Controversy over the Existence of the World

Volume II

by Roman Ingarden (Author)
©2016 Monographs 778 Pages


Roman Ingarden (1893–1970), one of Husserl’s closest students and friends, ranks among the most eminent of the first generation of phenomenologists. His magisterial Controversy over the Existence of the World, written during the years of World War II in occupied Poland, consists of a fundamental defense of realism in phenomenology. Volume II, which follows the English translation of Volume I from 2013, provides fundamental analyses in the formal ontology of the world and consciousness as well as final arguments supporting the realist solution. Ingarden’s monumental work proves to be his greatest accomplishment, despite the fact that outside of Poland Ingarden is known rather as a theoretician of literature than an ontologist. The most important achievement of Ingarden’s ontology is an analysis of the modes of being of various types of objects – things, processes, events, purely intentional objects and ideas. The three-volume Controversy is perhaps the last great systematic work in the history of philosophy, and undoubtedly one of the most important works in 20th-century philosophical literature.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright
  • Dedication
  • Table of Contents
  • Part II/1
  • VII. The Problem Pertaining to the Essence of Form and its Foundational Concepts
  • § 34. Distinction of the Foundational Concepts of Form and Matter
  • § 35. Relations among the Various Concepts of Form or Matter. Reduction to a Few Basic Concepts.
  • § 36. The Problem of the Connection between Form and Matter
  • § 37. Form I as Proper Object of Formal Ontology
  • VIII. The Form of the Existentially Autonomous Object
  • § 38. Introductory Remarks
  • § 39. The Basic Form of the Primally Individual, Existentially Autonomous Object
  • § 40. The Constitutive Nature and the Properties of the Individual Object
  • § 41. The Properties of the Individual Object
  • § 42. Restriction of the Concept of Property
  • § 43. Individual Existentially Autonomous Object and the Whole. Higher-Order Individual Objects
  • § 44. The Individual Existentially Autonomous Object and the Material
  • § 45. The Class Conception of the Individual Object and Its Critique
  • IX. The Form of the Purely Intentional Object
  • § 46. The Intentional Act and the Purely Intentional Object
  • § 47. The Form of the Intentional Object that Corresponds to a Straightforward Act of Meaning
  • a) The Two-Sided Formal Structure of the Purely Intentional Object
  • b) Spots of Indeterminacy in the Content [Gehalt] of the Purely Intentional Object
  • § 48. Survey of the Various Concepts of Transcendence
  • I a) Structural Transcendence in the Weaker Form
  • I b) Structural Transcendence in the Stronger Form
  • II. Radical Transcendence
  • III. Transcendence of the Plenitude of Being [des Seinsfülle]
  • IV. Transcendence of Inaccessibility
  • X. The Form of the Idea
  • § 49. Introductory Remarks
  • §50. The Disparity of the Form of the Idea from the Form of the Individual Object
  • § 51. The Relationship of Ideas to Autonomous Individual Objects
  • XI. The Form of the State of Affairs. State of Affairs and Object
  • § 52. The Form of the State of Affairs and Its Relation to the Form of the Object
  • § 53. The ˹Autonomous˺ State of Affairs and the Intentional Correlate of the Sentence.Are there Negative States of Affairs?
  • § 54. The State of Affairs and the Temporally Determined Objects
  • XII. The Form of the Relation. The Relative and Non‐Relative (Absolute) Characteristics of the Individual Object
  • § 55. The Formal Essence of the Relation. The Non-Relational Objects
  • § 56. Various Problems Pertaining to the Relation
  • § 57. Relative and Non-Relative (Absolute) Characteristics (Properties). Various Concepts of Relativity
  • XIII. The Essence of the Existentially Selfsufficient Object
  • § 58. Various Concepts of the Essence of the Individual Object
  • § 59. Problems Associated with the Essence of the Individual Object
  • a) The Essence of the Object and Its Individuality
  • b) The Problem of the Mutability of the Object’s Essence
  • c) Positive Qualities and Performance Capabilities (Capacities) within the Essence of the Object
  • Part II/2
  • XIV. The Problem of the Identity of an Individual Temporally Conditioned Object
  • § 60. Introduction
  • § 61. The Formal Differences and Existential Interconnections between Event, Process, and Object Persisting in Time
  • § 62. Problems Pertaining to the Essence of the Identity of Temporally Determined Objects
  • § 63. The Conditions of Identity for the Object Persisting in Time
  • § 64. The Identity of a Process and the Identity of an Event
  • § 65. The Problem of the Identity of the Purely Intentional Object
  • XV. The Form of an Existential Domain and the Form of the World
  • § 66. Introduction
  • § 67. The Form of the Domain of Being in General and the Formal Problems Associated with It
  • § 68. Various Problems of the Form and Mode of Being of the World (of the Object-Domain)
  • § 69. Some Attempts at a Solution of the Indicated Problems
  • § 70. The Individual Object as Component of the World
  • § 71. The Existential Selfsufficiency of the Object-Domain (of the World)
  • § 72. Various Types of Object-Domains. More about the Selfsufficiency of the Domain
  • § 73. Concerning Domains of Existentially Heteronomous Entities
  • § 74. The Phenomenon of the Intertwining of Two Object-Domains and the Problem of the Existential Selfsufficiency of the Domain
  • § 75. The Formal Problem of the Totality [Allheit] Of What Exists [des Seienden]
  • XVI. The Problem of the Form of Pure Consciousness
  • § 76. Some Remarks concerning Pure Consciousness
  • § 77. The Form of the ˹Pure Experience˺ and the Form of the Stream of ˹Consciousness˺
  • § 78. The Formal Problem of the Existential Selfsufficiency of the Stream of Consciousness
  • § 79. The Connection Between the Controversy over the Existence of the World and the Body-Soul-Problem............................................
  • XVII. Application of the Formal‐Ontological Results to the Problem of the Existence of the World
  • § 80. Summary of the Formal-Ontological Results that Are Significant for the Controversy between Realism and Idealism
  • § 81. Outlook on the Possible Ontological Resolutions of the Controversy over the Existence of the World with the Findings Obtained Taken into Account
  • Index of Names

