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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas

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The concepts of matter in the Western tradition ex-
hibit bewildering confusion. Matter has been held to
be essentially inert (ancient atomism) and inseparable
from motion and action (L. Büchner; Marxism); essen
tially extended in space (Descartes) and composed of
extensionless centers of energy (Leibniz, R. Boscovich);
essentially unintelligible or unknowable (Plato, Berke-
ley, Kant) and the only perspicuous foundation for
systematic philosophy (Hobbes); essentially and eter-
nally actual (Democritus) and a form of being which
is never more than potential (Plato, Hegel). Any effort
to articulate a common focus of these concepts runs
the risk of ignoring a formidable array of counter-
instances and the certainty of accommodating some
historical concepts far more awkwardly than others.
Fortunately, one focus does not necessarily exhaust all
other possibilities.

The term “matter” or its near synonyms has been
used to designate: (1) the stuff of which something is
constituted as contrasted with the structure or propor-
tions according to which the stuff is organized. The
structure is held to be what can be representatively
expressed in ideas and words, if indeed the so-called
structure in things is not considered the product of
structures of thought or language; but the “material”
aspect is precisely that whose existence is most radi-
cally other than such formulae.

(2) Matter therefore can only be indicated osten-
sively and this implies that it can occasion sensory
effects. It is through these that it is first encountered
in almost all accounts; in most accounts it is tangible
in sufficient concentrations. Even when matter is sub-
sequently defined, the definition may be based on an
admitted hypothesis (e.g., the cause of sensations in
Hobbes), or on an innate idea (e.g., the idea of extension
in Descartes), rather than on any self-disclosure of
matter itself. “Matter,” therefore, has also connoted
what confronts us but, at least initially, as unintelligi-

(3) This identification with “brute fact” seems also
to account for the role of “matter” as a principle of
individuation: formulae can migrate over the instances
but the instances are sedentary. Even in many theories
where such material facticity is held to be a philo-
sophically inadequate basis for individuation it seems
rather because these philosophies “dematerialize mat-
ter” than because the empirical connection of “matter”
with individuals has been abandoned.

(4) Since the things which a given stuff can go to
compose are transient, matter is identified with some-
thing that persists through change. The changing things
are its appearances, actualizations, or emergents: mat-
ter is the more primitive and permanent substratum.

(5) The characterizations of interests as “material,”
of individuals and societies as “materialistic,” and of
interpretations of history as “materialist” illustrate
usages, favorable or unfavorable, arising from practical
concerns. While they obviously represent meaning


components additional to, and not always entirely
inclusive of, those previously listed, it would be an
error to ignore them. Ideas about matter in this sense
have rarely developed in complete independence of
the value-judgments of those who, on the one hand,
found in “matter” a rubric for what they regarded as
base and degrading, and those on the other, who liked
to invoke it as assurance of their honest practicality.


1. Before Philosophy. Primitive cultures often pos-
sess techniques for transforming matter that are sur-
prising anticipations of scientific methods. By 3,000 B.C.
specially designed heating pots were being used in
Mesopotamia for distillation of liquids and sublimation
of ores, and not much later arts of alloy-making, glass-
manufacture, and perfumery were widespread around
the Eastern Mediterranean. Primitive cultures also
develop elaborate accounts of the processes of material
nature, principally in myths where the processes are
translated into personal relations of natural deities and
semi-deities. Technique and myth are heterogeneously
mixed in ritual and magical practices. Such ritual con-
cerns were surely reflected in a relatively sophisticated
Babylonian theory of seven chief heavenly bodies,
seven metals, seven principal parts of the human body,
seven colors, seven days of the week, and seven stages
of the soul's enlightenment—a theory which can, inci-
dentally, remind us that progress towards a scientific
theory of matter has consisted almost as much in the
discovery of disillusioning disorder as of unanticipated
order. In spite of the facts that beliefs and attitudes
of enormous subsequent influence were formed at this
mythological stage of intellectual development, it is
difficult to speak of concepts of matter: matter had
not yet been distinguished from other elements or
aspects of experience.

The two ancient cultures that have had the most
direct influence on the development of the Western
world are the Hebraic and Greek, and even in the case
of a concept so philosophical and scientific as that of
matter it might be difficult to say which had had the
greater. Both cultures moved away from cosmogonies
where, as Thales is reported to have said, “All things
are full of gods” and, where as might equally be said,
all gods are full of natural forces. By the time of the
eighth-century prophets, the Jews were sharply distin-
guishing Yahweh, the personal, ethical, and absolute
lord of history, from the material world. The world
correspondingly lost its divine immanence, a develop-
ment illustrated by prophetic attacks on magic and
soothsaying employed to cajole divine compliance, in
favor of miracle and revelation, the uncoerced grace
of Yahweh to those who served his moral and historical
ends (cf. Numbers 22-24, esp. 23:23; Deuteronomy
18:14-16). It is illustrated above all by the doctrine
of creation: in Genesis 1 all the natural order (and no
other order so much as entered into the account) was
manipulable stuff from and in the hands of the creator.
While there was no developed theory of God's imma-
teriality, and in earlier Old Testament accounts God
had appeared in bodily form and acted creatively
through his breath, he was clearly now conceived in
such a manner that the material world could not react
reciprocally upon him. If the account was anthro-
pocentric, it was not because man was not part of
material creation but because he shared a moral per-
sonality with Yahweh.

2. The Pre-Socratics 600-400 B.C. It was with the
Greeks that “matter” first emerged as a cosmological
concept systematically distinguished from such con-
trasting notions as those of change, form, void, or mind.
The fact that some of these distinctions are currently
more vague than they have often previously appeared
should not blind us to the enormous intellectual ad-
vance such distinctions represented. Of course, the
conceptual clarifications came gradually: with the
physiologoi of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C., the
so-called Pre-Socratics, the interpreter is often unsure
whether suggestive insights arise from profundities, or
merely from the fragmentary character and ambiguities
of the texts. The archai or “principles” which were
the common quest of Ionian inquiry might be historical
“origins,” “units” composing the material world, or
“axioms” of scientific theory.

