Syllabus: Aristotle’s Philosophical Theology




ARISTOTLE’S PHILOSOPHICAL THEOLOGY

Spring Semester 2020

Instructors: Christopher Shields and Fred Miller


Course description: In the Metaphysics Book XII (Λ) Aristotle argues that the universe has a first cause, which he designates as ‘god’.  After outlining his metaphysical framework, he argues that all motion ultimately depends upon an immovable mover as its efficient and final cause. He offers a description of this prime mover as a divine intellect.  Rather surprisingly, he also conjectures that there are in fact many immovable movers.  He concludes nonetheless that the unity and goodness of the whole universe are due to the one prime mover which is its ruler.  Throughout the course we will study the text of Metaphysics Λ closely, taking into account related works of Aristotle, as well as major commentaries—ancient, medieval, and modern—which have shaped our understanding of Aristotle’s philosophical theology.  We will also discuss the major criticisms of Aristotle’s argument, and we will consider whether he offers any enduring insights for modern philosophers, theologians, and scientists still seeking a grand ‘theory of everything’.


The following schedule of meetings includes the main reading assignments for each session.  

  • For MetaphysicsMetaphysics Λ, read the relevant parts of the translation and commentary in Judson’s Aristotle Book ΛOn Aristotle’s Metaphysics 12
  •  For ps.-Alexander read the relevant parts in Miller’s Ps.-Alexander . 
  • For other works of Aristotle a convenient source is Barnes Complete Works of Aristotle (2 vols.).    


Please also consult Course Readings and Bibliography.


  1. Introduction to Aristotle’s philosophical theology
  •  Judson, Introduction, Aristotle Metaphysics Book Λ, 1-21
  •  Miller, Ps.-Alexander On Aristotle’s Metaphysics 12, Introduction, 6-34
  • Frede, Introduction, 1-52 (in Frede and Charles)
  • Guthrie, ‘The development of Aristotle’s theology—I’

 

  1. Substances (Metaphysics XII.1; background: Categories 1-5; Metaphysics VII)
  • Judson, Aristotle Metaphysics Book Λ, 22-3, 42-64
  • Miller, Ps.-Alexander On Aristotle’s Metaphysics 12, 37-45
  •  Berti, ‘The program of Metaphysics Λ (chapter 1)’(in Horn)
  • Frede, ‘Metaphysics Λ 1’ (in Frede and Charles)

 

  1. Change and hylomorphism (Metaphysics XII.2; background: Physics I)
  • Judson, Aristotle Metaphysics Book Λ, 23-4, 65-101
  • Miller, Ps.-Alexander On Aristotle’s Metaphysics 12, 46-51.
  • Charles,‘Metaphysics Λ 2:  matter and change’ (in Frede and Charles)

 

  1. Coming-to-be and perishing (Metaphysics XII.3; background: Generation & Corruption I.1-6; Metaphysics VII.7-9
  • Judson, Aristotle Metaphysics Book Λ, 24-5, 102-27
  • Miller, Ps.-Alexander On Aristotle’s Metaphysics 12, 52-9
  • Crubellier,‘What the form has to be and what it needs not be (Metaph. Λ 3)’ (in Horn)
  • Judson, ‘Formlessness and the priority of form: Metaph. Zeta 7-9 and Λ 3’ (in Frede and Charles)

 

  1. Causes and principles (Metaphysics XII.4-5; background: Physics II.1-7, Metaphysics I.1-2, V.1-9)
  • Judson, Aristotle Metaphysics Book Λ, 25-8, 128-73
  • Miller, Ps.-Alexander On Aristotle’s Metaphysics 12, 59-77
  • Crubellier, Metaphysics Λ 4’ (in Frede and Charles)
  • Code, ‘Some remarks on Metaphysics Λ 5’ (in Frede and Charles)
  • Rapp, ‘The principles of sensible substance in MetaphysicsΛ 2-5’ (in Horn)


  1.  The prime mover (Physics VIII)
  • Graham, Aristotle Physics Book VIII translation and commentary (Clarendon Press, 1999)
  • Judson, ‘Heavenly motion and the unmoved mover’ (in Gill and Lennox)
  • Kosman, ‘Aristotle’s prime mover’ (in Gill and Lennox)

 

  1. The prime mover as efficient cause (Metaphysics XII.6 to 7.1072a26; background: Metaphysics IX)
  • Judson, Aristotle Metaphysics Book Λ, 29-31, 174-222
  • Miller, Ps.-Alexander On Aristotle’s Metaphysics 12, 78-97
  • Berti, ‘Unmoved mover(s) as efficient cause(s) in Metaphysics Λ 6’ (in Frede and Charles)
  • Fazzo,‘Unmoved mover as pure act or unmoved mover in act?’ (in Horn)
  • Menn, ‘Aristotle’s theology’ (in Shields, Oxford Handbook of Aristotle)

 

  1. The prime mover as final cause (Metaphysics XII.7.1072a26-b14; background: Physics II.8-9)
  • Judson, Aristotle Metaphysics Book Λ, 31-2, 222-8
  • Miller, Ps.-Alexander On Aristotle’s Metaphysics 12, 97-104
  • Laks, ‘Metaphysics Λ 7’ (in Frede and Charles)
  • Ross, ‘The causality of the prime mover in MetaphysicsΛ’ (in Horn)
  • Bodnár, ‘Cases of celestial teleology in MetaphysicsΛ’ (in Horn 247-67)

 

  1. The prime mover as intellect (Metaphysics XII.7.1072b14-1073a11; background: De Anima III.4-11)
  • Judson, Aristotle Metaphysics Book Λ, 32-3, 229-36
  • Miller, Ps.-Alexander On Aristotle’s Metaphysics 12, 105-12
  • Norman, ‘Aristotle’s philosopher-god’
  • Herzberg, ‘God as pure thinking: an interpretation of MetaphysicsΛ 7’ (in Horn)


  1. How many movers? How many heavens? (Metaphysics XII.8; background: On the Heaven I-II)
  • Judson, Aristotle Metaphysics Book Λ, 33-7, 237-86
  • Miller, Ps.-Alexander On Aristotle’s Metaphysics 12, 113-36
  • Matthen and Hankinson, ‘Aristotle’s universe: its form and matter’
  •  Lloyd, ‘Metaphysics Λ 8’ (in Frede and Charles)
  • Beere,‘Counting the unmoved movers: astronomy and explanation in Aristotle’s Metaphysics XII.8’

 

  1. The divine intellect (Metaphysics XII.9; background: Nicomachean Ethics I.7-8, X.7-8)
  • Judson, Aristotle Metaphysics Book Λ, 37-9, 287-334
  • Miller, Ps.-Alexander On Aristotle’s Metaphysics 12, 137-46
  • Brunschwig,‘Metaphysics Λ 9: a short-lived thought experiment?’ (in Frede and Charles)
  • Kosman, ‘Metaphysics Λ 9:  divine thought’ (in Frede and Charles)

 

  1. The ruler of the universe (Metaphysics XII.10; background: Movement of Animals 3-4,10; Nicomachean Ethics I.1-2, Politics I.1-2, III.6-17, VII.1-3,8-9
  • Judson, Aristotle Metaphysics Book Λ, 39-41, 335-66
  • Miller, Ps.-Alexander On Aristotle’s Metaphysics 12, 147-63
  • Horn,‘The unity of the world-order according to Metaphysics Λ 10’ (in Horn)
  • Sedley, ‘Metaphysics Λ 10’ (in Frede and Charles)

 

  1. Concluding critical assessment
  • Readings to be assigned



Lecture Notes and Slides


© Christopher Shields 2014