Aristotle's Theory of Soul

Hello, I'm Dr. Anadale and I teach
philosophy at Mount Saint Mary's University and Seminary in Emmitsburg,
Maryland. I want to say a few words today about Aristotle's theory of the soul. I
will talk first about how it contrasts with Plato's dualistic theory of the
soul. I'll say a little bit about first and second actuality, and then I will
talk briefly about the powers of the soul. Now Aristotle's theory of the soul
is best understood in terms of two other doctrines. First, the body and soul are
joined together for Aristotle as matter and form. Like matter and form they are
inseparable. Second, all transitory existence for Aristotle moves from
potentiality to actuality. So, for example, a seed grows into a tree. The seed does not lack the form of the tree and it doesn't like the matter of the tree.
But if it has the same form and the same matter why do we not say that it is
identical to the tree? In a sense it is. In a sense the seed in the tree are the
same thing. But they're not strictly identical. There's something different
about them, and that difference is exactly what Aristotle wants to talk about.
In a similar way we could say that the calf that grows up into a full-grown cow
is not identical with the cow but it plainly is the same being. So how are they
different? Well, in growing the seed produces another embodiment of its form,
that is, the tree. This form was present always as potential but was actualized
through growth and it is the inner telos or entelechy of the seed, of the living
thing, its development or movement from potentiality to actuality constitutes a process of growth as it unfolds over time. Now, thinking about the human soul
as an entelechy allows Aristotle to avoid the dualism of Plato's theory of
the soul. Plato, the Pythagoreans, and even the Stoics tended to see the soul
as inhabiting the body the way a pilot inhabits a ship. Think of the dialogue at
the end of Phaedo, the death scene where Crito asks Socrates, "How should we bury you?" Socrates says, "Any way you can if you can catch me." Then he teases Crito,
saying "Crito imagines that this dead body he will encounter in an hour's time
is actually Socrates, but really the real Socrates will be gone. The real Socrates
is the soul of Socrates. What you'll look at after my death is simply the empty
container that Socrates used to inhabit." This is Plato's dualism about the body
and the soul. But Aristotle holds that the substantial reality of a human being
is the union of body and soul. Without the soul the body does not exist as a
unity and the soul cannot exist apart from its body. One helpful way to think about this, that I get from Jonathan Barnes, is to think: for Aristotle having a soul is rather like having the skill. Nobody thinks of a
carpenter's skill as somehow being a part of the carpenter or inhabiting the
carpenter at some particular place, his hand or his brain or elsewhere. That's
not the kind of thing that skill in carpentry is. That's not the kind of
thing that a soul is either. It's not part of the self; it is an ability or a
skill that the self possesses. It's the power to do certain things that the self
does. Now, one important consequence of this theory of the soul is that each
soul is united to one and only one body. So there can be no transmigration of
souls, there can be no reincarnation, something the Plato believed in, and
there also can be no otherworldly afterlife. There is no ghostly Socrates
floating around in Hades or dwelling up upon the forms. That simply is not
something that happens. An interesting question for Christian theology would be
whether you can take this theory of the soul and combine it with the Christian
doctrine of the resurrection of the body and come up with a workable system of
theology. I'll leave that for the theologians to work it out but it's
worth some attention. Another important consequence is that this doctrine gives
unity to each human being. Aristotle rejects Plato's multi-part
soul. He says I don't feel desire in one part of my soul and anger or shame in a
different part of my soul simultaneously. I have a single soul which has multiple
powers. Now for Aristotle the soul is not a
substance in the fullest sense, but the soul actualizes matter into a composite
and this composite, this actualized matter, actualized body, ensouled body,
that is substance in the fullest sense. Thus for Aristotle the oneness of the
body and soul is not an interesting question. He actually says this (this is
on page 555 of the Mckeon Basic Works of Aristotle). Aristotle writes, "that is why
we can wholly dismiss as unnecessary the question of whether the soul and body
are one. It is as meaningless as to ask whether the wax and the shape given to
it by the stamp are one." Aristotle says this is not an interesting question.
Obviously they are one and inseparable. Let's move on to some interesting
questions. So, an interesting question is going to be for Aristotle: How does the
soul actualize the body? What are these kinds of actualization? So
