We welcome you very warmly back into our History of Philosophy Seminar, which will continue as an in-present event next Friday, 18th of Feb, at 2 pm, (Vuorikatu 3/Fabianinkatu 24, 5th floor, Faculty meeting hall). Serena Masolini (University of Helsinki) will be our guest; see the title and the abstract of her presentation below.
Those of you who would still like to join via zoom, we hope to meet you at
Within the list of prohibited doctrines on natural philosophy issued on 18 March 1277 by Robert Kilwardby, “with the agreement of all the masters and non-masters of the University of Oxford”, one can find three theses which address explicitly the nature and properties of matter. One proposition, stating that “matter and form are not distinguished by essence” (art. 14), can be related to the discussion on the ontological status of prime matter—i.e., whether prime matter, as a potential being, is a being in its own right. The other two prohibited propositions—“no active potency exists in matter” (art. 3), and “privation is pure nothingness and exists in celestial and inferior bodies” (art. 4)—concern the understanding of natural matter, i.e. matter as a physical principle of change, and its being, to a certain extent, endowed with formal elements. The doctrine of potentia activa—maintaining the presence of active potencies (‘diminished’ or ‘incomplete forms’) within physical matter, in virtue of which matter has an inclination towards form and actually receives that form—is indeed one of the main positions defended by the English tradition. What so far has not been fully investigated is to what extent this doctrine was shared by the English masters active at the time of or in the decades preceding the Oxford prohibitions, in which form it was defended, and whether there were any masters actually teaching the opposite, as was condemned in article 3. Similar questions can be asked concerning articles 4 and 14.
This presentation stems out of an on-going project aiming at understanding the institutional meaning of Kilwardby’s act of censorship and its possible targets, by looking at the commentaries on the Physics, Methaphysics, and De generatione et corruptione composed in England between 1240s and 1270s, still in large part unedited and scarcely studied. After a general overview of the project, I will focus on the discussions on physical matter by analyzing the position on active potencies defended by Geoffrey of Aspall, active in Oxford in the mid-thirteenth century, and by the anonymous author of the commentary on the Physics preserved in MS Siena, Bibl. Com., L.III.21.