Hylomorphism in Aristotle's Metaphysics: Constituent Ontology without Derivative Diversification

Doctoral Dissertation


What, according to Aristotle, accounts for the fact that two co-specific organisms, composed of matter and form, are distinct from each other? Is their difference accounted for by the difference of their matter or of their form, or in some other way? My introduction clarifies important terminological and philosophical ambiguities surrounding this question and contextualizes the argument of my dissertation. My first chapter explores the two mainstream views on this question, both of which claim that the diversity of co-specific organisms is derivative (either from the diversity of their matter or from the diversity of their form), arguing 1) that both mainstream views are committed to what we might call a constituent ontological vision of hylomorphism (according to which matter and form are non-identical components of organisms) and 2) that there are considerable advantages to viewing Aristotle’s hylomorphism as a constituent ontology, perhaps most notably for defending the coherence of generation and corruption. My second chapter, however, argues against each of the mainstream views, pointing out conflicts with key points of Aristotle’s metaphysics. My third chapter introduces my thesis that diversity is underived and defends it by appeal to Aristotle’s metaontology and his nonreductivist vision of organisms (in a way that, at the same time, cuts equally against both mainstream views). My fourth chapter argues that we need not throw away constituent ontology along with the mainstream views; rather, we can maintain both the thesis that diversity for co-specific organisms is underived and a constituent ontological understanding of hylomorphism. I outline a constituent ontological interpretation of hylomorphism which maintains that the diversity of organisms is underived. A constituent ontological understanding of organisms does not, as some have argued, in itself undermine the irreducible unity of organisms; rather, is only when constituent ontology is coupled with one of the mainstream views on diversification that unity is undermined. Finally, my fifth chapter argues that the version of hylomorphism articulated in my fifth chapter is compatible with both 1) the claim that an organism’s body includes a plurality of distinct parcels of matter within it, and 2) the claim that an organism’s matter pre-exists and persists after the life of that organism. I explore key claims of Aristotle’s about the nature of matter ‘s unity to support these claims. By advocating a constituent ontological hylomorphism that does not see the diversity of the organism as derived from the diversity of one of its constituents, we can maintain both these two advantages associated with the traditional view on diversification and the irreducible unity of organisms.


Attribute NameValues
  • etd-12082014-165555

Author Anne Siebels Peterson
Advisor Michael Loux
Contributor Michael Loux, Committee Chair
Contributor Sean Kelsey, Committee Member
Contributor David OConnor, Committee Member
Contributor Peter van Inwagen, Committee Member
Degree Level Doctoral Dissertation
Degree Discipline Philosophy
Degree Name PhD
Defense Date
  • 2014-07-15

Submission Date 2014-12-08
  • United States of America

  • hylomorphism

  • Aristotle

  • individuation

  • matter

  • metaphysics

  • University of Notre Dame

  • English

Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

Departments and Units


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