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Helen Hattab



I am a Professor of Philosophy and expert in late Aristotelian and Early Modern Philosophy and Science.  I have published on the historic transformations that the metaphysical concepts of substance, form, matter and causation underwent in the 16th and 17th centuries.  I have worked most extensively on Descartes’ relation to his predecessors, but have come to focus more and more on the independent interest and merit of arguments on these issues found in competing atomist, naturalist, Platonic, Ramist and Stoic philosophies of this period. Concurrently I have been tracing the defenses and reinterpretations of key Aristotelian philosophical principles by their most influential proponents (e.g., Zabarella, Toledo, Fonseca, Suarez) to reveal how early modern Aristotelianism transformed itself from within.  One long-term research project concerns different senses of the twin methods of analysis and synthesis, and related issues surrounding scientific knowledge of universal attributes/common natures, discussed by16th and 17th logicians and metaphysicians. 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. As part of this larger project, I am writing a book that traces debates about the metaphysical grounding of the universal concepts employed in scientific demonstrations from late 16th century Aristotelian philosophers to Spinoza.


I regularly teach History of Ancient and 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 Avicenna, St Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, Francisco Suarez, Francis Bacon, René Descartes, Thomas Hobbes and Benedict de Spinoza.

Professional Activities

I serve as Associate Editor for Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, Part A.  I am active in the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science (HOPOS), having served as Vice President, President, and now as Past President I organize meetings of the Houston Circle for the Study of Early Modern Philosophy  I am a member of the American Philosophical Association (APA), the Society for Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy (SMRP) and an invited member of the Groningen Centre for Medieval and Early Modern Thought

Selected Publications

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


  • “Creation and Subsistence: 17th Century Commentaries on the Subsistence of Prime Matter,” in Summistae: The Commentary Tradition on Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae (15th-18th Century), ed Lidia Lanza and Marco Tosta, Ancient and Medieval Philosophy – Series 1, University of Leuven Press, forthcoming.
  • “Descartes’ Mechanical but not Mechanistic Physics”, The Oxford Handbook of Descartes and Cartesianism, ed Delphine Antoine-Mahut, Steve Nadler and Tad Schmaltz, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019, p.124-137.
  • “Early Modern Roots of the Philosophical Concept of a Law of Nature”, in Laws of Nature, ed Walter Ott and Lydia Patton., Oxford University Press, May 2018, p.18-41.
  • “The Metaphysics of Substantial Forms, “ in The Routledge Companion to Sixteenth Century Philosophy, ed Benjamin Hill and Henrik Lagerlund, Routledge, 2017, p.436-457.
  • “Descartes on the Eternal Truths and Essences of Mathematics: An Alternative Reading.” Vivarium, Vol.54 (2-3, 2016): 204-249.
  • Aristotelianism and Atomism Combined: Gorlaeus on Knowledge of Universals.” Perspectives on Science, Vol. 24 (3, May/June 2016): 285-304.
  • “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, p.101-118.
  • “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, p.124-164.
  • “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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