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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.


De Anima




  1. kn. of soul contribute to kn. of  truth, nature
  2. We seek the essence of soul
  3. Is the soul substance or coincident?  Is it actuality or potentiality?  What is its genus?  Do souls differ in species? 
  4. 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?
  5. We must inquire into the essence, but also into the coincidents.
  6. Are affections (attributes) proper to the soul or what has the soul?
  7. 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 separable.
  8. Body seem to be affected when we feel emotions
  9. Soul is subject for student of nature b/c affections include matter.
  10. 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?
  12. Affections of the soul such as anger, are attributes of the soul and hence are inseparable.




  1. Do the soul’s actions mean that it is in motion?  Aristotle says this does not necessarily follow.
  2. 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. 




  1. Note that he wants an account that applies to “all souls in common.”
  2. There are three candidates for substance:
    1. matter
    2. form
    3. composite of matter and form







                     ‘Actuality’ is defined as a) the state of knowing.

                                                             b) the activity of attending to knowing 

  1. Note that when he says ‘bodies’ seem to be natural substances, that he is referring to the composite.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 essence.
  6. 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)   
  7. 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. 
  8. 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 plus form.
  9. Soul per se, is not separable from the body; but perhaps a function of the soul is.  Here he means the ‘active intellect’. 




  1. 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.
  2. Living distinguishes things with souls from inanimate objects. 
  3. All animate things require nutrition, but not all things that have the power of nutrition have other powers of the soul, like perception.
  4. ‘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.
  5. The part of the soul that plants and animals have in common is called ‘nutritive’.
  6. Are potentialities of the soul, i.e., nutrition, perception, understanding etc… a soul or part of a soul? 
  7. The ‘understanding’ part of the soul seems to be separable from parts that are perishable.
  8. Like the understanding, the perceiving and believing parts of the soul are separable.
  9.  Capacities of the intellect and senses differ in accordance with which kind of thing is being considered.
  10. ‘Living’ or ‘perceiving’ has 2 senses.
  11. Soul is responsible for us living, perceiving, thinking.  It is form and not matter or subject.  Soul is the actuality of a body.
  12. Soul is ‘present in’ a body.  So, the soul appropriate to each thing will be in each thing according to its definition.
  13. The soul is act, matter is the potency which comes to be what it is on account of the soul.




  1. Analysis of nutritive, perceptive, desiring parts of soul. 
  2. Animals can perceive their nourishment.
  3. Hence, what has the sense of touch also has desire.
  4. Some things have capacity for locomotion as well; humans or anything superior to them have a thinking part and intellect.
  5. 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. 
  6. 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 souls. 


  1. An account ought to be given for each part of the soul, such as the understanding, nutritive, perceptive.
  2. Function of the soul is generative and nutritive; natural end for living things is to reproduce.
  3. 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.
  4. Note the ways in which soul, cause, substance, being, form are used of the same thing.
  5. Soul as final cause. 
  6. Soul as moving cause.
  7. Soul is the cause of growth and nourishment
  8. Matter is not the principle of growth: form is.
  9. Nutritive, generative function of soul
  10. Nutritive: contraries seem to nourish each other healthyàsick
  11. 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
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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).




  1. Perception occurs in being moved and affected.
  2. What perceives must be potential (as opposed to actual); hence an external object is required for perception. 
  3. Perceiving is thought of in 2 ways: a) potential perception (while one sleeps.) b) active perception when someone is seeing or hearing. 
  4. 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.
  5. Senses of potentiality/actuality.
    1. 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). 
    2. Knowing grammar (a particular kind of knowledge) depends on having a potency for grammar.
    3. Knowing what is present to one’s mind (or what is immediate) depends on one actualizing knowledge in time.
  6. Being affected can take be
    1. destruction of contrary by contrary (healthàillness)
    2. preservation  (nutrition)
  7. Actualizing a potential for knowledge is an alteration into a state which is the fulfilment of a subject’s nature.
  8. Sensing in a newborn is analogous to the exercise of knowledge in its parent.  Perception is of particulars, knowledge is of universals. 
  9. Types of potentiality.
    1. child is potentially a general (being altered)
    2. potentiality according to age (i.e., the infant is potentially a perceiver) (being affected)
  10. Important: The perceiver is potentially what the actual object already is.  Perception results in one being altered into the thing perceived.




1—5    Types of objects of perception:      

    1. proper to a single sense: colour, taste, etc… (analogous to Locke’s secondary qualities)
    2. proper to many senses: shape, size, solidity etc… (analogous to Locke’s primary qualities)
    3. coincidentally perceptible: particular person is coincidentally perceptible with the pallor in his skin. (the latter being the primary object of perception)



  1. 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. 
  2. 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 no things.
  3. Sight, like touch perceives intermediary stages.



  1. Receive form w/o matter; wax analogy.  Matter is not important—it’s the form.
  2. 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.
  3. Explanation for error in sense organ.
  4. Plants have touch but lack a suitable principle for sensing.
  5. An absence or failure of the sense organ results in one not being affected by the object.

6—7  ObjectàMediumà perceiver

   (=Odour)   (= air)       (=Person)

We perceive both the object and the medium through which the object is communicated to the sense organ.                        






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 misleading.


  1. What is the role of imagination?  Is it something by which we discern truth and falsity?
  2. Distinction between sensation and imagination.
  3. Since belief is tied to reason, belief can’t be a product of imagination.  Why?  B/c beasts have imagination but no reason. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  7. The imagination is set in motion by things that have the faculty of perception. 
  8. If a thing can’t perceive, it can’t imagine.  Imagination can be true or false.




  1. What are the properties of the part of the soul that has knowledge and intelligence?
  2. 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 (a).  So, 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 can have.
  3. 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. 
  4. Distinction: Soul v. Intellectual Soul.  The latter is potentially the form of things.
  5. 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. 
  6. 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 sight. 
  7. 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.
  8. ‘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. 
  9. 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 object?
  10. Intellect is like a writing tablet without anything on it: a blank slate so to speak. 
  11. 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.


3.5  This chapter ought to be the subject of intense study for you.




  1. Intellect and desire are principle of motion. 
  2. Thought is posterior to desire in moving us.
  3. Movement arises from desire—but more properly, from the object of desire. 
  4. 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. 
  5. Desire can overpower reason because it is not tied to thinking about say, the outcome of an action.
  7. Analogy between desiring part of us as a ‘moved mover’ and the good that we seek which is like the ‘unmoved mover’
  8. Summary with an example that complicates more than it illuminates. 
  9. Rational             

                                 Imaginationà Desireà Motion.




  1. Q.  Why consider the cause of motion of ‘incomplete animals’?

A.   To consider how things without reason or desire can desire an end.

  1. 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. 
  2. Incontinence = Weakness of the Will.  Desires compete and the strongest win.
  3. A particular person desiring a particular end desires it to a greater extent than if the same desire is articulated universally.