Willand Van Orman Quine once said that the basic question of metaphysics can be put in three Anglo-Saxon monosyllables: ‘What is there?’ One very popular answer is ‘matter’. I am sceptical of this answer. In this post I want to trace the history of the concept of matter, and try to show it’s shortcomings. Around the 15th and 16th centuries, there emerged a concept of matter, about which we could say the following:
1) It’s essential nature is spatial – it occupies space, excludes other things from that space, and has no other defining characteristics. All material things have the exact same essence;
2) It interacts only through direct physical contact;
3) It’s nature can be knowna priori by “intellectual perception” or “intellectual intuition”;
4) It has no trace of consciousness to it.