←18 | 19→

Chapter VII [1]

The Problem Pertaining to the Essence of Form and its Foundational Concepts

§ 34.Distinction of the Foundational Concepts of Form and Matter

˹Our next task is to carry out formal-ontological analyses on the one hand, and material-ontological1 ones on the other, that are connected to our main problem. We begin with the basic conviction that an entity of arbitrary form and material determination cannot exist in an altogether arbitrary manner, but rather that necessary interconnections yet to be discovered obtain between an existent’s mode of being, form, and matter – especially when it comes to the mode of existence of a world; the latter need not necessarily be identical with the mode of being of the individual objects belonging to it, something which until now has been hardly noticed. Our guiding idea here is that differences in form that may eventually be disclosed will lead to differences in mode of being.

Thus far we have been satisfied with a crude separation of formal and material ontology. Husserl’s concept of form has been canonical in phenomenological analyses, but it is not entirely without reproach. If, however, we turn to other authors for a relevant briefing, we encounter an almost unbelievable confusion in concept formation and an incessant commingling of various concepts of form. It is therefore first of all necessary to gain clarity on this point and to strive for an unequivocal characterization of the form-concept, from which an unambiguous determination of the antithesis between form and matter must emerge. This will also eliminate a palpable gap in our previous deliberations. It is not surprising that we do not have an exact definition [Definition]2 of form at our disposal, since [2] it is doubtful that something like the “form” of something lends itself to being defined at all. Nor do we aspire to a definition of form. But that does not mean that we have to be reconciled to a situation in which the concepts of form and matter constantly fluctuate. Here we only undertake the attempt to sort out the various concepts of form that are ordinarily thrown together, and in this way to clarify ←19 | 20→and fix that concept of form which lies at the basis of modern formal-ontological investigations.˺3

To that end, we begin by contrasting various types of questions pertaining to form or matter. What is that: the form of something, and what is that: the matter of something?4 – these are the two correlative questions pertaining to essence5 [essentialen Fragen] that we contrast to the special analytic questions which we shall deal with after having answered the former. The issue in the analytic problems is what simpler moments [Momente]6 can be found in the form of something, and how they structure [aufbauen] this form. At issue here may be the form of some arbitrary something [eines beliebigen Etwas] taken in the broadest sense, or of something specified in a particular manner. In the latter case, it may be a question of, say, the form of a work of art in general, or more specifically, of some wholly determinate individual work of art. Or – in a different case – a question of the form of an individual existentially autonomous object as opposed to the form of a general idea, 7and the like. To both these types of8 questions we still need to contrast the questions pertaining to determination of form9, in which the aim of the inquiry is to determine what comprises the form of some object. We shall not deal here any further with these latter questions, and thus forego developing their more precise sense.

In questions pertaining to the essence of the form and matter of something we are concerned with a strictly ontological problem. Consequently, all metaphysical questions that frequently play into problems pertaining to form are set aside here.

I. The fundamental antithesis between idea and individual object was for the first [3] time made thematic by Plato. To be sure, in itself this antithesis has nothing to do with the one between form and matter. However, as a consequence of employing the concept of so-called Methexis, Plato speaks of the idea as if it were the “form” of the corresponding individual objects. But then Plato sometimes speaks of the ideas themselves – irrespective of their relation to individual objects – as if they were “forms” (Eidos). So when Aristotle declared his opposition to the Platonic dualism ←20 | 21→“idea/ individual object,” but without having fully liberated himself from the Platonic mode of concept formation, he once again stumbled onto a duality in the world of individual objects which he articulated under the aspect of the opposition between form and matter (Morphé and Hyle). Here, only the relation between the two terms of the opposition has changed. From this point of view, the “form” of something is the determining factor of that something, whereas what is subjected to this determination is precisely the “matter.”