Nevertheless these Ionian ventures beyond mythos
and towards sophia exhibit progressions. (1) The se-
quence of material constituents, from Thales' water
through Anaximenes' air to Heraclitus' fire, seems to
reflect a growing concern that the basic stuff of nature
be sufficiently active and refined to account for all its
phenomena, including especially those of life, conscious-
ness, and thought. (2) It has also been suggested by
C. Lejewski (McMullin, pp. 25-36) that while Thales'
water was that from which all things first came, Anaxi-
mander's apeiron (“the unlimited” or “unqualified”)
was also that to which they would eventually return,
while the air of Anaximenes (and then the fire of
Heraclitus) was in addition that of which all things
presently consisted. If the fragmentary textual hints are
reliable, they would represent an expansion from
merely historical to properly metaphysical cosmology.
(3) As to the forces effecting these transformations, in
Anaximander there was an alternate separating out of
variously qualified things from neutral stuff creating
inequalities within it, and then the compensatory re-
Anaximenes was concerned to account for the
world's unity: its varieties were only products of con


densation and rarefaction of the all-embracing

Finally in Empedocles, and then in his successors,
it was the mixture of separate and different elements
(for Empedocles, earth, water, air, and fire) under
varying influences (for Empedocles, love and hate) that
explained change. This combination of material plu-
ralism and structural monism has been called (Toulmin
and Goodfield) “the first appearance in our scientific
tradition of an important intellectual model.” The
general character of that model was preserved in the
theory of “homeomerous seeds” statistically distributed
under the action of Nous (“Mind,” “Reason”) in the
theory of Anaxagoras.

The challenge which came to these Ionian “river
gods” from the “patrons of Being,” the Pythagoreans
and the Eleatics—Parmenides, Melissus, and Zeno—
could be described as an attack on “material” explana-
tions of the world. Of course, just as Ionian hylozoism
(animated matter) had introduced vitality as an imma-
nent property of the material stuff, so Pythagorean and
Eleatic “formalisms” were not entirely abstracted from
a material base. Still the judgment of Parmenides that
“only that can really exist which can also be thought”
(Diels, 3, 8, 34) meant that shapes, patterns, and pro-
portions could be assigned a metaphysical status equal
to that of stuff. Indeed Pythagorean acoustic theory
played a seminal role in the mathematization of matter
and the origin of mathematical physics. Parmenides
and Heraclitus provide at their sharpest the contrasts
which had developed between the two traditions: per-
manent Being as against fluent becoming, unity as
against plurality, and the requirements of conceptual
thought as against the reports of sensory experience.
Probably the sharpness of contrasts on questions of such
ultimacy stimulated the remarkable outburst of in-
genuity on the problem of matter that followed.

The “systematic period” of Greek philosophy, the
century from 400 to 300 B.C., embracing the active
careers of Democritus, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle,
produced a set of rival theories the contrasts among
which foreshadowed many of the broad outlines that
subsequent debate has followed. Francis Bacon sug-
gested that these works survived in less fragmentary
form than those of the Pre-Socratics only because they
were less solid and so did not sink in the flood of
barbarism terminating classical civilization (Novum
lxvii). The earlier theories no doubt had the
advantage of a more intimate connection with the craft
tradition, but craftsmen are not always boldly experi-
mental, and Bacon's regret perhaps underestimates the
importance to inquiry of clear and coherently orga-
nized concepts. At any rate Democritean atomism,
Platonic organicism, and Aristotelian hylomorphism
have been recurrent ideas and pervasive influences in
the development of the sciences of matter.

3. The Atomic Theory. The devices by which
Democritus (ca. 460-367 B.C.) sought to resolve the
conflict between Heraclitean change (witnessed by the
senses) and Parmenidean permanence (required by
logical thought) were (1) the perpetuation of Par-
menides' distinction between appearance and reality,
but (2) the differentiation within reality of permanent
and immutable least parts of matter—“atoms”—on the
one hand, from their perpetual changes of place on
the other. All atoms were spatially extended, internally
homogeneous, qualityless, solid, rigid, and indivisible;
they differed in shape, size, characteristic positions in
relation to one another, and consequent velocities. If
there were many atoms of the same kind it was not
because nature came in species but because, given a
finite number of possible quantitative variations of an
infinite number of atoms, “chance” must run to dupli-
cations. The permanent actuality of the atoms was
postulated to avoid deriving being from non-being, but,
in defiance of Parmenides, the existence of non-being
was asserted in the form of the void to permit atomic
motion. Atom and void differed solely as the full (or
“well-kneaded”) from the empty, but this one real
distinction in the nature of things was the source of
all others and indeed of all qualitative determinations
found in sensory appearance. Time, for example, en-
joyed no such ontological status as space (or void), but
was the consequence of redistributions of full and
empty, “an appearance under the forms of day and
night” (Diels, 72). The impenetrability of matter, the
total penetrability of space, and their shared dimen-
sions determined natural processes with total and
mathematical necessity.

Phenomena were clearly radically in excess of what
the universe actually contained. Indeed Democritus
probably and his Epicurean followers certainly con-
ceived of philosophy precisely as an emancipation from
the deceptions of the senses and emotions. Thus super-
stitious fear was, characteristically, the product of an
overestimation of the capacity of the universe to inflict
pain. The cure was provided in the all-inclusive science
of the atom, the admittedly inferred but ultimately real
least part; sensory (and a fortiori imaginary) appear-
ance, by which “man is severed from the world” was
a sort of amalgam, or at least product, of the juxta-
position of the atom with its conceptual opposite, the
infinitely extended void. The theory, from its develop-
ment by Leucippus and Democritus, and populariza-
tion (cum modifications) by Epicurus and Lucretius has
since exercised an abiding attraction: on scientists be-
cause of the quantitative character of its model; on
humanist reformers because of its antisepsis of religious


beliefs and practices; and on all because of its simplic-
ity, clarity, and obvious correspondence to significant
mechanical aspects of macroscopic experience.

