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

Ana Laura Edelhoff

Ana Laura EdelhoffThesis: Aristotle on Priority in Substance

My research focuses on ancient philosophy, especially Aristotle’s and Plato’s metaphysics, and ancient theories of emotions. I am also interested in contemporary metaphysics, especially in Neo-Aristotelian approaches to grounding, causation and mereology.

My Ph.D. thesis, Aristotle on Priority in Substance , concentrates on Aristotle’s discussion of grounding and fundamentality, in Aristotle’s terminology ‘priority in substance’ (πρότερον κατὰ οὐσίαν). I am presenting a new interpretation of Aristotle’s theory of priority in substance. I argue that Aristotle has two complex accounts of priority in substance which are interrelated and connected to his theory of the four causes. They are conceived of as ontological dependence and teleological dependence. In my dissertation I take passages into account that have been neglected in former studies on this topic, such as fragments of Xenocrates’ and discussions on priority in Categories  7. By doing so, I show that Aristotle builds upon many of Plato’s criteria for priority. In addition, part of my project is to offer the first account and classification of counterpossibles (conditionals with an impossible antecedent) in Aristotle.

I plan to expand my dissertation project on Aristotle’s theory of priority in substance, by investigating thought experiments, especially those involving impossibilities, in ancient science. My focus will be on Aristotle and Late ancient philosophers, such as Philoponus and Boethius.

Thought experiments are a common and ordinary phenomena. We are frequently engaged in hypothetical thinking. For instance: what if I had not met her at the station? She would have been lost! Or: What will happen, if I step into an elevator that is then allowed to free fall? (The last example is taken from Einstein, who claimed that he developed his major ideas not so much by abstract thinking and calculating, but rather by engaging in thought experiments). Yet, even though we are all using thought experiments, understanding the mechanisms underlying thought experiments is very difficult. How do they work? What is allowed in a thought experiment? What are its restrictions?

My goal is to develop a unified and systematic investigation of thought experiments in ancient science. A systematic investigation into thought experiments is still much needed, since very little work has been done on this topic. I will show how Aristotle and some other writers have at least implicit theories of how thought experiments are supposed to work and how to set them up. Indeed, I hope to show that especially Late Ancient philosophers have highly sophisticated theories about thought experiments.

An important part of this project is to develop a systematic analysis of Aristotle’s and Plato’s use of conditionals, in particular of their use of counterpossibles in thought experiments. Both make many counterpossible claims when they discuss and search for the most fundamental beings. (For instance, “If the eternal substances were not, nothing would be.” (Metaph.  IX 8, 1050b19–20) or “If the form of the good was not, everything that is good would be destroyed.” (EE  I 8, 1217b2-15) and according to their views respectively, the eternal substances and the form of the good necessarily exist.) Many interpreters use Lewis-Stalnaker semantics to read these counterpossible claims. However, according to their semantics, all counterpossibles turn out to be trivially true. Yet, Aristotle and Plato seem to distinguish between counterpossible claims that are true and others that are false. So far, there has been no attempt in the literature to provide a classification of counterpossibles that Aristotle and Plato would accept and reject and of their reasons for doing so. I aim to provide such a classification and the mechanisms underlying it. This will be a highly important contribution to the scholarship in this field, since counterpossible claims are central for understanding many of Aristotle’s and Plato’s core concepts (for example, substance and separation). I will anchor my premises in the primary sources.

Apart from my work on ancient metaphysics, I am also working on ancient and contemporary theories of emotions. I am particularly interested in the metaphysics of emotions. I also intend to examine the nature and kinds of anger and shame from an interdisciplinary perspective, integrating research results from recent work in the areas of psychology and neuroscience. We all experience anger nearly everyday. Sometimes we get upset, because somebody snatches away our parking space. Another time we get angry, because a child is unduly and unfairly punished. What is the best account of anger? And how should we deal with our feelings of anger?

According to Aristotle, anger is an evaluative judgement, that is always aimed at revenge and connected with one’s own self-esteem. On his view, an injured person cannot vindicate his self-respect or overcome an inflicted injury without feeling angry. Already Stoic philosophers criticized Aristotle’s account of anger, arguing that one ought to suppress any extreme emotions, especially anger, whenever it arises, in order to live a happy and rational life. This debate still continues today. By taking into account recent studies in psychology and cognitive science and other connected fields, I aim to analyse the connection between anger, self-esteem and revenge both from a systematic as well as from a historical point of view.


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


since 10/2016 Teaching Fellow (Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter) Universität Tübingen