Leuven and Stockholm, 7-8 April 2022

Hylomorphism, the doctrine claiming that physical bodies are metaphysically composed of matter and form, was among the most successful, widespread, and influential theories in the later Middle Ages. Yet hylomorphism had its fair share of problems, which gradually arose during the later Middle Ages. In the 17th century, it became common to claim that the principles of matter and form are unnecessary to explain natural processes and the structure of beings. Like many conceptual shifts in the history of philosophy, detachment from the Aristotelian framework was in many respects the final result of a gradual evolution in the way in which matter and form were conceived and applied as speculative devices.

Important aspects of the strong oppositions to hylomorphism in 17th-century philosophy have been object of recent studies. Nonetheless, the story of how this doctrine and its associated concepts proper to Aristotelianism gradually declined in the late Middle Ages still has to be properly assessed, especially in consideration of the fundamental theoretical developments of the 15th and 16th centuries. Organised by Sylvain Roudaut (Stockholm) and Nicola Polloni (Leuven), the conference “Hylomorphism into Pieces: Elements, Atoms and Corpuscles in the Late Middle Ages” aims to fill this gap by studying the major steps of this story from the late 14th century to the late 16th century.

The rejection of hylomorphism as explanatory device for the constitution of natural bodies was drastically facilitated by the influence of competing justifications of the internal structure of bodies. The rediscovery of Lucretius’ De natura rerum in the early 15th century, together with new translations of other materials from Antiquity, generated new ideas about the structure of bodies and the type of explanation required for natural processes. But how were those new theories of matter received and integrated into the still dominant Aristotelian vocabulary of the time in the first place? To what extent did philosophers of the 15th and 16th centuries—including scholastic thinkers—try to reconcile hylomorphism and these new theories of matter?

Another crucial point of discussion is the theme of minima naturalia, which was originally discussed within the scholastic framework and in connection with problems proper to Aristotelian natural philosophy (such as the problems of spatial and temporal limits). But is it legitimate to regard late medieval theories of minima naturalia as corpuscularist or pre-corpuscularist conceptions of matter? To what extent did those theories pave the way for more radical corpuscularist conceptions of nature?

Finally, in Aristotelian natural philosophy, hylomorphism was accompanied by another theory of composition, taking bodies as elemental mixtures—those two types of composition being notoriously hard to reconcile. In what way did atomism affect the relation between those theories and benefitted the bottom-up approach typical of elemental composition? Similar questions can be asked about the notions of act and potency, which were increasingly detached from Aristotelian hylomorphism due to the development of corpuscularist accounts of motion.

Hylomorphism into Pieces: Elements, Atoms and Corpuscles in the Late Middle Ages (1400–1600) will take place on 7-8 April 2022 in both Stockholm and Leuven, as well as in anyone’s laptop via Zoom.

Organisers: Nicola Polloni and Sylvain Roudaut

Official Website

Erik Åkerlund
Newman Institute Uppsala

Fabrizio Bigotti
Domus Comeliana

Luca Burzelli
KU Leuven

Russell Friedman
KU Leuven

Hiro Hirai
Columbia University

Henrik Lagerlund
University of Stockholm

Christoph Lüthy
Radboud University Nijmegen

Elisabeth Moreau
Université libre de Bruxelles

Claire Murphy
University of Notre Dame

William Newman
Indiana University Bloomington

Aurélien Robert
Université de Paris

Roberto Zambiasi
Università di Torino

7 April 2022

9.00–9.15 CEST: Forewords

9.15–10.20 CEST: Opening keynote lecture: Aurélien Robert, “What is a natural point? Atoms and minima in the late Middle Ages”

Session 1

10.30–12.00 CEST

Henrik Lagerlund, “The changing view of successive entities in the 14th century: The case of Peter of Mantua”

Roberto Zambiasi, “Julius Caesar Scaliger’s Doctrine of Minima Naturalia: A Reappraisal”

Session 2

2.00–4.25 CEST

Claire Murphy, “Unity Out of Multiplicity: Nicholas of Cusa on the Elements”

Luca Burzelli, “A Self-Confessed Heresiarch. Pietro Pomponazzi and his Quaestio de remanentia elementorum in the 16th-century debate”

short coffee break

Russell Friedman, “Late Scholastic Thomism into Pieces: Hylomorphism in Domingo Báñez’s commentary on De generatione et corruptione

8 April 2022

Session 3

9.30–11.55 CEST

Elisabeth Moreau, “Elements, Minima, and Particles in Sixteenth-Century Galenic Medicine”

Fabrizio Bigotti, “An materia sit quanta per se. The Debate on the Extension of Prime Matter in Sixteenth-Century Padua”

short coffee break

Erik Åkerlund, “Rodrigo de Arriaga and the Pointlike Structure of Matter”

Session 4

2.00–3.30 CEST

William Newman, “Chymical Atomism from the High Middle Ages to the Seventeenth Century: Some Characteristics and a Medieval Case-Study”

Hiro Hirai, “Jacob Schegk on the Myth of “Anaxagoras the Atomist””

3.40–4.45: Closing keynote lecture: Christoph Lüthy, “The Innocent Fragmentation of Forms in the Sixteenth Century: The Case of Nicolaus Biesius”