4. Plato's Theory of Matter. In Plato the permanent
Being insisted upon by Parmenides and the Pythag-
oreans found its place in the real and eternal Ideas
(forms, essences), while the flux of Heraclitus was repre-
sented in the becoming, opinion, and appearance of
the empirical realm, matter providing the crucial rela-
tion between the two. But matter was not permanently
actual as in Democritus: the material thing was “always
in a process of becoming and never really is” (Timaeus
27e-28a). Nor was material change mere locomotion,
but a radical generation and destruction of temporal
existents (cf. Laws X, 894a). Again, whereas for De-
mocritus matter and space were opposites, for Plato
they were identified, for the Receptacle, that “hardly
real” principle of which we can form only a “spurious
conception” (Timaeus 52b) at once provided an oc-
cupiable space and yet also was the Mother, impreg-
nated by the immaterial essences and providing the
very stuff of the Offspring. The Offspring was the
changing empirical object, a “moving image” of eternal
Forms, and its essentially temporal character again was
the product of the Receptacle. For Plato, then, unlike
Democritus, temporal dimensions were as constitutive
of material objects as spatial ones and it was impossible
neatly to distinguish the two. Even when the verbal
formulae sound quite similar, meanings are opposed,
for when Plato spoke of “necessity” it was not of
something following ineluctably from formal proper-
ties, but, contrarily, of resistance to the action of form.
“The creation is mixed, being made of necessity and
mind” and it was produced when “Mind, the ruling
power, persuaded,” and thus “got the better of [,]
necessity” (Timaeus 47e-48a). Indeed such necessity
was what was most essential to matter as Plato con-
ceived it. Persuaded by the logical considerations that
had earlier impressed Parmenides that changing em-
pirical objects could not be real, he posited eternal
and totally intelligible archtypes. But if these were the
real, whence the disparity of their sensible appearances
from them? Here Plato felt the need to introduce “a
third thing” (Timaeus 48e-49a) and, like Democritus,
to assert that in a certain sense non-being is (Sophist
241e); for both thinkers the argument seemed to re-
quire a principle contrary to full being. The “third
thing” for Plato was the obscurely known Receptacle;
it enabled him to account for imperfections in the
earthly and mortal spheres because the very function
he assigned to it was that of a principle of privation.
Forms were universal, absolute, eternal, omnipresent,
intelligible, harmonious, and perfect; their images in
matter were particular, relative, temporal, localized,
confused, discordant, and defective. For Plato, there-
fore, matter was precisely what resisted and debilitated

The foregoing account has deliberately emphasized
methodological parallels between Democritus and
Plato. It could be added that in both instances of
accounting for the experienced as a mixture of contrar-
ies one of the contraries was matter. The functions
assigned to it, however, as we have seen varied as
radically as “being” and “non-being.” Further, sharing
Democritus' judgment of the deceptiveness of sense
experience, Plato also saw philosophy as an emancipa-
tion from that illusion, but the contrast is more inter-
esting; for while by appearance Democritus meant the
surplus by which the epistemologically given exceeded
what was ontologically there, Plato meant the defi-
ciency by which it fell short. What distressed him was
the “very melancholy” possibility that men would
continue to live among diluted shadows and echoes
and never reach “truth and the knowledge of realities”
(Phaedo 90d).

In view of the foregoing contrasts it may seem sur-
prising that Plato nonetheless sketched out a hypothesis
of atomic structures (Timaeus 53c-58c). Certainly the
dialectical method and the doctrine of hierarchically
ordered Forms, to say nothing of his specific teachings
on the “world-soul” (Timaeus 34-37), indicated an
“organismic” disposition to explain parts in terms of
the whole rather than the reverse. His theory of atomic
elements was in fact a confirmation of his identification
of matter with spatiality and his preference for geo-
metrical structure over stuff as a principle of explana-
tion. He equated Empedocles' four elements with four
of the five regular convex solids Theaetetus had identi-
fied. He conceived of these solids as volumes bounded
by two sorts of plane triangles, the half (diagonally cut)
square and half equilateral triangle (cut from apex to
base) which could be recombined according to various
possible equations (Figure 1): for example, one liquid
atom (an icosahedron with one hundred twenty trian-
gles making up its surfaces) might be broken by the
action of fire or air into two atoms of air (octahedrons
with forty-eight surface triangles each, for a sum of
ninety-six) plus one atom of fire (a tetrahedron with
twenty-four surface triangles). Clearly so geometrical
a hypothesis of ordered kinds of bodies must be seen
as already an instance of Mind's “getting the better
of necessity.”

What remained most central to the Platonic view
of matter, however, was the principle of non-being,
the capacity of which to impede the teleology and
intelligibility of full Being nevertheless obliges us to
concede it a certain existence. It is almost an irony
that Max Jammer in his search for the origins of the


concept of mass—that most irreducible of material
characteristics—should uncover a trail to the Neo-
Platonic conception of the inertial passivity of matter.
Johannes Kepler, a millennium and a half later, still
found it appropriate to characterize as a “vice” the
property of matter: “plump and clumsy to move itself.”

5. Aristotle's Theory of Matter. Aristotle, like his
two famous predecessors, hoped to synthesize the valid
insights of rival predecessors, but the rivalry now more
immediately felt was between (Platonic) “dialecticians”
and (Democritean) “physicists.” In his hylomorphism
matter ceases to be one of the conceptual extremes
whose mixture produces the experienced world and
becomes rather the neutral substratum in which con-
trary properties succeed one another: “For my defini-
tion of matter is just this—the primary substratum of
each thing, from which it comes to be without qualifica-
tion and which persists in the result” (Physics 192a
31-32). The property of matter, therefore, was poten-
tiality, the indeterminate capacity for receiving alter-
native actualizing forms. Whatever was in the world
must be actual, and existent matter, therefore, was
always under some form, e.g., that of an element, plant,
or animal, but it was called “matter” by virtue of its
continuing and further potentialities. Form involved
at once a certain proportion of material parts and an
eduction of previously unactualized properties from
(or in) them.

The altered role for matter entailed modifications
in the concepts of space and time. For both Democritus
and Plato space had been a constitutive principle of
the empirical world—as the independently existing
arena for matter or as identical with it—but for Aris-
totle the form-matter substance was ontologically pri
mary, and space was relativized into the sum total of
its “places” (Physics iv. 1-5), a network of relations
of containing and being contained among material
substances. Similarly time had now to be conceived
neither as an accident of eternal atoms nor as the
ingredient of becoming in images (since Aristotle's
material substances were neither all eternal nor all
perishable), but again relationally in the “before's” and
“after's” of given “now's.” Finally the sense in which
Aristotle found “necessity” in material change was
neither that of mathematical determinism nor of re-
sistance to the aspirations of Mind; it designated rather
the potentialities without which a given actualization
could not take place (e.g., growth without food, a saw
without metal) on the hypothesis that nature or art
were tending towards such actualization.

