Matter and Nature: Robert Boyle and the Criticism of Aristotle

Reading Group on Theories of Matter

~ Summer Semester 2020 ~

What is nature? Although we experience the natural world daily and in manifold ways, this question never ceased to be asked since the very beginning of the philosophical and scientific traditions. Throughout the late Middle Ages, a firm answer was provided by the Aristotelian framework. However, early-modern thinkers challenged Aristotle’s physical and metaphysical theories and, through their criticism, new conceptualisations and epistemes of nature gradually emerged.

In the Summer Semester 2020, the matter reading group will engage with a fascinating answer provided to the question of what nature is. This answer has been proposed by a quite peculiar thinker: Robert Boyle (1627-1691). Keeping in mind Aristotle and the Scholastic tradition, the group will read Boyle’s A Free Enquiry into the Vulgarly Received Notion of Nature.

We will examine Boyle’s criticism of the traditional idea of nature and his proposal of a notion of nature closer to human manipulation and experimentation. What are the gains of Boyle’s theory? What notion of matter underlies his reading of the natural world? And what aspects of the Aristotelian framework did Boyle have to keep in order to provide a consistent theory of the natural world?

This semester, the reading group will have a different format: due to the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, our meetings will be on Skype. Do not despair: this can be a great opportunity to open our discussion even more, therefore I have decided to open the reading group to whomever wants to join us, either in Berlin or elsewhere. Anyone willing to participate in the reading group can write to me and will gladly be included in the list.

The reading group will be in English. We will gather every Friday at 4pm CET, starting on 24 April 2020. Again, this is an open reading group. If you are interested on the topic and would like to join us via Skype, feel free to get in touch at

Unfortunately, for the same reason (the horrible virus outbreak which is limiting our lives so much) the Medieval Philosophical Gatherings are cancelled during the Summer Semester 2020.