I want to ask a few questions and sort of vent my frustration as well as analyze an acknowledged ignorance of the subject matter on this post. I possess a minuscule but possibly still workable idea of what Aristotelian and thus neo-Aristotelian ontologies or metaphysics assume or entail. Concepts such as potentiality, actuality, his four causes, substance, and beyond these ideas I have not spent the dedicated time to greater cement an understanding. Though, as of late, I've noticed a deficit in my greater world view precisely in regards to this subject matter and the religious position I hold.

I am an atheist or at least a nonreligious non-theist. I've noticed that when Aristotelian/Thomistic/neo-scholastic arguments are raised, atheists often disagree from a perspective of an unacknowledged logical positivism and outspoken physicalism. In these conversations, the participants talk past each other ontologically and metaphysically.

Now this and a book by Steven Duncan have prompted me to reconsider a philosophy along the neo-Aristotelian lines. I must mention in passing that I still feel (without real argument or evidence) that the neo-Aristotelian outlook is unscientific or rather outdated, especially Aristotle's physics. I feel contrarily, though, some of his metaphysics could be compatible with my own contemporary views about science.

So, what defenses in academic philosophy as well as in the history of philosophy have been given to holding onto a philosophy in the same vein as Aristotelianism or neo-Aristotelianism? What benefits does such a world view possess with respect to something a logical positivist may profess or in that manner a physicalist? Lastly, how is scientific understanding warped by the application of this philosophy? Could you also hopefully give an example of a scientific theory interpreted through a neo-Aristotelian lens?

Lastly, lastly, the book by Steven Duncan is rather curious to me personally because it does profess a materialism but through the application of form and matter in response to physicalist interpretations of matter. Rather curious. . .

  • Oh, and to your question about science: Philosophy of Nature, Jacques Maritain archive.org/details/philosophyofnatu00mari (neo-Thomist) and much more recently, perhaps Paul Needham "Macroscopic Metaphysics" Springer International, 2017. Which seems to float around PDF on the internet I'm not sure if it is at Internet Archive.
    – Gordon
    Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 3:38
  • University of Stockholm, Paul Needham; philosophy.su.se/english/research/our-researchers/faculty/… Aristotelian and Stoic theories of matter. The above book I mentioned by Needham seems to concern mereology, and I don't know if he discusses Aristotle in the book.
    – Gordon
    Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 3:54
  • "Aristotle's Mereology and the status of form". K. Kosliki jstor.org/stable/pdf/20619988.pdf?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents
    – Gordon
    Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 4:24
  • I find it odd that someone would want to adopt Aristotle's metaphysics when he was not able to solve even one metaphysical problem. I would suggest that it is better to study metaphysics and reach a view rather than adopt one off the shelf. Having said that I see no other reasons not to adopt Aristotle's approach. Nothing ever changes in metaphysics so his being long-dead seems irrelevant to the decision.
    – user20253
    Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 12:57
  • 2
    Scientific essentialism is in a sense a version of neo-Aristotelian metaphysics. It is mainstream and has some influential modern supporters, like Kripke and Putnam. A number of modern philosophers also subscribe to Aristotelian realism as a more plausible alternative to the traditional platonism.
    – Conifold
    Commented Aug 16, 2018 at 17:57

2 Answers 2


Ed Feser's Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction (2014) is a good defense of Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics and natural philosophy:

Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction provides an overview of Scholastic approaches to causation, substance, essence, modality, identity, persistence, teleology, and other issues in fundamental metaphysics. The book interacts heavily with the literature on these issues in contemporary analytic metaphysics, so as to facilitate the analytic reader’s understanding of Scholastic ideas and the Scholastic reader’s understanding of contemporary analytic philosophy. The Aristotelian theory of actuality and potentiality provides the organizing theme, and the crucial dependence of Scholastic metaphysics on this theory is demonstrated. The book is written from a Thomistic point of view, but Scotist and Suarezian positions are treated as well where they diverge from the Thomistic position.

The Second Treatise ("On the world with respect to its material and formal causes") of Édouard Hugon, O.P.'s Cosmology (PDF pp. 147-321) engages modern science with the Aristotelian notions of actuality and potentiality; cf. these quotes, in answer to the question of whether "Aristotle's view of hylomorphism is compatible with modern physics and science".

  • I would add that Feser has now written something of a sequel to Scholastic Metaphysics that addresses some aspects of this question even more directly. His new book is called Aristotle's Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science. (I haven't read it yet, but I'm planning to!) Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 0:20
  • @MattDickau Yes, Aristotle's Revenge seems good.
    – Geremia
    Commented Jun 11, 2019 at 0:22

The question requires a knowledge of Aristotle I don't possess but it seems to me that his notion of matter and form may be the root of materialism and to be at odds with most or all religious views. It is also at odds with reason. Logic does not support the idea that forms have a material 'essence'. This is known in Western philosophy as the 'problem of attributes'.

I see no benefit for philosophy or science in holding to a metaphysical view that does not stand up to analysis even where it came from Aristotle and see no evidence that doing so has done more than harm progress in both fields.

It seems a great question because it's such an important issue. My answer would be that many of Aristotle's conclusions are not viable now and never were.

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