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Helen Hattab

Associate Professor


I am an Associate Professor of Philosophy and expert in late Aristotelian and Early Modern Philosophy and Science.  I have published extensively on the historic transformations that the metaphysical concepts of substance, form, matter and causation underwent in the 16th and 17th centuries.  I am particularly interested in Descartes’ relation to his predecessors, but am also working more broadly to unearth anti-Aristotelian arguments, found in atomist, naturalist, Platonic, Ramist and Stoic works of this period, that prepared the way for the eventual rejection of Aristotelianism by canonical early modern figures. In addition, I am tracing the defenses of these key Aristotelian concepts by their most influential proponents to reveal how early modern Aristotelianism transformed itself from within.  More recently I have begun to examine different senses of the twin methods of analysis and synthesis, which formed part of a scientific method known as the geometrical method, as well as related issues surrounding scientific knowledge of universal/common properties in the early modern period. I am particularly interested in whether/how analysis and synthesis are at work in the ethical and political theories that Thomas Hobbes and Benedict de Spinoza developed in the second half of the 17th century.


I regularly teach History of Medieval Philosophy, History of Seventeenth Century Philosophy and History of Eighteenth Century Philosophy as well as graduate seminars on various Scholastic Aristotelian and Early Modern philosophers.  Recent seminars have included readings from St Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, Francisco Suarez, Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Thomas Hobbes and Benedict de Spinoza.

Professional Activities

I serve as section editor for submissions in History of Modern Philosophy for Ergo An Open Access Journal of Philosophy I am a core member of the Houston Circle for the Study of Early Modern Philosophy.  I am also active in the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science (HOPOS) as well as a member of the American Philosophical Association (APA), the International Descartes Society and the Society for Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy (SMRP).  I am the founder and manager of “Early Modern and Medieval Philosophy for Women Researchers” – a private online group for women to share their research and useful resources as well as discuss academic and professional issues.  If you are interested in joining the group please e-mail me at

Selected Publications

  • Book:  Descartes on Forms and Mechanisms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, July 2009; Paperback edition, 2012.


  • “The Metaphysics of Substantial Forms, “ in The Routledge Companion to Sixteenth Century Philosophy, ed Benjamin Hill and Henrik Lagerlund, Routledge, forthcoming.
  • “Hobbes’ and Zabarella’s Methods: A Missing Link.”  Journal of the History of Philosophy 52.3 (2014): 461-486.
  • “Suarez’s Last Stand for the Substantial Form,” in The Philosophy of Francisco Suarez. eds Benjamin Hill and Henrik Lagerlund. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
  • “The Mechanical Philosophy”, invited chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy in Early Modern Europe. eds Desmond Clarke and Catherine Wilson. Oxford: Oxford University Press, March 2011.
  • “Suárez and Descartes: A priori Arguments Against Substantial Forms and the Decline of the Formal Cause.”  Studia Neoaristotelica  8.2 (2011): 143-162.
  • “Concurrence or Divergence? Reconciling Descartes’ Physics With His Metaphysics.” Journal of the History of Philosophy, 45.1 (Jan 2007): 49-78.
  • “From Mechanics to Mechanism: The Quaestiones Mechanicae and Descartes’ Physics.” in The Science of Nature in the Seventeenth Century.  ed Peter R.Anstey and John A. Schuster. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science. Vol.19. Dordrecht: Springer, 2005. 99-129.
  • “Conflicting Causalities: the Jesuits, their Opponents and Descartes on the Causality of the Efficient Cause.” Oxford Studies in Early Modern Philosophy Vol.1. Oxford: Oxford University Press, Dec 2003. 1-22.
  • "The Problem of Secondary Causation in Descartes: A Response to Des Chene." Perspectives on Science 8:2 (2000): 93-118.
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