Annual Ratio conference: “Return to Form”

May 7, 2022
Department of Philosophy, University of Reading

G74, Philip Lyle building
Reading RG6 6LA
United Kingdom

This will be an accessible event, including organized related activities


  • Ratio: An international journal of analytic philosophy


Durham University
Universität Rostock
Oxford University
University of Southampton


University of Reading

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The topic of this year's Ratio conference is the recent renewal in research on (Aristotelian) form, essence, metaphysical structure, and (natural) kind.

The conference will take place as a hybrid event. The speakers and a small number of audience will be at the University of Reading (G74, Philip Lyle building -- wheelchair accessible), and everyone interested is welcome to join the event through Microsoft Teams. Registration is now open for the event, both for participation in person and virtually:

Program, Saturday 7th May 2022:

09:30 - 11:00 Michail Peramatzis -- Aristotle on Unity in Metaphysics Z.12 & H.6

11:00 - 11:30 Break

11:30 - 13:00 Ludger Jansen -- Are there essential forms in the social domain?

13:00 - 14:00 Lunch

14:00 - 15:30 Naomi Thompson -- How (and Why) to be an Antirealist about Metaphysical Explanation

15:30 - 16:00 Break

16:00 - 17:30 Robin Hendry -- Essence, Structure and Existence in Chemistry


Michail Peramatzis -- Aristotle on Unity in Metaphysics Z.12 & H.6

It has been argued that nothing could discharge all of the many and various functions that Aristotle thought his forms could perform in his hylomorphic picture. One could raise a similar worry about just one among those functions: the form’s role as a unifier of objects, especially substance compounds, such as Socrates. For there seem to be several different notions of unity Aristotle is operating with, such as (for example):

(a) Unity in the sense of the unifying function of form encapsulated in the fact that it makes certain things one.

(b) Unity in the sense of how or why form achieves (a): perhaps it does so by itself being a distinctive type of unity.

(c) Unity of the particular compound substance in that its material parts are unified into a single object (as opposed to a heap) and/or its matter/material components are unified with its characteristic structure, shape, form, function, etc.

(d) Unity of the substance-kind in that the kind human is one single kind, as opposed to a conjunction or disjunction of essential features mentioned in its definition (animal, biped, rational, …; matter-form; potentiality-actuality) or of necessary (but non-essential) features (risibility, capacity to learn grammar, …).

(e) Unity underpinning (d)-unity: the form also ought to unify a kind’s defining essence, as well as its necessary features, into one single kind.

My aim in this paper is to articulate these different aspects of unity and ask whether, and if so how, there is any notion that underlies all or most or the most important among them. In so doing I shall also examine whether and how form could discharge all of the corresponding unifying functions required by Aristotle’s hylomorphism.

Ludger Jansen -- Are there essential forms in the social domain?

Standard accounts of essential forms, be they Platonic or Aristotelian, have been developed primarily for the domain of natural beings. In this talk, I discuss whether a theory of forms might be extendable to the social domain. For this purpose, I first show that standard arguments for the existence of essential forms also apply to the social domain. Second, I point out that, in the light of biological evolution, the contingency and historicity of the social domain is nothing that distinguishes the social from the biological domain. Third, I suggest two candidates for social forms: social kinds and social identities, and discuss important differences between them. Fourth, I discuss whether it might be dangerous or morally objectionable to posit essential forms in the social domain.

Naomi Thompson -- How (and Why) to be an Antirealist about Metaphysical Explanation

Metaphysical explanation is explanation of what makes something the case. Just as scientific explanation is generally (but not exclusively) associated with causation, metaphysical explanation is generally (but not exclusively) associated with grounding. Even more so than in the case of scientific explanation, it is generally assumed that we should be realists about metaphysical explanation. In this paper I explore a fairly poorly understood alternative: that we might be antirealists about metaphysical explanation. I make some general claims about what we ought to take to characterise antirealism when it comes to metaphysical explanation, and I argue that a number of reasons we might have to doubt that there is metaphysical explanation as the realist understands it push us towards instead adopting some version of antirealism.

Robin Hendry -- Essence, Structure and Existence in Chemistry

In this paper I do three things. (i) I defend microstructural essentialism about chemical substances, and argue that it is compatible with a broader pluralism about classification. If I am right, then it is a mistake to reject essentialism about particular classificatory categories on the basis of this kind of pluralism. (ii) I offer a conception of structure from the point of view of chemistry, and look at how it relates to ideas of structure and form in metaphysics. (iii) Since chemical substances and species are often composite bodies, I explore the conditions for their existence, rejecting one popular account appealing to forces and/or energy. To understand existence in chemistry, I argue, you need to take into account the timescales of processes

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May 6, 2022, 9:00am BST

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