On the Soul
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On the Soul (Greek Περὶ Ψυχῆς (Perì Psūchês), Latin De Anima) is a major treatise by Aristotle, outlining his philosophical views on the nature of living things. His discussion centres on the kinds of souls possessed by different kinds of living things, distinguished by the different life-processes those organisms go through. Thus plants have the capacity for nourishment and reproduction, the minimum that must be possessed by any kind of living organism. Lower animals have, in addition, the powers of sense-perception and self-motion (action). Humans have all these as well as intellect.
The notion of soul used by Aristotle is only distantly related to the usual modern conception. He holds that the soul is the form, or essence of any living thing; that it is not a distinct substance from the body that it is in; that it is the possession of soul (of a specific kind) that makes an organism an organism at all, and thus that the notion of a body without a soul, or of a soul in the wrong kind of body, is simply unintelligible. (He speculates that some parts of the soul--the intellect--may be conceived to exist without the body, but most cannot.) It is difficult to reconcile these points with the popular picture of a soul as a sort of spiritual substance "inhabiting" a body. Some commentators have suggested that Aristotle's term soul is better translated as lifeforce.
The treatise is divided in three books.
Book I discusses the views of earlier philosophers and marks out the territory and method of investigation. A soul, it is concluded, will be that in virtue of which living things have life.
Book II contains Aristotle's organization of the three different kinds (or parts) of the soul, and how they figure into the lives of organisms. He discusses the "nutritive soul" and the "perceptive soul." (1) All species of living things, plant or animal, must be able to nourish themselves and reproduce others of the same kind. (2) All animals have sense-perception, thus they all have at least the sense of touch, which he argues is presupposed by all other senses, and the ability to feel pleasure and pain, which is the simplest kind of perception. If they can feel pleasure and pain they also have desire. Some animals in addition have other senses (sight, hearing, taste), and some have more subtle versions of each (the ability to distinguish objects in a complex way, beyond mere pleasure and pain.) He dicusses how these function. Some animals have in addition the powers of memory, imagination, and self-motion.
Book III is on the rational soul, which belongs only to rational animals, which are humans. Some of the later parts of this book return to earlier subjects in apparently inconsistent ways, suggesting to some that they were not originally part of this text and were added later by mistake. (Among these is the famous locus on the "active" or "agent intellect")
 Further reading
- J. Barnes, M. Schofield, & R. Sorabji, Articles on Aristotle, vol. 4, 'Psychology and Aesthetics'. London, 1979.
- M. Durrant, Aristotle's De Anima in Focus. London, 1993.
- M. Nussbaum & A. O. Rorty, Essays on Aristotle's De Anima. Oxford, 1992.
- F. Nuyens, L'évolution de la psychologie d'Aristote. Louvain, 1973.