Matthew Alexander Kent
B.A., Christendom College
M.A., Fordham University
Prime Matter According to St. Thomas Aquinas
Dissertation directed by Fr. Joseph W. Koterski, S.J., Ph.D.
According to St. Thomas Aquinas, prime matter, “that which is in potency to substantial being,” is one of the most basic aspects of reality. Yet today his account of this important topic is often disparaged or ignored, in part because St. Thomas himself never wrote a continuous treatise about it. In order to remedy this situation, my dissertation reconstructs, expands upon, and defends St. Thomas’s positions on prime matter. The dissertation is divided into five parts.
Part One carefully considers the best way of approaching the topic and ultimately adopts St. Thomas’s own method, whereby we are commanded to prove the reality of a subject before embarking upon an examination of its essential nature. Consequently, after several key terms are defined in Part One with the aid of St. Thomas, Parts Two and Three are assigned the task of proving the reality of prime matter, whereas Parts Four and Five are set aside for questions concerning the nature of prime matter. More specifically,
Part Two, first of all, presents and defends St. Thomas’s proof of the reality of prime matter based on language and logic.
Part Three then does the same with St. Thomas’s argument that substantial changes both genuinely occur and force us to posit the reality of prime matter as undergirding them.
Part Four examines the question of whether prime matter might have any forms or actuality of any kind in its essence and concludes, with St. Thomas, that it does not.
Part Five shows that the essential definition of prime matter, not only according to what St. Thomas’s positions imply, but also according to the truth of things, is as follows: Prime matter is a potential to receive the substantial forms of a variety of substances successively.
Since prime matter is connected to so many other important philosophical topics, the reader will find extended discussions of language, substance, epistemology, the existence and nature of God, transubstantiation, accidental forms, substantial forms, the “virtual presence” of elements in compounds, and modern science at various points throughout the dissertation.