Panel at the 2022 SIEPM Congress. Paris (FR), 22-26 August 2022. Sponsor: “Studying Medieval Hylomorphism Whole” (KU Leuven Internal Funds, C14/20/007)

The panel delves into the hylomorphic debate from the 13th and 14th centuries. Engaging with how hylomorphism was discussed in different philosophical domains (natural philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics), the three papers engage with relevant aspects of the problematic deployment of this theory as central explanatory device in medieval philosophy. Serena Masolini will expand on the hypothesis that matter is always accompanied by active potencies, which led 13th-century English natural philosophers to establish a crucial distinction between prime and natural matter. Virginia Scribanti’s paper will deal with another instantiation of hylomorphism, this time in consideration of the constitution of the human being in terms of body and soul. Focusing her attention on William of Alnwick, Scribanti will examine the originality of Alnwick’s theory of the unity of the human compound. Finally, Russell Friedman’s paper will engage with John of Jandun’s theory of prime matter. Like Alnwick, with Jandun, too, a main role is played by Averroes and his great impact on the Latinate discussion of hylomorphism. Expanding on Jandun’s theory of the potency of prime matter, Friedman will discuss both justifications and implications of this theory in the broader context of the 14th-century debate on matter. As a whole, the panel will dissect some of the most problematic issues arising from hylomorphism as they were discussed in the later Middle Ages. The panel is organically connected to the second proposed session on hylomorphism, which will focus on a later phase in the history of hylomorphism.

Russell Friedman
Serena Masolini
Virginia Scribanti

Filipe Da Silva
Nicola Polloni

Serena Masolini and Filipe Da Silva, A Matter of Censorship: Active Potency and Privation in Mid-Thirteenth Century England

The list of prohibited doctrines on natural philosophy issued on 18 March 1277 by Robert Kilwardby “with the agreement of all the masters and non-masters of the University of Oxford” includes the theses that “no active potency exists in matter” (art. 3) and that “privation is pure nothingness and exists in celestial and inferior bodies” (art. 4). With all due qualifications, it is indeed a common thread of the English tradition, from Roger Bacon to Kilwardby himself, to maintain that matter, in its meaning of physical principle of change, is to a certain extent endowed with formal elements. Among the main positions supported by the English masters are the doctrine of potentia activa, stating the presence of active potencies (‘diminished’ or ‘incomplete forms’) within physical matter, and the doctrine of materia formata, according to which the substrate of generation and corruption is not prime matter but matter as endowed with basic formal determinations such as corporeity and extension. The aim of this paper is to reconsider the theories on the nature of physical matter of mid-thirteenth century English masters vis-á-vis the Oxford prohibitions of 1277. It will analyze the positions on active potency, formed matter, and privation found in a selection of anonymous commentaries on the Physics dated 1240-1270, it will ascertain the range of doctrinal divergences emerging from the texts, and, on this basis, it will try to make some hypothesis on the institutional meaning of Kilwardby’s act of censorship in this regard.

Virginia Scribanti, The Radical Unity of the Human Compound: William of Alnwick on the Intellectual Soul

The personal secretary of John Duns Scotus, William of Alnwick (c. 1275-1333), is often described as faithful to his master’s views. However, although he generally deals with themes typically linked to Scotus’ thought (e.g. the univocity of being, the formal distinction, the principle of individuation), Alnwick does not hesitate to criticise him when Scotus’ conclusions do not agree with his own. This is particularly evident with Alnwick’s use of Thomas Aquinas’s arguments to explain that the intellectual soul is the form of the body, even though it is not itself corporeal. The rational soul represents the boundary between the corporeal and the incorporeal, so that it informs the body, but it can detach from the body after death. Alnwick deploys these arguments to justify both the radical unity of the human compound (as specific hylomorphic compound) and the immortality of the soul. My paper will address a series of questions directly linked to Alnwick’s theory of the soul and its indebtedness to Aquinas, while showing also the differences in their solutions. What are the reasons behind Alnwick’s commitment to Aquinas’ thesis on the intrinsic unity of soul and body? What is the resulting consideration of the soul-body problem stemming from Alnwick’s stance? And how can this solution be reconciled with the theory of the plurality of substantial forms, which was a main tenet of the Franciscan school and, particularly, Duns Scotus? My paper will explore Alnwick’s position, considering both philosophical and theological aspects that influenced his thought. In particular, I will discuss how the deliberations taken at the Council of Vienne (1311-1312) and Alnwick’s closeness to the Averroistic milieu of the Faculty of Arts in Bologna (1321-1323) had a crucial impact on his definition of the soul in its relationship with the body. I will argue that both factors facilitated Alnwick’s decision to accept Aquinas’ stance on human hylomorphism and to coordinate such an account with the theory of the plurality of substantial forms. In this context, it is worth noticing that, although Alnwick explores a number of themes related to the intellectual soul that are not immediately related to each other, there is an underlying coherence to his thought. Making use of doctrines and arguments from different philosophical traditions (often considered incompatible with each other because of the radicalness of the conclusions they lead to), Alnwick’s aim was to produce a theory able to reconcile the substantiality of the intellectual soul, its intrinsic unity with the body, its individuality, and its immortality, notwithstanding the specific stances or arguments to which his own Franciscan Order was traditionally bound.

Russell Friedman, John of Jandun on Prime Matter and its Potency

In his commentary on I Physics, q. 25 (ed. 1551, ff. 23ra-25va), the Paris Arts master John of Jandun (d. 1328) deals at length with the issue of the relation between prime matter and its potency, asking “whether matter’s potency is essentially the same as matter’s substance” (An potentia materiae essentialiter sit idem cum ipsa substantia materiae). On the one hand, prime matter’s potency – its ability to take on the entire spectrum of material substantial forms – seems to be its most prominent characteristic, and this might indicate that matter’s potency belongs to its essence. On the other hand, prime matter’s potency seems to come and go, altering significantly when the matter is under different substantial forms; this might argue for prime matter’s potency possessing some type of accidentality. Jandun’s own position on the issue is what you can label “Averroan” (and Jandun explicitly links his view to Averroes’). According to Jandun, matter’s potency is a sort of necessary accident, specifically matter’s relation towards the substantial form and the active power that brings it about in the matter; for Jandun, the prime matter itself is a type of substrate for that accident. This paper will 1) explain Jandun’s position, 2) analyze several of his arguments for his position, and 3) consider his grounding of the view in Averroes’ texts, particularly the Commentator’s Physics commentary and De substantia orbis. In the process, I’ll try to show what Jandun himself, on the basis of criticism of views like his, thought might be considered radical in his view and why; I’ll also address whether anything can be considered radical about his reliance on Averroes. In this way, I’ll try to show some of the many-layered historical and philosophical background to Jandun’s extensive treatment of this central issue in later medieval matter theory.

Panel Chair: Nicola Polloni