is heterogeneous but specific at the same time, so that life in it becomes possible. There are a great variety of

systems and sub-systems within the earth and among these we find the ecosystems which encompass peculiar combinations of inorganic and living beings37. At astrophysical level, stars have a nucleus which is the core of their structures and activities (i.e. nuclear fusion reactions which condition the characteristics of each star). Because of their huge size, there are many components in the periphery of stars whose union with the whole system is relatively weak. The structure of the sun, with its corresponding activity, is an essential factor for the existence of life on earth. It not only determines the temperature and many related characteristics of our planet, but also the food-chains and food-webs in which some organisms feed on others whose existence ultimately depends on their capacity of utilizing solar energy to produce chemical compounds. 6.3. The analogical concept of substance and its degrees

The concept of substance cannot be applied univocally (i.e. exactly and always in the same way) but analogically (i.e. according to a meaning which is partly the same and partly different). Actually, it is possible to apply the concept of substance to entities so different from one another, like living beings and microphysical entities, because all of them show a certain degree of individuality and unity. It is also clear, though, that the concept of substance is not used in the same way in all of them. The notion of unitary system has a well-defined content but, at the same time, broad enough to be applied to very different systems. These systems may have common characteristics, but also differences which can be very important.

The concept of substance is predicated analogically because there are different degrees of individuality and unity. We have already pointed out how living beings show a kind of unitary organization which is particularly consistent. It is because of this that substantiality is realized in them in an eminent way. Even among living beings, though, there are different degrees of individuality and unity. There is a strong unity in many entities of the microphysical world which, nevertheless, do not always show a clearly differentiated unity, since they happen to exist as components of higher systems. All this hair-splitting is not trivial at all: it helps us understand better the philosophical meaning of substance in nature. The concept of substance which rotates around those of individuality and unity, points at the existence of holistic systems which have a way of being characterized by unity. Their components, although partially retaining their own characters, are nevertheless integrated in a new system with a new type of unity in which emergent properties and a cooperative dynamism exist. The ways
Following the Gaia hypothesis proposed by James Lovelock, some hold that the biosphere (the environment of water, land and air where life around us develops) is one system only, like a big organism. In reality, it does not seem possible to consider it as an individual unitary system, i.e. as a substance.

of being holistic are greatly various, but they always reflect a common characteristic: they are entities which have an essence, or a way of being, characterized by unity. They are therefore the subjects of a natural dynamism. The denial of the reality of substance leads to an atomized representation of nature which is then left as a disconnected collection of particular qualities or processes. On the contrary, nature is a huge system made up of particular systems which, in one way or another, articulate around the unitary systems or substances. The application of the notion of substance shows the fact that there are many unitary systems in nature: they are mutually related and integrated in more general systems up to reaching the global system of nature, and these unitary systems, or substances, are subjects with specific ways of being. This representation of nature is the basis for a metaphysical reflection in which the notions of essence and act of being occupy a central place, and which finds its ultimate meaning in the participation in being.


Anti-substance stands

The empiricist and processualist critiques are two among many which have attacked the notion of substance and which are especially important nowadays. a) The knowledge of substances

David Hume (1711-1776) developed a radical critique against the concept of substance from his empiricist stand. He claimed that the idea of substance actually corresponds to a collection of particular qualities united by the imagination; it is a simple name which we give to this collection in order to remember it38. The empiricist theory of knowledge, on which Hume leans in order to criticize the concept of substance, claims that only the qualities which appear to the sensible experience, have an objective value. Developed in a coherent way, the theory is forced to state that qualities may exist without a subject and that, therefore, qualities may have a certain existence of their own. Actually, this conclusion is found in Humes writings39. This is equivalent, though, to granting a status of substance to qualities without any solution to the problem. On the contrary, a new insoluble difficulty is introduced since it is difficult to understand how there can be qualities without a subject-substance. Some other critiques, much related to empiricism, accuse the notion of substance of scientific emptiness: it is a useless concept hardly used by science. As a matter of fact, biology takes it for granted, chemistry uses it in quite a proper way although it does not characterize it philosophically, and physics-mathematics uses ideal models with concepts equivalent to those of substance when applied to the study of concrete matter.
Cf. D. HUME, A Treatise of Human Nature, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1975, p.16. One may find a clear expos and a penetrating critique of Humes ideas in R.J. CONNELL, An Empirical Consideration of Substance, Laval thologique et philosophique, 34 (1978), pp.235-246. 39 Cf. D. HUME, A Treatise of Human Nature, op.cit., p.222.

The concept of substance does not appear usually in scientific formulations. Nevertheless the existence of substances and accidents is implicitly admitted in science. At times (e.g. in chemistry) the characterization and classification of substances corresponds exactly to their philosophical notion. At other times (e.g. in microphysics) this correspondence cannot be established unequivocally. It is logical that the concept of substance is not studied philosophically in scientific formulations, since science does not claim a philosophical perspective. Nevertheless, science takes the notion for granted: actually, the study of nature is based on the existence of unitary systems, or substances, and the scientific progress provides an ever more detailed knowledge of such entities. The empiricist critique gives us the opportunity to point out the fact that the substance is known through the accidents: they are the ones which reveal the substance and its essential way of being. That which directly appears to the experience is the accidents: they are accidents though which belong to a subject. In order to know the proper way of being of substantial subject one needs to study its properties and, because of this, it seems that we are only able to know properties, never substances. However, the denial of the notion of substance inevitably leads to granting the accidental properties the status of substance: this is actually impossible.


Substances and processes

The notion o substance is also criticized and accused of fixism in certain philosophical stands such the processualist one. Processualism considers processes as the only core of nature and nothing is found which is not a process. In this perspective, the notion of substance seems to imply the existence of some subjects which are found outside the continuous flux of changes present in nature. This accusation is unfounded since it has nothing to do with the idea of substance which has been considered so far. This accusation of fixism, though, offers another opportunity to clarify what is the consistency in being proper to the substances and what type of relations exists between substance and processes. The permanence in being, or temporal duration, cannot be used to characterize the substance philosophically. The concept of substance refers to the consistence in being. Nevertheless, this permanence unveils, in many cases, such a consistence: stability accompanies substantiality in many instances. This, though, does not happen necessarily: actually, there may be truly substantial entities with a more or less ephemeral duration. A substance has a relative stability according to the type of natural system considered in each case and to the circumstances in which it is found. Consistence in being does not depend on duration or permanence in being. On the other hand, the substance is not unalterable. Natural substances are subjected to accidental changes in which the substance remains the same since a entity continues being the same while changing accidentally. The substance is the subject of the change and is something changing, not immutable. During accidental changes the substance changes in an accidental, and not substantial, way. The substance can also

disappear and become a different one: this happens in the substantial changes. All this is easily understood when one relates the substances to the natural unitary systems, in the way we have done here. Unitary systems are the result of processes and source of new processes, and therefore they are not left outside the flux of changes. In accordance with the characterization of the natural made here as an intertwining between dynamism and structuring, we shall emphasize once again that a substance is not a passive and inert substratum. On the contrary, it is the first subject of being, articulating centre of structuring and dynamism. The whole activity of an entity originates from the substance. Physical substances are at the same time source and product of the natural dynamism. The dynamic aspect of the reality which is very much related to the presentday scientific knowledge, has to be emphasized against any mechanistic type of reductionism,. The natural dynamism unfolds around the substances and it is never opposed to the latter. The dynamic activity of the substances produces other substances with their own dynamism. To counterpoise being to becoming and stability to dynamism is meaningless. They are complementary aspects which need each other. From a scientific point of view, natural entities are equilibrium systems. Stability is the result of energy balances and these can be upset. Stable systems are found at each level of the composition of matter, and they are the result of energy balances. An energetic unbalance is a source of processes, and equilibrium is not a synonym of absence of forces or of dynamism: equilibrium means balanced forces. One can, then, understand how stability and dynamism are combined in natural entities. States of equilibrium always refer to specific conditions. Therefore, the stability of the physical entities is never absolute and ceases to exist if the conditions are not kept within the margins required by each situation of equilibrium.


Change is a characteristic of nature at all its levels: none of its aspects can escape it in the various ways it takes place. As a matter of fact, the transformations which occur in nature rotate around specific dynamic patterns, so that our world shows a very singular type of organization. This organization consists of many unitary processes with coordinated steps whose unity can only be explained by the existence of specific potentialities, and of an information which directs the unfolding of the natural dynamism. There are specific potentialities in nature whose actualization leads to a hierarchy of levels with a progressively increasing complexity of organization. The building of nature appears, then, as a huge global process of self-organization in which authentic emerging novelties are produced. All this is made possible thanks to the storage and the unfolding of information. The first part of this section shall consider the natural processes and the existence of dynamic patterns. The second part shall explain the same processes in terms of potentiality and actuality, after analyzing the modalities of the natural becoming. The third part shall illustrate with examples the knowledge we have of the unitary processes at present. Some aspects of the natural becoming related to the emergence of novelties are also examined in the light of the previously developed ideas.



Natural systems are never encountered in a completely isolated situation. Moreover, since they have their own dynamism, they interact among themselves. Changes are the results of these interactions in which the intervening dynamisms are integrated to produce common results. The basic structure of any change consists in interactions whose result is a state of equilibrium. There is a great variety of interactions; nevertheless, all of them proceed according to patterns through highly specific processes.


Notion of natural process

The cataloguing of the different changes which occur in nature would result in a mammoth enterprise. Here we shall analyze only the main modalities of these changes, focusing our attention on the unitary processes in a special way. This choice is

important since unitary processes consist of a coordinated succession of steps which clearly reveal the specific character of the nature in which we live. Although sometimes any type of change is referred to as process, here we shall use this term only in relation to those types of changes which consist of a series of articulated steps that lead to a final state starting from an initial state. This implies therefore that the steps of the process are coordinated and characterized by a certain kind of unity. In this sense, a process can be defined as the totality of the gradual steps of a natural phenomenon or of an artificial operation40. It can also be defined as a gradual series of operations that lead to a specific objective or to the transformation of a system41. It is easy to see why we focus our attention on processes. Actually, if one considers the becoming in a general way, what appears before his eyes is a wide variety of changes whose detailed study is the task of science. Change in a general way is studied in many philosophical treatises; the actual object of its philosophical investigation, though, is the study of unitary processes with their specific characteristics, although one may not always realize it. There is a great variety of processes in nature. Most of them are very complex and can be divided into sub-processes. Moreover, they unfold in a continuous way so that to determine where one process stops and where another begins depends, somehow, on the point of view one takes. From a philosophical perspective, particularly interesting are those characteristics of the processes which permit to understand the basic properties of our world together with its highly specific organization which makes life on it possible. Consequently, philosophy is particularly interested in those processes with holistic and directional characteristics. There are many processes in nature with a high degree of unity and directionality in their starting point as well as in their final point and during their unfolding. Their beginning and their end consist in well-established situations, and the transit from the initial state to the final one unfolds in a characteristic way. This is clearly evident in the living beings: their development from the early stages up to maturity is a great process clearly holistic and directional, and its way of progressing is full of functional relations which manifest also the unity and tendencies of the organisms. The scientific progress has made it possible to know also many unitary and directional processes at physical and chemical levels. It is evident, though, that the directionality of natural processes is different from those processes guided by human reason. Rational and artificial processes are guided by the conscious quest of an end: this does not happen in the case of natural processes. Rational processes consist in a mental linking of ideas, and the artificial ones correspond to a project and therefore both have a directionality deliberately imposed by the agent. On the other hand the natural processes originate from irrational agents and therefore the same finality of the rational processes cannot be attributed to them.
40 41

Real Academia Espaola, Diccionario de la lengua espaola, 21st ed., Espasa Calpe, Madrid 1992, p.1185. Real Academia de Ciencias Exactas, Fsicas y Naturales, Vocabulario cientfico y tcnico, Espasa Calpe, Madrid 1990, p.566.

Nevertheless, the natural processes develop in a directional way and lead to results with a high degree of organization. Although non-rational in a strict sense, yet they manifest a certain type of rationality in their results and ways of achieving them. These are the aspects which appeal most to a philosophical reflection.


Natural processes and dynamic patterns

We emphasize the fact that natural processes do not unfold in an erratic manner; on the contrary, everything in them rotates around specific patterns. Hence, it is necessary to consider such patterns in details in order to present a veritable picture of the natural processes. We shall call these patterns dynamic patterns in order to distinguish them from patterns related to space configurations. The use of the concept of information comes in very handy in order to understand such patterns. Actually, our knowledge of the dynamic patterns is represented by laws which are equivalent to operational programs. In this sense, laws contain an information on the possible course of the process; this information speaks of the possibility of the unfolding of a natural dynamism whenever some specific conditions are present, and it corresponds, therefore, to something real. The concept of information is used in three contexts which, although related to one another, are nevertheless different. First, information is related to the concept of communication of messages in ordinary life as well as in the science of information, and therefore to the action of informing someone about some meaningful contents. Second, the theory of information studies technological aspects of transmission and handling of messages by the use of mathematical concepts related to the theory of probability. Third, a concept of information approximately equivalent to a program guiding the natural activity is more and more used in the experimental science. Biology started using this concept when the existence of genetic information was discovered. It was more and more used, since then, in physics and chemistry. Here we shall use the concept of information in the third sense42. We are able to detect the typical elements of information, i.e. signals, codes, storage, communication, interpretation and integration, in observing natural interactions. We are far from knowing these elements in a complete way; nevertheless, they are sufficiently known in some cases and it is possible to confirm their existence in some others.


An interesting analysis of the concept of information in biology can be found in P.SCHUSTER, Biological Information. Its Origin and Processing in C. WASSERMANNR. KIRBYB. BORDORFF (publishers), The Science and Theology of Information, Labor et Fides, Geneva 1992, pp. 4557. About the extension of the concept of information to other scientific areas one may read G. DEL RE, Complexity, Organization, information, in G.V. COYNE K. SCHMITZ MOORMANN (publishers), Origins, Time & Complexity, part I, Labor et Fides, Geneva 1994, pp. 8392. Doubtlessly there is a danger of using the concept of information indiscriminately and in an inaccurate way. However, the remedy is not in abandoning the concept but in using it appropriately.

Information is stored in the space structures whose configuration is equivalent to a program, or instructions which determines the action to be initiated before each type of signal. The structure of each system determines some internal organization whose actualization depends on the interactions occurring in any specific case. The respective pieces of information are integrated or combined in one result only in the interactions; dynamisms and structures are combined and the result is the appearance of new information patterns. It is difficult to avoid an anthropomorphic feeling when using concepts such as signals, codes, communication and interpretation of information. However, this difficulty can be overcome by keeping in mind their metaphorical character. For instance, physicochemical entities do not have a knowledge or a language similar to ours. Nevertheless they know and communicate with one another in a metaphorical but real sense: an electron knows that it is within an electromagnetic field, knows that the field has specific characteristics and consequently it knows its possible ways of behaving. In the same way, when a particle reaches an atom with a specific energy, the atom detects it, knows its characteristics and reacts accordingly with the corresponding patterns. All this has nothing to do with a sort of pan-psychism which attributes a kind of consciousness to the physicochemical entities. It is a way of expressing aspects of the reality for whose conceptualization we are forced to use a metaphorical language. This way of expressing such aspects of reality is also equivalent to acknowledging the fact that there is no matter which is purely inert or passive: actually, every material entity contains an information which guides its interactions. Any dynamic pattern corresponds to the unfolding of an information structurally stored, and can therefore be called information pattern. We can actually distinguish two big types of dynamic patterns, i.e. the dynamic laws which represent the behaviour of different systems in specific conditions, and the information patterns in a more restrictive sense which correspond to the unfolding of more complex processes with a sequence of successive stages and with a higher degree of organization. There are many dynamic laws in any branch of science: this emphasizes the importance of the dynamic patterns in nature. Although these laws correspond to reality, yet they do not exist separately. They are incorporated in the natural systems and we abstract them from their behaviour. It should not be surprising therefore that, although very precise, they have only an approximate character. There are processes made of a complex series of successive stages which are mutually coordinated, in those systems with a higher degree of organization, particularly in the living ones. In this case, we are in the presence of information patterns with a full program of action. Information patterns are basically instructions which guide the unfolding of the natural dynamism. The genetic information is the typical case: it is equivalent to an information pattern stored in a structural pattern (the space structure of the DNA) which guides the unfolding of so many particular dynamic patterns (transcription and translation of the DNA), whose results are new structural patterns (the proteins) which, in their turn, unfold other dynamic patterns (the processes which are controlled by the proteins) and so on and so fort. Hence, in the genetic information, dynamism and structuring intertwine through information patterns.

In the activity guided by the genetic information, each step unfolds in accordance with particular physicochemical laws (dynamic laws), as part of the processes, though which unfold according to a program. During this unfolding (which lasts for the entire life-span of the organism), many processes are produced in which a regeneration of biochemical substances, cells, tissues, organs and systems takes place. It is actually a global process which includes cooperative, holistic and directional aspects. 7.3. Synergism, organization and tendencies

The existence of information patterns demands actually the joint actions of many components; only in this way it is possible to obtain a space structure containing stored information, and to have this information unfolded along a series of coordinated steps. The existence of a synergism, or cooperative action, is a necessary condition for the existence of information patterns only if it has very specific characteristics, so that a simultaneous as well as successive coupling of very many factors is made possible. A cooperative action of this type can be given only if there is a high degree of organization, and this has to be very stable. Presently, we already know many aspects of the organization of living beings and of the cooperation of its components. This knowledge shows clearly how subtle all this is. Synergism and organization clearly show the existence of tendencies. The issue of finality will not be tackled now in a detailed way; however it is important to point out that directionality is not only hinted by the existence of dynamic patterns, but also, and much more, manifested by the existence of information patterns which guide the unfolding of the unitary processes whose stages appear to be coordinated.



Natural processes can be explained as actualizations of potentialities. We shall now examine how Aristotle presented this explanation which is still central in the philosophy of nature.


Being and becoming

Nature contains structural as well as dynamic aspects: it is a combination of the being of what already exists, and of the becoming in which changes are produced. Already before Aristotle, philosophers had tried to reconcile being and becoming. Aristotle proposed to resolve the problem through the concepts of being in potency and being in act.

To be in potency means that a being has a capacity, or virtuality which, in the appropriate conditions, can lead to a being in act. The development of living beings from eggs and embryos can illustrate this concept. Actually, the initial stages, or embryonic stages, of the development of a living being are very different from its later stages; this means that the living being has real capacities which are progressively actualized in time and whose aim is to produce the new being. The present-day concept of information appears to give a special significance to this example. The presence of information in a living being makes it easier to understand how its initial stage does not resemble its final stage of development; this is made possible by the existence of instructions which lead it to the production of a new being. The Aristotelian explanation applies very fittingly to the already mentioned unitary processes. However, it is possible to apply it to other ways of becoming. This will be the object of our next consideration before going ahead with the analysis of act and potency.


Ways of becoming

The dynamic aspects of nature have different names with different meanings, but very much related among themselves such as becoming, change, movement, transformation, mutation, process. The use of these terms varies with different authors and contexts. The term becoming is used in a general way to express the fact that all the natural entities are subjected to change. The term change is used to indicate any type of variations. The term movement at times means any type of change, but habitually has a more restrictive meaning to indicate change of place or location, i.e. the local movement. The terms transformation and mutation emphasize the fact that change affects a subject. Finally the term process refers to the totality of the successive stages which lead from an initial state to a final state. Obviously the terms becoming and change have a much wider meaning than the other terms. Both are related to movement since they always imply some movement, or change of location. The term process indicates an articulated type of reality: it implies a series of steps which lead to a final result. Any process is then characterized by the presence of a series of changes and movements. We have already considered the distinction between different types of change: accidental changes occur without affecting the identity of a substance which, on the other hand, changes in relation to some accidents. Substantial changes occur with the disappearance of a substance and the appearance of a different one. Moreover, we may distinguish three types of accidental change: change of place also called local movement or simply movement; changes in the accident quantity resulting in an increase or diminution; changes in the accident quality which are called alterations. There is a hierarchical order among changes. The first is the local movement, since this only implies displacement and can occur without deeper kinds of change. On the other hand, any change in nature necessarily implies the existence of local

movement: it is impossible for any natural thing to change without any of its parts somehow moving. Change in quantity comes after movement which presupposes local movement only. Change in quality comes next which presupposes the previous two. Substantial change, which has deeper implications, comes last. A substance changes during an accidental change but only accidentally, i.e. without affecting its identity or its essential way of being. This includes, for instance, all those changes which a living being undergoes without losing its identity. A substance changes radically in a substantial change since it ceases to exist while a new substance begins to exist: this is what happens when a plant dies. A substantial change is being prepared by a series of accidental changes: when these become too intense they cause the change of substantial identity. That a change is accidental does not mean that it is unimportant: it only means that the subject of change does not cease to exist according to its essential way of being. It is true that there are accidental changes which are very superficial. There are others, though which can seriously affect the substance of a subject. These Aristotelian ideas can be easily integrated in a contemporary perspective of the material world which is actually compelled to take into account the concepts of substance and accident. We have already seen how the concept of substance is easily applied to living beings and to the microphysical systems. Substantial changes will also be more easily detected in those entities which can be more easily recognized as concrete substantial subjects. It will be interesting to consider the aspect of processes and the articulation of their different stages when focusing on the organization of nature (and therefore on its rationality). One perspective, though, does not exclude the other; actually, natural processes consist, in the last analysis, of substantial and accidental changes. We can also say that the Aristotelian explanation of change in terms of potency and act corresponds mainly to those processes which we have called unitary processes.


Act and potency

The doctrine of act and potency is, without doubt, one of the most important achievements in Aristotles philosophy and in philosophical thinking in general; it is also used by those who do not share other aspects of the Aristotelian philosophy. Aristotle made use of this doctrine in order to explain the becoming. It is a doctrine, though which is applied to many other problems. We shall now consider this topic, examine some meanings of act and potency which are of specific interest to the philosophy of nature, and show how the explanation of the processes as actualization of potentialities acquires a new meaning when considered from the point of view of the concept of information.


The becoming as actualization of potentialities

We have already seen how some of the early philosophers denied the reality of change. They argued that change presupposes a novelty in being, and that this novelty cannot rise from nothing but from something pre-existing. They concluded that change does not exist, it is just an appearance. Granted that such conclusion is incompatible with experience, it should be added that experience does not provide an authentic knowledge of the reality; therefore there seems to be a dichotomy between true reality accessible only to the intellectual knowledge and the world of the sensible appearances. This was the line of thought followed by Parmenides. The Greek atomists (Leucippus and Democritus) tried to give an explanation of nature as a combination of atoms and the vacuum. They held that atoms are immutable and indivisible entities (atom in Greek means indivisible), ultimate entities of natures framework. The only real change is local movement, and nature is explained through displacements and combination of atoms. Natural entities are the result of the combination of atoms, and processes are reduced to displacement of material parts. Aristotle endeavoured to reconcile the demands of reason and senses by explaining change in terms of act and potency. To be in act means to have a certain determination, while to be in potency means that, although such a determination is not possessed, nevertheless there is a real capacity of getting it. In this perspective, change is the actualization of a potentiality. To be in potency is to be somehow in-between the pure non- being and being in act, since there is a real capacity of being what one is not yet. To be in potency has, moreover, a teleological or finalistic connotation since it means that some capacities, or predispositions, are possessed with respect to specific types of acts, i.e. there is a kind of directionality. When adequate conditions are present, potentialities are actualized: change is actually a process of actualization. According to the classical definition given by Aristotle, change is the act of the entity in potency insofar as it is in potency43. This means that the starting point is an entity which does not have a certain determination in act, but it has the potentiality, or capacity, to acquire it. It also means that change appears when this potentiality is actualized and, more specifically, while it is being actualized. That is why in the definition it is not only said that change is the act of the entity which is in potency, but it is also specified that it is this act as long as the entity is still in potency, i.e. while it is actualizing its potentiality. Once the determination is acquired, the change stops. The difficulty met with in trying to conceptualize movement consists in the fact that it is a clear reality which consists, though, in a transition from a potentiality to an actuality. It is difficult to conceptualize a reality in flux. Aristotle expressed this difficulty when he said that change is an actuality of descriptive type, difficult to frame but not incapable of existing44. The reality of change is a dynamic reality difficult to capture conceptually. It is also important to stress the fact that becoming is a real flux and not a simple sum of successive static stages.
43 44

ARISTOTLE, Physica, III, 1, 201 a 10. Ibid., 2, 202 a 1-3.

In every entity there are different potentialities. A concrete potentiality is actualized, though, only if specific factors are present. The existence of a potentiality is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the unfolding of a certain process; even though it is not actualized, it remains nevertheless as a real capacity; it is somehow equivalent to a tendency since it means that there is a specific possibility which may lead to a specific result if it were actualized. The idea of potentiality is quite a general one. It is not a substitute for the physical mechanisms through which processes take place; nor is it a philosophical diversion in order to avoid detailed investigation. It is the conceptualization of a way of being, necessary to be admitted in order to explain the possibility of change in a rational way. Aristotle focused on the explanation of becoming at an ontological level by considering it as a way of being in function of being in potency and being in act. The becoming, understood as actualization of a potentiality, is the way of being proper to that which is on its way to be something that was not before. In this light, it is possible to understand Aristotle when he says that there are as many types of movement, or of change, as there are meanings of the word is45, and that there are as many species of movement, or change, as there are entities46 b) The real meaning of act and potency

The detailed study of act and potency is reserved to metaphysics. However, it is here convenient to make three clarifications which may help us understand better the reach of this doctrine and its application to the study of the philosophy of nature. i) It is more accurate to speak of being in potency and being in act rather than of potency and act. Actually, potency and act do not indicate things or aspects of things, but ways of being: something is either in potency or in act or in-between potency and act (when it is in movement). Potency and act are relative concepts, i.e. they make reference to some determination, quality or perfection: something is either in potency or in act with respect to some determination. Consequently it will always be correct to make reference to the determination respect to which an entity is either in potency or in act. Potency and act are also relative respect to each other. Something is in potency respect to an act, i.e. it has the capacity to become what this act signifies. A potency always refers to an act. However, the other way around is not always certain; actually, although there is always a transition from potency to act in any natural change, yet there may be an act which is not the result of a process of actualization of potencies. This case does not exist in nature, but the metaphysical reflection shows that



45 46

Ibid., 1, 201 a 8-9. ARISTOTLE, Metaphysica, XI, 9, 1065 b 13-14.

nature ultimately points at a Being which is Pure Act, without mixture of potency which has being by himself. This way which leads to God, has its basis in the philosophy of Nature of Aristotle and was used by Aquinas in his first way to demonstrate the existence of God.


Types of potency and act

There are two types of potency and act, one in relation to being and one in relation to operating. In relation to being, one speaks of passive potency and first act. Passive potency refers to the possibility, or capacity, of coming to be in a certain way, while first act refers to having actually achieved that way of being. In relation to operating, one speaks of active potency and second act. Active potency is the capacity of operating in a certain way, while second act refers to the actual operation by which that capacity is exercised. First act always refers to a corresponding passive potency, while second act always refers to a corresponding active potency. An active potency always belongs to a subject which already has a determined way of being, and which therefore has this way of being in first act. Moreover, operating always follows being (operatio sequitur esse) as the old aphorism says. The second act (operating, operation, activity) is proportional to the active potency (the capacity of operating in this way), and the latter is proportional to the way of being (that which is in first act, its way of being).



Experimental sciences use an analytical method which consists in taking phenomena apart. It is because of this that many times the character of the whole is easily missed in the study of the processes. This risk may even go as far as forgetting about the unity of the processes, and therefore about their holistic and directional characters. This risk becomes even bigger because science progresses in a fragmentary way, i.e. by studying particular phenomena and formulating progressively more general theories which establish relationship among different areas of nature. As a matter of fact, it took a long time to obtain reliable knowledge of unitary processes: these in general include laws and theories which belong to different areas. Only in recent times, a detailed knowledge of these processes has been obtained, thanks to the contribution of the many specific pieces of knowledge obtained from various sciences. We shall now consider some examples of unitary processes with the intent of showing the central place they occupy in nature, and the vast panorama they open to the present

philosophical reflection. These examples will show how the different levels of nature are actually related to one another in the present worldview, and how the emergence of new levels is the consequence of a huge process of self-organization of nature, in which information plays a central role.


Unitary processes and the ordinary experience

Two big types of unitary processes appear to an ordinary observer: those related to the living beings and those related to the biosphere and the heavens. The precise mechanisms of the processes which take place in the living beings, have become more and more clear only in the last decades. Some have always been known such as generation, development, the different functions of the organisms, the regeneration of damaged parts and reproduction. These are all unitary processes. It is also very easy to acknowledge the existence of many processes around us which have a unitary character, although less evident than the ones observed in living organisms, such as, for instance, air and water circulation, the processes of evaporation and condensation, rains and thunderstorms, seasons and tides. People have always been able to admire the movement of the celestial sphere and of the planets whose detailed study led eventually to the consolidation of the modern experimental sciences. In ancient times, all these processes were regarded as manifestation of mysterious forces, since the specific mechanisms involved were unknown. Scientific progress introduced disenchantment about nature. Phenomena were being explained more and more in terms of natural forces. The disenchantment consisted mainly in reducing the natural processes to the sum of mini-processes explainable in terms of laws which were progressively discovered by science. The stage was set for the loss of the unitary character of the processes being studied. Nature, contemplated with an analytical eye, appeared as gigantic machine whose functioning, like the one of a clock, could be understood through the behaviour and assembly of its parts. However, the most recent scientific advances have emphasized the fact that natural processes have a unitary character which is much greater than the one observable in the ordinary experience. This fact is at the basis of the present-day resurgence of the philosophy of nature. The situation can be summed up in the following way: if we could visualize what science reveals about the natural processes, we would be more amazed than the ancients would, before the unusual spectacle offered to our sight. Actually, behind any plant, or animal, or star, or the soil where plants live, or the waters of the rivers and seas, or the air which surrounds us, we would discover an infinity of interlinked mini-processes actually presenting an astounding spectacle. It comes with no surprise, then, that those metaphysical and theological questions which seemed to have been liquidated by the scientific progress, are now asked once again. We shall now illustrate this new situation created by science at present.


Unitary processes and science

Various types of unitary processes will be now considered that shows the interconnection of the different levels of nature.


Holistic processes

The reality is that any unitary process has holistic characters. In this section, though, only those processes which are related to the organization of unitary systems will be considered; the reason is that, thanks to such processes, unitary systems can develop and operate. There is no shortage of examples, and some shall be mentioned. Processes related to homeostasis are very important. Homeostasis refers to the maintenance of all those conditions that make it possible for an organism to keep its internal environment constant against the fluctuations of the external environment. It operates through processes of feedback regulation. One can distinguish between physiological and developmental homeostasis. The former refers to the tendency of an organism to preserve its physiological conditions against the fluctuations of the environment, while the latter refers to the tendency of the patterns of development of an organism to produce a normal phenotype against fluctuations in the circumstances. It is interesting to note the relationship between homeostasis and directionality: actually homeostasis signifies the existence of tendencies towards certain states. The mechanisms which make homeostasis possible, explain the holistic and directional character of the processes involved. There is coordination among the successive stage of the holistic processes. This appears not only in the organisms but also in many of their components which, frequently behave as unitary systems; this is the case of the cells of a multicellular organism. They are coordinated structures, but each of them shows a certain autonomy represented by the continuous unfolding of unitary processes within it which make it possible for the cell to function and to establish relationship with the other cells. It is known, for instance, that the human body has more than 10 billion cells distributed in more than 250 types (nerve cells, blood cells, muscular fibres, etc.). Each cell is made of a nucleus and a cytoplasm. The nucleus contains the genetic information within the chromosomes. The cytoplasm contains organelles which perform multiple functions, each of which presupposes different unitary processes. One of its permanent activities is the biosynthesis, a process through which biological material is manufactured with the materials that reach the cell. Mitochondria are the power stations where useful energy is produced. Ribosomes manufacture proteins according to instructions which come from the nucleus. Through the cell membrane, processes of communication are established with the external environment, and this takes place through highly specific procedures (diffusion, active transport, osmosis, facilitated transport). Each one of the above-mentioned activities is made of processes with their own unity, and is coordinated with many others. In all of them information plays a very important role. To give an example, the communication among cells is carried out in a very specific way through an information which is stored, transmitted, processed and

integrated. It is one the cases in which the metaphor lock-and-key is used in order to express the specific and coordinated character of the interactions47 There are many unitary processes in each of the cells of a multicellular organism, and moreover, are coordinated. The same occurs in the tissues, organs and systems which have a higher degree of organization and which therefore have more complex and more coordinated processes. For example, the nervous system is the system of integration par excellence. Its complexity increases with the complexity of the respective animal species. In man, it is the most complex: only in the cerebral cortex there are some 30,000 million neurons, each of which ends with some 3,000 synaptic joints (or connections with other cells). The human brain has an astounding organization: it coordinates the whole body (senses, language, movement) through information processing. It is estimated that in the brain cortex of a human being there are between 1014 and 1015 synaptic joints. Brain functioning is made possible only because of the existence of a very sophisticated coordination among a huge variety of processes at different levels of organization. In conclusion, the present-day knowledge about organisms shows the existence of a great variety of unitary processes, coordinated among themselves at cellular level as well as at higher levels (tissues, organs, systems, the whole body). These processes unfold through physico-chemical mechanisms. Therefore, the existence and coordination of unitary processes is extended also to the physico-chemical level. The horizons opened by science in this direction are quite astounding, yet we are just at the beginning of the exploration.


Functional processes

The term functionality refers to the activity of the parts in function of the whole. Among the various functions of living beings one finds respiration, nutrition, transport, excretion, nervous coordination, hormonal coordination, immunological defence. Some have been known from ancient times, others were discovered in modern times. Only in recent times, though, the detailed knowledge of their mechanisms was unveiled. The systems and the machinery of living beings are characterized by their functions. These are integrated by organs, and organs by tissues. The different functions reveal the existence of multiple unitary processes coordinated by unitary processes at higher levels; this highlights the importance of information in the unfolding of functions.


Biologists accept the fact that cells recognize one another thanks to the existence of couples of complementary structures found on their surface: one structure located on the surface of the cell carries an information which can be deciphered by the other one, an idea which generalizes the lock-and-key hypothesis, formulated in 1987 by Emil Fisher, in order to describe the specificity of the interactions between enzymes and substrata. Paul Ehrlich expanded it in 1900 in order to explain the high specificity of the reactions in the immunological system. In 1914, Frank Rattray Lillie, of the University of Chicago, used the same hypothesis in order to point out the mutual recognizing of the egg cell and of the spermatozoon. Around the 20s, the lock-and-key hypothesis became one of the central postulates of molecular biology: N. SHARON H. LIS, Carboidratos en el reconocimiento cellular, Investigacin y ciencia, No. 198, March 1993, p. 20 (italics added).

The importance of information appears clearly in all those systems which, through unitary processes, coordinate the various aspects of the organism. The nervous system is just one of the many available examples we can mention. Explanations of this system make recourse, many times, to ideas borrowed from the science of information when it is said, for instance, that the nervous system is a communication network which makes it possible for the organism to interact with its environment in an adequate manner. It has sensory components which detect stimuli proceeding from the external environment, integrating components which process the sensory data, information stored in memory and motor components which generate movement and other activities.The functional unit of the nervous system is the neuronThe activity of the neurons, and of the whole nervous system, is codified and information moves from one neuron to the next through synaptic transmission48. When the activities of the nervous system are analyzed in detail, one discovers an amazing level of coordination of unitary processes which involve storage, coding and de-coding, transmission and integration of information. A similar picture is presented by the endocrine system, also closely related to coordination49. These examples are sufficient, without any further detail, to realize that there is great cooperation and coordination of unitary processes. In many cases the agents that trigger such processes are well known: they play the role of signalling agents. These agents transport information and communicate them to receptors which act in accordance with the information received. New knowledge has unveiled the existence, for instance, of the so-called neuro-transmitters and regulatory genes among others which have been known for a long time. The whole physics and chemistry is wrapped in mechanisms which, through information processing, are at the basis of the functions of the living organisms. Again, one can appreciate the existence of holistic and directional dimensions in the functional unitary processes.


Morphogenetic Processes

Morphogenesis refers to the formation of the unitary systems and their parts. One of the main cases of morphogenesis is reproduction, or replication of living beings. Another one is development of the living beings from the early stages of existence. Our knowledge about this area of investigation has advanced in a spectacular way from the time in which James Watson and Francis Crick discovered in 1953 the double helix structure of the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid), the macromolecule responsible for the genetic program. The DNA in the chromosomes contains a genetic program coded in its structure. It is amazingly vast and its information unfolds according to the circumstances. The processes depending on the DNA affect not only the individual functions of the organism but also its constitution since they regulate the manufacturing of its components.

48 49

R.M. BERNE - M.N.LEVY, Fisiologia, 2nd reprint, Editorial Medica Panamericana, Buenos Aires 1987, p.56 Ibid., pp. 478-479.

The functioning of the genetic program is based on the elaboration of information50. The program is like a written text which uses only four letters (the four nitrogen bases orderly arranged along the DNA chain) whose sequence determines the types of products at the end of the program. Each cell contains in its nucleus the complete set of chromosomes characteristic of the species. In each chromosome there is DNA made of portions called genes. Human cells contain more than 100,000 genes: this presupposes the existence of 3,000 millions nitrogen bases (the letters of the genetic alphabet). Writing only the letter corresponding to each one of the bases, in the case of the genetic code of a virus which codifies 8 proteins, would occupy one page, in the case of a bacterium, with 3,000 genes, it would occupy 2,000 pages, and in the case of man, with 100,000 genes, it would take one million pages. This is a real library with a lot of information, together with the instructions necessary for the execution of the multiple functions of the program. The information of the genetic code undergoes transcription, translation, regulation and error correction. Some genes are regulators: they guide the expression of other genes, are related to the plans of the organs and body structure. Actually, only a fraction of genes is activated and transcribed in each process, in accordance with the orders received from the cytoplasm or from messengers produced by other cells. Nucleus and cytoplasm interact in a coordinated way, and so constituting a cybernetic system. There is a hierarchy of levels of control and execution which are coordinated at each stage of the processes and which are being progressively known at present51. Only some aspects of the morphogenesis which includes regeneration - have been considered. They are enough to show the existence of many unitary processes, coordinated in a succession of organizing levels, whose dynamism is guided by information stored in structures.


Cyclic processes

Cyclic processes are unitary processes of special interest since they develop in periodical temporal sequences; they reveal a type of unity found at the basis of all activities in nature: the unity of the time rhythms. Patterns related to the unfolding of time i.e. time rhythms have at least the same importance as the ones related to space patterns: the unfolding of the natural dynamism depends essentially on them. One finds time patterns everywhere. For instance cell division, a process by which new cells are produced, proceeds according to time patterns. In the last decades, the first strides in the knowledge of the development of the cell cycle of some simple organisms

The main functions of the nucleus are directly related to the treatment of information; they encompass als o the preservation and, if necessary, the restoration of the genetic library and, especially, the transcription which is a very selective and complex process. Through transcription, stored instructions are read where information is found, and this is sent afterwards to the cytoplasm for expression. Genes exercise their domineering influence on the cell through these mechanisms: Christian DE DUVE, La clula viva, Labor, Barcelona 1988, p. 19. 51 One may read in this respect: E.M. DE ROBERTIS G. OLIVER C.V.E. WRIGHT, Genes con homeobox y el plan corporal de los vertebrados, Investigacin y ciencia, No. 168, September 1990, pp. 14-21; T. BEARDSLEY, Genes inteligentes, Investigacin y ciencia, No. 181, October 1991, pp. 76-85.

have been made. The alternation of the various phases is directed by self-generating chemical reactions in the cytoplasm; it is a kind of an oscillator, a clock which provokes periodical contractions with great regularity52. Great progress has been made in the knowledge of the biological rhythms. They are not isolated phenomena; on the contrary, the whole activity of a living being is closely related to the existence of rhythms. It is understandable why this should be so; actually time organization is absolutely indispensable for the different functions to take place in a successive and coordinated way. The study of these time structures (the biological rhythms) has originated a branch of science called chrono-biology. The functioning of the organisms includes, on one hand, internal rhythmical mechanisms and, on the other, some other mechanisms which make it possible to adjust the internal rhythms to the external conditions. Some rhythms, such as the respiratory and the cardiac, have external manifestations which are easily observed; some others have been discovered with the progress of science. There are low-frequency rhythms (with periods from 6 days to various years), medium-frequency rhythms (with periods between 30 minutes and 6 days) and high-frequency rhythms (with periods from 0.5 milliseconds to 30 minutes). High-frequency rhythms, such as respiratory and cardiac, are highly temperature-sensitive and their generation depends on the property of the neurons and neural network with an oscillating and resonant character53. Biological rhythms are very important, few of them have been really studied in their detailed mechanisms; they are unitary processes with a high level of coordination and are based on physico-chemical mechanisms which are also coordinated unitary processes. Such mechanisms are known as oscillators, i.e. systems with a periodical behaviour in which the same movements are repeated time and again. It should be pointed out that single and isolated oscillators are unable to explain natural phenomena; many of these can only be understood with the coupled oscillators in which there is an inter-linking that makes it possible for the oscillators involved to be synchronized54. In these cases, a crucial role is also played by the so-called synergy or cooperative action, bridge between the physico-chemical and biological phenomena which manifests the holistic and directional character of the unitary processes.


One may read: A.W. MURRAY M.W. KIRSCHNER, Control del ciclo cellular, Investigacin y ciencia, No. 176, May 1991, pp. 26-33. On page 33, one finds the following statement: Yeasts, as well as the somatic cells of the multicellular organisms, have mechanisms to delay the beginning of mitosis until the DNA is replicated, and until any damage suffered is repaired; We already know that, in somatic cells as well as in embryos at an advanced stage, the decision of replicating the DNA in the interphase is subjected to a very fine regulation, as it is the decision of beginning the mitotic process (for this second decision) the cell assesses if it has grown enough and if it can proceed without fears, to the replication of the DNA and ,therefore, to mitosisThe steps to the starting p oint are as controlled as the steps to mitosis arethey are also subjected to the control of nutrients, hormones and growth factors (italics added). 14 Cf. J.M.DELGADO, Ritmos biologicos in J.A.F.TRESGUERRES (publisher), Fisiologia humana, InteramericanaMcGraw Hill, Madrid 1992, pp. 1170 and 1174. 54 We can find coupled oscillators at both extremes of the natural world; however, they are particularly conspicuous in the living organisms: the pace-maker cells in the heart, the cells that secrete insulin in the pancreas, the neuronal network in the brain and in the spinal cord which control the rhythmic behavior such as respiration, race or mastication: S.H. STROGATZ I. STEWART, Osciladores acoplados y sincronizacin biolgica, Investigacin y ciencia, No. 209, February 1994, p. 54.

There are many other particular processes with an oscillating or periodical character, although they are not found so well cooperatively organized as the ones previously mentioned. Actually, it would be impossible to understand the functioning of nature if periodical phenomena were not there. Of great importance are also the so-called biogeo-chemical cycles, i.e. the routes followed in nature by the main elements involved in the constitution of living organisms; these play a central role for understanding, in an ecological perspective, the cooperation of the multiple factors which integrate the natural systems. 9.3. Genesis of nature

Nature is made of levels hierarchically organized, and in each of them there are characteristic patterns. In the present-day worldview the building of nature can be contemplated as the result of a vast process of self-organization in which successive levels of organization are produced and in which information plays a very important role.


The emergence of new realities

How do new types of organization arise? One may think that a new reality is nothing but the unfolding of something which preexisted, like a carpet which was rolled up. Nothing may come into existence which did not exist somehow previously. There is no doubt that some changes are of this type. Other changes really produce something new. Potentiality does not mean pre-existence to the produced act. As Aristotle had already pointed out, in explaining the emergence of new realities all the causes and conditions intervening in the process need to be taken into consideration. In order to explain new realities one needs to take into account all the interactions existing among the entities which take part in the process. For instance, in those processes in which new chemical compounds are formed, interactions develop which did not exist when the components were isolated; this explains how new properties can arise. A water molecule has properties which cannot be reduced to the sum of the properties of hydrogen and oxygen. As a matter of fact, new properties arise in a natural way when oxygen and hydrogen interact in certain circumstances. Moreover, the information contained in the components of the processes can become integrated into new unitary patterns. One may well understand therefore that new realities may arise which are really unpredictable if one takes into account only the intervening factors, and forgets about their capacity of being integrated into new unitary realities. Some authors have emphasized, in this sense, the creative character of the natural processes. However, it is very important to try to avoid a too anthropomorphic way of interpreting the term creative. The term only means that the natural processes

can lead to new results, different from what existed before. On the other hand, no one is entitled to say that any result may arise from natural processes, as if nature acted with a sense of freedom. One cannot even say that the unfolding of natural processes takes place in a totally self-sufficient way. A deeper understanding of the term creativity of nature can be achieved only by taking into account natures ultimate foundation, i.e. its relation with divine action. Consequently, an explanation of the natural processes as actualization of potentialities, understood as unfolding of a natural dynamism directed by information which becomes integrated into new patterns, shows how new realities can actually be produced at the end of the same processes. New light is cast upon the important problem of the emergence, although the metaphysical questions about the ultimate explanation of the processes involved remains pending.


Self-organization of nature

When considering the integration of patterns at successive levels, one comes face-toface with the issue of spontaneous self-organization of nature. It is a fascinating issue for the scientific as well as the philosophical study. Actually it encompasses a variety of themes55, including a series of problems which in physics go under the name of complexity56. The topic is fascinating because on one hand it reveals the internal and directional dynamism of nature and, on the other hand, it feeds those hopes of extending the explanations in physical terms up to the human realities. The experience of the self-organization of nature is not something new, but it goes back in time. Actually, the field of biology is rich of this type of experiences: it can actually be said that the world of living beings is the world of self-organization. The seeds that become trees, the conception and development of animals, the different biological functions, etc. are all manifestations of the capacity of nature of organizing itself. The issue of self-organization has special interest nowadays because more light is cast through the knowledge of its basic mechanisms. It is possible therefore to claim the existence of a self-organization at a physico-chemical level and to relate it to the biological one57. Phenomena of self-organization manifest the internal dynamism of the natural entities, their intertwining with structuring, and the cooperation among the different elements and levels. They show the existence of an information which is stored in the natural structures and which unfolds and is combined in the processes.

This vast subject, together with its themes, was pointed out in the Coloquio de Cerisy held from the 10 th to the 17th June, 1981 about the self-organization. The texts of the oloquio were published with the title: Lauto-organisation: de la physique au politique, Editions du Seuil, Paris 1983. 56 The main themes related with the problem of self-organization in physics are dealt with in: P.DAVIES (publisher), The New Physics, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1989, Ch. 7 to 12. 57 A synthesis of the main themes related to self-organization in physics can be seen in M.ARTIGAS, La inteligibilidad de la naturaleza, Ed. EUNSA, Pamplona 1995, Ch. II.

Knowledge of the self-organization does not eliminate, though, the metaphysical problems involved; on the contrary, it is an invitation to pose them anew. For instance, how do physical entities know their own identity and the way they should behave? (the metaphorical meaning of the verb to know should be obvious in this particular context); how are such sophisticated patterns formed through the interaction of purely natural forces? It is in this sense that Paul Davies refers to the singular propensity of matter and energy to organize themselves into coherent structures and patterns and states: It is one of the universal miracles of nature how huge numbers of particles, subjected only to blind forces of nature, are able to organize themselves in patterns of cooperative activity58. Science with its progress is unable to give exhaustive answers to these questions. Finally, the study of the activities of nature suggests the existence of a kind of unconscious intelligence. It is important to emphasize that this is again a metaphor; actually, the expression is literally a contradiction. The metaphor refers to the existence of an information which directs and controls. This is an evident fact which goes beyond the limits of science.


Processes as unfolding of information

Unitary processes and information patterns are closely related since both need each other. On one hand, it is difficult to understand how a unitary process could exist without some type of program guiding the unfolding of the process itself which consists in a coordinated succession of steps. This program is what we call information pattern. On the other hand, an information pattern consists of structurally stored instructions from whose unfolding a series of dynamically coordinated patterns originates which is what we call a unitary process. The typical method of the experimental sciences is analytical. Processes are disassembled so that their component parts can be isolated and studied in a systematic way. Investigations are carried out to monitor how the various factors change under controlled experimental conditions. Aspects which are of interest, are isolated and studies while aspects of minor interest are left aside. It is an extremely fruitful method which makes it possible to obtain a detailed knowledge otherwise very difficult to obtain. However, there is a risk of reductionism from a philosophical point of view which consists in reconstructing nature as a simple sum of particular transformations capable of being studied in an analytical way. In this way, what is most characteristic in nature is being overlooked, i.e. the existence of an organization which appears, in its dynamic aspect, through unitary processes made of an articulated series of steps that lead to a specific final stage from an initial one, in a directional manner.


Cf. P.DAVIES, The New Physics: A Synthesis, in P.DAVIES (publisher), The New Physics, op.cit., pp. 4-5.

The recent scientific advances have shown how it is possible to study in a scientific way many unitary processes which correspond to information patterns, without lessening the importance of the analytical perspective, and acquire a knowledge of particular dynamic patterns (laws). This new panorama has been clearly opened in the last decades, thanks to the progress made in the morphogenetic theories. In the light of these new advances, the philosophical reflection carried out earlier on in history on the problem of becoming acquires new relevance. The explanations offered by the analytical method appear now to be insufficient, while at the same time more importance is given to those which stress the holistic, synergic and directional aspects of the natural processes. Moreover, the concept of information makes it possible to understand in a better way those aspects which, up to now, have appeared somehow mysterious. The actualization of potentialities is better understood when considered in the light of the concept of information, as a program, or as a set of instructions which is stored in the natural structures and which is the origin of specific types of behaviour in each specific situation. The Aristotelian explanation is still valid and seems quite adequate, in the light of the present-day scientific knowledge, to harmonize the scientific and philosophical perspectives. Actually, the existence of a structurally stored information whose unfolding depends on external factors which intervene in each case, makes it possible to understand how the effect may somehow pre-exist without existing in miniature and without the processes being univocally determined. The existence of information patterns makes it possible to understand how the results are produced through the unfolding of a pre-existing plan. It is possible to understand, at the same time, how this very unfolding is compatible with the production of true new entities, since it implies the convergence of multiple factors which will hardly be always the same.



Nature is a huge system; it is made of different levels of organization which are interrelated through multiple connections. Order is therefore a basic, and one of the most important, characteristic of nature. Science presupposes this order and tries to know it in details. Philosophy of nature, on the other hand, mostly reflects on this order. However, nature is not ordered from any point of view: it is not difficult to come across disorder together with order. Therefore, the philosophical reflection on the natural order needs to be preceded by an analysis in order to pin point its real characteristics.



Our reflection on the natural order begins with some clarifications on the concept of order and on the main ways in which order exists in nature.


The concept of order

Order is one of the classical concepts which has not only survived up to our modern times, but which also occupies a central place in the present scientific and philosophical discussions59. The concept of order connotes unity in the diversity: it refers to different parts which obey a specific arrangement. However, in speaking of unity and arrangement one is already using terms which are related to order. Any attempt to define order without using concepts which somehow include it already, is going to be unsuccessful; actually anything without any kind of order would be absolute chaos. A chaos of this kind, though, would be unthinkable: we cannot represent any reality whose components are not somehow related to some kind of order. When we talk of chaos, we talk always of a relative chaos, a reality which has a high level of disorder and not an absolute disorder: this last type of situation cannot exist. Therefore, order encompasses the whole reality. Because of this, order has been called a quasi-transcendental60 concept. Consequently, the concept of order cannot be

A philosophical analysis of the concept of order can be found in J.J.SANGUINETI, La filosofia del cosmo in Tommaso dAquino, Ares, Milan 1986, pp. 29-48. 60 Cf. H. KUHN, Orden, in: H. KRINGS H.M. BAUMGARTNER C. WILD and others, Conceptos fundamentales de filosofia, Herder, Barcelona 1978, tome II, pp. 693-694.

defined without using previous ideas which somehow already presuppose it. It is nevertheless possible to pin point some of its most important characteristics. One of these characteristics is the relational one. The concept of order is relational: order is always said in relation to something, it is relative to some criterion taken as reference element. Different degrees of order can be attributed to the same situation according to the selected point of view. For instance, the books in a library can be classified according to the subject, catalogue number, size, colour, or by combining this factors and others. In the case of personal books, everyone uses his own criteria, and it happens sometimes that an apparently disordered arrangement is the most ordered and useful to the owner of the books. Therefore, order is a relative concept: order is always spoken of in relation to some specific criteria. Consequently, there are many types of order. Since we are studying the natural order, we shall now analyze the basic types of order found in nature.


Types of order in nature

Clearly, there is a high level of order in nature: it is shown in our every-day life, and science constantly discovers many of its aspects which are inaccessible to ordinary experience. The natural order appears in three successive degrees of complexity: structuring, patterns and organization.


Order in structuring

The space-time structuring is a basic dimension of nature. Natural entities show a space configuration. Processes unfold in a time succession. Space configurations, as well as time successions, presuppose some kind of order, i.e. a distribution of components, or stages which are related among themselves. In this sense, all natural realities have some kind of space and time order, including those which appear to be disorderly. Space-time structuring is a general characteristic of the natural realities and admits several modalities. Two of them, particularly important, are the patterns and organization.


Order and patterns

We use the term pattern to indicate all those space or time structures which are repeated in nature. We call the space patterns configurations, and the time patterns rhythms.

Patterns are then repetitive and repetition is a central aspect of order. We state that there is order every time there is something which repeats itself. It may be the case of a space configuration realized in different systems, or a time rhythm found in different processes. Patterns are also regular. A configuration or a rhythm presupposes the existence of natural processes or systems which have a specific structuring produced in a natural way. Because of this, they are repeated in different individual cases. Patterns play a very essential role in nature. We may imagine worlds which, in theory, have less patterns than our world has. However, the nature we actually know, and which makes our existence possible, is marked by patterns at all levels and in all its phenomena. We have already pointed out that, although not every thing is pattern in nature, nevertheless everything rotates around patterns. Science actually seeks the detailed knowledge of these patterns. Any new step in the scientific progress means finding new patterns in nature. Ultimately, the natural order is centred on space-time patterns: space configurations and time rhythms.


Order and organization

There is, however, another fundamental level in the natural order which is organization. Order is not synonymous with organization. The idea of organization contains an active meaning which is not always found in the idea of order; it suggests something more elaborate than a simple generic order. Organization is a particular case of order, a strong kind of order which appears with structured components that cooperate in a functional way, i.e. when there is unity and cooperation among the components of a system. This is the kind of order found in those systems whose components cooperate towards its maintenance and activity, by carrying out specific functions which contribute towards this end. The typical case of natural organization is the one of the living organisms, whose physical systems are called organisms. Here one finds a typical individuality together with unity, cooperation and function. In reality, organization is not exclusive of the biological level, it is found also at a physico-chemical level. The distinction between order and organization is a key issue in the study of nature. Actually, what is more important in nature is not the fact that it has a certain order (a universe without order is unthinkable), but the fact that it has a high level of organization. This is witnessed by ordinary knowledge, while science expands this knowledge in an amazing way.


Order and organization in nature

Because of the scarcity of specific knowledge, ancient philosophy lent itself to ambiguities and was seriously limited. The fragmentary way in which science developed after its systematic beginning in the 17th century did no facilitate a reliable representation of nature in its totality. Tanks to the present-day knowledge, we are in a better vantage point than our predecessors were, and for the first time in history it has become possible to formulate a global worldview which includes the basic aspects of the organization of nature. We shall now consider how nature is organized. We shall first describe its different levels of organization and then analyze how these are integrated with each other to form the characteristic unity of nature.


Diversity of levels of organization in nature

Three broad levels of organization can be described in nature: physico-chemical, astrophysical, biological.

The physico-chemical level This level consists of the microphysical components which cannot be observed directly owing to their small size, i.e. the subatomic particles, atoms (made of particles), molecules and macromolecules (made of particles and atoms). This is the stuff which compounds are made of usually referred to as aggregates. Aggregates can be found as solids, liquids or gases, depending on the strength which binds the microphysical components. We shall consider later the knowledge available about the composition of matter and the problems arising from it.

The astrophysical level

This is the level of stars, galaxies and planets. Stars have a nucleus with a temperature of millions of degrees, with nuclear fusion reactions in which hydrogen nuclei produce helium nuclei with a great release of energy. Because of this, stars have their own light which can be seen from the earth, although they are very far. On the other hand, planets are simple aggregates of matter in a solid, liquid or gaseous state and do not have their own light. There are approximately 100,000 million galaxies and each of them contains between 1000 million and 1 billion stars. The distance between them varies in terms of millions of light-years. The galaxies which are closer to the earth, are the Clouds of Magellan: the Great Cloud is 170,000 light years away, while the Small Cloud is 200,000 light-years away (one light-year is the distance covered by the light in one year

at the speed of 300,000 kilometres per second). The Andromeda galaxy is the next one in proximity to the earth: 2.2 million light-years. Our galaxy contains some 150,000 million stars. The diameter of its disc is some 90,000 light-years long and the thickness of the central core is 10,000 light-years. Its age is calculated at 12,000 million years. Galaxies are made of stars whose origin lies in the gravitational contraction of interstellar gases, principally made of hydrogen and helium. One can easily see some 6,500 stars. The closest visible star is found in the constellation of Centaurs at a distance of 4 light-years. There are only 11 stars which are less than 10 light-years away from the earth. Of the easily visible stars the greatest is epsilon Aurigae with a diameter of 3,000 million kilometres and at a distance of 3,400 light-years away from the earth. Although huge, it is observed from the earth as a small dot because of the enormous distance. The sun is a medium-sized star. It has a radius of 696,000 kilometres and it is 150,000 million kilometres distant from the earth. As a consequence of the thermonuclear reactions which occur in its nucleus, the sun loses every second some 5 million tons of matter which is being converted into energy. The sun has been fully active for about 5,000 million years: in spite of this, it still has fuel for some 20,000 million years. Stars contain almost all the types of known matter. They are huge aggregates of matter which obey quite simple physico-chemical principles. The phenomena occurring in the stars develop around the stellar core which is basically a huge oven of thermonuclear fusion. Formation, development and disintegration of the stars are cyclic processes. Their life span is quite long, it goes, nevertheless, through different stages and eventually ends. In the processes which develop within the stars, the basic materials are formed which are needed for the building of the planets as well as of living beings. Moreover, the life as we know it depends on the energy provided by one star only, the sun. The conditions of a planet such as the earth obey physico-chemical laws. We tend to think that the conditions in which we live are absolutely stable. Nevertheless, at a cosmic level the present conditions of the earth are quite unique and correspond to a stage which had a beginning and will have an end. It is likely that these conditions underwent drastic changes in the past owing to impacts with other objects. In any case, the present conditions which make life possible depend on the intensity of the energy coming from the sun; when this will change in future, not all the forms of life we now know including ours - will be able to find the necessary conditions for their preservation. One of the most striking aspects at this level is the immensity of the universe and, at the same time, the similarity of the physico-chemical processes which unfold in the stars. It is a relatively simple level of organization. There is no doubt that many different processes go on in the enormous volume of the stars; however, the basic principles which govern them can be understood pretty easily on the basis of the knowledge of the physico-chemical level of organization.

