Michael Egnor tries to solve the dualist problem of interaction

Ontic Structural Realism is a form of scientific realism that claims structures, not material objects, are the fundamental constituents of realty. This metaphysics is based on an understanding of current fundamental physics.

The structures in question are modal structures. That is, they capture information not only about this world, but also about other nomologically possible worlds.

Some believers in OSR go further and claim that casual powers ground that modality. That is, causal powers are primary, and laws of nature follow from them (some claim the reverse).

So this causal form of OSR says that only structures are real and that causation (and hence laws) are all based in structure only.

Since it has structures only, and no material objects, could this approach to scientific realism be considered hylomorphism, but with the dials turned up to 11?



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Hylomorphism comes from hule (matter) + morpe (form). According to OSR, only structure exists, not matter, so it wouldn’t be considered a hylomorphic. In fact, Aristotelianism seems to be diametrically opposed to views which try to claim that the abstraction (in this case, mathematical structure) is real over as opposed to the things themselves and their qualities.

That being said, OSR is intriguing. If only mathematical structures are real, how do I have what seems to be an experience of real matter when I touch a tree, for example? Is reality a simulation like the Matrix where the mathematical structures corresponding to the tree interacts with the structures in my brain to create the illusion of a solid material object?

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In this case I’m saying the statement is consistent with the world as described by physics. That both the individual constituents, or “bits” of matter, and the overall “coherent, unified thing” have “form” in terms of their fundamental physical attributes. To pick an example, some particles have charge (which would be one aspect of their “form”), and they can be combined into larger things that have their own “form” (the charges of the individual bits cancel out so the larger thing is electromagnetically neutral, for example).

The fact that the “unified whole” has a “form” that keeps it together and gives it it’s properties is explained in terms of it’s constituents having their own “forms”, their own physical attributes.

The concept of forms, at least as described by dga471 in the post I was responding to, is totally compatible with the world as it is described by the laws of physics as we know them. That is one definition of materialism.

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That isn’t a coherent definition. Substance dualism is consistent with the world as described by physics too. A lot of non materialist positions are consistent with the world as described by physics.

Some help here? @dga471 @Philosurfer @structureoftruth

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In what way is it incoherent then?

If you mean merely to say that physics is not making the claim that no other things exist besides those already described by physics, and so some idea or concept that posits something in addition to the known, is not necessarily contradicting the known, then I agree with you.

My post was meant as a bit of intellectual fun based on some vague analogies. I don’t think it would stand up to serious examination by someone who had a deeper understanding of hylomorphism than I do.

However, I do think my post shows that scientific “materialism”, or better scientific realism, need not have anything to do with the everyday conception of material objects.

If by experiences you mean the phenomenal feels of subjectivity, then OSR cannot help. That’s a philosophy of mind discussion of which would take us way off topic.

If you mean only the explanations of the neural correlates of experience, then most OSR adherents are happy to leave that to neuroscience. For example, Ladyman and Ross advocate “rainforest realism”, which claims that all scientific domains have equal claims about the scale of reality which their theories address. L&R have a complicated theory of how entities postulated by those various theories are still structural, with the structures being based on an algorithmic information formalization of Dennett’s Real Patterns, and causation explained as information flow. Don’t ask me to for more details: I am pretty sure I got the order of the words right, but I do not claim any deep understanding of what L&R mean.

You do raise a common concern with OSR: does it imply that reality is, at bottom, mathematics. L&R say no, but are not very precise on the details why, at least to my understanding. On the other hand, there are those like Tegmark who are quite happy to accept that reality is mathematics, in some sense.

By the way, upthread someone linked Jaworski’s work. His book on philosophy of mind is an excellent introduction both to the standard views as well as to hylomorphism in general and in particular how it addresses philosophy of mind challenges. He also has a whole book devoted to hylomorphism and philosophy of mind, but I have not looked at it. I’m happy for now trying to puzzle out OSR in its various versions.


I think what Joshua is saying is that saying “my view of philosophy of mind is that which is consistent with physics” is not an informative description of what you believe. All philosophers of mind think that their philosophy is consistent with physics, as consistency is a low bar.

I think Aristotle can be viewed as a materialist of some kind, especially in contrast to Plato, but it is a very different type of materialism that modern analytic philosophers tend to defend. In particular Aquinas, despite basing his philosophy on Aristotle, believed that there is an immaterial component of the human soul - that the soul is the form of the human being which includes the material body but is not identical to it. See here: Edward Feser: Was Aquinas a materialist? Aquinas also held that forms could exist on their own without matter (as in the case of angels), so he was definitely not a complete materialist.