Meanwhile, when we try to clarify this concept of “form” a bit more precisely, we run into difficulties that lead us to other concepts of form.10 That is to say, we get a variety of answers to the question of what comprises this form in the concrete case, what therefore is that determining factor in such a case. For example, we have before us a particular smooth, red ball. Everything that is determining moment in it is “form” or belongs to form – depending on whether we regard the individual moments as form, or all of them collectively. Whether we proclaim in favor of the one eventuality or the other has rather a merely terminological significance, even though a substantive problem is bound up with this, and indeed the problem of the essence of something as the problem of its “form.”11 On the other hand, it is now more important for us to relate how this “determining” moment is to be understood. Are we to understand by it e.g. the individually taken red-moment without the “function” of determining (qualifying) that it exercises vis-à-vis the given ball, or does this moment come into consideration precisely as taken in this function? In the [4] first case, “form” would not be the determinant [das Bestimmende] as such of the ball, but only what provides the concrete material for the determinant to perform its function. In the latter case we would have to regard as the form of this ball the determinant as whole, in which therefore the red-moment and its determining function are contained. That it is indeed the “determinant” would first be decided by this remarkable “function” vis-à-vis the object. In particular, the smoothness that accrues to our ball, that “makes” it be smooth, would be the determinant of the ball, hence its “form,” not as smoothness for itself, but rather only in its function of determining – which results from the smoothness’ “accruing” to the ball; as smoothness it is something entirely distinct from redness, whereas in its function of determining the ball it has an essential kinship to the redness that accrues to the same ball. The ←21 | 22→qualitative “material” is different, the “function” of determining exercised by it is the same – at least generally speaking.12

Talking about the “function” of determining or qualifying is in this case strongly exaggerated. It would be more appropriate to speak here of one and the same “form” – in a new sense, of course – in which the various qualitative moments stand. In comparison to such moments as “redness,” “smoothness,” “softness,” “hardness,” “heaviness,” and the like, this form appears to be something thoroughly and radically unqualitative, and indeed in that broad sense in which, say, “bigness” and “smallness” or “quickness” and “slowness” are still “qualities.” The most radical heterogeneity ever possible appears to obtain between this “form” and what “stands” in it, the “matter.”

In this way we would obtain three different concepts of the “form” of something. Each of these concepts was decisive for a different historically familiar standpoint, without at the same time being sharply set apart from the other two and conceptually fixed strictly for itself. And they are:

  1. “Form” as something in the broadest sense purely qualitative for itself, which, in virtue of its occurring in the function of “determining,” of “accruing-to” [Zukommens [5] ] determines an individual something, but which must here be taken without this “function” – and which then is a “prototype” [Urbild] of all things, immersed in itself and existing atemporally without any relation to the things: the Platonic “idea” (ἰδέα)13.14 Assuming that it is separable from the function of determining, it would at the same time be the “pure form” in the Aristotelian sense only when the process of forming the world were fully completed15.16
  2. This same something qualitative in the broadest sense, but this time taken in the “function” of determining, is the concrete “form” of things in the Aristotelian sense that prevails in something individual, which, according to Aristotle, is first supposed to be present at the conclusion of the forming process, and indeed always only as determination of something thing-like; this latter, because the something qualitative is not separable from the function of determining. ←22 | 23→
  3. “Form” as the radically unqualitative, but which, as “form,” necessarily “attaches” to the qualitative when the latter occurs in something concrete, and which embraces the qualitative: the “determining,” the “accruing-to” itself – of whatever modality. That is “form” in the modern formal-ontological sense, which has perhaps first attained its relatively best articulation in Husserl, but which already begins to shine through for Aristotle (later for Kant) in the concept of “category.” However, it is already clear in Aristotle that there are various forms in this sense, each of which must be more closely investigated and which, in the course of attempting to characterize them in greater detail, lead to new concepts of form. We shall return to this later.

In concert with Husserlian terminology we name this “form” – of which “determining” (“accruing-to”) comprises a special case – the “analytic” or categorial form of the object in the sense of formal ontology.

On the other hand, demarcation of space, the spatial shape of a thing, emerges as a special case of “form” in the Aristotelian sense (see 2., above) precisely because the moment of determining, of demarcating, is especially pronounced and is interpreted [6] in the spatial sense. But by acknowledging the possibility (or even the fact) of different kinds of spatial demarcation, we bring out the peculiarly qualitative moment in this kind of form-determination.17 However, the general concept of form in the Aristotelian sense contains no spatial moment.

Just as the concept of form that is comprised of determining, demarcating, accruing-to leads to difficulties, so does the correlative concept of “matter,” as something demarcated, qualified, determined, and these can first be resolved after sorting out the various concepts of “matter.”

