Aristotle’s De Anima Study
Notes: PHIL 232
Notice: These notes are
meant as a supplement to the text. They are not a substitute for it and
indeed, they are incomplete. The notes
follow the paragraph divisions and terminology in RAGP. Do not hesitate to bring to my attention any
inaccuracies or obscurities.
- kn. of soul contribute to kn. of truth, nature
- We seek the essence of soul
- Is the soul substance or coincident? Is it actuality or potentiality? What is its genus? Do souls differ in species?
- Do we inquire into parts of the soul and their functions? Should we begin by inquiring into the
capacities of the soul such as perception or by inquiring into how to
describe the parts of the soul that have such capacities?
- We must inquire into the essence, but also into the coincidents.
- Are affections (attributes) proper to the
soul or what has the soul?
- If the soul has some function in virtue of its own nature, it
would be separable; but if it does not have a function
in virtue of its own nature, it would depend on body and hence, is not
- Body seem to be affected when we feel emotions
- Soul is subject for student of nature b/c affections include
- Student of nature would investigate ‘anger’ according to its
physical description, that is, through its matter; dialectician would
investigate ‘anger’ according to its psychological description, that is,
through its form. So, who is the
real student of nature? The one who treats matter, the one who treats form or the one
who looks at the composite of matter and form?
- Affections of the soul such as anger,
are attributes of the soul and hence are inseparable.
- Do the soul’s actions mean that it is in motion? Aristotle says this does not necessarily
- The soul does not have emotions, WE
have emotions via the soul. Motion
extends to the soul, as in the case of perception; motion also starts with
the soul as in the case of recollection (N.B. ‘recollection’ here
literally means ‘remembering’; it does not entail anything like what Plato
means in the Phaedo when he says that the soul ‘recollects’ what it
knowledge from before we were born.
- Note that he wants an account that applies to “all souls in
- There are three candidates for substance:
- composite of matter and form
‘Actuality’ is defined as a) the state
b) the activity
of attending to knowing
- Note that when he says ‘bodies’ seem to be natural substances, that he is referring to the composite.
- If the composite of form and matter is what he means by
substance here, then, says Aristotle, the soul can’t be a substance in
this sense because (as we know from the Categories) substances cannot be
said of substances, i.e., we can’t say ‘Jack is soul’ anymore than we can
says ‘Jack is Bill’. The soul can’t be a substance in this sense because the
definition of Jack or Bill includes matter and soul has no matter. However, the soul could be the substance
of a natural body in the sense of form. The other sense of substance (as we
found in the Metaphysics) is form as the actuality of a thing.
- 2 Senses of
‘actuality: see 2.1.2 above. He
says the soul is the actuality of a body that it potentially alive because
the body of a thing contains matter and matter is
defined as potential.
Remember that here he is speaking of form as logically distinct
from matter; he doesn’t mean that the form exists apart from matter or
that matter can be actual without form.
- Note the use of homologues (i.e., root = mouth) and how his
biological thinking about plants as well has humans plays a central role
in understanding the nature of soul.
- A thing is ‘one’ with the thing (or matter) it actualizes in
the sense of being numerically one; but ‘one’
meaning ‘unity’ is proper to form or what a thing is with respect to its
- Soul is a substance which corresponds to an account (or
definition); it is the essence and form of a natural body which has its
own principles of rest and motion (hence, there is no soul of an axe)
- So, hypothetically, if an eye were thought of
as an animal, the capacity of the eye in accordance with its principles of
motion and rest—that is, sight—would be thought of as its
soul. The eye itself is just the
matter, analogous to a body. By
‘the part’ here he means the eye; by ‘the whole’
he means the body. So, what he’s saying is that the same principle re:
eye/sight applies to the body/soul.
- Being awake is a function of a thing (say, man) with a soul,
just as cutting and seeing are functions of an axe and an eye. What we call an ‘eye’ is pupil (matter)
plus sight (form); likewise an animal is matter
- Soul per se, is not separable from the body; but perhaps
a function of the soul is. Here he
means the ‘active intellect’.
- Empirical method of inquiry into the soul is less perspicuous
because it examines individual souls; we must not forget that the point is
to arrive at a general account of ‘soul’.
That kind of knowledge is less evident to us by
empirical methods, but more evident by rational methods. What we want is a cause of the
soul—an explanation of how it comes to be what it is—not just a definition
of what it is.
- Living distinguishes things with souls from inanimate
- All animate things require nutrition, but not all things that
have the power of nutrition have other powers of the soul, like
- ‘Touch’, like the power of nutrition in things that can’t reason (i.e., plants), can be ‘separated’ (i.e.,
exist apart) from the other senses.
- The part of the soul that plants and animals have in common is called ‘nutritive’.
- Are potentialities of the soul, i.e.,
nutrition, perception, understanding etc… a
soul or part of a soul?