Before the development of nuclear physics in the 20th century, very little was understood about the authentic nature and activity of the stars.

Biological level

The highest degree of organization is found at biological level whose subtlety is being known more and more thanks to the huge strides of molecular biology. It is important to emphasize here the continuity between the biological and the physico-chemical level. The peculiarity of the biological level is found not in its components but in the type of organization. We have here a new opportunity to emphasize also the highly specific character of the physico-chemical level. Actually, the life we know is made possible thanks to the existence of very specific physico-chemical properties. The properties of carbon, for instance, make it possible for this element to combine with itself and with other chemical elements in an immense variety of ways. As a consequence, the existence of bio-molecules is made possible together with all the biological phenomena associated with them. The biological structures form a long chain with many branches of systems and sub-systems with a very specific organization and with a highly cooperative dynamism. They obey structural principles which are relatively simple yet very efficient. For example, the genetic information of each organism is stored in the genes and coded through a simple alphabet of four letters: the four nitrogen bases which are found along the DNA of the genes. The activity of the proteins which play many roles in the organism depends on their specific tri-dimensional structure, and this last one is determined by the components of the protein whose sequence explains the structure the system adopts. The biochemical world is made of a relatively small number of components, sufficient, though, to form very specific and sophisticated structures. In this area, the intertwining between dynamism and structure is particularly evident. Actually the biological activity depends on the specific structures which make up the organism, from the molecular level to the level of tissues, organs and systems.


Stratification of the natural levels: continuity and gradualness

From what has already been said, it is clear that there is in nature a basic unity of composition and a stratification of the various levels. The physical level (microphysical) is present at all levels, followed by the chemical one. The levels after the physicochemical branch into two different series of entities: the major entities such as the stars, the earth and the planets, and the living entities.

It is also clear that the different levels are related among themselves. We have just stated that the physico-chemical forms the basis of all the other levels. There are, moreover, other types of relationships, e.g. living beings depend on the energy supplied by the sun and on the physico-chemical conditions which make the earth inhabitable. As a matter of fact, there is no level which is completely independent from the others. At the same time, there is distinction and continuity among the different levels. Levels are stratified: this means that the inferior levels are integrated in the superior ones. It is therefore possible to speak of continuity, gradation and hierarchy. Each level can be considered as a condition of possibility for the other levels, according to the respective order. This does not mean that everything included in one level is a necessary condition for the following levels, however, the basic aspects are. The basic aspects of the physical level make the chemical one possible. The same occurs with the chemical ones respect to the astrophysical ones, with the astrophysical respect to the geological, and with the geological respect to the biological. One level may be a condition for the possibility of another in two ways: either because it provides the constituent elements or because it provides the external conditions which make the existence of the latter possible. In this way, the basic physico-chemical entities (particles, atoms, molecules) are at the basis of everything else as their constituent elements. The astrophysical level provides the constituent elements for the geological one. The geological level provides the constituent elements for the biological one, and both the astrophysical and the geological provide, moreover, the external conditions which make the biological level possible. There are many relationships of both kinds in the biological level among the different organisms. For instance, plants are irreplaceable links for the existence of animals and of man, since they are the only ones which are able to manufacture organic compounds from inorganic material. Organic materials produced by plants are, in turn, necessary to the other living organisms, (the heterotrophs depend on the autotrophs which in turn feed directly on the sun energy and on the soil). On the other hand, there is a hierarchy of organization among the different levels. It would not make much sense to ask whether a star is more perfect than the earth, or if an elephant is more perfect than an eagle. One may say, though, that the physico-chemical compounds present a greater organization than the basic elements, and that the organisms at biological level have a much superior organization than the entities of all the other levels. Clearly, man occupies the supreme place in this hierarchy. This statement is usually criticized by labelling it as anthropocentric. It is claimed that the earth does not occupy any privileged place in the universe and that man, as a biological being, is not superior to the other beings in all their aspects. This does not affect the obvious and incontestable fact that man is supreme, from the organizational point of view, respect to the other beings (this superiority becomes essential if the spiritual dimension of man is taken into account).



The physico-chemical components are the basis of all natural entities and processes. It is therefore appropriate to analyze the physico-chemical composition of nature. 11.1. The composition of matter

The ancients had already proposed theories about the composition of matter. Knowledge of the latter however became reliable only from the 19th century when sufficient information from chemistry and physics was gathered. Actually the atomic theory was being formulated at the beginning of the 19th century.


Historical review of the physics of the elements

The knowledge of the elements has been a central theme since ancient times. The pre-Socratics proposed explanations such as the theory of the four elements whose influence lasted two thousand years, and the atomic theory which, in some aspects, was always present during centuries and played a certain role in the formulation of the scientific atomic theory at the beginning of the 19th century. The composition of matter has always been an object of scientific investigation and accompanied, since ancient times, by empirical work. The technique of working with metals is for instance an example of empirical work. Empirical techniques led to the discoveries of new chemical elements: seven metals (gold, silver, copper, iron, lead, tin and mercury) and two nonmetals (sulphur and carbon). Although they were not known as elements, they provided the empirical basis for a further development of the experimental science. The theories which established modern chemistry in a definitive way, had not been formulated yet in the 18th century. In this century however first class scientific work was carried out with still poor equipment which led to the isolation of various elements: cobalt (1735), zinc (1746), nickel (1751), manganese (1774). Three basic gases were discovered with similar outstanding investigations: nitrogen (1772), oxygen (1774) and hydrogen (1776). A group of other metals was also discovered: cobalt, molybdenum, uranium, chromium, and elements such as tellurium, niobium, tantalum and vanadium. The atomic theory proposed by John Dalton in 1808 was based on studies on chemistry which had been carried out already for one and half century, and firmly established itself in the 19th century. In 1869, Dimitry Mendeleyev formulated the periodic table of the elements, basic types of atoms which constitute matter. In this table, the chemical elements are listed in orderly groups with similar properties. The periodic table aroused interest and spurred scientists to look for missing elements. It is in this way that elements such as scandium, gallium and germanium were discovered 15 years after their theoretical prediction. The very table facilitated other discoveries such as the artificial elements produced from 1940 onwards. The use of highly technological procedures made it possible to obtain transuranic elements which are found beyond uranium in the periodic table (that is, elements with an atomic number greater than 92). The first of these artificial elements was produced in

1940 during experiments on nuclear fission of uranium. The construction of particles accelerators has made it possible to make new discoveries in this line. Democritus proposed the idea of atom in ancient times. The modern atom, however, has little to do with Democritus atom. The ancients called atoms the ultimate components of matter thinking that they really were indivisible elements. On the contrary, atoms studied by present-day science are quite complex systems and they are not the ultimate elements. Actually, they are made of sub-atomic particles which, at times, are called elementary particles. We know though that many of them are also composed, and it is probable that none of them is really elementary. Molecules are made of atoms which are bound to one another by chemical bonds of different types. In nature there are 92 types of atoms (more can be manufactured in a laboratory although they happen to have a very ephemeral average lifespan) and a great number of molecules and macro-molecules. We shall now examine the present-day ideas about the elementary components of matter.


Present-day theories about the micro-physical components of matter

In accordance with the well-established and experimentally proved standard model, the basic components of matter are the quarks and the leptons. The combination of quarks produces the heaviest particles (such as protons and neutrons), while leptons are light particles (such as electrons). The nucleus of the atoms is made of protons and neutrons. Electrons are found rotating around the nucleus, in the same number as the protons of the nucleus and at different levels of energy. Therefore, ordinarily matter is made of three particles: protons, neutrons and electrons. Two important characteristics need to be pointed out about this level of composition: first, the organization of the particles is very specific. In an electrically neutral atom, the protons are the ones that determine the positively charged atom, while the electrons determine the negative one. Since the electrons are in the same number as the protons, the atom is electrically neutral. Moreover, there are in nature less than 100 atoms many of whose properties are grouped in families in accordance with the number of electrons of the last shell (hydrogen has one proton, helium has two, and each subsequent one has one more). The distribution of the electrons in the various shells obeys the principle of exclusion of quantum mechanics proposed by Wolfgang Pauli. According to this, no two electrons in an identical state can be found in the same shell. Consequently, as the number of protons in the nucleus increases, the number of electrons increases in an equal manner and their specific organization in shells justifies the properties of the single atoms. Therefore, matter is already organized in a very specific way at atomic level. Another important characteristic is the fact that in reality the sub-atomic particles do not correspond exactly to the intuitive concept of particle since in many phenomena they behave like waves. Here therefore we are in the presence of microphysical entities

which only in part correspond to the classical concept of corpuscle. Present-day theories about microphysical entities are field theories, and particles are conceived as quanta of these fields, i.e. as very peculiar entities which do not correspond exactly to any entity commonly experienced. They are highly sophisticated scientific constructions which do not match ordinary images. Sometime they were proposed to our consideration as concentrated energy. This expression does not entail an exact scientific meaning: however, it can be useful to understand that the composition of matter does not correspond ultimately to immutable juxtaposed particles. It is rather made of dynamic entities which interact and, in doing so, produce in many cases new unitary structures. The sub-atomic particles interact with one another with four types of basic forces:

a) b) c)

strong nuclear: weak nuclear:


forces which keep the nucleus of the atom together; forces which appear in very specific phenomena such as radioactivity; electromagnetic: forces which appear between electrically charged particles and are responsible for the cohesion between atoms and molecules and for many properties of matter; gravitational: forces which produce important effects in the attraction between those bodies with a conspicuous mass.

The scope of nuclear forces is very small; actually they act only inside the atomic nucleus. On the other hand, the scope of the electromagnetic and gravitational forces is very big, though the intensity of the respective interactions diminishes with the distance between the interacting bodies. The particles within atoms, and the atoms within molecules, are bound by forces of electric type. Again, it is important to avoid the image of a mechanistic model since the connections are not just a mere juxtaposition of matter. Atoms and molecules are dynamic structures since their cohesion is due to the action of forces, and they can be reunited to form new unitary structures. It is also inappropriate to say that atoms are aggregates of particles, and molecules are aggregates of atoms. Molecules are also bound to each other by electric forces. The intermolecular forces are nil outside the sphere of molecular action, attracting within the same sphere up to a point of cancelling each other, and repulsive from then on. These forces are of short and wide range action. The major compounds are made of molecules or simply of atoms which do not manage to become molecules (e.g. ionic crystals such as sodium chloride). The macromolecules (proteins, carbohydrates, lipids, nucleic acids) are made of many molecules which are chemically bound to one another to form unity structures. The smallest of these molecules contain up to 200 atoms and the bigger ones something like thousands ore hundreds of thousands bound in a repetitive way. This is the case of the

biochemical molecules (such as proteins and nucleic acids) which play a fundamental role in the organization of the living beings. Finally, the following is worth noting: there are pure substances, with fixed and well-defined composition and properties; mixtures, made of two or more pure substances which preserve their properties; aggregates which display a variety of features. There are, then, successive levels of organization at physico-chemical level, from the atoms to the molecules, macromolecules and chemical compounds which correspond to very specific components and interactions. The physico-chemical organization does not correspond to a simple mechanical machine whose pieces are simply juxtaposed. It rather corresponds to systems with holistic properties, cooperative activity, and a great capacity of integration. Therefore the physico-chemical level is completely permeated by dynamism and structuring which intertwine in the different types of systems.


Unifying theories

Experimental sciences progress in a fragmentary way; this progress is possible if particular problems are marked out. New knowledge can always be integrated into new theories. It is the case with those theories which deal with the fundamental interactions. Newtons physics, formulated in the 17th century, included a theory on gravity. Later on, laws regarding electricity and magnetism were established and Maxwell unified both of them into a theory on electromagnetism. In the 20th century Einstein formulated a new theory on gravity with his general theory on relativity. At the same time, theories on the strong and weak nuclear forces were developed. It seems possible now to unify electromagnetism and weak nuclear forces: this has recently led to the formulation of the weak electric theory. Attempts are being made also to unify the weak electric theory with the strong nuclear forces through the theory of great unification. Other attempts are being made, although at a more hypothetical level, at unifying gravity with the three above mentioned forces through the theory of quantum gravity which would link gravity with quantum physics. The interest in such efforts for unification is not only theoretical. Models, presently accepted to explain the formation of the universe in the first instants after the Big Bang, portray the four fundamental forces as united, not differentiated and in a state which would correspond to the hypothetical theories of quantum gravity. Through successive alterations in the symmetry, there would have been first the separation of gravity from the other three forces still united at this stage in a state which is reflected in the theory of the great unification. Shortly afterwards, separation would have occurred between the strong nuclear force and the other two forces described in the weak electric theory.

Consequently, to make progress in the theories of unification would mean to know better how processes developed in the early stages of the existence of the universe. The physical situation of those stages cannot be studied directly. However, if the theories really correspond to past events, then it would be possible to test them in a laboratory through experiments. Such experiments are difficult to be set owing to the high energies involved. The cost of these experiments is exorbitant. In the 90s, a circular underground tunnel with a circumference of 80 Km was built in Texas with the idea of installing a super accelerator of particles (SSC). The operations were shortly frustrated by the re-thinking of politicians who revoked their previous decisions, and the project was stopped. Presently therefore, the only centres where these studies can be carried out are the European laboratory of CERN in Geneva and the FERMILAB of Chicago in the US.


Mechanism, dynamism and energysm

In the philosophical study on the composition of matter two stands are usually seen as opposed to each other, i.e. mechanism and energysm or dynamism. The former conceives matter as basically passive and reduces nature to collisions and mechanical impulses, while the latter emphasises the basic character of forces and energies and, in doing so, places itself at the antipodes of mechanism. The word dynamism is, within this context, a theory or a system of natural philosophy which ultimately reduces the whole nature to forces. On the other hand, this term has been used so far with a different meaning, to emphasize the fact that what is natural has its own dynamism or an internal dynamism which does not depends on external actions either only or primarily. Dynamism here does not refer to a system of thought but to a concrete characteristic possessed by the natural which is difficult to express with different terms. In considering mechanism and energysm, we have previously emphasized how partial their explanations of nature are in view of the present-day knowledge about the composition of matter. They emphasize only some aspects of nature while leaving others aside. Modern science shows how matter is really equipped with an internal kind of dynamism which does not have any thing to do with the rigid elements portrayed by the mechanistic doctrines. However, the purely dynamist doctrines are not a valid alternative to the mechanistic ones either; actually nature is not just pure energy. Any reliable picture of nature must include both of its aspects, the dynamic and the structural, closely related to each other but without confusion between the two. Matter is found structured at different levels of organization as a consequence of the dynamism of its components. The dynamism of matter unfolds according to patterns and produces structures which, in their turn, are the source of new types of dynamism.


Philosophical problems related to quantum physics

At times it is said that science corrects experience or the common sense, and that it manages to invalidate convictions which appeared well founded. Concretely, recourse is made to quantum physics in order to claim that the classical notions about being and causality have lost value. At times, for instance, it is said that quantum physics invalidates the principle of causality and also the very notion of an objective and independent reality. Some of the pioneers of quantum physics such as Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg have given credit to such interpretations in claiming that quantum mechanics shows how the concept of causality cannot always be applied, or how terms such as being and knowing lose their unambiguous meaning, since it is not possible to assign an independent reality, in the ordinary physical sense, either to phenomena or to the observer. All this is claimed on the ground that all the experiments are subjected to the laws of quantum mechanics and, therefore, to the laws of uncertainty. It seems therefore that physics requires the putting aside of the basic concepts of the common sense, and that the latter cannot be used to judge whether the enunciations of physics are correct or not. Is this true? Yes and not. When an enunciation is formulated which goes beyond the possibilities of ordinary knowledge, it is obvious that its validity has to be assessed through the specific methods of the corresponding science. However, it is also true that these methods make use necessarily of the basic resorts of any valid knowledge, that is, of experience and logic. An analogy can illustrate this. Technical systems of control can be used in a 100m flat race in order to decide who came first, and at times it is necessary to do so. These electronic controls, though, would not make any sense without the ordinary knowledge: it is know that there is a track, that some athletes start and that the same athletes reach the goal in a certain order. These data, provided by the ordinary knowledge, are the indispensable basis for the use the technical systems of control. Similarly, the methods and results of physics presuppose the existence of an external reality which is different from the thought of the physicist. They also presuppose that there is a natural order in this reality in accordance with objective laws so that any event has a cause that has provoked it. It is also presupposed that the physicist has the capacity of knowing this reality and of reasoning logically in a correct way. Without these assumptions physics would not have any sense. Problems related to quantum mechanics began to appear from the beginning of its formulation around 1927. It was decided to leave aside unobservable factors, such the trajectory of sub-atomic particles, and to use only observable magnitudes, such as energy changes recorded in the atomic phenomena and following the quantum laws. One should add, to all this, the impossibility of providing an intuitive representation of the micro-physical phenomena, with the result that the corpuscular and undulatory models are both partial. Moreover, the uncertainty principle of Heisenberg establishes limits to the precision with which conjugated variables can be measured, such as position and moment of a particle. Finally, according to the probabilistic interpretation, the theory cannot provide predictions about the behaviour of individual particles in single cases but only probabilities which refer to events as a whole.

One finds in this context the polemic flared up in 1927 between Einstein and Bohr and its development which had at its root the imaginary experiment proposed by Einstein and two of his collaborators Podolski and Rosen in 1935 (called EPR experiment from the initials of its three authors). Einstein claimed that quantum mechanics needs to be replaced by a new theory which can re-establish realism and determinism in the way he intended it, while Bohr claimed the opposite. The polemic flared up again with the appearance of inequalities formulated by John Bell in 1965, and this led to the carrying out of experiments able to decide on the problems raised in the polemic. Although the experiments of Alain Aspect and col. seem to have shifted the weight of the balance since 1982 in favour of Bohr, discussions continue61. There are problems in these discussions which refer to the scope of the present-day quantum theories. There are also philosophical problems about the indeterminism of nature which spring from quantum physics. All this, though, does not affect the claims of realism and the existence of causality, since these are purely philosophical and need to be accepted if physics must make sense. The problems related to indeterminism and causality are different. One thing is to claim that any event must have a real cause (causality in a philosophical sense), and another very different one is to claim that all natural causes act in accordance with deterministic laws (in the sense of classical physics or of the determinism associated with it). The existence of causality is not something doubtful, while indeterminism is an open problem.



Present-day science provides a knowledge of each of the natural levels and their reciprocal relations. Although this knowledge is far from being exhaustive, yet it is sufficient to elaborate a worldview which has scientific as well as philosophical implications; the following are some aspects and consequences which stem from it.


Unity of composition and dynamism in the natural systems

The unity of nature is one of its outstanding aspects which are reflected in the presentday worldview. This is shown first of all in the unity of composition of the natural entities. Actually, all natural entities have the same basic components, i.e. the microphysical entities such as subatomic particles, atoms and molecules. They are not all present in each system, or with the same abundance or with the same structuring. Various theories about this unity of composition have been formulated since ancient times. However,

There is a wide bibliography on these issues. One may read syntheses and discussions, for instance, in: Le monde quantique (a collective work directed by S. DELIGEORGES), Editions du Seuil, Paris 1984; Franco SELLERI, El debate de la teora cuntica, Alianza, Madrid 1986. In the former, B. DEspagnat presents an interpretation which seems to be opposed to the common sense in its ordinary understanding. In the latter, Selleri appears to be in favor of future changes in the quantum theory, by presenting arguments that are also not very convincing.

only at present, and for the first time, an authentic knowledge of such a unity has been obtained The microphysical components cannot be represented as portions of an immutable or inert matter. For instance, the very atom is present in many different states in the different structures in which it is found (it is integrated in that structure, it shares electrons with other atoms, etc.). One could also say that atoms and molecules which are studied in science are general types which correspond approximately to concrete, tremendously various and dynamic situations. There is also a unity of dynamism since the laws which regulate the basic levels of nature, are also in force at the levels of higher organization. Moreover, there are laws which are applicable at all levels: for instance, the principle of conservation of mass and energy. The four basic interactions appear in the phenomena of all levels: the nuclear forces within the nucleus, the electromagnetic forces within a very wide area which spans from the structure of the atoms and molecules to the cohesion of the various states of matter, and gravity which, appears in all those phenomena in which the influence of the mass becomes considerable. The unity of composition and of dynamism are aspects of the unity of nature in its twofold aspect, i.e. the dynamic and the structural ones.


The universe

Nature is not made of a collection of heterogeneous beings. One of its most notable characteristics is unity. There is not only unity of composition and dynamism but also a superior type of unity which allows us to speak of the universe as a huge system. a) Notion of cosmos or universe

The ancients looked at the world as a cosmos, or universe, i.e. as a unity based on the cooperation of different factors, and on a hierarchy in which man occupies a central position. This is the way in which nature appears to the ordinary experience which witnesses the central place man occupies. Nevertheless, the recent progresses of science seem to cast doubt on a spontaneous notion of universe, and tend to replace it with a scientific notion, a fact which would entail important implications. Ordinary experience clearly shows the central position of man in the universe. Everything seems to suggest that the universe exists in function of man. Nevertheless, this idea has been criticized in the name of the scientific progress and dealt with as if it belonged to a primitive type of mentality, but already made obsolete by the knowledge provided by science. Two appear to be the decisive factors in this change of perspective. The first refers to the universe: the earth is not the centre of the universe, as the ancients used to say; it is rather one of many planets immersed in the immensity of the universe. The second comes from the evolutionist theories according to which man would be another animal among animals, the result of the unfolding of natural laws through a process of biological evolution.

Nevertheless, the philosophical reflection shows that the first factor (the one which refers to the place occupied by the earth in the universe) is irrelevant in judging the position of man in the universe (unless one intends to determine only his physical position). The second factor (which refers to evolutionism) is also of little importance if one admits that, (be the origin of his organism whatever it may) man possesses characteristics which place him well above the rest of nature. The existence of the very science is one of the most cogent proofs of this. In this sense, there is an absolute order in the universe which is hierarchical. The human person is found above the rest of nature. Man is a natural being which transcends nature. Man is a natural being which sores above nature through his intellectual knowledge, will and freedom. It is not difficult to perceive a type of order in nature which is not relative, if the specific characteristics of the human person are taken into account. Nevertheless, this order is based on a hierarchy which transcends the strictly natural level. It is for this reason that this order includes absolute aspects.


Finite and infinite universe

The question on whether the universe is finite or infinite has always drawn the attention of scientists and thinkers. The ancient Greek thinkers used to relate finiteness to perfection, so that a finite universe would be an aspect of its perfection. Nevertheless, the birth of classical physics in the 17th century seemed to favour the idea of a homogeneous and infinite universe. Kant, in the 18th century, claimed that the finiteness or the infinity of the universe present conflicts which are difficult to resolve. Progress made by science in the 20th century has opened new panoramas for the solution of this problem which can be considered in relation to space and time. In relation to space, the relativity theory seems to support the idea that the universe is finite but unbound, as if it were locked around itself in such a way that, no matter how far we go in one direction, one may never find the ultimate limit. It is the case of one who is on a spherical surface. He may walk on it in any direction without ever finding an end. In any case, this comparison does not give a solution to all the problems. In relation to time, the models of the universe more accepted by the scientists in the second half of the 20th century and later are those which see a universe of limited age of about 15 thousand million years. The universe seems to have a history and an evolution which begins at the origin of time. Nevertheless, even these theories do not resolve the problem completely, since the origin of the big initial explosion remains unexplained. It is always possible to think that its origin came from a pre-existent and different state of matter and energy of the universe. Science alone is not able to deny such a possibility. Even in the case of time, a theory has been proposed similar to the relativity theory in the case of space. Concretely, Stephen Hawking suggested that, in accordance with the hypothetical theories of the quantum gravity, it could happen that the universe may be

limited in time and yet no concrete moment for its origin could be determined since, in getting closer and closer to this moment, the same concept of time would be altered. From a philosophical point of view, the universe is finite since it is a whole of limited creatures. In a strict sense, only God can be infinite. Gods eternity is not an unlimited duration: God is outside time, and time does not exist independently from the universe. In this respect, the space and time magnitude of the universe, whose being necessarily depends on God, is of little importance. On the other hand, when Christians admit that time has its origin with the universe, and that the latter does not have unlimited duration, they do so by leaning on Revelation and not on scientific or philosophical demonstrations.


Physical cosmos and human world

Nature provides those conditions necessary for the existence and the development of the potentialities of the human person. One could say that with man we reach a level essentially superior to the rest of nature to which, however, man is deeply bound. In the present-day culture, the new science of ecology emphasizes the interdependence of all the components of nature.


The earth as ecosystem of life

Although we do not have definitive explanations of the origin of life on earth, yet it is quite evident that the very existence of life and its unfolding in such a variety of forms is made possible because of the existence in the biosphere of very specific physicochemical conditions. The biosphere consists of the earth crust together with its boundaries in the atmosphere and in the oceans, as a carpet of many miles where life, as we know it, is found. It is made of many different entities which depend on each other in an intimate relationship: it is because of this that one can talk of the biosphere as one huge system. According to the most extreme opinions represented by the partisans of the Gaia hypothesis proposed by James Lovelock, the biosphere should be considered as an authentic unitary system, as a true organism. We do not hold this extreme stand here. However, the progress of science shows clearly the existence of a unity among the different levels and entities of nature much which is stronger than what immediately appears. One may find as many interconnections as one wish. From a physico-chemical and geological point of view, a set of very specific conditions is found on earth able to make the existence and development of life possible. Such conditions refer to the fundamental laws of physics and chemistry and to the characteristics of our planet62.


One may want to consider and deep and detailed study of these types of characteristics in: John D. BARROW and Frank J. TIPLER, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1986.


Ecology and ecologism

Ecology is a scientific field of study which deals with ecosystems: these are natural systems which comprise a number of living organisms with a certain unity of interdependence. The concept of ecosystem is very wide so that it can be applied to a huge number of different systems: from a pond to a wood, including the biosphere as a whole. The limits of an ecosystem depend very much on the objectives of the specific study. Ecology is, of its own nature, an interdisciplinary branch of science: it makes use of data provided by physics, chemistry, geology and biology. The scope of the problems ecology deals with are also huge. However, its unifying principle is a perspective which considers the conservation of the riches and the variety of nature of high priority, and avoids anything which may damage it. Ecologism appears as the defender of nature. It has gained importance from the growing awareness of the destructive threat posed to nature by the technological progress if this does not take place in a rational and controlled way. There is a theoretical as well as a practical reason why the respect of nature should be promoted. The theoretical one is founded in the unity existing among all beings in nature. Being aware of the fact of being part of nature, leads to an attitude of respect which is compatible with a rational use of nature for the benefit of man. This respect can be related to a religious attitude with very well known historical manifestations. The practical reason refers to the inconvenience for the present and future generations which can originate from the irresponsible use of natural resources. Frequently ecologism points at real problems. Actually the world has made great progress in the awareness of these problems. Serious efforts are often needed to solve them because of their difficult nature. The ecological perspective in the present scientific worldview is strongly supported by the unity of nature and by the mutual interdependence of its constituents. On the other hand, the divine order to dominate the earth as gathered by the Christian faith cannot be taken as an excuse to foster the indiscriminate exploitation of nature, or an attitude of despise towards other living organisms, or an irresponsible attitude towards the future generations. On the contrary, philosophical personalism and the religious perspective can help avoid the radicalisms of certain ecologist stands. Sometime these stands pose unjustifiable claims such as considering animals as subjects of rights equal, or equivalent, to human rights.


The new world view

We have so far examined some aspects of the present worldview: the central aspect of the emergence of self organization in the genesis of nature, the continuity and

gradualness of the different levels in nature, and the unity of composition and of dynamism in the natural systems. I shall add here some complementary considerations. a) Theories on chaos, complexity and self organization

We have already hinted at some of the most significant advances of contemporary science which go under the title of complexity. The term includes advances related to morphogenesis, i.e. origin of new forms. Science explains how new modes of order originate from states of lesser order. The theories of the deterministic chaos, as well as the thermodynamics of the irreversible processes and synergism, study the formation of new structures in certain conditions which imply discontinuities or critical points. Such theories encompass many phenomena of cooperative type, and show how the formation of new patterns depends on the cooperative activity of different systems. One of the most important ideas of the theory of chaos is that the systems under consideration evolve with an intrinsically unpredictable pattern, although subject to deterministic laws. It would be possible to determine the position of the system in a far future only if the initial conditions could be known with total precision. Unfortunately, this is not possible according to the uncertainty principle of quantum mechanics. The impossibility is compounded by the fact that minute differences in the initial conditions end up by evolving towards something which is much different from the respective systems. Therefore, these theories point at a worldview where the emergence of new things is the consequence of some processes of self-organization which cannot be reduced to activities of deterministic type. At different levels, there is a true emergence of novelties in nature which are different from their components. In each level there are new characteristics which do not exist in the components: new holistic structures, new types of dynamism and new properties. This is a fact which can be acknowledged without problems, independently from the explanations one can give. The idea of self-organization occupies a central place in the present-day worldview. Self-organization means formation of structures as a result of the unfolding of a natural dynamism. Therefore self-organization is closely associated with the idea of characterization of the natural in terms of dynamism and structuring. The new thing is the fact that today many phenomena of cooperation are already known in physics and chemistry, and that the physico-chemical basis of the biological phenomena is better understood. New forms of organization may appear in those systems which exchange energy with the exterior. They are systems outside equilibrium in which the collective behaviour of their components appears in such a way that in specific conditions a new form of organization prevails. Phenomena of self-organization clearly show the existence of cooperation, tendency and directionality in nature, and these invite to reconsider the problems related to forms and ends.


Cooperation, accuracy and information

The integration among the various natural levels clearly shows the existence of a cooperation among all the natural entities and among the different levels. For instance, the biological level requires the physical one and the chemical one for its internal composition, the geological one for its habitat, and the astrophysical one as source of its energy. The different levels form a compact whole in which there are many relations of cooperation. Besides the cooperation among the different continuous, gradual and hierarchical levels of nature, there is another other aspect which is very important in order to appreciate its perfection: the subtlety of its organization. Actually, there are, at each level of nature, very specific processes which unfold in a coordinated manner and which make the singular organization of our world possible. The unfolding of this natural dynamism can be looked at from the point of view of an information which is stored and unveiled in a structuring process that proceeds according to patterns. For instance, at physical and chemical levels, an immense variety of compounds can be obtained from very few components and basic laws. These are the compounds that make it possible for the other levels of organization to exist. This basic level of organization corresponds to specific patterns which can be looked at as structural principles we already know in some details; it is not the result of some kind of chaos. There is something we call chance, understood as accidental coincidence of different dynamisms. However, each one of these dynamisms and their mutual integration unfolds according to patterns. The basic structural principles are pretty simple: basic interactions, the principle of exclusion, the principles of conservation, etc. Nevertheless, they explain the formation of an enormous variety of very specific compounds which constitute the basis of the other levels. Something similar occurs in the other levels. Ultimately, the organization of nature corresponds to an information which is coded and stored structurally, unfolds, combines and integrates. Therefore, the organization of nature shows the fact that there is some rationality in it which is, moreover, very sophisticated. As science progresses, we come to know more and more of the structural principles of the natural order, and its rationality and accuracy appear more and more clearly.


Fortuitous factors in nature

Order, as well as disorder, are relational concepts: they are defined in each case according to particular criteria. The order found in nature is not absolute. Order is present with disorder, and latter also is not pure disorder, or absolute chaos. A mixture of order and disorder (which are relative), is the normal situation at the different levels of nature.

For example, the concept of regularity refers always to some aspects and not to others. The regularity of space configurations is always relative: matter in its crystalline state has specific geometric properties which can be considered orderly when looked at using certain types of criteria and not others. Something similar is true with the regularity of processes: a uniform movement has order, while the accelerated one and the movement along a circumference do not have it. However, the opposite is also true. These considerations can also be applied to laws. Natural forces are not simply cooperative forces; in many cases they are opposed to one other and originate concurrent dynamisms. The resulting order depends on the prevailing forces and, in general, on how the various dynamisms integrate with one another. Moreover, fortuitous factors are present in the natural processes. The complexity of the intervening factors in most processes is enough to realize it, and the concurrence of specific dynamisms is not a necessary consequence of any of them. In this sense, the existence and the relevance of fortuitous factors is unquestionable: there is chance in nature, if by chance we understand concurrence of independent causes (we do not refer here to divine providence which is found at a different level and which covers everything, since God is the first Cause of the being of all that is). However, it is not appropriate to attribute causality as such to the chance. Chance belongs to the so-called improper or accidental causes. This means that whatever happens has its proper causes, even those things that we say to happen by chance. If we focus only on the natural causes of phenomena, we can claim that not only there are fortuitous factors but also that there is plenty of them, and that they contribute in a great deal to the production of the order which we observe in nature. This, though, does not mean attributing any causal role to disorder, or chaos. It is also possible to think that sometimes disorder is the consequence of an excess of order: this happens when various different types of order concur in the same process63. These reflections want to point out the fact that we do not forget that there are many aspects which are disorderly or chaotic, when we claim that nature has a very subtle and sophisticated organization. They also help us dismiss some misunderstandings which are based on too simple ideas about order and disorder; this happens, for instance, when it is claimed that natural order would have come about by chance from a primordial chaos, by identifying some violent physical conditions with a chaotic situation64. In reality, the fact that some effects could be produced as the result of collisions of millions of particles in constant motion cannot be referred to as chaos in a strict sense, unless one says that these collisions, and their effects, do not follow any natural pattern. Science, though, shows the opposite.


The peculiarity of the natural order

Cf. P. WEISS, Some Paradoxes Relating to Order, in: P.G. KUNTZ (publisher), The Concept of Order, The University of Washington Press, Seattle-London 1968, p. 16. 64 Cf. E. MORIN, El Mtodo. I. La naturaleza de la Naturaleza, Ediciones Ctedra, Madrid 1981, pp. 76-78 and 82.

Nature appears before the ordinary experience with a very specific type of order. Scientific progress leads to a much more amazing and precise knowledge about this order. Something can be considered specific, in a broad sense, when it refers to a species or to a particular type. In this sense, everything that exists is specific, since it has a defined way of being. A more interesting problem is to know whether nature is specific in a more strict sense, i.e. whether it has singular or exceptional characteristics. To find it out, the characteristics of the different levels of nature need to be considered, since these are specifically different from one another. The astrophysical level. Stars are the result of the same types of processes: thermonuclear reactions of fusion in which hydrogen nuclei are united to form helium nuclei. The basic pattern is common to all stars; its magnitude, stratification and other processes depend on the conditions present in each case, and they obey the same physico-chemical laws. Therefore, the behaviour of almost all matter of the universe concerns the stars and follows an order that is nothing singular: the same types of processes are repeated in millions of stars. Moreover, the distribution of the stars in the galaxies follows certain simple principles: it depends fundamentally on the gravitational forces. The same occurs with the distribution of the galaxies. The geological level. Here there is a more specific type of order, at least according to our present-day knowledge. We do not know of any other planet with the same characteristics as the ones of the earth. This does not mean that such planets do not exist; however, even if they existed it would be very difficult to spot them, since they would be very far and lacking their own light. Consequently, we can truly speak in this case of a very singular type of order and, for the time being, unique. However, the existence of other planets similar to the earth would not present a real surprise from the point of view of the scientific laws. The singularity of the earth consists in the fact that here there are conditions that are tuned for the thriving of living beings: just small changes in some of these conditions would be enough to make life, as we know it, nonviable. The biological level. This level is even more singular. In this case, the singularity is not so much in the variety of the living organism, but in the same existence of life. Just one cell is something much more complex and organized than any entity at the physico-chemical level. The more developed organisms are the most complex entities of our universe, and the physico-chemical conditions that make life possible are very singular. In the case of man this singularity is huge. Human life is made possible within a very restricted set of conditions, and the human organism has an enormously singular character. The conclusion of this brief excursus may sound amazing. Actually, we can conclude that our world is very simple from the point of view of its composition and basic laws; it is very repetitive in the macro-entities of the astrophysical level; it is very

singular in relation to our immediate habitat, and enormously sophisticated in the organization of the living beings and, especially, of man. Therefore, there are in our world some basic and relatively simple aspects which co-exist with some enormously singular results. We can truly say that our universe is very singular; this is so because its components and fundamental laws are on one hand relatively simple and, on the other hand, they make it possible to obtain enormously varied, organized and cooperative results. In fewer words, it seems that more cannot be done with less effort. Even in supposing that there are no other intelligent beings in the whole of the universe, even in supposing that the conditions which make our life possible are the result of an evolutionary process, yet the existence of thousand of millions of galaxies and stars would be a very simple and chip expenditure, and maybe even indispensable, for the possibility of those processes necessary for our existence.



We come to know nature through its manifestations in space and time, i.e. through space-time structures perceived by our senses. Nature, though, cannot be reduced to these dimensions: it has a kind of power, or energy which is stored in its structures and which unfolds with time. We have previously mentioned these two aspects in relation to the characterization of the natural; we perceive them as intertwined aspects, and it is precisely this intertwining which is peculiar to the natural. The natural dynamism does not exist by itself: its existence and its unfolding are intimately related to space-time structuring. There is no doubt that the characterization of the natural through dynamism and structuring is a philosophical approach. We shall proceed with this analysis and use the concepts of matter and form which, after many centuries, are still a very valuable instrument for a philosophical analysis of nature.



Science provides a detailed knowledge of nature. Philosophy takes this knowledge, together with the one provided by the ordinary experience, as a basis for its reflections on nature. Philosophy uses an approach which is different from the one used by the experimental sciences; however, both complement each other.


Scientific analysis and metaphysical reflection


The scientific perspective

Experimental science was firmly established in the 17th century with its own proper methods which implied renouncing to a knowledge of essences and adopting a perspective that combines the use of mathematics and experiments. In spite of the huge success of the experimental sciences, one still finds nowadays widespread interpretations of instrumentalist and conventionalist nature according to which science would only provide conceptual instruments able to master nature in a controlled way. Such instruments, they claim, could be considered at best only as more or less plausible conjectures on the characteristics of the reality. Problems concerning the scope of science arise from three main issues. First, the use of mathematics seems to limit the scientific knowledge to the quantitative aspects.

Consequently, some conclude, science would not provide an authentic knowledge of the reality. Second, the validity of the scientific theories is verified by experimental data which refer to concrete factual conditions. Hence, some conclude, the truth of theories can never be established in a definitive way, and these theories will always have a hypothetical or conjectural character. Third, in order to formulate theories and interpret the experiments, it is necessary to use man-made constructions which, at least in part, are conventional and revisable. Hence, some conclude, it seems that theories would have only an instrumental value. Nevertheless, experimental sciences provide an authentic knowledge of nature. Actually, we have plenty of well-proven knowledge which is the basis for highprecision technology. The difficulties mentioned above, though, are real. Yet, in many cases a practical certainty can be achieved; this happens for instance when a certain theory provides good explanations and predictions, especially if they are exact, if they refer to independent phenomena and if they are coherent with the results of other wellproven theories. When we have at our disposal constructions whose formulation and verification are rigorous in accordance with the above-mentioned criteria, then we can actually claim that these constructions correspond to reality and therefore are true. However, this correspondence does not mean that the constructions are an exact replica of nature; we are here before a truth of contextual type since these constructions make sense only within a theoretical and experimental context which we define and which implies the adoption of a particular point of view. It is therefore a partial truth which does not exhaust all that can be said about nature. This does not stop it from being an authentic truth which makes us know real aspects of nature. We can therefore understand how experimental sciences provide a kind of knowledge which is at the same time authentic, partial and perfectible65. Knowledge acquired through experimental sciences does not exhaust all that we can know about nature: it is limited because of the intentional limitation imposed by the scientific perspective. The reason which explains the success of experimental sciences is the very reason which explains its limitations. Actually, the scientific perspective deliberately excludes those dimensions which cannot be subjected to experimental control. Therefore, dimensions such as the ontological one which refer to the way of being of the natural, and the metaphysical one which refer to the ultimate foundation of nature, the general laws governing being, spirit and freedom of the human person, are all left out of the scientific perspective.


The philosophical perspective on nature

It may seem that science has the monopoly of the study of nature, since philosophy does not have special methods for achieving a knowledge which is inaccessible to the scientific method. It would seem that experimental sciences occupy

A broader explanation of these problems can be found in Mariano ARTIGAS, Filosofia de la ciencia experimental. La objetividad y la verdad en las ciencias, op.cit. Ch 6.

the place of the old philosophy of nature, or that the former have absorbed the latter within their own sphere of competence. The 19th century positivism and the 20th century neo-positivism tried to reduce all valid knowledge to that obtained from natural sciences, and understood the scientific laws as simple relations between observable phenomena. However, it is commonly accepted nowadays that positive science, i.e. science as defined by positivism, does not exist. One needs creativity, interpretations and evaluations at each step of the scientific activity. A positivist scientist could be replaced by a computer; however he could only work under the direction of a non-positivist scientist. Science seeks an authentic knowledge of nature, and the latter cannot be obtained through automatic procedures. Experimental science works on some philosophical postulates, and the scientific progress back feeds on these postulates. Science and philosophy adopt different perspectives, though they constantly interact with each other at all levels. Within this context a philosophical reflection becomes necessary first and foremost in order to evaluate the scientific knowledge. Actually, a reflection on the scientific methods, on the general postulates of science and on the particular ones in each case, and on the interpretation of the obtained results, has to take philosophy into account. A philosophical reflection is also necessary if one wishes to propose any worldview, i.e. a representation of a nature in which its fundamental characteristics are reflected. Again, a philosophical reflection becomes indispensable when ontological problems are tackled which refer to the basic characteristics of the way of being of nature. Ontological questions about nature are nowadays posed with the same vigour as they were in the old times. Broadly speaking, they coincide with the classical problems of substantiality, causality, qualities, space, time, teleology, and the origin of the universe. As well as in other epochs, typically metaphysical questions are posed about spirit, freedom and transcendence. No one would deny the fact that these genuinely philosophical questions are constantly posed nowadays.


The metaphysical understanding of the natural

We are now going to tackle some of the problems which the philosophical reflection on the being of the natural runs into, especially when these are related to matter and form which are the objects of this chapter.


Unity and plurality

Unity and plurality are philosophical problems. We repeat that what characterizes the natural, in our way of presenting it, is a space-time structuring and the fact that patterns, or repetitive structures, have a special importance in this perspective. Actually, the natural order rotates around these patterns which repeat themselves in numerically different cases. This plurality of realizations of unitary patterns leads us

to investigate the characteristics of a pattern, of its unity and of its concrete realizations which can be manifold. This again leads us to distinguish the formal determinations which correspond to the defining notes of the patterns, from the material conditions which correspond to the numerically different realizations of these patterns. A particular case is the individual realization of specific ways of being common to many individuals. Specificity and individuality lead again to the concepts of form and matter.


Dynamism and interaction

We have highlighted the dynamism as a fundamental characteristic of the natural. Nature is a world of interactions, and what appears to be static is in reality a state of equilibrium. Interactions are the result of the dynamism of the natural entities. Dynamism pertains to the way of being of these entities and unfolds in accordance with this way of being which is marked by materiality. The being and the activity of the natural are rooted in material conditions and are realized in space and time. In this sense also, the consideration of matter and form is important to understand the way of being of the natural and the activity which is proper to it.


The four causes and the con-causality

We are able to understand something if we can answer the questions characterized by why: this means that we know its causes. Something is intelligible in the measure in which there are causes which can explain it. In this context, the Aristotelian theory on causality provides important guidelines, because it covers the different types of questions that can be posed about the natural entities. Actually, the material and formal causes refer to their composition and way of being, the efficient cause refers to their dynamism and the final cause refers to their directionality. Our questions about nature correspond to aspects of these four types of causes. Experimental science provides a broad knowledge about the composition of matter in relation to the component elements as well as in relation to their structuring within systems. It also provides knowledge about the activity of matter through the laws which regulate the processes, and about the directionality of entities and processes in its twofold aspect of tendency and cooperation. It is therefore a kind of knowledge which refers to the four Aristotelian causes. In this sense one can say that science provides authentic explanations about the natural phenomena and that, consequently, manifest the intelligibility of nature, reaching dimensions which are inaccessible to the ordinary knowledge. Philosophy, on the other hand, examines this causality in a thematic way

and determines the concept of cause, the different types of causes, and the modality of their acting.



The concepts of matter and form have being employed since ancient times particularly by Aristotle in relation to the natural. We shall examine them in the light of the present worldview.


Dimensions of material type in nature

Let us first consider dimensions of material type, the concept of matter and the characteristics of what is material.


Extension, duration, mutability

Material dimensions are proper to space-time structuring. These are extension which constitutes the basis of space structuring, duration which constitutes the basis of time structuring, and movement which establishes a relationship between space and time66. We refer now to these three notions because we consider them to be the fundamental conditions of matter. In the first place, everything material has extension and therefore a magnitude. One can imagine material points; actually, this is a widely used device in science. However, in nature there are no points without extension: all material beings have extension and magnitude. As a consequence, what is material is divisible; it can be indefinitely divided, and the resulting parts will never be inextended (in practice, this divisibility comes up against physical limitations which shift towards ever shorter distances. On the other hand, it is important to point out that the different ways of being of the natural entities are accompanied by typical magnitudes: atoms, molecules, biological macromolecules, cells and organisms have specific magnitudes, or at least their magnitude is found within certain limits outside which they cannot exist. Moreover, there is continuity among the parts of the unitary systems: although they may contain incrustations, there is a minimum continuity which is necessary for the existence of the system. In the second place, the concept of material implies duration, i.e. a temporal extension or dispersion. Mutatis mutandis, one can apply here the conclusions of the previous reflections on spatial extension. Concretely, natural processes have duration and therefore a temporal magnitude; they can be divided into parts, though the unitary

Aristotle stated that the science of nature deals with the extensions, movement and time; Physics, III, 4, 202b 30-31.

processes are found in association with typical duration, and there is continuity in them. They are processes which unfold from an initial to a final point in accordance with natural tendencies, and depend on specific natural patterns. In the third place, the concept of materiality implies movement. Any material being can change and is ordinarily subjected to continuous changes, although at times almost imperceptibly. Not only can a material being change in relation to accidental aspects but also substantially if the conditions for its existence disappear. Everything natural is subjected to becoming. Therefore, mutability has always been considered as the fundamental characteristic of the material beings. The present-day knowledge illustrates this mutability; we actually know that there are continuous changes, at least at the microphysical level, in all entities, including the most stable ones. b) The concept of matter

In defining matter, the use of terms becomes extremely important. Many difficulties can be avoided if one distinguishes between the two meanings in which the concept of matter is used, i.e. as an adjective and as a substantive respectively. As an adjective, something is material if it has material dimensions: extension, duration, mutability and all the other dimensions which are related to them. A way of being with these characteristics can be called material, and the totality of the conditions which constitute it is referred to as materiality. Nevertheless, matter is used very frequently as a substantive, in ordinary life as well as in philosophy, and this may easily create confusion: as a matter of fact, there is no natural entity made only of a collection of material dimensions, because these do not enjoy independent existence. They are material dimensions of subjects which have specific ways of being, and these ways cannot be reduced to a bunch of material dimensions. When speaking of matter one usually makes reference to one or various concrete beings; these, however, are the subjects of which the adjective material can be predicated: they are the material beings. We want to emphasize the fact that materiality does not have its own proper being which is the same as saying that there is no being which is purely material. In speaking of material beings, we should not think that these are completely reduced to their material conditions: such a reduction is impossible, since these conditions cannot be substantialised, they cannot exist in an independent way. Extension, duration, mutability and all the other conditions related to them can only exist as aspects of a way of being which is characteristic of the natural entities, and these cannot be reduced to such aspects. I shall point out some misunderstandings generated by the concept of matter in science and philosophy67.


One can find a collection of studies on the evolution of the scientific and philosophical concept of matter in: E. McMULLIN (editor), The concept of Matter, University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame (Indiana)1963.

In science matter designates, at times, the totality of beings which the physicochemical sciences study. Therefore, living beings are excluded, yet they are material beings. On the other hand, when physicists speak of matter, they usually refer to subatomic particles: here matter is opposed to energy and, in an unfortunate way, one speaks of materialization of energy in order to designate processes related to the equivalence between mass and energy. This gives the impression that energy is something material (which is nonsense). In other situations the concepts of mass and matter are used as if they were equivalent. This confusion begins with Newton himself, who defined mass as quantity of matter. It is an unfortunate definition which has stood for centuries, is still found in textbooks and, de facto, does not find application in any properly scientific problem. Our own epoch has heard people speaking of an increasing de-materialization of science, a fact that emphasizes the increasing importance given by the present-day science to explanations based on forces, fields of forces and energy. Therefore, if one wishes to find out what sciences say about matter, it is necessary to distinguish the different uses of this concept and to be aware of the misunderstandings that this concepts lends itself to. In philosophy the concept of matter leads frequently to even greater misunderstandings since the commonly accepted meaning attributed to it derives from the Cartesian mechanism. According to this meaning, matter is identified with material conditions on one hand, and with the natural substances on the other. The natural substances are in this way stripped of their own dynamism. This impoverished type of matter becomes a passive and inert subject, reduced to pure exteriority. In spite of the criticism to which it has been subjected, this mechanistic idea of matter has been the background of many philosophical stands, whose impact is very much felt at present. The idea of matter is usually employed as a synonym of inert matter, lacking its own dynamism. This completely inert type of matter does not exist.


Proto-matter and second matter

The term matter is etymologically related to the Latin mater which means mother and which therefore provides the elements for the formation of a new being. In the Aristotelian philosophy the concept of matter means in general that out of which something is made. It corresponds to the idea of the material, or the components, out of which something is made. Usually a distinction is made between proto-matter and second matter. Specifically, the term proto-matter (or first matter) is used to designate a substratum common to all bodies which remains even after some substantial changes have occurred. The term second matter is used to designate the natural substances which are the substratum that remains after accidental changes have occurred. We shall now see what kind of meaning can be attributed to these concepts in the light of our characterization of the natural. Assuming that changes that occur in nature are real changes and not a series of creations and annihilations, it is necessary to admit the existence of a permanent substratum in all of them which initially lacks any kind of form; this form is acquired

after the change has occurred. To determine the nature of this substratum, it is necessary to distinguish between accidental and substantial changes. In an accidental change, a substance acquires accidental determinations, it becomes this or that. The remaining substratum is the substance (its essential way of being does not change, but its accidental way does). As a subject of accidental changes the substance is called second matter. A new substance is produced in a substantial change. This change presupposes the occurrence of accidental changes (configuration, increase, subtraction, composition and alteration), but through them a new being is produced. The presence of a substratum is also required here because there is continuity between the starting and the ending point: if this was not so there would be no transformation but only a succession of annihilations and creations. In a way analogous to what happens in an accidental change, the substratum of the substantial changes is called proto-matter. Again, this substratum is known through analogy: it is related to the substance as the bronze is to the statue, and the wood to the bed, the shapeless material to a well-shaped thing68. The concept of proto-matter is very difficult to grasp. I quote three places where Aristotle illustrates it69. In the first he states: Actually, I call matter the first subject of everything and every being, out of which, as a constitutive element, something is made or comes to be as some thing, and not in an accidental manner70. It is then an essential factor in the constitution of substances. This definition comes about as the result of the analysis of change. In this context, matter is the ultimate substratum of change. What are its characteristics? Aristotle speaks of them when he says: I understand matter as that which by itself is neither something, nor quantity, nor any of those things which determine an entity. It is something which is predicated of each of these things and whose being is different from that of each of the categories (in fact, all the other things are predicated of the substance, while the substance is predicated of the matter). Hence, matter by itself is neither something, nor quantity, nor anything else, nor its negations, since even those would be accidental71. This definition refers to predication, and warns that matter is an undetermined subject, to which no concrete determination can be attributed. Finally, Aristotle emphasizes the fact that proto-matter is the ultimate subject out which things are made: when we say of something that it is not such a thing, but that it is made of such a thing.for instance, the box is not made of earth nor is it earth, but it is made of woodHowever, if there is something which is very first and of which cannot be said, with reference to another, that is made of such a thing, this then will be the proto-matter72. The Aristotelian proto-matter appears to be like an ultimate substratum related to the composition of the bodies and to the substantial changes. It is conceived by analogy
68 69

Cf. ARISTOTLE, Physica, I, 7. ARISTOTLE refers to proto-matter in other places: cf. Physica, IV, 9, 217 a23; De Firmamento, III, 6 and 7; De Generatione et Corruptione, I, 3, 317 b 16, 23 and II, 4; De Anima, II, 1, 412 a 7, 9. 70 ARISTOTLE, Physica, I, 9, 192 31-33. 71 ARISTOTLE, Metaphysica, VII, 3, 1029 a 20-26. 72 ARISTOTLE, Metaphysica, II, 7, 1049 a 18-26.

with the substratum of the accidental changes. It does not have its own determinations. Moreover, it appears to have a potential character: it is pure potentiality, and this is so because it lacks determinations and can be subject of different acts. What meaning can this doctrine have in the light of our characterization of nature? It is possible to interpret proto-matter as equivalent to the materiality of the bodies73. Actually, proto-matter is not a determined physical component; rather it is something which expresses the basic character that all material entities have in common. The notion of materiality expresses the fact that bodies are material entities, and therefore they have the characteristics which are attributed to matter in general: extension, divisibility, localization, duration, accidental as well as substantial mutability. However, bodies have these characteristics insofar as they are real bodies, with actual determinations. Pure materiality does not exist by itself: existing entities have a being which is realized within material conditions. In line with this interpretation, proto-matter designates the material conditions in which natural entities exist. Therefore, these conditions refer to specific characteristics, while materiality simply designates the way of being within which conditions of this type exist74. From this perspective, although proto-matter presupposes a substantive use of the concept of matter, its content refers principally to its use as adjective. Consequently, in speaking of proto-matter we refer to a way of being. It is the way of being common to all natural entities. From this perspective, the Aristotelian statements about proto-matter have a clear meaning: materiality is a way of being which essentially belongs to the natural entities (constitutive aspect); it is the sphere in which material transformations occur (substratum of the substantial changes); it refers to the material conditions in general and not to specific ways of being (it is an undetermined substratum); and the material entities can change in principle into any other material things (pure potentiality). As it was already said, the notion of second matter refers to the substratum of accidental changes, i.e. to the substance. This does not imply in any way that this subject is immutable. On the contrary, accidents are determinations of the subject and therefore, when an accidental change occurs, the subject changes; however, its way of being does not change essentially, it is not transformed into another type of substance: it changes accidentally. During accidental changes the substance changes but only accidentally. This statement is important since it refers to a problem which has led to misunderstandings. Actually, it would appear that if a substantial substratum remains in existence during accidental changes, one should conclude that this substratum is immutable (since it persists throughout the change). On this basis, conclusions are easily

A similar interpretation has been proposed by Juan Enrique Bolzn, who concludes that it seems adequate to speak not of a matter as a substantive as if it were one of the constituents of the being but of its materiality as one of its characteristics: J.E.BOLZN, Cuerpo, material, materialidad, Filosofia oggi, 14 (1991), p. 516. 74 This interpretation coincides with the one proposed by Jess de Garay who states that matter simply is the relation of some determined conditions, called material, to the form since these conditions, as such, are also formal: J. DE GARAY, Los sentidos de la forma en Aristteles, EUNSA, Pamplona 1987, p. 219.

reached which empty the content of the notion of substance. Either one says that substance is just a mental category without any reference to reality, because only an idea can be absolute and immutable, or one simply denies the validity of the concept of substance. On the other hand, second matter refers to a natural substance, an entity that possesses a way of being and some specific virtualities which cannot be reduced to the material conditions. We have already noted that there are no purely material substances, because materiality is not a complete way of being: it only expresses some dimensions of the way of being of the natural. The latter is also an important statement which could sound shocking if reality is conceptualized into two completely and mutually exclusive compartments namely, matter conceived after the Cartesian fashion, i.e. reduced to the material conditions, and spirit conceived as a subject which will only be able to act on matter from without. Hence, if matter is reduced to pure exteriority, the spirit could only act upon it exteriorly, because no other possibility would be available: in this case, the action of God in no way would affect the interiority of the natural (since there would be no interiority), an the action of the human soul upon the body would then be similar to that of a horse rider or of an helmsman who can only act and guide in an external way. Such perspective leads to serious difficulties in the fields of anthropology and natural theology. The same perspective is also of little satisfaction to the philosophy of nature, because it strips the natural substances of those dimensions which are related to their interiority; it would appear that attributing interiority to them would mean to fall into some kind of pan-psychism or pantheism, since interiority is an exclusive attribute of the spirit. If one accepts this, he should then forget the fact that natural entities have their own dynamism; that, in an enigmatic but real way they know their own way of being and that of other beings, and they know how to behave in each circumstance; that they are subjects with tendencies; that these tendencies have sometime a cooperative character and create the conditions for the existence of morpho-genetic processes in which new ways of being are produced; that in many natural beings there is a stored information which unfolds through complex and sophisticated unitary types of processes. One should actually forget a very important part, and maybe the main one, of the way of being of the natural.


