Anna Schriefl (HU Berlin)
Commentators: Margaret Corn (Columbia University), Louis Moffa (Columbia University)
Columbia University’s Division of Humanities, Classical Studies Program, and Philosophy Department.
The meeting is part of the Workshop in Ancient and Contemporary Philosophy.
Abstract: Commentators widely agree that Aristotle is the first author in Greek antiquity to use a technical term for matter. However, in Metaph. A 3-10, he ascribes a notion of matter to almost all of his predecessors. In the first part of my paper, I argue that Aristotle's general view on intellectual history explains why he puts his theory of matter in continuity with earlier theories rather than claiming originality for it. In the second part, I examine Aristotle's account of the history of the material cause and argue that he presents it as a story of linear advancement, with the early materialists having the most problematic notion of matter and later authors gradually improving on their views. Finally, I draw attention to the fact that Aristotle does not refer to potentiality to characterize the material causes of his predecessors, a notion which is of central importance for his own view on matter. I suggest that this omission is owed to the argumentative purpose of Metaph. A, where Aristotle's focus lies on continuity rather than on the features he ascribes to matter in defiance of his predecessors.