The usual understanding of material causality that is offered in advaitin commentary and explication is one that I have questioned in the past. In summary it takes the form - in all the objects made of clay only the clay is real the names of the artefacts are merely names of clay. To put it in Aristotelian terms the substantial reality is clay and the objects that are made of it accidental modifications. My objection was that clay is always instantiated in some form or other, there is no ‘pure’ clay.
Sri SSS in The Method of Vedanta (pg.292/3) writing of the view of Mandana Misra (Sureshvara?) in his work Brahma Siddhi :
The method of false attribution followed by subsequent retraction (adhyaropa-apavada) is also accepted. On this we have the following texts.
(Mandana Misra's view):
A thing can be described in words even when it is not known through any other means of knowledge apart from speech, and when there is no prior knowledge of of its connection with its name......
What is without particulars can be known through revelation. It is highlighted through the very negation of particulars. It is like the essence of gold. The essence of gold is never perceived unconcealed by some particular form, (my italics) whether it be a natural lump or a fashioned artefact like a necklace. And these latter are not the essence of gold. For when any of these forms are lost, the gold persists in another. But the entity that cannot be distinguished in perception from the particular form concealing it can be known mentally through the negation of the particulars and communicated to others. This method of communication is exemplified in the Veda in the text ‘This Self is expressed as “neither this not that”’. And it has been said by one of another school, ‘ When all universals have been eliminated , what remains over is the real’. (Bhartrhari, Vakya Padiya III.ii.21). Others again have said, ‘That which has no plurality is communicated through attribution followed by retraction’. (B. Siddhi p.26)
((Sri SSS adds a significant note))
It should be noted that there is here a certain difference from the doctrine of false attribution followed by later retraction taught by Bhagavatpada Sankara in that it is not taught that the attributions are false.
To put it another way, the concept ‘gold’ can be had without reference to anything given in sense perception. This incidentally is the position of Peter Geach in his classic Mental Acts. The notion of ‘false attribution’ cautioned against in Sri SSS’s note is the one generally offered and it seems to lead to there being a ‘real’ physical, actual clay that has no particular form.