Page 1

Antonio Dowling Dr. E. Trizio February 7, 2011 DE ANIMIS We will be concerned with comparing Plato's and Aristotle's views of the immortal soul according to Plato’s Phaedo and Aristotle’s De Anima. Such as the Ancient Greeks would (encounter first Plato, then Aristotle) so I will first establish and, additionally, argue for the logical sensibility of Plato's view of the immortal soul: I will focus mainly on his dualism, and then I will introduce two of his arguments for the immortality of the soul. Next, I will move to Aristotle's view of the immortal soul, concentrating on his notion of dualism and concepts of substance, perception, and intellect in terms of comparison to Plato. Plato’s concept of dualism is easily summed up in one phrase: “The soul is a separate and distinct entity from the body.” This claim, simple enough to understand when extracted from the drama of the dialogue, lays the foundations for Plato’s concept of duality. To help explain, I will introduce our first argument, that from recollection. The word recollection, it seems, would imply a sort of memory, or prior knowledge. We will keep this in mind while working through this argument. The argument from recollection first appears in Phaedo 72e with Cebes saying, “...there is that theory which you have often mentioned to us– that what we call learning is really just recollection. If that is true, then surely what we recollect now we must have learned at some time before; which is impossible, unless our souls existed somewhere before they entered this human shape.” Of course, the knowledge that is being spoken of is that of the Forms. Forms, according to Plato, are absolute qualities.


“Beauty,” “tree,” “virtue.” Therefore, a non-Form (particular) can (and must) participate in the Forms– for example, be virtuous– but can never be absolute. Simply, the Forms are not found in the physical realm, only the particulars are. The example given in the Phaedo is that of the Form of Equality– that is to say, the Idea of absolute equality. We see things in the material realm that are more or less equal (in size, shape, weight, etc.) than our conception of absolute equality, but how is it that we know of this concept in the first place (Phaedo 74a)? It must be that we have encountered it before. Take a photograph, say, of your friend Tim. When you see this photo, you are reminded of him. Perhaps you recall certain of his qualities or experiences you shared with him. This does not have to be a particularly accurate picture of Tim, yet he still comes to mind when you see the photo. But, of course, this photo is not Tim. Thus, this imperfect “copy” of him is reminding you of the “original” Tim. It would follow that you must have met Tim prior to your seeing the photo, in order for you to be reminded of him; someone who had never met Tim could not be so reminded. Therefore, as things being more or less equal remind us of the Idea/Form of equality, we must have met the Idea/Form of equality in order to be reminded of it. This argument is Plato’s proof that the soul existed before we came into existence. Aristotle, too, has an idea of forms, though is differs greatly from Plato’s. The form of an object, put simply, is its essence– its being. These intelligible forms are not independent of a substance, and may only exist whilst the substance does. This substance has one other part: material, i.e. the matter-existing-in-space-and-time that it is comprised of. Substance, according to Aristotle, is the compound of material and form. Let us look further into what it means to be a substance. Material has the potential to be “something”; form is the efficient cause of becoming– the being-at-work-staying-itself aspect of existence. We cannot have material without form. Raw


material, as it were, cannot exist on its own. And we certainly cannot have a form without material; that would not be possible, given that the “form” applies only to matter-existing-inspace-and-time. Thus, to be is to consist of material (potential for being) and form (cause of being). So we can see that Aristotle’s forms are integral to being, but are not separate from the body, as Plato’s are. This being the case, Plato’s Argument from Recollection (hinging mainly upon his theory of Forms) is invalid in Aristotle’s eyes, given that it is impossible for a soul to exist before a body, or indeed, without a body in any case. In essence, to study the soul is to study the activities of the body, so having a soul prior to having a body does not make ontological sense to Aristotle. Having proven that the soul existed before our bodies did, all that is left for Plato is to prove its eternal existence after death. He comes to this question with his argument called The Argument from Affinity. In Phaedo 79e, Cebes concedes to Socrates that the soul is much more like the divine and the invariable than the body. Having decided this, and knowing that the Forms are invariable themselves, one can assume that the soul holds some sort of affinity to the Forms. In the Argument from Recollection, Plato mentions that the soul is the only part of a human that can be in contact with the Forms. Additionally, Plato works in the fact that simple things, i.e. things without parts, are indestructible. If destruction is defined as “tearing parts apart,” the Forms (and the soul) cannot be subject to destruction. With this additional argument for the immortality of the soul, Plato satisfactorily proves that the soul exists before birth, and not only after death, but eternally after human death. Again we see that Aristotle has a contrary conception of the nature of the soul. According to Aristotle, this soul is destructible. The soul is the form of an organic body with life as its


