Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Department of Philosophy - Philosophy, Science and the Sciences

Ana Laura Edelhoff

edelhoff.jpgThesis: Ontological Priority and Independence in Aristotle

My research primarily focuses on Ancient philosophy (Ancient metaphysics, especially Aristotle’s and Plato’s Metaphysics, Ancient Aesthetics, especially Aristotle’s Poetics) and contemporary metaphysics  (grounding, causation, mereology, Neo-Aristotelianism). I am particularly interested in the relevance and interest of Aristotle for contemporary debates in metaphysics.

  Currently, I am finishing my PhD on Aristotle’s theory of ontological priority and independence. Aristotle argues that some beings are ontologically prior to other beings and he claims, somewhat surprisingly, that Plato shares his view. Elucidating Aristotle’s criteria for ontological priority will, thus, help us to understand better both his approach and his nuanced understanding and criticism of Plato’s metaphysics.

  As a first general orientation, we should note that Aristotle argues in Metaphysics V 11 that x is ontologically prior to y, iff x can be without y, but not conversely. Already, though, our understanding of this basic claim controversial.

  On the traditional view, Aristotle conceives of ontological priority as asymmetric existential independence (Ross (1975), Kirwan (1993), Makin (2003)). According to the existential interpretation, x is ontologically prior to y, iff x can exist without y, but not vice versa. However, as many interpreters have pointed out, this interpretation raises several difficulties; most importantly, it does not seem to accommodate own Aristotle’s own examples of ontological priority. For example, Aristotle claims that in the course of a human life, the phase in which one is an adult is ontologically prior to the phase in which one is a child. Yet, plainly, no-one can be an adult without first having been a child. So, the traditional interpretation given in terms of existential independence seems incorrect.

  In view of these difficulties, a new interpretation has been put forward by Michail Peramatzis (Peramatzis (2011)). Peramatzis argues that Aristotle conceives of ontological priority as asymmetric essential independence, which can be formalised as follows: x is ontologically prior to y, iff x can be what it is without y being what it is, but not conversely.

  By contrast to Peramatzis and in accordance with the traditional view, I think that Aristotle conceives of ontological priority in existential rather than in essential terms. I argue that the arguments against the existential account are not decisive and I offer a new, qualified reading of the existential approach. The qualifications take the form of precise restrictions given by Aristotle himself when he applies his account of ontological priority to the test cases he lists.

  Furthermore, I argue that Aristotle designs his account of ontological priority in a specific way, which, on the one hand, allows him to enter into a discussion concerning ontologically prior beings with Plato and other Academic philosophers, but which, on the other hand, allows Aristotle to show that the entities which Plato and the Academic philosophers claim to be ontologically prior do not in fact fulfil their own criteria for ontological priority.


2013          M.St. in Ancient Philosophy, University of Oxford (Distinction)

since 2011  Ph.D. Candidate in Philosophy, Humboldt Universität zu Berlin

2011          M.A. in Classics, Freie Universität Berlin

2009          B.A. in Classics, Freie Universität Berlin

Academic Distinctions and Fellowships

2013          Sidgwick Prize, Corpus Christi College Oxford

since 2013  German National Merit Foundation PhD Scholarship (Studienstiftung des

                deutschen Volkes)

2011-2013  Graduate School of Ancient Philosophy Berlin Scholarship

2011          German National Merit Foundation Foreign Exchange Scholarship

2007-2011  German National Merit Foundation Scholarship