These contrasts can be traced to those of method.
Aristotle is disposed to begin his analyses with the
proximate stuff of this object, in this place, now, seem-
ingly tending towards this end, because of his convic-
tion that the objects of sensory experience are those
most knowable to us. Sense neither radically embroi-
ders upon nor radically impoverishes the actual consti-
tution of such objects: the empirical world is part of
actuality and the part to whose potential for producing
form our cognitive potential for reproducing it most
closely corresponds. Prime Mover and prime matter
intrigued Aristotle as they have certainly intrigued his
interpreters, but scientific or philosophic method was
not conceived as mediation between them: they were
conceptual extremes to which expanding sciences had
finally come and they were conceivable only by anal-
ogy with the more familiar concepts of what lay be-
tween (Posterior Analytics 1. 2. 71b 32-72a 6; 12. 78a


13-21). The plurality of Aristotelian sciences is a con-
sequence of conceiving philosophy as something other
than emancipation from sensory deception: different
sciences were pursued for different kinds of useful or
interesting knowledge and at many formal levels. Mat-
ter qua matter was unintelligible at the level of abstrac-
tion of that of which it is the matter (e.g., bone is not
itself an anthropological concept), but its own formal
properties might be investigated at a more elementary
level (e.g., in physiology or medicine). Of course Aris-
totle's particular pride was that by means of the actu-
ality-potentiality distinction he thought he had given
a consistent account of change, i.e., one in which non-
being did not have to be invoked as an explanatory

These three rival fourth-century cosmological theo-
ries have historically provided paradigm conceptual
schemes for the centuries that have followed. The
sharpness and pervasiveness of the contrasts almost
tempt one to think them, in broadest outline, exhaus-
tive. However the mixing of features in subsequent
theories, to say nothing of new concrete knowledge
discovered by the sciences and the modification of the
conceptual elements which these discoveries make
necessary, limit at least somewhat the extent to which
it is helpful to characterize a theory as “Platonic” or

6. The Stoic Idea of Matter. At least one prominent
theory of antiquity is related to the foregoing systems
in so complex a way as to deserve separate treatment.
The Stoic theory is particularly remarkable in assigning
to matter many properties which were in contrast to
those defined elsewhere. The theory was in a sense as
insistent as the contemporary Epicurean atomism on
grounding all quality and action in a material base,
but this was matter that could act pervasively and
simultaneously throughout an organically structured
universe; matter the structures of which were not so
much productive of, as concomitant with, its modes
of action; matter that acted of necessity indeed, but
in the realization of rational and moral ends. The
“physics” of the school, whose greatest cosmologist was
Chrysippus (ca. 280-206 B.C.), was inspired by that of
Heraclitus: all the other three elements were ultimately
reducible to fire, the breath of life or soul (pneuma),
and their respective qualities followed from the dimin-
ished degree of their activity. The development of this
protean theory of the pneuma into an elaborate and
long-surviving theory of “nutritional,” “vital,” and
“animal spirits” might incline one to think it scientifi-
cally unfortunate, but its modes of explanation have
some affinities with contemporary ones in terms of
“fields,” “waves,” and “energy.” Toulmin and Good-
field credit the Stoics with “recognizing” and “tack
ling” “questions in matter-theory which have come to
the fore again only in the twentieth century” (The
Architecture of Matter,
p. 108).


The medieval period was one of sometimes enlight-
ening elaborations of inherited theories of matter
rather than of significant innovations.

As philosophers became increasingly theological and
the pagan Empire increasingly Christian, the dominant
metaphysical paradigm was that of Plato. In fact one
finds in the Neo-Platonists, the Gnostics, and the
Manichaeans more radical statements of the hostility
of matter to perfection, intelligibility, and order, and
of its derivation from non-being than are to be found
in Plato himself. In one respect, however, patristic
thought can perhaps be said to be rather Aristotelian,
though historically the origins lie in Judaism. Jews,
Christians, and, later, Muslims were bound by biblical
revelation to a doctrine of creation ex nihilo, a creation
including that of matter and pronounced by God to
be good. This left a generous but still limited latitude
for variations. For one thing, if there was to be intel-
lectual accommodation for both God and the world,
organism must not be emphasized so far as to swallow
up the creature, nor the independence of parts em-
phasized, as it was in atomism, to the extent that it
would obviate the need of a Creator. Again, the Pla-
tonic characterization of the material world as “insub-
stantial appearance” might, if overstressed, undermine
the genuineness of the creation; on the other hand the
fully actual substances of atomism neither would need
to be nor could be created. Finally, though there was
no explicit theory of creation in Aristotle, his plurality
of substances would at least permit an independently
actual Creator and a dependently actual creation. Still,
however much this may have impressed later medieval
thinkers, the Patristics more immediately felt the ten-
sion of two inspirations: the Timaeus tradition of the
artist-God achieving levels of order with materials that
were not good, and the Judaic heritage in which all
hierarchy in the material world (like Aristotle's be-
tween celestial and terrestrial spheres) was thrown in
the shade by its universal creatureliness.

Alchemy, intrigued by the frequently dramatic
transformations of matter and dedicated to redeeming
it from its baser states, must probably be credited with
the most sustained program of empirical investigation
and with enough concrete discoveries so that both
Newton and Boyle paid it the compliment of serious
study. As to its theory alchemy represented a persisting
tradition of interpreting the physical and chemical
behavior of matter through biological, psychological,


and even theological models: matter could be “begot-
ten” in different species, induced to be more “noble,”
and “spiritualized” into its “essences.” But its principal
contributions to techniques and apparatus for fermen-
tation, sublimation, distillation, and the like were
matched by a multitude of scientifically advantageous
technological advances in such fields as engineering,
optics, metallurgy, and navigation, and historians have
had increasingly to recognize the extent and sophis-
tication of scientific inquiry within the universities
from the thirteenth century onwards.

Although Robert Grosseteste's brief treatise De luce
is of the mid-thirteenth century it illustrates impres-
sively the “light metaphysics” that was a special form
of the Neo-Platonic emanation-doctrine of the earlier
Middle Ages. The first material substance created (after
the “separate substances” which were pure forms) was
light. It enjoyed this priority because of, in one direc-
tion, its kinship with intelligibility and, in the other,
its tendency to uniform, instantaneous, and infinite
self-plurification. It thus engendered a three-dimen-
sional, spherical mass rarified at the periphery, con-
densed at the center, and within it the nine celestial
spheres took form, each inner ring being related to
the next outer as matter to form. The ninth, lowest,
and sub-lunar sphere was that of the four elements:
their differential weight behaviors sprang respectively
from the “self-assembling virtue” prevalent in earth
and water, and the “self-dispersing virtue” prevalent
in air and fire. Grosseteste found anticipations of this
cosmological system in pagan myth, speculating, for
example that “Cybele” was etymologically derived
from cubus and symbolized solidity. The theory also
had its quantitative (or numerological) aspect: light,
in which all other bodies were virtual, contained 4
basic constituents, and since the sum of its factors
(1, 2, 3, 4) was 10, “it is clear that 10 is the full number
of the universe.”

The advent in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries
of texts of Greek science, including predominantly the
physical, astronomical, biological, and metaphysical
texts of Aristotle, brought both a great upsurge in
scientific interests and the beginnings of a new scientific
orthodoxy. While sheer intellectual inertia no doubt
played its role in the authority that Aristotle came to
enjoy, the medievals were probably initially well ad-
vised to adopt a body of science far in advance of
anything with which they had been previously ac-
quainted, and thereafter the staying power of the the-
ory was to a considerable extent the result of its range
of use and success. But there also were developments
within, and departures from, the imported doctrines.

