Philosophy Contemporary Hylomorphism
Andrew Bailey, Shane Maxwell Wilkins
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0363


Aristotle famously held that objects are comprised of matter and form. That is the central doctrine of hylomorphism (sometimes rendered “hylemorphism”—hyle, matter; morphe, form), and the view has become a live topic of inquiry today. Contemporary proponents of the doctrine include Jeffrey Brower, Kit Fine, David Hershenov, Mark Johnston, Kathrin Koslicki, Anna Marmodoro, Michael Rea, and Patrick Toner, among others. In the wake of these contemporary hylomorphic theories the doctrine has seen application to various topics within mainstream analytic metaphysics. Here, appeals to form and matter are used to shed light on problems about ontology, personal identity, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of religion. The current entry documents this resurgence of interest in hylomorphism, the ways it has been applied, and its reception.

Historical Primary Sources

Aristotle presents key arguments for hylomorphism in two places. In Aristotle 1984a, Aristotle provides an argument for hylomorphism, we call the Argument from Change, which attempts to show that the existence of form and matter are the preconditions for explaining change. In the latter, Aristotle 1984b, Aristotle offers a second argument we call The Regress Argument, which argues for the existence of forms as necessary to explain the difference between genuine unified wholes and mere congeries of parts.

  • Aristotle. “Physics.” In The Complete Works of Aristotle. Vol. 1. Edited by Jonathan Barnes, 315–446. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984a.

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    In Book 1.7–8, Aristotle argues that we must posit form and matter to explain change. Aristotle claims that for something to change from being non-F to F, there must be something that survives the change, and some item in virtue of which it is F. The former is the “matter”; the latter the “form.” Book 2 attempts to connect these notions of form and matter to the explanation of natural phenomena and scientific inquiry.

  • Aristotle. “Metaphysics.” In The Complete Works of Aristotle. Vol. 2. Edited by Jonathan Barnes, 1552–1728. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984b.

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    In Book 7.17, Aristotle notes important differences between unified totalities (“wholes”) and mere aggregates of material parts (“heaps”). Aristotle claims that it is form that distinguishes the two. Form cannot simply be one more part, for then we would have to appeal to something else to explain why the original parts plus the form was a unity rather than a heap. Aristotle concludes from this that form and matter must be two distinct metaphysical principles.

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