let me give you an example to explain something of this. The soul for Aristotle
is the first actuality of the body and is therefore inseparable from it. So
think of three people. Arthur: Arthur is totally ignorant about something, let's
say it's the Pythagorean theorem. Arthur does not know the Pythagorean theorem
but he is capable of learning about it. If somebody taught it to him he
could learn, he could have the knowledge, he just doesn't have it right now. That's
Arthur. Now, second person: Bob. Bob knows the Pythagorean theorem but he's not
thinking about it right now because he's asleep. That's my second person, Bob. The
third person, Chris, knows the Pythagorean theorem and is right now explaining it
to someone else. Now, what are we going to say about this? Obviously Arthur's
knowledge of the Pythagorean theorem is potential only. He doesn't have it; he
could conceivably have it, but that's the best we're going to get for Arthur. Bob
has the knowledge in a way. He has acquired it, it's filed away in his mind,
but he's not using it right now because he's doing something else, he's sleeping.
Chris has the knowledge in the fullest possible way: he both possesses the
knowledge and he's putting it to use right now by thinking about it as he explains it to somebody else. So in Aristotle's
language we would say that Chris has actualized his knowledge in two senses:
he possesses it and he's using it, whereas Bob has only the first
actualization. We would say Bob's knowledge is both actual in the sense
that he has the knowledge and potential in the sense that he's not making full
use of the knowledge right now. So there, these are the first and second levels of
actuality…. For Aristotle the soul is the first actuality of the
body. The second actuality of the body is the soul acting. living well. So being
alive is the first actuality, living well is the second actuality. Now the soul for
Aristotle is not a type of activity but instead it is the potential or the
ability to engage in certain kinds of activities, most importantly the
activities of nutrition, sensation, and thought. Furthermore it's not an
undeveloped potential like Arthur's knowledge. Rather it is the actualized
potential to engage in some sorts of activities. So that these are the powers
of the soul: the basic powers of the soul are the powers of nutrition and growth
and these are typical of plants. Add to these the powers of sensation of motion
and of feeling pleasure and pain, and these are the powers that animals have, the
additional powers that animals have in addition to the plant powers. And then
the last powers of the soul are the powers of thought and intellect, which human
beings uniquely possess. And it's possession of those extra powers that
sets us above animals, the same way that animals are set above plants. It's not a
matter of a sort of inter-species bigotry. It's simply that we can do more stuff, we
have more ability to do things with our souls. The same way that animals can do
things that plants can't, we can do things with the intellect, thought, and
understanding that animals are not capable of. Now, about this power of
thought: Aristotle makes an observation that there's something unusual about
thought. It seems potentially to be separable from the soul. Now this might
be a kind… we might suspect this being a kind of backsliding towards a Platonic
dualism. But Aristotle is making an important observation: he's recognizing
that of all the powers of the soul, thought is
somehow different. He says this on page 558 of McKeon: "it alone is capable of
existence in isolation from all other psychic powers." That lead me to speculate
that if there's any part of the soul that could potentially survive death and
separation from the body, it will be the intellectual part of the soul. That's
going to be important for theologians later on. So, to wrap up, let me just
contrast briefly the Aristotelian soul with the Cartesian idea of the soul,
which will be important when we look at modern philosophy later on. Aristotle's
idea of the soul is definitely not Cartesian. There is no distinction in
Aristotle between the inner and outer realms of the soul, there's no sense of
special privilege in my access to a knowledge about my own perceptual states,
my own thoughts or knowledge. Secondly, the soul for Aristotle is not a
substance but a capacity, so the question of how the soul substance relates to the
body substance never comes up for Aristotle. Where that becomes a problem
that occupies Descartes for a tremendous amount of… gives Descartes lot of
difficulty. And finally for Aristotle there's very… the soul has very little to
do with my own sense of individuality, with my own personality, with what
separates me from other beings. That is all going to come from my body, my matter.
The soul is simply going to be that which animates my body, which allows me to be
alive and to exercise the different activities that I actually exercise in
the course of being alive. So that's my brief introduction to Aristotle's theory
of the soul. Thank you for watching today. Goodbye.