- The ‘understanding’ part of the soul seems to be separable from
parts that are perishable.
- Like the understanding, the perceiving and believing parts of
the soul are separable.
- Capacities of the
intellect and senses differ in accordance with which kind of thing is being considered.
- ‘Living’ or ‘perceiving’ has 2 senses.
- Soul is responsible for us living, perceiving, thinking. It is
form and not matter or subject.
Soul is the actuality of a body.
- Soul is ‘present in’ a body.
So, the soul appropriate to each thing
will be in each thing according to its definition.
- The soul is act, matter is the potency
which comes to be what it is on account of the soul.
- Analysis of nutritive, perceptive, desiring parts of soul.
- Animals can perceive their nourishment.
- Hence, what has the sense of touch also has desire.
- Some things have capacity for locomotion as well; humans or
anything superior to them have a thinking part
- Like an
account of ‘figure’ which would describe all figures and distinguish
between none, we need an account of the soul which will comprehend all
souls but not single any one kind of soul out distinctly.
- Priority and posteriority in animal species is analogous to the
parts of the soul. The perceptive requires the nutritive but the latter is found alone in plants. Touch is prior to the other senses; but
some perceptive animals some do not have
locomotion. Reasoning and
understanding is the least common trait found among things with
- An account ought to be given for each
part of the soul, such as the understanding, nutritive, perceptive.
- Function of the soul is generative and nutritive; natural end
for living things is to reproduce.
- The soul is spoken of in 3 ways: as a)
moving cause; b) final cause; c) substance [i.e., form]. Note: see Physics 198a23-29
(p.647 RAGP) for a similar statement.
- Note the ways in which soul, cause, substance, being, form are
used of the same thing.
- Soul as final cause.
- Soul as moving cause.
- Soul is the cause of growth and nourishment
- Matter is not the principle of growth: form is.
- Nutritive, generative function of soul
- Nutritive: contraries seem to nourish each other healthyàsick
- Thing which is nourished (say, man) affects the nourishment
(food) in the way a carpenter affects his material; form in other words,
affects matter. None of these relations is reciprocal
- This is a response to the ‘puzzle’ he sets
out at line 30 (para.11). In some sense then, like is nourished by
like, in another sense it is not.
Undigested food is contrary to that which it nourishes,
digested food is like that which it nourishes.
- Since food contributes to the flesh and bone of a thing, it is
‘relative’ to the thing ‘non-coincidentally’ (because food is transmuted
into flesh; it isn’t just added to a
person). Nourishment pertains to
the substance or this of a thing (its form) because it makes that
particular thing say, healthy.
Nourishment can’t be the same as growth
because if we decrease our food intake, we continue to nourish ourselves,
but we get smaller, not bigger!
Ultimately, nourishment is a function of self-preservation; generation
is another matter.
- Hence, if a basic purpose of a thing is to generate other
things like itself, the generative part of the
soul will be more primary than the nutritive part.
- A rudder is a mover of a boat and a thing moved insofar as the
sailor moves it. But the sailor is
himself unmoved (in relation to the action of the rudder—i.e., the rudder
doesn’t affect the sailor) Likewise, nutrition moves the
body but is itself subject to the motion of the body. Heat then, must be a principle of the
body and not a consequence of nutrition (otherwise
food would not be moved, but would move the body).
- Perception occurs in being moved and
- What perceives must be potential (as opposed to actual); hence an external object is required for perception.
- Perceiving is thought of in 2 ways: a)
potential perception (while one sleeps.) b) active perception when someone
is seeing or hearing.
- Note the analogy here with the discussion of like/contrary in
2.4.12. If an agent is affected by
an object, like affects like; but the agent is
not the object itself, so unlike affects unlike.
- Senses of potentiality/actuality.
- Knowing (as a capacity) depends on having knowledge: one is
potentially a knower when one has the right genus and matter (i.e., is
the kind of thing with the capacity to actualize knowledge).
- Knowing grammar (a particular kind of knowledge) depends on
having a potency for grammar.
- Knowing what is present to one’s mind (or what is immediate)
depends on one actualizing knowledge in time.
- Being affected can take be
- destruction of contrary by contrary (healthàillness)
- Actualizing a potential for knowledge is an alteration into a state which is the fulfilment of a subject’s nature.
- Sensing in a newborn is analogous to the exercise of knowledge
in its parent. Perception is of particulars,
knowledge is of universals.
- Types of potentiality.
- child is potentially a general (being altered)
- potentiality according to age (i.e., the infant is potentially
a perceiver) (being affected)
- Important: The perceiver is potentially what the actual object
already is. Perception results in
one being altered into the thing perceived.
