Contemporary Hylomorphism

Course Information:

PHIL 43506

  • Professor Shields
  • Seminar Meetings: M, 15.30-18.15, Debartolo Hall 347


Hylomorphism is enjoying a moment in the sun: the basic framework, deriving from an innovation of Aristotle, is at present finding a new lease on life across a range of issues in metaphysics and philosophy of mind.  We will engage and assess this new literature, leaving behind exegetical questions about the fidelity of the present-day appropriations to the texts of Aristotle (though we will not be averse to finding philosophical inspiration in his writings if that proves helpful).  Topics to be discussed include: privileged ontology; the fundamental commitments of hylomorphism; non-modal essentialism; substantial unity; mereology; diachronic identity; the nature of artefacts; and applications in philosophy of mind, including especially issues pertaining to mental causation.    

We will spend the last quarter or so of the seminar reading and assessing Form, Matter, Substance, by Koslicki, a leading proponent of contemporary hylomorphism. 

Office Hours and Contact Information

Professor Shields

  • Office: Malloy Hall 327
  • Office hours: Tu. 8.30-10.30 and by appt.
  • 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:

  • Koslicki, Kathrin, Form, Matter, Substance (Oxford: 2018)
    • Because new, this work is not yet available in paperback.  As such, it is fairly expensive.  It is also, however, available via Oxford Scholarship Online, accessible through Hesburgh Library.
  • Otherwise, we will read articles published and available in the normal ways, as well as several unpublished pieces which will be made available as we proceed.

Recommended Texts:

  • Aristotle: Selections, trans. G. Fine and T. Irwin (Hackett: 1995)
    • This work is available in a searchable electronic form from various e-book sellers. Note too that this text has an outstanding glossary which will orient those unfamiliar with the historical antecedents to our contemporary investigations with respect to Aristotle’s motivations in introducing hylomorphism as well as to his technical terminology.  
  • Evnine, S., Making Objects and Events: A Hylomorphic Theory of Artifacts, Actions, and Organisms (Oxford University Press: 2016)
  • Novotný, Daniel D., and Lukáš Novák, edd., Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives in Metaphysics (Routledge: 2014)
  • Oderberg, David S., ed., Form and Matter: Themes in Contemporary Metaphysics (Blackwell: 1999)
  • Tahko, T. E., ed., Contemporary Aristotelian Metaphysics (Cambridge University Press: 2012)
  • Sattig, The Double Lives of Objects (Oxford University Press: 2015)

Requirements and Protocol:

Matriculated seminar participants will write two papers, the first at mid-term, of about 2,500 words, and the second, at the term’s end, in the neighbourhood of 4,000-5,000 words.  I will offer suggested topics for each of these papers, but encourage you to develop a topic of your own, in consultation with me. 

All seminar participants, including auditors, will also offer a seminar presentation; for those matriculated, this presentation will presumably but not necessarily be tied to the student's essay topic.  

The due dates are:   

  • Essay One: 1 March
  • Essay Two: 3 May 

These papers are to be submitted electronically, preferably in Word, or, if you use something non-standard, as .pdf documents, addressed to  Papers will be accepted until 17.00 on their due dates.

Reading Schedule 

Please adhere to this reading schedule. We will offer additional assignments and recommendations from the secondary literature as the term progresses.  

Part One: Hylomorphism in the Context of Privileged Ontology

  • Week One: Five Theses of Privileged Ontology 

  • Week Two: Hylomorphism Introduced and Characterized 
    • Johnston, ‘Hylomorphism,’ Journal of Philosophy 103 (20016, 652-698
    • Rea, ‘Hylomorphism Reconditioned,’  Philosophical Perspectives 25.1 (2011): 341–358
    • Marmodoro, ‘Aristotle’s Hylomorphism without Reconditioning,’  Philosophical Inquiry 37.1–2 (2013): 5–22

Part Two: Matter and Form

  • Week Three: Form
    • Jaworski, ‘Hylomorphism and the Metaphysics of Structure,’ Res Philosophica 91.2 (2014), 179–201
    • Koons, Robert, ‘Staunch vs. Faint-Hearted Hylomorphism: Toward an Aristotelian Account of Composition,’  Res Philosophica 91.2 (2014), 151–177
    • Evnine, Chapters One and Two

  • Week Four: Form and Essence 
    • Fine, ‘Essence and Modality,’ Philosophical Perspectives 8 (1994), 1-16
    • Matthews, ‘Aristotelian Essentialism,’ Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 50, Supplement (Autumn, 1990), 251-262
    • Quine, ‘Three Grades of Modal Involvement,’ The Ways of Paradox (Random House: 1966), 156-74

Part Three: Problems about Matter and Form

  • Week Five:   Hylomorphism and Change I
    • Fine, ‘A Puzzle Concerning Matter and Form,’ in Unity, Identity and Explanation in Aristotle’s Metaphysics. edd.  T. Scaltsas, D. Charles, and M. L. Gill (Oxford:1994), 13–40
    • Fine, ‘Coincidence and Form,’ Aristotelian Society Supplementary 82 (2008), 101–118

  • Week Six: Hylomorphism and Change II:  Hylomorphism and the Problem of Temporary Intrinsics 
    • Lewis, On the Plurality of Worlds (Blackwell: 1986), 202-210
    • Brower, ‘Aristotelian Endurantism: A New Solution to the Problem of Temporary Intrinsics,' Mind 119.476 (2010), 883–905

  • Week Seven: An Incoherence in Hylomorphism?
    • Fairchild, ‘A Paradox of Matter and Form,’  Thought 6 (2017), 33-42

  • Week Eight: Material Constitution 
    • Fine, ‘Things and Their Parts,’  Midwest Studies in Philosophy 23 (1999): 61–74
    • Paul, ‘Coincidence as Overlap,’ Noûs 40 (2006). 623–65
    • Korman, Daniel Z., and Chad Carmichael, ‘Composition,’  Oxford Handbooks Online, 2016 
      • Sattig,  The Double Lives of Objects, (Oxford University Press: 2015). [Recommended, not required]

  • Week Nine: Mid-semester Break

Part Four: Applications of Hylomorphism

  • Week Ten: Hylomorphism and the Mind
    • Robinson, ‘Modern Hylomorphism and the Reality and Causal Power of Structure: A Skeptical Investigation,’ Res Philosophica 91.2 (2014): 203–214
    • Shields, ‘Hylomorphic Mental Causation,’ ms. 
    • Williams, ‘Hylomorphism,' Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 4 (1986), 189–199
      • Jaworski, Structure and the Metaphysics of Mind: How Hylomorphism Solves the Mind-Body Problem (Oxford University Press: 2016) [Recommended, not required]
  • Week Eleven: A Hylomorphic Theory of Artefacts
    • Preston, ‘Artifact,’ SEP (
    • Thomasson, ‘Artifacts and Human Concepts,’  in Margolis and Laurence edd., Creations of the Mind: Theories of Artifacts and Their Representation (Oxford University Press: 2007), 52–73
    • Evnine, Chapter Seven

Part Five: An In-Depth Review of Koslicki’s Hylomorphism

  • Week Twelve: Koslicki, Chs. One-Three

  • Week Thirteen: 
    • Koslikci, Ch. Four
    • Sidelle, ‘Does Hylomorphism Offer a Distinctive Solution to the Grounding Problem?' Analysis 74.3 (2014), 397–404

  • Week Fourteen: 
    • Koslicki, Chs. Five and Six

  • Week Fifteen: 
    • Koslicki, Ch. Seven

Week Sixteen: Quodlibetal

Lecture Slides

.© Christopher Shields 2014