(1) The controversy over the plurality or unicity of
substantial forms which ranged Augustinian Platonists
like Saint Bonaventura against more radical Aristote-
lians like Aquinas involved questions of matter both
as principle of individuation and as proximate and pure
potentiality. Against the Thomistic doctrine that there
might be numerically distinct instances of things spe-
cifically identical in different “designated (ostensible)
matters,” the Platonists insisted that individuality was
a function of a unique intersection of formal properties.
Thomas' contention that with respect to man, for ex-
ample, “soul is not another form than that through
which three dimensions could be designated in the
thing” (De ente et essentia ii), combined with the
traditional Aristotelian teaching that substantial change
involves a reduction to “prime matter” or “pure po-
tentiality” seemed to deprive levels of form like “cor-
poreity,” “organism,” and “animality” of their func-
tions in nature. The dilemma in which the Aristotelians
found themselves was that if existing substances could
enter into a new substance (e.g., a child) without
modification, the new substance was only a mechanical
combination; but if there was a reduction of all incor-
porated substances to prime matter, it would seem that
one ought to be able to produce any given substance
from any given combination of proximate matters. To
meet this difficulty they developed, beyond anything
found explicitly in Aristotle, a theory of virtutes, or
powers. These powers bore close resemblance to the
substantial forms of the proximate matter prior to its
ingredience in the new substance; they nevertheless
represented some modifications by the new environ-
ment within the substance; and they were potentially
restorable to their original states on the dissolution of
the substance.

(2) There was also increasingly from the thirteenth
century on a tendency towards more atomistic con-
ceptions of matter. Augustine was typical of the early
Middle Ages in maintaining its infinite divisibility: the
diffuseness of matter thus stood at the opposite extreme
from the total unity of God. Aquinas sharpened the
Aristotelian distinction between the potentially infinite
divisibility of the “intellectual matter” of mathe-
maticals and the determinate quantities required in
actual physical substances, including the elements
(Physicorum lect. ix. 9-10). William of Ockham's res-
ervation of “absolute existence” to substance and qual-
ity alone of the traditional ten categories meant that
the view of nature as a network involving connective
quantities, relations, and acts was yielding to a view
of localized centers of formed matter. But in addition
to this very general evolution of medieval thought from
enthusiastic system towards critical, and even icono-
clastic, analysis, there was specifically a doctrine of
elementary minima being elaborated during the Ren-
aissance within the Aristotelian tradition by such


natural philosophers as J. C. Scaliger and Daniel Sen-
nert, so that the adoption of atomistic theories in the
seventeenth century was not exclusively a matter of

(3) Finally there seem to have been some anticipa-
tions during the latter Middle Ages of modern theories
of force and mass. Jean Buridan (ca. 1299-ca. 1358),
from whose rejection of Intelligences as movers of the
heavenly spheres Duhem dated the beginning of mod-
ern science (Etudes sur Léonard de Vinci [1955], III,
ix) helped to develop a theory of the preservation of
motion by an originally impressed impetus which acted
without diminution so long as it met no resistance. As
for mass, Jammer finds significant the use by Giles of
Rome, in his Theoremata de corpore Christi (1276), of
the phrase Quantitas materiae in a meaning exclusive
of both volume and weight. Prior to the conceptualiza-
tion of inertial mass by Kepler, natural philosophers
like Buridan, Albert of Saxony, Nicole Oresme, and
Richard Swineshead were identifying quantity of mat-
ter with a product of volume times density. In spite
of the greater specificity with which questions about
matter were being put, thanks to awakened interest,
suspicion of traditional answers, and improved tech-
niques, the late medievals had, of course, no way of
determining quantity of matter and density inde-


It would perhaps be appropriate that a study of the
concept of matter in modern times should be forced
to consider the indispensable role of the relatively
non-conceptual factors of technique and apparatus, for
in terms of connotations of matter as they have been
laid out these would represent the more material as-
pects of science. The principal concern here, however,
must be with conceptual factors.

1. Changes in the Concept of Matter. Given the
range of materials on concepts of matter from, say,
Nicolas of Cusa (1401-64) to Isaac Newton (1640-
1727) it is useful to try to summarize, roughly, while
recognizing the inevitability of exceptions, what dis-
tinguishes the modern view from that of the preceding
period. The chronological account that follows there-
after can then be selective and merely illustrative.

The medieval universe, whether described by Plato-
nists or Aristotelians, was hierarchically ordered, e.g.,
in the astronomical distinction between celestial and
terrestrial spheres, the biological order of rational,
animal, and vegetable souls, and the alchemical divi-
sion of nobler and baser materials; and almost univer-
sally the greater the material component of any nature,
the lower in the hierarchy it fell. This view was sup
planted by an effort to account for all of physical
nature by one homogeneous matter operating
throughout by one set of mechanical laws. There were
no doubt some elements of coincidence in the mutual
reinforcement given to this rejection of hierarchy by
the growing success of Copernicus, Gilbert, Kepler,
Descartes, and Newton in applying the principles of
terrestrial mechanics to celestial movement on the one
hand, and the emphasis of the Protestant Reformers
on the absolute and unmediated sovereignty of God
over every creature on the other. Perhaps a majority
of the working “natural philosophers” of the early
modern period felt that double motivation.

It is relatively easy to detect in the Middle Ages
a pattern of transition from the early Platonic syntheses
(patristics), to an Aristotelian system of sciences (thir-
teenth century onwards), to late medieval analysis and
critique (especially from the fourteenth century on-
wards); and the increasingly “atomistic” modes of
thought even went so far in Nicolas of Autrecourt (fl.
1340), a philosopher-theologian of the Ockhamist
school, as the claim that the hypothesis of Lucretius
was preferable to that of Aristotle. The Church was
able to repress heretical speculation in Nicolas, but
increasingly in the Renaissance the whole range of
ancient methods and systems (Platonic corpus by
Ficino's translation, 1463-69; Lucretius by 1417) was
again available—the Platonic conception of parts as
dependent aspects of wholes, the Democritean under-
standing of wholes as collections of independent parts,
and the Aristotelian distinction of essential from acci-
dental in the experientially given. All these resources
were exploited by various thinkers and in various mix-
tures, but it was the long-neglected possibilities of
atomism that were most revolutionary. As the “closed
world,” centered first on the earth and then on the sun,
became observationally and conceptually untenable,
atomism's postulate of an “infinite universe” seemed
scientifically confirmed.

