Aristotle’s Hylomorphic Conception of Knowledge. From Epistemology to Psychology and Metaphysics


  • Aldo L’Erario Ludwig Maximilians Universität München



Aristotle, empiricism, hylomorphism, form


In the Posterior Analytics, Aristotle sketches a very peculiar model of science, according to which knowing what something is, discovering its causes and stating its existence entail each other. The underlying claim is one of strong realism: for it is meant that our rational concepts include in themselves knowledge of the existence of their objects; and that, therefore, it is impossible even to have a grasp of what non-existent entities such as unicorns are.

The aim of my paper is to investigate about which requisites needs Aristotle to embrace in order to defend such a position. Much of the recent scholarly work regarding the Posterior Analytics has focused on a reconstruction of Aristotle’s epistemology, especially with regard to the achievement of the principles of science. In at least some cases, this has lead to readings of the Posterior Analytics in the spirit of a more or less strict form of empiricism. However, these readings are at risk of falling short of making justice to Aristotelian realism.

After considering recent studies in search for a solution, I will argue that only by broadening the scope to Aristotle’s psychology—with especial regard to De Anima—and to his metaphysical frame we get to fully understand his position. By reading Aristotle’s study of our rational faculties through the filter of his hylomorphism, indeed, we understand that the concept of something’s essence is itself a form “taking place” in the soul and structuring itself according to the same rules that apply to reality. My final conclusion will be that in Aristotle we do find a form of empiricism, but that at the same time justification is for him ultimately metaphysical and top-down.






Human nature, soul and body. Convergence of perspectives