If we return to our example of a red, smooth, wooden ball, the question arises as to what precisely “matter” is in this case. What is here “determined,” “qualified,” subjected to qualification by “redness,” “smoothness,” and the like? Is it not this individual ball, which is precisely “red,” “smooth,” etc.? – But this ball is already in itself something qualitatively determined, something fitted out with qualities. It is an individual thing within the scope of which [an dem] precisely “form” and “matter” ought to and can be distinguished. That is the “τόδε τί” in the Aristotelian sense, but not “matter” which does undergo determination, to be sure, but which is not yet in itself anything determined, anything that would display qualification. But, one might perhaps ask, is not the “matter” rather the wood from which our ball was fashioned in virtue of a certain shape, of a “form,” having been conferred upon it? It was initially, as we often say, a “formless” piece of wood, and not until a certain “form” was imposed upon it did it become a wholly determinate, individual “ball.” ←23 | 24→It is the “stuff” [Stoff] (also “raw stuff” [Rohstoff]), the “material” [Material], as we commonly say. Nonetheless, this wood too – as the stuff of something, or as stuff for something – is once again something already in itself determined, displaying qualifications that make it into precisely “wood.” It too is a thing within [an] which “form” and “matter” will have to be differentiated, and to the “form” of which the shape of the ball does not indeed belong, although other qualitative moments do [7] belong to it which together make up “being-wood”. What then is that something which in itself is supposed to be deprived of any qualification and which is only supposed to absorb qualifications into itself, to be subjected to qualification? What is that something completely lacking in qualities, that something radically unqualitative, that could be opposed to what determines it, hence to the “form” in the Aristotelian sense? [Is it] that pure or “first” “ϋλη” in the Aristotelian sense?18

Aristotle would perhaps reply by saying that this pure “matter” does not indeed exist, since it is only a pure possibility. However such an answer is already a particular drawn from the vicissitudes of the metaphysical theory of “matter” that Aristotle had erected: it is no original determination of that concept. But perhaps Aristotle’s objection would be that our question pertaining to what this matter is is senseless in its application to pure, first matter, since it presupposes precisely what is supposed to be denied of matter, given that the word ‘what’ indicates a qualitative determination – which is supposed to be radically absent from pure matter. And to be sure, if a quality19 [Washeit] were meant to be understood by “What,” then we could neither pose our question nor answer it in a positive manner. Yet that only proves that we have to look for the “matter” in some entirely different direction, and indeed not only in opposition to the Aristotelian “form” as the determining moment, but also in opposition to the “determining” as a form in the formal-ontological sense. But then by “pure matter” can be understood a wholly peculiar “form” in the ˹analytic˺20 sense of formal ontology, hence that pure “something capable of receiving determinations,” the pure “subject of determinations” (especially, of “properties”).21 “Matter” in this sense is a necessary concept-correlate to the concept of “determining” (of “accruing-to”).

We therefore once again obtain three different concepts of “matter”:

  1. “Matter” in the sense of an individual thing itself, which as whole is being set over against its individual properties. The concept of “matter” so understood is the correlate to the concept of “form” as a pure (idea-like [ideellen]) Washeit. ←24 | 25→“Form” is then the “prototype” (idea) – taken in the Platonic sense – of a thing; [8] “matter,” on the other hand, is the “copy” [Abbild] of this prototype: an individual thing.
  2. “Matter” in the sense of “stuff ( of “raw stuff”), of the “material” out of which something individual is “fashioned.”
  3. “Matter” in the sense of a special ˹formal-ontological˺22 form, namely as “subject of determinations”23.24 This subject comprises a correlative form that belongs necessarily to the form of property, of determination, which [subject] together with the latter makes up the fundamental formal structure of any object whatsoever.

Not all that simple and transparent is the relation between “matter” in the sense of stuff and the Aristotelian “form.” The concept of “material” is too vague to enable us to get an unequivocal grasp on this relation. “Matter225 in the sense of “raw stuff” only belongs in the currently examined group of concepts – delimited by the concept-pair “determining/determined” – because it can be set in relation to the determining form. An individual thing, e.g. a piece of wood, that is taken as “material” (as stuff for something)26 is not at first apprehended in its full complement of determinations, but rather only in a selection of qualifications, and indeed of those qualifications that constitute it, say, as “wood” (in some other case as “stone,” as “iron”), hence as something that abides inalterably through a variety of transformations. The rest of the thing’s actually present determinations are treated as so-to-speak27 irrelevant, as provisional – and to that extent as in a certain way non-existent. But secondly, “stuff” is conceived as a something that, initially left indeterminate in some respect, is supposed to be determined further or in greater detail, and is precisely for this reason receptive to this further determination. In contrast to this yet to be appended determination, which is supposed to be the outcome of a (normally subsequent) “elaboration” and which is put forth as “form,” the “stuff” is conceived as “mere raw stuff.” One could perhaps also say that in this case just two different “forms” in the Aristotelian sense are contraposed and brought into a special relation to each other, in which the first term of the relation makes up the “form” as basis28 for further determination, whereas the second makes up a29 “form” that augments that first, and not only ˹fully determines the given thing˺30 [9] ←25 | 26→but at the same time confers on it a new essence. And since the first is what underlies the closer determination and the second is the determinant, the first is conceived as “matter” and the second as “form.”31 To be sure, an entirely new concept of “form” emerges therewith which consists of a special case of form in the Aristotelian sense and is equivalent to his τί εῖναι32. We shall deal with this later (Cf. Ch. VIII: “The Form of the Existentially Autonomous Individual Object”).33

As we can see, the concepts “form” and “matter” are in this case relativized. Regardless of whether what serves as basis for further determination vis-à-vis something else is itself already determined (hence “formed”) in some way or other, as soon as it serves as a basis for such a something else – it counts as “matter”34 vis-à-vis the latter. So e.g. a color can be more closely determined by a spatial shape – with respect to the latter it is “matter,” the respective spatial shape on the other hand is the “form”35. From another perspective, the color itself can be regarded as form vis-à-vis a piece of wood that it determines more closely, whereas the piece of wood occurs as “matter” in this relation. No objection can be raised against such a relativization. However, this relative concept of “matter” cannot be absolutized and taken in the sense of a matter that for itself does not require any other entity as its own basis of determination, and therefore be understood in the sense of an “absolute36 matter.

