From the SEP article on soul-body hylomorphism "The soul bears the same relation to the body which the shape of a statue bears to its material basis,", as well as other definitions (e.g. wikipedia), it seems to me that soul-body hylomorphism is the same thing as property dualism.

However it has been pointed out to me in other threads on Philosophy SE, that property dualism covers a wide range of options and that I don't understand dualism properly.

My questions:

  1. How is soul-body hylomorphism different from property dualism?
  2. What are the different types of property dualism?

2 Answers 2


I'll start by saying I don't understand the term "property dualism" as you're using it. So this only addresses what is meant by hylomorphism -- which is properly speaking neither dualistic not reductionistic.

You can roughly trace two basic traditions of philosophical thinking: one idealistic and one empirical. Using this rough sketch, we have the following pairings:

Idealist:  Plato     | Descartes | Kant
Realist:   Aristotle | Locke     | Hegel

There's a lot more that could be added to the picture, but these are important pairs.

The thinkers in the above category tend to posit views that we can understand as somewhat dualistic in nature. Plato famously calls the body a trap for the soul. Descartes' confidence in the mind is much higher than the body. Kant's philosophy centers on giving us a faculty that makes us free despite the determinism in the world.

The thinkers in the below category are more positive about the body (for now let's leave out some of the complexities of saying this about Hegel. Thus, while for Plato, the body is the trap for the soul, for Aristotle, the soul is the principle that organizes the body as the sort of thing it is (here following Sir Anthony Kenny's definition provisionally).

It's important to realize that for Aristotle, every living thing has a soul (but no everything has an immortal soul).The way he means soul is not a religious concept per se (though it was adapted to be one by Muslim and Christian thinkers later).

To give a clear example, the form of a giraffe (i.e., it's soul) is what makes the difference between having a giraffe in front of you and a pile of matter composed of the same elements that would make a giraffe but are dead. (This is an image from Thomas Nagel). Again, "soul" here means precisely this difference. It's not some further difference on top of all the processes that lead to this matter being organized and sustained giraffe-wise.

To put it another way, if we kill the giraffe, nothing is organizing that matter giraffe-wise anymore and over time it will break down whereas as long as the giraffe is alive, the whole giraffe is organized and continuing as certain type of living thing.

As a theory in philosophy of mind, the idea of hylomorphism is that it's a mistake to view brain as identical to mind, because mind is something that occurs not just when certain matter is present but precisely as an organizational process that orients all of the activity of brain-wise matter and neural networking in a mind-wise way. Thus, it's not any standard sort of reductive materialism about mind, because it asserts mind is more than matter.

Conversely, hylomorphism thinks its a mistake to view mind (at least human mind or animal minds) as possible apart from matter organized brain-wise. Thus, it's no dualism because it does not think mind occurs without this organizational activity occurring over the right sort of matter, i.e. brain.

For more, see William Jaworski's index of terms.

  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. Commented Apr 26, 2015 at 5:18
  • It hurts to see Hegel as a flagship of idealism on the realists side. The only realism one can ascribe to him is, I think, that of (concrete!) conciousness.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 11:45
  • But Hegel is a realist! Reality, of course, for him is reality for consciousness but this is not at the expense of the actuality of the object (please see the section in the Lesser Logic on the Object).
    – virmaior
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 11:52
  1. How is hylomorphism different from property dualism

Hylomorphism was Aristotles solution to Platos problem of how a form could act on matter; he simply posited that they couldn't be separated in the way Plato suggested.

Hence the form of a man is his soul - it's animating principle; and the matter of a man is his physical body.

In a sense hylomorphism is a kind of monism rather than dualism.

Properties are what distinguishes substances; they are either essential or accidental; an accidental property of a ring may be that it is made of gold; an essential property is that it is a circle or has a 'hole'.

There is a substance man who has two kinds of properties, mental properties and physical properties (but he, himself aren't reduced to them).

So hylomorphism connects Platos theory of Forms to Aristotles theory of substances and their properties.

Example: consider Jameel from Eritrea

He is a man (ousia/substance), and he has mental properties (thoughts, feelings, passions, appetites) and physical properties (weight, colour of skin, the skin itself) and so on.

He considers himself a unity; simply as a man; when asked about the relationship between mind and body - he is confused; as he doesn't conceive of them apart from each other. 'I am Jameel', he says; 'I am a man'.

I would suggest its because of the success of Descartes project that the dualism of mind and body figures so widely in popular philosophy.

  • You fail to mention the Y in a "How are X and Y related?" question. Does the "but he, himself [isn't] reduced to them" make this different from property dualism in your estimation or does the main thrust of the sentence containing that make them the same.
    – user9166
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 15:47
  • @jobermark: jameels response, though not couched in Aristotelian terms, should be thought as aligned with it; he's claiming he's a whole being, as in a hylomorphism. Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 18:18
  • OK, so to your mind, the dualism is because the types are disjoint, not just because multiple realizations exist. So given a functionalism where every thought is a deduction and an emotion and a biological process and a competition between memes and ... all at the same time from artificially differentiated perspectives. This is a monism, and not a property n-fold-ism. I have been assuming the other side.
    – user9166
    Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 19:50
  • @MoziburUllah so far you're confirming my initial thought that property dualism and soul-body hylomorphism are the same. Consider that you said "He is a man (ousia/substance), and he has mental properties (thoughts, feelings, passions, appetites) and physical properties (weight, colour of skin, the skin itself) and so on." And the wikipedia definition of property dualism (continued in next comment). Commented Apr 26, 2015 at 5:16
  • From wikipedia "Property dualism describes a category of positions in the philosophy of mind which hold that, although the world is constituted of just one kind of substance — the physical kind — there exist two distinct kinds of properties: physical properties and mental properties. In other words, it is the view that non-physical, mental properties (such as beliefs, desires and emotions) inhere in some physical substances (namely brains)." Commented Apr 26, 2015 at 5:17

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