Theory of Human Thought and Sensation by Aristotle

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Theory of Human Thought and Sensation by AristotleDe Anima and On The SoulGreek Philosophy 2124/27/2013David Maldonado| |

In On the Soul, Aristotle approached the concept of the soul from an essentially scientific perspective, employing elements of biology and metaphysics that encompassed everything from the concepts of substance, form, and matter, to those of potentiality and actuality. While Christians and other religious faiths have traditionally deemed the soul to be an immortal entity that lives on after physical death, Aristotle viewed the soul as united with the living body, and therefore unable to exist without a host. From his perspective, a soul is created merely for the purpose of development, which is only possible through the soul's connection with a body or some other type of container in the physical world. Therefore if the soul is presumed to exist as the form of a body, the essence of the soul is then dependent on the body, or at least some entity that could be given life by it, for its own existence. Thus Aristotle purported that because a soul designates life, then every living thing, including animal and plant life, has a soul. From a broad perspective, this would mean that the ability to think and reason is not part of the requisite makeup of a soul, nor are the faculties of belief or emotion. However within Aristotle's premise of all living things possessing souls, he explains that different entities possess different versions. He believed that what distinguishes the human soul from the animal or plant soul was its ability to hold rational beliefs and to exercise reason. By classifying life into different levels, Aristotle was able to categorize plants as having the lowest level of soul, animals other than humans as having a higher level of soul, and humans, because of their capacity for reason, possessed the greatest soul. Therefore, according to Aristotle the human soul is a reward based on the sum total of our biological nature and our unique capacities as humans to think and feel. Aristotle believed that there were three substances in which there was a distinction between form and matter: Matter which is the potentiality, Form which is the actuality, and the compound of form and matter (De Anima II.1). Aristotle breaks up actuality and potentiality into different grades and levels. When Aristotle says that the soul is an actuality, it means it is either first or second actuality. He tells us that the soul is: a first actuality (412a27): “The soul is the first actuality of a natural body that is potentially alive.” The first actuality is a kind of potentiality --- a capacity to engage in the activity which corresponds with the second actuality. The second actuality is the exercise of a function, while the first actuality is the disposition to exercise that function. Aristotle in De Anima also discusses something which he calls nested hierarchy of the soul’s functions and activities (413a23). The hierarchy is as followed: A) Growth, nutrition (reproduction) B) Locomotion, perception C) Intellect (thought). These give us three corresponding degrees of the soul: a) Nutritive Soul (plants) b) Sensitive Soul (all animals) c) Rational Soul (human beings). Aristotle uses the term nested with good reason. They are nested in the sense that anything that has a higher degree of soul also has all the lower degrees as well. All living things grow, nourish themselves, and reproduce. Animals not only do that, but move and perceive too. Humans do all of the above, and also reason as well. A living thing’s soul is its capacity to engage in the activities that are characteristics of living things of its natural kind and conducive to their well-being and survival. Aristotle believed that anything that nourishes itself, grows, decays, moves on it’s own without being moved by something else, perceives, or thinks is alive. Therefore, the capacities of a thing in terms of virtue of which it does these things,...
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