The enthusiasm for “corpuscular philosophy,” found
in some guise or other in all the most productive
thinkers of the time, meant that quantitative or “pri-
mary” properties such as extension, duration, and ve-
locity—properties the mathematical statement of
which corresponded in fairly direct fashion to what
was actually experienced—became the basis of causal
explanations. The old “substantial forms” and “sensible
species,” which were incapable of such equivalent
mathematical statement, were rejected as “occult
qualities,” unverifiable and redundant, and as “second-
ary” properties resulting from the action of the “pri-
mary” ones but having no status other than that of
“appearance” in the mind. It further followed that
teleological explanations, certainly in terms of the ends


inherent in the natures of particular macroscopic spe-
cies, and, more cautiously, in terms of the general
welfare of nature as a whole, were increasingly rejected
as unphilosophical. The “great book” of the universe,
said Galileo, “is written in the mathematical language—
triangles, circles, and other geometrical figures, without
whose help it is impossible to comprehend a single
word of it...” (Il saggiatore, sec. 6).

What substituted for patterns of behavior immanent
in the forms of a hierarchy of beings from enmattered
elements, plants, and animals to immaterial “Intelli-
gences” and God were “laws of nature,” usually con-
ceived as externally imposed upon matter at its crea-
tion by God. Descartes in some ways carried this
tendency further than anyone else. He first correctly
formulated the principle of inertia in terms of rest or
uniform rectilinear motion. Making sheer geometrical
extension the essence of material body, and postulating
a law of the conservation of motion (whatever the
directional variations), he found it necessary to intro-
duce force or causal agency (as contrasted with inertial
transfer of motion) at only one point, God's creative
and sustaining fiat. Thinkers such as Spinoza, Male-
branche, Leibniz, and Newton were unwilling to cen-
tralize physical causality in exactly the Cartesian way,
but the occasionalism of Malebranche, the pre-
established harmony of Leibniz, and even the monism
of Spinoza show Descartes' influence or the same influ-
ences that persuaded him. Cum deus calculat fit
(“As God calculates so the world happens”),
and the confidence that the laws of nature would be
relatively few and rationally ordered was sustained by
the belief in their origin in one supremely rational

While, therefore, there was a revival of atomistic
and mechanistic modes of thought in the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries, there was a difference, and it
also helps to account for their wider influence in mod-
ern times. Given the sociological position of the insti-
tutional churches, early science would certainly have
had a far more stormy reception if it had not been
disposed to use God as the ready-to-hand Deus ex ma-
in many a difficulty, or supposed difficulty, where
it turned out to be convenient to think of the machina
ex deo.
Thus most—not all—of the champions of cor-
puscular philosophy held that God had first created
the atoms; that the laws by which they were governed,
however mechanical, were directed to providential
ends; and that human consciousness represented a sub-
stance as real as, though radically different from, phys-
ical matter.

In metaphysical terms this very often meant that
materialistic themes were combined with Platonic as
in Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz. An interesting case
in point is on the question of the infinite divisibility
of matter, denied by ancient atomism, maintained by
Descartes and his active school. This was a traditional
Platonist doctrine, for such diffuseness at the lower
extremity of the “chain of being” was the appropriate
dialectical contrary to the absolute and spiritual Unity
at its head. It seems clear that Descartes could ignore
the atomists' argument that existence must finally have
its irreducible units, because his matter or extension
was an imperfect grade of substance (less perfect than
thinking substance, for example) which existed only on
the continuing sufferance of God. When Leibniz re-
vived the argument that there could be no plura entia
without the final unum ens (“no multitude without
units”), but this time on behalf of the psychical monads
of which he conceived matter to be composed, he was
as he himself realized, both more atomistic and more

These generalizations may now be supplemented
with a fuller description of the theories of matter of
two thinkers, one of the sixteenth, one of the seven-
teenth century, illustrative, though something more
than typical, of their ages: Giordano Bruno and Isaac

2. A Renaissance Theory of Matter: Bruno. It has
already been suggested that the Renaissance does not
conveniently mark an epoch in the history of Western
concepts of matter. It was a period of accelerating
scientific advance, but so were the later Middle Ages
and, even more certainly, the Enlightenment which
followed. In its early stages the literary and humanistic
preoccupations and the conviction of the vast superi-
ority of antiquity to anything offered by the medievals
no doubt led to the neglect of some interesting medie-
val inquiries e.g., those into “uniform difform” (uni-
formly accelerated) motions just as the logical, cosmo-
logical, and theological preoccupations of the
thirteenth century had probably retarded a literary
renascence. But the scientific value of a more accurate
and complete translation of Archimedes (1543), for
example, which humanistic scholarship had made pos-
sible, should not be underrated. By the middle of the
sixteenth century the most prominent names in philos-
ophy were not primarily humanists but natural philoso-
phers—Telesio, Patrizi, Bruno. What does distinguish
the theories of matter of the Renaissance from those
of the Middle Ages and the seventeenth century is that
it is far more difficult to discover anything like a con-
sensus. Perhaps for that very reason the embattled but
commanding figure of Bruno is especially revealing.

Poet, moralist, logician (the “Lullian art”), cos-
mologist; Catholic, Lutheran, Calvinist; inspired by
Plotinus and Nicolas of Cusa in metaphysics and by
Lucretius and Copernicus in cosmology, Giordano


Bruno was a wide-ranging dissolvent of the Aristotelian
orthodoxies lodged in the universities and, though to
a far lesser degree, a prophet of systems to come. He
found the sort of philosophical significance in Coper-
nicus that Spencer found in Darwin: the geocentric
and anthropocentric theories had been exploded; noth-
ing but an infinite (and thus centerless) universe was
compatible with an infinite God. Similarly biological
hierarchies with man regularly at the apex were mere
pretension—for one thing other heavenly bodies were
probably populated as well. His theory of matter ap-
pears to have undergone an evolution from inherited
Aristotelian hylomorphism towards pantheism. The
ephemeral individuals of ordinary experience became
accidents rather than substances, accidents of either
matter or form which as more permanent features of
the universe, he later dealt with as substances. Yet in
the final analysis matter and form were one in God,
who thus became the only substance and (apparently
the final position) identical with nature. (No direct
influence on Spinoza has been traced.) The first efficient
cause was the World Soul or Universal Intellect imma-
nent in its own matter; at the more local level likewise
all future forms were virtually—i.e., incipiently, not
merely potentially—present in the matter (cf. logoi
of Stoics, rationes seminales of Augustine).
Yet, paradoxically, Bruno seems to have clung to the
Aristotelian distinction between elements subject re-
spectively to gravity and levity, in spite of the facts
that this seemed to comport awkwardly with his in-
finite, and therefore directionless, universe (cf., how-
ever, Lucretius' absolute “down”), and that Coperni-
cus, Gilbert, and Kepler were already thinking of
multiple heavenly bodies as exercising gravitional
attraction. Very far from the observational and mathe-
matically-armed scientist, Bruno nevertheless probably
deserves to be considered a scientific martyr—for his
unsparing exposure of inconsistencies in existing theo-
ries, his eclectic independence, his imaginativeness in
attempted syntheses, and his courage in finally refusing
to recant before he was burned by the Inquisition in