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  • shure46 says:

    Here is an explanation of the soul , ten times easier to comprehend , any 8th grader could understand , and YES , I am saying it is a BETTER explanation than Aristotle's ….. That's right , I UNDERSTAND the soul better than this "greatest philosopher of all time" , and to be honest , it's NOT that complicated at all …… Not kidding ……. All the "great minds" just "bounce around the truth" yet never quite really arrive at the absolute reality of the soul …. They're close , but no cigar ….. HERE is the cigar in plain simple language anyone can understand…..https://www.amazon.com/WHAT-SOUL-have-soul-souls-ebook/dp/B01JKKOXOY

  • Recon Fi says:

    To cut through all the analogy and dialog to save time: what gives the body the soul? – what gives the soul the intellect from all matter? for the wise-guy comment.. here is my comment for the future – You are about as dumb as a rock or a peace of recycled paper / matter… 👈 yes the the brightest will read between the lines of what it actually meant and see there is actually point to have discussion…

  • Joe M says:

    Aristotle was such a square. Plato definitely knew how to party…

  • Dash Paz says:

    Great video I have a test tomorrow on this

  • Henry Firus says:

    The Bible in Genesis 2:7 states that: Man is the embodied breath of God.

    In Job 32:8 the Bible defines the human mind as this embodied breath of God, as the human spirit.

    Ecclesiastes 12:7 states the divisibility of human nature, into body and spirit, the disembodiment of the breath of God.

    Some Christian denominations such as the Seventh Day Adventists teach the Aristotelian view that Man is indivisible, unity of body mind and spirit.

    There are logical difficulties reconciling indivisibility of human nature with the Biblical resurrection, indivisibility implies extinction of the human person at death, so the only logical possibility is re-creation.

    For Christians re-creation poses insurmountable logical contradictions, regarding individuals continuity from this life to resurrected life in eternity.

    Martin Luther condemns Aristotle for teaching that the soul ceases to exist with the death of the body.

    Christian faith rests on surviving death through resurrection, see 1 Corinthians ch15.

  • Sidney Clouston says:

    Aristotle never did Astral Projection is seems to me.

  • Alex says:

    This is my goal – to rewrite Human Theology according to Platonic views you see Religion has false theories as does aethism, Plato theory of mind is simply logical and this is due to the human mind deriving from the One Mind which is 'True Logic'!. While we have access to Platos core fundamentals on existance (which are correct only lack accurate detail!) we have lost many of the indepth analysis due to Religion burning down the Platonic academy and Library of Alexandria, hopefully with the use of new minds (human consciousness has evolved due to greater quality of survival, to distray from emotion (primarily used as a survival mechanism) and with the increasingly developing levels of logical thinking in individuals we can rewrite what has been lost and be consciously aware of our true existence and reality such as the Ancient Greeks were!

  • Alex says:

    Consciousness, perception and thinking.  A theory of mind Plato

    1. Plato's Mind (the One, the Self) is the cause agent, the singular cybernetic control point, of all perception,
        thinking and doing in the universe, where control is top down from Mind.

    2. Plato's Mind is timeless and spaceless, and  being the only Reality, time and space
        are not ultimately real, but are artificial constructions.

    3.  Since Mind is mental, not physical, all control and causation is mental, not physical,
         and top down, since Mind is the singular (cybernetic) control point at the top.

    4. Thus Mind plays the brain like a violin, not the reverse.

    5. Man's mind (small m) is a passive mental subset, or monad, of Mind and under its own control.

    6. This monad (our mind) is the mental correspondent of the brain and controls it. Our mind
       controls our brain/body like a robotic structure.

    7. Thinking is the intentional action of Mind (and thus mind) on mental entities such as ideas,
        manipulating and transforming them intentionally (through will).

    8. Qualia are simply sensory experiences, the conversion by Mind of sensory nerve signals into
        mental sensory experiences in a fashion similar to the conversion of physical sensory nerve signals into mental images.
    9.. AQs Dennett has explained, In materialist thinking, there is no end to homunculi viewing the universe through a chain of homunculi.   Leibniz terminates this infinite regress by making the last viewer the Self , which is at a higher level and suitably equipped.

    10. Perception occurs as Mind converts physical sensory signals in the brain into mental experiences in one's mind.

    11.  These experiences can be made conscious (are made aware) by reperceiving or thinking them.
        This is called apperception by Leibniz.  Thus consciousness is apperception. (making sense of present reality through habitually constructed individual experiences)

    12. The universe, according to Leibniz, is viewed directly by the One (the Self, the ONLY true perceiver), which views these scenes discretely and in sequence (analogous to snapshots) at discrete points as a whole indirectly through the totality of individual monads,  and from their own perspectives.

    13. This  totality of sets of individual perceptions is then  distributed in the proper order and perspective to each of the monads in the universe.

    14. These individual sets are called "perceptions", and must be distributed in this indirect fashion
        by Mind because each monad, in order to remain an individual, has no "windows", to use Leibniz's term.

    15. The perceptions are made up of what the monad would see of its nearby neighbors
        if it were allowed to do so (external environment experience) . This is purely mental, but allows us to speak in terms of spacial distances and directions, through these snapshots, between physical bodies,
        which Mind, being spaceless, cannot actually directly.

    16. Mind is also timeless, so that time is physically "created" as an artifact through
        the actual motions of physical bodies in physical spacetime.

    15. Intelligence is the nonphysical ability to freely make autonomous choices.  It is a faculty of
        nonphysical Mind, the Nothing out of which the physical universe exploded in the Big Bang. 

    17. Another name for this nonphysical intelligence is "life."  Leibniz maintained that the entire
         universe is alive.