Characteristics of the material

Some characteristics of nature and of our knowledge of them will be considered here which are closely related to materiality. In the first place, the material conditions are related to potentiality, since everything material is mutable, i.e. it can change not only accidentally but also substantially. In this sense, matter is said to be principle of passivity, since it implies the possibility of receiving new determinations. Aristotle claims that matter, insofar as it is

matter, is passive75, and that material things if they have a principle of movement, it is not a principle of moving and acting, but one of passivity76. However, these statements are not opposed to the acknowledged fact that natural beings have their own dynamism. The previous statements actually refer to matter insofar as it is matter, i.e. to the material conditions considered independently from interiority. They refer to some generic conditions of materiality and not to the complete way of being of the natural entities. Secondly, it is usually claimed that matter is the principle of individuation of the natural substances. This seems to be problematic because individuality means determination and realization, and therefore it seems to be opposed to uncertainty and potentiality. However, when one speaks of matter as principle of individuation he means numerical individuation of the natural entities. Each substance has its own proper way of being, but any way of being natural is, in principle, repeatable in different individuals: it corresponds to a generic type. In this sense, the same type exists as individualized in beings which have some concrete material dimensions in space and time: although the type (the determinations of the way of being) is what characterizes an individual, the concrete material determinations explain how the same type can exist in numerically different individuals. Therefore, when speaking of matter as principle of individuation, it is customary to add that what is meant here is matter marked by quantity (materia quantitate signata). It is the way emphasizing that what is meant here is not matter as undetermined material conditions but matter determined by a specific space and time quantity. Thirdly, it is claimed - and this is easily understood - that materiality implies contingency, i.e. lack of necessity. This is so because what is material is mutable, and it is actually subjected to circumstances which can cause changes; on the other hand, this is also so because this mutability affects also the essence of the material entities which can stop being what they are and become something else. There is no doubt that material individuation in the Aristotelian perspective is a path which makes material beings imitate the incorruptible ones, since the same way of being can perpetuate itself through numerical multiplication. Living beings transmit their way of being to other individuals through generation and in this way the species is perpetuated although the individuals disappear. From another perspective, it is also claimed that matter implies necessity. However, this necessity is not opposed to the contingency we have just analyzed. Necessity refers here to determination in the way of acting, absence of freedom. We shall not expand here on the problems of indeterminism: whatever the solutions may be, it is evident that self-consciousness and freedom presuppose a way of being which transcends material conditions. Fourthly, materiality is related to the existence of chance in nature. Actually, changes occur easily in the material conditions; in this way a kind of chance is introduced which is opposed to perfect regularity. Experience shows that our possibilities in acting are limited by the continuous changes in material conditions.

75 76

ARISTOTLE, De Generatione et Corruptione, I, 7, 324 b 18. ARISTOTLE, Physica, VIII, 4, 255 b 30-31.

Fifthly, materiality implies on one hand, the existence of limitations in our knowledge, and on the other hand, the possibility of a measurable and controlled knowledge. In relation to the first implication, Aristotle states that matter as such is not knowable77. Actually, something is known through its operations; even properties which appear to be passive, such as colour, correspond in reality to interactions: colour can be perceived thanks to the fact that light is reflected by the bodies. Materiality expresses some exterior conditions, disregarding dynamism and activity; such conditions are not known by themselves, but by the activity which unfolds through them. Moreover, although exteriority makes sense knowledge possible (and therefore the whole of our knowledge), it also imposes limitations: we can know immediately only those aspects of nature which are accessible to our sense organs; we need to make recourse to indirect procedures in order to know other aspects. However, materiality also has a positive aspect in our knowledge of nature, since thanks to materiality it is possible to study nature in a quantitative and experimental way which is the basis of our scientific knowledge. Actually, materiality provides the basis for numbering and for the mathematical study of nature. It is related to dimensions which have a space-time magnitude and which, therefore, can be divided, summed and submitted to calculation. The material aspects of nature can be studied in a mathematical way, while the qualitative ones can be studied in this way only indirectly in the measure in which they can be related to the quantitative. Thanks to materiality, experimentation is made possible. What is material can be studied through experiments because its behaviour appears as a regular activity, i.e. not free. Scientific experiments must be repeatable, so that changes may be studied in some aspects of the phenomena in function of the changes of some other aspects, and in controlled conditions. Obviously, aspects related to the spirit and to freedom cannot be studied with this method. All these considerations allow us to understand why the mathematical and experimental methods can be used to study those aspects of nature which are related to the materiality and not to other of its aspects which are accessible, though, to philosophical reflection.


Dimensions of formal type

We shall now analyze the formal dimensions and the meanings of the concept of form. One should keep into account the close relationship that exists between the material and the formal: actually, matter and form are, in the material entities, like two sides of the same coin. The following analysis will be a completion of what has already been said about matter and materiality.


Configuration, consistency and synergy


ARISTOTLE, Metaphysica, VII, 10, 1036 a 8-9.

Space extension, time duration and movement are material dimensions which refer to the external distension, to the multiplicity of the components. Formal dimensions, on the other hand, refer to the internal coherence, to the unity: configuration reflects the space unity of the components; consistency is related to the preservation of the unity throughout time processes; synergy expresses the character of cooperation of the different components and processes. Configuration is space structuring; it is defined as the disposition of the parts that constitute a thing; the disposition of parts is responsible for the figure of a thing. Natural entities are extended (partes extra partes); however, the distribution of their parts is not casual but takes place according to the characteristic configuration (partes extra partes ordinata) of things. The configuration of unitary systems corresponds to typical space patterns which are repeated in different individual systems. Configuration (formal dimension) corresponds to extension (material dimension) and both complement each other. If there was only extension, nature would be reduced to a disconnected multiplicity of parts randomly distributed in space. On the contrary, nature is structured according to space patterns. Our visual knowledge depends completely on the recognition of such patterns. Experimental science presupposes the existence of such patterns and confirms them: it tries to know space patterns which are inaccessible to ordinary experience, and in many cases it manages to do so. Consistency is related to time duration; it is defined as stable duration. The stability of natural systems depends on the connection between their parts: if this is weak, their stability will be feeble. Consistency (formal dimension) corresponds to duration (material dimension). There is no absolute consistency in nature: everything is subjected to wear and tear, to interactions, to division. Stability corresponds to an interior cohesion which is preserved throughout interactions. Living beings have a kind of organization which make them apt to actively provoke those conditions which are favourable to their stability. Synergy refers to space-time organization: it means cooperation. The organization of natural systems depends on the cooperation of their components in a functional unity. Synergy (formal dimension) corresponds to movement (material dimension). Synergy expresses the unity of the different movements which occur in a system: the greater the cooperation of the component parts of a system and of the processes which unfold in it, the greater its unity.


Meanings of the concept of form

Material and formal are correlative concepts: that is why we can distinguish the adjective and the substantive uses of form, in the same way and meaning as we do in the case of matter. There is nevertheless an important difference: within the context of the material nature, the formal always exists in material conditions; however nothing prevents the existence of beings which lack matter, i.e. spiritual beings. The two cases are asymmetrical: the existence of beings reduced to pure materiality is impossible, while that of beings that do not include material conditions (spiritual beings) is possible.

We shall not deal with spiritual beings here, because what is natural is material; however, we shall refer to mans spirituality, since the human person belongs to nature although he transcends it at the same time. As materiality expresses the fact that something exists in material conditions, i.e. that it is something material (adjective use of the concept of matter), so formality refers to the peculiar determinations of the way of being: to be an tom, a protein, a plant, to be white, a good electricity conductor, etc. These determinations do not exist outside the material conditions; they do not exist in an independent way, nor are they united to the materiality in an external way: the formal and the material are interpenetrated and entwined so as to form a unitary reality. It is not a juxtaposition of two different and complete realities. There is only one complete reality which subsists with its own being: the individual substance which has formal determinations realized in material conditions. Of course, when one studies the way of being human, it becomes necessary to introduce further clarifications which may be able to reflect the peculiarities of the human person and of his spiritual dimensions. We have already mentioned the asymmetry between the material and the formal in the concrete case of the spiritual beings. Such asymmetry though is much wider; this is due to the fact that unlike material conditions which are generic and in a certain way common to all natural beings (extension, duration, movement), the formal ones are particular and specific. The essential as well as accidental formal determinations are different in different beings. It is because of this that we also use a different terminology in both cases: we speak of conditions in the case of the material, and of determinations in the case of the formal. It is important to stress the fact that substantial and accidental forms of the material entities are not complete beings, they do not have their own substance, and they are not subjects in a strict sense. If this is taken into account, there is no inconvenience in speaking of form or forms with the substantive use. It is nevertheless convenient not to forget the true meaning of the concept of form. Centuries long critics of the concept of form (from the times of Descartes) are mostly based on these misunderstandings which we are trying to clarify: the forms of the material entities are equivocally understood as entities or parts of entities. For this reason, it seems preferable to use a terminology, whenever possible which can avoid the danger of substantialising the forms.


Substantial and accidental forms

The concept of form occupies a central place in the Aristotelian philosophy78. The term form usually refers to the external appearances of something and is related

A good study on this topic can be found in the already quoted work by Jess de Garay, Los sentidos de la forma en Aristteles.

to its figure. This meaning of form actually corresponds to one of the species of the accident quality. However, the concept of form has a much wider meaning, since it designates any determination of the ways of being: if it is a substantial way of being, one speaks of substantial form; if it is an accidental way of being, one speaks of accidental form. At a physical level, form is correlative to matter, since it is what determines the latter; consequently, a different type of form corresponds to different types of matter. Specifically, substantial form corresponds to proto-matter, and accidental forms (note the use of plural, since the same substance has different accidental determinations) correspond to second matter. Aristotles philosophy claims that the substantial form is the essential act of the natural species. Material substances have an essence, or a fundamental way of being which differentiates the distinct types of substances (dog, acacia, water, etc.). These essences are not simple but composite: they exist in material conditions (proto-matter), and include those perfections which determine their specific way of being (substantial form). Matter and form are neither complete entities nor physical parts; they are principles which behave like potency and act: proto-matter is the potential and undetermined principle, while the substantial form is the actual and determining principle. The substantial form refers to the unitary way of being of the substance and to the totality of its possibilities of action which correspond to its way of being. It is act, energy, active nature. At the same time, and precisely because it expresses its specific way of being, the substantial form corresponds to the concept and to the definition of substance, i.e. to the idea which expresses the specific way of being of each substance. Actually, Aristotle uses two different terms to refer to the form: morf (form) and eidos (idea). Although in a first approximation there is a clear correspondence between the meanings of these two terms, in reality they are not identical. We shall not expand here on this exegetical problem which concerns the precise interpretations of Aristotles thought. It is enough for us to note that the substantial form is a real principle, the one which determines the essence of the material substances; that matter and form are coprinciples of the essence, as potential and actual respectively; and that the idea or definition of an essence will have to include a reference to both co-principles. In the Aristotelian perspective, the substantial form is responsible for the unitary structuring of the substances, of their way of acting and of their tendencies. It is important to note that the substantial form is present only in the natural entities (which are substances). An aggregation does not have an essential unity, a way of being one, and therefore does not have a substantial form. Artefacts also lack a substantial form, since their unity corresponds to an external project, to a human idea, unless in some cases an authentic substance is produced through artificial processes. The Aristotelian substantial form corresponds to a central aspect of the reality: the way of being characteristic of each substance.

The expression accidental form is used to designate any accidental determination. Therefore, any accident can be referred to as accidental form. Also in this case there is a danger of treating accidents as things, and again this danger is related to the substantive use of the respective terms, when one speaks of the quantity, the quality, etc. as if these were subjects or entities. Accidents are determinations of a substantial subject, of an individual substance. Such a subject has extension, is divisible, is soft, and has a full set of qualities. It would not make sense to treat accidents as substances or things. The use of an appropriate terminology can help avoid this danger. Accidental forms behave as act in relation to the substance which is in potency respect to the accidental forms. They are determinations, accidental ways of being, and therefore they refer to a being in act. Because the substance is a subject in act, it is in potency respect to the different accidental forms which can change without changes in the essential way of being of the substance. As the substantial form is the act of the proto-matter, so the accidental forms are the act of the second matter (or substance).


Characteristics of the form

We shall now examine some characteristics of nature which correspond to the concept of form. First, the form is related to being. We have already stressed the fact that forms are not complete beings. The classic terminology uses the term ens quod or entity which (plural entia quae) in order to designate entities or subjects proper; while ens quo or entity by which (plural entia quibus) is used to designate the constitutive principles of the entity which are neither entities nor subjects. According to this terminology, the form is an ens quo, i.e. an entity by which something is, or has being, or has a specific way of being. This terminology is still substantive, since forms are called entities, while at the same time stressing the fact that they are entities in a special sense: they are not complete entities, but determinations of an entity. All in all, it is important to stress the fact that forms do not exist on their own: what exists is the individual substance which has a specifically determined way of being (substantial form) that is realized in material conditions (proto-matter). Insofar as forms are determinations of the way of being, one can say that entities have being through their forms. The classic dictum the form gives being (forma dat esse) should not be understood as if the form had its own being previous to its material existence and at a certain point would transmit it to the matter or to an entity. What has being, what acts, what is a subject of transformations is the individual substance. However, it should be added that the form refers to a real being; we can explain how a cell works, but the living cell has a real being which is not reducible to our explanations: to be a cell is a way of being, and it is convenient to stress that it is a way of being. In this sense, it is true that the form gives being, avoiding substantive interpretations of this expression. Along the same line, it should be noted that claiming that the form is cause (the formal cause) does not mean that the form exercises its

causality in the same way in which the efficient cause, or agent, does. The formal cause is what determines the way of being. It is nevertheless a real determination of a real way of being. Properly speaking, forms are neither generated nor corrupted. A form exists when the entity to which it belongs begins to exist, and ceases to exist when the latter is transformed into something else. It is usually said that the material forms are educed from the potentiality of matter; this means that they do not have their own independent being; they are produced in the transformations whose substratum is the matter: they are the result of these transformations. The present-day knowledge about the selforganization of matter refers to the production of new structures and patterns of activity which arise as a consequence of the cooperative interactions of the components. We point out once again that these considerations refer to the material forms, i.e. to the forms of the natural beings which include material conditions, and which cannot exist outside the latter. In the case of mans spiritual soul, new considerations need to be added which reflect the spiritual dimensions and their implications. Second, form is related to structure. It may be appropriate to ask whether the form could be identified with the structure of the material entities. It may appear possible to do so, since the structure is related to the way of being of the natural entities, and it is somehow an immaterial factor, since it refers to the organization of the component parts. There is no doubt that the structure of the material entities is closely related to the classical concept of form, and even more so if one considers these entities as systems. According to the theory, a system is characterized by the totality of the interrelations among its components; these are integrated in a unitary type of structure. A system is something more than the juxtaposition of its parts; it has properties which are not found in its parts, nor do these properties result from the mere addition of the properties of its parts; it has teleological characteristics, since there are structural laws which favour the stability of certain of its aspects. All this is particularly evident in living organisms but present also in some inorganic systems, and even in the atomic world ruled by quantum laws. These characteristics favour the approximation between the notions of structure and form. Nevertheless, it is convenient to clarify two aspects of this relationship. First, when we talk here of structure we refer to the organization of a system which includes not only space structure (configuration), but also time dimensions (cooperative processes of the parts of the system). Second, this space-time organization is not identified with the form; the form is rather like the plan which corresponds to the totality of space relations and interactions that exist in the system. There is no doubt that this plan corresponds to the way of being of the system; however, the concept of form refers directly to this way of being, and it is not reduced to its concrete aspects. Third, forms are related to the ends. In the production of artefacts there is a model according to which a new product is manufactured. Similarly, in nature it can be said that the form is the model according to which natural entities are produced. In the generation of the living beings the form of the generator is the principle of

generation in accordance with specific patterns and, at the same time, it is the end of the generation, since a new being is produced which has the same specific form of the generator. In the production of non living substances, the form of the product is also the end, the terminus towards which the process tends. Consequently, form and end can be identified in the natural processes; they are identified in living beings since the form of the generator and that of the generated coincide specifically. They are also identified in the non-living beings since the form is the end of the tendencies of the components, the end of the process. It is important to emphasize the close relationship between forms and ends since critics of the concept of form usually, and to a very large extent, coincide with the critics of the concept of finality. The acceptance of the reality of the form leads easily to the acceptance of finality. Fourth, we ask what type of necessity corresponds to the form. In the Aristotelian philosophy, some kind of necessity and immutability are attributed to the essences and, therefore, to the forms. This seems to be at a loggerhead with the present-day worldview according to which natural entities are the result of contingent processes and in this sense they are neither necessary nor immutable. These difficulties are related to the Aristotelian worldview according to which the world, and somehow the forms, are eternal; changes would consist in individual generations and corruptions directed by the forms and towards the forms: they arise from the form and are directed towards the production of forms. In this view, the number of forms is given in a fixed number once and for all. However, the fundamental core of the concept of form can be easily separated from these ideas. Actually, this worldview had been criticized by the 13th and 14th century Christian thinkers, and it was also condemned in the same centuries by some of the ecclesiastical authorities. These critics referred above all to the alleged necessity and eternity of the world; contingency and time limitation of the world were emphasized against the Aristotelian worldview. However, the same reasons, which led centuries ago to claim the contingency of the world, could be used nowadays to claim the contingency of the forms. Actually, from the creationist metaphysical perspective, not only the world in its totality but also the specific natural entities are contingent. In order to hold that the natural entities are not dissolved in a pure flow of processes and that they have intelligibility, it is not necessary to claim that forms are eternal. There is no correspondence either between the eternity of the divine ideas and the eternity of the forms of the natural entities. Here we are facing two different aspects of the problem. The present-day world view emphasizes the contingency of the natural entities which are the contingent result of natural processes; therefore, it emphasizes also the contingency of the forms. Eternity and immutability of the forms do not correspond to the present-day worldview. However, they are not indispensable in order to accept the meaning of form as it has been explained, or to claim the intelligibility of nature, or the existence of a natural order with a hierarchy which culminates with the human person. They are not even necessary as a basis for a concept of human nature that may permit us to claim the existence of stable moral dimensions. Actually, morality is related

to the existence of metaphysical dimensions in the human person, and these dimensions seat on concrete physical conditions; the fact that these physical conditions are subject to changes says nothing against its actual existence. In order to be able to claim the existence of metaphysical dimensions in the human person and in the corresponding moral dimensions, it is not necessary to claim that the physical conditions on which they seat have always been there.



We have already considered the hileo-morphic structure in relation to matter and form. We are now going to consider it in relation to their correlation and to its validity.



We call hileo-morphism the Aristotelian doctrine according to which the essence of the material substances is composed of matte (hyl) and form (morf); since we are speaking of the essence of these substances, the matter referred to here is the proto-matter, and the form is the substantial form. The concept of matter is used by Aristotle in different contexts along his work and it does not have a univocal meaning. There is no unanimity in the interpretation of the different meanings79. For instance, doubts have been raised about the authenticity of the traditional interpretation according to which there would be one proto-matter only, common to all bodies, purely undetermined substratum which comes into the composition of all material beings; it has also been said that this interpretation is foreign to Aristotle. Along this line, William Charlton has examined the Aristotelian passages which refer to proto-matter and concludes that they do not give evidence for the traditional interpretation: in Aristotles thinking, matter would always be something concrete and already determined. He claims that the traditional doctrine has its origin in Platos Timeus80: it would have come about by joining Platos language and Aristotles concept about the material factor, i.e. adapting the Aristotelian substratum so as to suit the Platonic description. This joining would have taken place with the Stoics, would have become well established in the syncretistic philosophy of the 1st century B.C. and early centuries A.D., would have been taken into Christian theology already at the times of St.


In relation to this, one can read: L. CENCILLO, Hyle. Origen, concepto y funciones de la material en el Corpus Aristotelicum, Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, Madrid 1958; H. HAPP, Hyle. Studium zum aristotelischen Materie-Begriff, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin-New York 1971; W. LESZL, La material in Aristotele, Rivista Critica di Storia della Filosofia, 28 (1973), pp. 243-270 and 380-401; 29 (1974), pp. 144-170. 80 Cf. PLATO, Timeus, 50 b 8 c 3; 50 e 4-5; 51 a 4 - b 2. In these passages Plato refers to the receptacle which receives all things and never takes any form, and he adds that it is by nature the matrix of every thing and it is structured in different ways by the things it receives, that it is found outside of all forms, that it is the mother of everything, invisible and without form, receptive of everything.

Augustine, and would have become fossilized in Calcidius commentary to the Timeus which was almost the only source of ancient metaphysics till the 12th century81. Of course, Aquinas places his interpretation of hileo-morphism within the framework of a creationist metaphysics. Aquinas concepts are taken mostly from Aristotle; however, in this case as in many others, what is Aristotelian is interpreted within a metaphysics which, in some important aspects, is not Aristotelian. We mention all these problems in order to point out that the interpretation of the Aristotelian hileo-morphism and of its historical development is not a simple task. On our part we have examined the hileo-morphism without trying to betray either Aristotles thought or the Aristotelian tradition. We shall proceed with our analysis along the same line disregarding historical exegesis.


Correlation and unity between the material and the formal

Matter and form are correlative concepts: something is matter respect to a form and vice versa. It should be understood that this perfect correlation exists only in material beings, and that nothing forbids the existence of spiritual beings whose essence would consist in a form without matter82. Therefore, matter and form, in the physical world (material entities), mutually need each other and complement each other. There is no matter without form: if there were this would mean that some material conditions (extension, duration, movement) existed which would not affect any entity, and this is impossible. Moreover, there is no form without matter: a purely spiritual being does not belong to the physical, or material, level. We have stressed the fact that the concepts of matter and form do not refer to things. It can be added that, somehow, they express functions. This means that something plays the role of matter respect to the form, or of form respect to the matter. This implies that matter and form refer to a specific level: that which plays the role of form from a specific perspective, can play the role of matter from another perspective. For instance, the substantial form is form respect to proto-matter but is somehow matter respect to the accidental forms which determine the accidental level. However, there is an exception in the case of proto-matter which dose not play the role of a form in any case. On the other hand, purely spiritual forms are still determined by the act of being (we shall not detain ourselves in this important aspect which pertains to metaphysics).


Cf. W. CHARLTON, Aristotles Physics Books I and II, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1970: Appendix: Did Aristotle Believe in Prime matter?, pp. 129-145. 82 ARISTOTLE states that matter is something relative: since, to such a form, such a matter: Physica, II, 2, 194 b 8-9.

On the other hand, the correlation between matter and form is the same as the one between potency and act. Actually, form indicates determination and therefore act, while potency signifies something undetermined which is being actualized or determined by the form83. All in all, matter and form are correlative concepts, because one makes reference to the other; they are functional concepts since they do not express things but functions; they are contextual concepts since something can work either as matter or as form in different contexts or levels of analysis. All this means that matter and form constitute an authentic unity: they are like two sides of the same coin which correspond to the exteriority and interiority of the natural beings respectively. Consequently, matter and form are not joined as if they were two entities, or physical parts. The essential way of being refers to some formal determinations (substantial form) which exist in material conditions (proto-matter); and the accidental ways of being refer to formal determinations (accidental forms) which affect a substance (second matter). However, the substance together with its accidents is a unitary whole. It cannot be said that the proto-matter, or the substantial form, or the substance, or the accidents exist separately or juxtaposed, as if they all were physical parts. One can say that the form in-forms the matter, it determines it, it actualizes it (please note that the use of this substantive language should be interpreted with those nuances previously indicated). It is because of this that the concept of form can be related to the present-day concept of information. Actually, in its present-day meaning information can be understood as storage of instructions which are found and expressed in material conditions. However, this presupposes one dimension added to these conditions; this happens for instance in the case of the genetic information contained within the structure of the genes. In this sense, information has something to do with laws, since it is these laws which regulate the physical processes and their results that are realized in these processes, but which are not identified either with the entities or with the processes. The instructions contained in the different entities come to be materializations of the laws. 15.3. Matter and form as causes

In the Aristotelian philosophy, matter and form are considered to be causes: the material cause and the formal cause84. Yet, their causal action does not correspond to what is ordinarily understood as cause, namely the efficient or agent cause. Since they are not complete entities they do not have their own consistency and do not exercise their causality in the same way as an agent subject (being a substance) does. Matter and form are causes insofar as they are components of the natural entities: proto-matter and substantial form constitute the essence of the material substances, while second matter and accidental forms constitute the substance with its determinations. If by cause we understand that which affects the being of the effect,

83 84

Matter is potency and form is act: ARISTOTLE, De Anima, II, 1, 412 a 9-10. Cf. ARISTOTLE, Physica, II, 3; Metaphysica, V, 4.

we can then claim that matter and form are proper causes, since they constitute the way of being of the natural substances. For the same reason, matter and form are intrinsic or interior causes, since they refer to the way of being. This is not at all opposed to the fact that matter is related to the exteriority of the substance. Actually, the material conditions are intrinsic or interior to the substance, they belong to its own proper way of being; however, they refer to space extension and time duration and therefore to the exteriority, in an through which the substance acts85. The meaning of material and formal cause refers, therefore, to the causality of two factors which are intrinsic constituents of things, and which relate to each other as potency and act. Aristotle expressed the unity and causality of matter and form with a very explicit statement: ultimate matter and form are the same, the former in potency and the latter in act86. Matter and form do not co-exist, are not joined, are not different realities which are related, they do not ask for a unifying bridge, they are not components after the fashion of physically separated parts. That which has an independent being is the individual substance whose way of being consists in some formal determinations which exist in material conditions.


The validity of hileo-morphism

To say that matter and form are real, intrinsic and constitutive causes of the essence of the natural substances is equivalent to claiming the metaphysical validity of the hileo-morphic composition. In other words, such a composition is not only a mental construction to understand nature, but corresponds to the reality of things, although matter and form are not complete entities. It may seem that hileo-morphism gets into trouble vis--vis the knowledge provided by the scientific progress about the composition of matter. One may think that actually science supplants hileo-morphism with explanations formulated in terms of components and their configurations. In this case hileo-morphism would correspond to an obsolete kind of worldview. Scientific knowledge would then be quite sufficient to explain the natural phenomena, while philosophical explanations would become useless. In reality we face here two different levels of explanation which are complementary. Experimental sciences adopt a perspective which is not only legitimate but also indispensable in order to be able to make progresses in the knowledge of the composition of matter and of its laws. The philosophical perspective, on the other hand, focuses its knowledge on the ways of being of the natural and conceptualizes it.


Matter is that out of which something is made and which remains immanently in it: ARISTOTLE, Physics, II, 3, 194 b 24. 86 ARISTOTLE, Metaphysica, VIII, 6, 1045 b 18-19.

The present-day knowledge about the composition of matter is incompatible not only with a mechanism which strips matter of its own dynamism and interiority, but also with a processualism which does not admit the existence of stable subjects. On the contrary, it favours an image of nature in which a very important role is played by patterns, dynamism, organization and information. This image is fully coherent with hileo-morphism. There is a great variety of patterns in nature which repeat themselves in different concrete material conditions. Nowadays, many patterns are very well known in the microphysical as well as in the macro physical and biological levels. All this corresponds pretty well to the notion of form as a way of being which repeats itself in different individual material conditions. On the other hand, at times some claim that energy could be considered as equivalent to the traditional proto-matter: in this case everything would be made of energy, and the material entities would be a sort of concentrated energy. Some try to base this idea on certain results in physics, such as the equivalence of mass and energy, the importance of the fields of forces, the transmutation of sub-atomic particles into one another and the equivalence of the different forms of energy. There is no doubt that these aspects emphasize the basic character of energy. However, the energy dealt with in physics is a magnitude which is defined in relation to the methods proper to physics; therefore, trying to identify it with a philosophical notion is a task that falls outside the scope of the experimental sciences. It is nevertheless a suggestive idea because there is no doubt that many aspects of the material reality can be explained in terms of energy. However, proto-matter, understood as materiality, refers in a general way to the material conditions and energy, as a physical magnitude, refers, on the other hand, to specific characteristics of the activity of what is natural.


The degrees of the physical being

There are progressively greater levels of organization in nature which, although realized in material conditions, have progressively accentuated formal dimensions. Actually, there are degrees of structural integration, process integration, cooperative action, organization, unity and active potentiality or capacity of action. Living beings have peculiar formal dimensions. There is an unquestionable qualitative difference between the living and non-living, and within the living there are different degrees of life. The taxonomic ladder shows a progress in the formal dimensions as one climbs it, and this means a progressive distancing from the pure materiality. If immateriality is understood as accentuation of the formal dimensions, it can be said that there is an ascending ladder of immateriality. However, in the physical world this immateriality does not refer to something independent from the material conditions.

In the case of the human soul the problem of the relationship between immateriality and spirituality appears since in this case the formal dimensions transcend the material conditions. How is it possible for a spiritual soul to be the form of a material body? In other words, how is it possible for spiritual dimensions to exist in material conditions? The difficulties met with in trying to conceptualize this fact are not small but, however big, they should not lead one to deny this fact which can be easily experienced. On the other hand, the existence of spiritual dimensions requires a kind of causality for its adequate explanation which is far above the possibility of the material entities. A transcendent cause is not only required in the case of the spirituality, but also at inferior levels. In the case of spirituality though there is something special to add: the way of being of this level is essentially superior to that which depends on material conditions.


Materialized rationality

Hileo-morphism corresponds to different explanatory levels which, although related among themselves, are not identical. The first of them refers to change, the second to the constitution of the bodies, and the third to individual multiplicity. In the first place, hileo-morphism was formulated in order to explain how change is possible. The necessity of admitting a substratum in all changes seems obvious since the opposite would lead to the denial of transformations and the admission of annihilations and creations. Therefore we say that in any change there is a subject which is in potency towards the acquisition of a form. Change then is precisely the process of actualization of this potency. The subject plays the role of matter in relation to the form which it acquires through the process: this subject is the proto-matter in the substantial changes and the second matter in the accidental ones. In the second place, hileo-morphism can be applied to the constitution of the bodies. Natural bodies are essentially mutable or changeable and therefore they must have the matter-and-form composition which explains, has we have just said, the possibility of change. In third place, hileo-morphism explains the multiplicity of individuals within the same species. If bodies are made of matter and form, form refers to what characterizes the species, and matter refers to the concrete conditions in which this generic type exists. One therefore understands how the same type of form can exist in different individuals. These three explanatory levels refer to the physical world and are related among themselves. In a fourth place, we can consider another level which refers to the relationship between the physical and the metaphysical world. From this perspective, hileo-morphism reflects the existence of a gradation of perfections in function of the distinct degrees of immateriality. Moreover, in the light of a creationist metaphysics, nature appears as the realization of a rational project carried out through material conditions. Information can be considered as materialized rationality, and the different

degrees of being as rungs which make the existence of nature possible, a nature at whose peak a rational being is found: this being is the human person who exists in material conditions but who at the same time transcends them.


The being proper to the natural entities includes material conditions which are intimately related to quantity. The natural is distended in material conditions, i.e. it has quantity and therefore extension in space and duration in time. Quantitative dimensions are those related to quantity, e.g. extension, multiplicity, divisibility, measurability and numerability. We are going to consider now these dimensions while in the next chapter we shall delve with the concepts of space and time.



Before examining the quantitative dimension in concrete, we shall do it in a general way as an introduction. We shall emphasise their accidental character, their importance for the knowledge of substances, and their connection with the other properties of a substance.


The unveiling of the substance through its properties

The accidental ways of being, usually called simply accidents are defined in relation to substance and essence. Unlike the substance which is the subsistent entity and therefore has its own being, accidents do not have their own being and therefore do not subsist: they are determinations of the substance. For instance, big, small, white, resistant, are not subsistent entities: they are properties which affect a subject which is a substance. The substance is the subject, or substratum, of the accidents. Accidents do not belong to the definition of essence which expresses the fundamental way of being of a substance (like being a man, a dog, a tree, a protein, an atom). This does not mean though that accidents are of little importance or that they are not related to the essence. There is no doubt that some accidents have a secondary importance and are related to the essence in a distant way; however, other accidents are closely related to the essence and are greatly relevant: this is the case, as we shall see, of quantity and some qualities.

In any case, accidents are extremely important because through them substances and essences are known. Actually, substances and essences are unveiled through the accidents (magnitude, colour, resistance, etc.), and in this way we know them indirectly and in a partial way. Some accidents are determinations of the substance itself while others express the relation of a substance with other substances; for instance, having a certain size does not depend on the relation with other substances, but occupying a certain place expresses a relation with the surrounding bodies: both cases express ways of being of the substance.


Quantitative and qualitative

The quantitative and the qualitative are two dimensions always present in the natural entities. They are accidental dimensions and as such they do not form part of the essence of the substance. Truly, they cannot ever be absent, they are greatly important to determine the way of being of the natural entities, and they are closely related. According to Aristotles classification of the accidents, quantity and quality occupy a prominent place because they are considered as intrinsic accidents, i.e. they refer directly to the way of being (accidental) of the substances. Actually, material substances are always extended and have qualities which determine their way of being.


The quantitative

The quantitative answers the question: How much?. It refers to somethings magnitude: how much it measures in relation to space; how long it lasts in relation to time; how fast it is in relation to movement; how many individuals or components or aspects exist in a system or in a set of systems. Moreover, magnitude is related to numbers. Everything natural is quantified, i.e. it has quantitative dimensions and therefore has magnitude, extension, number. Actually, what is natural is material and this implies quantitative dimensions: materiality is characterized precisely by its reference to these dimensions. Space-time structuring refers to what is material and quantitative: it presupposes distension in space and time. Therefore, in characterizing the natural in function of dynamism and structuring, we have emphasised the basic role that the material and the quantitative play for an adequate representation of nature.


The qualitative

The qualitative answers the question: what? in the sense of quality, or way of being of something: what its characteristics and its peculiarities are. What is natural has qualitative properties. Actually, what is natural is not exhausted in the quantitative dimensions: in fact, this is not possible because the quantitative dimensions do not exist isolated, they do not have their own being. Quantitative dimensions exist as aspects of the ways of being of the natural entities. Dynamism is related to the ways of being: it presupposes the existence of some potentialities or capacities of acting which correspond to specific ways of being. Therefore, in characterizing the natural in function of dynamism and structuring, we have emphasised the fact that what is natural has virtualities, i.e. specific ways of being of qualitative type from where the natural activity arises.


Relation between the quantitative and the qualitative

There is asymmetry between the quantitative and the qualitative similar to the one existing between the material and the formal (and for the same reasons): there is no obstacle to the possibility of existence of spiritual beings, i.e. being without matter with qualities also spiritual (and therefore qualities without quantity. On the other hand, the existence of purely quantitative material beings without any kind of quality is not possible; in such a case we would be in the presence of purely mathematical, and not natural, beings. In the sphere of the natural, the quantitative and the qualitative are interpenetrated. Any natural entity has space-time structuring, i.e. quantitative dimensions. The qualitative ways of being do not exist in a pure state, separated from the quantitative ones: although they refer to aspects which are not directly quantitative, yet they are realized in material conditions and, for this reason, they are affected by quantity. The quantitative and the qualitative are different real dimensions; however, they are interpenetrated in the natural entities, in the same way in which the material and the formal are, or the exteriority and the interiority are. Moreover, quantity, as well a quality, is intrinsically related to the dynamism and to the relations among entities. Actually, the activity of the natural substances depends on their ways of being (operations follow being), and the way of being of the substances depends on their quantitative and qualitative characteristics. Something similar can be said about the relations of substances among themselves. One should not lose sight of this when studying quantity and quality separately.


The quantitative and the qualitative from the mechanistic perspective

Already before Aristotle strong doubts had been cast on the objectivity of qualities. The Greek atomists claimed that nature is completely determined by quantitative properties

such as extension, figure and local movement, whereas qualities would only be the effects that matter produces on the sense organs, and would therefore belong to the area of the subjective impressions. The Pythagoreans also, and somehow Plato, considered the quantitative to be the basic constituent of nature to the extent that study of mathematics would be indispensable for an adequate understanding of nature. With the birth of modern experimental science in the 17th century the problem of the objectivity of the sense qualities acquired prominence. The newly born science went hand-in-hand with a mechanistic perspective which presented itself as the new philosophy of nature in polemic with the old qualitative physics. The mechanistic explanations were quantity-based, while qualities were considered as subjective impressions devoid of objectivity. The triumph of the new science was interpreted also as the triumph of the mechanistic and quantitative perspective; this became the philosophy of nature generally accepted until the end of the 19th century, at least in those places more related to science. In this perspective, the reality of the so-called secondary qualities was also denied (the sensible proper, object of the external senses: colour, sound, etc.), while it was claimed that only the primary qualities are real (those related to quantity: magnitude, figure, movement). Secondary qualities would only be subjective impressions caused by the primary qualities in subjects equipped with a specific perceptive apparatus. The Aristotelian forms, considered as occult qualities, were rejected as useless: they could only be considered like labels presented as explanatory tools but in fact explaining nothing, leading rather to error and hindering the progress of science. The Empiricism of the same period held the same doctrine. For instance, John Locke (1632-1704) wrote: the ideas of the primary qualities of the bodies are similarities of these qualities, and their models really exist in the same bodies; however, there is no similarity whatsoever in the ideas produced in us by the secondary qualities. There is nothing in the same bodies which are similar to our ideas. There is only a power to produce in us the sensations of bodies which we name according to the ideas we have of them; and what is sweet, blue or hot according to an idea is nothing in the so-called bodies but volume, form and movement of the insensible parts of the same bodies87. In the subsequent epochs, the reality of the qualities continued to be denied, basing this denial on the progress of the mathematical science of nature. We shall focus our attention on the concrete aspects of the quantitative dimensions. The analysis will make us appreciate the fact that the quantitative does not exist separately from the qualitative, and this will prepare the way to determine the objective character of the qualities.



J. LOCKE, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, book II, Ch. VIII, No. 15. The text was taken from the Spanish version: Ensayo sobre el entendimiento humano, Editora Nacional, Madrid 1980, vol I, pp. 209-210.

We shall now show how quantity is an intrinsic accident found in all natural substances but not identified with the latter, and how its effect, or main manifestation, is the extension which is related to the body dimensions.


Extension as the basic property of the natural substances


Substance, matter, quantity

Natural substances exist in material conditions. We have represented this materiality through the classical concept of proto-matter which refers to the material conditions in general. Materiality is part of the essence of the natural substances, i.e. it is included in the basic way of being of these substances. Materiality refers to the conditions in space, conditions in time and their combination in the movement. Materiality refers to them, though, in a general way: to say that something is material means only that it exists in this type of conditions. When we refer to these conditions in a concrete way we speak of extension, magnitude, localization, duration, etc. It is easy to note that these concrete dimensions can vary at least within certain limits, without any change in the essential way of being of the substance. In order to represent these quantitative accidental dimensions in a unitary way the concept of quantity is used and one speaks of the quantity of the natural substances. We now say that quantity is an accident of the natural substances and this statement implicitly includes two more: quantity is a real way of being, and this way of being is not identified with the way of being of the substances. First, quantity is a real way of being. On the one hand, all natural substances have space dimensions; if this were not so they would be reduced to a point without extension: however, points without extension, such as those dealt with in mathematics, only exist in our mind, they are never real entities. On the other hand, natural substances also have time dimensions. Again, one can think of instants without duration. However, even in this case, when we apply the concept of instant to becoming, we are actually idealising a real duration. We can conclude that natural substances have real space-time dimensions. However, when we speak of quantity we are actually indicating the fact that substances have a way of being which includes this type of dimensions: it is therefore a real way of being. It may seem that this way of being is not only real but that it also belongs to the essential aspect of the substances; after all, materiality is what is proper to the natural substances. Nevertheless, we say that quantity is an accidental way of being. Actually,

we have already indicated that when we speak of quantity we refer to the concrete material conditions of the substances, and that these dimensions can vary without a change in the essential way of being: they are therefore found at the level of the accidents. It is necessary to add that, although quantity expresses an accidental way of being, it is an accident which affects directly the way of being of the substances, and it is always there in any material substance precisely because it refer to the concretion of the materiality. In this sense it is usually said that quantity is an intrinsic accident unlike other accidents (such as purely external relations, or localization respect to other bodies). One may also add that it is an accident which derives from matter: we say this in order to emphasise the fact that it refers to the material conditions of the substances. It is usually said also that quantity is the first accident of the natural substances. This primacy refers to the character of basic substratum which quantity has, and signifies the fact that the other accidents affect the substance through the quantity. For instance, colour, hardness, sight, or any other characteristic of the natural substances exist in material conditions, affect extended parts, act through organs and processes distended in space and time. In this way also the interpenetration between the quantitative and the qualitative is emphasized.



According to the classic definition, that which is extended has parts outside one another (in Latin, partes extra partes). It is easy to note that this definition is almost a tautology, since the idea of parts mutually external explicitly states what is already implied in the idea of extension. It is inevitable though that this be so; actually, extension is a primary concept which can hardly be explained by more known concepts. The idea of extension is related to sense experience, in particular to all that which comes from sight, hearing and tact. We apply it above all to entities, but we extend it also to all that, in the ordinary life, implies distances in space. In this more ample sense it becomes more closely linked to the concept of space which we will analyze later. In this area almost all the philosophical discussions are focused on the concept of space, while it does not seem possible to say much about the concept of extension. Yet, we want to emphasise an aspect which is hardly mentioned in the discussions, and which is very important, i.e. space structuring. We have emphasised from the very beginning the fact that structuring is a basic aspect of the natural entities and also that, although not everything is patterns, yet everything in nature articulates around patterns. In relation to space, these patterns are the configurations. These ideas play an important function for a faithful representation of the natural. Actually, if we consider only extension in a general way we obtain an undifferentiated image of nature which, on the contrary, has very specific ways of being,

and the latter appear mostly as space configurations. We shall now refer once again to Descartes philosophy so as to appreciate the importance of this issue.


The Cartesian reductionism

Descartes reduced the material substance to extension since extension was, from his perspective, the clear and distinct idea which we can have about the material substance. Qualities, on the contrary, would be just effects produced in the knowing subject as a consequence of the structure of his way of knowing; therefore qualities would not really be objective in the same way quantity is, and the latter can be studied by using mathematics. We have already seen how the denial of the sense qualities accompanied the birth of experimental science. Galileo denied the objective reality of the sense qualities because they vary in the different subjects, because they are not necessary for a mathematical study of nature, and because we can conceive the corporeal substance without qualities, but not without figure and movement88. For Descartes, the corporeal substance is reduced to extension, any change is reduced to local movement, and the only real properties of the bodies are the figures and the local movements which can all be object of mathematical study89. Mechanism identified corporeal substance with extension. Consequently, nature was reduced to the quantitative undifferentiated dimensions which had to do nothing with the qualitative. This view led to the simple denial of qualities and their objectivity which were reduced to alterations provoked in the knowing subject by a qualitatively neutral nature. The mechanistic reduction provided the bases for the denial of any nonquantitative dimension, and was presented as something supported by the mathematical science of nature which, on the other hand, would be the only way to achieve an authentic knowledge about nature. On the contrary, we say that the reduction of the corporeal substance to extension does not match either our experience or the progress of science. It is clear that it does not match our experience since we know natural entities through their sense qualities. In science we are aware that what is material adopts, at all levels of its organization, very specific configurations; therefore this does not match the undifferentiated image presented to us by the mechanism which corresponds to a fairly poorly developed stage of physico-mathematics. These considerations show that there is a close relationship between the quantitative and the qualitative. They are equivalent to saying that real extension articulates around specific patterns, and that a homogeneous or undifferentiated extension actually corresponds to an idealization.

88 89

CF. GALILEO GALILEI, Il saggiatore, in: Opere, Ed. Barbera, Firenze 1899-1909, Vol. VI, pp. 347-348. Cf. R. DESCARTES, Los principios de la filosofia, 2nd part, No. 64 (in: Oeuvres, published by Ch. Adam and P. Tannery, Vrin, Paris 1996, tome VIII-1, pp. 78-79); Meditationes de prima philosophia, med. 3, nn. 45-46 (ibid., vol. VII, pp. 43-44).


Characteristics of the extended entity

We shall now consider four characteristics related to extension: continuity, divisibility, measurability and individuation.



In studying the meaning of quantity90, Aristotle says that what is quantitative is divisible in integrating parts. One speaks of discrete quantity in relation to something which is divisible into discontinuous parts; if it is finite, it is called number and, in this case, one speaks of numerical quantity. One speaks of continuous quantity in relation to something which is divisible into continuous parts; in this case one speaks of dimensional quantity, because it refers to the extension of the bodies. The discrete quantity originates the number, while the continuous quantity originates the line, the surface, the volume, time and place; here we are in the presence of the so-called magnitude which, in one dimension, is the longitude (line), in two dimensions, is the latitude (surface) and in three dimensions, is the depth (body). In the case of the discrete quantity, the parts are separated and they do not coincide in any common limit. In the case of the continuous quantity, the parts coincide in a common limit: the parts of a line coincide in a point, those of a surface in a line, the present time coincides in the past and in the future. In this perspective, extension refers to the continuous quantity. A substance has unity, and everything which the substance is made of, constitutes a continuum. However, the parts of a substance can be heterogeneous; think for instance of the different tissues and organs of a living being. Nevertheless, this qualitative heterogeneity present in the parts of a specific substance which form a substantial unity, is not an obstacle for the case of a quantitative continuity since all the parts together constitute the unitary way of being proper to the substance.



Since extension consists in having parts outside parts, it follows that anything which is extended is also divisible. Actually, one cannot understand how it could be possible to obtain non-extended parts by simple division, or how could there be a nonextended material being. We are obviously referring to divisibility in principle. In practice, it is possible to come across limits by which it becomes impossible to carry on with a dividing process. Such practical limitations always exist although we may be able to obtain smaller and smaller parts. It is also possible to come across some insuperable limits to

ARISTOTLE, Categoriae, 6, 4 b 20 6 a 35; Metaphysica, V, 13, 1020 a 7-32.

physical divisibility; however, not even in this case one could claim the case for an absolute indivisibility. What is material is extended and, as such, is always divisible in principle even if in the case in which, due to physical conditions, it is not possible to continue with the process of division. A classical objection to the above is the following: if what is extended can be indefinitely divided, this would mean, then, that it is made of an infinite number of parts each of which would also have infinite extension. The statement, however, entails contradiction. This apparent paradox is usually presented as the divisibility of the continuum. The answer to it is also classical and consists in distinguishing potential divisibility which can always go on indefinitely, and actual division which would always provide a finite number of parts. We shall never reach parts which, in principle, are indivisible so that it will always be possible to keep on dividing without ever obtaining, at any moment, an infinite number of parts in act.



What is quantitative is also extended, it has parts and, consequently, it can be divided and also measured. Divisibility implies measurability. Before measuring anything a unit of measure has to be established which is taken as standard. After this, one needs to check how many times this unit is contained in that which one wants to measure. This can always be done in principle when things to be measured are extended. The problem arises when one wants to measure something which, as such, is neither quantitative nor extended. This is the case of the spiritual realities but also of material qualities. Nevertheless, insofar as the spiritual and the qualitative can be related to the material, they can become object of indirect measurements: what is properly measured is the quantitative; however this measurement can provide information, although indirectly, about those qualitative aspects associated with the quantitative. Actually, what gave a boost to the systematic birth of the experimental sciences in the 17th century was also the progress in the indirect measurement of qualities during many centuries.



Any quantified reality is also automatically individuated because is extended, and has individual parts one outside the other: this aspect is related to quantity. The individuation of material entities depends on materiality and quantity. With a classical expression it can be said that the principle of individuation of material entities is matter marked by quantity (materia quantitate signata). This means that even supposing, in a hypothetical way, that two material entities have a completely identical way of being, they will nevertheless be different because this way of being is present in

two numerically different individuals: each of them has its own individual space-time conditions, its own quantity.



We have already mentioned the Aristotelian distinction between discrete and continuous quantity; the latter coincides with the dimensional quantity and refers to the extension of the bodies which has been the main object of our reflections in the previous section. Let us now examine the discrete quantity which we speak of in relation to something divisible into discontinuous parts which originates the number and the numerical quantity if this something is finite.


Unity and multiplicity

We refer to numerical or discrete quantity (here discrete means separated) whenever we use numbers to indicate material units: for instance, when we speak of two trees or three atoms, etc. Plurality is opposed to unity, because numerical plurality refers to a specific number of beings and not to one. Certainly each one of these beings has a specific unity; actually, if we can speak of two trees, this is so because both are individuals, because each one of them is one three. No plurality of beings could exist unless each of the individuals of that plurality had its own unity. In the previous reflection we have used the term unity with two distinct, though related, meanings which are usually called transcendental and predicamental unity. Transcendental unity refers to the unitary character of a being, to its internal unity by which it is precisely one being; it is called so in metaphysics because it is attributed to any being which really is one being whether material or spiritual. It is transcendental since it is a concept that applies to any being and transcends the distinction among beings. For this reason it is an object proper to metaphysics where it is studied as one of the transcendental properties of being. Predicamental unity is the dimensional unity which the material beings, the substance and the unitary systems have. Each substance has its own extension which is the predicate quantity; a substance has an extension which is separated from the extension of other substances. As it is evident, both meanings are related to each other. Aquinas, while commenting on Aristotle, points out that the notion of unity is analogical since it is said with partially identical and partially different meanings. Transcendental unity is

applicable to all unitary beings (and therefore also to the spiritual beings), while predicamental unity is the principle of number in the material and quantitative field.


The number

The number is the measure of the discrete quantity (the Greek word for number is mtron which means measure). In order to measure a unit of measurement is needed together with a multiplicity to which the unit is to be applied: a number expresses how many times this unit is contained in the multiplicity which is to be measured. It is appropriate to ask whether the number can be used also to measure the continuous quantity, i.e. the extension. It may seem appropriate to say yes; actuall y, dont we measure the length of lines? or the area of surfaces? or the magnitude of volumes? The fact is that in this case we reduce the continuous quantity to a discrete quantity in order to measure it: we divide it into real or imaginary parts applying to them a numerical procedure. It is because of this that the measure of the continuous is never precise. On the contrary, when we measure a discrete quantity we just count beings numerically different, and these can be counted exactly. The number of things which are being counted is usually called numbered number, while the abstract number which is used to count or to number is called numbering number. Numbers are abstract because they do not refer to any concrete entity; they are a procedure to count entities and maybe to measure continuous quantities. There are different types of numbering. The most basic one is that of the natural numbers which are obtained by abstraction of the quantities of a group: for instance, from the existence of three or five sheep the numbers three and five are obtained which are used to count any type of being. Natural numbers constitute the basis for more abstract mathematical abstractions. Actually, mathematical constructions related to numbers have been expanded. From the numbers more directly related to experience, such as digits and positive fractions which refer to the number of things which exist (two, three, five) or to their fractions, the number zero has appeared together with the negative numbers, the irrational numbers (which cannot be expressed as digits or fractions of digits), the complex numbers (which include a real part and an imaginary part, or i which is the square root of minus one) and other types of numbers whose definition and use are objects of mathematics.


The quantitative infinite

One of the problems related to quantity that pops up is that of the infinite. What we find in our ordinary experience are finite quantities; however, nothing prevents us from thinking a limitless type of quantity in the area of the continuous as well as in the one of the discrete quantity. Infinite can be conceived as actual or as potential. The actual infinite refers to an infinite quantity which exists in act. The potential infinite refers to an indefinite quantitative succession in which each of its parts is finite but with the possibility of going on with the succession indefinitely. There is no doubt hat there is a potential infinite: this is shown by the divisibility of the continuous quantity. As we have already seen, in dividing an extended body we shall always obtain extended parts and this operation can be repeated, in principle, indefinitely, since anything which is extended can be further divided (we leave aside the issue of the physical possibility of carrying out such divisions). This does not mean that extended bodies have an infinite number of parts; they can be divided indefinitely but we shall always obtain a finite number of parts. The existence of the actual infinite has been an object of discussion from ancient times especially in relation to extension and duration of the universe. The ancient worldview used to represent the universe as finite; it was also thought that the fact of having limits was a quality of the perfect physical realities. Modern experimental science has introduced a worldview which presents the universe as infinite in extension. Presently, the relativity theory proposes the image of a finite universe although unlimited in extension. The scientific cosmology is also in favour of a universe which was formed in an initial instant; however, there are discussions about the possibility of a universe with limited duration although without boundaries in time. Truly there are many attempts being made at completing the image of our universe with the possible existence of other universes and in this way the problem of finiteness or infinitude reappears time and again whether it is related to space or to time. Such problems present great difficulties which perhaps the human mind is unable to tackle. However, what is most important from a philosophical perspective is the fact that the quantitative finiteness or infinity of the universe is not very important for establishing the ultimate foundation of the universe. Actually, even though the universe were really infinite either in relation to space or to time, this would not change the fact that it is not self-sufficient: self-sufficiency is not a matter of magnitude but of a distinct order of perfection. This was clearly pointed out by Aquinas when he wrote: Had God created a corporeal being infinite in act which would then have infinite dimensional quantity, it would still be a nature necessarily determined in its species and therefore limited precisely because being a natural thing; consequently, it would not be the same as God, whose being and essence are infinite in all senses91. For this reason Aquinas always claimed that a universe which had an eternal duration would still be created by God although, by Revelation, a Christian knows that the universe had a beginning.


AQUINAS, Quodl., IX, q. 1, a. 1, ad 1.

The infinite has an important place in mathematics where one finds a number of theories which distinguish different types of infinity. However, when mathematics is applied to physics, physicists have to recur to tricks in order to eliminate infinite quantities when these appear in the results.



Experimental sciences lean in a special way on the quantitative dimensions of nature: they make recourse to mathematics for the elaboration of their theories, and make use of experiments which include measurements, in order to verify the validity of the theories. We shall examine the main characteristics of this method and its validity.


Mathematics, experiments, measurement

In order to carry out a scientific experiment the system under investigation needs to be isolated in such a way that it becomes possible to ignore any non-controlled interference and so to observe what happens in well-controlled and repeatable conditions. In most cases one of the most important aspects of the experiment is measuring. In a typical experiment the intention is to determine how a variable of the system changes when other variables change; for instance, to determine how temperature changes when the values of pressure and volume change. Even in a simple situation, the fact of observing something usually goes together with the determination of numerical values, at least in those most developed branches of science. Measuring requires the adoption of units, the establishment of rules to interpret the results provided by the instruments and the planning of those instruments to be used for measuring. All this demands the use of mathematics, and not in any way: it is necessary to establish stipulations or conventions by which theoretical concepts and rules used in practice may be formulated. To be more specific, we are going to see what the physico-mathematical magnitudes are and how they are used. To simplify it, we shall speak of physicomathematical magnitudes; however, the following reflections are valid for all those magnitudes which are used in the experimental sciences. Therefore, they are valid not only for physics, but also for chemistry, biology, etc.


The physico-mathematical magnitudes

A scientist asks questions to nature, but nature does not speak. It is therefore necessary to set up a language for this purpose so that nature may answer with its own language: with facts. The scientific language which allows us to dialogue with nature leans on concepts which, together with their theoretical aspect, make reference to the results of the experiments. These concepts are the so-called magnitudes. Usually three great types of scientific concepts are distinguished: the classificatory, the comparative and the quantitative. Through classificatory concepts, such as cells, amino-acids, ions, potassium, etc., we divide systems and properties into classes according to specific characteristics. Through comparative concepts we establish an order; for instance by comparing masses with the aid of a scale we establish criteria in order to determine when a system has a mass greater than another. By fixing scales and units of measurement, we obtain quantitative and metric concepts, also called magnitudes: these are defined in relation to mathematical theories and repeatable experiments. For instance, in the case of mass one has to specify that this is a scalar and additive magnitude (mathematical aspects), and has to specify the method of its measurement (experimental aspect). In this way the concept of mass ceases to be an intuitive concept and becomes a theoretical construction which can be used to define, whenever possible, the above mentioned aspects. Concretely, we can not only speak of a mass of the ordinary bodies, from which the intuitive concept of mass originated, but also of a mass of ions and, in general, of the subatomic particles which are entities very much removed from ordinary experience. The sequence classificatory-comparative-quantitative does not mean that classificatory concepts are just a first step towards the facilitation of the construction of magnitudes. Actually, many classificatory concepts (such as the already mentioned cells, amino-acids, etc.) are not taken from ordinary experience; they are constructed by using the theoretical and experimental results of different disciplines, and are the consequence of a type of work in which quantitative concepts come in. Consequently, different definitions of potassium can be given in function of physical and chemical properties which, in their turn, are defined in function of a knowledge which is in a continuous state of progress. Some definitions look quite clear respect to a specific level of problems, while at the level of basic investigation there are problems which are not yet solved. It is reasonable, at this stage, to ask a question: are the concepts of the experimental sciences univocally defined in such a way that the different possible definitions correspond ultimately to one which contains all of them? The answer requires some detailed analysis. Actually, any discipline in its beginnings formulates definitions which are not very precise: these become more accurate as the discipline progresses and develops. A typical example which may illustrate this is the concept of acid, one of the most important concepts in chemistry as well as in biology. Robert Boyle was the first to give a definition in 1663 by making use of empirical data. Svante Arrhenius, in 1884, proposed the first conceptual definition. J.N. Brnsted and T.M. Lowry, in 1923, defined an acid as a molecule or an ion which can donate protons; this concept includes the acids as defined by Arrhenius, but also cations and anions, and characterises acids in terms of their behaviour in the chemical reactions. In that same year, G.N. Lewis defined an acid as any substance which contains an ion, or a molecule capable of accepting any couple of external electrons donated by a base; at the same

time, a base was defined as any substance which contains an ion, or a molecule, in which there are a couple of external electrons which can establish a covalent bond with another ion, or molecule. Lewis definition is the most general one; moreover, it includes some acid-base processes which do not fit in the previous definitions. Each of the above mentioned definitions is interesting from the point of view of the problems which are intended to be resolved. This situation shows the fact that a number of different definitions of the same term (acid, in this case) can co-exist. Different terms could be used for each definition; however, this could create more inconveniences than advantages for the scientific activity. What is really important here is to understand that each concept has a meaning which encompasses the notes which are attributed to it and a reference which indicates what type of entities are represented in the concept. As it was shown in the concept of acid, the same scientific term can have various meanings which coincide only partially, and also a number of references which hardly coincide. This, though, is not a problem for science, as long as the distinct meanings and references are delimited in an adequate way, and as long as the way of applying each concept in the different situations is established. As the basic concepts of a discipline are being deeply investigated problems become more acute owing to the fact that there are limits to the possibility of formulating definitions at theoretical as well as experimental level. In order to define a concept other concepts need to be used and so on and so forts until one should reach first concepts which define themselves. These first concepts, one may say, could be reached through experiments. Limits, though, exist also at this level since any experiment requires certain assumptions. One then may have the impression of having reached a road without exit so that it seems impossible to define basic scientific concepts in a rigorous way and, therefore, also those which can be derived from them. Is this really so? This appears to be so from a purely logical perspective. If we try to establish the experimental science on firm grounds, in which the simple fundamental concepts are simple products of pure facts and of logical inferences, we actually face impassable limits. The consequence of this is greatly important, i.e. the founding of the experimental science necessarily entails agreements, conventions and stipulations. However, those stipulations which are necessary for the establishment of scientific concepts are not arbitrary. The construction of scientific concepts requires interpretations; it does not come as a simple result of applying formal logic to pure facts. Let us now examine in which measure this fact affects the conclusions of the experimental sciences.


