Skip to main content

Aristotle (PH354)

When you look around you, your senses seem to present you with a world in which things are changing over time; the leaves stirring on the trees through the window, or your fingers tapping on the computer keyboard. The great pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides argued that the very idea of change leads us to contradiction and confusion: so the world the senses present must be an illusion.

In The Physics, Aristotle attempts to argue that change is real, and that understanding change is the key to unlocking an account of the natural world. If there is change, then there must be things that go through changes, things such as human beings, trees, cats and dogs. Aristotle called these objects ‘primary substances’. The idea of the natural world as a world of substances that change over time in characteristic ways (you grow taller, you walk to the shops) is one of Aristotle’s most enduring contributions to philosophy. But is also the source of numerous puzzles and mysteries.

One mystery is that Aristotle says that substances, including living beings, are made of two ingredients, which he calls ‘matter’ and ‘form’. The matter of an object is the physical stuff it is made of and the form is the shape that holds it all together. But what are these two ingredients? And how do they go together to make an object like a human being? Can there be matter without any form at all? (Would that be a kind of material sludge?) And can there be form without matter? (God, the intellect?) These are questions that Aristotle discusses in his book De Anima (On the Soul).

In this module, you’ll be introduced to these and other fascinating questions that emerge in the course of Aristotle’s accounts of nature, change and living beings. You will see why the work of Aristotle continues to be a source of inspiration for contemporary philosophers of all kinds.

Module Director

Tom Crowther


This module is worth 15 CATS.