But it will turn out in the sequel that the antithesis: material (raw stuff)/form is determined by a different basic concept of “form” than the one that has been decisive for our considerations thus far.

Conversely, however, if we look for a radical antithesis to the concept of “form” in the Aristotelian sense, it turns out that we are hard pressed to find one – lest it be an empty form in the sense of a special analytic form of formal ontology. In other words, there is no concrete (hence ipso facto formed) something that would in itself not be formed at all in the Aristotelian sense. If we insist ˹on it˺37 and assign to it various special functions in the realm of actuality – as the Aristotelian metaphysics [10] does – then we are dealing with38 an inner contradiction that can only entangle us in irresolvable difficulties. When the English39 contested so-called “substance” as a “substrate” wholly devoid of qualities and yet concrete, they were entirely correct ←26 | 27→that something of that sort does not exist in concreto. In this way, they have at bottom done nothing other than expose the existence of the contradiction just indicated. They were in the wrong, however, when they also believed to have thereby demonstrated the illegitimacy of the concept of “matter3 ” in the sense of some special analytic form. Of course, in order to recognize this we have to differentiate the concepts of form and matter that are ordinarily confounded.

In conjunction with this,40 we also cannot say – as Aristotle has41 frequently enough done – that the individual concrete object (and the material thing, in particular) is composed “out of” form and matter. Namely, on the one hand, talk of composing is only appropriate where the ˹elements going into the composition˺42 are, from the categorial standpoint, entities [Gebilde] that are of the same kind, which is to say – separate or at least separable parts (“pieces” [or “fragments”] in the Husserlian sense43). A watch e.g. is composed of many small wheels, the spring, the casing, the face, the hands, etc. But it is not composed out of ˹“form” and “content”˺44 in any of the senses discussed thus far. On the other hand, it is impossible to find a counterpart to the Aristotelian “form” together with which the concrete thing would fashion a whole, were it not to be the analytic form of “subject of properties.” But nothing can be “composed” even “out of” this kind of form.

It would of course be possible to find some other opposite to form in the Aristotelian sense, an opposite that – as the determined (that which undergirds [Unterliegende] the determination) – could be set as “matter” over against that which determines; this, however, only under the condition that one simultaneously restricts the concept of form in an essential way, and understands by it only those forms that are property of something (the “ποῖον εῖναι” in the Aristotelian sense). Then the subject of properties – already determined in its nature (its τί) by some special quality – can [serve] as “matter” (as that which undergirds the determination); hence, in the special case: the “ball,” solely in the sense of that which is determined in its nature by “sphericality,” and in this determination as “ball” serves as “subject,” as [11] ˹“bearer,”˺45 for the collective ensemble of its46 properties. Therefore at first glance this47 appears to be nothing other than a rift within the realm of the Aristotelian concept of form, which amounts to the distinction between the “τί εῖναι” and the “ποῖον εῖναι.” But that is not in fact the case after all, since what is here understood by “matter” is not the “τί εῖναι” as the specific qualitative moment of the nature in the function of constituting an object, but rather that which is constituted by means ←27 | 28→of that nature. In order to grasp correctly the concept of “matter” that comes into play here, “form,” taken in the formal-ontological sense as subject of determinations, must be so-to-speak “filled-out” by a specific nature, and the “matter” that “arises” in this manner must be taken under the aspect of this form and set over against the properties that accrue to ˹it, that determine it in greater detail˺48.49 At any rate, it is something that already has within itself a special form in the Aristotelian sense, hence is no “pure” matter in the sense of something devoid of any determination; this “pure,” “first” matter is ˹just an embarassing Aristotelian concept˺50 whose correlative object [gegenständliche Korrelat] in the truest sense of the word does not exist51, as Aristotle rightly claims52 ˹, a correlate which – and this contrary to Aristotle – is not even possible.˺53

