Given the value placed on material goods, the view that everything is reducible to matter acting upon matter ('folk materialism'), and more nuanced varieties of 'physicalism' in modern philosophy, it might be thought that we have a clear and distinct idea of what 'matter' actually means. Yet matter turns out to be surprisingly elusive. Attempts to specify matter in terms of things with mass and volume fail to encompass the more exotic scenarios and paradigms of modern physics. More generally, priority has long been given in scientific theory and practice to formal and mathematical relations in the study of the physical world, with philosophy and theology often reflecting this emphasis. Such approaches paradoxically make it unclear what matter does, other than exemplify form imperfectly, rather like the dough that more or less reproduces the shape of the biscuit (or cookie) cutter.
In this seminar, I look at developments in recent decades, especially in the simulation of complex systems, which suggest the need for a principle of continuity under substantial change that cannot be reduced to form. This principle can be understood as 'matter', but only as part of a broader neo-Aristotelian understanding of causation that also includes teleology (not mere teleonomy) and an 'arrow of time'. I review briefly some of the implications of a renaissance of a worldview in which matter genuinely matters, not only in science, but also in philosophy and theology.
DR ANDREW PINSENT is Research Director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion, a member of the Theology and Religion Faculty at Oxford University and a research fellow of Harris Manchester College. He was formerly a physicist at CERN, has degrees in philosophy and theology from the Pontifical Gregorian University and a second doctorate, in philosophy, from St Louis University. He is the author of The Second-Person Perspective in Aquinas's Ethics: Virtues and Gifts, and a wide range of other publications on virtue ethics, neurotheology, science and religion, the philosophy of the person, divine action, and the nature of evil.