Achievements of the physico-mathematical method

We have already emphasised the fact that the construction of scientific magnitudes requires a good dose of interpretation. Interpretation, though, does not mean

arbitrariness: the stipulations which are adopted, must lead to coherent theories and to experimental results compatible with the data obtained from the experiment. The necessity of making use of stipulations does not prevent the achievement of highly rigorous demonstrations. If we limit ourselves to purely logical considerations we could conclude that experimental science does not achieve certitude in knowledge; actually, this slightly relativist interpretation is widely spread in the present-day epistemology. However, it is possible to avoid this relativism if we understand that there are criteria used by scientists, many times in an implicit way, and that these criteria sufficiently guarantee the validity of the results obtained. These criteria can be reduced, in the last analysis, to the following five ones commonly used in scientific practice: the explanatory capacity, the predictive capacity, the precision of explanations and predictions, the variety of independent proofs and the mutual support among different theories. Though they do not guarantee the truthfulness of the scientific constructions in all their aspects, yet it is very difficult for a false construction to satisfy them. Their application leads to scientific constructions which although approximate and perfectible nevertheless get progressively closer to truth. In order to correctly interpret this approximation to truth it is necessary to keep in mind that a scientific truth is always contextual and, therefore, partial. Actually, although they correspond to reality our theories are not a simple copy of the reality: they are expressed through concepts which are our own constructions. Consequently, in order to assess the validity of a theory, it is necessary to take into account the conceptual context in which it was formulated. Taking into account these precautions, we can state that through experimental science we can achieve authentic truth, i.e. knowledge which corresponds to reality. It is not appropriate, though, to say that experimental sciences allow us know only the quantitative aspects - and therefore accidental - of nature. There is no doubt that they use quantitative methods whenever possible; however, we have already seen how accidents lead us to the knowledge of substances. Actually, through quantitative methods we have already come to know many aspects of the reality which, otherwise, we would have never known, such as: the movement of the earth around the sun, a fact which implied a radical change in the worldview and its philosophical implications; the nature of the stars which in ancient times were considered to belong to an independent world identified many times with the divine one; the fundamental mechanisms of life which unfolds thanks to a genetic programme. This has made it possible to dispel many misunderstandings about similarities and differences between the living and the non living; the fundamental components of matter and the basic interactions; and many other aspects of nature which can hardly be considered as merely accidental.



Using the number and the dimensional quantity as starting points, arithmetic and geometry are respectively constructed: it is here where we try to obtain new knowledge through logical demonstrations. Other branches of mathematics have been developed since ancient times and they continue being developed at present.


Interpretations of the nature and purpose of mathematics

The Pythagoreans in ancient Greece perceived that nature has important aspects which can be represented mathematically; consequently, they attributed to the number and to mathematics an essential role in the explanation of the reality. This was also the line somehow followed by the Platonists, who considered mathematical objects as existing in an ideal world which is participated by the sensible world. According to Aristotle, mathematics is the abstract study of quantity which, though existing in the physical world is nevertheless considered by the mind outside the sensible matter. The pioneers of modern science in the 17th century attributed a decisive importance to mathematics. We have already seen how Descartes identified the material substance with extension, and how this allowed him to justify the irreplaceable role of geometry in the study of nature. Galileo claimed that nature is like a book written in a mathematical language. After the consolidation of the experimental science in those years mathematics kept developing, while at the same time new philosophical interpretations were being proposed under the influence of rationalism and empiricism. Rationalism reached the point, in some cases, of attributing to mathematics an a priori character independent from any experience, while empiricism was stressing the dependence of mathematics on experience. In the second half of the 19th century some important innovations led to reconsidering the fundamental concepts of physics as well as of mathematics. In physics, the conviction had found its way that Newtons physics had a definitive character and that further progress could only add new elements to an already built construction. New approaches were soon to undermine these ideas and prepared the ground for the relativity theory and quantum physics which, at the beginning of the 20th century, caused a radical change in the way of assessing the physical theories. In mathematics, the validity of the Euclidean geometry had been admitted since ancient times and was considered to be the geometry proper to the real world. However, it was shown that it was possible to construct non-Euclidean geometries logically consistent and perfectly applicable to the new theories of physics. This renewal of mathematics, together with the development of symbolic logic, led to new ideas in the philosophy of mathematics in which not only philosophers but also mathematicians take their stand. Logicism tried to reduce mathematics to merely logical principles, and so identifying somehow mathematics with logic. Formalism stressed the importance of axiomatization, in trying to establish self-founding principles of mathematics without need of referring to any external intuitive principles. The famous works of Kurt Gdel around 1931 showed the limits met with every time there is

an attempt of formulating mathematical systems in a totally self-sufficient way, even in those cases related to simple branches of mathematics. Intuitionism rejected the Platonism of the logicist: it denied the possibility for mathematical entities to have their own ideal existence, and stressed the fact that they are the result of our mental constructions. Because of this, they were also at loggerhead with the formalists: ultimately, it seems that it would be necessary to turn to certain primitive intuitions. The above mentioned schools of thought have produced others with blended ideas and clarifications among their defenders. In general, it is now commonly accepted that mathematics cannot be reduced to logic; it seems also incorrect to state that mathematics consists of a set of merely conventional constructions. There is no doubt that mathematics is mans construction. Some of its most elementary notions are closely related to experience such as the positive digits and fractions. However, insofar as we introduce an abstract mathematical notation and go on to define operations which are not immediately related to experience, we create a world which has its own consistency. Actually, once we have defined a specific mathematical system we can discover many properties and conclusions which appear as they were expected to be discovered, because they are the consequence of the system we have constructed. It happens sometimes that conclusions are discovered whose validity is very clear and yet do not seem to have a known basis: there is no doubt that mathematical systems have somehow their own life.


Mathematical constructions and reality

The fact that mathematics has its own life makes it a very interesting subject. Since ancient times until our own days mathematics was cultivated without looking in it for something alien to its proper objectives. However, mathematics is applied with success to the study of nature, and this confers to it a supplementary kind of value. If we think of mathematical operations which are reduced to more or less intuitive calculations, one can easily realize how these operations can be applied to the resolution of practical problems. However, a certain aura of mystery seems to surround the use of abstract mathematical theories in order to solve problems which are also quite sophisticated. Can one say that there is isomorphism between mathematics and nature? Nowadays it does not seem necessary to state, as Galileo did, that nature is like a book written in a mathematical language, and that it is necessary to use this language in order to penetrate its secrets. Actually, mathematics has acquired a greater scope since Galileos times; many theories which are hardly intuitive are applied successfully to the study of nature and it is not possible to establish a clear correspondence between them and the reality. It is certain that mathematics is an extraordinarily effective instrument for the study of nature; however, to explain this success it is not necessary to claim the existence of an isomorphism between mathematics and nature. The explanation is much simpler. Mathematics is a powerful instrument to define magnitudes whose values can be

measured experimentally, to relate magnitudes among themselves, and to carry out logical operations which can relate enunciations to one another. Once we have at our service mathematical theories which allow us to do all this, the applicability of mathematics to reality stops being a mystery. What is really mysterious in the use of mathematics in science is the fact that, at times, the physico-mathematical theories lead to predictions of effects whose existence would have never been foreseen in any way, and which are nevertheless a logical consequence of the theory that can be very easily verified. These types of forecasts are usually considered, and with reason, one of the most powerful arguments in favour of the validity of the theory. When mathematics is applied to science, those aspects which are important for the mathematician are usually left out since they would be a hindrance for those who work in the experimental science. Frequently, pure mathematics is quite complex to be applied as such to real problems and therefore needs to be simplified. A special ability is required to be able to apply mathematical concepts to empirical problems; part of this ability consists in simplifying mathematics so that, by preserving its scientific rigor, it can be handled as a useful instrument. This is a well know situation. For instance, in the second half of the 19th century, John William Strutt (Lord Rayleigh) excelled in his mathematical treatise on problems related to dynamics, acoustics, optics and electricity. He got a degree in mathematics which he considered only as an auxiliary tool to set the problems from a physical point of view, and he explained this aspect in the following way: "While carrying on with mathematical investigations I used to make use of the methods which are naturally offered to a physicist. The mathematician will complain, and at times (one has to acknowledge it) rightly so, because of lack of rigor. However, this issue has two sides: although it maybe important to preserve a uniformly high level of pure mathematics, the physicist may find it convenient sometimes to be satisfied with arguments which are well satisfactory and conclusive from his point of view. To his mentality trained in a different order of ideas, the more rigorous proceeding of a pure mathematician may appear not more but less demonstrative92. R.B. Lindsay commented in this respect that the mathematical education which Lord Rayleigh received in Cambridge was not, in a pure sense, rigorous mathematics, but a vigorous one93. The recourse to mathematics as such has often the form of a very important strategy. For instance, in fundamental physics which investigates the basic structure of matter, symmetries are very important; these, at the same time, refer to physical phenomena and receive a mathematical treatment full of subtleties in which a prominent place is occupied by the gauge, or capacity, theories. In this way, an important role is played by the invariances preserved in passing from a global symmetry to a local one by introducing new fields: this mathematical operation can be physically interpreted. Such

Lord RAYLEIGH, The Theory of Sound, Dover, New York 1945, preface. The quotation is found in: John N. HOWARD, Principale contributions cientificas de John William Strutt, third baron of Rayleigh, in: Rutherford ARIS, Howard T. DAVIS and Roger H. STUEWER (publishers), Resortes de la creatividad cientifica: ensayo sobre fundadores de la ciencia moderna, Fondo de cultura econmica, Mexico 1989, p. 154. 93 Ibid. The phrase is taken from the introduction of Lindsay to the work of Rayleigh, quoted in the previous note. The humorous character of this appreciation is emphasized, owing to the similarity between rigorous and vigorous.

strategies imply the adoption of a whole set of stipulations, but at the same time appear to be very fertile. Something similar happens with the re-normalization which is a procedure used in order to eliminate infinite quantities that appear in certain field theories. The use of this procedure in the 40's made it possible to adjust the theoretical values of certain magnitudes, such as the magnetic moment of the electron, to the observed values with a level of precision never achieved in the history of physics. If on the one hand such strategies appear to pose limits to objectivity because of the conventional aspects they entail, on the other hand permit to study phenomena which are very far from ordinary experience through inter-subjective procedures. What appears at a first glance to limit objectivity is, in another sense, its guarantee. In other words, it is precisely because of the use of theoretical constructions of high level, with all that is conventionally implied in it, that it is possible to formulate theories with a high degree of inter-subjectivity. When mathematics is applied to physical problems, some of the mathematical rigor can be lost, yet this is not an obstacle to inter-subjectivity and to achieving truth. Although mathematics is not a simple translation of the reality it is nevertheless a powerful instrument to study anything which can be related to the quantitative aspects and, as such, is an essential part of the experimental sciences.


We have proposed a characterization of the natural in terms of its own mutually intertwined dynamism and space-time structuring. We shall now continue with our consideration of the quantitative dimensions by examining other dimensions which are related to space and others which are related to time. We shall finally consider the close relationship existing between space and time.



The two basic space characteristics are extension which refers to the internal aspect of the natural entities, and localization which refers to the relationship of natural entities among themselves. We have already studied extension and the characteristics related to it. We shall now examine localization and also the concept of space which is an abstract concept closely related to extension and localization.


Local presence

Localization, or allocation of a place, involves always relation of bodies with other bodies since where a body is depends on its relations with the surrounding bodies. Nor is this localization always easy in ordinary experience; actually, we learn how to localise bodies through a variety experiences which have a very limited value. For example, we easily make important mistakes when we try to localise far distant objects. Science provides procedures to establish reliable localisations in many cases in which it is difficult, if not impossible, to do so through ordinary knowledge. Localisation however refers always to some frame of reference. It seems logical, therefore, to state as it has always been traditionally done - that the accident where (in Latin ubi, from which the Spanish ubicacin, or the Italian ubicazione for English localisation) is an extrinsic accident.


Aristotelian notion of localisation

Aristotle claimed in his worldview, according to which the earth stood still in the centre of the universe, that the four elements (fire, air, water and earth) tend towards their natural places by their own very nature. The natural region of fire is the superior part of the sub-lunar world which borders with the stars; that of the air is the intermediate region between the previous one and the earth; that of the water is on the surface of the earth; that of the element earth is found in the centre of the earth. Each element tends to move towards its natural place and the sub-lunar bodies, made of the four elements, move towards one or the other places according to their composition. On the other hand,

it was commonly thought that the celestial bodies were made of a matter different from the four elements (the so-called quintessence), and that they had a greater perfection since they participated somehow in the divine. It was thought that they could not be generated, were incorruptible and would move perpetually in a circular manner within their own spheres; these were concentric, with the earth in the centre so that the last sphere would be the one containing the fixed stars. Although stars move at a great speed, they are so far away from the earth that changes in their relative position can be perceived only after centuries: that is why they seem to be always in the same position on a sphere which rotates around the earth. In reality, this appearance is due to the rotation of the earth around itself every 24 hours. This worldview has been very influential for two thousand years; it was heavily criticised and made obsolete by the new science of the 17th century. From then on, the concept of natural place, and of place in general, lost philosophical interest. In science, of course, it is very important to determine the localization of bodies; however, it is a problem which has to be tackled with conceptual and experimental instruments which are proper to science. What is important from the point of view of science is not to establish an absolute localization but one in relation to systems of reference. Nevertheless, the Aristotelian idea of localization corresponds to ordinary experience and expresses a real characteristic of the natural entities. Actually, to find oneself in a specific place is something accidental, nevertheless real. It is not the same thing to be in one place or in another one. Even from a purely practical point of view, localization can have very important consequences. It is not necessary to admit the Aristotelian worldview in order to perceive that localization is something real and that Aristotles idea of place preserves its interest even when we disregard his four elements and their natural places. Aristotle defined place as the still surface of the body container immediately contiguous to the localized body94. This concept preserves its validity, as long as one takes into account that this definition does not presume to be in line with the scientific ones, and that the stillness mentioned here is always a relative one. It is an idea very close to ordinary experience. And so, a fish in water is said to remain in the same place if it does not move, although the water which surrounds it actually moves. It is obvious that some point of reference is always assumed for instance a rock, or the coast and the sea bottom in the case of the fish. Therefore, the stillness of the surrounding surface is not absolute. Without doubt, the Aristotelian definition would have great importance if the Aristotelian worldview were true; since it is not, its importance is minor. However, in the measure in which localization is real, the concept of place also has a certain reality. b) Localization as an accidental way of being

When we attribute a localization to bodies we refer to something real although accidental. We can say that the allocation of a place, i.e. of what is traditionally called

Cf. ARISTOTLE, Physica, IV, 4, 212 a 20.

accident ubi (or where), refers to a real, accidental and extrinsic way of being which consists in a real determination of a body in relation to the dimensions of other bodies. It is something real because localization presupposes the fact that a body is in contact with the dimensions of other bodies. If one accepts the fact that the change of place, local movement or displacement is something real, one has to accept also the fact that localization is a reality without which it would be senseless to speak of change of place. It is an accidental way of being because it does not affect the essential way of being of a substance. Of course, the fact of occupying a certain place can have important consequences and can also be the cause of a substantial change; however, this can occur in particular circumstances. Besides being real and accidental, ubi is an extrinsic way of being, because it is predicated of a body in relation to other bodies. What is extrinsic to a substance is the fact of having dimensions. The fact that these dimensions are in contact with the concrete dimensions of other bodies is something extrinsic which does not affect, by itself, the internal constitution of a substance. Anyhow, localization in general is a way of being proper to all material substances. The natural exists in material conditions and one of them, and a very important one, is the circumscribed presence in a place. By its own very nature the natural occupies some place. Localization is closely related to quantity and somehow can be considered as a consequence of the latter. Nevertheless, since quantity is an intrinsic accident, it seems more appropriate to consider localization as an accident distinct from quantity.


Ways of non-localized presence

Besides the circumscribed localization, i.e. the occupying of a place in relation to the dimensions of other bodies, there are other ways of being present: some refer to the material substances and are related to local presence; others refer to spiritual creatures and to the presence of God in the created world. Although the study of the latter is proper to metaphysics, we shall also mention them because their consideration helps us obtain a more complete view of the issues we are studying95. In the first place, something can be present in some other thing as the quantitative part in the whole of which it is a part: and so, the heart is contained in the body of a man or of an animal. Obviously, this is the case of a circumscribed localization which, moreover, refers to a superior unity that contains different parts related among them. This is very important when one considers space-time structuring proper to the natural. Actually, nature is organized around specific patterns, and this

AQUINAS treats this issue in his commentary to the Physica of Aristotle: cf. In Phys., IV, lecture 4.

implies the existence of equally specific relations among the positions which the different parts occupy in the whole. In a second place, something can be present in something else as an act in its subject. For example, an accident can be said to be present in a substance in this way, actualizing the latter in a real although not essential way. This type of presence is, by itself, not local or circumscribed. It can also be said along this line that the substance is in each of the parts of the body, while it is not localized in any of them concretely. In speaking of the human soul, one can say that it is whole in the whole body and whole in any of its parts. Therefore, it is senseless to look for a physical point in which body and soul are united; this point, or place, does not exist since the soul, as the substantial form of the body, informs the whole body and each one of its parts. This way of being present is called, with a classical terminology, presence after the manner of the substance (per modum substantiae) which indicates precisely that it is in this way that the substance is present in all of its physical dimensions. Although it is not a kind of circumscribed presence, it is said to be accidentally circumscribed, because it refers to a localized body. It is therefore possible to say that the soul is present in the dimensions by which a body is circumscribed, and that it moves when the body moves. These ideas are applicable in the field of theology when the real presence of Christ is considered in the Eucharist. Christ is present in the Eucharist with his divinity as well as with his humanity and, therefore, with his extensive quantity. However, this presence is not localized in a circumscribed manner: in a miraculous way the dimensions of Christs body do not establish contact with the dimensions of the surrounding bodies, and the presence of Christ is realized, in this case, after the manner of the substance. This allows us to understand somehow how Christ can be present in a real way, but not in a circumscribed way, in many different places under the sacramental species, and that he is present in each part of the sacramental species when these are divided. In a third place, something can be present as an individual which forms part of an orderly whole. In the case of material substances, this type of presence is closely related to the first case already considered, and to the existence of structures and spacerelated patterns. However, here we consider complete individuals and not only parts of them; moreover, this type of presence can be applied to spiritual substances. In a fourth place, something can be present in all that falls under its power. It can be said that someone with authority is present somehow in that which falls under his authority. For instance, the legislative authority is present in all that is regulated by the laws which it enacts in the measure in which these laws make possible, or promote, the existence of specific situations. Since the whole creation depends on God, author of the being of all that exists, God is present in the whole of creation. This presence includes the founding action by which God gives being to everything, as well as the providence, or care, of all the beings in accordance with his plan. In a fifth place, there is a presence based on causality by which the cause is present in the effect it produces, and the effect is present somehow in its causes. And so, the artist is present in his works of art, what is known is present in the knower, the beloved is present in the lover and the other way around. Along this line, God is present

in the whole creation as its First Cause, i.e. as the author of being; it is the most intimate type of presence since it extends to the whole being of all entities as cause of the same being. For this reason, and taking into account the fact that the being of God is distinct from the being of entities, it can be said that God is more intimate to each thing than the latter is to itself. Therefore, it can also be said that creatures are present in God, and the spiritual ones in a very special way because of their close relation to God. Along this line, some authors of our times defend a panentheism which does not have anything to do with pantheism. Panentheism, as its name expresses it, (pan-en-theism) means that everything is present in God. This is true and coincides with what St Paul stressed in his discourse in Athens, provided the distinction between God and creatures is kept. On the other hand, pantheism (pan-theism) means that somehow everything is God, or part of God, or manifestation of the same God, and this is false and impossible. However, some forms of pantheism do not seem to respect sufficiently the distinction between God and creatures when, in order to explain the action of God in the world, present us with an image of God which is confused. They speak for instance of a bio-polar god who, without ceasing to be God, would be subject to change, suffering, etc. This type of reasoning is found in some versions of the process philosophy and process theology. In a sixth place, something is in the presence of someone when it is in his sight or, in general, under his knowledge. Things or persons can be present to us in a specific moment insofar as they fall under our knowledge. Even in this sense, used in ordinary life, every created being falls under the knowledge of God, since He knows everything perfectly well as the first cause of their being. We can also have this kind of presence of God when we know we are seen, heard and lovely attended by Him96.


The non-locality of contemporary physics

Presently, problems related to localization have reached their heyday because of their connection with physics. Discussions about locality and non-locality in quantum physics have scientific as well as philosophical repercussions: they are related to the possibility of physical actions which propagate at a speed much faster than the speed of light, and to the interpretation of quantum physics97. The problem is to know, in few words, up to which point and in what way events are connected which are


AQUINAS speaks, in this respect, of the omnipresence of the Creator in the universe by essence, by power and by presence: cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 8, aa. 1, 3 and 4. 97 This is a very difficult and very discussed problem, on which there is no unanimous agreement among scientists. There is an ample bibliography, and one can read for instance: M. REDHEAD, Incompleteness, Nonlocality, and Realism, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1987. Important repercussions, scientific as well as philosophical, are attributed to this problem in: A. SUREZ, Unentscheidbarkeit, Unbestimmtheit, Nicht-Lokalitt. Gibt es unverfgbare Kausalverbindungen in der physikalischen Wirklichkeit?, in: H. REICHEL E. PRAT (publishers), Naturwissenschaft und Weltbild. Mathematik und Quantenphysik in unserem Denk- un Wertesystem, Verlag Hlder-Pichler-Tempsky, Wien 1992, pp. 223-264.

apparently independent from one another. Some experiments seem to indicate that, in some cases, there are correlations which do not correspond to intuitive ideas98. Although it is admitted that physics adopts a perspective different from metaphysics and natural theology, some interpret the present-day results which refer to the non-locality in quantum physics, as a bridge which could also shed new light on the divine action in the world99. From a philosophical point of view, these are topics of debate. In any case, the existence of such correlations seems to suggest new perspectives on the unity of nature and on the structural connections among its components. Therefore, once again we come across facts which are the opposite of an analytical mechanistic image.



From the notion of extension of the bodies and of distance among them, we construct a general notion of space which has been an object of several interpretations in science as well as in philosophy. Let us consider first some interpretations of space which have had great importance. We shall then determine what kind of reality corresponds to space, and we shall finally examine the nature and meaning of the mathematical spaces.


The notion of space

In the ancient worldview, where the universe was represented as a locked set of beings with some kind of fixed limits, the concept of space had little importance. What were really important were the places that bodies occupied or tended to. However, when physico-mathematics firmly established itself in the 17th century the situation was turned around: the universe was represented as contained in the homogeneous and infinite space of the Newtonian physics and the problem of natural places stopped being relevant. On Newtons authority, and on the basis of an experiment which he considered conclusive (although it was not), the fact was commonly accepted that there was an absolute space, with its own existence independent from its content. Within this

The most quoted experiment in this sense is the one carried out by Alain Aspect and his team in Paris, in 1982. It is a version of the ideal experiment proposed by Einstein in 1935, in relation to the first discussions on the quantum theory, and known as EPR experiment because of the initials of the authors of the article where it was proposed in 1935. A short and popularized introduction to this issue is found in M. ARTIGAS, El hombre a la luz de la ciencia, Palabra, Madrid 1992, ( chapter El microcosmo y el hombre), pp. 47 -70. 99 Cf. Alfred DRIESSEN and Antoine SUREZ (publishers), Mathematical Undecidability, Quantum Nonlocality and the Question of the Existence of God. Kluwer, Dordrecht 1997.

context, the problem was presented of the possibility of the existence of an absolute movement respect to this fixed point of reference. Absolute space was also identified somehow with the divine immensity which would be a kind of divine sense (sensorium Dei) which would perform the function of a bridge between the world and God. This was one of the famous topics discussed in the famous correspondence Leibniz-Clarke in which Leibniz criticized Newtonian doctrines and Clarke defended them100. Owing to the enormous success of the Newtonian physics, the idea of absolute space was generally admitted in science during more than two centuries, and had important philosophical repercussions. For instance, it had great influence in the formulation of Kants philosophy. Kant perceived correctly that the absolute space could not possibly have its own existence. However, convinced of the definitive truth of Newtons physics, Kant maintained that this space was one of the two a priori forms of our sensitivity. According to this, our cognitive apparatus would be built in such a way that the disorderly sensations captured by our senses would be integrated, in a preliminary phase, by the two forms of space and time. Being a priori meant that their validity did not derive from experience. Because of the influence of Kant, space was thought to be a basic condition for our knowledge. Towards the end of 19th and beginning of 20th century, serious doubts were raised in the scientific circles about the absolute character of space (and time). The experiment of Michelson-Morley, and the later formulation of the special relativity theory by Albert Einstein in 1905, showed that the concept of absolute space was inadequate. One of the consequences of the special relativity is that distances do not have the same value when they are measured by observers who are in different systems of reference. Moreover the concepts of space and time in relativity fuse somehow in a space-time continuum. This new scientific situation provoked the rising of new approaches which flowed also into the field of philosophy. The situation got complicated once again when, in 1915, Einstein formulated the general relativity theory. Actually, the general relativity has been interpreted as a geometrization of physics, because it replaces physical forces with changes in the space-time curvature. It would seem, then, that the concept of space would not only recover a scientific leading role but would also become the basic weave of nature. However, one can see how it could be also possible to speak (and perhaps more appropriately) of physicalization of the space. Actually, the equivalence between space-time curvature and forces shows how the space-time we are talking about is a way of representing physical interactions. The present-day theories on the origin of the universe are based on the general relativity, and try to combine them with quantum physics (that is why they are called theories of the quantum gravity). According to some hypotheses, space and time would lose their intuitive meaning in the first instants of the universe: some speak of a kind of original state of quantum vacuum (which is not nothingness but a physical state). In this state there would have been some topological transitions in which for the first time space-time structures would have been formed. It is from these structures

The five letters from Leibniz and the corresponding answers from Clarke can be found in: Eloy RADA (publisher), La polmica Leibniz-Clarke, Taurus, Madrid 1980.

that matter would have originated. Such theories are very hypothetical and speculative and it is very difficult, not to say impossible, to determine the meaning of a space-time structure without any kind of matter, and how it could be possible for matter to arise from structures of this kind.


The reality of space

In the ordinary experience the notion of space is used to designate relations of distance among bodies. In this sense we speak of space covered by a moving body, and of space which separates two bodies. These relations of distance are real. Bodies have extension and therefore there are real distances among their parts and among different bodies. If we consider the dimensions abstracting from the bodies we obtain purely dimensional relations such as those which refer to lengths, surfaces and volumes, such as for instance the distance between two points as a straight line, the volume of a body, etc. These relations of distance are real; however, when considered in an abstract way, disregarding the concrete matter, we obtain a notion of space which, although based on reality, is an ideal concept with no direct correspondence to any natural entity. Therefore, the concept of space arises from a broadening of the concepts of extension and distance and properly speaking is an idealization; what exists in reality are bodies with extension and interactions which extend up to certain distances. Through the concept of space a kind of container is represented where these realities are found. However, were this container to be a physical reality, it would also consist of bodies and interactions, and therefore it would not be a container distinct from the latter. Hence, space is not a physical reality independent from bodies and interactions; it is and ideal entity, a relation of reason which exists only in our mind, though there is a foundation in reality which allows us to construct such a concept. The foundation of the concept of space is the real extension of the bodies and the relations of distance. The so-called absolute space, independent from its physical content, would be a kind of empty receptacle used to localize the bodies contained in it. This is the kind of space presented by Newton: an empty, homogeneous and infinite space, place of the whole corporeal universe and of each of its components. However, this kind of space does not exist in reality; it is the result of a mental process which first abstracts the dimensions and considers them without relation to the concrete material entities; then constructs a notion in which these dimensions are considered as indefinitely extended. Physics does not need this kind of space; it is sufficient for physics to define systems of specific co-ordinates and use them as systems of reference. Moreover, there is no proof whatsoever that can make us state its existence. From a philosophical point of view, this space cannot be a substance since it is the container of all substances. It cannot be an accident either; actually, space is conceived as independent from anything material. One cannot say what kind of reality it is. A space conceived as an a priori form of our knowledge as Kant proposed it is also inexistent. Actually, space is not a notion independent from experience. It is, as we have already indicated, a relation of reason with foundation in reality, i.e. the real extension of the bodies and the relations of distance. Kant identified the content of the

notion of space with the space of the Euclidean geometry, endowed with the properties attributed to it by Newtons physics (of whose definitive truth he was convinced). The further development of mathematics with non-Euclidean spaces, and of physics, where these spaces have been applied, shows that Kants concept of space is not really a part, or a consequence, or a demand of science. The present-day speculations about space and time in the first instants of the universe are, as we have already indicated, highly hypothetical. In any case, it seems possible to make three observations. On the one hand, space, as well as time, depends on the physical reality, it accompanies it as one of its aspects. Therefore, if the material conditions at the beginning of the universe had been very different from the present ones, this should have been reflected and observed in the space and time relations which would have been different from those of our ordinary experience in our present-day circumstances. However, and on the other hand, it does not make any sense to claim as it is done in some occasions that in those conditions there could have been processes such as time inversion (trips to the past or temporal anteriority of events known as posterior). Finally, it does not make any sense to postulate the existence, at the beginning, of a space-time without matter which would have come about from nothingness as a result of a quantum process. Actually, apart from the lack of sense implied in a creation without a Creator, it does not seem possible to attribute a character of reality to a space-time without matter. Space cannot be identified with a kind of ontological vacuum which, in principle, would be nothing and could not exist as something real. The term vacuum is used in experimental sciences to indicate a state in which there are hardly any detectable properties. However, this does not exclude the existence of any material property; on the contrary, the vacuum of science is defined in accordance with specific properties; the term also includes different types of vacuum such as the classic vacuum and the quantum vacuum which are studied with physical theories. The existence of an empty space, in which there is absolutely nothing, does not make any sense. In conclusion, space is not a real entity: it is an entity of reason with foundation in reality (the relations of distance which are found in reality) and does not have its own reality.


The notion of space in science

Traditionally, that branch of mathematics which deals with space relations is called geometry. Geometrical entities, such as lines, surfaces and volumes, offer a wide spectrum of relations which are studied in geometry. The Euclidean geometry, rigorously formulated since ancient times, seems to describe in a special way the real relations among the geometrical figures which exist in the physical world. However, we have already mentioned the construction of non-Euclidean geometries which took place in the 19th century as an attempt to see what would happen if the fifth postulate of the Euclidean geometry was denied. This postulate states that through a

point outside a straight line another, and only one, straight line can be drawn parallel to the given line. It was proved that, by disregarding this postulate, different geometries could be obtained as consistent as the Euclidean one. If for instance an infinite number of parallel straight lines, or no straight line at all, are drawn through that point different geometries are obtained in which the sum of the internal angles of a triangle becomes less or more than 180o respectively. Although these results appear to be anti-intuitive at first, it is easy to understand how they can be fully coherent. It is sufficient to think of a curved type of geometry, for example, a geometry in which the figures are found on the surface of a sphere. In this case the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line but a specific curve, and the sum of the internal angles of a triangle is greater than 180o. This example makes us understand how it is not only possible to construct different geometries, but also how these can incorporate, in different ways, properties of the real world. For instance, a curved type of geometry, such as the one already mentioned, is the geometry we need to apply on earth when we calculate long displacements along its surface: the shortest trip from Paris to New York is not a straight line but a curved one, and the triangles are also curved. This type of considerations became relevant when the use of a non-Euclidean geometry in the relativity theory produced better results than the ones obtainable with Euclidean geometry in classical physics. Moreover, it is easy to perceive that in our ordinary experience we do not see objects as they are represented in the Euclidean geometry, since our images depend on perspective and distances. On the other hand, the concept of space has been generalized in mathematics in such a way that it is applied also to constructions which do not refer to geometrical figures. For instance, spaces of infinite dimensions are constructed, and quantum mechanics can be formulated by using a kind of formalism which makes recourse to the Hilberts space. In these cases, the problem of establishing a correspondence between space and reality does not even arise; such spaces are our constructions and usually very abstract ones which, frequently, are good mathematical instruments for the study of those aspects of nature which are very far from ordinary experience.



We have considered the space dimensions of the natural. Let us now examine the time dimensions which also constitute an essential part of the way of being natural. Actually, it is proper to natural entities to exist in time conditions: their being is not completely realized in an instant, but successively. Temporality is an accidental determination since a substance does not change its essential way of being for the simple fact of being subjected to the passing of time. However, it is a characteristic which deeply marks every natural entity and whose analysis is indispensable in order to understand human life. In fact, our life is marked by the combination of temporality which results from our belonging to nature, and transcendence of the same temporality proper to the spiritual beings.

The two basic time-related characteristics are duration which refers to the permanence in being of the entities as well as to the magnitude of the processes, and temporal situation which expresses the time relations respect to some frame of reference. We shall now consider these two characteristics together with the concept of time which, like space in relation to extension and localization, is an abstract concept constructed from the notions of duration and time relations.



Duration refers to temporal succession. The idea of temporal succession is based on our immediate experience; it is a primary type of idea which cannot be explained by having recourse to other more known ideas. The temporality of the material world, including that of our own material being, appears immediately to our experience. Our existence is not exhausted in one instant, it rather extends in a temporal succession, and the same occurs with all natural entities. Duration is something real. Moreover, duration refers to a temporal succession which has one direction only and is determined: the present leaves behind the past which remains only in the memory and through its consequences. Experimental sciences find it useful to conceptualize time as a magnitude used as a point of reference to construct other magnitudes. For example, velocity refers to a distance covered within a certain time, and acceleration refers to the changes of velocity in time. Many scientific enunciations express how other magnitudes change with the passing of time. The experimental science was born in the 17th century thanks, to a large extent, to the fact of having found theoretical methods able to define velocities and accelerations, and also thanks to the manufacturing of clocks able to measure time in a reliable way. The great progress in the manufacturing of mechanical clocks from the 14th century was one of the factors which made the further progress of science possible. Experimental science has considered time as an independent variable from the 17th to the 20th century; time flows in a uniform manner without being affected by the processes which unfold within it. Its direction is also indifferent: the equations of classical physics are correct whether it is assumed that time flows from the past towards the future or in the opposite direction. In this context, it is said that the processes described by these equations are reversible. There is no doubt that such a perspective is legitimate and appears to be fruitful when applying mathematics to the study of nature. However, real duration depends on the physical conditions and has a direction which goes from the past to the future. Scientific progress has highlighted the directionality of the real temporal succession, showing that the reversibility of time is a theoretical artifice which does not reflect the irreversibility of the real phenomena. This was already highlighted by the second principle of thermodynamics and by the evolutionist theories of the 19th century; it has also been particularly emphasised in the 20th century by scientific studies on the irreversible processes.

In the field of philosophy, Bergson strongly emphasised the central role that real duration plays in the representation and interpretation of nature. It is not necessary to accept the whole philosophy of Bergson to see that he was right on this point. It is an aspect which is acknowledged to be of great importance in the present-day worldview and which, once again, shows the connection between the quantitative and the qualitative. Actually, real duration cannot be reduced to a simple undifferentiated quantitative succession; on the contrary, it presupposes physical activity, emerging of new things, unrepeatable situations. The intertwining between the temporal and the qualitative is shown in a typical way in the existence of natural rhythms. Rhythms are temporal patterns, and are found everywhere in nature, in a special way in living organisms: the processes which unfold in the organisms depend essentially on rhythmic or periodical patterns. This means that natural processes hinge around typical patterns. Once again, the scientific progress shows the importance of the qualitative factors against the analytical perspective which had reduced time to a mathematical, homogenous, undifferentiated and reversible magnitude. However, through this perspective many particular pieces of knowledge have been obtained. This has led, in the strictly scientific field, to a synthetic perspective in which the qualitative characteristics of the real duration have been recovered.


Temporality, being and becoming

Temporality is a fundamental characteristic of the natural entities. Anything natural has duration and it is found in association with processes. Let us now consider the temporality proper to a natural being first in relation to the duration of other entities and natural processes, and then in relation to the spiritual entities.


Temporal situation

One of the nine Aristotles accidents is quando (in English when) which refers to the temporal situation. This category expresses the temporal way of being of the natural entities, in relation to their being as well as to their operations. This accident makes reference to the past, present and future. Everything which is said of the natural entities, includes a temporal reference of this type. Similarly to the ubi in the case of the space, quando is a relative determination since it is possible to speak of it only respect to some reference. It is therefore an extrinsic determination, since it does not express the proper way of being of the entities to which it is applied. It is nevertheless a real characteristic because real are the temporal relations which constitute its foundation. The extrinsic and relative character of quando, similarly to what happens with ubi, is shown when considering the concrete temporal relations: we always place something in time in relation to other processes or events. However, this fact does not diminish the

reality of the temporal situation; it simply shows that its concrete determination has to be done in relation to what happens around. If, moreover, we wish to measure a duration we need to define units of time and determine how these units are used to carry out the measurement. Therefore, it is necessary to introduce stipulations. However, the duration on which the measurement is based, is something real, and the progress in the manufacturing of clocks and in processes of measuring, make it possible to obtain extraordinarily accurate measurements.


Levels of being and duration

In a strict sense, the accident quando is only found in the natural entities whose being unfolds in a successive way through changes. However, in an analogical way it can be applied to the created spiritual beings which also pass from potency to act according to their peculiar way of being. On the other hand, it cannot be applied to God in any way since He is Pure Act and does not have duration of any kind. If we consider duration as permanence in being we can speak of degrees and ways of duration which are correlative to the degrees and ways of possessing being. The basic distinction is evidently in this respect that between God and the created beings. God is his own Being and therefore is his own duration which is called eternity. On the other hand, created beings are not their own being: they have a way of being limited to a specific essence, and their potentialities unfold in a successive way. For this reason they are always in potency under some aspects and different therefore from God who possesses being totally and is the source of all being. Eternity is proper to and exclusive of God and it is found at a level different from the one of any created being. Even in supposing that there were a created being without beginning or end not because of this it would be eternal. In having being in a limited and not absolute way it would be always in potency respect to a possible change, and it would have therefore duration according to a before and a afterwards. On the other hand, eternity which is proper to God lacks any type of succession, since the total and simultaneous Being is present in it without change or succession of any kind, in a sort of eternal present Ordinary language identifies eternity with the simple indefinite duration; however, this identification easily leads to misunderstandings, since the eternity of God is then thought of as being similar to the duration of creatures with the difference of simply adding to it the indefinite character of such a duration. This way of thinking easily forgets that God is Pure Act who not only possesses being but also is his own Being. Hence, another misunderstanding is generated which affects the notion of creation when it is claimed that the universe could have existed from always and that consequently it is not necessary to admit a divine creation. At this point one confuses the essential dependence in being of every creature respect to God with the beginning in time. Nevertheless, it is necessary to admit God as permanent source of the whole being,

independently from the limited or unlimited duration of the created being. Aquinas dedicated a whole brief treatise in which he keeps arguing that the temporal beginning of the universe is something which we only know by divine revelation, and that nothing would have prevented God, if He had wanted so, from creating the universe from always101. When one identifies divine creation and origin of time, the tendency arises to identify the proofs of the existence of God with the alleged proofs - that do not exist - of the limited duration of the universe. One can easily conclude then, in an erroneous way, that the existence of God cannot be proved. This confusion is found latent in many critics of the proofs of the existence of God. Some ignore that this confusion had been already denounced centuries ago: Aquinas warned the Christians in the 13th century that, if they intended to establish the limited duration of the universe as a basis for the proof of the existence of God, they would become the laughing stock of the non-believers who know that the limited duration of the universe cannot be proved, and who could think therefore that the Christians accept the existence of God on the basis of insufficient reasons. More confusion arises from the attempts of explaining how God can really be involved in the becoming of creatures, as if the divine action on the world demanded somehow that God changes as well. Process philosophy and process theology have reacted against the excesses of the deism which reduces God to the role of provider of the final explanation of the existence of the world and denies Him, at the same time, any interest or intervention in the world once this is in existence. In trying to explain how God is committed with his creation, these currents of thought claim that God, although being eternal, must have a certain degree of mutability. If this were not so, they claim, one could not understand how God is really involved in whatever happens in the world and in the persons. In this context God is thought of as a dipolar God who would be at the same time eternal and immutable. However, it does not make any sense to attribute mutability to God who possesses being in a full manner. Though it is difficult to explain the relationship between God and his creatures, it is necessary to respect, as a basis of the explanation, the total perfection and transcendence of God; thinking otherwise would introduce features which are incompatible with the divinity. Divine revelation provides a new key to understand this relationship through Incarnation. However, the mystery of the transcendence of God persists; it is in, in any case, a logical type of mystery because one understands that God has to be necessarily eternal and has to be completely transcendent to creation. There are different degrees of being and acting among creatures and therefore different degrees of duration. Spiritual beings participate in the eternity of God, since they are not subjected to the mutability of what is material, and are naturally immortal. Once created, they never lose their being. However, they are not eternal in a proper sense, since they do not fully possess their being and experience those changes proper to the spiritual operations (for instance, a certain succession of intellective acts). This special type of duration is usually called eviternity by the theologians. The eviternity of the angelic creatures is a type of intermediate duration between that of the material entities and the divine eternity.

Cf. Josep I. SARANYANA, Santo Toms. De aeternitate mundi contra murmurantes, Anuario Filosfico, 9 (1976), pp. 399-424, where one can find the text of this brief treatise with introduction and comments.

Material beings are subjected to temporal duration and to substantial changes. Materiality precisely implies a radical potency by which any material substance can be transformed into another one or others. Moreover, the duration of the material entities implies the fact that it is realized successively through the actualization of potencies. There are degrees of being and temporality within the field of material beings. Living beings have an individuality and tendencies by which they have a history in a sense higher than the one in non-living beings. Living beings realize their potentialities in a successive way so that one can speak of development and perfecting process in this context. Among living beings, those provided with knowledge have a higher level of ontological density since they can preserve memory of the past and, in a way, foresee the future and also anticipate it. Obviously, the human person is found at a new level of temporality which includes at the same time the characteristics of the material and of the spiritual. A human person participates, because of being material, in the characteristics proper to the duration of the natural entities and, at the same time, transcends them because of his spirituality. Being a person, man is able to discover the radical meaning of what happens, has a moral responsibility which transcends the today and now, formulates projects which also transcend the conditions of the present moment, and is called to participate in the divine eternity proper to the spiritual beings. Human temporality, whose study is a topic of anthropology, originates history in which specifically human aspects find their place such as tradition and progress. The sense of history is also a call to mans responsibility, since mans freedom implies the fact that there are no necessary historical laws: mans future is in his own hands and depends on his moral responsibility. Human temporality is related to divine eternity because each human person is called to participate in the divine life. Human temporality is found at the border between time and eternity, and temporal realities acquire their full meaning when contemplated in the light of the divine plan.



From the temporal dimensions an abstract notion of timeis constructed which is used in ordinary life as well as in science and in philosophical considerations. We shall now examine, as we did in the case of the notion of space, the notion of time in three sections: the characterization of the notion of time, in what way this notion corresponds to something real, and how time is used in the experimental sciences.


Notion of time

When we say that a certain length of time has gone by we always imply that the concept of time refers to the measure of some movement, and this is true in ordinary experience as well as in science. In ordinary life, a reference to a subjective feeling may be sufficient to say that a certain duration has been short or long. Frequently, though, it is necessary to refer to objective measurements of time. This is always done in the

experimental science because only in this way it is possible to use an inter-subjective concept of time. In order to measure time it is necessary to choose a movement characterized by uniform regularity; from this movement units are taken to which any other movement is going to be referred. The division of time in years, days, etc., for instance, is based on the rotational movement of the earth around itself, and around the sun, although presently recourse is made to more regular and more precise procedures based on movements related to atoms102. Aristotle defined time as the number of movement according to a before and an afterwards (numerus motus secundum prius et posterius)103. This definition emphasises the fact that time measures how long a movement lasts; therefore, as a measure, time corresponds to something real (the duration of a movement) and, at the same time, it implies the presence of a subject who carries out the measurement104. Movement possesses a certain quantity which flows, i.e. is continuous and successive: it is not the dimensional quantity related to the extension but a plurality of successive parts. Insofar as it is a continuum, time shows analogies with space. As space is related to extension so time is related to duration; extension, as well as duration, is something real and continuous which can be divided indefinitely. It is always possible to identify smaller parts in extension as well as in duration, and this does not imply that there are an infinite number of parts in act. Time can be said to be an accident of movement since it is its measurement in which movement has successive quantity. The history of the concepts of space and time largely coincide105. In some sense, the concept of time is analogous to that of space. And so, Newton defined an absolute time which, the same as the absolute space, was independent from any material content. Kant allocated to this absolute time, together with space, the function of a previous and permanent condition for all sensible experience. The relativity theory assumed the concepts of time and space to be relative. Presently, there is a notion of space-time structures in circulation according to which these structures would have their own kind of existence, independently from matter. We shall now examine what type of reality can be attributed to the reality signified by the concept of time.


Presently there is a web of artifacts distributed all over the world: they are atomic clocks made of cesium which are controlled through procedures involving radio signals, television and satellites. The data are received and analyzed by the International Office of Weights and Measures of Svres, nears Paris, and from there the signals are transmitted which are received and transmitted by the radios. 103 ARISTOTLE, Physica, IV, 11, 219 b 1-2. 104 Cf. J. CONILL, Hay tiempo sin alma?, Pensamiento, 35 (1979), pp. 195-222; El tiempo en la filosofa de Aristteles. Un estudio dedicado especialmente al anlisis del tratado del tiempo (Physica, IV, 10-14), Facultad de Teologia San Vicente Ferrer, Valencia 1981. 105 Cf. G.J. WHITROW, Time in History: Views of Time from Prehistory to the Present Day, Oxford University Press, Oxford 1989.


The reality of time

Time is a general and abstract concept which presupposes a broadening of the concepts of duration and temporal relation: it encompasses all the durations and all the temporal relations. Abstract time has a certain character of totality since the mind relates to it all the events, past, present and future. In this context one can say that only the present exists; actually, the past does not exist any more and the future does not exist yet. We can conceive past and future in our mind; yet outside our mind only the present exists. It is evident that past events have repercussions on the present ones, and present events have repercussions on the future ones. However, what exists now, independently from any mental consideration, is the present with some relations respect to the past and future events. Taking into account the parallelism, partial though important, between the concepts of space and time along history, we can apply some reflections, already made in connection with the concept of space, to the concept of time with the appropriate clarifications,. Concretely, time does not correspond to a real entity: what is real is duration and temporal relations, and time does not have an existence independent from them. Therefore, the observations made regarding the concept of space in relation to Newtons physics, are valid also for the concept of time. Newton claimed that together with an absolute space there is an absolute time independent from its content. We claim that this absolute time cannot exist because, in order to define it, it would be necessary to rely on a kind of movement also absolute, and this is really impossible. On the other hand, time is not a condition (after Kants fashion) of our knowledge because there is no such a thing as homogeneous time conceived as an empty receptacle where events are placed. Kant stated that space and time are a priori conditions of the sensible knowledge. Kant perceived that the absolute time of Newton could not possibly exist in reality; however, being convinced of the truth of Newton's physics, he transferred this absolute time, together with its properties, from the reality to our knowledge. Time, in this view, would not depend on experience since it would be one of the conditions of possibility of this experience. It is true that we always place our experience within a time-framework; however, there is no reason to identify this time with the properties that Newton and Kant attributed to it. There are reasons, on the other hand, to think that our concept of time corresponds to real experiences and that this time depends on the latter. Nor does it seem possible to speak, as it is done in some present-day theories, of a space-time independent from matter, as if this were an entity with own existence which could have begun to exist when nothing material yet existed. Even in supposing that a scientific theory along this line could be formulated, one should still admit the fact that duration and temporal relations have a kind of reality which is not identified with physico-mathematical models. This consideration leads us to examine how the concept of time is used in the experimental sciences.


The use of time in the experimental science

As in the case of space, time is conceptualized in experimental science in accordance with the general objective of this type science, i.e. achieving a knowledge of nature which can be submitted to experimental control. Consequently, since the 17th century time has been defined as a magnitude which can be an object of mathematical treatment and can be measured in an empirical way. Newton in his mechanics distinguished between absolute time which flows in a uniform way independently from the material world, and relative time which refers to specific processes. Owing to the great success that Newtons mechanics had enjoyed for many centuries, this distinction was preserved in physics until 1900, at the time when it started facing a crisis. In 1905 it became obsolete because of Einsteins special relativity theory where time appears to be a magnitude whose measurement does not always give the same value since it depends on the system of reference which is adopted. Moreover, the relativity theory is interpreted in such a way that space and time are not completely independent magnitudes any more; it is admitted, on the contrary, that phenomena unfold in a space-time where the three space dimensions are united to the time dimension. The relativity of the measurements of time in relation to the systems of reference (and therefore in relation to the physical state of the subject who measures and of the object being measured) seems to highlight an aspect which had already been emphasised in ancient times and then forgotten under the pressure of Newtons physics, i.e. the existence of a specific time relative to each specific process. In accordance with the already mentioned Aristotles definition, although standard systems of measuring time can be adopted, strictly speaking each type of movement has its own time. Against the absolute, homogeneous and undifferentiated kind of time postulated as something real by Newtons physics, and as a condition of our way of knowing by Kants philosophy, there is presently once again an awareness that the real time dimensions are related to the specific way of being of the entities and processes. There is no doubt that it is possible to adopt standard systems to measure time; however, the natural is marked by temporal structures and patterns which determine their specific characteristics to such an extent that the measurements of time are seen as affected by the physical state of the subject who measures and of the object which is being measured. There have been moreover other scientific developments which have had repercussions on time-related problems. We shall mention three of them especially relevant. First, the development of classical thermodynamics in the 19th century led to the general acceptance of the so-called second principle of thermodynamics which seems to suggest the existence of a time-arrow. Physical processes can proceed in one direction but not in the opposite one. As a whole, the entropy of an isolated system which measures the degree of disorder of a system, increases: if greater order is produced in some places this must happen at the cost of some disorder in its surrounding. In thermodynamics this principle is expressed in more accurate ways;

when it is applied to the universe as a whole it seems to suggest a future thermal death since, as a whole, physical disorder tends to increase. Second, great strides have been made in the physics of irreversible processes, i.e. those processes which occur in one direction. A reversible process is that which can occur in any of the possible directions. Classical physics was mainly a physics of reversible processes where the direction of time did not play any relevant role. In our own days irreversible processes have been dealt with scientifically; they are the real processes (in classical physics it had become necessary to convert real irreversible processes into a sum of reversible ones, brushing over important aspects of the problem). These progresses are also related to the time-arrow and explain how order can be produced in nature from states of disorder, and for this reason they are very important in the evolutionary worldview. Third, evolution theories - cosmic as well as biological - refer to a gigantic process in which successive degrees of organization have appeared. Time is here the centre of the explanations, and the problem is even posed about the origin of time in a scientific way. We could add more references to the ones already mentioned which refer to other areas of scientific progress; they all show how time is presently at the centre of attention of the scientists. Let us now develop more in depth one of the aspects that the scientific progress highlights: the unity between space and time. 23. UNITY BETWEEN SPACE AND TIME

We have already made reference to the unity between space and time as it appears in the relativity theory; this fact has also other consequences which affect space and time. We re going to highlight some of the implications of this unity.


Space and time in the relativity theory

Space and time are not only related to each other in the relativity theory but they are also somehow united to form a space-time continuum. This idea corresponds to the intertwining which we have already emphasised, of the spatial and temporal with the real physical conditions and therefore, their own intertwining. Although space and time relations correspond to reality, no trivial difficulties arise when one tries to measure them. The special relativity theory pointed out such difficulties. Einstein indicated concretely that the measures of the intervals of space as well as of time depend on the situation of the observer, and formulated those equations which allow the determination of durations in different cases. This difficulty seems to be logical and corresponds also to ordinary experience. For example, we shall obtain different values if we measure the duration of a phenomenon from a relative situation of rest or from a train which passes at a great

speed through that place where this phenomenon occurs. Something similar occurs in relation to distances. When phenomena unfold at great speed changes in the measurements are also great; in these cases it is necessary to use the formulas of the special relativity. New problems have been posed on this basis in connection with the temporal situation: they refer to the simultaneity and to the relationship between past and future. A disquieting question is asked in relation to simultaneity: Is it possible to claim the existence of really simultaneous events? Actually, it may look impossible to claim the existence of a real simultaneity since any time measuring will refer to particular conditions of the observation and the different measurement will not coincide. However, the difficulty only affects the concrete measurements and not the real existence of simultaneity. Although it may be impossible to determine the simultaneity of very distant phenomena through measurements, it is yet possible to claim the existence of this simultaneity in each moment. At present many simultaneous phenomena are occurring in different parts of the earth and of the universe independently from the difficulties which we can meet when we try to determine this simultaneity in a quantitative way. If you prefer, instead of speaking of simultaneity we could speak of co-existence or of contemporariness, to emphasise the fact that time measurements are affected by the physical conditions. It would be really impossible for us to determine simultaneity through physical methods. However, this relativity in the measurements of time does not mean that such measurements are arbitrary; on the contrary, once the conditions in which the observer operates are established the theory permits us to calculate the value to be obtained when measuring time intervals. The problem of simultaneity has generated the so-called twins paradox. Of two identical twins, one remains on earth while the other travels at a great speed in a space ship. When the space ship returns to earth, as the durations measured in the ship and the ones measured on earth are different, the twins will be of different age, and therefore of different looks. There is no doubt that this paradox highlights the fact that, as we have already indicated, the real duration is intertwined with concrete physical conditions: different conditions will produce different effects. However, the interpretation of this paradox is not simple; different authors, including the same Einstein, warn that in order to correctly interpret this possible situation, factors have to be taken into account which eliminate the possible paradoxes: for instance, the fact that the space ship travels in different directions when it moves away from the earth and when it comes back so that the relative durations, including the physical effects of both routes, could be compensated. Other problems refer to the relationship between past and future. We have emphasised the irreversibility of the real time successions. Actually, it has been claimed that the relativity effects could permit, for instance, trips to the past which would include the unusual possibility of causing changes in events of the past and, therefore, in the real situations of the present. This strange possibility has been connected to the time tunnels which would be related with the exotic physical conditions present for instance in the black hole. It seems that in this case theoretical constructions of the physico-mathematics are confused with real time successions. Actually, possibilities contained in mathematical models cannot be identified with real possibilities and, in this

case, it is of no use to make appeal to the success of the scientific theories. We have already pointed out, for instance, that classical physics treats time as if it were reversible; in reality, this is not certain, but this does not prevent classical physics from being applied successfully in a number of cases: applicability of a theory does not mean that all the aspects of the models it utilizes reflect reality as it is. These observations are valid also in the case of the present-day theories: natural processes are irreversible and no mathematical theory can change their real time succession. This cannot be denied by leaning on the relativity theory: in this theory, the temporal order of events is preserved whenever causally related events are considered.


Space and time as material conditions of the reality

From the very beginning we have considered space-time structuring as one of the great characteristics which we use to characterize the natural. After examining space and time with great attention, one is able to discover the meaning of this characterization with greater depth. It is obvious that the claim that the natural is characterized by its own dynamism which exists and unfolds in space-time conditions, implies the claim that these conditions are real. Our conceptualization of space and time includes our own constructions in ordinary life as well as, and even more, in the experimental science. Concepts constructed in this way correspond to reality in different degrees and with specific modalities. However, extension, duration and their reciprocal relationships are something real. It is important to emphasise that in our characterization of the natural we do not only refer to space and time: we are actually speaking of space-time structuring. This permits us to distinguish the natural from the spiritual which can be intimately related to spacetime (as in the case of a human person) but which does not include, in its own way of being, space- time structuring: intelligence, will, freedom, responsibility, morals, are all closely associated, in our case, with material conditions; however, such material conditions are not primary in the order of importance in these human dimensions. Moreover, space-time structuring is a characteristic of the natural which acquires a progressively greater relevance in the understanding of nature. Scientific progress opens new panoramas always centred in the space-time patterns, i.e. in configurations and rhythms which can be repeated and, actually, are repeated countless times in each case with its own variations. It is easy to find illustrative examples of this in contemporary science. In a paradoxical way, the theories of the determinist chaos emphasise the existence of a certain indeterminism in nature; however, and at the same time, they show the existence of patterns associated with new phenomena. Fractals are actually patterns which are repeated in different scales. The great importance presently attributed to this scientific field shows that the deepest knowledge of nature leads to a noticeable combination of repetition and subtlety. In this particular field which encompasses many different phenomena, we find that enormously varied and complex results with a great organizing

capacity are the result of repetitive applications of relative simple resorts. Once again, we can admire how so much can be done with so little. The image of nature which results from these considerations is very different from that presented by mechanism which used to consider nature as the result of mechanical clashes between portions of a matter which lacked internal dynamism and reduced it to the model of a mechanical machine. It is also very different from that present by the evolutionist ideology which, going much beyond the data provided by science, tries to reduce the whole reality to a result of blind forces. If nature is built in a very subtle way around space-time patterns it is easy to note the fact that we are in the presence of a materialized rationality which is the result of a very powerful dynamism; this unfolds in accordance with time patterns, is stored in space patterns and is combined in a thousand ways producing new enormously sophisticated space and time patterns.


Interpenetration between the spatial and temporal

Frequently we think of space and time as if they were completely separated dimensions; however, this idea does not correspond to reality. We have already pointed out that both dimensions are united in the relativity theory. We shall now add some concluding considerations. We can grasp the close relationship that exists between space and time through a fairly simple example which mesmerizes those who have never finished considering it: it refers to our viewing of the stars. It is a well-known fact that stars are enormously distant from the earth. The closest one is four light-years distant (a light-year is the distance covered by the light in one year, while travelling at 300,000 kilometres per second); other stars are ten, hundred or thousand light-years distant. This means that, when we look at a star which is 700 light-years distant, the light that reaches our eyes left that star seven hundred years earlier. Therefore we see that star now as it was seven hundred years ago, i.e. in the Middle Ages. When we look at the stars we see them as they were ten, hundred or thousand years ago. Moreover, the impression we have of the stars as if they were fixed on a sphere and as they are represented in the drawings of the constellations of ancient times, does not correspond to reality: we see the stars as if they did not change their relative position because they are enormously far away from us, but they move very rapidly and are found at different distances from the earth. Although we can distinguish between space and time dimensions, these are tightly intertwined in nature. Space configurations are not just static realities; when stable, their stability is the result of a dynamic equilibrium. On the other hand, rhythms depend on configurations; potentialities are stored in space structures and their actualization, realized in accordance with temporal rhythms, depends on these configurations. A very adequate example of all this is the genetic information contained in the DNA of the living organisms. The space and time intertwining is manifest in the processes of transcription and translation in which proteins are produced, together with the duplication of the very DNA during cell division.

