Book Workshop: Anna Marmodoro, "Properties in Ancient Metaphysics"


Location: 320 Malloy Hall

Save the date for the second of two workshops with our distinguished visiting scholar Anna Marmodoro (co-sponsored with the Center for Philosophy of Religion)! We will be discussing work from her upcoming book, Properties in Ancient Metaphysics

In this second workshop, we will discuss Plato’s theory of Forms and participation, with focus on his most challenging arguments: the Partaking Dilemma, the Third Bed Argument, the Third Man Argument and the Likeness regress, concluding with Plato’s discovery of emergence. There is more to Plato’s metaphysics than the history of philosophy would have thus far credited him with, which will be identified, analysed and discussed.

If you would like to attend the workshops, please email us at We will distribute the manuscripts to registered participants a couple days before the events.

Book abstract:

What is a property? This book aims to provide an overview of how some of the most philosophically influential thinkers of classical antiquity theorised about properties. Properties are reified in in different ways in different ontologies to answer metaphysical problems. I show that for the ancient philosophers I examine here, these metaphysical problems were quailfication and similarity of things, instantiation of properties in things, and the unity of properties in things. My overview will put in relief the inquiries, problems and solutions the ancients were pursuing while engaged in dialogue with each other, within their philosophical milieu. The book’s further aim is to make the different theories of properties bequeathed to us from classical antiquity known and accessible to today’s philosophers, thus tracking the genealogy of our current metaphysical debates on the topic.

Some of the interpretative results put forward here will surprise the reader, because they throw off centre an entrenched scholarly approach concerning how the ancients thought about properties. It is a philosophical commonplace to identify Plato and Aristotle as the two main players in the ancient debate on properties, and to interpret both of them as positing universals, which are transcendent for the former, and immanent for the latter, i.e. for the former, existing independently from concrete particular objects (ante res) and for the latter, existing as dependent on the concrete particular objects in the world (in rebus).

Here I will show that the two main players who shaped our modern metaphysics of properties, and ought to be given the central stage, are instead Anaxagoras on the one hand (for whom properties are particular), and Aristotle on the other (for whom properties are universal), with Plato’s views being innovative, experimental and ‘in-between’, as it were, those of his predecessor and his successor. Anaxagoras introduces a Distributive Model of properties, to explain qualification of objects in terms of parts of properties; distribution of parts will be used by Plato in his earlier theory of Forms and theory of participation. Plato conceives and employs of three different models: the Distributive Model (inherited from Anaxagoras and combined with his own theory of Forms), the Mimetic Model, and the Recurrence Model. The Distributive Model is Plato’s most developed account of property possession and similarity, in terms of parts of Forms. The Mimetic Model is the alternative he adopts when the Distributive Model falls prey of very significant difficulties when combined with the theory of Forms. On the Mimetic Model, an object is qualified by a property by resembling the relevant Form, rather than by having a part of the From within its constitution, and is similar to the Form by both object and Form resembling a further Form. Finally the Recurrence Model, which will become a pivot of Aristotle’s metaphysics, is only explored but never endorsed by Plato, because it would require him to posit universal properties – recurring forms of Forms in his language – with fundamental difficulties to follow for his theory of Forms. Aristotle explicitly rejects the Distributive Model, in favour of the Recurrence Model, which in combination with Aristotle’s theory of recurring universals and instantiation, is the most successful and influential account from antiquity that explains property qualification and resemblance.

Originally published at