2017 | 6 | 3 | 451-483
Article title

Substance and Dynamics: Two Elements of Aristotelian-Thomistic Philosophy of Nature in the Foundation of Mathematics in Physics

Title variants
Languages of publication
The article aims at proposing a way of solution to the problem why mathematics is efficient in physics. Its strategy consists in, first, identifying servere reductionisms performed on physical processes in order to have them correspond to mathematics. As this makes it impossible to understand the real relationship between matter and mathematics, a necessary step on the way to an understanding is to abandon the reductionisms from the very outset. Consequently, one is faced with the need of searching for mathematical elements in nature, as if there never had been any successful mathematics in physics. And for this search, one has to rely on experience alone. To this end, the article takes its inspiration from two pillars of Aristotelian philosophy of nature, the notions of ‘substance’ and ‘dynamics’, together with a careful examination of the treasure of accumulated experience in physics. Upon this basis, the hylomorphic structure of elementary particles, which are considered to be at the basis of all material substances, is the source for the most common features of the dynamical order of material things in general. This dynamical order, in turn, is quite likely to be reflected in mathematical terms. This is a novel approach because, at present, the most common framework for dealing with the question of mathematics in physics is Scientific Realism. It addresses the question why the existent physico-mathematical theories are successful. In order to find an answer, it starts from these theories and some methodological considerations, but does not address the question of where these theories stem from. In particular, it does not consider the possibility that these theories might, at least in part, stem from the material things they are referring to. The latter approach is what is suggested here. It is that of Natural Realism, of which Aristotle is an eminent representative.
Physical description
  • Bacon, Francis. The Works of Francis Bacon. Ed. Spedding, Ellis and Heath. Vol. III. London: Longmans and Co., 1858.
  • Busch, Paul, Pekka J. Lahti, Peter Mittelstaedt. The Quantum Theory of Measurement. Berlin-Heidelberg-New York: Springer, 1996. Reprint 2013.
  • Cohen, Bernard. The Newtonian Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
  • Dijksterhuis, Eduard Jan. Die Mechanisierung des Weltbildes. Berlin-Heidelberg-New York: Springer, 1956. Reprint 2002. Dutch original 1950.
  • Dijksterhuis, Eduard Jan. The Mechanization of the World Picture. Pythagoras to Newton. Princeton University Press, 1986.
  • Dummett, Michael. The Interpretation of Frege’s Philosophy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981.
  • Gloy, Karen. Von der Weisheit zur Wissenschaft. Freiburg i.Br.: Karl Alber Verlag, 2007.
  • Gondek, Paweł, “The Place of Philosophy in the Contemporary Paradigm for the Practice of Science.” Studia Gilsoniana 3 (2014): 85–96.
  • Inciarte, Fernando. Forma formarum. Strukturmomente der thomistischen Seinslehre im Rückgriff auf Aristoteles. Freiburg/München: Karl Alber Verlag, 1970.
  • Jammer, Max. Concepts of Space. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993. 3rd edition.
  • Koyré, Alexandre. From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1957.
  • Koyré, Alexandre. Newtonian Studies. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965.
  • Koyré, Alexandre. “Galileo and the Scientific Revolution of the Seventeenth Century.” Philosophical Review 52 (1943): 333–346.
  • v. Weizsäcker, Carl Friedrich. Aufbau der Physik. München: Hanser, 1985.
  • Wippel, John F. “Thomas Aquinas and the Unity of Substantial Form.” In Philosophy and Theology in the Long Middle Ages. A Tribute to Stephen F. Brown. Ed. Kent Emery Jr., Russell L. Friedman and Andreas Speer. Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2011, 117–154.
  • Wußing, Hans. Die Große Erneuerung: Zur Geschichte der wissenschaftlichen Revolution. Springer Basel AG, 2002.
  • Aquinas, Thomas. Commentaria in octo libros Physicorum Aristotelis. Available at:, accessed on: Feb 3, 2017.
  • Aristotle. Physics. Available at:, accessed on: Feb 3, 2017.
  • Descartes, René. Discours de la Méthode pour bien conduire sa raison et chercher la vérité dans les sciences. English edition online. Ed. Jonathan Bennett. Available at:, accessed on: Feb 3, 2017.
  • Goyette, John. “St. Thomas on the Unity of Substantial Form.” Nova et Vetera 7:4 (2009): 781–790. Available at: files/goyette1.pdf, accessed on: Feb 3, 2017.
Document Type
Publication order reference
YADDA identifier
JavaScript is turned off in your web browser. Turn it on to take full advantage of this site, then refresh the page.