CFP: /Philosophies/ Special Issue: Art vs Nature: The Ontology of Artifacts in the Long Middle Ages

Submission deadline: December 1, 2021

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Dear Colleagues, 

What is an artifact? What distinguishes artifacts from natural things? What is the difference between artifacts and social constructs? While the world we live in is increasingly artificial, such questions about the ontological status of artifacts have become hotly debated in contemporary philosophy. It is often claimed that the Modern era is inseparable from a new way of conceiving the physical universe and the place of human beings in nature. Prior to the modern ambition of “conquering nature” and the alliance between experimental science and technology, the Middle Ages witnessed technological inventions and social transformations that deeply influenced the divide between nature and culture. Although many studies have been devoted to the concept of nature in the Middle Ages, no comprehensive study has been dedicated to the medieval reflections on the status of artifacts. Yet, the status of artifacts is a frequently discussed theme in medieval philosophy. Being at the center of different related problems, it is of primary importance for understanding the new conception of the world that eventually arose at the dawn of the Modern period. Indeed, the case of artifacts was a topic classically discussed in relation to the definition of nature. Since an artifact is—by definition—a non-natural object, the medieval discussions around the status of artifacts reflect the evolution of the categories of motion, finality and intentionality that were part of the concept of “nature”. Usually defined as accidental wholes, artifacts were generally regarded as less fundamental than the substances from which they are made, on the basis that artifacts are mere reconfigurations of material substances arranged by human beings. However, a new tendency to consider “natural things” themselves as mere arrangements of material parts toward the end of the Middle Ages contributed to blur the distinction between artificial and natural things and entailed a new approach to these concepts. Due to the dominant religious framework of the Middle Ages and the familiar analogy of God as a craftsman, the status of artifacts also involved an analysis of the essence of creation and the different modes of producing something. Besides, the divide between artifacts and nature stimulated reflections on the role of culture and conventions in the production of artifacts. From this point of view, tools, works of arts but also more abstract social objects like money were part of the “construction of social reality” that underwent radical changes in the Middle Ages and that philosophers had to theorize. The aim of this Special Issue is dedicated to the ontology of artifacts in the long Middle Ages, which includes Arabic and Byzantine philosophy and stretches into early modern philosophy, is twofold: on the one hand, it will make possible a better appreciation of the rich discussions that led to a new way of conceiving the world; on the other hand, it is hoped that the studies presented here will contribute to the ongoing debates on artifacts by highlighting the original but yet poorly studied theories designed in the Middle Ages on this topic.

Prof. Dr. Henrik Lagerlund
Dr. Sylvain Roudaut
Dr. Erik Åkerlund
Guest Editors


  • artifacts
  • nature
  • final causes
  • god
  • design
  • metaphysics
  • medieval
  • modern
  • science

Please contact Guest Editor Prof. Dr. Henrik Lagerlund, Dr. Sylvain Roudaut, Dr. Erik Åkerlund, or Special Issue Editor Viktor Ćirković at for further information.

Philosophies (ISSN 2409-9287, is an international peer-reviewed open access journal. The journal has recently been indexed into Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI) in Web of Science.

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