II. Among the concepts of form distinguished thus far we have found one that can be brought into close relation with the analytic (categorial) “form” as understood in today’s formal ontology à la Husserl. That is to say, “form3 ” is a special case of the analytic form of the individual object, whereas “matter3 ” is a different case of that same form. Of course, there are not only other moments of this form, but even other variants of it. And we are now keen on finding a general concept which embraces all these cases and at the same time has a counterpart in a new concept of “matter.” This latter can be achieved by starting from what we have above called “form2 ,” hence – “form in the Aristotelian sense.” That is to say, we have distinguished in the “determinant” the qualitative moment of a Washeit on the one hand, and the ˹form˺54 of “accruing-to,” of “determining” on the other. This qualitative moment [12] we now call “matter” (“content”) in the formal-ontological sense. It is – considered for itself, but in concreto! – an abstract moment within the whole that we have termed “form” in the Aristotelian sense, just as the other, radically unqualitative moment of “determining” (of “accruing-to”) makes up a different abstract moment of this same whole. “Abstract” means here: distinguishable, to be sure, but in virtue of its essence – inseparable. If we contemplate both these moments in their relation to each other we cannot say that what we are here calling “form” can in any sense “determine”55 “matter.”56 For this reason they cannot be conceived as correlates ←28 | 29→under the previously pivotal antithesis “that which determines/ that which undergirds the determination.” Only because redness or smoothness stands in form3 of determining, do both57 taken together determine a thing, say, a ball, but redness itself is not determined by the determining. And analogously: only because a thing (a ball) contains within itself the form “subject of determinations” (of properties, in particular) is it receptive to qualifications and together with them makes up a unity as object [gegenständliche Einheit], but it is not in any way “determined,” “endowed with properties” [beeigenschaftet] by the form “subject of properties” itself58. To put it another way: it is absurd to conceive “form” in the analytic-categorial sense as a “property” of the property or of the thing, and leads to an infinite regress or to antinomy. But neither is it any property of the object whose form it would be. This is perhaps the correct – though at bottom unspoken – seminal thought that lies concealed behind Russell’s theory of types.

But then how do we positively characterize the new pair of concepts “form” and “matter,” and the relation between them? We find no better answer than to say that matter is the qualitative in the broadest sense, which in virtue of its essence can exist in no other way than to stand in some well-defined manner in a form – as the radically unqualitative.59 Crucial in this connection is the insight that neither of these concepts can be analyzed any further, and that neither can the relation between form and matter be conceptually determined in greater detail – insofar [13] as in both cases we are dealing with what is most general. For surely special forms and special matters [Materien], along with their ordered correlation as dictated by essence, can be differentiated in isolated typical cases, and even be directly apprehended by means of the analytic phenomenological method. But in what is most general about form and matter in the analytically formal sense of formal ontology, we encounter something ultimate [Letztes], something primal [Ursprüngliches], that is not conceptually definable any further, even though it can be discerned in some special cases as non-selfsufficient moment. 60Precisely because this is the case shows best that we are dealing here with a truly ultimate distinction in ˹what exists [Seiendem61 in general, and correlatively with the truly “first” concepts of form and matter, which can indeed be used for the definition of other formal-ontological concepts, as well as for defining other con←29 | 30→cepts of form and matter, but which in themselves are simply indefinable. This of course does not mean, as skeptically-positivist relativism would have it, that these primitive [ursprüngliche] concepts arise from an arbitrary convention or that – without any recourse to the intuition of essence – they can be acquired from **certain axioms, as [from]62 a form of implicit˺63 definition. It would take us too far afield to confront both of these conceptions at this point. In opposition to them, we simply wish to stress here that only by recourse to the direct intuition of essence is it possible to meaningfully mold the primal, general concepts of form and matter in the sense of formal ontology, or to draw the simple content of these concepts out of what this intuition ultimately offers [den letzten Gegebenheiten dieser Anschauung]. Another device – but indirect, and not sufficient onto itself – for establishing these concepts consists in contrasting them with other frequently employed concepts of form and **content˺64 that no longer display this primacy, and are thereby more amenable to being defined or determined. This is precisely the path we have traversed in our deliberations65.

III. A different conception of “form” and of “content” (“matter”) stands closely related to the “class” conception of the object66, which since Hobbes67 is characteristic of every sensualism, sensualist empiricism, or positivism. According to this conception

[14] the object is identified with a set (class) of elements (parts). These “parts” then comprise the “content” (the “matter”) – the relations among them, in contrast, the “form” of the object so conceived.68 Obviously parts (elements) – which stand in this or that relation amongst themselves and on the selection of which, among other things, also depends the “form” of the whole constructed out of them – can also be “formed” in the sense here under consideration if they themselves consist of further parts that are ordered in one way or another. Here therefore the form is relative to the parts of a whole, or to put it differently: to the corresponding “content.” When the same ←30 | 31→whole is broken down into differing sets of parts – once one way, another time a different way – we get each time a different form, but also a different content, of the whole. But generally the form (in this sense) is not unequivocally determined by the “content” despite its relativity69. This means that for the same set of parts various forms are still possible (e.g. different spatial arrangements of a set of bricks lead to a house in the one case, to a rubble of bricks in another). What possible arrangements are available, and how numerous they are, depends on the selection of parts and on their properties – and is predetermined by them. A limiting case that results in this context is the possibility that for a given selection of parts, only one matrix of relations [Bestand an Beziehungen] obtains among them: the “form” is then singularly determined by the “content.”