3. A Seventeenth-Century Theory of Matter: Isaac
A. N. Whitehead's characterization of the
seventeenth as the “century of genius” seems eminently
fitting. To the men whose collective intellectual
achievement he regarded as perhaps unparalleled—
Galileo, Descartes, Huygens, and Newton—the student
of matter might well wish to add the indefatigable and
resourceful figure of Robert Boyle. But admitting his
great indebtedness to his predecessors and contem-
poraries, even on specific achievements with which his
name is connected, Isaac Newton must stand pre-
eminent for the magnitude of his achievements and
their impact upon modes of thought. If, through some
barely conceivable quirk of intellectual history, he had
been unable to effect his observationally and mathe-
matically fortified synthesis of dynamics and astron-
omy, the scientific revolution might possibly have fal-
tered and even faded.

Once Newton's success in deriving Kepler's laws of
planetary motion—and explanations of a vast range of
other phenomena as well—from a unified mechanics
of gravitational and inertial forces had been appreci-
ated, the optimism and methodological confidence of
the natural philosophers were irresistible. From the
hither side of this achievement, particularly when
historically we observe the selective accumulation of
what were to become parts of the synthesis, it seems
inevitable, and it may be worthwhile to consider one
conceptual complication relevant to the ideas of
matter. On the one hand Newton's system required
that one should conceive every particle of matter in
the universe as gravitationally attracting every other
according to the law of inverse squares; on the other
hand the counterbalancing centrifugal forces operated
inertially, i.e., as if no external forces whatever affected
the mobile. The final equation for planetary motion,
therefore, involved combining the maintenance of the
universal interaction of all matter with the hypothesis
of how it would behave on the contrary assumption
that there was no other matter with which the mobile
in question could interact.

This was a pitch of abstraction of which a rather
ossified Aristotelianism—and some successor doctrines
as well—showed themselves quite incapable. This point
may also serve to illustrate the ambiguous sense in
which Newton's system triumphed through its “sim-
plicity”: as Butterfield remarks, it was simple in re-
quiring relatively few ad hoc assumptions about the
sort of forces involved; it was the reverse of simple
in the mathematics necessary to compute the concrete
resultant of forces.

In regard to his evolving concepts of matter, Newton
never called himself an atomist though he did hypoth-
esize that “God in the beginning formed matter in
solid, massey, hard, impenetrable, moveable particles”
with varying “sizes... figures, and... other proper-
ties” and in varying “proportions to space” (Opticks
iii.1). He was closer to the ancient theory than Boyle
in one respect: whereas Boyle had thought of atoms
as flexible even to the point of actual division, Newton
insisted on their indivisibility, “that Nature may be
lasting,” arguing that substances, including compounds,
would not be stable if the component atoms could, with
continued friction, be eroded. He also preserved from
traditional atomism the absolute mathematical charac-
ter of space and extended it to time, but he made space


and time something more than geometrically ordered
non-being by conceiving space as the “sensorium of
God.” Increasingly he also came to think that space
could not be merely “void” but was filled with a fluid
“aether”—to convey radiant heat, to account for the
optical phenomena of reflection and refraction, to
transmit light corpuscles, and perhaps to help explain
gravitation. His major departure from ancient atomism
(and from Descartes), however, was his rejection of the
concept of matter as essentially geometrical and inert.
First in gravitational theory, then in his speculations
on the nature of matter in the appendix to his Opticks,
he concluded that matter must be held together by
various and variously intense attractive and repulsive

To a considerable number of the more enthusiastic
mechanical philosophers, followers, for example, of
Descartes or Thomas Hobbes, the invocation of attrac-
tions and repulsions acting “at a distance” without
immediate bodily contact, entanglement, or impact
seemed a retreat to unintelligible explanation by “oc-
cult qualities.” Although he did in fact “feign hypothe-
ses” to account for some forces, Newton never did so
without simultaneously assuming others. (Thus he
wondered whether his postulated fluid aether might
not account for gravitation through pressure by being
more rare in the vicinity of solid bodies, but accounted
for that distribution of aether by a mutual affinity of
its parts.) His main reply to objections was that these
assumptions enabled one to account for such phe-
nomena as gravitation, magnetism, electricity, the
varying stabilities and combining properties of chemi-
cal substances, deliquescence, internal cohesion of ma-
terial particles, and capillary action, and that he was
more concerned with fidelity to the undoubted fact
than with the transparent intelligibility of the explana-
tion—a reply which, incidentally, helps us better to
understand the philosophical point involved in the
controversy over “occult qualities.” Molière was quite
right to ridicule as an explanation (e.g., a “dormitive
faculty” in the case of sleep) something that might
possibly function (as it generally seemed to Aristotle)
as a cautious and minimal registry of fact, whether or
not further causal analysis were possible. If Newton
perhaps avoided dogmatism by reason of his willingness
to admit active potentialities the mechanics of which
he did not purport to understand, it needs also to be
added that he avoided obscurantism by his patience
and resource to measure, calculate, and verify. Toulmin
and Goodfield say that in his synthesis he combined
“the atoms of Democritus into coherent order by ten-
sions and forces like those of the Stoics” (The Architec-
ture of Matter

4. Matter in Metaphysical Thought: Locke and
Leibniz. By the time of Newton the progressive spe-
cialization that has distinguished physicists, chemists,
and other empirical students of matter from the phi-
losophers and metaphysicians was fairly well advanced.
The history of the concepts of matter becomes corre-
spondingly complex. On the one hand as the scientists
have achieved greater determinacy regarding particu-
lar properties of kinds of matter, they have on the
whole been more content to leave indeterminate the
question of its ultimate generic nature: by the end of
the eighteenth century Lavoisier was insisting on that
exclusive concentration of his interests. On the other
hand, while philosophers have not ceased their effort
to excogitate what matter must be and cosmologies
have still been produced, more interestingly perhaps,
because cosmology has not been the center of philo-
sophical interest, theories of matter have been derived
from, or even only implied by, disciplines that were—
epistemology, semantics, theories of action. Neither
Karl Marx's revolutionary program of action nor A. J.
Ayer's positivist theory of meaning were indefinitely
flexible as to how matter, or “the physical world,”
were conceived. Both would find some features of some
theories of matter we have considered incompatible
with their views, and that is to say that their pragmatic
and semantic theories have implications for a theory
of matter. We may illustrate by the roles matter plays
in two contemporaries of Newton, John Locke and
G. W. Leibniz when the principal preoccupations of
philosophy tended, after the revolution of Descartes,
to be epistemological.

