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Studia Neoaristotelica

Volume 8, Issue 2, 2011

A Journal of Analytic Scholasticism

Helen Hattab
Pages 143-162
DOI: 10.5840/studneoar20118212

Suárez and Descartes
A Priori Arguments Against Substantial Forms and the Decline of the Formal Cause

In hac dissertatione primo ostendo Cartesii “argumentum a priori” contra formas substantiales proprie intelligendum esse ex definitione formae substantialis, quam F. Suarez proposuit, et ex ipsius argumentis a priori pro ea. Hoc quidem argumentum Cartesianum non nisi polemicam vim habere videtur, nam Cartesius potius ex superioritate explanationum mechanicarum a se percepta formas substantiales impugnavit. Tamen ipsum factum, Cartesium scil. in doctrinam Suarezianam de forma substantiali incurrisse, doctrinae Suarezianae auctoritatem et famam contestatur. Aliis verbis, Descartes sane demonstrationem, qua Suarezii argumenta ad absurdum reducentur, maiori momenti esse exspectavit quam argumentationem contra doctrinam Thomisticam de forma substantiali. Secundo ostendo definitionem Suarezianam formae substantialis novam conceptionem causalitatis formalis exegisse. Suarez causalitatem formalem ad modum unionis formae substantiali cum materia limitavit, quo pacto vim eius in philosophia naturali diminuit significantiamque causarum materialis ac efficientis in nova philosophia mechanistica anticipavit. Hoc modo serior metaphysica scholastica indirecte velut dispositionem fundamentalem praebuit ad rerum naturalium explanationes mechanisticas recipiendas ac sustinendas. In this paper I first show that Descartes’ a priori argument against substantial forms is properly understood against the background of Suárez’s definition of and a priori arguments for the substantial form. Even though Descartes’ a priori argument appears to have only a polemical value since his own path to the elimination of substantial forms was based on the perceived superiority of mechanical explanations, the fact that Descartes targeted Suárez’s account of the substantial form in his polemical argument bears witness to its widespread influence. In other words, Descartes expected that a proof that reduced Suárez’s argument to absurdity would have a greater impact than an argument directed against Aquinas’ account of substantial forms. Secondly, I show that Suárez’s definition of the substantial form prompted a reconceptualization of the role of formal causality. Suárez limits formal causality to the mode of union between the substantial form and matter, thus deemphasizing its importance to natural philosophical explanations and anticipating the emphasis on material and efficient causes typical of the new mechanical philosophy. In this indirect manner, late Scholastic metaphysics provided a general framework in which mechanical explanations of natural phenomena could find a place and take hold.

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