In defining the soul (psuchē), or what we might now call consciousness or experience [1], Aristotle’s theory of hylomorphism holds that the relation of soul to body is that of form to matter.

Hylomorphism is a doctrine stating that the order displayed by material systems is due to the form projected in advance of production by an external producer, a form which organises what would otherwise be chaotic or passive matter.

In Basic Problems of Phenomenology (1929) Heidegger describes the architect’s vision of form (eidos) as a drive beyond the flow of moments to a constantly present appearance. For Heidegger, the ‘metaphysics of presence’ thence arises through the unthematised transfer of this sense of being to all regions of beings.

In A Thousand Plateaus (1980) Deleuze and Guattari pick up the critique of hylomorphism in the work of Gilbert Simondon and follow him in developing a non-hylomorphic or ‘artisanal’ theory of production. In this theory, forms are developed by artisans out of suggested potentials of matter rather than being dreamed up by architects and then imposed on a passive matter. In artisanal production, the artisan must therefore ‘surrender’ to matter, that is, follow its potentials by attending to its immanent or implicit forms, and then devise operations that bring forth those potentials to actualise the desired properties.

Deleuze and Guattari also follow Simondon in analysing the political significance of hylomorphism. For Simondon, hylomorphism is ‘a socialized representation of work,’ the viewpoint of a master commanding slave labor. For Deleuze and Guattari, hylomorphism also has an important political dimension, as a hylomorphic representation of a body politic resonates with fascist desire, in which the leader comes from on high to rescue his people from chaos by his imposition of order.

As an extension of this, matter could be considered as self-organising, not even needing an artisan (see Marx and Darwin). This is in accord with the post modern bottom-up view. Worth debating in the context of the question of what it means ‘to design’.


[1] R.D. Laing, for example, asserts in The Politics of Experience, that, “Experience used to be called The Soul.”

Source question: What is the source of this piece of text? Is it:

Bonta, M. and Protevi, J. (2004). Deleuze and geophilosophy: a guide and glossary. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press


Protevi, J., ed. (2006). A Dictionary of continental philosophy. New Haven: Yale University Press