Moreover, we have before us in such an event a hierarchy of forms or contents (matters), depending on which level [Stufe] of parts and which level of wholes are taken under consideration. A whole is composed of parts belonging to various levels. Thus an army e.g. breaks up into divisions, all of them of equal rank even though of different kinds – depending on the types of weaponry that characterize the particular divisions. As divisions they are once again composed of individual “units,” and these are indeed differently organized – depending on their weaponry and the purpose they are supposed to fulfill within the framework of the division, but as “immediate” parts of the division they are all directly subordinate to the [15] division or to the division commanders, etc. On each level of organization we have different “units,” i.e. different parts of the immediately correlative whole, as well as different relations among them, which [“units”]70 are on the one hand of the same order, and on the other of different orders [übergeordnet], in accordance with strictly established and (in this case) purposive rules. Once the hierarchy among the “units” (parts) or the relations between them is disrupted, everything falls into “disorder”: the structure of the army as an army is ruined; not only can it not fulfill the purpose assigned to it, but – which here, from the standpoint of formal analysis, is of greater interest to us – it often ceases to be an “army” as a result, and is transformed into an “agglomeration” of haphazardly assembled human beings, beasts, and equipment. Of course, this “agglomeration” also has its parts and exhibits relations amongst them, but the order and hierarchy of relations that is characteristic of an army no longer exists.

Whether this hierarchy of forms is always so-to-speak delimited “from below,” or can be delimited at all, depends on whether there are or can be “ultimate,” absolutely simple parts (ultimate elements), or not. In the first case it would have to be conceded that there are parts which, considered in themselves and each for itself, would no longer be formed in the sense now being considered. Moreover, these elements – considered in and for themselves – would also no longer have any “content.” For, a whole has a “content” only insofar as it is or can be dissociated into a ←31 | 32→set of parts. On the other hand, these ultimate elements would comprise a content for a higher-order whole constructed from them. They would of course also always have a “content” (“matter”) and “form” in the analytic-formal sense – and in the Aristotelian sense as well.

Understandably enough, the correlative question also arises as to whether the hierarchy of parts or relations (forms) can be, or always is, delimited “from above.” This is once again equivalent to the question concerning whether there are “ultimate” wholes that no longer need to be parts of a still higher whole, or whether, conversely, there are such wholes which in accordance with their essential structure (form) can no longer be integrated into another whole.

But these and other such questions, as well as the contrast achieved here between “form” and “matter,” all display the same defect – namely, insofar as they [16] employ the concepts “part” and “whole,” which are not yet sufficiently clarified – as important and foundational as the investigations devoted to them in recent decades have been.71 A crucial role is played here by both the problem of the so-called “selfsufficient” and “non-selfsufficient” parts72 and that of the disparity that may obtain between effective [effektiven]73 and possible74 parts. On the other hand, the concept of “whole” also calls for a vital clarification, since its content dictates in the particular case what belongs to some specific whole by way of parts. Thus it is also decisive for the “form” that is supposed to be determined in the specific case. What is particularly at issue here is the question pertaining to the possibility and the essence of selfsufficient, internally cohesive wholes, in contrast to wholes which in their delimitation, and therewith also in their existence, are relative to subjective operations that ˹apprehend˺75 them – precisely because they have no internal cohesion. In the first case we are dealing with a whole whose parts are in accordance with their essence such as to “belong together,” because they are bonded, knotted, with each other and consequently to some degree cease to be effective parts: the corresponding whole is in this case grounded in the connectivity [Verbundenheit] of the parts, and the bounds of that whole are determined by their interconnection [Zusammenhang]. An organism or a crystal can serve as examples of this kind of whole. What can realiter be a sufficient condition for such a connectivity among the parts, and what influence does this connectivity have on the form of the latter in the analytic-formal sense? – These are both problems that await a solution. In the ←32 | 33→second case, on the other hand, there is no76 interconnection between the parts or at least none that would be a sufficient condition for their coexistence and for their belonging together. There is then a need for an external factor, a subjective one in particular, which by means of a fortuitous decision leads to the constituting of the respective whole. When, for what kinds of parts, do we get a whole that is devoid of internal cohesion and is existentially dependent, and possibly even heteronomous77? Is, for example, a class of objects that is constituted in virtue of their being of the same kind, or having some sort of kinship, a whole of the first or of the second type? [17] Surely the “parts” – meaning in this case the elements of a class – are not bonded with each other. But does it rest on a merely subjective decision that in this case precisely these and not some other individuals comprise the elements of the given class? Is this not grounded purely objectively in the kinds of moments that accrue to these elements?78 ˹– And yet˺79 there is a crucial difference between such a class and an organism. Of course, in both types of wholes no less their form than their “content” would have to be of a different kind in order to enable the one case or the other to materialize. In the first case we could speak of an “inner,” “organic” form as distinguished from an “accidental,” “non-organic” form. But these remain just empty words if we are unable to provide the essential difference between the two types of form just adduced. Besides, in the first case we often simply speak of “form,” whereas in the case of “non-organic” form we speak rather of “formlessness” [Formlosigkeit]. If this80 were justified, we would thereby have acquired an entirely new concept of “form,” previously not clarified and often confused with other such concepts. But the fact that various conceptions of whole or object are indistinguishably conflated contributes further to magnifying the conceptual confusion. Since every object in the sense of a subject of properties comprises along with its properties an internally cohesive whole, we feel justified in conceiving the object in the sense of a whole consisting of parts, and then inconspicuously shift into identifying the part of a whole with the property of an object. Consequently, the form/content antithesis being examined here is not distinguished from the formal-ontological opposition of form and matter. The Aristotelian concept of form also plays a role in all of this, and only exacerbates the confusion. In order to keep these various oppositions apart, not only substantively but also terminologically, in cases where relations between the parts of a whole are involved we wish to speak of the “ordering” of the parts in a ←33 | 34→whole instead of “form,” whereas instead of the term ‘content’ [we wish] to employ [18] the expression ‘assortment of parts’ in a whole. –

