Aristotle of Stagira
These are the remains of Aristotle's Lyceum. In many ways, the Lyceum was viewed as the holy grail of Greek cultural history. Only discovered in 1996, the Lyceum was the school in which Aristotle taught such students as Alexander the Great and Theophrastrus, who would later succeed Aristotle in running the school. I was unable to find a modern model of the Lyceum but if you take a look at the painting on the main page (click here) by Raphael you can see how he imagined it to be. If you look more closely you will notice a few interesting things about the painting. The character on the left is Plato (although he looks a lot like Leonardo da Vinci), who is pointing to the sky to indicate his belief in ideal Forms. Aristotle is pictured on the right with his hand indicating a middle ground, clearly evincing his unique metaphysical viewpoint. For further information on the content of this painting (e.g. which character is Euclid), visit the following website.
Before delving too deep into the psychological theories of Aristotle it is necessary to understand the way in which Aristotle viewed the world. Taking a markedly different view from his teacher, Aristotle chose to give Forms a more tangible basis.
Hylomorphism (Theory developed in Metaphysics and De Anima)
"By the matter I mean, for example, the bronze, by the form I mean the arrangement of the figure, and by the thing composed of them I mean the statue, id est, the compound." (Metaphysics, 1029a8)
It is clear from this quote that Aristotle means something very different by his use of Forms. While Plato & Socrates believed Forms were universal truths that can only be truly known to the immortal soul, Aristotle believed the Forms to be fully knowable through investigation. Further, he believed one could become aware of Forms by simply studying the similarity between objects. For example, to know the Form of a frog, one must study frogs thoroughly to see what defines a frog, i.e. what remains the same across all frogs. Aristotle's view of hylomorphism can be summarized as follows: all objects are a combination of matter (hûle) and form (eidos).
You may remember from lecture that Parmenides did not believe in change. He thought all change was illusory and believed permanence to be the first principle of the universe. Aristotle seems to have resurrected this claim with his theory of hylomorphism. Under this theory, matter does not change but always remains the same. All that changes is the form in which the matter is participating.
More on Hylomorphism...
Aristotle makes a further distinction between properties an object has in actuality and properties an object has in potentiality. To clarify this distinction, we can return to his earlier example of the bronze statue. Prior to taking on the Form of Hermes, the bronze was simply a block of bronze matter and the form of blockness. The bronze could be said to have the form of blockness in actuality and the form of Hermes in potentiality. When the sculptor creates the statue, he has brought out the form of Hermes in actuality.
Four Causes (aitiai)
- Material Cause: This is the matter that underlies the substance. In our example the bronze is the material cause.
- Formal Cause: This is the form or structure of the mater, i.e. the form of Hermes.
- Efficient Cause: The agent who brought about the form and matter unity, i.e. the sculptor.
- Final Cause: It is hard to see this as a cause but he is referring to the purpose for which it was made. In our case the final cause would likely be to honor Hermes.
Aristotle uses this theory of metaphysics to help assuage the concerns of Materialists and Dualists. He argues that if the statue and the form of Hermes act like a body and its soul, then some similarities should be readily apparent. However, he further argues that if we do not concern ourselves with whether the Hermes form exists without the bronze, then we need not concern ourselves with the afterlife of the soul.
"It is not necessary to ask whether soul and body are one, just as it is not necessary to ask whether wax and its shape are one, nor generally whether the matter of each thing and that of which it is the matter are one. For even if one and being are spoken of in several ways, what is properly spoken of is the actuality." (De Anima ii 1, 412b6-9).
Although Aristotle had intended to resolve the argument between Materialism and Platonic Dualism, he merely complicated it further by introducing a theory that conforms to neither but has elements of both.
A large part of De Anima is devoted to Aristotle's description of the psychic faculties of the soul. The three primary faculties he identifies are Nutrition, Perception, & Mind. However, in Book III he begins to talk about Desire as a significant psychic faculty as well.
Nutrition is identified as the primary function of the soul. It is also a function that is shared by the soul of all living things, including plants. For Aristotle it is "the first and most common capacity of the soul, in virtue of which life belongs to all living things" (De Anima ii 4, 415a24-25). As of yet it is unclear why Aristotle would necessarily ascribe such a function to the soul and not to a material process of regeneration and growth. However, it is this growth that leads him to this conclusion. All plant life grows in a pattern, e.g. an oak tree will always grow taller and drop acorns and a baby will eventually grow taller and becomes a full grown person. Aristotle obviously sees something teleological about this growth and believes if it has direction or purpose it must be directed by the soul. There is further evidence for this theory when one examines the later stages of growth in humans. Having realized their formal cause, they cease to continue growing. Furthermore, a fire will continue to grow but has no direction. Therefore, nutrition is a psychic faculty of the soul possessed by all living matter. What further psychic faculty might distinguish plants from animals?