potency. A plant is comprised of matter (material) and form (“plantness”). Were I to eat a plant, I would be taking in its material for my own purposes, but not its form1. In this way, the form is destroyed; the plant is no longer a plant. Its plant parts have been taken apart and given the new form of “food.” So, what is to say that the entirety of the human soul (the form of an organic body with life as its potency) could not be similarly destroyed? Absolutely nothing, from what we can tell from Aristotle’s De Anima. A being that loses its form is no longer that being, except homonymously. For example, “an eye that has lost its sight is no longer an eye (De Anima 412b).” We will see that Aristotle soon gives an exception to this law of being. In De Anima: book III, chapter 5, Aristotle turns the tables on his philosophical followers. The process of perception (outlined in De Anima: book II, chapter 5) for material objects employs terms aforementioned in this essay. In order for a material sensory organ (found in the perceptive and intelligible souls, but not in the nutritive) to understand another material object, a few things must happen. Firstly, the material object must actualize the sensory organ. This sensory organ is potentiality with matter, so it is, essentially, waiting to be actualized. Secondly, the sensory organ must “become” the material object. We do not mean to say that the eye becomes, in a literal sense, whatever it sees. Let us understand by using another analogy. If we think of the eye as a camera loaded with film, we can see how the photographs taken would not be the moon or the chair or the table, but it would be a copy of such things (much as the photograph of Tim, mentioned above, is not Tim). 3) The film waits to be acted upon, and, as such, is potentiality with material. How is it, though, that we know a chair, or any form, when we see one? After all, to be a

1

It might be possible for one to say that, by eating the plant, we are giving it a new form.


chair is to have the form of “chair,” and forms are non-physical. If what we are trying to sense is non-material, certainly the means by which we sense it must be similarly matterial-less. According to Aristotle, what allows the comprehension of an object’s form is the passive intellect. The passive intellect is pure potentiality without material, if we see potentiality as akin to material and actuality akin to form. The only function of the passive intellect is to understand an object’s form– it will never encounter material, as it itself is immaterial. The job of encountering material is one of the body, which is matter itself, and therefore in a ready position to sense material things. This all might be to say that the material sense organs and the passive intellect give us a comprehensive view of the visible world. Note that I do not mean to say that the forms are visible, just that they are necessarily attached to the Aristotelean material, which is visible. Next, we will explore the similar process for sensing immaterial things. First let us decide what kind of immaterial things we will be discussing. Forms of material objects are indeed immaterial, but are necessarily attached to material things in order to give them being, and will never exist without material. Things encountered only in thought are our concern. Such things may be numbers, creative concepts, and other thoughts not in any way attached to material. It cannot be that these thoughts act upon an intellect, they must be produced. This calls for another type of intellect, so dubbed “productive intellect.” It produces these abstractions, and does so with pure actuality. It must be pure actuality, for if this intellect were to have any potentiality, it would require an actuality located in another intellect to actualize it, falling into an infinite regress. We will take a time to compare the thoughts of Plato an Aristotle on this matter of the


soul’s role in intellect. Plato states that the soul is the only thing that can communicate with the Forms, and therefore is acting as somewhat of a passive intellect, in Aristotelean terms. However the difference is that the passive intellect can “become” the immaterial forms, in order to understand them, whereas Plato’s so doesn’t need necessarily do this. In fact, Plato’s combination Argument from Affinty and Simplicity states that the soul has no parts, and therefore cannot change. Even if we disregard this argument, the fact that the Platonic soul lives in a wold of particulars and is constantly having to access the Forms, does not mean that the soul is unable to stop access the Forms. The active access of the Platonic Forms is not an essential property of the Platonic soul, as it were, whereas being eternally actualized is an essential property of Aristotle’s productive intellect. In this way Plato’s and Aristotle’s concepts are similar in concept, but different in execution. The similarities and differences between Platonic Dualism and Aristotelean Dualism are clearly illustrated by their concepts of Forms and substance respectively. Plato’s theory claims that the soul is separate and distinct from the body, and Aristotle claims that the soul is just the form of an organic body with life as its potency, and therefore integral to the existence of a being. This seems like an illustration of pure differences at first, but when Aristotle introduces the passive and productive intellects, we can see that the Aristotelean soul does comprise of an unchangeable, invisible part. Also introduced here is the concept of an immortal part of the Aristotelean soul; a concept that he criticized his predecessors and contemporaries for believing. Despite Aristotle’s reputation for being very contrary to Plato, we can clearly see the correlation between the Platonic soul and the Aristotelean intellects. Not until the Husserl-Heidegger-Sartre line of philosophers will the world see a time of


such incredible philosophical progression. Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle led the change of philosophy from the Hereclitean age, and inspired many modern philosophers to develop their own thoughts on dualism, immortality, and the mind-body problem. As we have seen, Aristotle’s thinking is radically different from Plato’s in many ways, yet can still rest upon Platonic foundations in others. Though there are more differences than similarities between the theories given in Phaedo and De Anima, it is clear that Aristotelian empiricism is very solid, up to a point. It is at this point that Aristotle admits the immortal part of the soul, taking a page out of the book of his old teacher, Plato.

De Animid  

Plato and ARistotle

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you