Nature is built and functions around configurations and rhythms which are closely related. In this perspective, space and time are not mere abstract concepts, objects of complex scientific theories and of abstract philosophical reflections, but basic conditions of nature; these exist in interrelated and highly sophisticated structures which open the door to a deep understanding of nature.


The natural world appears with specific ways of being which, although realised in quantitative dimensions, are not reduced to the latter. We have already mentioned the relationship between the quantitative and the qualitative aspects. Now, after having examined in detail the different aspects of the quantitative dimensions, we are in a better position of analysing the meaning of the qualitative properties of the natural world in more depth. Quantity is a dimension proper to the material beings. On the other hand, qualities are found not only in the material but also in the spiritual beings. For this reason the study of qualities is part of metaphysics. Philosophy of Nature studies only the qualities of the physical world; however, this study is important to metaphysics because it provides the basis on which metaphysics can build in a reliable way a general explanation of those qualities which can also be considered in the spiritual realities. We shall consider first the qualities of the material substances, analyse their types and examine the way we know them. We shall then consider once again, and in the light of the newly acquired perspective, the relationship between quantity and quality particularly in all that makes reference to the quantitative study of the qualities.



Qualities are accidental ways of being or determinations of the substance. Natural entities do not have only quantitative dimensions; for example, magnitude does not have its own isolated existence but it exists as magnitude of a substance and of its qualities. Quantity exists as a condition of the way of being of the natural entities. The essential way of being of substances is expressed by their substantial form. However, there are also accidental ways of being which can change without any change in the essence of the substance and which are usually called qualities.


Qualitative virtualities of the natural entities

Firstly, we want to point out that qualities determine the substance in relation to its substantial form, and that some of them are properties which, without forming part of the essence, accompany it necessarily. a) Substance, form and qualities

Dynamism refers to a fundamental characteristic of the natural world, i.e. the existence of virtualities, which unfold through interactions. This unfolding corresponds to the way of being of the substances, to the specific characteristic of each substance and, therefore, to their substantial form. However, it is not identified with the latter. Actually, the same substance, without changing its essence, can unfold some virtualities and not others, and can unfold in distinct degrees; if it were not so, all substances would be unfolding all their possibilities of interaction at all times, and this is not what really happens. It is not even possible that this may happen since the unfolding of virtualities is realized in function of the present circumstances in each case and these may be very varied. It is not possible for all the possible circumstances to be all present at the same time. These virtualities, or accidental ways of being, are usually called qualities. In the case of quantity, the use of the singular expresses the unity of the extended substance; on the other hand, in the case of qualities we use the plural to express that in any substance there are different qualities. We also speak of virtualities because these are properties which are present in the substance as possibilities or potentialities whose actualization depends on the circumstances. This terminology expresses capacity of acting as well as capacity of receiving the action of other substances. Although in the first case they are usually called active qualities and in the second case passive qualities, from a general point of view all of them unfold through interactions which include two or more subjects, independently from whether one or the other could be considered agent or patient. All in all, qualities are accidental ways of being because they do not have their own independent existence, nor are they identified with the essence of the substances. They are ways of being which are related to the substantial form, because they are particular determinations which correspond to the specific way of being of each substance. They also determine the substance through quantity because they are ways of being which are realised in quantitative conditions. The magnitude of a substance, its space configuration, the time structuring of the processes which exist in it and, in general, the material conditions, are like the backdrop against which qualities exist; however, it is a backdrop which is intertwined with the actors and with which it forms one reality only. The quantitative conditions impose limitations to the qualitative aspects which exist within the boundaries of these conditions.


Qualities as intrinsic properties of the substance

We may also add that qualities are intrinsic accidents because they refer to ways of being which are proper to the substance. Although accidental ways of being, qualities express determinations of the substance as such and not of the substance in relation to others. However, as we shall show shortly, some qualities are more closely related to the essence of the substance than others are. Moreover, although they are intrinsic determinations, qualities are manifested through interactions with other substances and with the subject who knows them so that it is necessary to determine in each case what

is really objective in each quality and what corresponds to the interactions with other substances and with the subject who knows them. As ways of being, two basic types of qualities are usually distinguished: properties, which do not belong to the essence but necessarily accompany it, and the purely contingent qualities which can be present or not in a specific substance. For instance, purely chemical substances have well-determined properties which distinguish them (atomic mass, fusion or vaporization points, etc.) but also other qualities which are not characteristics of them (for example, the fact of appearing with a certain colour, or of being in a solid, liquid or gaseous state). Properties are used to define the substances. Actually, we do not know the essences either in a direct or in a complete way and, therefore, we determine their ways of being and their definitions through their properties. We also distinguish active and passive qualities. The former refers to the ways of operating, while the latter refers to the way of receiving actions of other subjects. However, we have already seen how this distinction corresponds to partly conventional criteria because actions as well passions are interactions and a substance is called agent or patient according to specific points of view; for instance, according to whether it is a living being or an inorganic substance, whether it is a substance of a greater or smaller size, etc.


Types of qualities

There are many types of qualities, and not all of them are found in all substances. We have already spoken of those qualities which necessarily follow an essence and which are called properties, and of others which can be or not in a specific type of substance and which are called, therefore, contingent qualities. We shall now consider other ways of classifying the different type of qualities. We shall refer in the first place to the four types of qualities identified by Aristotle; we shall then examine virtualities and dispositions; finally we shall refer to those qualities which can be perceived by the senses and which play, for this reason, a basic role in our way of knowing nature.


Four types of quality

In analysing the meaning of quality106 Aristotle called it with a name derived from the pronoun pois which means of this or of that class. Quality is that by which entities are called this or that. He seems to claim that the qualitative is what is present in the substance besides the quantitative.


Cf. ARISTOTLE, Categoriae, 8, 8 b 25 11 a 38; Metaphysica, V, 14, 1020 a 33 1020 b 25.

For Aristotle, nature has quantitative and qualitative characteristics and both are real. The quantitative is the first determination of what is material while the qualitative determines entities through quantity; for instance, whiteness affects the surface of a body. The quantitative has a kind of supremacy since all the other accidents affect the substance through quantity. However, the qualitative is real, because it expresses the way of being of entities. This perspective is in line with the realism of ordinary knowledge. Moreover, it determines the way of studying nature: in an Aristotelian context, primacy is granted to the qualitative against any stand which claims primacy of mathematical (quantitative) approach in the study of nature. Actually, any knowledge is based on ordinary knowledge which in turn is based on the quality of the bodies. According to Aristotle, the first and most appropriate way of speaking of a quality is to say that it is the difference of the substance which is usually called specific difference. For example, rational being is the specific difference, which defines man respect to the other animals which are not rational. Aristotle distinguishes four types of qualities. He warns that maybe some other type could be there; however, the following are those which are more appropriately called qualities: state and disposition, capacity and incapacity, affective qualities and conditions, figure and form. The qualities of the first type are state (or habit) and disposition which are different because of being more or less stable: habits, or states, are more stable than dispositions. States are also dispositions while dispositions are not necessarily states. Aristotle speaks of having a certain state and being in a disposition. These ideas are applied not only in the philosophy of nature but also in other fields such as ethics and moral theology when one speaks, for instance, of virtues as stable habits, of the state of sanctifying or habitual grace, or of moral dispositions. Qualities of the second type are natural capacity and incapacity (or potency and impotency). They consist in having a natural capacity to do something. For example, in anthropology one speaks of intellect, will and senses as potencies of the soul since they are intellectual or volitional capacities to act which a human being has. Qualities of the third type are the emotional qualities (patibilis qualitas), and conditions (passions). Here, the terms affective and conditions take their meaning from the verb to affect and refer to those qualities which affect the senses and change during natural alterations. Qualities, which are studied in the philosophy of nature, belong, in general, to this type: they are material, or corporeal, qualities related to physical changes, such as colour, weight and density. Qualities of the fourth type are figure and form: triangular, straight, curved, etc. Obviously, these qualities also come under the consideration of the philosophy of nature and it is easy to see how they occupy a very important place since they refer to the space-time structuring of the natural world.


Virtualities, dispositions and tendencies

All qualities can be considered as virtualities because they are possibilities which can be actualized in function of the circumstances. Moreover, any virtuality is equivalent to a real possibility, to a specific potentiality which may be more or less near its actualization. According to the degree of this proximity, one can speak of less and more, of simple virtualities or capacities, of dispositions or of authentic tendencies. Taking into account the fact that the actualization of virtualities depends on the circumstances, which permit or drive it, the attribute of a quality as virtuality, capacity, disposition or tendency will also depend on these circumstances. For instance, the affinity of chemical substances refers to their tendency to combine and this is different in different circumstances. A quality is usually considered as virtuality, capacity, disposition or tendency in relation to the habitual circumstances, or to the most relevant ones in a specific context. The existence of tendencies is particularly evident when the agents form part of a stable unitary whole. Actually, in these cases those conditions are present which favour or provoke the actualization of some specific virtualities. It is important to note that such a case occurs very frequently in nature, and it is a manifestation of their highly specific and tendencial character. The tendencial character of the qualities has been denied, frequently, because of its connection with finality; yet, it is a central aspect of nature.


Sensible properties and non-observable properties

The distinction of qualities into those which are sensible and those which are not so is very important to us. Actually, our knowledge of nature depends completely on sensible qualities which are the condition of what can be known through our senses. On the other hand, the distinction is irrelevant in view of determining the way of being of the natural, since this would remain the same even if men disappeared (here, we disregard the effects of our action on nature). Our senses have a very limited reach and their functioning refers, before everything else, to the necessities of practical life. It is not surprising therefore that the progress of science, through which we know many aspects of nature which are inaccessible to ordinary experience and which are very far from it, appears as an astonishing fact. Such a progress is made possible thanks to a peculiar combination of conceptualization and experiments. The scientific method, based on this combination, is one the principal manifestations of the human intellect since it presupposes a high

degree of idealization necessary to build theoretical models, and the capacity of relating the theoretical constructions to the experimental results by conceiving and carrying out very sophisticated types of experiments. All this presupposes a capacity of interpretation and reasoning. However, the whole body of experimental science depends on data provided by the senses. Even the most abstract theories need to be verified through experiments whose interpretation depends, inevitably, on the data provided by ordinary experience. Other living organisms can perceive qualities which are not accessible to us, or to a degree which goes beyond our possibilities. In any case, the fact of being related to our knowledge leads directly to the problem of the objectivity of qualities.


The objectivity of qualities

In Aristotles view, quality refers to a way of being, i.e. to an accidental form which represents an aspect of reality, an accidental determination which cannot be reduced to the quantitative dimensions. Quantity without form would be, so to say, blind. To deny the qualitative is equivalent to denying the existence of real ways of being. However, although one may admit that there are real qualities in nature, there are some issues which seem to affect the objectivity one may attribute to these qualities: how do we know them? Can we say that things have qualities just as we perceive them? In which measure is our knowledge conditioned by our particular way of gaining access to reality?


Primary and secondary qualities

In the Cartesian mechanism and in the post-Cartesian empiricism a terminology was coined which has survived up to our own times. Quantitative characteristics, such as magnitude, figure and local movement would be primary qualities, which are real properties of nature. On the other hand, sensible qualities, such as colour, taste, sound, etc. (the direct objects of our senses) would be secondary qualities which are not real properties but effects that things produce in our senses. A dichotomy was therefore established between what is quantitative, which would be objective and could be studied with mathematics, and qualities which would exist only in the subject who knows them. This dichotomy is usually presented as endorsed by the quantitative method of the experimental sciences which manage to study the primary qualities in a intersubjective way while this is not possible in the case of secondary qualities. In order to clarify this problem it is important to understand the function of mathematics in the study of nature. Mathematical concepts, and especially the most abstract ones, are our own constructions. It is possible to apply mathematics in natural

sciences because we define magnitudes in relation to mathematical formulations and to experiments. The fact that these constructions are successful says nothing about the existence of qualities. The scientific progress permits us to know physical processes which take place in a sensation, such as electromagnetic phenomena related to light and vision, and the cerebral mechanisms related to perception. Taking into account the present-day knowledge, it is not difficult to see the differences between extreme realism and subjectivism which are two extreme conceptions about the objectivity of sensations and qualities. The extreme form of realism about qualities, i.e. the doctrine according to which sensible qualities exist in reality just as we perceive them, does not seem to be sustainable. Our sense organs receive signals which are codified and translated, and the result is the production of sensations generated in accordance with out cognitive apparatus. Therefore, what we perceive and as we perceive it exists only in ourselves. The pure subjectivism about qualities according to which there is a radical heterogeneity between the sensation and the physical reality does not seem to be sustainable either. It underestimates the fact that qualities correspond, somehow, to properties of the object. The solution to the problem is found along an intermediate way. On the one hand, the sensation and its content are found only in a subject provided with a specific organism. However, and on the other hand, there is continuity between sensation and external reality. It is usual to say that through sensation, we perceive real properties in accordance with our way of knowing. In order to determine in detail the characteristics of these properties scientific investigation is required, and in this field science plays an irreplaceable role. However, this very science would not be possible if the basic objectivity of sense knowledge were not admitted since science constantly uses it and there is no substitution for it. For example, sight corresponds to a set of interactions of physical and physiological character. A sensation is subjective insofar as it is a personal experience; however, it has correspondence to reality and can be an object of inter-subjective verification. In stating that something has colour, something real is predicated although such a predication is mediated by our sense mechanisms and by the physical circumstances. That colour corresponds to something real is verifiable because, when we observe something, in each circumstance one perceives well-determined effects107. On the other hand, the so-called primary qualities (size, figure, position, movement, velocity) also depend on our conceptualization and on the physical circumstances. Insofar as they are perceivable, primary qualities are as real and subjective as the secondary ones: both are the result of data which are processed and interpreted.


Cf. K. NASSAU, Las causas del color, Investigacin y ciencia, No. 51, December 1980, pp. 56-72; A. TREISMAN, Caractersticas y objetos del procesamiento visual, Investigacin y ciencia, No. 124, January 1987, pp. 68-78.


The knowledge of qualities

We have said that quantity is the first accident of a corporeal substance. This means that the other accidents affect the substance through quantity, and this better explains the primary character of the quantitative; however, one may be bale to appreciate the fact that reducing everything to the quantitative is an unjustified extrapolation. Nature is composed of entities with ways of being (forms, qualities) whose existence leans on a quantitative basis. In the ordinary experience we perceive both aspects in our own way whereas scientific and philosophical studies aims at knowing them better. We are provided with a sensory equipment which permits us to have a representation of nature which is contextual (it depends on our cognitive equipment) and partial (we perceive some aspects and not others), nevertheless authentic (we perceive real characteristics in our own way). This knowledge takes place through experience and is related to practical purposes: the recognizing of objects, orientation, action, nutrition, etc. Moreover, this knowledge provides also a basis, partial though reliable and indispensable, for a further reflection which can be scientific as well as philosophical, and directed towards the knowledge of aspects of nature which are not clearly visible. It does not make any sense to criticise the validity of ordinary knowledge in the name of science since ordinary knowledge is the basic assumption of science. Without ordinary knowledge no scientific problems could be posed, and no observation and experimental verification would be possible. Moreover, scientific progress justifies retroactively the validity of ordinary knowledge, it widens it, and eventually contributes to specify it (for example, by eliminating some inadequate assessments of experience); what scientific knowledge cannot do is to render ordinary knowledge obsolete or to substitute it. Experimental sciences do not always provide photographic representations of the reality as if they were a mere translation of the external world. They make use of symbolic languages which are our own constructions. However, through these constructions we know in a contextual and partial way, yet authentic, real characteristics. These characteristics refer, in one way or another, to ways of being and can be catalogued consequently as qualities. According to their nature and to the context of the problems which are studied, these characteristics can be catalogued as virtualities, capacities, dispositions and tendencies108. It is not difficult to frame them within the classical species of qualities. It is not just a question of forcing them within a mould which would be of no interest whatsoever, but to be aware of the fact that they correspond to the classical idea of quality and that, consequently, this idea preserves its validity.

Cf. R. HARR, Powers, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science , 21 (1970), pp. 81-101; I.J. THOMPSON, Real Dispositions in the Physical World, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 39 (1988), pp. 67-79.


Reductionism and emerging properties

There are two great types of reductionism, i.e. ontological and epistemological: the former refers to nature and to its different levels while the latter refers to science, i.e. to our knowledge of nature. Ontological reductionism is the doctrine according to which the superior levels of nature are no more than a simple sum of the elements of the inferior levels and, therefore, the former can be reduced to the latter. The most radical type of ontological reductionism claims that, ultimately, everything can be reduced to physical entities and processes. Since the physical can be identified with what is material, this type of reductionism can be identified with some kind of materialism: it says that ultimately the whole reality is reduced to what is material. Epistemological reductionism claims that sciences are ultimately reduced to the most basic ones. And so, biology is reduced to physics and chemistry in such a way that in reality biology is no more than physics and chemistry applied to the living organisms. The most radical form of epistemological reductionism claims moreover that sciences are reduced ultimately to a combination of sense experiences. There are serious difficulties in both doctrines. It is certain that in the epistemological area the scientific progress permits the stretching of bridges able to connect more and more some scientific disciplines with others, and all of them with physics. However, it is also certain that it is not possible to reduce the knowledge of one level from the knowledge of an inferior level. Nor is it possible to reduce chemistry to physics, and within physics there are theories whose harmonization is difficult. In the ontological area there are different levels of organization that are not reducible to one another just like that. For example, it is certain that living organisms are made of the same types of materials which are studied in physics and chemistry; however, it is also certain that there are in living organisms many types of organization and function which do not exist in the other levels and which therefore claim a specific perspective different from those adopted in physics and chemistry. The term emergence is used frequently these days to express the irreducible aspect of some levels to others. This term had already enjoyed some popularity in the first half of the 20th century. At a first glance the term means exactly the opposite of reduction, i.e. it means that there are emerging characteristics in the superior levels of nature and science which spring up from or stand above the inferior levels. There are some doctrines which present themselves as a kind of non-reductionist materialism or non-reductionist physicalism in the attempt of avoiding the difficulties of reductionism; however, at the same time they claim that ultimately everything is explainable in terms of evolution of the material or physical. Actually, it is possible to hold an emergentist stand which acknowledges the existence of new properties at different levels of nature and at the same time to claim that these new properties arise simply from the inferior levels through successive processes of organization.

In any case, it is important to emphasise that really new properties appear in the successive level of organization of nature. Calling them emergences is nothing but sticking a label to them, which, by itself, explains nothing. They need to be explained by science or philosophy. Although science manages to explain how a new property arises, this does not eliminate further philosophical questions. We can ask ourselves, for instance: Why are there physico-chemical laws so specific that are able to produce such a sophisticated organisation in nature? How is it that superior levels of organization are produced which contain virtualities for the successive production of more and more astonishing types of organisation?



There is a very close relationship between the quantitative and the qualitative. In the material beings all qualities are affected by quantity: they exist within specific dimensions and are bound to specific space and time structures. After analyzing different aspects of quantity and qualities we are now in better position to understand the types of relationship that exist between these two dimensions of the natural entities.


Quantitative dimension of the qualities

In considering specific natural entities we note that the relationship between the quantitative and the qualitative is not something general and abstract but very concrete. Actually, the ways of being of the natural entities are strongly conditioned by the quantitative dimensions. For example, insects, birds and primates have characteristics which are related to the magnitudes of their organism and to the proportion between the sizes of their organs. The basic designs of the natural entities are neither many nor arbitrary. There is a great variety of specific designs; however, they are the combination of a much more reduced number of basic designs. And so, in a study on these issues one can read: Our study will focus on designs and forms which appear in the natural world. These designs appear to be particularly limited so that the immense variety of forms that Nature creates arises from the elaboration and re-elaboration of a reduced number of basic themes. Such limitations are the ones which confer harmony and beauty to the natural world In matter of design we observe that Nature has preferences among which we find spirals, the winding and sinuous forms, the branchings and the 120o joints, designs which are repeated time and again. In this sense, Nature works as a theatre producer who would present every evening the same actors but in different forms according to their distinct role A glance behind the footlights reveals that Nature does not have preferences when the time comes of assigning roles to the actors. Its productions are limited by the scarcity of means and by the restrictions imposed by the tri-dimensional space, as well as by the relationships existing between the distinct sizes of the objects and by a peculiar sense of austerity. Within the domain of Nature only five types of regular polyhedrons

can be formed, and no more. In the same way, only seven crystalline systems exist and an eighth one never appears. The absolute size determines the fact that a lion cannot fly and that a robin cannot roar. All the elements which form part of the distinct actions which occur in the Universe and each one of them must abide by the established rules109. Along the same lines we read: Each form has its own field of dimensions and it is superiorly as well as inferiorly limited. Now, the distinct forms establish associations and act together with other forms of their same characteristics in order to originate greater structures and superior levels of organization110. The author of this quotation refers to DArcy Thompson who published in 1917 a study which is considered as pioneer. The study may contain controversial and even obsolete ideas because of the progress in this field; they nevertheless point at a central idea which is now gathering more and more strength. DArcy Thompson expressed it in the following terms: We then come close to the conclusion which will affect the whole rest of our argument along this book, i.e. there is an essential qualitative difference among the phenomena of the form, according to whether the organisms are big or small111. And also: To begin with, we have discovered that the scale has a pronounced effect on the physical phenomena, and that the increase or diminution of the dimensions may mean a complete change in the static or dynamic equilibrium. Finally, we begin to become aware of the fact that there are discontinuities in the scales which define the phases in which different forms and different conditions predominate112. The scientific progress discovers new kinds of relationship between the quantitative and the qualitative. Natural entities and processes are the result of multiple combinations of elements which are not many in number and which can combine in very specific ways producing a great variety of results. Think for instance of the 92 types of atoms which are the basis of almost the whole of our world; think of the three sub-atomic particles which are the basic constituents of these atoms and of the whole matter; think of the combinations which are formed by taking the carbon atom the backbone of life as we know it - as building unit; think of the DNA the store of the genetic programme of any living being which is assembled by using a combination of 4 nucleotides as bricks, etc. Fractals are an especially interesting discovery along this line. They are forms with the same structure at any scale of enlargement so that they are similar to themselves: small parts of it have the same structure as the whole. This permits to understand how, on the basis of few structures which are repeated in a thousand of ways, an enormous variety of natural forms is produced. All in all, we can claim that specific magnitudes and mathematical forms correspond to distinct natural forms. The qualitative ways of being are not only related to the quantitative but also closely depend on the quantitative forms and combinations. At the

109 110

Peter S. STEVENS, Patrones y pautas en la naturaleza, Salvat, Barcelona 1986, pp. 1-2. Ibid., p. 26. 111 DArcy Wenworth THOMPSON, Sobre el crecimiento y la forma, Hermann Blume, Madrid 1980 (original edition of 1917), p. 35. 112 Ibid., pp. 45-46.

same time, the quantitative is not an amorphous and undifferentiated reality: the nature we know is the result of the combination of very specific mathematical forms113.


The measurement of the qualitative intensity

Because quantity and quality are so closely related and intertwined in the natural world, it is possible to study the qualitative with mathematical methods. Although qualities as such cannot be measured nevertheless, because of their specific realisation within quantitative dimensions, they can be studied mathematically. In this sense one may usually speak of indirect measurement of the qualities. Actually, the advances in the indirect measurements of the qualities developed with great difficulties (because being a novelty) in the past centuries was one of the factors which made it possible for the experimental science to be born in the 17th century. Along this line, special importance is to be attributed to the works carried out in Paris and Oxford in the 14th century. There were precedents: for example, Roberto Grosseteste had insisted on the fundamental importance of mathematics for the studies of the physical phenomena, and he had applied geometry to optics, boosting the scientific orientation in Oxford. The studies of Nicholas Oresme in Paris in this field were also important. The contribution of Oresme to physics includes the graphic representation of the qualities and the application of this representation to the study of the uniformly accelerated movement. Oresmes supremacy is unquestionable in two central aspects: the extent of the problems to which he applied the mathematical method and the use of coordinates for the graphic representation of the changes in qualities and in movement114. The measurement of qualities is the basis for the application of mathematics to the study of the qualitative properties of the bodies. Physico-mathematical sciences are based, to a large extent, on the indirect measurement of qualities; since these sciences seek a kind of knowledge of the reality which may permit the use of quantitative concepts, and taking into account the fact that our knowledge of the bodies is made possible because of their qualities, one can easily see how the ground of the physicomathematical knowledge is made of enunciations in which the qualitative aspect is related to the quantitative one.


Qualities and magnitudes

We have already examined how scientific magnitudes are constructed and what the reach of the physico-mathematical method is. We shall now analyse a particular issue related to qualities. Actually, if qualities are real properties, and if one admits that

This idea is greatly emphasized, for instance, in: Ian STEWART and Martin GOLUBITSKY, Es Dios un geometra?, Crtica, Barcelona 1995. 114 Cf. Mariano ARTIGAS, Nicols Oresme, gran maestre del Colegio de Navarra, y el origen de la ciencia moderna, op. cit.

experimental science provides an authentic knowledge of the reality, one should come across concepts in science which are related to qualities. It is not really a problem to ascribe qualities to entities studied by science when the aspects under consideration are easily observable, as is the case for example with many biological phenomena. On the other hand, when non-observable aspects are studied, as it happens in micro-physics, the problems become bigger since in these cases we need to make recourse to mathematical models which are not a snapshot of reality. However, even in those cases one comes to know virtualities, capacities, dispositions and tendencies which entities have in accordance with their own natures. There is no doubt that in some cases it is difficult to reach certain conclusions about the ontological status of the entities and their properties; however, this is due to the limitations of our knowledge. Not admitting that nature is constituted by entities which have a nature and some properties of their own would mean that the scientific investigation does not make any sense, and the same would be true in the case of scientific enunciations. This is incompatible with the abstract character of many scientific formulations and with the existence of difficulties met with to determine their concrete ontological reach. One of the ways in which qualities are manifested to the scientific investigation is the so-called dispositional ends which point at the existence of tendencies to act in specific ways in certain circumstances. There has been a lot of discussion about the reality of these ends. Sometimes it is said that they are not necessary and that do not play any essential role in science: they could be replaced by purely operational terms. However, in real life the scientific activity does not work in this way, and a dispositional vocabulary is frequently used: this is equivalent to attributing qualities to the scientific entities. Experimental science makes frequent recourse to dispositional properties; think for instance of properties such as electrical resistance, electrical sensitivity, density, solubility, chemical affinity, and many others. They are authentic scientific magnitudes, which refer to qualities, because they express virtualities, capacities, dispositions and tendencies. Those who state that experimental science cannot speak of virtualities or tendencies frequently use arguments such as the following: they say that enunciations, which express tendencies, cannot be submitted to experimental control. They add that it is possible to speak of tendencies only in the field of human intentionality, and that attributing tendencies to the natural entities would be equivalent to admitting a kind of pan-psychism, i.e. that everything has life and intentions. It is also claimed that a reference to tendencies lends itself to metaphysical abuses because it would end up in seeing finality where there is none, and to pose problems which arise from an undue anthropomorphism115. An example that is usually presented is the one which refers to situations without detectable effects and which, in accordance with the defenders of tendencies, would be explained through an equilibrium of real tendencies. This is the case, for instance, of two teams which pull a rope in opposite directions so that the rope does not move: if an explanation of this is given using the concept of tendencies, one will say that there are tendencies in action but they balance each other.


A similar kind of reasoning can be found, for instance, in: Q. GIBSON, Tendencies, Philosophy of Science, 50 (1983), pp. 296-308.

However, the existence of real tendencies seems to be undeniable. At a scientific level the problem refers to the possibility of constructing concepts which permit to represent tendencies and that they may be able to explain things. Those who defend the existence of tendencies summarise the problem in the following terms: in nature, there are different tendencies or active potencies, which correspond to the nature of things. They act in a combined way and in order to detect them one has to make recourse to experiments in which the effects of the particular tendencies are isolated. Nature is an open system in which different tendencies interfere with one another; in order to know them, it is necessary to produce closed systems in which only the factors we can control are present. In the closed systems, i.e. in the experiments in which the undesired interferences are eliminated, natural laws can be obtained which express constant sequences. Once these laws are made available to us we can proceed to explain what happens in the open systems of the world in terms of laws which are the expression of tendencies116. According to Rom Harr, a tendency is a power which is, as it were, suspended, on its way of being exercised or manifested117. Harr claims that this concept plays a central role in the philosophical reflection on science: I try to show how the concept of power can play a central role in a metaphysical theory according to a realist philosophy of science; I will show how powers are not only indispensable in the epistemology of science, but also how they are the authentic heart and key of the best metaphysics for science. In doing so, I will show that the concept of power is neither magical nor occult but as empirical as one can wish it and also richer in capacity than the concepts which it follows; we need to have the concept of power if science must make sense118. In Harrs analyses the concept of power expresses active potency, capacity, force, energy, and is related to the concepts of disposition, propensity, trend, tendency, and to passive potency or capacity of intervening in actions which are provoked by the active potencies (liability). All these express aspects which are related to capacity and directionality. According to Harr, to claim the reality of a power does not mean to categorically claim the presence of a quality: it is just a generic conditional or hypothetical enunciation, because it does not specify which type of specific issue it is applied to. It is an enunciation accompanied by subjunctive conditionals that refer to cases in which it has not been manifested and which has the form: if it were subjected to such conditions, then this effect would arise. Harr claims that entities have powers even if they do not exercise them. The difference between that which has power to behave in a specific way and that which does not have it does not refer to their actual acting or not since it can happen that this power is never exercised. The difference refers to what entities are: it is a difference in their intrinsic nature.


A similar kind of realism can be found, for instance, in: Roy BHASKAR, A Realist Theory of Science, Leeds Books, Leeds 1975, pp. 33-36; Rom HARR, The Principles of Scientific Thinking, MacMillan, London 1970. 117 Cf. Rom HARR, The Principles of Scientific Thinking, op. cit., p. 278. Harr uses here, and in many other places, the term power which can be used in the sense of potency; it is clearly a a kind of active potency or capacity of acting. 118 Rom HARR, Powers, op. cit., pp. 81, 83 and 85.

In this context, power corresponds to the classic concept of active potency while the opposite concept (liability) to passive potency. Harr points out that these two concepts are the extremes of a whole spectrum in which there are different degrees. Harr observes that, according to a realist perspective, there is necessity in nature, and that whatever happens corresponds to the way of being of the entities. On the other hand, empiricism considers legitimate only to affirm the existence of a concomitance among events and denies the possibility of knowing real causal connections which correspond to the nature of things. However, the two perspectives lead to two different types of scientific investigation: the empiricist one will look for new cases of concomitance, while the realist one will try to know causes and their effects in a better way; and the scientific investigation is carried out in accordance with the realist perspective. Harrs conclusions basically coincide with the Bhaskars stand. Both defend a realism according to which, in order to justify intelligibility in science, it is necessary to admit that the order discovered in nature exists independently from mans activity. Such order consists in the structure and constitution of the entities and in the causal laws. In order to justify the scientific activity an ontology is required able to provide a schematic answer to the question: how should the world be so that science may be possible?119 Bhaskar and Harr clearly emphasize the fact that an ontology coherent with the present-day scientific knowledge must include, as fundamental ingredients, the existence of causal relations which are based on dispositions, tendencies and capacities, the fact that these characteristics correspond to the way of being proper to the entities, and that it is necessary to admit this natural order in order to justify the scientific activity120. The constructions made by science cannot just be considered as real characteristics of nature. However, the basic assumptions of the experimental science include the existence of natural entities which have their own way of being manifested through dispositions with a tendencial character. The scientific progress justifies these assumptions and widens their reach. Actually, the present-day scientific worldview provides a wide basis for the concepts of virtualities, capacities, dispositions and tendencies all of which reflect the qualitative dimensions of nature.


Real aspects of the physical magnitudes

We shall now complete our analysis of the scientific magnitudes and of their relationship with reality.

119 120

Cf. R. BHASKAR, op. cit., pp.27-29. Bhaskars and Harrs analyses are in the line of experimentalism which is also represented by Ian Hacking (cf. I. HACKING, Representing and Intervening, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge 1983). These analyses are not without difficulties. We limited ourselves to point out some important coinciding points.

A magnitude, in a scientific-experimental sense, is a concept defined in such a way that it can be submitted to mathematical treatment and to which quantitative values can be assigned in relation to the results of the experiments. These are, among many, the scientific concept of mass, velocity, temperature, entropy and electrical potential. There are magnitudes of many different types. Some are directly related to the experimental results and can be measured through instruments (for instance, mass and temperature); others, on the other hand, have a pretty instrumental character, i.e. they are magnitudes which are introduced in order to facilitate conceptualization and calculation without presuming of having a direct correspondence to reality (for instance the Hamiltonian or the Lagrangian). Some magnitudes are related to properties and concepts of ordinary experience at least initially (mass, force, energy, etc.), while others originate from theories very far from ordinary experience. However, in all cases magnitudes are defined and used within the context of specific scientific theories. Therefore, in order to be able to interpret the real meaning of a magnitude, it is indispensable to take into account the context within which that magnitude is defined and used. Let us consider, as an example, a case which usually originates a number of misunderstandings: the transformation between mass and energy, admitted in physics as a consequence of Einsteins relativity theory. This is usually brought up in order to claim that the concept of substance is not valid any more because, after all, everything is concentrated energy; or also to claim that it is possible to produce matter from a state in which there is no matter but pure energy. This reasoning is usually stretched to the point of claiming that the creation of the universe is possible starting from nothing through purely physical processes without the necessity of a Creator. In reality, the relativity theory only establishes a quantitative relationship between two magnitudes, i.e. between mass and energy, claiming that in some specific processes a specific quantity of mass is lost and a specific quantity of energy is produced, or the other way around. They are natural processes in which there is nothing mysterious and they do not justify conclusions such as those mentioned. In the case of some of these processes physicists speak of creation or annihilation of particles; however, they do not use these terms in their philosophical or theological meaning. Mass and energy are defined in physics in relation to mathematical and experimental procedures, and physics only claims the existence of specific quantitative relations between such magnitudes in specific physical processes. In order to determine the real meaning of the magnitudes one has to take into account as a basis its definition and use in the corresponding scientific theories, avoiding pseudoscientific extrapolations. For example, the concept of matter is not identified with the concept of mass. Mass in physics is a magnitude defined in a very specific way. This is a scalar magnitude to which numbers are assigned unlike vectorial magnitudes, such as velocity, which have also a direction and sense. Mass is an additive magnitude: this means that the masses of various bodies can be summed up through a simple arithmetical operation, while this is not possible with vectorial magnitudes whose sum includes geometric operations; nor is this possible with other scalar magnitudes such as temperature since temperatures of contiguous bodies cannot be summed up. Every time

one wishes to determine the real reference of a scientific magnitude, or of an enunciation which relates scientific magnitudes, one needs to take into account this type of characteristics. To proceed in any other way would only lead to speculations devoid of rigor.


Quantity and quality in the knowledge of the natural

In conclusion, we claim that our access to nature is entirely conditioned by our knowledge of qualities. This knowledge has a subjective aspect (sensation), but at the same time permits to perceive objective aspects of the reality. There are real qualities in the natural entities, and we know them in a contextual and partial, nevertheless authentic, way; the scientific progress permits us to know many qualitative aspects of nature more in depth. A purely quantitative world would be unobservable. The experimental science transcends the field of ordinary knowledge, but has to take it into account as a basic point of reference. In any case, experimentation is inconceivable without a minimum dose of realism about qualities as they appear to ordinary knowledge. Scientific magnitudes make us know properties and natures of the bodies. The knowledge provided by the experimental science is not reduced to the phenomenal or to the purely quantitative aspects. Through science we come to know about the existence and characteristics of many entities, as well as properties and processes of the natural world which otherwise would remain inaccessible. However, scientific enunciations are not always a snapshot of the reality; therefore, in order to assess their reach, it is necessary to analyse the concrete context of the theories which are being used in each case. On the other hand, knowledge provided by the experimental science does not exhaust our knowledge of nature and therefore is not the only way to know it. There is no doubt that scientific knowledge is peculiarly reliable owing to the rigor of the theoretical proofs and of the experiments which are used; however, this is not a sufficient reason for denying the validity of ordinary knowledge which is the backdrop of science, or of the philosophical or theological knowledge, although these must take into account the data provided by science when reflecting on the natural world. Scientism, which considers experimental science as the only valid knowledge of reality, or at least as the model which any other type of knowledge should imitate, lacks any scientific ground, and insofar as it is presented as scientific, or as a scientific conclusion, is an illegitimate pseudoscientific extrapolation. Actually, no science in particular, or all of them together, can judge the validity of what falls outside science.



Causality is a topic not only of the philosophy of nature which studies its relationship with the physical world, but also of metaphysics which studies it globally, including its realisation in the spiritual world. From the very beginning we have considered dynamism as one of the basic characteristics of the natural world. We have then considered the ways of being, substantial as well accidental which are at the same time source of this dynamism and result of its unfolding. Now we are going to consider how the natural dynamism unfolds through physical action. This will take us to examine the topic of causality as it appears in nature.



Dynamism unfolds through actions of the physical systems. We shall show how every action is an interaction; we shall distinguish the different types of interactions and consider efficient causality which is the type of cause directly related to activity.


Natural dynamism and physical interactions

If we admit that natural entities have their own dynamism we should conclude that physical activity is not just one more aspect of the world: it is something which deeply permeates the whole nature. We meet actions everywhere. Even that which appears more static is, properly speaking in a state of equilibrium: in this case different dynamisms are in action but their effects are balanced. Properly speaking, natural activity consists of interactions: it is never the work of a completely isolated agent; it always implies the action of some beings or components on other beings or components. If we take into account the central role played in nature by the unitary systems or substances we can see how it is especially interesting to relate interactions to substances. Actually, interactions correspond to the actions of substances, of their components or of their aggregate parts. Therefore, it seems logical to focus the study of the natural activity on the actions of its subjects, i.e. on the agent or efficient causes We can state that the dynamism proper to the natural is the cause of the interactions of the physical beings. Actually, each physical being has a capacity of acting in different ways according to different circumstance. Its dynamism is a capacity of acting which is not exhausted in some specific results but unfolds in very different ways in function of other dynamisms which intervene in each specific case. Therefore,

in each singular case a confluence of dynamisms unfold to produce specific interactions. The enormous variety of possible results is what makes it necessary, in order to study the natural dynamism, to artificially provoke situations in which we can observe and experiment with particular aspects after separating them from other aspects. At the same time, natural dynamisms are the result of physical interactions. Actually, different interactions produce new systems which have new types of dynamism, either because this type of systems and dynamisms did not exist before or because new cases are produced of something which existed before.


Modalities of the natural transformations

Physical interactions produce natural changes. What is natural is mutable. Mutability is a basic condition of the natural entities which have their own dynamism that is realised and unfolds in space-time conditions, i.e. space configurations which are produced and change, and temporal rhythms which mark the succession of the physical states. In relation to the effects produced we can distinguish two great modalities in the natural transformations: substantial and accidental transformations. In substantial transformations changes in the essential ways of being occur: one substance ceases to exist and a different one is produced, or a new substance is formed from others which combine to form a new unity, or a substance breaks up originating in this way various different substances. In accidental transformations the same substance is preserved as such while some of its accidents change. There is no doubt that substances change during accidental changes; however, they only change accidentally. This clarification is important if one takes into account the fact that many objection against the concept of substance proceed from the idea according to which substances would be what remains through changes, as if they were a kind of immutable substratum. We have already considered these modalities of natural changes or transformations while examining the natural processes. We have also emphasised that there are only three possible accidental changes: the change of place or local movement, the change in quantity usually called increase or diminution, and the change in quality usually called alteration. We have also said that there is a hierarchy among these changes: the most basic one is local movement, then we have the quantitative change, and finally the qualitative one. Now we can better understand why this is so and what it means. Actually, we have seen that quantity and quality are intertwined, and that quantity is the basic space-time frame within which qualities exist. Therefore, any physical change implies some change of place, and any qualitative change implies some quantitative change. On the other hand, there is no change in the accident quando, or temporal situation, since time is precisely the measure of any change. There is no change in the accident relation either which is nevertheless the consequence of some of the already mentioned changes. There is no change in action and passion either because these accidents, as we shall see, accompany all changes.

In relation to duration, one usually distinguishes between instantaneous and successive changes. The successive change appears when there is a succession along the change as usually happens with changes related to material beings which are affected by quantitative dimensions (space and time). Typical instantaneous changes are the substantial ones. Although ordinarily preceded by successive accidental changes which end up by causing a substantial one, this type of change in itself occurs in an abrupt way: some types of substances cease to be and at the same time other types of substances begin to exist as it happens in a special way in the generation and death of the living organisms.


The physical order and the four causes

To look for the cause of something means to try and explain why that thing exists and has its characteristic way of being. Looking for explanations is, to a large extent, looking for causes. What is a cause? A classical definition of cause is the following: a cause is the principle on which something depends in its being and in its becoming. A cause is a principle though not any principle as a simple beginning could be. It is a principle which really affects the being of what exists or the production of transformations. The systematic study of causality properly belongs to metaphysics; however, as it happens with other topics, the basic modalities of causality are those which are found in nature. We are going to focus our attention on them. In the first book of his Metaphysics, Aristotle analyses what the previous philosophers had said about causes and presents his doctrine on the four causes, i.e. material, formal, efficient and final. It is indeed an enormously influential doctrine which is still in use because it takes in the basic modalities of causality. Aristotle found a treatment of the first three causes in the works of his predecessors and considered a glorious achievement the fact of having gone in depth in an original way into the fourth type, i.e. the final cause. We have already mentioned causality when speaking of material and formal causes. We shall presently expound on those ideas which are necessary in order to offer a systematic perspective of the four causes and develop more in detail that which corresponds to the topic of this chapter, i.e. the efficient cause. Material and formal causes are intrinsic causes since matter and form are the constitutive co-principles of the natural beings. On the other hand, efficient and final causes are extrinsic because they do not refer to the being of the natural entities but to the agent which produces a process and to the end which leads its action. Let us examine how each of the four causes is usually characterised in accordance with the classical scheme. Material cause is that from which something is made, and remains within the thing made. It is wood in the case of a door, glass in the case of a window, etc. One

speaks of second matter when the material cause is the substance which changes only accidentally. On the other hand, one speaks of proto-matter in order to indicate the materiality common to all natural entities and which can be considered as a substratum present in every change including the substantial change. Formal cause is that by which something has a specific way of being. It is either the accidental form, i.e. that accidental way of being which changes in the accidental changes, or the substantial form which expresses the way of being of the substances and which does not change during accidental changes. The different accidents are accidental ways of being and therefore can be expressed as accidental forms. On the other hand, what is usually called form in ordinary language corresponds to form and figure which we have already referred to while speaking of the fourth species of quality in Aristotles philosophy. At the substantial level, proto-matter and substantial form are the material and the formal cause respectively. However, they are causes as constitutive principles of the essence of the substance: they are not complete things or beings, or pieces or parts of things but constitutive principles of beings as potency (matter) and act (form). At the accidental level, the substance behaves as matter or subject (second matter) while the accidents as forms (accidental forms), and they are also related as potency and act. Efficient cause is that from which an action arises which affects the being or the becoming of another thing. This is what one commonly understands as cause in ordinary language. It is for instance the hitting of something and causing its displacement. Efficient causes are agents or subjects of the actions. Final cause is that in view of which something is done. It is the objective or the end sought by the agent in a conscious or unconscious way when it acts. We have considered the material and formal causes in the previous chapters at substantial as well as at accidental level. We shall consider the final cause later on. Let us now examine the efficient cause.


Efficient causality: classical notion

The activity of the natural entities corresponds to their ways of being. The classical aphorism operatio sequitur esse means that an entity can carry out those actions which correspond to its way of being and, therefore, to its substantial and accidental forms. An agent is a natural subject which acts always in accordance with its way of being. We shall focus our attention on the action as actualisation of the virtualities possessed by the agents or efficient causes. The efficient cause is one of the four Aristotelian causes. Material and formal causes constitute beings intrinsically while the efficient cause produces movement and the final cause indicates its direction. Aristotle summarises his doctrine with the following words: In a primary sense the immanent matter from which something is made is called cause, for example, bronze is the cause of the statue and silver is the cause of the chalice and also the genera of these things. In a different sense, the species

and the model are causes; and this is the enunciation of the essence and its genera (for instance, of the musical octave, the relation to two and one and, in short, the number), and the parts which are in the enunciation. Then comes that from which the first principle of change or rest proceeds; for example, he who gave an advice is cause of the action, and the father is cause of his son; in short, it is the agent of what is done, and that which produces the change of that which suffers it. Then comes that which is as the end; this is that for which something is done; for example, health is the cause of going for a walk. Why do we actually go for a walk? We say: in order to be healthy. And in saying so, we think we have given the cause. And how many other things with different movers are done with a beginning and an end! For instance, health is the cause of slimming, but also a laxative, or medicines, or the instruments of a physician. Then all these things are for the cause of the end and are different among them because some are instruments and others are works121. Aristotle doe not use the expression efficient cause whose history is complex122. He speaks of that from which the first principle of change or rest proceeds, the first source of change or rest, the principle of movement. It is therefore the moving cause or the agent cause. The fundamental core of the Aristotelian doctrine preserves its validity. Actually, the natural activity corresponds to a dynamism whose source is found in the interior of the natural entities: it corresponds to their essential way of being, to their virtualities or qualities. This dynamism unfolds in function of the internal tendencies and external circumstances which make their actualisation possible. Movement, as actualisation of potentialities, presupposes always the existence of subjects provided with their own dynamism, and of circumstances which condition their unfolding. All in all, movement requires some causes which can produce it, i.e. some subjects of the natural dynamism. These subjects are the unitary systems or substances, and the aggregations of substances.


Efficient causality vis--vis science

That there are agent causes is a fact that can be easily verified if one relies on the data of ordinary experience. However, it seems that the scientific progress has introduced a new dimension which compels the posing of the problem about the real existence of agent causes once again. We shall now consider some objections which can be posed against the classical conception of efficient cause in the name of science. a) Agents and interactions


ARISTOTLE, Metaphysica, V, 2, 1013 a 24 1013 b 4. An almost identical text can be found in: Physica, II, 3, 194 b 23 195 a 1. 122 On the history of this concept, one may read for instance: E. GILSON, Notes pour lhistoire d ela cause efficiente, Archives dhistoire doctrinale et littraire du Moyen Age 37, (1962), pp. 7-31.

Experimental science has created in this field a slightly paradoxical situation: it is claimed, on the one hand, that science deals only with the material and efficient cause and rejects other causes; but also the notion of efficient cause, on the other hand, is called into question. Actually, science seeks laws which permit to determine the behaviour of the bodies under the action of forces; however, these forces do not correspond to agents but to interactions. For example, at the level of fundamental physics explanations are focused on the standard model of the four fundamental interactions which are studied through the field theories (gravity, electromagnetism, and the two nuclear forces). Therefore, the classical distinctions between agent and patient, motors and mobiles, seem to shade off, and science replaces them with a focus on the determination of phenomena under general laws. However, the usual representation of actions in terms of agent subjects preserves its validity because interactions presuppose, in one way or another, unitary systems which are their subjects. This is clear in the case of subjects with a high level of organisation. This is especially true in the case of living beings, but subjects of actions exist also in the field of non-living beings: it is the case of particles, atoms, molecules, macro-molecules and also aggregations which, although not unitary systems, behave as unitary subjects of interactions. In order to explain movement science uses models which at times do not seem to make reference to agent causes: for instance, waves, forces, fields of forces, energy, field intensity. Nevertheless, it is always assumed that there are subjects of interactions, and frequently reference is expressly made to them.


Action and contact

Aristotle claimed that in nature an agent cause always acts through contact: it moves the mobile by precisely acting on the mobile insofar as it is a mobile. But it does so by contact so that at the same time it receives and action. Because of this we can define movement as the actualisation of the mobile insofar as it is mobile, the contact with that which can move it being the cause of this attribute so that the motor also receives an action. The motor, or agent, will always be the vehicle of a form, either this or that form which, when moving, will be the source and cause of the change; for instance, a fully formed man engenders a man from what is potentially a man123. However, he also claims that contact can be understood in a wide sense: for example, the change produced by a stone which is thrown and crashes, is due to the agent which threw it. Moreover, there are special cases: the celestial bodies act on the sub-lunar ones, and the magnet on that which is attracted. Disregarding ancient examples, we can claim that, according to the present-day knowledge, the existence of a contact is required for a natural action. Centuries-long discussions have dragged along on the possibility of distance action without physical contact, and the field theories appear to support this possibility since they refer to

ARISTOTLE, Physica, III, 2,202 a 5-12. Cf. also ibid., VII, 2: the entire chapter is dedicated to the study of this problem. It is interesting to note that, in the text quoted, it is stated that in each action there is an interaction.

interactions which sometime (the electromagnetic and the gravitational one) are influential at great distances. However, even in these cases the existence of a certain contact is being claimed: interactions propagate at a finite speed, they do not exercise any influence until they have covered a specific length of time necessary to reach the place where they act; moreover, they lean on physical particles which work as mediators of the interaction124. Another objection against the necessity of contact for the physical action could come, as we also saw when speaking of space and localisation, from those interpretations which claim a non-locality in quantum physics. The difficulty of these problems leads us to emphasise the fact that, although we claim the necessity of contact, there are not a few questions on what this means and how it is realised. The necessity of contact does not mean that the physical actions are reduced to pushing and dragging, as is suggested by our ordinary experience; nor does it mean that reality needs to be represented necessarily by making recourse to corpuscular images. If we ask for the ultimate way of representing the activity of the physical world, perhaps we should answer that, in spite of the progress of our knowledge an ultimate answer to this question is still very difficult to give.


The principle of causality

Generally speaking the principle of causality states that everything that exists must have a proportionate cause which can explain its existence. If one wants to apply this principle in a complete way he should take into account all those causes which intervene in each case. Here we shall limit ourselves to examine how this principle can be applied to the problem of the agent cause, and to the explanation of movement. From this particular perspective this principle could be expressed by claiming the necessity of an agent in order to explain movement. It is convenient to note from the very beginning that a complete explanation of actions and transformations will have to take into account also the founding divine action which gives being and the capacity of acting to everything that exists. Moreover, our knowledge is very limited even in science because our cognitive apparatus, although it empowers us to reach conclusions which may seem extraordinary, hardly permits us to give an exhaustive explanation of nature. Therefore we should not be surprised if once again we stumble in the limits of our capacity of representation and explanation. One of the problems which arise from this issue refers to Aristotles claim according to which everything that moves is moved by something else125. Aristotle gives a lot of attention to it since it has an important place in the proof of the existence of the First Mover and therefore in the connection between physics and metaphysics. In order to demonstrate it he proposes three arguments which are partly related to difficult

Each of the four fundamental interactions has some intermediate particles associated with it: electromagnetism with the photon, gravity with the hypothetical gravitons, the strong nuclear force with the gluons, and the weak nuclear force with the W and Z particles. 125 Aquinas formulates it in a lapidary language: quidquid movetur ab alio movetur, and uses it in the reasoning of his first way to prove the existence of God: cf. Summa Theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3, c.

aspects of his worldview126. The affirmation seems to oppose the principle of inertia of the classical physics according to which an external action does not necessarily provoke movement but only acceleration or change of movement. However, one may say that movement is caused, at one stage or another, by some agent and that its permanence is due to physical circumstances. Moreover, according to Machs principle inertia is due to the interactions of a body with the rest of the universe, and the relativity theory explains this in function of the distributions of masses. If this is so, inertia is an effect arising from physical interactions and it does not mean that bodies keep their movement independently from external causes. This interpretation appears to be pretty coherent. We can also ask ourselves how a dynamism proper to natural entities and the necessity of external agents in order to provoke movement can go together. To answer this we shall recall that in every action there is an interaction: the unfolding of the dynamism depends on the circumstances and therefore on the interactions. Consequently and in any case there are actions which accompany the activity of the natural subjects. In the case of the living beings any action presupposes physical interactions within the organism, and between the organism and the surrounding environment (sensations, neuronal processes, etc.). Moreover, if we stretch our question to the limit we shall stumble with the necessity of making a metaphysical leap by claiming the necessity of the founding divine action which ultimately explains the existence and the activity of some beings that do not have in themselves their ultimate reason of being and of acting. This seems to be the deep meaning of the first way of Aquinas in order to prove the existence of God. This way acknowledges the fact that the activity of the creatures presupposes always a passing from potency to act, and that causal chains formed by the creatures can only be ultimately understood if the existence of a Being is admitted which is Pure Act, source of all being, radical foundation of the dynamism of all created entities. Similarly, the second way of Aquinas considers how the agent causes remit, ultimately, to a First Cause which is the foundation of their activity.


Action and passion

The study of the agent cause takes us by hand to the consideration of two of the nine accidents of Aristotle: action and passion.


Action and passion as accidents

Insofar as we can distinguish unitary subjects of interactions it makes sense to speak, as Aristotle did, of the accidents action and passion. For example, in the case of us human beings it is clear that we are active subjects of the actions we carry out and passive subjects of the actions of other beings. One can say something similar in the case of the other living beings which have a well-defined unity and individuality. This

Cf. ARISTOTLE, Physica, VII, 1, 241 b 24 242 a 16; VIII, 4, 254 b 24 256 a 3; VIII, 5, 257 b 6 13. Aquinas presents and uses these arguments in the Summa contra Gentiles, book I, Ch. 13, where he sets out at length the proof which is synthetically presented in the first way of the Summa Theologiae.

consideration can be extended to the field of non-living beings insofar as we deal with substances which are individual unitary systems, and also to the interactions between living and non-living beings, and between parts of these beings. This conceptualisation is applied also to the study of those phenomena which are very far from ordinary experience such as atomic particles. Actually, one speaks of particles subjected to the action of fields produced by the activity of other systems. Particles interact and interactions are precisely mutual actions. From the point of view of the philosophy of nature action is an accident which consists in the actualisation of the active potency of a substance. The natural is characterised by having its own dynamism. However, this dynamism is not completely actualised in all its possibilities: some possibilities are actualised in accordance with the present circumstances in each particular case (i.e. in accordance with the presence of other dynamisms). For this reason action is an accident: it is something real present in a subject, it is the actualisation of some of its potentialities without any change in the essential way of being of the subject. We refer here to the predicamental action, i.e. action considered as a predicate or category, as one of the accidents. One can easily become aware of the reality of this accident by considering what would happen if it were denied. In this case we should admit that all subjects are continuously actualising all their potentialities which is evidently false. Admitting the reality of action is equivalent to acknowledging that, in nature, subjects act by unfolding every time only part of their potentialities. We can say that through action, i.e. by acting - by actualising potentialities - a subject (substance or second matter) which has the capacity of acting (active potency, first act, way of being), actualises this capacity (passes to a second act). The aphorism operatio sequitur esse expresses the fact that every agent-subject acts according to the potentialities that are proper to it and which correspond to its way of being. For this reason the way of being of the subjects is known through their actions. The more perfect a being is the more perfect are the actions that it is able to carry out. It is also certain that actions perfect the subject which carries them out at least from the ontological point of view since this is equivalent to the unfolding of the potentialities of the way of being of the subject. Evidently it may happen that an action be prejudicial to the subject because it is not adequate to its nature. Moreover, from the ethical point of view, although an action may have a certain ontological goodness, it may be globally evil because it is ill-oriented in relation to the ultimate end. On the other hand, when these considerations are transferred to the human field, it is especially important to realise that actions are accidents. Actually, much as these accidents can either perfect or be prejudicial to the person who carries them out, this person always has, as such and independently from his actions, the dignity that corresponds to each person. His human rights need to be always acknowledged and he always has the duty of acting in accordance with his dignity as a person.

Passion in a subject which receives it corresponds to the action of an agent. We may say that passion is an accident which consists in the actualisation of the passive potency of a substance under the action of an efficient cause. Actions and passions in the physical world imply changes since somehow they always presuppose a material contact. Agents change when acting and subjects also change when receiving actions. There are different levels of causality in natural entities which have active potencies of different types, and therefore are able to carry out different types of actions. Non-living beings have potentialities which are studied in physics and chemistry. At the fundamental level the present-day knowledge remits to the four basic interactions already mentioned which give origin, in the successive levels of organisation, to different modalities of interaction, e.g. affinity which causes the chemical bonds among atoms, the inter-molecular forces, the activity of the bio-chemical macro-molecules such as proteins and nucleic acids, etc. Living beings have, besides the physico-chemical ones, potentialities which refer to life actions such as nutrition, reproduction, sense knowledge and sense tendencies.


Transient and immanent actions

The consideration of the actions of living beings allows us to distinguish two broad types of action which are called transient and immanent. Transient actions are those which have an effect external to the same agent. These are typically the physical actions which constitute the predicate or accident action, to which we have almost exclusively referred up to now. In a classical terminology the term action, without specifications, is used to designate transient actions. Immanent actions are those whose terminus is the same agent which therefore perfects itself while acting. Knowledge and love are usually considered to be typically immanent actions. Obviously, there are actions which include at the same time transient and immanent aspects. It can also be said that among natural entities any immanent operation has material dimensions and therefore includes transient actions. However, actions such as seeing, hearing, thinking, reasoning, intellectually perceiving a truth, loving the good, are usually considered as immanent operations which remain within the subject and perfect it, although they entail a physical action as a basis. Life, and especially spiritual life, is characteristically immanent activity; it presupposes a way of being and acting in which there is a specific autonomy and a kind of perfection which is greater than in any of the other levels. With the immanent operations proper to the human beings we reach a level that, although closely related to nature, transcends it in a special way. In a special way, intellectual knowledge and love of friendship rise above the limitations of what is material; unlike the latter which is always found particularised and can only be participated by division, intellectual knowledge and the love of friendship can be

multiplied indefinitely without diminution. Actually, they increase in depth and dignity when they are participated in a greater measure.


