Harry Alanen


My research rethinks the central aspects of Aristotle's philosophy of action. Aristotle worked on many topics that contemporary philosophers working on action are interested in although he did so within a different philosophical framework and historical context. While recent scholarship has done much to show the unique features of Aristotle's philosophy, a comprehensive study of his philosophy of action is missing. My research aims to fill this gap by systematically working out his views on action by studying his natural philosophy, metaphysics, psychology, and ethics. In my DPhil dissertation I discuss some of the basic features of Aristotle's views on the ontology, causation, and explanation of change and action. I plan to expand on this research to include Aristotle's psychology and ethics, and to consider underexplored themes in Aristotle-scholarship, like habitual actions and social agency.

Aristotle on Action and Agency

In my dissertation I develop Aristotle's ontology of action, and his views on the causation and explanation of action. I argue that actions are hylomorphic processes: continuous entities which have both formal and material features. This sets Aristotle's views apart from certain contemporary views that hold that actions are events of bodily motion, caused by mental events or events in the agent's body.

I argue that Aristotle did not accept a notion of causation where causes and effects are distinct events. The entities in the causal relation are substances of some kind; and the agent’s action and the affection the patient undergoes through the agent's action, are two different ways of describing one and the same process. Since Aristotle's notion of agency includes non-living substances, I also discuss how he distinguishes between this broad notion of agency and the agency of living substances.


I plan to complement my dissertation by researching two related themes in Aristotle's philosophy. The first is to how cognitive activities like perception, reason, and desire relate to each other, on the one hand, and to bodily motion and action, on the other. This complements our understanding of actions as goal-directed, hylomorphic, processes. The second theme is Aristotle's views on responsibility for action. This complements our understanding of Aristotle's views on human agency, which gives us a better understanding of his philosophy of action in general.

Talks & Publications

A selection of forthcoming publications and one's under preparation. These can be shared upon request.

Forthcoming Publications:

  • "Davidson on Aristotle and Philosophy of Action". Forthcoming in ACTA PHILOSOPHICA FENNICA, edited by J. Kuorikosi & T. Toppinen, 2019.
  • "A Review of C.M.M. Olfert's Aristotle on Practical Truth (OUP, 2017)". Forthcoming in Ancient Philosophy Today: DIALOGOI, 2019.

Under Preparation:

  • "The Aporia of Physics III.3: Aristotle on Action and Affection". Draft of thesis chapter in preparation for journal submission.
  • Together with James Conant and Dawa Ometto we are preparing Frederick Stoutland's manuscript Acting for Reasons for publication.


  • "Aristotle's De Anima III.7". I examine the place of DA III.7 in De Anima and examine the claim that the chapter is a collection of fragments.

Upcoming Talks:

  • University of Cambridge, 16.11.2018: "On Aristotle’s Ontology of Action" (tentative title).
  • University of Oxford, 07.02.2019: "The Aporia of Physics III.3: Aristotle on Action and Affection". Workshop in Ancient Philosophy.
  • British Society for the History of Philosophy, King's College London, 24-26.04.2018: "Aristotle on Instrumental Changes". BSHP Annual Conference 2019.

Past Talks:

  • I have presented different aspects of my research at various institutions and conferences including Yale, St Andrews, and Uppsala, and the 2018 SAGP group-session of the Pacific APA. For a full list of past talks see my CV, for abstracts and handouts of past talks please see my Academia.edu page.


Future projects I hope to pursue include researching the history of philosophy of action and agency more broadly, and Aristotle's understanding of and arguments against his predecessors (especially in Physics I, De Anima I, Metaphysics I & VII).