Hylomorphism And The New Mechanist Philosophy In Biology, Neuroscience, And Psychology
De Haan (Daniel D.)
Source: William Simpson, Robert Koons & Nicholas Teh (eds.), Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Contemporary Science (Routledge, 2017)
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction

  1. Many philosophers and scientists believe that the turn to mechanistic explanations in the seventeenth century dealt the final death blow to Aristotelian hylomorphism1. While this might be the correct interpretation of the historical shift from hylomorphic2 to mechanistic explanations, in this essay I argue that contemporary versions of Aristotelian hylomorphism3 and the “new mechanist philosophy” in biology, neuroscience, and psychology share significant commitments about the reality of the organized causal components of mechanisms. My aim is to challenge the well-known narrative that hylomorphic4 and mechanistic ontologies are fundamentally incompatible by establishing that the new mechanist philosophy and Neo-Aristotelian hylomorphism5 are not only complementary, but are defending many of the same ontological claims.
  2. I begin with a brief sketch of the fundamental claims of hylomorphism6 (§1). I then situate the new mechanist philosophy (NMP) within recent developments in philosophy of science (§2.1), before introducing the basic framework of NMP (§2.2). In the last two sections of the paper I argue for the compatibility of hylomorphism7 and NMP.
  3. I start with the major points of agreement between hylomorphism8 and NMP (§3). Significantly, I establish that NMP is committed to organization or structure realism (a touchstone of hylomorphism)9, and Neo-Aristotelian hylomorphism10 is committed to the reality of mechanisms or causal powers that produce, underlie, or maintain the behavior or capacity of (i) phenomena that are constituted through the (ii) spatial, temporal, and active organization of their (iii) component entities and (iv) component activities (the four hallmarks of NMP).
  4. In the last section (§4) I introduce some possible points of disagreement between these two positions pertaining to hylomorphism’s11 substance–attribute ontology, emergence, downward causation, and teleology. I show that the disagreements about these topics do not distinguish hylomorphists from new mechanists, but represent disagreements among hylomorphists and among new mechanists.
  5. I conclude that Neo-Aristotelian hylomorphism12 should not been seen as fundamentally opposed to mechanisms, but that it can and should embrace the many complementary features of the new mechanist philosophy in biology, neuroscience and psychology. If correct, this is a significant advance over and against an influential narrative that should be rejected.


Draft Version, retrieved from Academia.edu, 21 October 2020

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  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2020
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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