Causality and the emergence of novelties

We have already mentioned the problem of emergence in the previous chapters. In nature we come across different levels of organisation each of which has new characteristics which did not exist in the other levels and which are usually considered as emerging respect to the less organised levels. The emergence of novelties demands the existence of causes which may make them possible. The natural processes which lead to the production of these novelties are becoming better known; as a matter of fact, an important part of the present-day scientific progress is related to this type of processes which are usually grouped under the name of complexities. Two types of natural causes need to be present for new characteristics to emerge. On the one hand, there must be potentialities that can be able to emerge; for example, for the development of a tree there must be some seeds which contain the elements which make the development of the tree possible. On the other hand, the confluence is needed of those agent causes which are necessary for the actualisation of these potentialities. In the case of the seeds, it is necessary that all those factors (humidity for water, adequate soil for the necessary nutrients, etc.) which are necessary condition for the actualisation of the potentialities contained in the seed be present simultaneously. The scientific progress shows that these potentialities exist, to a large extent, as information, i.e. as programmes of possible activity which are engraved and stored, as it were, in physical structures. We know how the biological information works, and we can also speak of information in a wider sense in the case of non-living beings. Therefore we can understand how the potentialities of nature can unfold when the appropriate circumstances are present producing new types of organisations. Almost always these are new individuals of already existing species; however, nothing prevents that new species be also produced, i.e. new types of ways of being. Natural causes do not eliminate the problem of the radical foundation of nature. As a matter of fact the opposite occurs. The better we know the natural causes the more clearly we see that nature has a very efficient, complex and subtle rationality whose explanation remits to a causality which transcends nature and, at the same time, is immanent to it because it places into it those potentialities and conditions necessary for their actualisation. Only God, as First Cause which gives being to all that exists, can provide the radical foundation to natural causality without lessening its value. On the other hand, natural causes appear to be the ordinary way of the divine action which wants to count on them and, for that, it gives them potentialities necessary for their actualisation and arranges the confluence of those conditions necessary for this actualisation.



The study of the activity of the natural entities leads us to pose some questions in relation to the necessity and contingency of this activity: do natural laws have an absolute necessity, or do they only express generic regularities? Is there really chance in the natural processes? Moreover, these questions take us by hand to pose in a general way the problem of necessity and contingency of nature which is one of the basic problems we need to tackle if we really want to understand the being of the natural. Since our knowledge of nature is not a simple copy or snapshot of the same nature, we shall begin our analysis by presenting the kind of relationship that exists between scientific laws and natural laws. We shall then examine the types of necessity and contingency present in nature, as well as the problems of determinism and chance.


Scientific laws and natural laws

Natural activity unfolds around dynamic patterns. Science formulates laws which refer to these patterns, and when these laws are well proved we can claim that they reflect somehow the natural laws. a) Scientific laws

Experimental science seeks a knowledge of nature which can be submitted to experimental control. It achieves this aim to a large extent through those enunciations which are called laws. Scientific laws are enunciations which refer to different aspects of the natural phenomena. When these laws are formulated mathematically they establish relations between magnitudes which can be measured directly or indirectly. For example, experimental laws establish relations between magnitudes whose values can be measured directly, and the general principles, such as the distinct principles of conservation (energy, electrical charge, etc.), express general conditions which are present in all processes or in some concrete type of processes. Other laws are not expressed mathematically; however, they constitute the basis for mathematical formulations. The case, for instance, of the relativity theory can be taken as an example: this theory postulates that scientific laws are expressed in the same way although different systems of reference may be used. When well proved, the scientific laws express aspects of the reality. However, they make reference to reality through theoretical constructions (concepts and relations), and are not just a simple snapshot of nature. For example, by saying that force is equal

to mass multiplied by acceleration, results of possible measurements are actually anticipated in particular conditions. This law expresses therefore a relationship between magnitudes whose definition and measurement are not given by nature but depend on conceptual and experimental contexts constructed by the scientists. Scientific laws express regularities which really exist in nature in accordance with the modalities proper to each type of law (experimental laws or general principles, determinist laws or probabilities, etc.). Since our knowledge is very limited we cannot claim that scientific laws, no matter how well proved they are, coincide completely with the natural laws. However, if well proved, we may claim that they are not purely our mental constructions but a reflection of a real natural order. Scientific laws have an approximate and perfectible character: it is always possible to better describe those phenomena which the laws refer to, for instance, by constructing new concepts and by improving the precision of our formulations. This does not mean, though, that they will be mere hypotheses or conjectures. Many scientific laws describe natural phenomena in a correct way, although it is always possible to achieve better conceptualisations or greater precision. Each scientific law has a validity which is determined by the context of concepts and availability of adequate instruments. When a law is well proved within the area of specific phenomena, we can claim that it will continue to be valid within this area although we may be able to formulate more exact or deeper laws and theories in the same area or in others.


Natural laws

The term law refers, in its most proper meaning, to rules of human behaviour. In this context one can speak of obeying or abiding by a law, or of the fact that we are subjected to specific laws. By analogy, this concept is applied also to the activity of the natural agents because of the much regularity that characterises this activity. One can then speak of natural agents obeying or abiding by a law. There is no doubt that there are regularities in the activities of nature. Since purely natural beings do not enjoy freedom we tend to think that all the actions of the natural agents are realised by following pre-established regular patterns with total necessity. Leaving for later the analysis of this issue, we can say that the laws of physics are an expression of the regularities that characterise the activity of the natural agents. Although there is much regularity, there are also many factors that intervene in the unfolding of the natural processes and therefore it is very difficult, not to say impossible, that the same circumstances be repeated exactly in different processes. It can be said that properly speaking, there are no laws in nature. The concept of law, when applied to the behaviour of nature, corresponds to an abstraction. It is not just the question of being aware of the fact that scientific laws are not just a simple snapshot of nature. The problem is much deeper: in reality, nature is made of entities (and their properties) and processes, and laws are abstract enunciations by which we express structural and repeatable aspects of the natural.

In a strict sense, in nature nothing repeats itself in an exact way. There is no doubt that there is much regularity which can be considered as repetitions when considering certain specific effects. However, the repetitions are only approximate though at times the approximation is very precise. We are easily led to think that what is exactly repeated is what, in ordinary life or in the scientific practice, is pretty stable. We do not realise that the configuration of the constellations of stars changes, or that the sun is exhausting its fuel, or many other changes which are imperceptible to ordinary experience and also to science. We cannot even be sure that the best-proven scientific laws remain exactly the same with the passing of time. These problems lead us to pose the question about the degree of necessity of the natural activity.


Necessity and contingency in nature

The concept of contingency is opposed to that of necessity. What is contingent can be in one way or another, can be or not to be. On the contrary, what is necessary cannot cease to be what it is, or cannot cease to be at all. There are different modalities of necessity and contingency. Let us now examine the concepts of necessity and contingency which refer to the level of being and to that of acting.


Necessity and contingency in being

All the substances of the physical world can be subjects not only of accidental changes, in which they change accidentally while preserving their essential way of being, but also of substantial changes when they are transformed into another or more substances. The substance - or the substances - which existed before ceases to exist and is changed into another or more substances. In this sense all material beings are contingent since they are subjected to generation and corruption: they begin to exist through substantial changes and they can cease to be what they are. Actually, we can currently provoke transformations also of those natural systems which are more stable in a natural way; this is the case of the atomic nuclei and of the sub-atomic particles which are more stable and which can be transformed into other micro-physical systems in an artificial way. The most organised physico-chemical systems can be easily broken down, and living organisms show their contingency when they begin to exist by generation and cease to exist with death. Consequently, contingency in being extends to all levels of nature and to all individual systems. It is logical that this be so since they are material beings which, in principle, can change into others. It is because of this that one can say that the root of this contingency is materiality which implies space-time structuring and, therefore, the possibility of accidental as well as of substantial changes.

We may ask ourselves if this contingency in being also affects the universe as a whole; actually, it seems that transformations of systems into others do not affect the existence of the universe as a whole but only its parts. However, we can also claim that the universe as a whole is contingent since, in this case, if the universe were necessary it should have characteristics proper to the divinity. If something existed in a completely necessary manner it would exist by itself, independently from what could happen to other beings; it would depend on no other being and therefore it should have being by itself; however, this can only be attributed to God. If one claimed that the universe has being in a necessary way one would be admitting some form of pantheism since he would identify the universe with God which is impossible and does not correspond to what experience shows. In any case, there are many types of necessity in the world. Although there is no absolute necessity yet there are many types of relative necessity. Specifically, the universe as a whole will not cease to exist, unless it is annihilated (the Christian doctrine in this regard teaches that the world will be transformed and not annihilated). There are also many beings which have a relative, though quite strong, physical necessity and this occurs in individuals as well as in species and in certain types of organisation. For example, the protons which constitute ordinary matter are not transformed spontaneously into other particles or at least they do it so only in rare occasions. In the present-day conditions of our world the most stable sub-atomic particles and many nuclei of atoms are not disintegrated; bacteria have been existing and multiplying for many millions of years defying all sorts of changes in the environment, and the presentday organisation of our world is pretty stable. There is no doubt that existence of many things in our world, including us human beings, depends on circumstances which could change because of pretty simple causes such as the collision of a big meteorite with the earth. However, if no big catastrophes occur, the organisation of the world, as we know it in its basic aspects, is pretty stable. Spiritual beings have a much stronger type of necessity since they are not composed of material parts and therefore are not subjected to decomposition or substantial changes. A personal being cannot be transformed into another (transmigration of souls, or reincarnation, is impossible). In the case of purely spiritual beings, such as the angels (whose existence can only be known through divine revelation), once in existence they cannot die; annihilation is required for them to cease to be, and this can only occur as the result of a Gods action. Human beings, made of matter and spirit, have the necessity of the spiritual beings so that, once in existence, could cease to exist only through annihilation by God. However, we are subjected to death which implies the separation of the spirit from the matter; the spirit in such a new situation begins a somehow mysterious life which corresponds to the type of necessity proper to the spiritual realities. Obviously, only God exists with a complete and proper type of necessity since he and his own being are identical, without depending in any way on anything outside him. What exist outside God are creatures which depend completely on God for their being although they may have different degrees of necessity in being. We have so far referred to necessity as a perfection: the more consistent something is in its being the more perfect it is, and less it depends on the changing

circumstances. However, it is possible to refer to necessity in another sense, as something proper to the more imperfect beings, i.e. as a sign of imperfection. We have said, for instance, that those particularly simple beings (such as some sub-atomic particles, nuclei of atoms or bacteria) have an especially strong consistency precisely because of their material simplicity. On the other hand, we can now add that especially perfect beings, such as is the case of superior living organisms in general and of man in particular, are greatly fragile in their material being. Actually, they require a very sophisticated type of organisation which can easily cease to exist owing to a number of circumstances which can cause death.


Necessity and contingency in acting

More dependence on matter means more necessity in acting: this is a sign of imperfection. The more perfect beings have a greater independence respect to material conditions owing to the fact that they have knowledge and sensitivity. In the case of man there is authentic freedom because of his spirituality. In this context necessity is usually opposed to freedom. Man performs many actions in a necessary way and precisely those which correspond to the automatic unfolding of his material dynamism. On the other hand, he acts necessarily in his spiritual dimension in relation to those things which necessarily derive from his way of being (for instance, he necessarily looks for happiness, although he may make mistakes in the way of looking for it), and he acts freely in those things over which he has dominion. These references to an issue that transcends the proper object of the philosophy of nature seem to be sufficient. A more complete study would include for instance the consideration of the possibility of going wrong while acting freely, a fact which is not properly speaking a perfection since freedom achieves its authentic perfection when it used to act well. Material beings do not have freedom and in this sense one may say that they act in a necessary way. However, a number of varied circumstances happen to converge into material actions so that the necessity of the material acting does not imply as such a determinist type of acting. In other words, lack of freedom is not equivalent to a completely uniform kind of acting in any circumstance. We shall now examine therefore this problem related to determinism.


Determinism and uncertainty

Before anything else we shall show how frequently, when speaking of determinism or necessity of the natural activity, one only intends to highlight the fact that, unlike the rational and free human actions, natural agents act in a way determined by laws, instincts or tendencies. There is no doubt that this way of speaking is correct, it corresponds to reality and does not pose special problems. In this sense one can say that the natural activity is univocally determined (determinatio ad unum).

Difficulties arise, on the other hand, when we wish to be more precise in trying to determine what constitutes the necessity of the natural activity. Does it mean that everything happens in accordance with a rigid determinism? Is there some type of lack of determination in nature? Determinism in its classical form was expressed in a famous passage of a work published by the French physicist Pierre Simon de Laplace in 1814: So then, we need to consider the present-day state of the universe as the effect of its previous state and as the cause of the state which will follow. An intelligence which in a specific moment could know all the forces which animate nature, as well as the respective situation of the beings that constitute it, and could be enough wide to be able to analyse such data, could summarise in one formula only the movement of the biggest bodies of the universe as well as the lightest atoms. Nothing would appear uncertain to it and past and the future would be present to its eyes127. Of course, Laplace acknowledges later on that the human spirit will always remain infinitely remote from an intelligence like that. However, this limitation of our knowledge will coexist with a completely rigid determinism in nature: in principle, any future state of nature could be foreseen with all precision by a sufficiently powerful intelligence by simply applying physical laws. In the first half of the 20th century, quantum physics seemed to discredit this opinion. The uncertainty principle, formulated in 1927 by the German physicist Werner Heisenberg, states that there are limits in the micro-physical world which prevent the measuring of the values of couples of conjugated magnitudes (such as position and moment of a sub-atomic particle, or energy and time) simultaneously and with all precision. However, there are still discussions going on whether these limits only refer to the possibilities of measurement, or they also affect the way of being of the microphysical entities128. It is interesting to point out that, according to the uncertainty principle, what cannot be done is to measure at the same time two conjugated magnitudes like the ones already mentioned; however, nothing prevents any one of those magnitudes from being measured with enormous precision. In the last decades of the 20th century the theories of the determinist chaos have shed new light on the problem and posed, at the same time, new questions. These theories show that, even if one admits that the physical laws are determinist, small changes are enough in the initial conditions of the systems to be able to produce very different results. Therefore, determinism and uncertainty could coexist. We have actually pointed out that conditions are never completely identical. Therefore, a basically determinist behaviour can produce unpredictable results. However, this unpredictability is also relative: given some specific set of conditions, the fact is that there is also a set of some specific possibilities. Actually, the theories of chaos do not claim the existence of a pure chaos. It may also sound shocking to hear someone speaking of determinist chaos; however, this name expresses a reality: new laws
127 128

Pierre Simon DE LAPLACE, Ensayo filosfico sobre las probabilidades, Alianza, Madrid 1985, p. 25. The bibliography on this issue is immense. One may read for instance: N. CARTWRIGHT, Philosophical Problems on Quantum Theory, in: L. KRGER L.J. DASTON M. HEIDELBERGER (publishers), The Probabilistic Revolution, The MIT Press, Cambridge (Mass.): vol. II, Ideas in Sciences, 1989, pp. 417-435; S. DELIGEORGES (publisher), El mundo cuntico, Alianza, Madrid 1990; S.L. JAKI, Chance and Realityand other Essays, University Press of America, Lanham 1986, pp. 1-21; F. SELVAGGI, Causalit e indeterminismo, Universit Gregoriana, Rome 1964.

previously unknown have been determined which are verified in those phenomena that these theories study. It is difficult to propose a definitive solution to the problem of uncertainty in nature. In any case, it seems possible to state something very important in order to avoid equivocations: concretely, causality is not equivalent to determinism. On some occasions the existence of hints in favour of uncertainty is interpreted as if the very concept of causality had failed, and some speak of the possibility of events without causes. Nothing is more remote from reality if we take into account the fact that causality includes the different types of causes which we have already considered, and that nothing can begin to exist in nature unless produced by proportionate causes. On the other hand, it is certain that there is uncertainty in the natural activity, so that completely determinist laws cannot be formulated which may permit an exact prediction of the future in the sense presented by Laplace. Some of the implications which this situation can have in other fields, especially when one thinks of the existence of a divine plan which governs nature, will be examined later after analysing the concept of chance. 27.4 Chance, order and complexity

We have already examined the existence of chance in nature in the chapter dedicated to the natural order. We shall recall now those ideas which were presented there, and we shall apply them to the problems we are now dealing with, i.e. the activity of the natural agents, determinism and the metaphysical problems which pop up within this area of investigation. It is usually admitted that chance is the result of the confluence of independent causal chains. We now claim that something happens casually, or by chance, when this is not the effect expected from a cause: its existence is due to the concomitance of causes which have no reason to coincide. For this reason we usually distinguish proper causality (causality per se in the classical terminology) and accidental causality (cause per accidens). All agents produce effects in accordance with their way of being and which are the consequence of their natural activity: they are the effects proper to such agents. Moreover, different agents co-operate in a unitary way and produce also cooperative effects which are classified as proper effects. However, it frequently happens that different causes coincide without any reason for this to happen, and produce effects which, so to say, fall out of the proper tendencies of those causes which intervene. It is in these circumstances then that accidental effects are produced as a consequence of this fortuitous concomitance: in these cases we speak of chance. The characteristic of chance is that those causes which act together are independent from one another, i.e. there is no reason why they should coincide and ordinarily they do not coincide. Chance is found in the field of accidental causes; this means that, properly speaking, chance is not a cause; it presupposes the existence of proper causes which coincide to produce the effect. However, such a coincidence is fortuitous or accidental because nothing says that it should necessarily happen. Understood in this sense chance does really exist in nature. Moreover, it plays an important role in the unfolding of many natural processes. Actually, the coincidence of independent causes is very frequent owing to the great variety of causes which exist

in nature. Chance is not due solely to our ignorance by which we are unable to determine the causes which have produced a specific effect. Sometime, though, it is like that since the ignorance of the intervening factors can induce us to think of a casual coincidence which in reality is not so. Chance is related to the uncertainty of the natural activity. Many are the causal factors which can intervene in the natural processes, and it is not possible to foresee which of them will intervene in each specific case. For this reason the uncertainty of nature can be considered as a real characteristic in the same way in which chance is and for the same reason. It is not just the question of the difficulty or impossibility of foreseeing the future because of the limitations of our knowledge, it is the question of the complexity of nature which makes this prediction very difficult or impossible since factors intervene in each particular case which may be absent in other cases. In order to know the natural patterns experimental science provokes situations in which few factors are isolated so that their behaviour can be studied, and assumes that the other factors existing in nature do not play any role. In this way we can know isolated natural patterns which, in reality, are combined with many other factors. For this reason it is difficult at times to explain very familiar phenomena in a scientific way; in this way, on the other hand, an exact knowledge is obtained of the most hidden aspects of the reality. The determinism of nature depends on the production of stable situations in which some types of behaviour are uniform or regular. Chance plays a role in the production of successive levels of complexity in nature. There are fortuitous coincidences and they can be important for the production of some effects and not of others. This is particularly important in the study of the evolution and of the role that chance plays in the evolutionary process. We shall deal with this issue later on while studying evolution. However, there is no chance for God. As the first cause of the being of all that exists, every thing is manifested to God, past as well as present and future. God is outside time and these temporal distinctions do not affect him. Moreover, everything completely depends on God in their being. Consequently, although chance does really exist from the point of view of nature and of man, this does not affect the knowledge that God has of everything, or the providence with which he governs everything. In the present-day perspective it is usually admitted that there is a degree of uncertainty in nature so that evolution is, in a certain way, a creative process. It is also admitted that future is not completely determined by the past. This perspective is compatible with divine providence which does not direct the course of nature in the same way in which natural causes do, but being the foundation of their being and acting, it makes them possible. Moreover, the disregard of providence and divine governance makes it difficult to understand how some natural virtualities can exist whose unfolding produces, at successive levels of organisation, always new virtualities whose actualisation, in very varied circumstances, leads ultimately to a nature which displays an amazing organisation at the top of which man is found. The disjunctive either an unforeseeable chance or a rigid determinism does not exhaust the possibilities. Another possibility can be added to the disjunctive our

number has come up in the Montecarlo roulette by Jacques Monod and God does not play with dice by Albert Einstein. This new possibility is that God plays with rigged dice. If one thinks of God as a being which is much more intelligent than ourselves Laplaces superior intelligence - who acts like us but with an enormously greater capacity, then one would not be able to understand how the existence of a divine providence can go together with the reality of uncertainty and chance. However, this representation of God is inadequate: it would correspond to a kind of demiurge, or superior being, who would not really be God. A personal God creator, conceived as the First Cause of the being and of acting of everything that exists and acts, does not find any problem in governing a nature in which there is uncertainty and chance. Actually, God knows everything in a perfect way, in a way which is different from ours, and encompasses in his knowledge and in his power absolutely everything down to the minutest detail.



We shall study in this chapter the characteristics and origin of the living beings which occupy a central place in nature and manifest, in an especially adequate way, the characterisation of the natural through the intertwining of a proper dynamism and spacetime structuring.



We have characterised the natural as the union of the dynamism proper to a natural entity with space-time structuring. We have seen how nature can be considered as a big system of systems in which a prominent place is occupied by those unitary systems traditionally called substances. The living beings are the most important examples of natural substances with a very special type of dynamism and organisation. We shall now examine the characteristics proper to the living beings and the problem of their origin. We shall first comment on the impact that the progress of biology has on philosophy.


Biology and philosophy

The huge strides made by biology since the second half of the 20th century have had important consequences for the present-day worldview and for the philosophy of nature. We shall now refer to some of these consequences.


Physics, biology and philosophy of nature

Living beings occupy a central place in nature. The ancient worldview, together with its philosophical reflections, acknowledged this. Living beings feature prominently in Aristotles philosophy; one can say that the substances properly called in Aristotle are the living beings, to such an extent that the understanding of being in general has its roots in the understanding of the living being129. Actually, at times it has been said that Aristotles philosophy is very biological, as if it could be applied easily to the living beings but difficult to do so to the rest of nature.


Alfredo MARCOS, Aristteles y otros animales. Una lectura filosfica de la Biologa aristotlica , PPU, Barcelona 1996, p.192.

The systematic birth of the modern experimental science in the 17th century began, logically, with physics which is the science that studies the most general and basic characteristics of nature. At the time when physics had already made huge strides ahead, biology was still in its infancy; this is also logical since the progress of biology requires the previous progress of physics and chemistry which provide the foundations which biology needs. Consequently, supremacy was granted to physics and at times living beings were explained in function of the physical in a kind of reductionist way. Even when the specific character of the living beings was emphasised, philosophy of nature was still quite conditioned by the concepts and problems of physics. When physics and chemistry were sufficiently ahead in the 20th century, there was an authentic explosion of biology, a fact which had a great impact on the presentday worldview and on philosophy of nature. Living beings have recovered the prominent place which had always corresponded to them, and the categories proper to biology have been strongly emphasised. In this context, the central ideas of Aristotles philosophy have acquired new strength. This has happened, for instance, with the concepts of substance, form and finality. Although the existence of substances is admitted in the non-living world, it is clear that the notion of substance is realised in a primary way in the living beings which have an especially strong unity and individuality. In a similar way, the concept of form acquires special relevance when the organisation proper to the living beings is considered. The concept of finality is the one that features more prominently. Mechanism had taken, as a mould, a part of physics and declared that finality did not exist; moreover, it tried to explain the finalist dimensions of nature in terms of mechanical categories. However, contemporary biology has highlighted these finalist dimensions since finality appears everywhere among living organisms. On the other hand, the biological theories about the evolution of the species, i.e. the origin of some species from others through natural processes, have had an important impact in the philosophy of nature and in other branches of philosophy. We shall refer to them later on.


Life from the perspective of molecular biology

The question what is life? is a very complex one for biology since there is an enormous variety of living organisms and there are many different levels of life. On the other hand, scientists do not need a simple and unequivocal answer to this question: they only need to study the characteristics of the different living beings. Moreover, biologists, take, as starting point, common ideas that all of us have about the living organisms, and these ideas are a sufficient basis for the construction of biology as science. However, molecular biology has provided a kind of knowledge which has placed our ideas about life at a new level unknown before. In their quest for physico-chemical material which may be responsible for heredity, scientists direct their attention to the nucleus of cells and, concretely, to the chromosomes. Before 1900 it had already been

established that the chromosomes of the majority of the organisms contain proteins and DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). It was thought for sometime that the proteins were the ones containing the genetic material since only proteins were sufficiently complex to carry out this job. However, evidence in favour of DNA as genetic material had started accumulating around 1940. By 1950 a lot of knowledge about the chemical structure of DNA was already available. Finally, James Watson and Francis Crick proposed in 1953 the model of the double-helix structure of the DNA; this structure has been confirmed by further works and constitutes one the most important advances in modern science. Since then, discoveries have multiplied: the genetic code, the manufacturing of proteins, the information which directs the development of the living beings, the structure and function of genes, and other related topics. The progress of molecular biology which studies the structure and functions of the molecules which make up the living beings, have led to the knowledge of other important aspects of the living beings such as cell communication. This progress has fostered the development of new ideas about the characteristics of the living beings. Unicellular organisms are made of one cell only while the multicellular ones are made of many of them. All cells have DNA as genetic material which contains the information for the replication of the living beings and for the manufacturing of many of their principal components. There is an exception in the case of some viruses whose genetic material is RNA (ribonucleic acid, similar to the DNA but different in some aspects of its composition). Unlike the prokaryotic cells which do not have a nucleus (it is the case of bacteria), the DNA of the eukaryotic cells is contained in a nucleus surrounded by a nucleus membrane. Life, as we know it on our planet, is characterised by the DNA as genetic material; the RNA which plays a role in the translation and transcription of the DNA of the nucleus into proteins which are manufactured in the ribosomes of the cells; and proteins (macromolecules made of amino-acids) which exist in a great variety, adopt very specific space structures and carry out functions which are also very varied. The present-day knowledge places the problem of life in a new perspective: on the one hand, because for the first time in history an important part of the physicochemical mechanisms of life is known in detail, and this leads to look at the living organisms from a new perspective; on the other hand, because now we know that an important portion of the living beings is made of very primitive beings. Actually, bacteria have perhaps played a central role in the origin of other organisms, and certainly play an essential role in the biosphere. However, they can hardly be described with the same terms which we use when speaking of those living beings which are accessible to ordinary experience. A number of clarifications need to be made when speaking of an organism, or of growth and development, and also of death, in the case of bacteria. Therefore, although the present-day scientific knowledge can give new life to classical philosophical concepts, it is also clear that we shall be able to obtain a rigorous description of the types of living beings and of their functions only if we take into account the knowledge provided by biology, a knowledge that takes us much further than what ordinary experience does.

Besides what has been said, we can also mention that, according to the opinion of some scientists, the frontiers of life will have to be placed at the level of molecules rather than at that of the cells. This is certainly appropriate if we take into account the fact that some of the main characteristics we consider as belonging to life are also found in viruses. Not only, but also in some proteins called prions (infectious protein particles) capable of replication. Prions can cause a change in the configuration of proteins and turn them almost identical to themselves; moreover, this change propagates successively to new proteins130.


Genetics and its implications

Genes are the hereditary units and are made of pieces of DNA. The number of genes found in the chromosomes varies a lot in different organisms; and so, the genome of a bacterium can contain 3,000 genes, while that of human organism contains 100,000 genes. The entire genome is found in each cell of an organism; however, only some of the genes are expressed (are active). Therefore, the regulation of gene expression is very important; internal factors join external ones to determine which genes are expressed in which circumstances from the beginning of the development of an organism to each one of its stages. Processes and methods involved in the control and expression of the genes which are fairly sophisticated structures, are being known progressively better. These processes involve not only those genes which are expressed but also regulatory genes which control the expression of other genes. This takes us to the problem of differentiation: how to explain the fact that along the development of an organism so many different cells are produced? As a fertilised egg-cell develops different cells are produced which go to occupy their own place and carry out their specific functions. This fact is summarised by Tim Beardsley in few words: During the development of an organism, cells move, migrate following their complex strategies, change their form and end up by associating themselves with one another to constitute specialised tissues. A human being, for instance, has more than 250 types of different cells and each one of them has to be and function in the appropriate place (hepatic cells would be of no use in the brain). However, each one of them has the same genes in its DNA131. We have known for a long time that in these processes genes are activated and inactivated. Only now we are beginning to know the mechanisms of the process, i.e. how the activity of the genes is harmonised so that at a precise moment different cells are formed and perform their function in the appropriate place. With Beardsleys words: Hundreds of experiments show that the control of the expression of most genes of an organism is carried out almost always through regulation of transcription, a process

They are the agents involved in the sickness of the mad cows; cf. Stanley B. PRUSINER, Prones, Investigacin y cencia, No. 99, December 1984, pp. 22-32; El pron en la patologa, Investigacin y cienca, No. 222, March 1995, pp. 14-21. 131 The quotations by Beardsley included in this section are taken from: Tim BEARDSLEY, Genese inteligentes, Investigacin y cienca, No. 181, October 1991, pp. 76-85.

whose end is to copy the genetic information contained in the DNA into RNA; these are the molecules by which millions of proteins are manufactured and which make cells noticeably different from another one. Beardsley points out the fact that the main teaching of molecular biology in the last 20 years is the control of gene expression through regulation of transcription. Eric H. Davidson has been one of the protagonists of these advances in molecular genetics; he speaks in this regard of intelligent genes and of the brain on the intelligent gene. This brain is a complex aggregation of proteins, a kind of computer, where signals are combined and where decisions are taken on whether to activate a gene or not. It is clearly an anthropomorphic type of language since biochemical entities are presented as intelligent with capacity of integrating information and capacity of decision. Beardsley captures the following statement made by Franois Jacob and Jacques Monod who shared the Nobel prize for medicine in 1965 for their contribution to molecular biology: The genome contains not only a series of drafts but a fully co-ordinate program for the synthesis of proteins and means of controlling their execution. The same Beardsley writes that the cells of a complex organism need to know where they are installed in order to decide which genes are going to be expressed. These cells should also be able to respond to situations of emergency such as an aggression or the sudden presence of an hormone. The progress of genetics is interpreted at times with the bias of a genetic determinism which, if considered in a rigid way, would hardly leave room for any freedom. However, this alleged determinism has two limitations. On the one hand, although the basic programme of instructions is contained in the genome of an organism, the expression of the genes depends on multiple factors among which one finds factors which are external to the history of the very organism. There is no doubt that there is some kind of determination in the genes, but there is also a variety of functions of the distinct factors which intervene in the complex biological processes. Therefore, not even from a biological point of view is it possible to speak of rigid determinism. On the other hand, in the case of a human person freedom allows that person to act for rational motives and determinations of the will, although obviously our activity unfolds on the basis provided by our genetic peculiarities. A genetic reductionism which forgot or doubted the decisive importance of human intelligence and will, would be unduly extrapolating some biological factors - no doubt important -, and forgetting the decisive function of the superior capacities of the human being132.


Directional information

We have already pointed out the fact that the progress of contemporary biology has taken to the forefront the concept of information. Concepts taken from cybernetics and from the theory of information are constantly used in biology. The genes contain the genetic information where the instructions are found for the development of an


An interesting critique of the present-day biological reductionism is found in the article: Biology isnt destiny, The Economist, 14th February 1998, pp. 97-99.

organism, so that the manufacturing of proteins, the formation of new organs and many other life processes are directed by this information. The existence of a genetic information takes us by hand to the admission that there are realities in the living beings which correspond to the concepts of programme, design and plan. There is an immanent directionality which the scientific progress clarifies more and more every day. We are not talking here of those tendencies called psychic and which are very important. We are speaking here of physico-chemical tendencies which are inscribed in the space-time structures of the living beings. We have just pointed out that the biological directionality should not be identified with determinism. It is a real directionality however complex and at the same time compatible with increasing degrees of spontaneity which, at human level, is completed with new dimensions of spiritual nature which transcend the space-time scope of the natural. The directionality we find in the living beings provides new elements for the teleological argument which takes us from the unconscious intelligence of the natural up to the conscious intelligence of the personal God creator. However, this requires further reasoning which will be done later.


Characteristics of the living beings

Life is usually spoken of as a reality with a special type of spontaneity: selfmovement, indeed beneficial to the very subject that moves. It is also usual to distinguish in the living beings a series of functions some of which are found at all levels of life while others are proper only to some organisms. All these are based upon two fundamental characteristics of the living beings, i.e. life organisation and functionality. We have already pointed out that a very important portion of the living beings is represented by bacteria; perhaps virus should be added together with some selfreplicating proteins. Consequently, it is obvious that the ideas that follow cannot be applied to the most primitive living beings exactly in the same way in which they are applied to those that are more complex. It is interesting to note, however, that the characterisation of the natural by the intertwining of ones own dynamism and spacetime structuring, as we have proposed from the very beginning, appears to be especially adequate when it is applied to the living beings.


Life organisation and functionality

If we admit that the natural is characterised by its own dynamism closely related to a space-time organisation, one will also admit that this characterisation achieves its ultimate and paradigmatic expression in the case of the living beings. This is logical if one takes into account the fact that living beings occupy the central place among the natural beings.

It is undeniable that living beings have their own dynamism. More precisely, living beings are usually characterised by their capacity of self-movement. We have already expressly emphasised the fact that, in claiming that the natural has its own dynamism, we were not claiming a kind of pan-psychism. This clarification is necessary owing to the fact that self-movement is so deeply entrenched in living beings that it is very easy to establish a kind of identity between them. At this stage it is convenient to point out also that frequently, in characterising living beings, one usually tends to oppose living beings to any thing which is different from them. This opposition is usually expressed with negative terms such as the non-living, the inert, that which behaves in a passive way and does not have in itself a principle of movement, the inorganic or that which lacks the organisation proper to the living beings. The use of such negative terms can lead to confusion because there is nothing really in nature that is purely passive or inert, or that does not have some type of space-time structuring. However, there is no doubt that the living beings have their own peculiar dynamism which corresponds to a particularly strong unity and individuality. They are clearly subjects different from other subjects; they have parts organised in a co-operative way in an organism which has its own needs, goals and tendencies. The dynamism proper to the living beings includes the activity of different parts which co-operate in the realisation of the goals of the living being: these parts perform functions which are integrated in a unitary way, and co-operate in the maintenance, development and reproduction of the organism. All in all, own dynamism and space-time structuring correspond, in the living beings, to self-movement which includes functional co-operation of the parts of a unitary and individual organism. It is unusual to speak of organism in the case of primitive living beings; however, and in any case, these beings are unitary and individual, they have a very specific organisation and, in adequate conditions, perform an enormously specific function: reproduction. This function requires the orderly and unitary co-operation of different parts in carrying out the perpetuation of this subject and of its activities. This is true not only in the case of bacteria but also of viruses and of some proteins such as the prions.


Immanence and spontaneity

Self-movement is a characteristic of the living beings. Although everything natural has its own dynamism, there are dynamic equilibriums which in many cases hide this dynamism from ordinary experience. However, the dynamism of the living beings appears clearly and it is usually considered as a fundamental characteristic of these types of beings. The dynamism of the living beings appears as a kind of spontaneity which. Spontaneity can be attributed to all that is natural; however, it has peculiar characteristics at biological level because its subjects are clearly unitary and individual beings which actively seek what is appropriate to their keeping in being and to their development. There is no doubt that an atom, or a molecule, has its own dynamism and

a unitary space-time structuring. They are also stable and have certain tendencies; however, it does not make any sense to say that they actively seek to keep in their being, and even less to develop and reproduce. The activity proper to the living being is at a different level from that of the physico-chemical entities. The peculiarities of this activity can be expressed by the term immanence. Living beings, insofar as they are unitary and individual beings which act seeking their own perfection, have a kind of activity whose effects remain within themselves and which, for this reason, are called immanent. The immanence of the living beings means that, somehow, they act having themselves as ends. They are the beneficiaries of their own actions. This does not exclude the fact that other beings may benefit by their actions, and that their activity may have ends outside themselves. We have already distinguished between transient and immanent actions when considering the natural activity. We have seen that transient actions are physical actions which have an effect external to the agent, and that immanent operations have an end in the very agent which therefore perfects itself in acting. Living beings perform actions whose effects remain within them and contributes to their perfection; although in many cases these actions are also transient, since they produce detectable physical effects, they nevertheless revert to the agent which performs them. Moreover, when we reach the level of knowledge, a peculiar type of immanence is involved. In the case of the human beings, intelligence and will are at a level essentially superior to that of other natural beings, and at this level we find a unique degree of immanence by which a human being achieves his specific perfection.


Phenomenological aspects of the living being

We have already said that a great number of living beings are micro-organism. Consequently, when we speak of phenomenological aspects of the living beings we refer, in a strict sense, only to those which can be observed in the ordinary experience. However, we expand this idea so that it may include the main characteristics of all living beings: these are self-movement, organisation, generation, development, reproduction and death. We have already mentioned self-movement and we have emphasised that it is the dynamism characteristic of living beings. Although every natural entity has it own dynamism, living beings in particular are beings with a strong unity and individuality and their dynamism is such that their activity contributes, as a result and to a large extent, to the keeping and development of the very being of the subject which performs it. Moreover, the self-movement of living beings is manifested in two aspects which are typical of them, namely development and reproduction. The organic makeup is another characteristic typical of many living beings. We do not say that it is a characteristic of all because, as we have already pointed out, it is unusual to speak of organisms when we refer to primitive living beings; however,

even then we find complex co-operative structures which correspond to the idea of organisation proper to the living beings. In relation to the organic makeup we can mention some characteristics which make it possible to keep the living beings in their being; such is the case of metabolism, or the set of chemical reactions in which energy is produced that the organism needs in order to keep living and to perform its functions; and of homeostasis, or the keeping of some characteristics at a constant level against the changes of the external environment. They are very general characteristics to which many particular functions could be added which are present in different types of living beings. Generation refers to the beginning of the existence of the living being which is formed as an individual and unitary being from other living beings. In many living beings generation is followed by a gradual development which leads to the realisation of the specific type in accordance with established patterns and, finally, by death or disappearance of the living being which ceases to exist as such and is changed into a lump of inorganic material. Reproduction is one of the basic characteristics of the living beings which transmit, from generation to generation, the characteristics typical of the species. Moreover, heredity constitutes the basis of mutations which make the evolution of species possible.


Explanation of life

Experimental science seeks explanations which can be submitted to experimental control and which, therefore, refer to components and structures that follow repeatable space-time patterns. Since ancient times discussions have taken place on whether living beings can be explained by taking into account only explanations of this type, or whether it is necessary to introduce other principles as a point of reference. These discussions are still going on thanks also to the stimulus of the progress of contemporary biology. The discussion focuses around two antagonistic stands which are traditionally called mechanism and vitalism. Mechanism in the proper sense was defended by Descartes who held the view according to which all natural entities, including the living beings (with the exception of the human soul) are mere mechanical machines. This version of mechanism is clearly insufficient and has been replaced by more sophisticated explanations which portray the living beings as cybernetic machines. It is claimed that it is useless to look in living beings for something which falls outside the scope of the experimental science. On the other hand, vitalism emphasises the peculiar characteristics of the living beings, and postulates some meta-empirical factor, some type of vital principle which should be necessary to justify the being and acting of living beings.

Although there are different interpretations, yet it is presently and generally admitted that living beings have specific characteristics which are not found at other levels of the natural world. There is no doubt that they follow the laws of physics but they transcend them. Aristotles philosophy provides concepts which shed light on this problem. Actually, when Aristotle speaks of a soul of the living beings he refers to their way of being which truly has peculiar characteristics. In his second treatise On the Soul Aristotle proposes a general definition of soul through three steps. First, he says that we usually refer to life as feeding, growing and getting older and he asks what is that makes a living natural body different from one which is not living. He claims that the difference is not in the body since there are bodies that are alive and bodies that are not. He concludes that the soul is the specific form of a natural body which has life in potency (here, specific form is the translation of the Greek word eidos). Second, Aristotle adds that to have life is anterior to exercising it, and therefore he claims that the soul is the first act of the natural body which has life in potency. Immediately afterwards, he comments that a body of this type which has life in potency, is an organism. Then he concludes that the soul is the first act of the organized natural body133. Aquinas accepts these same ideas in his commentary on Aristotle134. WE have already seen what the concepts of substantial or specific form, first act and potency mean. We have seen how the essences of the natural beings are not simple but composed: they exist in material conditions (proto-matter) and how they include perfections which determine the specific way of being (substantial form). Matter and form are not complete entities, or physical parts: they are principles which behave as potency and act respectively. Proto-matter is a potential and undetermined principle, while the substantial form is the actualizing determining principle. If we apply these ideas to the living beings we can say that the soul is their substantial form, the actualising principle of their essence, their first act which expresses the essential perfections proper to each type of living beings. We have said that the substantial form refers to the unitary way of being of the substance and to the totality of the possibilities of acting which correspond to the way of being: it is act, energy or active nature. In the living beings the substantial form, or soul, is their first act: it expresses their essential way of being which is always in act as long as the living being exists. In order to act the living being has to pass from potency to act: it has some active potencies or vital faculties which empower the living being to act; however, they need to be actualised in each specific case. When a living being actualises one of its faculties, or active potencies, it passes to second act which is the action or operation expressed by the verb to act. Operatio sequitur esse: the being in second act which is action, is realised in accordance with the way of being of each living being, i.e. that which is first act and which is expressed by its substantial form or soul. We should be aware of the fact that the term soul has a long history not only in philosophy but also in religion and theology. Later on we shall expressly consider the human soul and its spirituality. For the time being we shall refer only to the soul of the
133 134

ARISTOTLE, De anima, II, 1, 412 a 9 b 6. AQUINAS, In Aristotelis librum De Anima Commentarium, 5th ed., Marietti, Turin 1959; book II, Ch. 1, pp. 60-62 (nn. 219, 221, 229, 230, 233).

living beings in general, and at the same time claim that Aristotles ideas can be presently applied, with the clarifications made, when speaking of the substantial form. We have emphasised the fact that the living beings have a specific type of unity and individuality. Although some of them live in colonies, living beings are typically individual, have a very specific material organization and their own dynamism which is manifested in their life functions. All this corresponds to the Aristotelian idea of soul as essential first act of an organism which refers to the substantial form, to the original energy which corresponds to the way of being of each living being. Of course, there are very many types of living beings; however, they all have in common what is expressed by the general idea of soul. Moreover, the idea of substantial form expresses in a very adequate way the fact that this soul forms one thing only with the material conditions in which it exists: what properly exists is the living being, while the soul does not express a physical part or its simple structure. We repeat that for the time being we do not refer to the spirituality of the human soul which is a case apart. The philosophical conceptualisation of the soul of living beings is not only compatible with the progress of biology but it also expresses in an adequate way the peculiar way of being of the biological entities. Philosophy of nature should not be a substitute for biology; its explanations are not like the ones of the experimental science. In the philosophy of nature we try to represent the way of being of the natural entities as faithfully as possible and, in our case, that of the living beings. Living beings occupy a central place in nature; they correspond, in a particularly faithful way, to the characterization of the natural world through the intertwining of its own dynamism and space-time structuring. This characterization of the living beings corresponds to the basic ideas expressed by Aristotle whose philosophy especially focuses on the living beings. We have also emphasised that the progress of contemporary biology highlights the importance of directionality in the living world. In the case of individual living beings, the existence of an immanent finality is a fact which can be illustrated by abundant examples and which increase as the scientific progress advances. However, natural finality has to face a challenge of different type when we examine, as we are going to do, the issue of the evolution of the living beings.



One of the more prominent aspects of the present-day worldview is the importance attributed to the theories on the origin of the world, of the living beings and of man. For the first time in history we have theories generally accepted by the scientists which claim the existence of a great process in which successive levels of the organization of nature would have been produced in a gradual way. We shall now examine the biological evolutionism according to which the present living organisms proceed from more primitive ones through successive transformations. This idea began to acquire popularity during the 19th century as

evidence started accumulating which were based on fossils and on studies of comparative anatomy. Lamarck proposed the first transformist idea in his book Zoological Philosophy published in 1809. Transformism became quite widespread in the scientific and cultural circles in 1859 when Charles Darwin published The Origin of the Species. The progress of genetics in the 30s contributed to the formulation of the neo-Darwinism also known as synthetic theory of evolution. Presently biologists agree on admitting the fact of evolution although there is no unanimity about the specific explanations of its mechanisms. If nature is considered from the point of view of the intertwining between dynamism and structuring, evolution appears as a collection of morphogenetic processes at the different natural levels. At each stage of evolution there are some virtualities which are actualized in function of the intervening factors. New types of organization are produced with new types of dynamism and virtualities whose unfolding and actualization produce, in their turn, other levels of organization, and so on and so fort. All this can be looked at as the unfolding of an original information which, at successive levels of organization, originates new information patterns of increasing complexity. Two are the main problems posed by biological evolution, namely the origin of the first living organisms, and the subsequent origin of some species from pre-existing ones. Although the latter clashes with no trivial difficulties, the former is perhaps even more difficult. We shall now examine the scientific explanations about the origin of life and of its subsequent evolution; we shall add some reflections on the philosophical implications which these problems raise.


The origin of life

A-biotic biogenesis means that the first living beings were formed at the physicochemical level through natural processes. It is a process which is not observed presently in nature, and which cannot be reproduced in the laboratory for the time being. What we know presently is that living beings originate from other living beings. The ancients claimed that in some cases (such as putrefaction) there was spontaneous generation, i.e. the generation of some imperfect living beings from inorganic material. This opinion was held, for instance, by Aquinas135. However, Pasteurs experiments in 1860 showed that there is no spontaneous generation in our world, and that the experiments which seemed to support it, were due to an insufficient isolation of the material being used. When the products were adequately isolated,


One may read: AQUINAS, Summa Theologiae, 1, q. 71, a.1, ad 1m; I, q. 91, a. 2., ad 2m. These texts support the generation of the imperfect living beings from putrefaction under the action of the celestial bodies, and deny that perfect animals, in whose generation semen intervenes, can be generated in this way.

avoiding the communication between them and the micro-organisms of the external environment, there was no generation of any living being. However, the problem of the a-biotic biogenesis was posed once again later on and in a new way when evolutionism got a firm foothold. The question was now the origin of the first living beings, a process which would have taken place historically in accordance with natural processes in very remote times, i.e. some 700 million years after the formation of the earth. It is usually admitted that the earth was formed some 4,500 million years ago, and that the most ancient fossils belonging to living being are 3,800 million years old. There is no doubt that 700 million years is a very long time; however, if one takes into account the enormous complexity of the living beings respect to the inorganic matter this time appears to be quite short for the first organisms to be formed in a casual way. Different types of explanations have been proposed for the possible chemical origin of life. However, the complexity of the living beings, no matter how elementary they are, is still a challenge to the understanding of how casual processes could have led to such sophisticated structures in which there is interdependence of parts. There is no unanimous agreement among scientists in this field, and discrepancies affect all the dimensions of the problem. As for the environment where life arose, the most widespread interpretation (which is frequently presented as the most certain) claims that there may have been a primitive soup in the ocean whose water surrounded volcanic islands which contained those chemical elements most indispensable to life. The first living beings would have originated in this kind of situation, such as unicellular bacteria capable of reproduction136. However, some scientists warn that this explanation presents difficulties, and they offer other types of possible explanations; for instance, the presence of clay crystals which would have acted as row kind of material in which the first organisms could have been formed137. As for those processes which would have led to the production of the first organisms, the main difficulty consists in explaining the formation of the first systems capable of self-replication in the absence of those mechanisms which presently permit that replication. Actually, replication occurs in the present-day living organisms through the cooperation of the nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) and proteins. However, proteins are produced in processes which are directed by the nucleic acids, while the activity of the nucleic acids requires the intervention of proteins. Therefore, it seems that we are in vicious circle. The way out of this circle could be found in the hyper-cycles. These are processes in which one entity produces the factors necessary for its own replication through a cyclic process. There are already feed-back circuits which make this self-


Cf. R. GORE, Our Restless Planet Earth, National Geographic Magazine, vol. 168, No. 2, August 1985, p. 151: this article is an example on how this hypothesis can be presented as a certainty. 137 Cf. A.G. CAIRNS-SMITH, Los primeros organismos, Investigacin y cienca, No. 107, August 1985, pp. 54-63.

catalysis possible138. It has been proposed, along this line, that the RNA is the original precursor of life as we know it. This possibility is based on the existence of different types of RNA, and in its capacity of self-replication by combining its catalytic function with that of mould: the RNA can direct the replication as well as the reproduction of the factors necessary to it139. However, there are other possible explanations for the origin of life. We have already mentioned some of them, but there are more. Although it is frequently claimed, particularly in some books of general information, that the origin of life has already been unravelled - and as a matter of fact there are theories which enjoy a certain success -, the enigmas which still wait for an answer are neither few nor small140. Some scientists consider as enormously improbable the fact that life could have been formed on earth in a spontaneous way, and postulate the possibility that life, or at least some of its basic organic components, could have reached the earth from the outer space or from some inhabited planet141. However, this does not solve the problem and the questions are only taken a step further.


The evolution of the species

Evolutionist theories claim that all living beings were formed through natural processes from some few first ones. Nowadays there is a widespread consensus among biologists on the fact of evolution although there are also disagreements, and sometime serious ones, about its explanation. Jean Baptiste de Lamarck (1774-1829) in 1809 defended the hypothesis of biological transformism, i.e. the origin of the species through transformation of other more primitive ones. He tried to explain it through the heredity of acquired characters. The neck of the giraffe is a typical example: because of the giraffes effort to reach food placed at progressively higher altitudes, its neck became longer and these variations in the necks length were transmitted to the descendants. This explanation was rejected later on, although some scientists claim that in some cases there are quasi-Lamarckian processes involved.

This kind of processes is explained by applying them to the origin of life, in: M. EIGEN W. GARDINER P. SCHUSTER R. WINKLER-OSWATITSCH, Origen de la informacin gentica, Investigacon y cienca, No. 57, June 1981, pp. 62-81. Eigen and Schuster proposed this explanation in 1977. 139 Cf. R.F. GESTELAND J.F. ATKINS (publishers), The RNA World, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, Plainview (New York) 1993, where the different aspects of this model are studied together with the arguments which support it. 140 The difficulties are reflected in: John ORGAN, Tendencias en evolucin. En el principio, Investigacin y cienca, No. 175, April 1991, pp. 80-90, where the panorama of the different proposed explanations is studied. The subtitle of this article says that there are very divergent points of view on when, where and, above all, how life begun on earth. One may perceive that the explanations which usually appear in the textbooks, have been seriously questioned. The different proposals are analyzed and, in a schematic summary, it is said that it is a Penelopes loom where new data wreck the already established ideas. 141 The hypothesis of the panspermia, according to which there are germs of life in the space from which they would have reached the earth, is ancient. In our days, Francis Crick (Nobel prize together with James Watson for their discovery of the double-helix structure of the DNA) speaks of a directed panspermia: germs of life, or perhaps bacteria, could have been sent to our planet in an intentional way: cf. F. CRICK, Forward, in: R.F. GESTELAND J.F. ATKINS (publishers), The RNA World, op.cit., p.xiv.

Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published The Origin of the Species in 1859, a work which contributed in a decisive way to a progressively greater acceptance of the theory of evolution. Darwins explanation focused on natural selection. It is assumed that in the living beings there are small hereditary variations some of which confer advantages to their owners for the struggle for survival; according to this view, the best adapted individuals would have more descendants and, in the long run, the small advantages would accumulate through a gradual process until they would produce new types of living beings, i.e. new species. When Darwin formulated his theory almost nothing was known about the variations he postulated, or about their inheritance. Genetics, the science that studies these problems, was not yet born. Gregory Mendel (1822-1884) formulated his laws which constitute the basis of genetics, at the same time in which Darwinism was getting a foothold. However, these laws were known and valued only since the beginning of the 20th century. Without any support in genetics Darwinism was in difficulties. However, the progress of genetics contributed to the support of the evolutionist idea. Around 1930 the so-called synthetic theory of evolution also referred to as neo-Darwinism - was formulated. Thanks to this theory, it was possible to connect Darwins ideas with the progress of genetics and the study of populations. Later on molecular biology provided other basic ingredients to the evolutionary theories. Neo-Darwinism claims that the variations which constitute the basis of evolution are the genetic mutations, i.e. changes in the DNA which are produced for various reasons but always by chance (because they do not correspond to an intention of nature). There are many types of mutation and most of them produce anomalies which render the new being non-viable. However, some mutations can be viable and beneficial: these are the ones which are preserved. Since genetic mutations affect the hereditary material (the genes) they are transmitted to the offspring. In this way, the effects of the beneficial mutations would be amplified because their carriers would be in an advantageous situation in the struggle for survival. A natural selection is produced which is called because of the analogy with the artificial selection by which man tries to improve the characteristics of animals and plants through appropriate crossings. Possibly, this amplification could provoke, by the accumulation of many small changes, the appearance of new types, or species, of living beings. All in all, according to the Neo-Darwinism evolution can be explained by the combination of chance mutations and natural selection142. Many are the problems posed by the evolutionism. Therefore, it is surprising that, although there is a wide consensus among the biologists about evolution as a fact, there are also disagreements about the many specific explanations. We shall mention some of them. One of the disagreements is about the scope of natural selection. Darwinism interprets the different biological characteristics in terms of adaptive advantages or

One may find a collection of studies on evolution, interpreted in the light of the neo-Darwinism in: AA.VV., Evolucin, Labor, Barcelona 1982. On the basic principle of the neo-Darwinism cf. F.J AYALA, Mecanismos de la evolucin, ibid. pp.13-28.

disadvantages through natural selection. However, the theory of neutralism (proposed by Motoo Kimura) claims that many changes in the DNA, and even the majority of them, do not have any adaptive meaning: they are neutral in this regard143. Another disagreement is about the gradual character of evolution. Darwinism interprets evolutionary changes as the result of a slow accumulation of small changes: it is a gradualist theory. However, the leap, or of punctuated equilibriums, theory (proposed by Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge) claims the existence of abrupt changes which do not correspond to a slow accumulation of variations, but to other types of mechanisms144. In this way one can understand how the fossil record shows important lacunae in the gradual changes postulated by Darwinism. Moreover, it seems logical to suppose that there should be some laws or principles of organization for an evolution which proceeds from the most primitive organisms up to man. These laws and principles which are for the time being unknown, should be able to guide such a complex process up to its present form. There have been attempts made in this direction in which no much importance is given to selection and chance. However, the present-day knowledge is insufficient to tackle these problems which are objects of controversy and speculation, with certainty. For instance, two field of research are being known better and better, and they can provide important clues for a better understanding of evolution. On the one hand, gene regulation, i.e. the existence of programmes which regulate the genes expression, could explain how one change only in a regulatory factor can cause the appearance of new plans of organization. On the other hand, as a result of new knowledge about selforganization, the appearance of new characteristics could also be explained in function of the virtualities and tendencies inscribed in the natural world. These two fields are related to each other and one can hope that they will contribute to the progress of our knowledge of the biological evolution145. The evolution of the evolutionist theories goes on relentlessly; every day new syntheses are made which usually include new perspectives146. This does not mean that these theories are not very rigorous, and that a philosopher can disregard them. The situation is similar to that we find in other branches of science, and the discussions usually refer to the mechanisms of evolution, not to evolution as a fact. On the other

Cf. M. KIMURA, Teora naturalista de la evolucin molecular, Investigacin y cienca, No. 40, January 1980, pp. 4655. 144 Cf. for instance: S.J. GOULD, The meaning of punctuated equilibrium, and its role in validating a hierarchical approach to macroevolution in: R. MILKMAN (publisher), Perspectives on Evolution, Sinauer, Sunderland (Mass.) 1982, pp. 83104. 145 One may read for instance: Stuart A. KAUFFMAN, The Origins of Order. Self-Organization and Selection in Evolution , Oxford University Press, Oxford 1993. The author penetrates into the difficult areas which may require scientific and philosophical clarifications; however, in any case, his work constitutes a manifestation of those problems which the presentday evolutionist theories have to face, and of some possible directions for their solution in the line of self-organization. 146 One may read for instance: G. Ledyard STEBBINS F.J. AYALA, La evolucin del darwinismo, Investigacin y cienca, No. 108, September 1985, pp. 42-53. The authors conclude the article with the foll owing words: Whatever may be the new agreement may arise from the investigation and present-day controversy, it is not probable that it may demand the rejection of the basic program of the neo-Darwinism and of the theory elaborated half way through this century. The synthetic theory of the 21st century will distance itself considerably from that which was elaborated some few decades ago; however, his appearing will entail more a kind of evolution than of a cataclysm.

hand, the fact of being aware of the limitations of the present-day explanations is the only way of progressing. Claiming that the present-day explanations with all their many lacunae are definitive and complete is in reality equivalent to placing obstacles to the scientific progress.


Evolution: science and philosophy

Biological evolution and the philosophical perspective are complementary. Actually, the scientific theories refer to evolution as a fact and to its mechanisms, while the philosophical reflection focuses on the meaning of evolution: it analyzes its conditions of possibility and its implications

a) Evolution and creation

The conditions of possibility for evolution remit to the problem of creation. In order to show it we shall mention three conditions of possibility for evolution which refer to its very assumptions, i.e. to the requirements which must have been there for evolution to be possible.