EDIT: there’s also the caveat that forms are technically immaterial (i.e. not-matter), in the sense that they are literally not matter. But the sense in which forms are not material is different from the sense in which the intellect or God is not material.


Of course, what good reason is there to believe in the existence of angels?

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There are good reasons for a Christian to believe in the existence of angels.

That being said, if you are a non-Christian Aristotelian, I think the existence of pure Aristotelian forms existing could still be an interesting theoretical possibility.


And to complete the answer to Faizal’s question, there are good reasons to believe Christianity is true, ergo there are good reasons to believe that angels exist, simpliciter. But it would be a bit of a digression to go into more detail here… maybe in another thread.

As I side note, I may be misremembering, but I think Aristotle also believed that the human intellect is immaterial, and that immaterial intellectual substances (pure forms) were responsible for moving the heavenly bodies. (But I may be totally wrong about that; please refer to some more reliable source of info about Aristotle to verify!)

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Circular reasoning. There are also good reasons for a flat earther to believe in the flat earth. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be a flat earther.

Anyway, this will probably take us off topic to what I am finding an interesting and informative discussion. Sorry I brought it up.

Here’s a more meta-question: When we discuss the topic of the metaphysical understanding of the mind/body relationship, are we even speaking on the same plain as neuroscience? That is to say, assuming Aristotle’s hylomorphism to be true, does that predict any specific findings that would and would not be made by neuroscience? Or does it just provide an organizing principle that helps us to think and talk about the question?

That’s not the right parallel. A better parallel would be: if the earth is really flat, then we have good reasons to distrust the government and scientists. The existence of angels is a corollary of basic Christian beliefs, not something that I would present as evidence for Christianity by itself.

I agree that it is off-topic. We should try to restrain ourselves. :sweat_smile:

In general, since hylomorphism is a broad metaphysical framework that is prior to science, it does not provide any specific predictions. Rather it is, as you say, a general conceptual framework by which to interpret the findings of neuroscience and any other science.

Some people in the Thomist FB group were talking about this book, which I thought may be of interest to you as a physician somewhat familiar with psychology and neuroscience:

That being said, there probably could be more specific philosophical theories of Aquinas which could be scientifically tested, or at least its plausibility would be affected based on scientific investigation. For example, Thomists believe in a distinct difference between non-human animals and humans (who are “rational animals”). I know a Thomist philosopher doing research on animal cognition who said that if there is strong empirical evidence that animals can reason just like humans do, that could disprove a chunk of Thomist theological anthropology (or force a drastic modification of it).


Of course, that leaves open the question of what it means to “reason just like humans do.” Otherwise, computer science could arguably have already rendered his question moot.

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Exactly. The definition and analysis of reasoning would itself have Thomistic philosophical baggage. That’s why I still think it’s not a truly scientific test (although to be fair, if you take Kuhn seriously, there is some philosophical baggage in regular empirical science as well).

Although I do think that you don’t need to be a Thomist to believe that computers today nowhere near have the reasoning capabilities of humans. They are better than humans in certain specifically defined tasks, but until we get to AGI I don’t think it will move many Thomists.

The quantitative measure of “reasoning capability” is not the issue here, I think. A human being in the advanced stages of Alzheimers Disease, I suspect, would still be considered by a Thomist to possess “human reasoning” of a sort that no computer does.

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Well yes, but here we also see the distinctive feature of Thomist reasoning, which is essentialism. Things are more than just the present collection of their properties (which is roughly what the modern nominalist viewpoint is). So while a person with Alzheimer’s Disease could be unable to reason any better than a non-intelligent animal, a Thomist might say that such a person is still essentially a human, but the material body that the soul is attached to is subject to corruption and disease, impeding the natural end for which the soul is intended for. (Remember again that the soul is the form of the body.) An analogy would be trying to make a perfect statue out of impure bronze: the natural beauty of the form of the statue cannot fully be expressed due to the imperfect material.

Note that I think the Cartesian substance dualist may have a problem explaining Alzheimer’s, given that for them, rational capabilities occur entirely in the immaterial soul and it is not clear how they interact with the material brain and body. Similarly, substance dualism seems to be undermined by discoveries that e.g. our memories are faulty, or that neurologically stimulating different parts of the brain can alter the mind. (That being said, I’m not an expert on SD; maybe some SD philosophers have worked out solutions to all of these.) But in an Aristotelian conception, these problems are less serious due to the close linkage between the material body and the soul.

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Where do forms exist when not instantiated? Are they in the mind of God? Are distinct individuals different forms or the same form?

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Perhaps the more pertinent initial question is: Do they exist when not instantiated?