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Faculty of Philosophy



This conference is being given with the support of the British Academy, Peking University, The Philosophy Faculty of the University of Cambridge and Trinity College, Cambridge. 

Papers/summaries of talks available from the conference: 

Conference Programme

Tuesday 14 July


Huw Price, Welcome to the Cambridge Philosophy Faculty


 John Marenbon, Introduction: Immateriality, Thinking and the Self in the Long Middle Ages


Tianyue Wu, Aquinas on the Individuation of Thinking  [Respondent: John Marenbon]


Coffee break


Martin Klein, Aquinas on Self-Knowledge and the Immaterial Nature of the Human Intellect


Lunch  (A sandwich lunch in the Allhusen Room, Trinity College is provided for all participants in the conference)


Elena Baltuta, Three Accounts of Form and Matter in the Thirteenth Century: Aquinas, Kilwardby and Olivi


Daniel de Haan, Under the Conditions of Matter: Thomas Aquinas on the Quasi-Immateriality of Cogitative Thinking


Coffee break


Anselm Oelze, Material Souls, Material Thoughts? Some Medieval Views on Rational Operations in Non-Rational Animals


Chinese Dinner  (venue to be announced) [Invited guests]

Wednesday 15 July


Qilin Li, Safety and the Lottery Puzzle: a case study for the distinction between epistemic safety and probability [Respondent: tba]


Jane Heal, Metaphysical atomism and the attraction of materialism




Craig French, The Argument from Illusion and Immateriality


Chris Meyns, Extended Souls




Zhe Liu, Merleau-Ponty’s Structuralist Naturalism: a radical form of Cartesianism  - [Respondent: TBA]


Jari Kaukua, [on immateriality and the self in the Islamic Long Middle Ages] - respondent: Ayman Shihadeh


Coffee break


Discussion  Medieval and contemporary views of the distinction between material and immaterial things  [Special participants: Sophie Connell, Natalja Deng, Caterina Tarlazzi, Derek Matravers]


End of conference


Conference dinner: Private Supply Room, Trinity College [Invited guests]


Immateriality, Thinking and the Self in the Long Middle Ages: project description

The feature of medieval and much early modern philosophy which seems strangest to readers today is the large role given to concrete, immaterial things: not just God (in all sorts of ways a special case), but souls and angels (or, in some traditions, Intelligences). All these things are considered to be essentially thinkers, but, before Descartes, the thinking involved (intelligere – ‘intellectual thinking’) is of a very special sort: grasping universals and syllogizing with them, so as to demonstrate scientific truths. In humans, it is only this intellectually thinking thing which is considered immaterial and immortal, and it is the subject for moral judgement, reward and punishment. Usually, this complex of ideas is simply taken for granted, as a starting point for discussing medieval philosophy of mind and metaphysics. Our project aims to examine it, distinguishing its various forms in different Western traditions (Latin, Greek, Arabic, Jewish) from c. 200 to c.1700, and to understand it, making use of the insights of those working in other areas of philosophy. An important feature of the project is its chronological range. When philosophers today think about immaterial concrete things, they usually have Cartesian minds in view. We shall explore how far Descartes inherits an earlier view of immaterial thinkers, and how far his far broader conception of thinking transforms the notion.

For further details, see

Conference abstracts are available here.

Tuesday, 14 July, 2015 - 09:00 to Wednesday, 15 July, 2015 - 18:20
Contact email: 
Event location: 
Faculty of Philosophy, University of Cambridge