First, for evolution to be possible it is essential that there be some entities and some basic laws as its basis. Second, these entities and laws must be very specific because they need to have some virtualities (or possibilities, or potentialities) from which new entities can be formed with new types of organization. These new entities should have new virtualities to allow the process to go on and on along the big evolutionary ladder. Third, the conditions which have made the actualization of the virtualities possible, must have been there at each phase of evolution,. Here is an analogy represented by a written work (a novel, a drama, or a work of any other genre) which can help understand the problem. The existence of a written language is essential for the work to exists, i.e. an alphabet, or collection of signs with a specific meaning, plus a rule which can determine the union of these signs in meaningful words and phrases. Moreover, it is also necessary that letters, words and phrases, be united so as to form an intelligible whole. If it is a quality work, it will also be necessary that the whole and each one of its parts have unity, interest and elegance. Similarly, basic physico-chemical components are required (particles and fundamental forces) so that organisms, as we know them, may be produced through evolutionary mechanisms. These components must have specific properties able to permit the formation of the subsequent levels of organization (nuclei, atoms, molecules, macro-molecules) till reaching the first living beings. It is also necessary that new combinations may be produced at biological level which may lead to new forms of

organization. The result is already known: the ladder of the living beings at the top of which man is found, and this result has an enormously sophisticated organization. Therefore, those virtualities which were present in the basic components from the very beginning must be very specific. Finally, there must have been at each evolutionary stage precise circumstances and a co-operation which made it possible for the different factors to be integrated in order to produce new structures. In conclusion, evolutionary theories do not explain everything. They lean on some assumptions or conditions of possibility, i.e. the existence of a matter and of some very specific laws whose virtualities have permitted the subsequent production of a whole series of organisms which form an enormously varied ladder whose final result is the human organism. If we move further on with these considerations we finally reach the problem of the divine creation of the world. Science can study how some entities are formed from pre-existing ones, but it cannot give a reason for the very existence of the world and of its basic properties. One may say, therefore, that the problem of creation is a metaphysical one which transcends the possibilities of the scientific method, and which refers to the conditions which may make evolution possible. We claim that there is no contradiction between evolution and creation. Moreover, we claim that the reflection on the conditions of possibility of evolution leads to the problem of creation. There are some misunderstandings in this area owing to two extreme stands. On the one hand, some defend a type of evolutionism which goes much further than what science actually permits, and which denies creation, or divine action in the world. On the other hand, some religious fundamentalists deny the possibility of a biological evolution in the name of the Bible. However, both stands are illegitimate: neither science can deny divine action, nor religion is competent to oppose truly scientific arguments. b) Evolution and finality

Evolution is also related to the problem of finality. Actually, the existence of series of levels of organization every time more complex which culminates with a human organism, suggests the existence of an orientation, or direction, in the evolutionary process. Therefore, looking for causes which may permit us to understand evolution in a complete way, leads us to the question on whether there is a superior level which directs the evolutionary process. It has been claimed sometime that there is a global orthogenesis, i.e. an evolutionary trend which has produced the results we know, and that it is possible therefore to prove scientifically that evolution is a directed147 process. It is quite

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin tried to prove that there is a kind of ascending directionality in evolution. His arguments are based on the existence of ascending levels of organization which culminate in the nervous system and in the formation of the brain, and these are united to a progressive increase of consciousness. On this basis, he thought he had enough authority to claim, as if it were a scientific conclusion, that evolution is directed. Cf. P. TEILHARD DE CHARDIN, El fenmeno humano, Taurus, Madrid 1967, pp. 173-178. It is a kind of theist version of the elan vital of Bergson: cf. H. BERGSON, La evolucin creadora, Espasa Calpe, Madrid 1985 (original of 1907).

evident that there is actually a series of levels of organization in which, not always but yes under some important aspects, one can distinguish a progress in the organisation. It is also evident that this fact requires an explanation. However, it does not seem possible to conclude that there is a trend which has necessarily led to the results we know on the one hand, because our world is contingent, and on the other hand, because, even in claiming the existence of a divine plan, this plan can include forward and backward movements, explosions of life and mass extinction. Nothing obliges to identify all this with a linear and always progressive process. Frequently some deny the existence of a divine plan by arguing precisely that the evolutionary process is not always progressive, i.e. it includes successes and failures (for instance, the majority of the species is extinct). They also add that many evolutionary results do not seem to correspond to a plan but to opportunistic adaptations. Moreover, they emphasise the fact that chance plays an important role in the process, and this does not seem to be compatible with the existence of a plan. However, these difficulties would be incompatible only with a completely linear plan, always progressive which unfolds in a completely necessary way. However, it has already been pointed out that there is no reason to think that the divine plan has to fit this model; it is more congruent to think that, if God has wanted to produce the living beings through an evolutionary process, this process will include all those contingencies proper to a gigantic process which unfolds during a very long time and contains many fortuitous factors. Elsewhere some say that the existence of a divine plan would be incompatible with the scientific spirit which tries to explain phenomena through natural causes. In reality a divine action is not only compatible with the natural laws but it also founds and makes its actualization possible; moreover, it permits to understand the rationality of an evolutionary process which, if it were only due to blind forces, would remain wrapped in a great mystery. The question of the existence of a divine plan is found outside the scope of the evolutionist theories: science can study the fact and the modalities of the evolution, but the possibility of existence of a divine plan is beyond the possibilities of its method. Consequently, the same reasons which prevent us to scientifically claim the existence of a superior plan prevent us also from denying its existence in the name of science. However, the knowledge provided by science invites us to pose the question about a divine plan. One may understand, therefore, how Christian de Duve, Nobel prize, has replied to Jacques Monod, also Nobel prize, who claimed that man knows now that he is alone in the indifferent immensity of the universe from where he arose by chance, with the following words: This is clearly absurd. What man knows or at least he should know is that, with the time and quantity of matter available, not even something similar to the most elementary cell, not to talk of man, could have originated by blind chance if the universe had not carried it already in its bosom148.


Christian DE DUVE, La clula viva, Labor, Barcelona 1988, p. 358. Some interesting reflections about these issue are found in: Ernan McMULLIN, Contingencia evolutiva y finalidad del cosmos, Scripta Theologica, 30 (1988), pp. 227-251.


Evolution and emergence

For evolution to occur, proportionate causes must exist. In this sense, a classical objection against evolution consists in claiming that the more cannot arise from the less, i.e. that the effect cannot be superior in perfection to its cause. How is it possible that along the evolutionary process new perfections are produced which did not exist before? The emergence of new perfections is explained, in the first place, by the integration of new factors in a new unitary system. As a matter of fact, there are many processes at physico-chemical level in which new systems are formed and endowed with holistic characteristics and emerging properties. At the biological level, genetic mutations cause changes in the genetic information and, if viable, they will produce new characteristics. Mutations have specific causes, and the unfolding of the genetic programme is the cause of the new characteristics. In this way it is possible to explain how novelties can appear in the organisms. However, in living beings structural novelties are associated with their peculiar way of being, i.e. with an interiorness whose relationship with a structural exteriorness is a bit mysterious; in other words, there is a close relationship between the tendencies proper to living beings and the psyche of the animals. There is no doubt, it seems, that there is a parallelism between the degree of organization and the interiorness of the living beings. It is also clear that, as the knowledge of the biological structures progresses, the specific aspects of this parallelism are better determined. However, the interiorness of the living beings is still more an object of wonder than of understanding. It is therefore understandable how evolutionary theories find limitations in this area. The more directly can a scientific explanation be verified through experimental control, the more rigorous that explanation is. However, it is difficult to submit the interiorness of the living beings to experimental control; science must be content with studying the connections between this interiorness and the space-time structures to which it relates.


Evolution and divine action

We may conclude that biological evolution is not only compatible with divine action, but also that divine action places us in a very adequate vantage point in order to understand the conditions which make evolution possible. Some authors claim that the combination of chance mutations with natural selection is enough to explain everything: mutations are a source of variety, while natural selection is the source of order because it is a filter which permits steps ahead only for those organisms which are better equipped. There is no reason, therefore, to make recourse to other types of explanation. In some cases these authors only try to emphasize the fact that philosophy and theology should not invade the scientific field. However, in other cases the legitimacy of philosophy and theology is denied together

with the implicit or explicit claim that science does not leave room for philosophical or theological questions; these questions would really be badly posed questions since the only legitimate method for the study nature is the scientific one. Those who uphold a stand of this type are really upholding a case for scientism149. The thesis according to which genetic mutations and natural selection are enough to provide a complete explanation of evolution faces serious difficulties. Actually, if natural selection can carry out the function of putting order in nature, it cannot be the proper cause of this order. Selection consists in letting in part of the candidates while letting out others and, in this sense, it produces a more orderly situation. However, in order to do that it is necessary that the candidates already exist: it impossible to select some positive properties if these have not been previously produced. In any case, properties must be produced by proper causes: the eyes, the brain, the radar of a bat and the genetic information are the result of positive causes and not of a filter of selection. One may well say that these causes are the genetic mutations which are not produced in view of a end (they are not directed towards an end) but by chance. However, although containing part of the truth this statement can also be a source of misunderstandings if it is interpreted as a complete explanation. Actually, although many fortuitous mutations are produced, only few of them will be viable, and specifically those which can be functionally integrated within a very complex programme which is already in operation. The fact that there is the possibility of these subsequent enormously subtle integrations which lead to increasingly complex levels, leaves the door open to questions about virtualities, tendencies and their ultimate explanation. Ultimately, the combination of mutations and selection can explain some aspects of the generation of living beings, but it is insufficient as a total explanation of the holistic, directional and cooperative aspects which exist in evolution. When the legitimacy of the philosophical questions is denied in the name of science, a scientist stand is adopted according to which there is only one way to know nature: the one used by the experimental science. In reality, scientism corresponds to motivations which are not scientific but philosophical and also theological. In the case of evolution, it usually corresponds to the desire of claiming that the explanations provided by the theories of evolution do not leave any room for a God who is creator and provident, as if this were a scientific conclusion or a conclusion based on scientific evidence150.

Jacques Monod, Nobel prize for biology, is a paradigmatic example of this kind of attitude (cf. his work El azar y la necesidad, Barral, Barcelona 1971) which has been subsequently defended very vigorously by Richard Dawkins, biology profesor at the Oxford University in his work El relojero ciego, Labor, Barcelona 1988. 150 The case presented by Dawkins is clear: his book wants to show how it is not necessary to make recourse to God in order to explain evolution. It has already been said that the existence of a clock remits to a clockmaker; however, Dawkins tries to show that a recourse to natural selection is enough, but this is a blind clockm aker: Natural selection, that automatic process, blind and unconscious discovered by Darwin, and which we now know to be the explanation of the existence and of the form of every type of life with an apparent purpose, does not have any finality in mind. It does not have either a mind or an imagination. It does not plan future. It does not have any vision, or prediction or eyesight. If one may say that it performs the function of clockmaker in nature, it is a function of a blind clockmaker; the designer is the unconscious natural selection; our present hypothesis is that the work was done by the natural selection, in gradual evolutionary stages: El relojero ciego, op. cit. p. 4, 27 and 28.

However, such a claim is illegitimate because it is presented as scientific when in reality it is not. Scientism is a kind of reductionism which arbitrarily denies those problems which do not fit into its narrow mould.151. We have already seen how in other occasions some claim that evolutionary theories are sufficient not because the legitimacy of the philosophical problems is denied, but because of a desire of avoiding philosophical discussions in the scientific field152. In this case ones claim is not prompted by a scientist stand, but by the desire of distinguishing what belongs to science and what corresponds to other types of perspective. This distinction is reasonable and also necessary, and is not in any way opposed or against our conclusions. However, it is arguable, from a scientific and epistemological point of view, whether the present-day theories are sufficient to completely explain evolution, even if only at the level of scientific explanations. However, it is important to emphasise that, independently from the achievements of science, in order to obtain a complete perspective on evolution the scientific explanations must take into account the metaphysical dimensions of the problem, namely those which refer to the creation of the universe and to the existence of a divine plan which governs it. This is not at all opposed to science because the claim of the presence of a divine action - which gives being to all that exists in nature and governs it, making the unfolding of the natural dynamism and the production of emerging novelties possible - does not refer to the mechanisms specifically studied by science but to its radical foundation; it is an issue which is posed at a level different from the one of science, and which complements the latter. 29.4 The origin of man

The problem of the origins reaches its apex when the origin of man is considered. This is obvious not only because it is the problem which more directly affects us, but also because we have spiritual dimensions which transcend the natural level to which we also belong. We shall now consider in the first place the hominisation process, a term used to refer to the evolutionary origin of the human organism. We shall then analyse the

Even in this aspect, the case presented by Dawkins is paradigmatic. He claims that, if there is something complex which we still do not understand, we hall be able to understand it in terms of more simple parts which we already understand. He adds that, if an engineer, in providing explanations of this type, start ed to bore me telling me that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, I would stop him: This does not concern me, only tell me if it works, cf. R. DAWKINS, El relojero ciego, op. cit. p. 9. Obviously, this stand is a kind of reductionism, as the same Dawkins acknowledges (although he tries to justify his perspective by saying that he admits a hierarchy of natural levels). He only takes into account the explanations in terms of components and working, and leaves aside any philosophical question. It is legitimate to limit oneself to a specific method; what is not legitimate is to deny anything which cannot be studied through this method, and this leads to an incomplete and arbitrary perspective. 152 One may find an example of this type in: M. DELSOL P. SENTIS R. PAYOT R. LADOUS J. FLATIN, Le hazard et la selection expliquent-ils lvolution? Biologie ou mtaphysique, Laval thologique et philosophique, 50 (1994), pp. 7-41. The authors claim that the neo-Darwinism completely explains evolution at a scientific level which is arguable. However, they claim, at the same time, the legitimacy of the philosophical questions on evolution and provide a basis for them, particularly when they emphasize the existence of very specific potentialities in nature as a condition for evolution.

specifically human characteristics and their relationship with the evolutionary process153.


The process of hominisation

It is frequently claimed that the human organism originated from that of other living beings by using the expression man originates from a monkey. Obviously, this claim, in its literal meaning, is false: man does not originate from any of the primates which presently exist, and no scientist claims this. The evolutionary theories claim the existence of a remote common ancestor from which man, as well as the pongids, or anthropoid monkeys (chimpanzee, orang-utan, and gorilla) may have originated. The identity and characteristics of this common ancestor, as well as its antiquity, are matters of discussion. It may have existed some 20 million years ago. Another object of discussion is the time at which the two evolutionary lines may have separated. The progress of molecular biology leads to dates which are more recent than the ones previously thought. There is no unanimity either on the separation of the two lines: there are various hypotheses which are object of scientific debate, although it is usually admitted in general that the chimpanzee is the anthropoid which is closer to man. As for the phylogeny of the hominids which reaches up to the present man, the following sequence is taken as plausible: Australopithecus (four million years ago), Homo habilis (from 2.5 million to one million years ago), Homo erectus (from 1.6 million to 200,000 years ago), Homo sapiens (130,000 years ago). The present-day man would have been in existence for some 30,000 years. As for the specific details of the process, difficulties and differences of opinion among scientists are also found in this area154. All in all, the difficulties in the reconstruction of the origin of man are still very big. However, this is not an obstacle to a generalised scientific consensus on the existence of the process as a whole. There is an almost total unanimity among the scientists on the fact, i.e. on the origin of the presentday man from those mentioned ancestors. But there are also important disagreements about the specific explanations, i.e. when and how the different branches originated, and when can one say that a specific fossil corresponds to a human being in a full sense. It is clear that the Australopithecus was not a human in a proper sense; however, opinions differ at the moment of establishing which one would be truly the first human being.


One may find a good summary of the scientific data on the hominization together with interesting reflections on the philosophical and theological aspects which include an original proposal of the author, in: R. JORDANA, El origen del hombre. Estado actual de la investigacin paleoantropolgica, Scripta Theologica, 20 (1988), pp. 65-99. 154 One can read a propos, for example: S.L. WASHBURN, La evolucin de la especie humana, in the collective work Evolucin, Labor, Barcelona 1982, pp. 128-137; D. PILBEAM, Origen de los hominoideos y homnidos, Investigacin y ciencia, No. 92, May 1984, pp. 48-58. Although there are more and more data available, Pilbeam concludes: at the same time, doubts have increased about the degree of reliability which any report on human evolution can inspire. What kind of precision and reliability can these reconstructions achieve? The cake, i.e. the different primitive stages of human evolution, is for now very hard to digest. These difficulties pe rsist presently: it is very difficult to obtain reliable conclusions, generally admitted, on the details of the process of hominization.

Some suggest the Homo habilis, although it had a skull capacity inferior to the one of the present-day man155, while others are in favour of much later beings. The study of the mitochondrial DNA which is inherited from the mother, has been used to support the idea according to which an African woman of 200,000 years ago is our common ancestor. Her descendants would have substituted other primitive humans who existed in other places. However, these data seem to lead only to a specific population and not to an individual woman, and some palaeontologists do not share this conclusion156. It seems that it is not an easy job to clear the above mentioned question marks completely, although the future advances of science may be able to provide data which, for the time being, are unforeseeable.


Man and animal

The controversies on evolutionism have always been particularly centred on the difference between man and the other animals. The main point of discussion is whether man has a nature essentially superior to that of the other animals, or it is just a difference of degree. These controversies have a long history behind; actually, they go back to Charles Darwin. In his Origin of the Species, Darwin did not expand sufficiently on the theme of man. He tackled it in 1871 in his work The Descendants of Man and Sex Selection. The chapters 3 and 4 of this work are entitled Comparison of the Mental Faculties of Man with those of the Inferior Animals. From the beginning Darwin states his basic thesis according to which, from the point of view of the intellectual capacities, there is no fundamental difference whatsoever between man and the superior mammals. After examining the main human characteristics, including language, abstract thought and the moral and religious sense, Darwin concludes that, no matter how considerable is the difference between man and the superior animals, it is only a difference of degree and not of species. Discussions continue nowadays. For example, Stephen Jay Gould claims that the difference between man and animals is only a difference of degree and continues: We are so much bound to our philosophical and religious inheritance that we keep on looking for some criteria of sharp differences between our capacities and those of a chimpanzeeMany criteria have been tested, and they have failed one after another.

This opinion may be found in: R. JORDANA, El origen del hombre. Estado actual de la investigacin paleoantropolgica, op. cit. The skull capacity of the homo habilis could reach the 775 cc., against the 1,345 of that of the homo sapiens; however, it has been suggested that the former had the necessary physiological conditions to be able to speak and that, therefore, it could have had the main human characteristics: cf. P.V. TOBIAS, Recent Advances in the Evolution of the Hominids with Especial Reference to Brain and Speech, in: C. CHAGAS (publisher), Recent Advances in the Evolution of Primates, Pontificia Academia Scientiarum, Citt del Vaticano 1983, pp. 85-140. 156 Both stands are presented in Investigacin y ciencia, No. 189, June 1992: A.C. WILSON and R.L.CANN (Origen africano reciente de los humanos, pp. 8-13) argument in favor; A.G. THORNE and M.H. WOLPOFF ( Evolucion multiregional de los humanos, pp. 14-20) argument against.

Their only honourable alternative is to admit the existence of a strict qualitative continuity between the chimpanzees and us. And what do we lose with our way out? We lose only an old-fashioned concept of soul in order to gain a more humble view, and even exciting, of ourselves and of our unity with nature157. There is no doubt that there is continuity between man and the other animals. However, even admitting that mans organism comes from other organisms through evolution, the specifically human characteristics continue being real: it is enough to think of the intellectual knowledge, of the capacity of self-reflection, of the capacity of arguing, of the sense of evidence and truth, freedom and ethical values. Actually, the problem is not to find some criteria able to show that there is a basic difference between man and the other animals. That this difference exists is very clear, as it can be demonstrated, for instance, by reflecting on the assumptions and implications of science. It is interesting to note that science, in whose name the essential difference between man and the other animals is at times intended to be wiped out, is one of the clearest evidences that this difference exists since science is possible only because man has a theoretical and argumentative capacity which is not found in other living beings.


Human spirituality

The uniqueness of man corresponds to some dimensions which are usually referred to as spiritual to distinguish them from the material conditions. Human spirituality means that the human person has some characteristics which transcend his material conditions. Some seem to think that it is necessary to criticise the evolutionist theories in order assert the spirituality of man. However, problems about the spirit can be posed even by disregarding evolutionism. Actually, we know for certain that the organism of each one of us began its existence as one cell, of course, a living human cell, programmed to produce our whole organism, but after all one cell. To claim the fact that man has spiritual dimensions is to transcend the biological level. Whether we think of each man as existing nowadays, or refer to the origin of the first human beings, the claim of a human spirituality is based on the existence of specific characteristics in the human person, whatever may be the origin of our organism. The spiritual dimensions require a real substratum which is usually called soul. Moreover, if one takes into account the fact that these dimensions transcend the field of what is natural, they also require a special intervention of God by which he creates a spiritual human soul. This claim is not at all opposed to the natural laws or to the scientific spirit; it simply says that, together with those dimensions which can be studied by the experimental science, there are others (the spiritual ones) which, being transcendent respect to what is natural, are also transcendent respect to science.

S.J. GOULD, Desde Darwin, Hermann Blume, Madrid 1983, p.53.

However, they are real dimensions which must be admitted in order to explain the data from experience and the existence of science. Finally, it may be appropriate to mention the issue of monogenism, i.e. the doctrine according to which all men descend from one original couple. Sometime it is said that, by admitting evolution, monogenism would become unsustainable, while polygenism would really be the answer, i.e. the origin of man from a number of primitive human beings. However, the issue is more complex. Polygenism is not as simple as it looks at a first glance. Would different beings have managed to become truly human over a full period of time? Of course, we do not have any scientific evidence in favour of this. It is difficult to reach definitive conclusions in this respect in the strictly scientific area. However, it is interesting to note that, from the point of view of science, there is no reason whatsoever which may force one to admit that the origin of the human organism by evolution implies polygenism, and there is no difficulty in principle in explaining the origin of the present-day mankind from one first couple.


The frontiers of evolutionism

The boundaries of the experimental science are determined by the limitations of the experimental control. Spiritual realities and dimensions, in principle, cannot be submitted to experimental control. This does not mean that their reality cannot be proved; it only means that the evidence required in this case is of metaphysical nature. This evidence leans on the data provided by experience, but uses reasoning to establish the conditions of possibility of what we know through experience. If we apply this idea to the evolutionist theories, three basic problems can be pointed out which we come across far beyond their boundaries. The first is the creation of the universe. In a strict sense, creation refers to the production of a universe which did not exist before in absolute. This issue is totally outside the scope of science. How could this be verified through experiments and observations? It would be necessary to observe the nothingness, or the very creation: however, both are impossible. Hence, the problem of creation falls within the scope of metaphysics. The fact that creation must have happened can be proved; however, the reasoning which supports it falls far beyond the possibilities of the experimental science. The second problem is that of the human soul. Only that which is material can be submitted to experimental control following the laws of matter. Experiments imply always observations through our senses and instruments. However, the spirit is invisible and cannot be submitted to scientific experiments. Spirit is interiorness, personality, self-awareness, love, freedom. We well know what all this means. The spirit is what we know best; it has been an object of in-depth study since ancient times, whereas it has taken thousands of years to begin to know matter somehow in a detailed way. Spirit is completely real. However, it cannot be known by submitting it to experimental control which is the way proper to science. Therefore, the boundaries of the theories of evolution are illegitimately trespassed if they are extended into the field of the spirit, whether in order to assert its existence or to deny it.

The third one refers to the problem of the action of God in the world. Science formulates laws about the world; however, the existence of the world and of its laws does not depend on our science. Nature has its own dynamism. We may intervene in order to provoke transformations always, though, in accordance with the natural laws. Science leans on this dynamism and on these laws; if they did not exist, science would not exist either. Moreover, the method of the experimental science is not apt to decipher the key to the existence of nature, to its dynamism and to its laws. The metaphysical reflection can claim that this key is found in the action of God who gives being to all that exists, gives it its own laws and makes the functioning of nature possible. It does not make any sense to deny this divine action in the name of science. It is an issue that goes beyond its boundaries. Other border problems refer to finality and chance. In this case science can say something, but they are problems which can be tackled with a certain rigor only from a philosophical perspective. For example, the partisans of the so-called antropic principle emphasise the fact that the existence of man is possible because the basic laws of physics, and the subsequent structures in the physical, chemical and biological levels, are very specific. There is no doubt that these considerations are useful for examining the natural finality; however, they need to be completed with reflections which permit to tackle the problem of finality at its proper level which is philosophical. To claim that science has boundaries is not a way of undervaluing it. The progress of science depends, to a large extent, on the deliberate choice of a particular method which limits itself to the study of those dimensions of the natural which can be put submitted to experimental control. On the other hand, a metaphysical perspective makes it possible to understand in all its depth the meaning of nature in the human life; this would not be possible if one adopted a naturalist and reductionist stand. The obvious exaltation of science and of nature by scientism and naturalism leads, if developed in a consequential way, to an impoverished view in which the authentic meaning of the human life is lost, being reduced to an accident within an evolutionary process devoid of finality. On the other hand, the metaphysical perspective founds a view of nature which is framed within the anthropological and ethical dimensions of the human existence.



We shall now examine those problems related the origin and meaning of nature, taking into account the knowledge presently provided by science. As a conclusion, we shall consider the relationship that exists, on one hand, between nature and the human person, and, on the other hand, between nature and God.



Cosmogonies have been conceived since ancient times whose intent was to represent the history of the universe but without an adequate scientific basis. They also posed philosophical problems about the ultimate explanation of the universe158. In modern times some scientific hypotheses were formulated which are considered as the forerunners of the present-day ideas. Kant proposed the idea according to which the universe was formed from a primitive nebula159. Laplace used this idea later on and suggested that the sun was formed by the contraction and cooling of an incandescent nebula, while the planets originated from fragments detached from the sun and the satellites came from the planets160. Such explanation left intact the problem of the creation of the universe and referred solely to physical processes which were not a substitute for creation161. On the other hand, a still limited knowledge of the composition of the universe was available at that time, and it was very difficult to submit these theories to empirical verification. For the first time in history in our own times rigorous scientific theories were formulated about the origin and evolution of the universe. These theories have renewed the interest for philosophical problems about creation.


Scientific cosmology

Scientific cosmology is a branch of physics which studies the origin of the universe. It is a relatively recent discipline. Evidence about the existence of galaxies different from ours became substantial only around 1920, while the model of the Big Bang was not accepted until 1964.
158 159

An extensive study on this issue is found in Juan Jose Sanguineti, El origen del universo. La cosmologia en busca de la filosofia, Buenos Aires 1994. The study includes the history of the issue, the scientific data and the appropriate philosophical reflections.

In his Universal Natural History and Theory of Heaven, or study of the constitution and of the mechanical origin of the universe according to Newton principles, a work published in an anonymous way in 1755. 160 In his work The System of the World, published 1796. 161 Kant admitted, for instance, in the work mentioned, that there is in the universe a finality which implies the existence of a creator.

The Big Bang model is based on the general relativity theory which was formulated by Einstein in 1915. The equations of this theory permit to perform calculations of the local movement of matter under the action of gravity. For this reason they are appropriate to describe the universe on a large scale since, in this perspective, the universe can be considered as a physical system made of objects with a big mass, such as stars and galaxies which are separated by huge distances. At the same time the evolution of the systems is determined by the force of gravity. Einstein applied his theory to the universe as a whole in 1917. The resulting model was a dynamic universe (which evolves with time). However, Einstein, disgusted by this idea, modified it by introducing, in an arbitrary way, a constant whose purpose was to provide a static model of the universe (later on he declared that this had been the worst mistake of his life). On the other hand, the works of Willem de Sitter in 19161917 and of Alfred Friedmann in 1922-1924 presupposed a dynamic universe. This idea got a foothold when Edwin Hubble formulated in 1929 the law which bears his name, according to which galaxies would move away from one another at a speed proportional to their relative distance (the greater their distance, the greater the speed at which they move away from each other)162. The first version of the model of the Big Bang was formulated by Georges Lematre, a Belgian astronomer and a Catholic priest, in 1927. He assumed that the universe was formed from the explosion of a kind of primitive atom, and coincided with Hubbles law in postulating the expansion of the universe. George Gamow reformulated this theory in 1948. However, the model of the Big Bang was not accepted by the majority of the scientists immediately. Even in 1948, Hermann Bondi and Thomas Gold formulated a different model of the universe, the theory of the so-called stationary state; they postulated that the universe shows the same aspect in any epoch and, in order to explain its expansion, they suggested a continuous creation of matter so that, when the galaxies separate from one another, new matter is formed in-between them. In order to keep the density constant, the creation of one milligram of matter per cubic meter every one billion years would be enough. For years the model of the Big Bang and of the stationary state were presented as alternative hypotheses. In 1960 the origin of the universe was still an issue and the concern of few scientists, while the existing models were studied as a curiosity. The situation changed radically when, in 1964, Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson discovered the background radiation of the microwaves whose characteristics were congruent with the predictions of the model of the Big Bang. From then on, this model has been generally accepted by the scientists, and the model of stationary state was abandoned. The progressive consolidation of the model of the Big Bang is due also to the confirmation of other predictions made on the basis of this model. Specifically, it provides an explanation coherent with the expansion of the universe, it proposes an age of the universe which is in accordance with the data about the age of its components, and its predictions on the relative abundance of light atoms in the universe is in agreement with the data of observation.

The Hubbless law leans on the interpretation of the sliding of the spectrum of the galaxies towards the red color, as a result of the Doppler effect.

Since 1981, the model of the Big Bang has been completed with the theory of the inflationary universe proposed by Alan Guth. This theory refers to the enormous expansion that would have occurred during very short instants immediately after the Big Bang, producing very important effects for the subsequent evolution of the universe. According to the model of the Big Bang, the evolution of the universe would have followed a scheme which, in an approximate and simplified way, would be the following. The universe is 15,000 million years old. At the beginning, it was in a concentrated state at high density and temperature. As a consequence of the explosion, an expansion was produced which was accompanied by a progressive cooling. In the first second, the temperature was 10,000 million degrees. At this stage there were only radiations and some particles among which there were very violent interactions. At the end of three minutes, the lowering of the temperature permitted the nucleo-synthesis, or formation of nuclei of the lightest atoms. After 300,000 years, when temperature had gone down to few thousand degrees, the recombination, or formation of atoms, took place; then, the radiation of photons was separated from matter and expanded freely, equally in all directions and at a temperature which went down with the passing of time, originating the fossil isotropic radiation which Penzia and Wilson detected for the first time. Later on, the gravitational force caused the condensation of big masses where thermonuclear reactions were produced. In this way, stars and galaxies were formed. In the nuclear reactions within the stars, the heaviest atoms are produced which are spread throughout the space when stars explode, and they are the material from which planets, such as the earth, are formed.


Creation: physics and metaphysics

The newly acquired scientific knowledge has not only contributed to the formulation of a new image of the world, but has also caused a re-posing of the problem of creation.


Creation as a metaphysical problem

With the model of the Big Bang, for the first time in history we have realistic calculations of the age of the universe. There is no doubt that this will give room to discussions about the problem of creation; actually, if it is possible to attribute a specific age to the universe, it looks like a demonstration of creation has been produced. Actually, the model of the stationary state was at times used in order to avoid attributing to the universe an unlimited age, with the connotations that this seems to have in favour of creation. However, physics cannot determine the age of the universe in an absolute way. Physics can claim, for instance, that the universe comes from a kind of primitive atom; however, it can continue inquiring for the origin of this atom and assume that it was formed from previous physical states. At its own proper level, a physicist can always postulate, although as a hypothesis, the existence of physical states previous to any state

of the universe. Therefore, scientific cosmology cannot demonstrate the creation of the universe. The problem of creation does not refer to the origin of a physical state from a previous one, but to the radical foundation of the universe, i.e. to the production of its being. Experimental science studies the transitions between physical states, and its methods do not allow for the study of the radical foundation of the universe. Therefore, physics cannot say anything about God or creation, and the use of scientific arguments to tackle these problems is non-viable. All in all, creation is not a physical but a metaphysical problem. The philosophical problem of creation consists in determining whether the universe can be self-sufficient or if, on the contrary, it is necessary to claim a cause that has produced it by giving it its being. Christianity claims that God created the universe out of nothing (ex nihilo, according to the classical Latin expression)163. This means that the divine creative act produces being totally, without leaning on something pre-existing. It is not a simple transformation of something which already existed164.

It is appropriate to ask whether the creation of the universe is only a content of religious faith or can also be rationally demonstrated. The Catholic doctrine claims that the existence of God creator, principle and end of all things, can be known with certainty through the light of natural reason from the created things, so that the human intellect can find an answer to the question of the origins165 by its own powers. The rational evidence of creation remits, ultimately, to a dilemma: either the universe is self-sufficient, i.e. it exists by itself and there is nothing outside it to explain its existence, or it asks for a cause which is different from the very universe, and which has produced it and given being to it. The first possibility is, in reality, an impossibility: if the universe were self-sufficient, it should have divine characteristics which in fact does not have. Material beings are limited, change, are generated and corrupted, they have a being which cannot give a complete account of itself. These difficulties are not solved by making recourse to an infinite chain, i.e. by assuming that the universe has always existed; actually, the insufficiency of what is material to give an account of itself subsists even though the causal chains are multiplied indefinitely: it is not a question of numbers, but of causality. The way of being of the material entities includes lack of selfsufficiency and to these effects it is the same whether we consider one being only, or many, or an infinite series of them. Therefore, the physical universe remits to a superior cause which has given it its being. Only a personal God can have the characteristics proper to the divinity. The particular beings, limited and changeable, remit to a Being which has being by itself and which, for this reason, can give being to other beings in a limited and specific way: it is what we call participation in being. This does not mean that creatures have a part of
163 164

Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 279-301 Cf. G. COTTIER, La doctrine de la cration et le concept de nant, Acta Filosofica 1 (1992), pp. 6-16. 165 Cf. H. DENZINGER A. SCHNMETZER, Enchiridion symbolorum, definitionum et declarationum de rebus fidei et morum, 36th ed., Herder, Barcelona, Freiburg, Roma, 1976, nn. 3004 and 3026; Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 286.

the divine being, but that they have, in a partial and limited way, the being they have received from God. The claiming of a divine creation of the universe is not concerned with when and how the universe began to exist. As for when, the creation of the universe, reason tells us, has nothing to do with its duration. As for how, this is also irrelevant: the issue of creation is relevant not only in case the universe was at the beginning an imperceptible quantum bubble, but also in case there were already much more organized entities and processes. In any case, both issues have originated ample discussions, and for this reason we will now analyse them more in depth.


Beginning in time and creation

It seems that it is not possible to demonstrate that the universe is of a limited age because it is always possible to assume, even if in a hypothetical way, the existence of states antecedent to any specific state of the universe. This had already been emphasized by Kant in the first cosmological antinomy in his Critique of Pure Reason which deals with the scientific impossibility of demonstrating whether the universe is temporally finite or infinite. Many centuries before, Aquinas had already tackled the problem in a radical way when in his brief treatise On the Eternity of the World he claimed that, if one leans only on rational arguments, he cannot not exclude the fact that the universe has had an indefinite duration, and that he can know that this was not so only because of a supernatural revelation166. Aquinas asks whether it is possible for a created being to have always existed. He examined the opposing arguments and after refuting them he concluded that we know the origin of the universe in time only because of divine revelation. All in all, he emphasised that the problem of the creation of the universe is not identical with that of its origin in time, so that it is possible to know through reason that the universe must have been created by God, but reason cannot prove that the same universe had a beginning in time: a Christian knows that the universe had an origin in time only by divine revelation167. In any case, indefinite duration is not the same as eternity in a strict sense; eternity means the perfect possession of being, above time and duration, and it is only given in God, while the duration of the natural beings refers to the successive existence proper to a temporal and mutable way of being168. Of course, if it were possible to prove that the universe had an absolute beginning, before which it did not exist, then one should really say that the universe had been created; unfortunately, a proof of this kind does not seem possible. However, independently from the problem of the beginning in time, the universe is not selfsufficient, and this is enough to establish that it must have been created by God.

Cf. J.I. SARANYANA, Santo Toms: De aeternitate mundi contra murmurantes, Anuario Filosofico, 9 (1976), pp. 399-424. 167 In this context, Aquinas added that if the Christian claims the origin of the universe in time through rational arguments, could give an opportunity for teasing to a non believer, who knows about the illegitimacy of such arguments: cf. AQUINAS, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 46, a. 2, c. 168 AQUINAS, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 44, a. 1; I, q. 45, aa. 1 and 2; I, q. 46, aa. 1 and 2; Summa contra gentiles, II, c.38.

None of the proofs that Aquinas presented in order to demonstrate the existence of a God creator presupposes the fact that the world had a beginning. However, in the discussion about creation frequently both ideas go together. This way of reasoning easily leads to misunderstandings. For this reason it is important to emphasise that the problem of the origin of the world in time cannot be identified with that of its creation. The problem of the creation of the universe refers to the radical foundation of its being, and this can be solved by leaving aside the problem of its duration.


The beginning of the universe

According to the model of the Big Bang, the universe existed 15,000 million years ago in a primitive state whose study seems to remit to a peculiarity to which the laws of physics would not apply. Different hypotheses have been proposed to tackle the study of this initial state. It is a difficult problem and, for the time being, it is not even sure that the ways of tackling it nowadays are correct. According to a hypothesis which enjoys a certain popularity, the universe would have began to exist as a kind of quantum bubble, said in a more technical way, as a fluctuation of the quantum vacuum. Schematically, what is claimed here is that the quantum fluctuations of the gravitational field would have produced space-time structures from which material particles would have been produced through the fluctuations of the quantum vacuum. The rest of the universe would have been produced from these particles in accordance with the physical laws169. This hypothesis is at a very speculative stage. It remits to the quantum gravity, a theory which hopes to unify quantum physics and gravity, and about which there are serious problems and not few disagreements170. However, it is possible that the universe began to exist in a tenuous way, almost imperceptible, just as this hypothesis proposes. On the other hand, it does not make any sense to claim an alleged self-creation of the universe, i.e. an authentic creation but without Creator171. Does this strange possibility make any sense? It looks like a contradictory one, and it is really so. Some considerations on the nature of the physical concepts will allow us to pinpoint the misunderstandings implicit in this claim. In the first place, it is important to note that physics usually speaks of the creation of matter in an improper way, and this can lead to confusion. Actually, one of

Cf. D. ANDRESCIANI, Lo studio dellorigine delluniverso nel contesto dellacosmologia quantistica, in Excerpta e dissertationibus in Philosophia, vol. III, Facultad Eclesiastica de Filosofia, Universidad de Navarra, Pamplona 1993, pp. 988. 170 Cf. C.J. ISHAM, Quantum Theories of the Creation of the Universe, in: R.J. RUSSELL N. MURPHY C.J. ISHAM (publishers), Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature, Vatican Observatory Publications, Vatican City State 1993, pp. 49-89. 171 Proposals of this kind can be seen, for instance in: Paul DAVIES, God and the new Physics, Dent, London 1983; Quentin SMITH, The Uncaused Beginning of the Universe, Philosophy of Science, 55 (1988), pp. 39-57; Peter W. ATKINS, Como crear el mundo, Grijalbo, Mondadori, Barcelona, 1995.

the consequences of the special relativity theory, formulated by Einstein in 1905, is the equation which establishes the equivalence between mass and energy. When certain phenomena occur to which this equation is applied, it is usual to speak of creation of particles from energy or, in the opposite process, of annihilation of a couple of particles and production of energy. These are though physical processes in which transformations take place which are analogous to those of any other physical process; it does not make any sense here to take the term creation in its philosophical and theological meaning, i.e. as a creation from nothingness. On the other hand, the physical concept of vacuum (which appears to be close to the concept of nothingness), refers to specific physical states. Actually, physicists distinguish two types of vacuum, according to the theories and methods in use; one speaks, for instance, of classic vacuum and of quantum vacuum. Therefore vacuum cannot be identified with nothingness172. The quantum vacuum is a physical state with a complex structure. Its study pertains to quantum physics, a field in which there are discordant interpretations particularly about causality. At times it is claimed that in a quantum world events without causes occur. Once the misunderstanding is cleared, it is easy to acknowledge that any process, even at a quantum level, demands the existence of causes to explain their production, although the causality involved here is of non-determinist type. The general relativity which is the basis of the cosmological models, interprets gravity as a curvature of the space-time and for this reason presupposes somehow a geometrization of physics. In the field of quantum gravity which tries to unify the general relativity and quantum physics, one speaks of topological fluctuations which would explain the appearance of space-time structures. Somehow and in a confused way, it is usually claimed that quantum fluctuations may exist through which space-time structures may appear in a non-causal way from which, later on, material particles may be produced. However, without denying the scientific interest in topological transitions, it is not difficult to note that the existence of a space-time without matter, and the appearance of matter from a pure space-time do not make any sense if these concepts are used in their habitual meaning. If we put together the above mentioned misunderstandings, we reach the conclusion that it is possible to claim the self-creation of the universe. However, this claim is based on illegitimate extrapolations173 which intend to extract from physics something that this science, because of its own method, is incapable of providing, since its ideas are meaningful only within an empirical context when there are procedures able to relate them to real or possible experiments. All this is not possible in the case of the problem of the absolute origin of the universe from nothing. The method used to obtain these unlikely conclusions consists in attributing a metaphysical meaning to the physical theories on space, time, matter, energy and vacuum, a meaning that cannot be

Philip YAN, Aprovechamiento energtico del punto cero, Investigacion y ciencia, No. 257, February 1998, pp. 42-45. On can read the following in page 42: the energy of the vacuum is just real. According to modern physics, vacuum is not the same as nothingness. 173 One may find a critical analysis of this proposal in: William L. CRAIG, God, Creation and Mr Davies, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, 37 (1986), pp. 163-175; Mariano ARTIGAS, Fisica y creacion: el origen del universo, Scripta Theologica, 19 (1987), pp. 347-373.

attributed to them since these ideas are defined in physics in accordance with mathematical theories and experimental data. Because of all this, these ideas necessarily refer to entities, or properties, or physical processes and in no way can they be applied to events such as creation from nothing which, by its own nature, is not a process which relates a physical state to another state also physical174. Those proposals which present a self-creation of the universe as a scientific possibility are just some of the present-day manifestations of the pseudo-scientific faith in naturalism. The properly scientific problem is totally different. It pertains to science, in this context, to decide whether the far history of the universe remits to an almost imperceptible quantum phenomenon, or to other different states. For the time being, it is not easy to provide solid arguments on this issue.


The implications of creation

We shall now deal with some implications contained in the notion of creation. They will help us understand its true meaning, its relationship with the scientific theories and its consequences so as to obtain a complete understanding of nature. Creation is necessary to found the being of creatures; it does not refer to some particular aspects of the created entities, but to the totality of what they are. The being of creatures depends radically on God not only in order to begin to exist, but totally: consequently, divine action is necessary as the foundation of the created being even after this being has began to exist. The founding divine action extends to all that exists in any of its aspects and, therefore, even to the activity of what already exists, and to the new beings which are produced through the natural processes. Consequently, the creation of the universe cannot consist in a simple setting off something which later on will be self-sufficient. Creation is not only necessary to explain that something has begun to be. The divine action extends to all that is, is produced, is preserved and originated. The limited being of creatures remits to the Being which has being by itself and which, therefore, can give being to creatures without losing nothing of what it is. Moreover, creation takes into account the fact that the God who creates has to be infinitely wise, almighty and good (because he has the fullness of being). It is clear, then, that the created universe must correspond to a divine project: it must be rational and be governed by God. The divine action is not only necessary to explain some aspects of nature which could not be explained otherwise; the very existence of the natural activity in all its aspects demands it. Divine creation does not correspond to that false image of God which has been called the god of the gaps, i.e. it is not a recourse for filling the


However, it is not infrequent to find good scientific expositions on these themes intermingled with philosophical reflections which give the impression of taking physics much beyond its possibilities, as is the case, for instance, of Jonathan J. HALLWELL, Cosmologia cuntica y creacin del universo, Investigacin y ciencia, No. 185, February 1992, pp. 12-20.

gaps of our ignorance; it is a rigorous conclusion to which we arrive when we try to explain, in a rational way, the existence of the natural world. Moreover, the divine action does not interfere with the natural at its own level: it rather founds it. It is not a cause placed along the line of the natural causes, no matter how excellent it may be. It is the cause that makes it possible for all the natural causes and their effects to be. To claim the necessity of a founding divine action is not to belittle the importance of the natural, or to claim that it is a substitute for it. It is precisely this divine action that gives being to everything natural, together with its own dynamism and virtualities. It is easy to see how the claim for a divine creation implies a very specific perspective of the natural world, and how it is possible to reach completely different ideas about the being and the meaning of the natural world when creation is either admitted or denied. For example, the claim for a divine creation gives us the possibility of understanding not only the existence of the universe, but also its rational character. More specifically, it gives us the possibility of understanding the existence of an information in which dynamism and structuring are intertwined in such a way that the subsequent unfoldings of the dynamism produce systems every time more organized and, ultimately, the global system of nature with all its levels which culminate in the human organism. If divine creation is denied, we must say that the organization of the system of nature is the accidental result of blind forces, and this is completely unrealistic. Although there are forces which may somehow be qualified as blind, and although we may admit that accidental coincidences play a very important role in the unfolding of the natural processes, to claim that these factors are the ultimate explanation is equivalent to denying a rational and coherent explanation of a nature which is, on the contrary, permeated by rationality in all its dimensions175.



Finality in nature occupies a central place in the reflections on nature. From ancient times up to our own days, the main differences of opinion in the philosophy of nature refer, to a large extent, to this problem. The finalists claim there is directionality in nature which should be interpreted as finality. This stand corresponds to the natural approach of man to nature, and it connects easily with the claim of a divine providence which governs the course of the natural phenomena. On the other hand, the antifinalists deny the existence of finality in nature or, at least, the fact that we cannot

Edgar Morin, for instance, claims that the organization of the universe would arisen from chaos, conceived after Heraclitus fashion: an original chaos from which the logos arises: E. MORIN, El mtodo. I. La naturaleza de la naturaleza, Ediciones Ctedra, Madrid 1981, pp. 76-78. It seems that Morin identifies the primitive state of the universe and, in general, of the micro-physical world, with chaos in a strict sense. However, this identification is very problematic because the micro-physical world, even in its primitive state, should have those virtualities whose actualization has provoked the formation of more organized structures. Physics assumes always the existence of laws, and actually manages to formulate them; therefore, it seems unlikely that, before a philosophical reflection, the present organization of nature comes from a chaos in the proper sense of the word which lacks any type of structure or of laws.

know it; they also usually rejected the notion of a divine providence. Their arguments frequently seek support in the progress of science. Let us try to delimit first what we mean by natural finality. Afterwards we shall analyse the dimensions of finality which exist in nature. We shall then try to show that there is finality in nature, determine its scope, and examine the implications of the present-day worldview with respect to the problem of the natural finality.


The concept of finality

The notion of end has three main meanings: the end of a process, the goal of a tendency and the objective of a plan. In the first place, end designates the conclusion of something. In the case of entities, it refers to their physical limits (the end of a book, the end of a road, for instance). In the case of processes which unfold over time, end designates the last stage at which they stop or are finalised (for instance, the end of reading a book, or the end of a trip). These two types of ends are aspects of the same reality, considered in its static and dynamic aspects respectively: the end of a process is a thing, or a state of things which is arrived at through the process. It is interesting to emphasise here the dynamism and activity; in this sense, finality means, end of a process. In the second place, end is the goal towards which and action or a process tends. This meaning is added to the second: not every end is a goal; however, every goal is the end of a tendency. The concept of finality is closely related to that of tendency which is used as a criterion for recognising the existence of finality. In this sense, finality means goal of a tendency. In the third place, when the end is achieved through a voluntary action, the end becomes the goal of a deliberate project, the objective sought through ones action. This third meaning presupposes the first two and adds to them the intention of the subject. Irrational living beings are able to act in this way by following their natural inclinations. In the case of intelligent and free subjects, capable of establishing objectives, this meaning of finality is the same as the objective of a plan. Our considerations are focused on the finality of the second type as it exists in the activity of the natural entities, not caused by knowledge either because they are beings without any kind of knowledge, or because they are processes which, although existing in beings capable of knowledge, are carried out in an automatic way, without the intervention of any knowledge. Therefore, we shall distinguish between subjective finality provoked by the knowledge of an end, and objective finality which is independent from this knowledge. Our considerations will be limited to those actions and processes which are not the result of a deliberate plan on the part of the agent and, therefore, to the objective finality of tendencial type. Left out of our consideration are those actions which depend on a previous knowledge, and also the instinctive actions of the animals. We adopt this stand for two reasons: first, because the analysis of these actions would require us to go into the field of animal psychology, and this would take

us too far away from our purpose; second, because we want to place the problem of the natural finality in that field which is closest to empirical verification. Finality is opposed to chance. We said that something happens by chance when it is the result of accidental, i.e. unforeseen coincidences which do not seem to have a specific cause. On the other hand, finality implies the fact that there are tendencies which explain the effects; the effect is the direct result of proper causes and not of the accidental coincidence of these causes.


How finality is manifested in nature

Natural finality is manifested mainly in three ways: directionality, co-operation, and functionality. Directionality refers to the existence of tendencies in the natural processes. Co-operation refers to the capacity that entities and processes have to be integrated within unitary types of results. Functionality expresses the fact that many parts of nature create with their activity the conditions for the existence and activities of those systems of which they form part.



Let us consider first the notion of directionality. Natural processes do not unfold in an arbitrary way. On the contrary, they originate from specific entities and unfold according to dynamic patterns. The natural dynamism unfolds following privileged channels. Of course, there is a great variety of possible processes in function of the concurrence of the different dynamisms; however, processes move around specific patterns. As we have already pointed out, in nature everything articulates around patterns, although not everything in nature is pattern. This occurs from the lowest levels of organization to the most complex ones. At the fundamental level, the four basic interactions have a well-defined intensity and effects, and condition the unfoldings of all the natural processes. Something similar occurs with the activity of the atoms and molecules, and with the biochemical activity in the life processes. When we go deeper into the field of the living organisms, directionality reaches its peak and it is really amazing: the unfolding of the genetic information, the intracellular activities, the intercellular communication, the life functions, are all manifestations of a clear and specific directionality. There are specific and directional dynamisms which also unfold in the earth and in the stars. The existence of dynamic patterns, even in those processes which are usually qualified as chaotic, is every time more evident. Science presupposes the existence of a directionality in nature and actually tries to determine its modalities. Its success implies a progressively more specific knowledge of the directionality of the natural processes.

We can say without hesitation, therefore, that the natural dynamism unfolds in a directional way, and it is enough to claim the case for a weak type of directionality which, though being real, yet does not guarantee the achievement of specific goals. Can we make a step further, and claim the case for a strong type of directionality, i.e. for the existence of tendencies towards specific goals? We meet here with a formidable difficulty since the specific unfoldings of the natural dynamism depend on very varied circumstances which, to a large extent, correspond to accidental coincidences. In other words, although the natural dynamism moves around patterns, the results of its unfolding are not determined because different dynamisms concur in the processes and nothing guarantees that specific results are going to be achieved. This is equivalent to acknowledging that the results are not necessary but contingent. In these conditions, how can we claim that there are tendencies towards specific goals? This difficulty is insurmountable if we think of goals which are achieved in an absolutely necessary way. If we make directionality to be the same as tendencies which necessarily lead towards specific goals, we should then conclude that this directionality does not exist. At a first glance this conclusion seems to shatter any hope of finding a foundation for the natural finality. However, it is not so. We are simply obliged to introduce a clarification which is decisively important at the time of establishing conclusion about the existence and scope of the natural finality. This clarification concerns those conditions which guarantee the goals of the directionality. There are specific goals only insofar as some factors intervene which, so to say, impose their laws. In many cases, either because of the existing organisation or because of the intervening factors, the achievement of specific goals is guaranteed within a wide margin of circumstances. There are many situations in which there is a stable organization and, therefore, there are tendencies towards specific goals176. One can speak, in this sense, of degrees of directionality in function of the factors which intervene in a situation. It may just be the case, for example, of simple potentialities, of capacities closer to their actualisation, or of authentic tendencies which will lead to specific results. All in all, they are always potentialities whose actualisation is either only possible, or probable, or certain.



Co-operation is a particular case of directionality. Specifically, it is a potentiality which refers to the integration of different factors into a unitary result. In speaking of unitary result, we refer to a holistic system, to emerging properties, to new types of


This statements is not prejudicial to the problem of indeterminism. We are speaking of tendencies which are compatible with the existence of a kind of indeterminism: it is in the field of quantum physics where this problem arises, and where probabilistic laws are formulated. However, also the theories on chaos point out the existence of specific tendencies.

dynamism, i.e. to the appearing of new types of structuring and dynamism which are not just reducible to the juxtaposition of the initial factors. The knowledge of many modalities of co-operation in nature is one of the main achievements of modern science in which synergy, or co-operative action, occupies an important place. Holistic systems occupy a central place at all levels in nature; they are systems formed thanks to the co-operative action of their components. In the micro-physical world, protons, neutrons and electrons are integrated according to specific interactions, so that atoms are formed whose electrons are placed at energetic levels also very specific, determining in this way the chemical properties of the atoms and, therefore, their capacity of being integrated into greater systems. Starting from this level, there are many other types of co-operation which reach their apex in the organisms of the living beings. Thanks to this co-operation, morphogenesis - or the production of specific holistic pattern -, which is the basis of the specificity of nature, is made possible. If co-operation is considered from the diachronic perspective of the evolutionist theories, it is easy to see how successive integrations lead to new types of organisation which, in turn, open new possibilities and shut others. As organisation progresses, new routes are opened which did not exist before. In this regard, we may emphasises the inconsistency of some critiques which are opposed to evolution arguing that it is highly improbable that all the components of a new organism, or all the variations which are needed to make new organism appear, may coincide by chance. Actually, the improbability is huge if we think of a random mixing of completely independent factors, as it would be the case of random mixing the letters or words which make up a literary work. On the other hand, probability increases in a noticeable way when the components are not independent, when there are co-operative tendencies, and when each achievement results in new co-operative potentialities which did not exist before and which are more and more specific. Probabilities are even greater, when one takes into account the fact that, besides the simple co-operation, there is a greater degree of directionality in which there can be regulatory factors whose variations permit perhaps to explain the simultaneous production of a whole collection of co-ordinated changes. This greater degree of directionality is what we call functionality.



We usually speak of functionality to express the fact that a part plays a certain role within a greater whole. Nature is organized in such a way that there are systems with a notable level of functionality. Moreover, one can speak also of the functionality of nature as a whole insofar as it provides those conditions which make human life possible.

There is a close relationship between structure and function, because the function of a part obviously depends on its structural characteristics. In our case this is particularly relevant because our analysis focuses on the natural structuring which provides the basis for a high degree of functionality. The existence of functionality in the living beings is evident. Any treatise on biology is actually a systematic exposition of the functionality in the living beings. Can one speak of functionality at the physico-chemical level? Obviously, the systems of this level do not have the typical characteristics of the living beings; therefore, it does not seem logical to claim that they have the same type of functionality of the living beings. For instance, it makes sense to speak of the functions of the red blood cells, or of the liver or of the nervous system; however, it sounds paradoxical to speak of the functions that an electron performs in the atom, or that an atom performs in the molecule. The reasons for this difference are evident: a living being has typical tendencies whose realization is made possible thanks to the functions that its components perform. On the other hand, it does not seem possible to attribute similar tendencies to physico-chemical entities. However, it is possible to speak of functionality even in the case of physicochemical entities if one takes into account their twofold type of integration with the biological level, as components and as environment. The functionality of the living beings depends on their physico-chemical components, and the exercise of this functionality is only possible when there is an environment which offers the indispensable, or convenient, conditions. In the first case (components), one may speak of internal functionality, while in the second case (environment), one may speak of an external functionality. We can take our reflections much further if we consider that different natural systems are integrated into greater systems. Insofar as a whole collection of natural entities can be considered as an authentic system, its components can be said to have an internal functionality. It is the case, for instance, of the ecosystems in which there are living beings (the various species which live in it) and non-living beings (the environmental factors); or of the biosphere whose components extend to the lithosphere, atmosphere and oceans, besides the living beings. One can also speak of the total system of nature since there are close relationships of dependence among many of its parts (these relationships are especially close from the evolutionary point of view). These reflections are useful to solve a problem which is usually mentioned when speaking of finality. Actually, it is usually said that many cases of apparent finality, in reality, are no more than examples of an external usefulness, and cannot be used for arguing in favour of finality. This objection is partly right; it would not be correct, for instance, to speak of natural finality in relation to a climate or a vegetation favourable to certain species. However, many cases of external usefulness become cases of internal functionality if they are conditions which become integrated, as components, into greater systems. If we continue with the previous example, specific climatic conditions and the existence of plants are indispensable for the human existence; therefore, in considering systems which include human life, climatic conditions and plants become components with an authentic internal functionality.

Of course, there are degrees of functionality. For example, some functions are completely necessary for the survival of the organisms in which they take place, while others, on the other hand, are only convenient. Something similar occurs when we consider greater systems. Functionality is the dynamic aspect of structuring. The structuring of the organisms and of their parts is the basis of their functionality, and this is a manifestation of an intertwining between dynamism and structuring. It is not necessary to consider more examples which are everywhere in the living beings. On the other hand, it is convenient to consider the functionality of the different natural levels since some are conditions of possibility for others. Actually, to say that there is continuity among the different levels of nature means that some are conditions of possibility for others (not in all their aspects, but only in some or as a whole). The physico-chemical level provides the components of all the others. The astrophysical level provides the components of the geological one which performs, in part, a similar function with respect to the biological one. The astrophysical and the geological levels provide the necessary environment for the existence of the biological one. At biological level, some organisms are conditions of possibility for others: for example, plants are indispensable for the life of the heterotrophs, i.e. for all the other living beings. If we now look at the conditions of possibility of the human life, we easily see how the organisation of the natural levels acquires an obvious meaning. We are not trying to say that the existence of each component of nature should be explained in function of particular human conveniences: this would be a nave and unsustainable anthropocentrism. However, there is something like a legitimate anthropocentrism which considers the human person as the apex of nature, and which acknowledges the fact that the existence of man is possible only because there is a grand functionality in which all the other levels of nature are involved. Therefore, if one acknowledges the great value of human life, it is then possible to attribute a meaning to the organisation of nature in function of the human life. There is not only functionality in nature, but also a noticeable one. We shall not delve with particular examples which are, in all other respects, very many. The progress of molecular biology has contributed to the appreciation of the huge level of sophistication of the biological structures and of their respective functionality177. These are co-ordinated in such a way as to involve whole series of processes, and this coordination is carried out with an admirable precision. One can claim that, in many aspects, the functional organisation of nature far exceeds human realisations in variety, richness, harmony, efficiency, simplicity, beauty and imagination.


Jacques MONOD provides, in his already mentioned Chance and Necessity, abundant examples which were multiplied in the subsequent decades. What he denies is the fact that this functionality corresponds to a plan; however, his work points out the fact that even those who oppose the existence of a superior plan admit that there is in nature a very notable degree of directionality, cooperation and functionality, and that the scientific progress highlights, ever more widely, the existence of these characteristics in nature.