Locke and Leibniz are often cited as paradigm in-
stances of (British) “empiricism” and (Continental)
“rationalism,” but these commitments, and their own
curiosity, pushed them to fairly explicit concepts of
matter, even though it was the primary concern of
neither. Consider contrasting definitions of “sub-
stance.” Locke says that “... substance is supposed
always [to be] something besides the extension, figure,
solidity, motion, thinking [in the mental substances
which he also recognizes], or other observable ideas,
though we know not what it is” (Essay Concerning
Human Understanding
II. 23. 3). Since, we know only
that there must be something capable of causing these
ideas of itself in us, “Powers therefore justly make a
great part of our complex ideas of substances” (ibid.,
10; cf. Mill's “permanent possibility of sensation”;
Mach's phenomenalism). In terms of the criteria that
have here been employed to distinguish concepts of
matter, Locke's procedure might be described as the
“materialization” of all substance, for he made it stuff,
underlying and persisting through our experience,
concrete and ostensible but itself defying any repre-
sentative formulation.


But for Leibniz “... this is the nature of an individ-
ual substance or of a complete being, namely, to afford
a conception so complete that the concept shall be
sufficient for the understanding of it and for the deduc-
tion of all the predicates of which the substance is or
may become the subject...” (Discourse on Meta-
VIII). Of course Leibniz was speaking of his
monads, psychic substances, each of which mirrored
the entire universe from a unique angle of observation.
Even that expression is misleading for the orders of
space, time, and phenomenal matter were derivative
from the internal structure of individual concepts
rather than vice versa. Leibniz has identified substance
wholly with what is formal, defining, structural, and
intelligible. Material substance has become, for
Leibniz, only a phenomenon bene fundatum, a con-
ceptually useful matrix for ordering phenomena.

There are many ways, by no means all of them
touched on here, in which Locke is “Democritean”
and Leibniz is “Platonic” though a just account would
have to include very significant differences as well. The
“Aristotelian” alternative of finding in objects of in-
quiry both actual and knowable aspects (“form”) and
also as their ground, still mysterious potentialities and
powers (“matter”), was certainly also present in the
seventeenth century—to some extent in Newton's con-
fidence that he had discovered real forces operative
in the world combined with his uncertainty as to what
their precise nature was.

There seems little doubt that awareness of different
historical concepts of matter can be a factor in further
inquiry into matter itself. The history of the astonishing
progress that has been made in that direction finds the
same or similar conceptual schemes now opening the
way for, now obstructing, particular insights and dis-
coveries. But so long as we continue to be confronted—
through highly sophisticated devices of detection, or
through ordinary gross observation—by something sen-
sibly and convincingly there, additional to and un-
exhausted by our ideas and formulae, something like
the concept of matter will have work to do.


The secondary sources listed below are no substitute for
the original works of the thinkers discussed in this article,
but they can help in the interpretation of the original works.

General. M. Jammer, Concepts of Force... (Cambridge,
Mass., 1957); idem, Concepts of Mass... (Cambridge, Mass.,
1961); idem, Concepts of Space... (Cambridge, Mass.,
1954); sometimes technical, but comprehensive and schol-
arly. E. McMullin, ed., The Concept of Matter... (Notre
Dame, Ind., 1963; reprint, 1965), consists of papers from
a conference on matter. S. Toulmin and J. Goodfield, The
Architecture of Matter
(London, 1962), a generally nontech-
nical but comprehensive historical survey.

Special Studies and Histories. C. Bailey, The Greek Atom-
ists and Epicurus
(Oxford, 1928). E. A. Burtt, The Meta-
physical Foundations of Modern Science
(London, 1925). H.
Butterfield, The Origins of Modern Science, 1300-1800
(London, 1957; reprint New York, 1962), pp. 7, 167 of
reprint. F. M. Cornford, Plato's Cosmology (London, 1937).
A. C. Crombie, Medieval and Early Modern Science (New
York, 1954); idem, Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of
Experimental Science, 1100-1700
(Oxford, 1953). H. Diels
and W. Kranz, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, 6th ed.,
2 vols (Berlin, 1951-52). P. Duhem, Le système du monde:
histoire des doctrines cosmologiques de Platon à Copernic,

10 vols. (Paris, 1913-59), a study extending into the Hellenic
and early modern periods, but principally concentrating on
the medieval, of which more than any other work it has
forced a reassessment. See also his Études sur Léonard de
3 vols. (Paris, 1906-13), for late medieval and early
modern periods. A. R. and M. B. Hall, A Brief History of
(New York, 1964). E. J. Holmyard, Alchemy
(Harmondsworth, 1957). G. S. Kirk and J. E. Raven, The
Pre-Socratic Philosophers
(Cambridge, 1962). F. A. Lange,
Geschichte des Materialismus (1865), trans. as The History
of Materialism
(London, 1926; New York, 1957). E. Mach,
Die Mechanik in ihrer Entwicklung historisch-kritisch
(1883), trans. T. J. McCormack as The Science
of Mechanics
(Chicago, 1893; 6th ed. La Salle, Ill., 1960).
A. Mansion, Introduction à la physique aristotélicienne
(Paris, 1913; Louvain, 1946). S. F. Mason, A History of the
(London, 1953). S. Sambursky, The Physical World
of the Greeks
(London, 1956); idem, The Physics of the Stoics
(London, 1959); idem, The Physical World of Late Antiquity
(London, 1962). R. Taton, ed., Histoire générale des sciences
(Paris, 1957-64), trans. as The General History of the Sci-
(London, 1963-66), is a monumental history with the
great advantages of combining the expertise and enthusiasm
of many specialists. Volumes I and II (of four) carry through
the eighteenth century. A. N. Whitehead, Science and the
Modern World
(New York and London, 1925). A. Wolf, A
History of Science, Technology and Philosophy in the 16th
and 17th Century,
2 vols. (London, 1935).


[See also Atomism; Cosmology; Historical and Dialectical
Materialism; Newton on Method; Unity of Science.]