IV. A completely different pair of concepts “form” and “content” is bound up with the distinction between the What [Was] (e.g. exists) and the How [Wie] (e.g. something is given). In this context, the “What” is supposed to be content, and the “How” – form. At first it appears to be easy to give a suitable example for this opposition. But it soon turns out that it is not so, since the distinction between the What and the How is unclear and ambiguous. In particular, it is first of all not clear what is to be understood by the “What.” From the various deliberations by those researchers who attempted to oppose the concepts “form” and “matter” along this path, we can guess that by “What” they most frequently understood simply an object – a thing, in particular. So, for example, to the question “What stands in the garden in front of the house?,” we answer “A fir,” but just as well “a human being” or more precisely “Frank” (although in this case one would have asked “who” rather than “what,” but a human being is also a “something”). But the “What” can with equal right designate an event, a state, a process (e.g. “What happened yesterday afternoon?” – “A storm passed through.” – “What is disturbing your work?” – “A toothache,” and the like). Yet frequently the word ‘what’ does not designate any object, of whatever categorial variety, but rather only points out something in the object that plays an especially important role in it, namely, makes it into an object of a special kind (irrespective of whether the so-called lowest [difference] or some higher species or genus is involved), or even constitutes the object into a wholly specific individual. Elsewhere I have named this moment that constitutes the object in its typicality [Artmäßigkeit] or individuality the object’s “nature” [Natur] (and in particular, its individual nature) (the τί εῖναι in the Aristotelian sense).81 Surely it is not this moment for itself, but the object constituted by the respective nature that is designated by the name with which we respond to the question: “What is this?” We see a tree in the botanical garden, for instance, and ask the gardener what it is. We receive the answer, say, that it is a Japanese oak. But in designating the given tree itself by this means we implicite disclose what it is that interested us about it: the species to which it belongs, or the moment of its nature. This becomes clear where we contrast the object’s “What” with its ˹How-determinateness [Wie-bestimmtheit82. For example, after [19] having learned that we are dealing with a Japanese oak, we proceed to ask how it is qualitatively endowed, what special properties it possesses in distinction to, say, the European oak, and the like. In this case, therefore, in setting the What in opposition to the How, it is a question of the opposition between two different “forms” in the Aristotelian sense, as they were once in fact distinguished: between the so-called “substantial” [substantiellen] and the “accidental” [akzidentiellen] form of the given object (hence, between the “τί εῖναι” and the “ποῖον εῖναι” in the Aristotelian sense); and indeed it is a question of “forms” that in the sense of modern formal ontology ←34 | 35→have a different “matter” (different purely qualitative moments) on the one hand, but on the other also a fundamentally different categorial form – which is to say, the determining of the subject of properties itself and therewith the constituting of the given object by means of the “What” (the nature) on the one hand, and on the other the accruing of the property to an object that has already been determined by its nature. But with that “What” we usually rather have in mind the qualitative moment of the thing’s nature, and not the thing’s categorial form. This becomes apparent when we compare two things with respect to their different “kind,” so that the emphasis rests on the qualitative difference in kind.

The “content” can therefore designate three different things when we set the What in opposition to the How:

  1. an individual object, of whatever categorial variety;
  2. the constitutive nature of an object (of a thing, in particular) taken in its [nature’s] categorial form;
  3. the bare qualitative moment of the nature of an object (or even one of the object’s constitutive properties).

Ordinarily, however, this is all regarded without distinction as one.

Perhaps an even greater ambiguity attaches to the “How,” depending in part on which meaning of the “What” the “How” is being opposed to. If the “How” is opposed to the “What” in the first of the significations just distinguished, then at issue in it is either a) the mode of existence of an object (e.g. the real, phenomenal, ideal, etc., mode of being), or b) the mode in which an object is given to us epistemically [20] [erkenntnismäßig] (e.g. perceptually, imaginatively, conceptually, and the like), or finally c) the manner in which an object is presented [dargestellt]. In the last case, a thing, for example, can attain presentation in a system of visual appearances (or “aspects”) or by means of an assortment of signs, or perhaps through a set of states of affairs – as is the case, for instance, in the literary work of art. In each of these cases the “What” is the same, or at least is supposed to be; on the other hand, the “How” is completely different.

To the “What” (content) in the sense of a thing’s constitutive nature can be opposed as its “How” its constitutive role in the object (its “form” in the formal-ontological sense), etc.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (February)
Phenomenology Continental philosophy Realism Ontology
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2016. 775 pp.

Biographical notes

Roman Ingarden (Author)

Roman Ingarden (1893–1970) was an outstanding Polish philosopher, student of Husserl in Göttingen, and professor at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow from 1946. Ingarden was the author of numerous works in aesthetics and theory of literature; however, his major contribution to philosophy is the ontological treatise Controversy over the Existence of the World.


Title: Controversy over the Existence of the World
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