Existence and scope of natural finality

Can we claim that there is finality in nature? And if the answer is yes, what does it consist in, and what is its scope? If we take into account the previous considerations it is not difficult to answer these questions. Actually, we have analysed the issues of directionality, co-operation and functionality which exist in nature; now we are just left with the task of carrying out a synthesis of the results of this analysis and of examining its implications. There is directionality in nature, in the weak sense as well as in the strong one. The existence of a weak directionality means that natural processes articulate around patterns, and that there are, therefore, general tendencies whose actualisation depends on the factors which intervene in each case. When processes unfold in organised systems which are sufficiently stable, there is, besides, a strong directionality, i.e. tendencies towards well-defined specific goals. There is also a special type of directionality called co-operation. Natural entities, as well as processes, manifest a co-operation which is able to integrate them into new unitary results. Moreover, this co-operation extends to all levels of the natural organisation. Finally, there is functionality in all unitary systems and processes. The components mutually co-operate rendering the activity of each one of them and of the whole possible. This functionality is evident in the case of individual organisms, but it also extends to greater systems and to the total system of nature as well owing to the continuity and mutual dependence that exists among the natural levels. When one considers nature as condition of possibility for the human life, one can claim that the rest of nature has functionality with respect to man. This synthesis expresses the meaning and scope of natural finality, as we understand it here. We shall now add some considerations in order to specify the scope of our conclusion. One may think that natural finality, as we have just characterised it, is just a collection of characteristics of nature whose existence is evident. Actually, this is so. However, there is another problem related to natural finality, i.e. the problem of its explanation. This problem requires further considerations which enter the fields of metaphysics and natural theology; we shall mention these considerations when tackling the proof of the existence of God which starts from nature. For the time being, we have limited ourselves to examining, in a rigorous and objective way, the dimensions of finality in nature in order to establish the basis on which a further reflection can be carried out. Therefore, if we have managed to include in our conclusion only those aspects with which everyone agrees, this is certainly an indication of the fact that we have succeeded in our intent. It is important to note now that directionality, co-operation and functionality are dimensions which refer to the way of being of the natural entities and processes: they

correspond to their dynamism and structuring, they are not something added on the top of them, nor are they accidental results; they are constitutive dimensions of the natural world. Properly speaking, they are ways of acting which manifest ways of being. One can speak of directionality and co-operation because there are specific potentialities of tendencial type whose actualisation is not realised in a necessary way but in function of the circumstances. Functionality corresponds to the unfolding of these tendencies when those circumstances which permit the existence of a stable organisation, are present. We can say, all in all, that the concept of natural finality, as we have described it, represents real dimensions of nature, and that these dimensions refer to the way of acting of the natural world and, therefore, to its way of being. We add now that these dimensions have to be taken into account if one wants to have a reliable representation of nature, since these dimensions express important characteristics of the natural world. If they are disregarded, it will not be possible to have an adequately realistic picture of the dynamic and tendencial character of nature which leads to the appearance of systems whose organization has a high degree of functionality.


Natural finality vis--vis the present-day worldview

Three are the main fields in which the natural finality meets with challenges and confirmations in the present-day worldview: cosmology, evolution and selforganization. a) Finality and cosmology

The model of the Big Bang and the present-day physics clearly show how the existence of nature, as we know it, depends on a whole series of coincidences and equilibriums. If the proportions of matter and anti-matter at the beginning of the universe had been slightly different, or if the mass of the neutron were not slightly greater than that of the proton, or if there were no specific physico-chemical properties at present as well as in the past, life on earth and our own existence would not have been produced. On this basis, the so-called antropic principle has been proposed. In 1955, G.J. Whitrow emphasised the fact that scientific explanations which are incompatible with those results that have produced our world, are inadmissible. Robert H. Dicke used this idea in 1957, arguing that the biological factors pose conditions to the values of the basic physical constants. In 1974, Brandon Carter proposed the expression antropic principle, stating that man does not occupy a central place in the universe but, yes, a privileged one. John D. Barrow and Frank J. Tipler published a book in 1986 where they expound on a long defence of the antropic principle178. One usually distinguishes between a weak formulation of the antropic principle and a strong one. In its weak, or moderate, formulation this principle claims that the

John D. BARROW and Frank J. TIPLER, The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, Clarendon Press, Oxford 1986.

initial conditions of the universe, as well as its laws, must be compatible with the existence of the nature which we observe, including ourselves. The conditions necessary for the existence of the human life encompass a wide collection of physical, chemical, geological, astronomical and biological factors which are very specific. This moderate version simply claims that there must have been - and are still there -, the conditions necessary for our existence which is a certain fact. This formulation of the antropic principle can be useful as a heuristic guide in order to exclude, in the scientific study, any thing which is incompatible with the characteristics which, in fact, nature has. In its strong version, this principle postulates, somehow, the existence of a finality which encompasses the whole process of formation of nature. There is nothing objectionable to this claim if it is formulated as a philosophical reflection based on the data provided by science. However, at times, those who defend some of the strong versions of this principle seem to try to present it as if it were part of science, against which not few scientists protest and rightly so. In some occasions, a strong version of this principle is defended without admitting, on the other hand, the existence of a personal God; this has originated a confused stand with a more or less pantheistic character. In any case, the popularity of the antropic principle nowadays shows clearly that it is quite difficult to leave aside the dimensions of finality in nature.


Finality at biological level

Although the progress of biology makes it possible for us to know more and more about the dimensions of finality in nature, one of the main objections against the natural finality comes from the theory of evolution. We have already mentioned this problem when studying evolution. We shall now add some complementary considerations. The argument against finality posed by evolutionism stems from the fact that, according to evolutionism, the origin of living organisms can be explained in terms of efficient natural causes through evolution from less organized forms, and more specifically, as the result of the combination of fortuitous variations and natural selection. Novelties would be produced by chance, and the adaptive competition would cause the survival only of the fittest organisms, giving the impression of a programmed progress. According to widespread interpretations, evolutionism can remove finality from the biological world which was its last redoubt. Evolution would render useless any finalist explanation because the apparent finality of the living beings can be explained through their evolutionary origin. Moreover, one cannot claim that man is the end of evolution since evolution depends on fortuitous and unforeseeable factors. Finally, evolution would also invalidate the teleological argument (divine plan) which can be substituted by naturalist explanations (the combination of chance and necessity)179. We

We shall not detain ourselves more in details on the evolutionist theories because we have already analyzed them previously. We have also referred here to the scientist stands of Jacques MONOD (in his work Chance and Necessity) and

shall now examine these three objections with the intent of showing that evolution does not eliminate finality. First, evolution does not provide a complete explanation of natural finality. Actually, evolution does not explain how there may be in nature some very specific virtualities whose actualisation leads to new virtualities which are also very specific, and so on and so fort. Evolution becomes unintelligible if one does not admit the existence of tendencies and co-operation. Evolution does not explain what constitutes the natural dynamism which is highly specific and which forms its basis, nor does it explain where this dynamism comes from. The explanation of the origins is only one part of the explanation of finality. On the other hand, be it as it may, organisms show a high degree of finality, and the recourse to the binomial chance-selection is not sufficient to completely explain the production of such a sophisticated, coordinated and functional organization. Second, evolution is not incompatible with the notion that man occupies a central place in nature. There is no doubt that man, as the goal of evolution, is a contingent result. If we consider the natural conditions which make the human existence possible, there was a time in which they did not exist, there will be a time in which they will not exists, and they could have never existed. However, man is at the apex of the evolutionary process, not under any aspect but in relation to the subtlety of the material organization and, without doubt, in relation to the spiritual dimensions which transcend the field of the natural world. Moreover, nothing is opposed to the fact that man may have been the goal foreseen by a superior plan which, although acting through natural causes, nevertheless is above them. Third, evolution is compatible with the existence of a God creator and with a consequent divine plan for creation since evolutionism is placed at a different level. This is acknowledged by almost all evolutionists, though they may be agnostic. Evolution may be incompatible only with a static creation (according to which nature may have been created in its present state) or with a linear plan (evolution may be always linear, progressive and perfect under any aspect). One understands how only some fundamentalists may deny the compatibility between evolution and divine plan who hold quite a literal interpretation of the biblical story, and some scientists and philosophers who hold scientist stands. We may say also that the evolutionary process cannot be easily understood unless there is some kind of direction or plan involved. This process presupposes the existence of very specific initial potentialities whose subsequent actualizations over an enormously long period of time lead to new potentialities which are again very specific, and so on and so fort many times. Moreover, the coincidence of many adequate factors was necessary to permit this enormous chain of actualisations of potentialities.


Finality and self-organisation

of Richard DAWKINS (in his work The Blind Clock); they are two representatives of anti-finalism which is presented as being supported by biology. According to the radical anti-finalism defended by Monod, science is based on the postulate of objectivity which excludes any type of project or superior plan: if to this scientism is added, one can conclude (as Monod does) that there is no plan. Dawkins reaches the same conclusion, and emphasizes the directing role of the natural selection in the evolutionary process; he claims that this factor is enough to explain the present organization of the living beings.

The new paradigm of the self-organisation which has become widespread nowadays encompasses a collection of different theories relative to the different levels of nature. The basic idea - from which the name self-organisation is taken -, is the spontaneous formation of order from states of lesser order. This paradigm can be summarized in few words in the following way: matter has its own dynamism which, in adequate conditions, originates synergic and cooperative phenomena through which an order of superior type (more complex and more organized) is produced. The universe would have been formed in this way with all its parts. What is emphasised here is, therefore, the fact nature has its own dynamism which unfolds in a directional way. Actually, self-organization is based on the existence of tendencies and co-operation. However, contingency is also emphasised. The actualisation of tendencies depends on fortuitous circumstances. The results do not appear in a necessary way: other results could appear if the circumstances were different. The complexity of the real processes clearly shows the contingency of the subsequent stages of the evolutionary process. A key element in the new paradigm is the central role played by information: the natural dynamism unfolds structurally according to patterns. This unfolding produces new space structures which, in turn, are sources of new dynamisms. All this works through an information stored structurally, and unfolds through processes in which the information is coded and decoded, transcribed, translated and integrated. Information becomes in this way a materialised rationality, because it contains and transmits instructions, directs and controls, and all this is done through space-time structures. In this way philosophy of nature finds newly opened horizons: it is not only possible to pose the main philosophical problems and give the old answers once again, but also to formulate them in a different way and to expand them into a much richer context. Finality occupies a central place in this perspective because it emphasises the importance of the dynamic, holistic and directional factors, as well as the role played by information. Self-organisation is understood at times as a kind of naturalist pan-Darwinism which would definitively eliminate the problem of the radical foundation of nature: nature would be a self-sufficient reality. However, the rigorous reflections on the present-day worldview do not have anything to do with such naturalism. Experimental science owes its progress to the adoption of a method which has some precise limits: it does not study the philosophical dimensions of nature thematically, but it presupposes them and at the same time it provides elements for a more in-depth study of them. Moreover, the consideration of the philosophical dimensions remits to the questions about the radical foundation of nature.



We have characterized the natural as the intertwining between a dynamism specific for each entity and space-time structuring which articulates around patterns. We have pointed out that this characterization permits to distinguish the properly natural from the specifically human whose dynamism transcends the space-time structures. We shall now consider the relationship between the human person and nature.


The human singularity

Man belongs to nature but, at the same time, transcends it. He is immersed in the physical world, but he is a personal being with immaterial dimensions as well.


Characteristics of the human person

The human person, has he appears before our experience, shows specific characteristics which distinguish him from the rest of the natural beings. First and foremost, man is a person, i.e. a subject which can act voluntarily and is responsible for its own acts. The dynamism proper to a person refers to an interior principle for which no one, except the very individual person, can be responsible. Persons can be replaced by other persons; however, no one can substitute anyone else when the strictly personal dimensions of human life are considered, such as the ethical behaviour, friendship, love. The personal character of man is closely related to self-consciousness. His intelligence is not limited to some capacities to act, but it incapacitates the person to interiorise his own life, and the world which surrounds him, through a reflection on his own acts. Mans immanence has an intentional character; this means that it has an opening which makes the person capable of relating with other beings. The human person has a way of being and of acting which place him above the other natural beings. Intellectual knowledge is characteristic of the human being; this type of knowledge allows man to pose questions about being and meaning, and it is closely linked to the capacity of choosing and loving. Man determines himself to want and love in a voluntary way, and this is possible only in a being which has intellectual knowledge. The free activity of man is founded on judgements of value which presuppose the knowledge of good. The distance which separates man from the purely physical nature is evident. However, the natural-physical is a constitutive part of man. The physical dimensions are not something external or accidental to the person, but a basic aspect of the human being. However, the person is not exhausted in the natural-physical dimensions. The peculiarity of the human person consists in the fact that his nature belongs to the physical and to the spiritual world at the same time.

The reality of a personal I, endowed with spiritual dimensions, is undeniable. The problem is not solved by finding some singular mans activity which may confirm this spirituality: our experience is full of it. The problem is that by denying it, we necessarily make violence to a whole collection of deep convictions, followed by the adoption of impossible practical attitudes. We have an ample and clear experience of what spirituality means: personality, creativity, friendship, capacity of arguing and criticizing, ethical action, freedom, the appreciation of values, responsibility. The simultaneous material and spiritual character of the human person entails aspects which are difficult to conceptualise; however, it corresponds faithfully to the experience we have. The physical aspects of man are human and not animal aspects; they are interpenetrated with the spiritual dimensions which are characteristic of the person. At the same time, the spiritual life is realised together with the psychic, biological and physical capacities. Everything human is incarnated and spiritualised at the same time. Man is at the same time material and spiritual.


Scientific creativity and human singularity

The progress of the experimental science shows in an especially clear manner the existence of the specific dimensions in the human person. We shall now analyse the meaning of this statement by considering the scientific activity, its methods, its results and its assumptions and conditions of possibility. The scientific activity is directed towards a twofold objective: the knowledge of nature and a controlled power over it. Neither of the two is sought after separately, but both together in a peculiar combination: what is sought after is a kind of knowledge which can be submitted to experimental control. The scientist adopts a very special attitude towards nature. He has the desire to know it, but he faces a fundamental difficulty: nature does not speak. Therefore, in order to know those aspects of nature which do not appear to the ordinary experience, he must find a way to get its secrets. The scientific method is essentially the way that man has found to ask questions to the nature so that nature may answer back. The scientific method is extraordinarily subtle, and one should not be surprised that it has taken centuries for it to develop systematically. Actually, it did not establish itself until the 17th century. Sometimes it is said that the scientific method consists in observing nature, gathering the data carefully and systematising them into laws. However, this is a caricature of the method really used by science. The method consists in formulating hypotheses and submitting them to experimental control; however, this is only possible if concepts are used which can be defined mathematically and which can be related to procedures of measurement. This complicates the problem extraordinarily. In order to realise this it is enough to think of the most simple scientific concepts, such as mass, velocity, time and temperature. We all have an intuitive idea about these concepts. However, to be useful in science they have to be defined in such a way as to

form part of mathematical relations and, at the same time, concrete values have to be assigned to them in accordance with the results of the measurements. How can we manage this? There are no automatic procedures. A creative, as well as an argumentative, capacity is needed. Let us consider the theoretical aspect. How are magnitudes summed up? In the case of the mass it is an arithmetical kind of sum: mass is a scalar magnitude. On the other hand, velocities are vectorial magnitudes and, as such, added up with the rule of the parallelogram. Temperatures are not added up in any of the two previous ways. However, these rules are not obtained by simple observation of facts or through a pure mental exercise; a creative work is required whose results have to be submitted to experimental control. As for the experimental control, the problems are no less difficult. In order to measure one needs units of measurement, and the definition of unit faces to no trivial difficulties. For example, to determine the values of time we need to have a movement which is repeated periodically at equal intervals, and to take a fraction of this duration as unit. However, how do we know that a specific movement is periodical, if we still do not know how to measure time? The difficulty involved is real. In the case of temperature, we need a law to measure it able to relate the values of temperature to the values of some magnitude which we can observe directly, such as the expansion of the volume of a liquid or of a gas. However, again, how do we know that this law is correct if we still do not know how to measure temperature? These are authentic difficulties, and they increase considerably when we consider more abstract magnitudes as it is done continuously in the experimental science. On the other hand, even though one may assume that we have a good hypothesis and know how to measure the values of the magnitudes, how can we be sure, through experimental control, that this hypothesis is true? Although we may be able to verify that in many cases it corresponds to the data of experience, it will always be possible to come across new cases in which the hypothesis does not work: the history of science can provide countless examples of this type. Therefore, experimental science requires a strong dose of creativity, interpretation and argumentation. With all this, science is a fact and its progress notable. This is possible only because the human person has characteristics which have permitted him to develop highly sophisticated methods, thanks to which he can study aspects of nature which are very far from any possibility of direct observation. This is possible because man can formulate very elaborate hypotheses and submit them to experimental control through no less sophisticated techniques. Consequently, the analysis carried out on the nature of experimental science manifests the completely singular character of the human person, since science presupposes some capacities which are not present in other natural beings. Science is a way of confronting nature, of studying and dominating it which is made possible only because we have that creative capacity which permits us to create methods and concepts, that argumentative capacity which permits us to evaluate solutions, that sense of evidence which is implicit in the argumentative capacity, and that capacity of self-reflection, without which all the

other already mentioned capacities would not be possible. Moreover, these capacities are combination of the rational with the empirical which shows the intertwining of both aspects in the human person. All in all, the progress of the experimental science manifests the presence of material as well as rational dimensions which are interpenetrated in the human person. Materialism and empiricism on one extreme side, and the idealism and a-priorism on the other side, cannot justify the fact of the experimental science and, as a matter of fact, run into insoluble difficulties when they try to propose an image of science which should corresponds to the real scientific activity and its achievements180. The reflection on the characteristics of the experimental science shows how only an anthropology which acknowledges the interpenetration of material and rational dimensions in the human person will be able justify the scientific activity and its real achievements.


Matter and spirit in the human person

Mans level has continuity with the inferior levels of nature. However, the human person has peculiar characteristics which are found at a level qualitatively superior to the one of the other natural entities. This is a clear fact and it seems logical to use a specific term in order to designate this type of characteristics. The use of the term spiritual in this context does not pose any problem since it is just the way of referring to those specifically human qualities whose existence is evident. Problems arise when we try to establish the nature of the relationship between mans spirituality and his material conditions. We shall now examine this problem.


The material and the spiritual: four problems

Let us now consider four problems which arise from the relationship between mans spirituality and his material conditions. The first problem is epistemological and refers to the possibility of observing specific manifestations of mans spiritual dimensions. The second is ontological and refers to the characterisation of the way of being proper to the spiritual, and to the co-existence of the spiritual and of the material. The third is metaphysical and refers to the necessity of admitting a divine action in order to justify mans spirituality. The fourth is existential and refers to the persistence in being of the human spirit after death. As for the epistemological problem, if we admit the unity of the human person, it is futile to look for manifestations of mans spirituality which are not related in any possible way to the material conditions. The existence of spiritual dimensions is evident, but it is also evident that the mans activity is mediated by his material conditions.

This idea is extensively illustrated in: Stanley L. JAKI, Angels, Apes and Men, Sherwood Sugden, La Salle (Illinois) 1982.

Searching for dimensions which are not mixed with the material is equivalent to searching a ghost located in some holes of the mans organism, and this ghost does not exist. However, the spiritual dimensions proper to man are manifested throughout his whole conscious activity, and the progress of experimental science is one of its best examples: our creative and argumentative capacity, which reach a very noticeable level in the experimental science, clearly show the fact that we form part of nature but, at the same time, we transcend it. As the ontological problem, the way of being proper to the person includes, as a constitutive part, the natural way of being but, at the same time, it transcends it. The person has his own dynamism which goes beyond the possibilities of the space-time patterns as it is shown, for instance, in his capacity of posing questions and in desires which fall outside the field of space-time, and its capacity of free self-determination on the basis of his knowledge of ethical values. However, the dynamism of a person is a unitary one and, therefore, the problem of the interaction between the spiritual and the material corresponds to a false approach. The posing of this problem presupposes somehow the fact that in a human person there are two different realities which interact in an external way; however, this does not correspond to reality. The person has one being only and, although his way of being includes material and spiritual dimensions with specific manifestations, both are interpenetrated within a unitary way of being. The metaphysical problem does not pose any difficulty different from the ones we have met in the case of the purely natural entities. It is necessary to admit the existence of a divine founding action in the case of the person as well as in the case of the natural entities. When one speaks of a special creation of the human soul, what is special is the result of the divine action, i.e. the spiritual dimensions of the person. However, it is necessary to admit a divine founding action in all cases and not only in the case of man. Therefore, special creation does not mean, so to say, an alteration of the ordinary course of nature, as if this nature were independent from the divine action which would take place only in the case of man. God gives being to all that exists in nature; what is peculiar in the case of man is the fact that the result of the divine action has an ontological density which goes beyond the way of being proper to the natural entities. Moreover, the way of being of the human person is possible because there are very specific natural conditions; therefore, also under this point of view one may note that the special creation of the human soul is in continuity with, and not in opposition to, the ordinary course of nature. All in all, the spirituality of the human soul requires that each soul be created directly by God, since the spirit cannot proceed from a transformation of matter; however, this does not mean that the natural world does not need a divine founding action181. There is no doubt that the existential problem which refers to the persistence in being of the human soul after death is more difficult. However, if it is true that the human person has ontological dimensions which presuppose a participation in the being

Cf. what was said in the chapter 10, section 29.4.c. In relation to this, one may read: Roger VERNEAUX, Filosofia del hombre, Hereder, Barcelona 1971, pp. 219-220; Ricardo YEPES, Fundamentos de antropogia. Un ideal de la excelencia human, 2nd ed., EUNSA, Pamplona 1997, pp. 474-479; Mariano ARTIGAS, Las fronteras del evolucionismo, 5th ed., Palabra, Madrid 1991, pp. 163-69, 171-177 and 198-200. One may find an analysis of the scientific context of this theme, in which one can conclude the divine creation of the human soul, in: C. ECCLES, Evolution of the Brain: Creation of the Self, Routledge, London and New York 1991, p. 237.

proper to God, and if it is true that his being depends on the divine action, it seems logical to claim that, when the natural conditions make it impossible for the human life to continue completely in its way of being, the person continues living in his spiritual being. Otherwise, for the spirit to cease to exist, an annihilation would be required, i.e. a divine action which seems to contradict the creative action. The main difficulties come from the difficulty of representing human life not in its natural conditions; however, these are minor difficulties because they are due only to our limited capacity of representing a situation of which we do not have experience.


The spiritualist hileo-morphism

Mans peculiarity is a clearly evident; problems constantly arise when one tries to explain it. They are problems which have been tackled and discussed since ancient times. According to the materialist monism, man is not made of matter and spirit; everything is actually matter and different manifestations of material phenomena. The so-called emergentist materialism, which is a more sophisticated version of materialism, admits a mental reality in man which is reduced to the physico-chemical. It claims that that the mental reality is something qualitatively different from the physical but, at the same time, claims that it is a reality which emerges from neuronal processes. By making recourse to the theory of the systems, it claims that the interaction of the components can explain, in a sufficient way, the existence of emerging properties without any need of admitting immaterial realities which, on the other hand, could not produce observable effects or interact with the material components. Emergence means that a system has properties which its components did not have. They are system properties which are the result of the interaction of the components. There is no need to make recourse to new causes in order to explain an emergence; it is enough to take into account the fact that the interactions of the components - in this case the neurones -, result in the appearance of truly new properties which are only present in the systems. However, claiming that the mind is an emergence is not equivalent to providing an explanation of its specifically human characteristics. Emergentism does nothing but claiming that these characteristics really exist, and adds at the same time and against all evidence that material properties are sufficient to explain them: it denies human spirituality and, because of it, has to make violence to a whole collection of fundamental data of experience. Materialism cannot be defended by seeking the support in the progress of experimental psychology; this progress only shows that there is a relationship between the human psyche and the material conditions in which this psyche exists and operates. The so-called interactionist dualism claims that together with materiality there is also in the human person a kind of immaterial reality which is called, according to different authors, mind, or spirit, or soul, and that this immaterial reality interacts with the material conditions. However, this interactionism has to face the difficulties related to the classical problem of the communication of substances posed, in modern times, by

Descartes, and which has been a central issue in the post-Cartesian philosophy, being left with no satisfactory answer. How can two so heterogeneous realities relate to each other, when they are considered mutually external? Moreover, the problem of the origin of the mind persists. The recourse to evolutionist explanations does not solve the problem. And so, a partisan of the interactionist dualism, such as Karl Popper, claims, on the one hand, that evolution by natural selection can explain the emergence of the immaterial dimensions of the person182. However, and on the other hand, he admits that it is a problem whose ultimate explanation is shrouded in mystery: I want now to stress how little is said when it is claimed that the mind is an emergence of the brain. It practically lacks explanatory value and is equivalent to something hardly more than placing a question mark in a specific place of the human evolution. Nevertheless, I believe that it is the only thing we can say from a Darwinist point of view 183. This uncertainty is inevitable when one does not admit metaphysical explanations and only makes recourse to evolutionist explanations which, in principle, cannot justify the spiritual dimensions of the human person. Popper is aware of the limitations of the evolutionist explanation, yet he does not open other doors, and therefore he has to be content with a semi-darkness shrouded in the most obscure mystery: Clearly, evolution cannot be taken in any sense as the ultimate explanation. We have to resign ourselves to the idea that we live in a world in which almost everything important must remain essentially unexplainedultimately, everything is left without explanation: especially everything related to existence184. The concept of hileo-morphism was used by Aristotle in order to explain the basic way of being of the natural substances, and was classically formulated by Aquinas. This concept characterises man as composed of body and soul, emphasizing the unity of the compound and the spirituality of the soul. Man is conceived as one substance only against the dualism of Cartesian type since, although spirit and matter are different realities, the soul is the substantial form of the body. Man is not a body to which a soul is added as a juxtaposed reality, but soul and body form one reality only; this does not prevent the soul from persisting in being after death, owing to its spiritual character. This doctrine is not simple, but is not a surprising one either if one takes into account the fact that man is not a simple being. It tries to reflect some facts and some rational demands without suppressing what is mysterious in man which is not little. It puts together the data of experience and what is required by an intellectual rigor, avoiding the simplification of the complexity of human existence. Experience and reasoning show how material as well as spiritual dimensions are present in man, and how both constitute one person only. Man is not made of two juxtaposed substances which interact with each other: man is one substance only, and this is reflected in the concept of hileo-morphism, when it claims that the union between soul and body is like the union between form and matter. Form and matter are not complete entities. Spirituality requires a subject, the soul; however, the soul is not a

Cf. Karl R. POPPER, Natural Selection and the Emergence of Mind, in: G. RADNITZKY W.W. BARTLEY III (publishers), Evolutionary Epistemology, Rationality and the Sociology of Knowledge , Open Court, La Salle (Illinois) 1987, pp. 139-155. 183 Karl R. POPPER John C. ECCLES, El yo y su cerebro, Labor, Barcelona 1980, p.622. 184 Ibid.

complete subject added to the body. As form of the matter, the soul expresses the characteristic way of being of the person. On the other hand, the spiritual dimensions cannot be derived from matter; therefore, it is necessary to claim the divine creation of the soul which, although being the form of the matter, does not depend on the latter since it is spiritual, and it persists in being once the disintegration of matter provokes death. According to this perspective, one cannot properly speak of interaction between soul and body since both soul and body constitute one substance only.


Nature and the human life

Man is a synthesis of the material and of the spiritual world. He is above the rest of the physical world. He participates in the physical which is inscribed in his nature as a constitutive part, but his reality is not exhausted in the physical dimensions. He has the capacity of knowing and dominating the world. A theo-centric kind of worldview sees man as Gods creature, made by God in his image and likeness, placed above the reset of nature which he uses to achieve his end. This anthropocentrism is coherent with the present-day scientific worldview, and it may also be said that the present-day knowledge corresponds to the anthropocentric perspective in a much better way than it did in the ancient worldview. According to the present-day worldview, nature appears to us as the unfolding of a dynamism which gets organised according to patterns. Natural processes unfold in a directional and selective way, although the actualisation of the natural potentialities depends on fortuitous factors. The natural systems have holistic characteristics. Thanks to the co-operation of specific dynamisms, the formation of single systems, as well as of the total system of nature, is made possible. Nature has a strong unity which is manifested in the continuity among its levels and in the integration of the most basic levels into those levels of greater organization. This worldview does not have, as such, metaphysical implications. However, it provides a very adequate basis for an ontological and metaphysical reflection which leads to the re-posing of the classical issues about transcendence and human person. Man appears in this perspective as the crowning achievement of nature. His existence is made possible because nature has some highly specific characteristics. The scientific and technological activities show in a clearly evident way the central place occupied by man in nature. The analysis of the conditions of possibility of science shows that the human person has peculiar characteristics which reflect a synthesis of the material and of the spiritual. The fact that the earth has lost its central place in the universe does not weaken the claim that the person occupies a central place in nature. This is, in fact, an issue of secondary importance. We can also think that the immensity of the universe that we know is necessary for the formation of the earth, with its highly specific conditions which make the human life possible.

The possible origin of the human organism from inferior living beings is not a difficulty either in order to claim the fact of the human singularity whose spiritual characteristics shine forth clearly. The theories of evolution can only be used to support naturalism, if their scope is distorted by using them to solve problems which, in reality, are outside of the scope of the experimental science. The hypothetical existence of other intelligent beings in the universe does not contradict the previous claims since we refer to the central place occupied by man respect to the material nature, and this is compatible with the existence of other beings which could also be found in a similar situation with respect to nature. For the time being, there is very little that one can say about the existence of life and intelligence in other parts of the universe. Some claim that this is very probable, while others claim that it is highly improbable that life may exist in conditions different from the ones that we know. For example, Roman Smoluchowsky, of the Council of Science and Space of the United States, has written: The question on whether there might be other forms of life in other conditions has not yet been answered in a decisive way; however, the answer will probably be negative185. On the other hand, the possible existence of life in other places would highlight even more the specific and singular character of nature with its clearly defined tendencies able to produce, in different places, such an enormously sophisticated and specific phenomenon as life is. The human activity, whose highest manifestation is the ethical behaviour, includes material dimensions as fundamental elements, and has to take them into account for its full realization. Nature makes human existence and the unfolding of its potentialities possible. The human person, as synthesis of the material and of the spiritual, occupies a special place in nature; he participates in the personal character proper to God, author of nature, with whom he is in a unique kind of relationship of personal character. If the whole nature corresponds to an unfolding of the effects of the divine action, this unfolding results in unique characteristics in the case of man whose relationship with the rest of nature can be contemplated in continuity with the divine action. The theological perspective sees the human person as a being carrying out a task which God has entrusted to him in the world, and nature in this task plays a central role. 33. NATURE AND GOD

A philosophical study of nature would remain incomplete without tackling the problem of its radical foundation. The radical explanation of nature has been one of the central problems of philosophy in all the various epochs of history, and is still an object of major attention at present. The basic question is: Is nature self sufficient? Can it explain itself completely? Or the alternative one: Should a foundation which transcends nature and ultimately explains its being and activity, be admitted? The detailed examination of these questions corresponds to Natural Theology and requires a systematic study. Here we shall only highlight the fact that present-day scientific worldview, together with the philosophical reflections about it, provide elements which can be useful for the arguments of Natural Theology.


Roman SMOLUCHOWSKI, El systema solar, Prensa scientifica-Labor, Barcelona 1986, p. 50.


Science and transcendence

Science and Natural Theology adopt different perspectives. However, it is possible to integrate them into each other, provided that one respects their differences and adopts the perspective proper to each of them in each type of problems. Each scientific discipline adopts a particular perspective which can be called objectification, because it refers to the way in which the discipline constructs and studies its own object. By doing this, a cut is performed on reality, and the study of that discipline is focused on some particular aspects. Obviously, any objectification of this type has an historical character since it depends on concepts and instruments available at a particular time in history186. In this way, scientific inter-subjectivity is achieved which presupposes the adoption of definitions and operational criteria that have in part a conventional character. This way of operating permits the achievement of a truth which is contextual and partial, nevertheless authentic. Since each scientific discipline operates within a particular objectification, the scientific method leaves the possibility open to a study directed towards the radical conditions of being. No matter what metaphysical stand is adopted, it is compulsory to acknowledge that there is always a methodological leap between the scientific perspective and the metaphysical one. However, it is also frequently claimed that both perspectives need to be related to each other through a dialogue, and that science leads to questions which are at borderline with theology. It is claimed that they are issues that arise from science and which insistently demand for an answer but which, by their own nature, transcend the competence of science187. These problems can arise in two ways. First, they arise from scientific problems which provoke metaphysical questions in those subjects who study them; it is understandable that this may happen, and how this may affect the scientist only as an individual person. Second, they arise from the general assumptions of science and from the implications of its achievements: these last ones are the best candidates for the title of borderline issues. Among these borderline issues we may mention the intelligibility of nature and its rationality: they form an important part of the assumptions of the scientific activity which could not exist or make sense if these assumptions were not certain. There is no doubt that there is a long journey from the implicit admission of these assumptions by the scientists up to their philosophical articulation. However, they are issues that can be studied in an objective way, and which are indicators of important points of confluence between the scientific activity and metaphysical ideas188.


The epistemological aspects of this problem are more extensively treated in: Mariano ARTIGAS, Filosofia de la sciencia experimental. La objetividad y la verdad en la sciencias, op. cit. 187 John C. POLKINGHORNE, A Revived Natural Theology, in: J. FENNEMA - I. PAUL (publishers), Science and Religion. One world: Changing Perspectives on Reality, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht 1990, p. 88. 188 An extensive study on this theme is found in: Mariano ARTIGAS, The Mind of the Universe (Templeton Foundation Press: in printing)

In any case, the claim of the existence of God and of a divine plan which governs nature, goes beyond the level proper to science, and remits to metaphysical reasoning. However, for the same reason, it is not legitimate to deny the existence of a divine plan in the name of science. Science does not permit us either to claim or to deny a divine plan for nature, because it is something that falls outside of its method. Science provides knowledge about the manifestations of the ontological and metaphysical dimensions of nature; however, the explicit study of these dimensions requires the adoption of a perspective which is properly metaphysical. Actually, one may find all sorts of philosophical and theological stands among scientists, and this shows that these stands are not determined only by science189. The possible attitudes before the issue of God as the ultimate explanation of the universe are basically five: atheism, agnosticism, pantheism, deism and theism. The first four pose notable difficulties. This is easily perceived in the case of atheism, since there are no proofs, nor can they exist, of the non existence of God. With its stand of renouncing to tackle the issue of God, agnosticism is, at least, poorly coherent with the scientific and rational spirit which tires to seek explanations of all that exists, though our answers may always be limited and partial. Deism justifies the existence of the universe, but it is not coherent when it claims that an infinitely good, almighty and intelligent God gives existence to the universe only to abandon it to its own destiny. Pantheism tries to give answers to the ultimate questions which we pose about the universe; however, even admitting the active presence of God in the whole universe, it is not possible to identify God with any creature or with all of them as a whole, since all the dimensions of the creatures are limited and, therefore, cannot be identified with something divine in a strict sense. Hence, theism appears to be the only rigorous option for him who does not renounce to seek an explanation of the universe. Neither the universe as a whole nor some of its partial aspects can be identified with something properly divine. However, the rationality of the universe strongly suggests its connection with a divine intellect. We do not try to claim that the experimental science can demonstrate the existence of God: experimental science as such does not permit either to claim or to deny the existence of God. However, a rigorous reflection on the achievements of science provides a very adequate basis for reaching God as the radical foundation of nature. The present-day scientific worldview can be easily related, above all, to the teleological argument which proves the existence of God and of his providence over the world from the consideration of natural finality. For this reason we shall now examine some aspects of the teleological argument.


Theology and transcendence

The present-day worldview emphasises the existence of dimensions of finality in nature, and in this way it widens the base of the teleological argument.

This diversity is reflected, for instance, in: Henry MARGENAU Roy Abraham VARGHESE (publishers), Cosmos, Bios, Theos: Scientists reflect on Science, God, and the Origins of the Universe, Life and Homo , Open Court, Peru (Illinois) 1992.


The teleological argument

The teleological argument has always occupied a prominent place in history, and also nowadays, among the proofs of the existence of God. It was developed with a special intensity by Aquinas who used the ideas of Aristotle but placing them within a new context. Aquinas proposed several formulations of the argument among which the prominent fifth way for the demonstration of the existence of God. The following is the text of the fifth way: The fifth way is taken from the government of the world. We actually see that some things which lack knowledge, and specifically the natural bodies, work in view of an end. This is manifested by the fact that they always, or very frequently, operate in the same way in order to obtain the best, from which it is clear that they achieve their end not by chance but intentionally. However, beings without knowledge tend towards their end directed by some being that is intelligent and knows, in the same way in which the archer directs the arrow. Hence, there is an intelligent being by whom all natural things are ordained to their ends, and we call this being God190. The fifth way, and other parallel texts in the works of Aquinas, has been the object of countless number of studies191. We shall now focus our attention on some aspects which are especially relevant in order to specify its meaning and value. The fifth way makes reference to the natural bodies (corpora naturalia) which lack knowledge. It includes, therefore, the whole natural activity which unfolds independently from the knowledge, and in a particular way that of the non living beings but also that of the living ones which does not depend on knowledge (the organic activity with all is functions). It is claimed that the natural bodies operate in the same way always or almost always (semper aut frequentius). It is a claim supported by the ordinary experience and as such does not present any difficulty; it is a true claim in the case of the living beings as well as in the case of the other natural beings. Aquinas takes his stand within the ordinary knowledge; however, his claim can be extended to the whole nature, as it is portrayed by the present-day scientific worldview, without difficulties.

190 191

AQUINAS, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 2, a. 3, c. One may read, for instance, M. ARTIGAS, Ciencia, finalidad y existencia de Dios, Scripta Theologica, 17 (1985), pp. 151-189; M. DUQUESNE, De quinta via: La preuve de Dieu par le gouvernement des choses, Doctor Communis, 18 (1965), pp. 71-92; S. KOWALCZYK, Largument de la finalit chez Saint Thomas dAquin, Divus Thomas (PIazenza), 78 (1975), pp. 41-68; P. PARENTE, La quinta via di S. Tommaso, Doctor Communis, 7 (1954), pp. 110-130; F. van STEENBERGHEN, La cuinquime voie, ex gubernatione rerum, in: L. ELDERS (publisher), Quinque sunt viae, Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Citt del Vaticano 1980, pp. 84-108; L. Vicente BURGOA, El problema de la finalidad, Universidad Complutense, Madrid 1981.

The constancy in its way of operating shows how the natural activity corresponds to tendencies which arise from the nature of the bodies. The regularity of the natural activity permits us to claim its character of finality. The possibility for the natural bodies to achieve their end by chance is excluded because they achieve it by operating always, or almost always, in the same way, while the effects of chance are not regular. The natural dynamism is tendencial, and tendencies are directed towards the achievement of an end which is identified with something good. The reference to good is the central point of the argument. It is claimed that the natural bodies operate in view of an end (operantur propter finem), achieve their end (perveniunt ad finem) and tend towards the end (tendunt in finem), and this end is somehow the best. This reference not only to the good but to the best is fundamental: without it the argument would not permit us to claim the existence of God. The presentday worldview provides a new basis for verifying the value of the natural activity and of its results. Actually, it makes it possible to know in details the perfection of the natural mechanisms in the individuals, and the organization of nature at the different cooperative levels which make the human existence possible. We are in the presence, therefore, of a highly directional and rational activity which is carried out by beings which lack knowledge. The natural bodies cannot have such directionality by themselves since they lack an intellect. Hence, it is necessary to make recourse to an intellect able to justify the natural tendencies and their ordination to good. Consequently, it must be an intellect which is completely far above nature, and even more, an intellect which has foreseen the way of being of the natural and of the tendencies which derive from it. Only a personal God creator can give their being and their ways of operating to natural entities. Actually, an intellect which puts order corresponds to the Being who orders all natural things towards their ends (a quo omnes res naturales ordinantur in finem). It must be therefore not only a being different from nature but precisely that Being who is the author of nature, since only this Being can produce some tendencies which are inscribed in the very interior of the natural bodies. It is not enough, therefore, to make recourse to a being which puts order to the bodies from outside by giving them some kind of movement: we actually reach a God who is personal and creator. It seems possible to claim that the fifth way is still valid nowadays, since all the aspects which have been mentioned are coherent with the present-day scientific worldview. It can also be said that the scientific progress notably widens the scope of those facts which are the basis for the considerations contained in the fifth way. In this sense, the fifth way is strengthened by this progress. The fifth way focuses on individual finality proper to each body. Other Thomist formulations of the teleological argument emphasise the co-operation of different agents towards the same end: the order of nature as a whole192. The core of the argument, though, is the same in both cases, whether this issue is considered at individual or at cooperative level. However, in relation to the scientific knowledge, the consideration of

Cf. AQUINAS, Summa contra gentiles, I, c. 13; III, c. 64; De potentia, q. 3, a. 6, c; Coimmentary to the Metaphysics of Aristotle, book XII, Ch. 10, lectio 12; Commentary to the Gospel of St John, prologue; Commentary to the Symbol of the Apostles, article 1.

the co-operative order is especially strong in view of the fact that it occupies a central place in the present-day worldview. Some Thomist formulations of the teleological argument are more encompassing than the fifth way, and include a detailed philosophical analysis of the natural finality which is also fully timely. For instance, Aquinas refers to those who try to explain nature making recourse only to material and agent causes; he points out that these causes intervene in the production of the effects, but are insufficient to explain their goodness193. It is interesting to emphasise why, in the Thomist arguments, the explanations which make recourse only to necessity and chance are considered insufficient. The reason is different in the two cases. Insofar as the material and agent causes are concerned, one can say that a certain necessity corresponds to them, hence they permit us to understand how the activity of the bodies is realised in a constant way, but they are unable to explain how the best result is achieved. As far as chance is concerned, it is claimed that chance does not explain how the activity of the bodies is realised in a constant way: chance is blind respect to the constancy of the activities. Finally, one does not get a sufficient explanation either by combining necessity and chance; actually, although this combination may partially explain the formation of nature, yet it is insufficient to explain the perfection of nature and, moreover, does not explain its radical foundation, since it always remits to previous physical situations194. All in all, the natural finality which is a habitual tendency towards something which is best, asks for an intelligence because, to relate, to direct and to order towards an optimal end which is achieved in a habitual way, are all operations proper to an intelligence. If one takes into account the fact that this direction affects the natural tendencies and, therefore, the way of being of the natural, it is logical to claim the existence of a personal God who is creator. The present-day worldview provides the teleological argument with a basis which is more complex than the one provided by ordinary experience, but it goes much further than the latter does in depth and precision.


Nature and providence

The final cause acts in two ways: as the objective foreseen by the agent and as a tendency towards a specific objective. All beings have tendencies which correspond to their ways of being; however, only intellectual agents can establish objectives in a conscious and free way. The first part of the teleological argument states that the natural beings which lack knowledge have constant tendencies whose actualization produces optimal results, and that the constancy in the tendencies shows how these beings do not act by chance
193 194

Cf. AQUINAS, De veritate, q. 5, a. 2. This possibility which is insistently proposed in our days in relation to evolutionism, may seem curious to a modern reader; yet it was considered expressly by Aquinas, who just gathered what Aristotle had already about this many centuries before; cf. AQUINAS, Commentary to the Physics of Aristotle, book II, Ch. 8, lectio 12.

but in accordance with the necessity characteristic of the agent causes. Then it adds that the production of optimal results shows how these results are an objective foreseen by an intellectual agent. Therefore, there is a double reference to chance: it is denied that the natural tendencies correspond to chance, and it is also denied that the goodness of the results can be due exclusively to the fortuitous confluence of necessary causes. This double reference corresponds to the two levels of finality. Consequently, when natural finality is denied, one has to specify which aspect this denial refers to, i.e. if one denies that there are no natural tendencies, or if one denies that there is a superior finality which is related to the divine government of nature. If one denies that there are tendencies, he has to clash not only with the very ordinary experience, but also with the achievements of the scientific progress which emphasise abundantly the existence of a directionality in nature. What is frequently denied is not so much the existence of particular tendencies in nature, but the existence of a global tendency in evolution. It is claimed that evolution proceeds by an opportunistic zigzagging, in a way which looks more like a bricolage than a premeditated plan. In such conditions, how could one still speak of a divine plan? However, this difficulty disappears if we pay attention to the fact that the divine plan does not imply a rectilinear evolution, always progressive and without accidents: it is more logical to assume that God counts on the complexity of the natural causes to carry out his plan. The existence of a divine plan is fully congruous with the complex character of evolution. Moreover, the complexity of the universe acquires in this way new importance. One can understand, for instance, how God may have wanted the existence of millions of galaxies for the possibility of existence of the earth and of man. Actually, the present-day cosmological theories claim that the heaviest atoms were produced in the interior of the stars, and this may have happened millions of times so that finally one planet could be produced with the specific characteristics of the earth. The existence of millions of galaxies and stars which otherwise would appear unnecessary, may have resulted necessary for the appearance of human life through natural processes. There is not just a simple harmony between the divine action and the activity of nature. If the natural activity corresponds to a divine plan, one must say that God does not only respect it, but that he positively wants it, although God can also produce effects which go beyond the ordinary course of nature. Therefore, it is congruous for the divine plan to count on the unfolding of the natural dynamism. In this perspective, one can understand, for instance, how the divine plan is compatible with a zigzag unfolding of the natural dynamism which can produce results destined to disappear, and with the existence of mechanisms in which, necessity and chance, and variation and adaptation, are combined. Claiming the existence of a divine plan is not the same as claiming that everything that happens in nature is good from all points of view. The existence of a superior plan permits us to understand in depth the existence of nature. There is no doubt that this is a bit mysterious, but it is the kind of mystery we meet before the divine. On the other hand, if one denies the existence of a divine plan, nature remains shrouded in an irrational mystery, and there comes the serious danger of reducing to an absolute the partial explanations provided by science.


Evil in nature

The existence of evil is the main difficulty which faces the teleological argument. Aquinas paid a lot of attention to this problem in his writings. He concisely gives his answer to the problem of evil in few words in the Summa Teologiae while developing the five ways for the demonstration of the existence of God: God permits evil in view of the preservation of greater goods. This idea is applicable to two different cases: the moral evil, due to the bad use of freedom that the human person makes, and the physical evil which is the one more properly related the natural finality. As for the moral evil which is sin - or evil understood in its radical sense -, it is not easy to explain how its elimination could be compatible with human freedom. Therefore, one may understand how God permits it because the possibility of the moral evil corresponds to the existence of the human freedom which is an even superior good. Physical evil which is the one properly related to the teleological argument, can be justified in two ways; first, by taking into account that physical evil is only a relative one which can be ordained to a superior good which is the spiritual good; second, by realising that the particular physical evils can be integrated into superior goods even in the physical order. The existence of physical evil is not opposed to divine goodness: it seems inevitable that conflicts may exist among different particular goods; however, these can be integrated into a superior good. Aquinas claims that the world is not only good, but also very good. This claim is partly related to an obsolete worldview according to which the movements of the physical bodies could be considered good because they are related to their natural places which determine an order in the structure of the universe. However, the fundamental idea is still timely. Aquinas claims that the intention (intentio) of everything that moves is a tendency towards an act, or perfection, and adds: There are degrees in the acts of the forms. Actually, proto-matter is primarily in potency respect to the form of the element. However, by existing under the form of the element, it is in potency respect to the form of the compound and, because of this, the elements are the matter of the compound. Considered from the point of view of the compound, proto-matter is in potency respect to the vegetative soul, since the soul is the form of the body of this kind. Moreover, the vegetative soul is in potency towards the sensitive soul, and the sensitive towards the intellectual.However, after this form, no more dignified and subsequent form is found among what is generated and corrupted. Therefore, the ultimate end of all generation is the human soul, and matter tends towards it as its ultimate form. Consequently, elements exist because of the compounds, compounds exist because of the living beings and, among the latter, plants exist because of the animals, and the animals exist because of man. Therefore, man is the end of all generation195. This text shows what Aquinas intends when he claims that the natural bodies act always, or very frequently, in the same way to achieve the best. It is a very timely point of view. Natural entities are found at hierarchical levels. Their activities consist in

AQUINAS, Summa contra gentiles, III, c. 22.

the unfolding of directional capacities which correspond to their proper way of being. The unfolding of these capacities makes it possible for levels of higher organization to exist and, finally, they make the existence of man possible. All in all, the tendencial activity of the natural entities creates the conditions for the existence of man. Aquinas expressly claims that God created the universe in view of man. He reminds us that finality can be spoken of in two ways: as a natural tendency or as a plan of an intelligent agent, and says that man is the end of creatures in all senses196. In order to claim that God created the universe in view of man it is necessary to make recourse to a type of reasoning which transcends the scope of the teleological argument. However, this statement is fully congruous with the existence, at all levels of nature, of natural cooperative tendencies which make human life possible. In this perspective, the application of the notion of good to nature implies a legitimate anthropocentrism which reflects the central place that man occupies in the universe.


The intelligibility of nature

The knowledge, that ordinary experience and science provide, presents us with a nature endowed with an intelligibility which becomes fully manifested when we look at the system of nature in the light of its radical foundation and of the human life.


Unconscious intelligence

In the light of finality, the activity of nature appears as a work of an unconscious intelligence: nature does not deliberate; however, it seems to act as if it really had a rational capacity. The expression unconscious intelligence is contradictory if interpreted in a literary sense, since it contains two incompatible terms. Therefore, it can only be used as a metaphor. However, the metaphor has a real basis197: the operations of nature are directional and, moreover, co-operate in the production of results which, in many aspects, go far beyond what can be achieved through the most sophisticated type of technology. In this sense, nature goes beyond the capacities of human reason which, on the other hand, can only produce artefacts insofar as it knows and uses the laws of nature.
196 197

Cf. AQUINAS, Commentary to the sentences, book II, distinction I, question II, article III, body. Taken in a literal way, the formula intelligence without conscience is a contradiction, a pure absurd and, yet, still has a certain meaning if taken as a metaphor. Understood in this way, it means the capacity of adjusting ones behavior to a specific end, in spite of not having any idea of it, i.e. as if the corresponding idea was being known by the being who acts. In this sense, it would be a capacity which can be stated without incurring into any anthropomorphism, since it does not imply the absolute identification of the human behavior with the non human one, but only an analogy between the two. The whole being of liking is the tension towards an end, being conscious of it or not. This is what in Greek is called orexis, from which the adjective orectic, a term used in the present-day terminology as a synonym of what can also be called tendential, i.e. related, or relative, to a tendency: A. MI LLN-PUELLES, Lexico filosofico, Rialp, Madrid 1984, p. 452.

Sometimes there have been attempts to explain nature by taking into account its composition and laws exclusively: order would then be the result of fortuitous combinations of processes, and finality would then only be apparent. In this perspective, and starting from the opposition between chance and finality, the more the function of chance is emphasised the less space is left for finality. However, the opposition between chance and finality is not absolute because chance demands finality. Actually, one could not even speak of chance if directionality did not exist, nor would it make any sense to speak of disorder if there were not any type of order. Critiques against teleology usually assume that there is an absolute contradiction between chance and finality; consequently, the explanations which make use of chance are considered to be arguments against finality. However, there is no absolute contradiction between chance and finality. By claiming the existence of finality we do not try to say that there is no chance whatsoever. We simply emphasise the fact that chance and, in general, any combination of blind forces, cannot be considered as a comprehensive kind of explanation. For instance, in order to explain the origin of a phrase which has a meaning in a specific language, it is not enough to verify that there is some probability that this phrase may have been produced through a chance combination of letters. If a language does not exist before, together with its alphabet, its dictionary and its grammatical rules, no combination of letters could result in meaningful terms. There must be an intellect at the beginning. This is equally valid with respect to nature. The claim that supporting the existence of finality is equivalent to claiming the intelligibility of nature is founded, ultimately, on an intelligent activity. An unconscious intelligence must be based on a conscious one.


Nature from a metaphysical perspective

In commenting on Aristotles ideas about natural finality, Aquinas proposed a kind of definition of nature from the point of view of its radical metaphysical foundation. It is very original and goes deeply ahead of Aristotles ideas. Moreover, it is surprisingly coherent with the present-day worldview. He says: Nature is precisely the plan of a certain art (concretely the divine art) imprinted in things, by which the very things move towards a specific end: as if the artisan, who makes a ship, could endow the wood with the capacity of moving itself in order to form the structure of the ship198. Three aspects of this definition deserve special attention, i.e. the rationality of nature, its connection with the divine plan and the emphasis placed on the selforganization. First, the rationality of nature is being emphasised as the plan of an art (in the original Latin ratio cuiusdam artis). Actually, the scientific progress shows, up to unsuspected extremes, the efficiency and subtlety of nature. The success of the scientific

AQUINAS, Commentary to the Physics of Aristotle, book II, Ch. 8, lectio 14.

activity contributes to widen more and more our knowledge of the rationality of nature. Although the products of technology may be superior to some aspect of nature, yet they are always based on the materials and laws which nature provides us with, and therefore nature always goes ahead of us, in a long run, in many aspects of great importance. Second, the connection of nature with a divine plan expresses the radical foundation of nature: nature is a manifestation of a divine plan and, therefore, of a supremely wise plan. Moreover, the divine action does not direct the natural activity from outside: the divine plan is inscribed in things (the original Latin says ratio cuiusdam artis, scilicet divinae, indita rebus). The natural has ways of being, accompanied by the corresponding tendencies which lead towards optimal results. One can understand, therefore, that there is no opposition between natural activity and divine plan; on the contrary, the divine plan includes the tendencial dynamism of the natural and is realised through its actualisation. Third, there is a reference to self-organisation as a basic characteristic of nature. The example given is very graphic: as if it were possible to endow pieces of wood with the capacity of moving by themselves to build a ship. This idea corresponds, in a way which could not be suspected when it was written more than seven centuries ago, to the present-day knowledge about the self-organization of nature. It is a fact which implies, moreover, a great level of co-operation among natures components, laws and the different systems which are produced in the subsequent levels of organisation. The directionality of nature is, in this way, emphasised even in its energetic aspect, and the idea of emergence of new systems and properties is hinted at as a result of the synergic or co-operative action. On the other hand, the implications of the Thomist characterisation of nature also deserve special attention, for instance: the positive value of nature as a result of the divine plan; the articulation between necessity and contingency since, on the one hand, nature is contingent insofar as it is the result of the free action of God and, on the other hand, it has a strong consistency in accordance with the way of being God has inscribed in the natural entities; the articulation between unity and multiplicity because the perfection of the universe is achieved through the cooperation of its components and, ultimately, is ordained towards human life, since nature offers those conditions which make the existence of the human person and the unfolding of his capacities possible. Finally, one can appreciate the articulation between being and becoming, since God has placed some virtualities in nature which make its progressive evolution possible, and counts on the co-operation of man, through his work, in order to lead nature towards an always more perfect state. All in all, the Thomist definition expresses the core of the metaphysical perspective on nature and is of great importance in order to appreciate its value within the context of the present-day worldview.


The autonomy of nature

The claim that nature remits to a divine plan does not underestimate the autonomy of nature, on the contrary, the opposite is true. It is precisely the perfection of nature which demands, as an adequate explanation, the existence of a creative divine plan. The claim of God as the radical foundation of nature coincides with the preSocratic view of nature as a reality impregnated with something divine, with the Aristotelian upward movement which reaches a Pure Act starting from the analysis of movement, with the teleological argument based on the directionality of nature, with Leibnizs arguments which emphasise the basic dynamism of the natural and the harmony of nature, and with other arguments which have been proposed in every epoch. We can claim that our present-day scientific worldview is coherent with the existence of a foundation which transcends nature. Of course, for that coherence to be upgraded to proof, one must make recourse to philosophical reasoning: nature claims a metaphysical foundation because the natural dynamism is not self-sufficient and its unfolding produces eminently rational results which ask for a superior intelligent cause. The boundaries between the physical and the metaphysical are at time placed between matter and life, at other times between life and the spirit, and at other times between nature and the spirit. On some occasions the existence of these boundaries is denied because the metaphysical is denied. These boundaries do not exist in a strict sense; this, though, is not due to the fact that the metaphysical does not exist, but to the fact that the whole natural world includes metaphysical dimensions. The metaphysical foundation is necessary to explain the origin of nature, and also to explain its dynamism, its structuring and the intertwining between the two at all levels. The world appears before ordinary experience as a cosmos with metaphysical dimensions. The pre-Socratic reflections and the ancient culture reflect a universe which is enchanted and mythical, in which the natural is intertwined with the divine. The perspective of the experimental science objectifies nature and neutralises its metaphysical dimensions. It is a legitimate perspective, as long as one does not make it an absolute. When it is claimed that this perspective exhausts everything which can be known about nature, natural philosophy is destroyed and, therefore, the bridge between nature and metaphysical reflection with it. However, this process of absolute-making is an illegitimate extrapolation which has no grounds and is further removed from the rigor proper to the scientific method. Presently, the new scientific worldview provides the basis for a true reassessment of nature which goes beyond the contradictions of scientism and naturalism. Actually, it provides a very enticing basis to look at nature under a new light. In the perspective of its radical foundation nature appears as the unfolding of a dynamism which comes from a superior cause that creates, sustains and directs it. In speaking about unfolding we refer to the effects of the divine action; it is, therefore, an unfolding which is fully coherent with the divine transcendence and immutability. This idea corresponds to an intuition which has been articulated in many different ways: one can think, for instance, of the unfolding of Hegels absolute, of Bergsons elan vital, of Teilhard de Chardins ascending evolution. However, this correspondence refers only to specific aspects of this intuition, and does not have anything to do with the formulations which, on the other hand, link it to pantheism.

We could say that the divine action unfolds through the channels of the natural dynamism and structuring: it makes the existence and the activity of these channels possible and, through these channels, divine action flows in an ordinary way. Therefore, somehow the unfolding of the effects of the divine action is proportional to the natural channels although it is not limited by them in a necessary way. God can act bypassing the natural laws of which He is the author. However, precisely because he is the author of the natural channels, one may say that the divine action not only respects them, but also accommodates itself to them, without being really conditioned by them. This perspective permits us to understand how it is possible to combine the autonomy of nature with the existence of its radical foundation. It is not just a mere compatibility; the divine action provides the conditions of possibility of the natural dynamism and of all its particular unfoldings. The channels of the natural dynamism have their own consistency and an intelligibility which is the result of a superior rational plan. The unfolding of the natural dynamism is directional. The directionality of nature is real and corresponds to a simple linear process: the unfolding of the natural dynamism originates multiple accidental coincidences. In this sense, chance plays a real role; however, this role is integrated within a comprehensive plan. The emergence of real novelties corresponds to the unfolding of the natural dynamism; however, this dynamism includes the effects of the divine action which make its existence, its unfolding and the production of its results possible. The proportionality between the effects of the divine action and the natural channels is manifested in the gradation of nature: a greater level of organization causes a greater level in the unfolding of the effects of the divine action. The highest level of natural organization creates the conditions for a new participation in being which is essentially far superior to that of any other natural entity because it implies a personal way of being. The human person has unique metaphysical dimensions which, although transcending nature, yet are interpenetrated with the natural conditions. This peculiar unity between the natural and the metaphysical levels present in the human person provides the key for the understanding of the meaning of a nature which provides the conditions for the existence of the human person, the unfolding of his potentialities and the achievement of his end.