Aristotle defines metaphysics as the study of being as being. Although there has been considerable subsequent disagreement about the meaning of this definition, and even more disagreement about what the subject matter of metaphysics really is, most philosophers would agree that metaphysicians are interested in something very basic; as a contemporary metaphysician puts it, “Metaphysics, at the bottom, is about the fundamental structure of reality” (Sider 2011, p. 1). This term we look at one particular answer to this question, namely that things in the world, ultimately, consist of prime matter, substantial form(s), and some accidents – in other words, they are hylomorphic composites. While the main claims of this theory are decently clear, its details are murky. What do we mean by ‘matter’, exactly? How many substantial forms are there in a thing? What ontological status do accidents have, on this picture? How does it all apply to human beings? We will look at these and similar questions especially as they arose for the most elaborate Aristotelian accounts, that is, those developed in the Middle Ages, while also considering criticisms of the theory and some contemporary issues.
2022 Spring syllabus; course site
2019 Spring syllabus
2018 Spring syllabus
Assignments, 2023 Autumn
Class Schedule, 2023 Autumn
Week 1, 26-9: Introduction; The problem of change
- C.S. Lewis, “On the reading of old books”
- Parmenides, fragment VIII.
- (optional: Thomas Ainsworth, “Form vs. Matter” (from the SEP))
Week 2, 3-10: The starting point: Aristotle on change and the composite
- Aristotle, selections from Physics, Metaphysics, and De anima
- (optional: Mary Louise Gill, “Aristotle’s Metaphysics Reconsidered”, esp. sections 2–5)
Week 3, 10-10: Prime Matter: Stuff without extension?
- Francisco Suárez, Metaphysical Disputations XIII.5
- (optional: Robert Pasnau, Metaphysical Themes 1274–1650, ch. 3.)
Week 4, 17-10: Substantial Form: How many?
- Thomas Aquinas, “On the mixture of elements”
- William of Ockham, Quodlibet II.11
- (optional: Rega Wood & Michael Weisberg, “Interpreting Aristotle on Mixture”)
Week 5, 24-10: NO CLASS
31-10 : Reading week (no class)
Week 6, 7-11: Accidents: Real or not?
- Duns Scotus, Reportatio, IV.12.1
- (optional: Giorgio Pini, “John Duns Scotus on Homeless Accidents”)
Week 7, 14-11: Application: Body and soul
- Thomas Aquinas, Quaestiones de anima, sel.
- (optional: Robert Pasnau, Aquinas on Human Nature, esp. chs. 2 & 12)
Week 8, 21-11: Hylomorphic composites – but everything?
- Peter Auriol, selected questions form his Sentences commentary
- (optional: Zita Toth, “Heavenly Stuff”)
Week 9, 28-11: Criticism and alternatives: The early days
- Gregory of Nyssa, In Hexaemeron, sel.
- Nicholas of Autrecourt, The Universal Treatise, sel.
- (optional: Richard Sorabji, “Bodies as Bundles of Properties”)
- (optional: Christophe Grellard, “Nicholas of Autrecourt’s Atomistic Physics”)
Week 10, 5-12: Criticism and alternatives: After the Scientific Revolution
- René Descartes, The World (Threatise on Light), ch. 6
- John Locke, Essay, II.23
- Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Discourse on Metaphysics, X–XII
- (optional: Roger Ariew & Marjorie Grene, “The Cartesian Destiny of Form and Matter”)
- (optional: Daniel Garber, Leibniz, ch. 2)
Catch up, 12-12: Contemporary revival
- Karen Bennett, “Koslicki on Formal Proper Parts”