Actuality and Potentiality: Aristotle’s Metaphysics Θ

Spring Term 2017

Course Information:

PHIL 558000

  • Professor Shields
  • Class Meetings: F 9.30-12.20, Classics Bldg. 111


Aristotle’s investigation into the nature of primary being (or substance, ousia) in the middle books of his Metaphysics proceeds against the backdrop of two structural commitments: (i) categorialism; and (ii) the modalities of being, namely actuality and potentiality.  Metaphysics Θ is given over in large measure to (ii), though it proceeds alert to the role of (i) as well.  

We will proceed in two phases.  In the first phase, we will work minutely  through every chapter save the last of Metaphysics Θ, attending closely to the text—elucidating, interpreting, and assessing.  In the second  phase, we will work through the same text again, now thematically,  primarily with a view to understanding four interconnected issues: the natures of potentiality and actuality; the priority of actuality; the role of the modalities in the science of being qua being; and the broader relation between the modalities and categorialism.  Naturally these sorts of questions will be in view in our first pass through the text, but we will largely hold them in abeyance until the second pass, when we will also make freer use of the entire Aristotelian corpus in our discussions. 


No knowledge of Greek is required, though I will gladly arrange an informal reading group associated with the seminar for those participants  interested in working through key passages in the original.  

Office Hours and Contact Information:

  • Office: Stuart Hall 202-B
  • Office hours: F 8.30-10. 30 and by appointment
  • e-mail: 
  • N.b. I prefer e-mail to telephone as a manner of student contact.  I make an effort to answer student e-mails promptly, but please be aware that I measure promptness in this domain in days rather than hours or minutes. 

Required Texts:

  • Aristotle, Metaphysics Θ,  trans. with notes and comm. by D. Makin (Oxford: 2006)
  • Throughout the term, I will make recommendations to suitable secondary literature.  There will also be additional readings developed in consultation with registered graduates, in connection with their seminar presentations.

Recommended Texts:

  • The Complete Works of Aristotle: the Revised Oxford Translation vols. 1 and 2, ed. J. Barnes (Princeton University Press: 1984).  
    • This work is also available in a searchable electronic form from various e-book sellers. 
  • Aristotle: Selections, trans. G. Fine and T. Irwin (Hackett: 1995)
    • This work is also available in a searchable electronic form from various e-book sellers. Note too that this text has an outstanding glossary which will orient Aristotle’s newer readers to his technical terminology.  

Requirements and Protocol:

Students write one essay in the neighbourhood of 5,000 words.  In addition, students will also offer a seminar presentation, presumably but not necessarily in conjunction with their  essay. 

The due dates are:   

  • Essay: 5 June 
  • Presentation: TBA on an individual basis

Papers are to be submitted electronically in a main-stream word-processing format or (if you use something non-standard) as .pdf documents to:  Papers will be accepted until 17.00 on their due date.

Attendance is expected at all seminar meetings.

Topics and Reading Schedule:

Please adhere to this reading schedule.  Note, however, that while some readings will be discussed directly in class, others will merely be assumed as background for lectures.  In either case, you are welcome—indeed, encouraged— to discuss with me readings which you find difficult or especially stimulating, either in class, when our schedule permits, or in my office hours, when not.  

Course Lecture Slides:

© Christopher Shields 2014