Form (philosophy)

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Form ( Latin forma , "shape, figure") is a basic philosophical term and represents a translation of the Greek expressions eidos or morphe . The concept of form played an important role as an antidote to " matter " (Greek hyle ) the philosophy of hylemorphism , where “form” and “matter” were designated as principles of beings.


The transition from the general to the philosophical use of the concept of form can be found in Plato's early dialogue Euthyphron . There Socrates asks about the “form ( eidos ) through which the pious is pious” (6d10). All actions of which the predicate “pious” is predicated must have a common form. The late dialogues Sophistes and Politikos ask about the one gestalt ( idea ) or form ( eidos ) that connects different individuals to form the unity of a class ( Politikos 258c3-8).

For Aristotle, form as an ontological concept is one of the causes of becoming. First of all, he distinguishes between matter and form in things man-made. From a material available as matter, man forms the “cultural things”, for example a house made of stones or a statue made of ore. In contrast to matter, the determinable “potency”, the form is what the resulting whole ( synholon ) in its peculiarity as a house determined ("actuated"). Both the “kind” and the essence ( to ti en einai , “ essence was ”) are designated by Aristotle with the same word ( eidos ) as the form. For Aristotle, the definition of a term also relates to the form .

From the works of human artistry, Aristotle transfers the matter-form structure to the substances, bodies and living beings created by natural processes. From the first matter , which is still without form, the four earthly elements (fire, air, water, earth) arise through the alternation of the tactile qualities connected in pairs (warm-dry, warm-humid, cold-humid, cold-dry ). Mixing the elements creates the mixed bodies ( mikta ). The first matter represents the basic material for all forms of the body, but is not directly the suitable material ( oikeia hyle ) for the absorption of any arbitrary form. Rather, there is a hierarchy of materials and shapes, so that a material that has already been somehow formed is itself material for another form.

Aristotle also transfers the matter-form scheme to the body-soul relationship . Body and soul are understood as complementary matter and form and not as two independent, completely heterogeneous substances. In Aristotle's conception, the soul is the realization of a body equipped with corresponding organs ( De anima B II, 412b 5f).

middle Ages

In the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas , form and matter belong only to natural and compound substances. Different from them are the simple and immaterial substances, such as angels and heavenly bodies, which as pure and higher forms do not subsist in another, matter, but in themselves ( formae in se subsistentes ).

In his early writing De ente et essentia , the “form” appears in two different meanings: as another name for the essence or the “ essence was ” ( quod quid erat esse , to ti en einai ) and as part of the essence of the body. The form as the whole being encompasses the form (as a part) and matter in corporeal beings - according to the determinations common to all individuals of the same kind. For since the essence is “what is expressed by the definition”, but the definition is always only possible of the general, the essence or the “whatness” is a general. According to Thomas, the individual form presupposes the “designated matter” ( materia quantitate signata ) through which it is individuated . While for Thomas the substantial form is simply being, the accidental form only confers an additional " sosein " ( esse tale ) - such as warmth. The form stands in an act-power relationship to matter. Analogously, being is related to essence, which is why Thomas calls being "the most form-like" (maximum formal ).

In contrast to Thomas, for Johannes Duns Scotus it is not matter, but form, that is the principle of individuation with regard to the individual thing. The “thisness” ( haecceitas ) of a thing is the ultimate and highest form.

Renaissance and modern times

During the Renaissance , philosophy was separated from the form-matter-thinking. For Giordano Bruno, only matter has reality; since forms have no being without matter, matter must be recognized as the “only substantial principle”, while form is only different determinations of matter. Bruno calls matter “the omnipresent God”. For Francis Bacon , the forms are no longer the essential substance of things, but the qualities of nature that are recognized through inductive research. With his doctrine of two substances, Descartes finally breaks with the form-matter philosophy. The only attributes of the body for him are expansion and movement. The assumption of simple, unexpanded forms is for him an anthropomorphic-animistic interpretation of nature.

For his investigation of human cognitive faculties , Kant takes up the conceptual pair form and matter again - which for him are no longer principles of beings, but concepts of reflection. For him, experience contains "two very dissimilar elements", "namely a matter for knowledge from the senses, and a certain form of ordering it, from the inner source of pure contemplation and thinking" ( KrV , A 86 / B 118) .

In Hegel's Science of Logic , too , form and matter are mutually presupposing determinations of reflection.


  • Claus von Bormann, Winfried Franzen , Albert Krapiec, Ludger Oeing-Hanhoff : Form and matter (substance) in HWPh vol. 2
  • Fernando Inciarte, Michael-Thomas Liske : Article Materia et Forma in: TRE
  • Alexander von Pechmann: Form / Materie in: Hans Jörg Sandkühler (Hrsg.): Enzyklopädie Philosophie , Vol. 1, Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg 1999
  • Ernst Tugendhat : Tí kata tinós. An investigation into the structure and origin of Aristotelian basic concepts , Freiburg i. Br. / Munich: Alber, 1958, 5th edition with a new afterword and appendix 2003 (Symposion 2). ISBN 3-495-48080-3
  • Josef de Vries : Article form in: Basic concepts of scholasticism , Wiss. Buchgesellschaft, Darmstadt 3rd edition 1980
  • Reiner Wiehl : Article form in: Hermann Krings ( inter alia): Handbuch philosophischer Grundbegriffe , Vol. 2, Munich 1973, pp. 442–457.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Thomas Aquinas: De ente et essentia , chapter 1
  2. Thomas Aquinas: De ente et essentia , chapter 2
  3. Cf. Thomas Aquinas: Summa theologiae 1 q. 7 a. 1
  4. ^ Giordano Bruno: De la causa, principio e uno , trans. v. A. Lasson, ed. v. PR Blum, Hamburg 1977, p. 60
  5. ^ Giordano Bruno: De la causa, principio e uno , p. 61