Anthropological Hylomorphism

Fr. Bruno Niederbacher, S.J.

Learn more about this Routledge Research Companion to Theological Anthropology and this chapter contribution!

This chapter attempts to present one version of anthropological hylomorphism which is inspired by the Aristotelian tradition.

Anthropological hylomorphism is the view that human beings are compounds of matter (Greek hyl?) and form (Greek morph?). According to this view, the soul of a human being is its substantial form. In the first part of the chapter this hylomorphism is presented and some difficulties pertaining to it are explored, for example: Does one human being have only one substantial form or many? Which kind of entity is a substantial form? Is it an entity at all? And can the soul, understood as substantial form, explain anything? In the second part of the chapter it is investigated how anthropological hylomorphism accounts for three central topics of Christian belief: the creation and beginning of an individual human being, the moral responsibility and moral status of human beings, and, finally, their bodily resurrection.

Questions for further study

  • How can this version of hylomorphism account for substantial change?
  • Is the matter that is formed by a substantial form prime matter or proximate matter
  • What are formal explanations and who needs them?