Aristotle defines one of the primary faculties of an animal's perception as the "perception of nourishment" (De Anima ii 3, 414b7). It is this perception of nourishment that enables an animal to move about in its environment in response to stimuli. Although this appears to be a valid metric for distinguishing faculties of plants and animals, there is a fatal flaw. Aristotle argues that plants have patterned growth but do not perceive differences in their environment that would lead him to believe they had the faculty of perception. However, the concept of phototropism would argue differently. Although perhaps unknown to Aristotle, plants have a natural tendency to grow towards light. Obviously this would confirm a plant's ability to perceive light and adjust its growth in response. However, for the purposes of this discussion we will pretend as though phototropism was unkown.
"Perception occurs in being moved and affected, as we have said, since it seems to be a type of alteration" (De Anima ii 5, 416b34-35). However to say it is a type of alteration is not enough. For example, an odor can have two different effects. If you were to place a piece of cheese and piece of garlic in a box, the cheese may take on the odor of the garlic. It would be absurd to claim that the cheese perceived the garlic. In another way, when an animal is affected by the garlic, it has perceived it. In essence he is distinguishing between perceptual alterations and non-perceptual alterations.
Aristotle takes a very Democritic (like Democritus) view of the process of perception. You will recall that Democritus believed atoms replicated the item being sensed via the simulacra or eidola. Aristotle seems to have something similar in mind when he says "The perceiver is potentially what the perceptible object actually is already...When it is being affected, then, it is unlike the object; but when it has been affected it has been made like the object and has acquired its quality" (De Anima ii 5, 418a4-7). In essence he is saying that the objects of sense recreate miniature replications within the sense organs. The organs themselves have taken on the form of the object being perceived. In this way, he has predicted such concepts as the retinotopic map in visual perception. With our visual system our brain actually creates an image that mirrors reality (in cases of perfect vision). Aristotle further posits the existence of a sensus communis or common sense. This is an organ that integrates the sense organs and discriminates between one sense and another. Although he is not specific, it is likely he thought the heart was the place of this common sense. While I did not uncover this in my search, it would make sense to me that such an organ provided the impetus for one of his laws of association: contiguity. It would likely be this organ that was able to perceive the contiguity between perceptions and learn to associate the two. Getting back to psychic faculties, if all animals have this faculty of perception in their soul, what will distinguish humans from the rest of the animal kingdom?
For Aristotle, the mind (nous) is "the part of the soul by which it knows and understands" (De Anima iii 4, 429a9-10). He also uses the term nous to refer to "intellect" or "reason." It is clear that Aristotle defines human nature in part by its natural tendency to desire knowledge. Furthermore, he posits mind as being the part of the soul which is capable of this function. Therefore, mind is what sets humans apart from the rest of the living world. In this fashion, one of the most noble pursuits is the study of mind, for when you study mind you study what makes humans human.
We must return to the faculty of perception in order to understand how the mind is capable of thought. Just as perception involves the sense organ becoming like the object it senses, so must thinking involve the mind becoming like the object it thinks. However, it must be questioned exactly what Aristotle means here. It could, as hinted at with perception, involve the mind actually becoming physically like the object. Alternatively, the mind could become like the object in much the same way that a blueprint is like the house. It is likely this latter view that Aristotle holds when discussing the faculty of mind. We can work through a simple example to understand why this would be so. When a person thinks about the country of Togo, it would be ridiculous to say that his mind has become Togo. This would be to say that the matter that makes up his organ of thought (remember Aristotle thought the brain was a sort of radiator for the blood) has actually become the country of Togo. It is much more likely that he meant the mind becomes like Togo when contemplating its form.
Aristotle's conception of thinking is similar to the modern developmental principle of intersubjectivity (Rommetveit, 1985).
So far Aristotle has provided for many of the phenomenon of human life. The soul is able to keep us healthy and alive by performing its nutritive faculty. Beyond that the soul of animals is able to perceive the external world via its perceptive capacity. Finally, the soul of humans can think and understand relations via the mind. However, one question is left unanswered for Aristotle. He does not yet know how objects move. There must be some part of the soul responsible for motion of an organism. In the same way that Plato described the form of Beauty being an attractive force holding the universe together, Aristotle posits a faculty of desire as being responsible for all motion. Specifically, animals move about in space in order to get the objects they desire. This can be seen in another simple example: Why did the chicken cross the road? Well the chicken crossed the road because it desired to be on the other side. One might ask why this could not be accomplished by nutrition or perception. Aristotle points out that it would be ridiculous to assume the nutritive faculty had this ability as plants are not able to move themselves through space and they have this faculty. He argues further that it could not belong to the faculty of perception because some animals that can perceive cannot move themselves through space. Evidently he is thinking of something along the lines of a sponge or oyster (Partibus Animalium iv 5, 681b34). Finally, the ability to move cannot be attributed to the mind as the mind has no ability to enact change. Although this last point seems rather weak and circular, we will let it stand so that Aristotle can make his point about desire.
Having fully developed the psychic faculties of the soul by the end of De Anima, Aristotle has wrapped up the bulk of his treatment of human psychology. As can be seen, the majority of it comes from a process of classification which begins with first principles of matter and form and concludes with specific faculties of the most complex example of matter and form, the mind.
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I would like to thank the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for their amazing article on the psychology of Aristotle.