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.

Current syllabus

Earlier Semesters

2022 Spring syllabus; course site
2019 Spring syllabus
2018 Spring syllabus

Assignments, 2023 Autumn

Formative assignment

Class Schedule, 2023 Autumn

(updated: 2023-09-11)

Week 1, 26-9: Introduction; The problem of change

Week 2, 3-10: The starting point: Aristotle on change and the composite

Week 3, 10-10: Prime Matter: Stuff without extension?

Week 4, 17-10: Substantial Form: How many?

Week 5, 24-10: NO CLASS

31-10 : Reading week (no class)

Week 6, 7-11: Accidents: Real or not?

Week 7, 14-11: Application: Body and soul

Week 8, 21-11: Hylomorphic composites – but everything?

Week 9, 28-11: Criticism and alternatives: The early days

Week 10, 5-12: Criticism and alternatives: After the Scientific Revolution

Catch up, 12-12: Contemporary revival