MATTER

, an extended substance. Other properties of Matter are, that it resists, is solid, divisible, moveable, passive, &c; and it forms the principles of which all bodies are composed.

Matter and form, the two simple and original principles of all things, according to the Ancients, composing some simple natures, which they called Elements; from the various combinations of which all natural things were afterwards composed.

Dr. Woodward was of opinion, that Matter is originally and really various, being at first creation divided into several ranks, sets, or kinds of corpuscles, differing in substance, gravity, hardness, flexibility, figure, size, &c; from the various compositions and combinations of which, he thinks, arise all the varieties in bodies as to colour, hardness, gravity, tastes, &c. But it is Sir Isaac Newton's opinion, that all those differences result from the various arrangements of the same Matter; which he accounts homogeneous and uniform in all bodies.

The quantity of Matter in any body, is its measure arising from the joint consideration of the magnitude and density of the body: as if one body be twice as dense as another, and also occupy twice the space, then will it contain 4 times the Matter of the other. This quantity of Matter is best discovered by the weight or gravity of the body, to which it is always proportional.

Newton observes, that “it seems probable, God, in the beginning, formed Matter in solid, massy, hard, impenetrable, moveable particles, of such sizes, figures, and with such other properties, and in such proportion to space, as most conduced to the end for which he formed them; and that these primitive particles, being solid, are incomparably harder than any porous bodies compounded of them; even so very hard, as never to wear, and break in pieces: no ordinary power being able to divide what God himself made one in the first creation. While the particles continue entive, they may compose bodies of one and the same nature and texture in all ages; but should they wear away, or break in pieces, the nature of things depending on them would be changed. Water and earth, composed of old worn particles, would not be of the same nature and texture now with water and earth composed of entire particles in the beginning. And therefore, that nature may be lasting, the changes of corporeal things are to be placed only in the various separations and new associations and motions of these permanent particles; compound bodies being apt to break, not in the midst of solid particles, but where those particles are laid together, and touch in a few points. It seems farther, he continues, that these particles have not only a vis inertiæ, accompanied with such passive laws of motion as naturally result from that force, but also that they are moved by certain active principles, such as is that of gravity, and that which causeth fermentation, and the cohesion of bodies. These principles are to be considered not as occult qualities, supposed to result from the specific forms of things, but as general laws of nature, by which the things themselves are formed; their truth appearing to us by phenomena, though their causes are not yet discovered.”

Hobbes, Spinoza, &c, maintain that all the beings in the universe are material, and that their differences arise from their different modifications, motions, &c. Thus they conceive that Matter extremely subtile, and in a brisk motion, may think; and so they exclude spirit out of the world.

Dr. Berkley, on the contrary, argues against the existence of Matter itself; and endeavours to prove that it is a mere ens rationis, and has no existence out of the mind.

Some late philosophers have advanced a new hypothesis concerning the nature and essential properties of Matter. The first of these who suggested, or at least published an account of this hypothesis, was M. Boscovich, in his Theoria Philosophiæ Naturalis. He supposes that Matter is not impenetrable, but that it consists of physical points only, endued with powers of attraction and repulsion, taking place at different distances, that is, surrounded with various spheres of attraction and repulsion; in the same manner as solid Matter is generally supposed to be. Provided therefore that any body move with a sufficient degree of velocity, or have sufficient momentum to overcome any power of repulsion that it may meet with, it will find no difficulty in making its way through any body whatever. If the velocity of such a body in motion be sufficiently great, Bo<*>covich contends, that the particles of any body through which it passes, will not even be| moved out of their place by it. With a degree of velocity something less than this, they will be considerably agitated, and ignition might perhaps be the consequence, though the progress of the body in motion would not be sensibly interrupted; and with a still less momentum it might not pass at all.

Mr. Michell, Dr. Priestley, and some others of our own country, are of the same opinion. See Priestley's History of Discoveries relating to Light, pa. 390.— In conformity to this hypothesis, this author maintains, that Matter is not that inert substance that it has been supposed to be; that powers of attraction or repulsion are necessary to its very being, and that no part of it appears to be impenetrable to other parts. Accordingly, he defines Matter to be a substance, possessed of the property of extension, and of powers of attraction or repulsion, which are not distinct from Matter, and foreign to it, as it has been generally imagined, but absolutely essential to its very nature and being: so that when bodies are divested of these powers, they become nothing at all. In another place, Dr. Priestley has given a somewhat different account of Matter; according to which it is only a number of centres of attraction and repulsion; or more properly of centres, not divisible, to which divine agency is directed; and as sensation and thought are not incompatible with these powers, solidity, or impenetrability, and consequently a vis inertiæ only having been thought repugnant to them, he maintains, that we have no reason to suppose that there are in man two substances absolutely distinct from each other. See Disquisitions on Matter and Spirit.

But Dr. Price, in a correspondence with Dr. Priestley, published under the title of A Free Discussion of the Doctrines of Materialism and Philosophical Necessity, 1778, has suggested a variety of unanswerable objections against this hypothesis of the penetrability of Matter, and against the conclusions that are drawn from it. The vis inertiæ of Matter, he says, is the foundation of all that is demonstrated by natural philosophers concerning the laws of the collision of bodies. This, in particular, is the foundation of Newton's philosophy, and especially of his three laws of motion. Solid Matter has the power of acting on other Matter by impulse; but unsolid Matter cannot act at all by impulse; and this is the only way in which it is capable of acting, by any action that is properly its own. If it be said, that one particle of Matter can act upon another without contact and impulse, or that Matter can, by its own proper agency, attract or repel other Matter which is at a distance from it, then a maxim hitherto universally received must be false, that “nothing can act where it is not.” Newton, in his letters to Bentley, calls the notion, that Matter possesses an innate power of attraction, or that it can act upon Matter at a distance, and attract and repel by its own agency, an absurdity into which he thought no one could possibly fall. And in another place he expressly disclaims the notion of innate gravity, and has taken pains to shew that he did not take it to be an essential property of bodies. By the same kind of reasoning pursued, it must appear, that Matter has not the power of attracting and repelling; that this power is the power of some foreign cause, acting upon Mat- ter according to stated laws; and consequently that attraction and repulsion, not being actions, much less inherent qualities of Matter, as such, it ought not to be defined by them. And if Matter has no other property, as Dr. Priestley asserts, than the power of attracting and repelling, it must be a non-entity; because this is a property that cannot belong to it. Besides, all power is the power of something; and yet if Matter is nothing but this power, it must be the power of nothing; and the very idea of it is a contradiction. If Matter be not solid extension, what can it be more than mere extension?

Farther, Matter that is not solid, is the same with pore; and therefore it cannot possess what philosophers mean by the momentum or force of bodies, which is always in proportion to the quantity of Matter in bodies, void of pore.

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Entry taken from A Mathematical and Philosophical Dictionary, by Charles Hutton, 1796.

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