    18. Each monad is perpetual, created at the beginning of the universe and only annihilated by Mind.

    19. Since monads can contain other monads,  they can. as plants do through seeds,
        and humans do through sexual reproducxtion, produce subsequent generations.

    20.  A robot or computer has no Mind or Self which has the wide bandwidth, intelligence
        and intentionality to actually perceive , think, or do things, such as Mind does.
        So, being without Mind, computers can have no actual intelligence or life. (without consciousness)

    21. The current theory of mind is materialist. In contrast to the above, it uses the usual decapitated, mindless, or where mind is at best an abstract entity, not a living presence as in the above.
        The materialist model of perception, thinking and doing, being Mindless, is dead.

  • Law of One & ACIM says:

    The common interpretation of Plato as being a "dualist" … is a grave error.

  • Tiffany Clark- Grove says:

    i love your library

  • Ferb says:

    Regarding the question posed at 3:55, not only can Christianity work with this concept of the soul, but it fits the Bible far better than the idea of the soul as commonly portrayed. In Ezekiel 18:4, for instance, the Bible speaks of souls dying. The word soul is repeatedly used in the Bible as if it were the entire person, just as Aristotle described, rather than as if it were meant in some dualist sense. And scriptures such as Ecclesiastes 9:5 state that those who are dead know nothing, again in line with this view of the soul. And while the Bible gives multiple accounts of resurrections, these accounts make no reference to the person (or their soul) going anywhere during the time in between their death and resurrection.

  • John Stewart says:

    Aristotle is a materialist.

  • shayma mohamed says:

    please do Descartes theory of the soul

    Thank you

  • Dr.Hamidreza Hashemi Moghadam says:

    truly fantastic and eloquent

  • Naomi Chongom says:

    Can u talk louder

  • Naomi Chongom says:

    Can u talk louder

  • Naomi Chongom says:

    Can u talk louder

  • bogdanique says:

    Hello, I'm a beginner in philosophy and, of course, already in love with Aristotle. You video was very useful for me, thank you for making it. Best wishes!

  • AJ Greenman says:

    I think the soul is just the life force that wants to be free.

  • Marco says:

    Is the will of the power of Frederich Nietzche and the self-actualization of Aristotle the same or different? Like, It makes sense that the purpose of life: Actualizing my soul as much I can throughout the whole of my expectancy of life.

  • Apuntes 888 says:

    One of the most remarcable things that classical philosophers actually state about the soul is that the Soul does not need of Logic to Discern from good and bad, from right and wrong.

    This is so outstanding because it means that Soul does not need to rationalize like humans does, intead it simply knows the difference and can act upon that and perhaps upon humans. A whole theory for human philosophy, metaphisics, spirituality and evolution can be made out of this.

  • Ziya Beriker says:

    Professor Chris, this is an excellent video. I am currently attending Loyola Marymount University and am having difficulty in understanding the material. Is there anyway I can get tutored on Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas and Kierkegaard. Please let me know if such thing is possible. I really appreciate it

  • Corey Clark says:

    I find myself confused by exactly how Aristotle uses the term form, or what he means by "formal cause" (which I take to be connected.) Often this is explained via the analogy of the statue, and the formal cause is identified as the shape of the statue. The Stanford encyclopedia of Philosophy says "the formal cause: “the form”, “the account of what-it-is-to-be”, e.g., the shape of a statue." This leads my mind to think of the formal cause as the physical arrangement or pattern of objects, which seems to work for non-living things. However, as you and other sources mention, for Aristotle the soul is the form of a living thing, which seems to contradict the notion that formal cause is the shape or arrangement of an object (the calf is not shaped like a bull, the seed doesn't have the physical arrangement of the oak). If the soul of a living thing isn't it's physical arrangement, what precisely is it? It's definition (a thinking animal)? But definition is not the same thing as shape, so how would that work for the Stanford encyclopedia's demonstration?

  • Cyril House says:

    Excellent summarization and concisely articulated. Thank you.

  • MrIjiva says:

    Thanks for sharing your knowledge. Can you recommend any texts for the amateur which simplify and summarise his works ?

  • N. W. Flitcraft says:

    Prof. Chris,

    This is great. I've been curious about Barnes for a while now; I'll definitely have to check him out. What's really fascinating is the point that it is not the soul which makes us "unique." I suppose, then, we would have to push back further to the self or "I" which is manifested by the hylomorphic composite as the basis of personality. CSL is often mis-quoted as having said, "You do not have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body." But it is in fact the person or self or ego which "has" both a body and a soul.

    I like trying to see if I can identify any of the books on your shelves. Spotted two so far.

    Hope all's swell.

    pax deorum,
    Iohannes Trevorianus

  • Rasa Ser says:

    This was very nicely explained, thank you 🙂

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