Types of objects of perception:
- proper to a
single sense: colour, taste, etc… (analogous to Locke’s secondary
- proper to
many senses: shape, size, solidity etc… (analogous to Locke’s primary
- coincidentally perceptible: particular person is coincidentally perceptible
with the pallor in his skin. (the latter being the primary object of
- Touch is the sense by which we distinguish one body from
another. The perceiver, as thing being affected, comes to have the qualities that the
agent (or object) has.
- Sense doesn’t perceive principles such as ‘wet’, ‘hot’ etc…,
but rather it perceives
objects in intermediary conditions—i.e., a thing
that’s warm/moist etc…. If this
were not the case, we’d experience principles but
- Sight, like touch perceives intermediary stages.
- Receive form w/o matter; wax analogy. Matter is not important—it’s the form.
- The potency of the sense organ and the capacity to be the form
of the thing perceived are one, but their being is different
b/c the sense organ and what the sense organ perceives differ in magnitudeà i.e., a finger does not become solid or 3ft by touching a
solid 3ft object.
- Explanation for error in sense organ.
- Plants have touch but lack a suitable principle for sensing.
- An absence or failure of the sense organ results in one not being affected by the object.
(= air) (=Person)
We perceive both
the object and the medium through which the object is
communicated to the sense organ.
De Anima BOOK III
NOTE: Please observe footnote 23 on page
757 and change ‘appearance’ to ‘imagination’.
What Aristotle is talking about here is the FACULTY of imagination. Hence, ‘appearance’ might be a bit
- What is the role of imagination? Is it something by which we discern
truth and falsity?
- Distinction between sensation and
- Since belief is tied to reason, belief can’t
be a product of imagination. Why? B/c beasts
have imagination but no reason.
- Belief about X and perception about X are not connected with
imagination—imagination can consider objects of belief and perception
independently of their two functions.
- Belief and perception give ‘data’ over to imagination. So, we perceive
pale and believe we do and go on to manipulate this concept in our
imagination but in reality, the thing of which we think might not be pale.
- The imagination is set in motion by things that have the
faculty of perception.
- If a thing can’t perceive, it can’t
imagine. Imagination can be true or
- What are the properties of the part of the soul that has
knowledge and intelligence?
- Having considered how perception is related
to imagination, now we turn to perception and understanding. The intellect
is affected by a)
the object of intellection or b) something similar to
intellect must be ‘receptive but unaffected’ by form if it is to ‘pass on’
the form to the understanding. It must potentially be all the forms that the understanding
- Intellect is a simple uncompounded
faculty that is pure potential: without thinking and understanding, it is contentless, it is nothing. Intellect is unmixed with body (so it’s
not literally potential, but potency in some analogous way.
- Distinction: Soul v. Intellectual Soul. The latter is potentially the form of
- A sense organ which is ‘overloaded’ can’t function well
afterwards. For instance, a loud
sound, bright lights etc…. But the
more ‘input’ an intellect has, the better it works.
- Only when the intellect becomes something in actuality which it
was formerly only potentially is its operation revealed to itself. A faculty without content would be
opaque to the knower. A blind
person can’t consider the function of his eye: he has no experience of
- Perception is how we go about distinguishing the attributes of
a thing from the thing itself. But
to know something as a particular kind of essence requires some capacity
beyond mere perception.
- ‘Snub’ here is meant to indicate the snubness
in a nose. So, snub and the shape
of the profile of a nose are continuous.
But the essence of the ‘straight’ is different than the essence of
snub because snub here is a property of a line.
- How do the objects of perception impinge on the intellect? If somehow things do become like the
intellect when known, how do we distinguish between the intellect and its
- Intellect is like a writing tablet without anything on it: a
blank slate so to speak.
- This looks like a response to Anaxagoras @ 429b24. Intellect is
not in things while thinking is merely a means by which our intellect can
know these things. Intellect receives form without matter.
This chapter ought to be the subject of intense study for you.
- Intellect and desire are principle of motion.
- Thought is posterior to desire in moving us.
- Movement arises from desire—but more properly, from the object
- This is a critique of Plato’s model of the soul from Republic
436ff. Plato trifurcates the soul
into ‘desire’ ‘temper’ and the faculty of ‘reason’ which balances the
two. These three parts don’t seem
to account for the many functions of the soul according to Aristotle.
- Desire can overpower reason because it is not tied to thinking
about say, the outcome of an action.
- Analogy between desiring part of us as a ‘moved mover’ and the
good that we seek which is like the ‘unmoved mover’
- Summary with an example that complicates more than it
- Q. Why consider the
cause of motion of ‘incomplete animals’?
A. To consider how things without reason or
desire can desire an end.
- Only man has deliberative imagination. Through the deliberative imagination we
discriminate one imagination from another finally arriving at a single imagination
out of the many that were considered.
- Incontinence = Weakness of the Will. Desires
compete and the strongest win.
- A particular person desiring a particular end desires it to a
greater extent than if the same desire is articulated universally.