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Parts Of The Soul According To Aristotle

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Aristotle begins his analysis of the parts of the soul by examining the Nutrition of the soul. He says that if we are to say what the understanding, the perceptive, or the nutritive part is—first we must define what it is to understand and perceive. So he begins his examination of the Nutrition of the soul by determining objects “corresponding to nutrition, sense, and understanding” (De Anima 414b). Aristotle establishes that the nutritive part of the soul belongs to other living things as well and is the first and most widely shared potentiality of the soul—the one that allows all things to live.

The most natural function of a living thing is to reproduce—the nutritive part of the soul drives this function. The soul is the “cause” of the body—“the source of motion, as what something is for, and as the substance of ensouled bodies” (De Anima 415a). A soul must be the substance of ensouled bodies as the “being of living things is their living” (De Anima 415a)—the soul is by definition the spark of life in a body. The soul is the cause of what something is for because the body is in fact an organ of the soul—as an organ it will serve the purposes of the soul. For both reason, the soul is the source of locomotion as locomotion allows many living things to regenerate, reproduce, and nourish although not all living things have this ability of locomotion.

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Aristotle then refutes Empedocles, who said that plants roots go down because the earth naturally moves downward—saying that if the earth moves downward and fire pulls upward eventually the two would pull apart. What holds opposite forces together is the soul—“the cause of growing and being nourished”.

In taking the idea of “contrary nourishing contrary”—Aristotle comes to the conclusion that when one thing is consumed—one thing nourishes while the other is nourished. The thing that is being consumed is the thing that is truly affected, not the thing being nourished—this is because nourishment is only used for generation and preservation. Preservation is not a change in potentiality and generation does not affect the substance of the thing being nourished as it produces a new being.

Aristotle further explains his point by distinguishing three things—what is nourished, what it is nourished by, and what nourishes. What nourishes is the first soul, what is nourished is the ensouled body, and what it is nourished by is the nourishment.

Aristotle then moves on to perception. Perception occurs “in being moved or affected” meaning that we can understand something or feel something when a sense is triggered. The question comes up is how can we perceive the concept of senses when not perceiving the senses themselves. Aristotle explains this by saying that perceiving is spoken about in two ways—potentiality and actuality. The same way we know something is combustible without actually burning it, so can be perceive things by intuition bringing them to fruition.

Aristotle then distinguishes types of potentiality and actuality. One form of perception is innate knowledge—“he is a man and should know”. Another form of perception is technical and empirical knowledge. Both have different potentialities, the first has a correct “genus and matter”—instincts—while the other has the potentiality to learn. In these different potentialities, each is affected differently by their potentiality—the first has instincts that affect his potentiality, however the potentiality to learn does not affect potentiality any more than “a builder is altered in building”.

When someone is led from the potentiality of learning to the actuality of learning—it is not a case of being affected but rather a case of being fulfilled—a change from a state of deprivation to a state of fulfillment of nature.

An object that we can perceive is perceived in three ways. Two ways are intrinsic and one in coincidental. The first intrinsic perception is one with which we cannot be deceived or deceived of their basic existence—sight, hearing, touch. Motion, rest, number, shape, size, and any other concepts not proper to any one sense is the second intrinsic perception. Coincidental perception occurs when two concepts coincide and thereby become perceived to be related, a physically perceptible idea connects to an imperceptible concept. “Pale things is the son of Daires” thereby the son of Daires coincides with the pale thing that we perceive.

We do not perceive anything that is dry or wet, hard or soft, but only excesses in either direction. Anything that is ‘normal’ or intermediate is ignored or not perceived. Senses discriminate amongst objects against things that are considered normal. For example, things are neither pale nor dark but a composite of both.

Each sense receives the perceptible forms of an object without the matter of the object. Wax, takes on the form of an object it is melted on without taking the matter of that object. Form and matter are one in an object, same as organ and potentiality are one but their beings are different.

Having separate beings is the reason senses can be destroyed by an excesses in objects of perception—if object is too great for sense organ, but potentiality can be affected even if sense organ is hampered.

Aristotle ends his point in saying that things that cannot perceive things tend not to be affected by those things because the potentiality cannot react to things that come their way. For example, odor does not affect those things that cannot smell.


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