antecedents of aristotle's psychology

Download Antecedents of Aristotle's Psychology

Post on 26-Apr-2017




0 download

Embed Size (px)


  • Antecedents of Aristotle's Psychology and Scale of BeingsAuthor(s): Friedrich SolmsenSource: The American Journal of Philology, Vol. 76, No. 2 (1955), pp. 148-164Published by: The Johns Hopkins University PressStable URL: .Accessed: 11/02/2014 10:24

    Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

    .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact


    The Johns Hopkins University Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to TheAmerican Journal of Philology.

    This content downloaded from on Tue, 11 Feb 2014 10:24:47 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



    Aristotle's psychological system has a good claim to be num- bered among his most original achievements. Everywhere new ground is broken, large areas are for the first time incorporated into the doctrine of soul, and Aristotle's own concepts, Uvva/uL, evepyeta, and evTeAXXEta are placed in key-positions. To be sure, the vovs, the noblest of all soul-functions and coping stone of the entire edifice, is a legacy of Plato's psychological scheme in which it occupies an analogous place;1 yet even in this phase of the system new departures are so numerous and of such far reaching and striking importance that they inevitably divert our attention from the inherited points of doctrine.

    As usually, Aristotle's obvious originality has stifled inquiry into sources and antecedents.2 Sources in the ordinary sense of the word there are indeed none. As for antecedents, the title of this paper indicates my hope that a search will not be fruitless. However, my intention is not to examine once more the-however tenuous-link with Plato which is represented by the vovs, but to study the two soul functions which come next to the vovi in order of importance and which hitherto seem to have passed for

    philosophical creations e nihilo. If in their case too it proves possible to establish connections between Aristotle and earlier thinkers, the reasons that account for Aristotle's interest in, and choice of, these two functions will no longer elude us.

    1 See e. g. Werner Jaeger, Aristoteles (Berlin, 1923), p. 355; Heinrich

    Cassirer, Aristoteles' Schrift von der Seele (Tiibingen, 1932), p. 197. 2 For reasons which will soon become apparent I cannot agree with

    R. D. Hicks' statement (Aristotle De Anima [Cambridge, 1907], p. xxxvi): " We find nothing in Aristotle but the development in syste- matic form of the Platonic heritage." In a sense it is true that "with the conscious or half-conscious materialism of his (Presocratic) prede- cessors Aristotle has no more sympathy than Plato" (ibid.), provided this does not imply that Aristotle owes nothing to the Presocratics and that his relation to them is hardly worth studying. Much valuable information and observation is to be found in J. T. Beare, Greek Theories of Elementary Cognition from Alcmaeon to Aristotle (Oxford, 1906).


    This content downloaded from on Tue, 11 Feb 2014 10:24:47 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


    Aristotle, as is well known, rejects Plato's division of soul into a rational, a spirited, and an appetitive part 3 and bases his own theory on the recognition of four faculties or functions of soul, viz., the nutritive (0pe7rLKov), the sensory (aiaO7rTLKOv), the locomotive (KLyqrLKO'v), and the mind (voS) .4 Of these the former three obviously need the cooperation of the body; in fact they are understood as functions of "soul in body." However, the locomotive function, when put on a par with the others, finds itself in a somewhat anomalous position which becomes apparent as soon as we remember another aspect of Aristotle's psychology, to wit the correlation of the three other soul-functions with the scale of living beings: plants have only the nutritive function, animals the nutritive and the sensory, and man in addition to these two also the mind.5 Between the KIvvrJTKOv and the scale no such relation exists. As in looking for the antecedents of the soul-functions we hope to find some light on the origins of the scale it is obvious that we have to concentrate on the nutritive and the sensory functions.

    Occasionally Aristotle recognizes a further faculty of soul, the "desiring" or "striving" (OpEKrtKov).6 Its place in the scale is determined by the observation that its presence is tied to that of the aLar0OTLKOv. Among its manifestations Aristotle includes Ovpo" and 7rtOvpua. This then is the place which Plato's two lower soul-functions are given in Aristotle's scheme and Aris- totle in fact criticizes Plato for having " torn asunder " the various forms of desire that ought to be comprehended under one and the same faculty.7

    Now if from the De Anima we turn to Aristotle's Ethics and Politics we find a rather different situation. In the former Aristotle actually dismisses one of his soul functions, the nutri-

    sImplicitly by setting up an alternative division, explicitly esp. De Anima, III, 9, 432 a 24; 10, 433 b 4.

    4See e.g. De An., II, 2, 413 a 21 ff., esp. b 12. II, 4 deals with the 8pe-rrLK6P, II, 5-12 with the ai0-7rTtK6V, III, 3-7 with the povs, and III, 8-11 with the KLVTrLKOV in the context to which opeits plays a role of con- siderable importance.

    5 See esp. De An., I, 5, 411 b 27 ff., II, 2, 413 a 21 ff., b 2; II, 3, 414 b 28-415 a 12. On vovs as peculiar to man (Kal rel' T o roLVTOP eTep6v earrt Kai rtlutLrepov) see esp. II, 3, 414 b 18; cf. III, 3, 427 b 7 if.

    eDe An., II, 3, 414 a 31, b 1; cf. III, 9, 432 b 3. 7 II, 3, 414 b 1-16; III, 9, 432 b 3-7.


    This content downloaded from on Tue, 11 Feb 2014 10:24:47 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


    tive, as being useless for the specific purposes of his Ethics; and without so much as mentioning the other, i. e., the sensory func-

    tion, he proceeds to build up his system of intellectual and ethical excellences on a Platonic distinction between the Xoyos and another soul part which while aXoyov in itself can yet obey the Aoyos (at 1102 b 30 he calls it To 7rlOvtL07LKOV Kai 0X,os opEKrL-

    KOv).8 Another and not quite so fundamental section of the Ethics which deals with the loss of self-control (&KpaCta) takes Ov os as well as e,Ovrvla, into account and considers their relation to the Aoyos.9 So much for the Ethics. In the Politics Aris- totle without qualms relies on the cooperation between the

    tavovrlTKov and the 7rt0Gvf,r7LcKo'V of the citizens in his ideal state. In these contexts the Platonic terms are clearly useful.10 Plato had after all adopted them to deal with modes of human behavior that the ethicist and the political planner must take into account, and it would be very hard to imagine that in discussing similar

    problems Aristotle should have received help from his biological soul functions.

    Now if in his Politics and Ethics Aristotle makes more use of Plato's psychological concepts than of his own, one may ask whether Plato conversely when entering the field of biology makes some concessions to a physiological soul concept. So

    smoothly and symmetrically, however, matters do not work out. The Timaeus shows that far from making any such concession

    8 Cf. on the whole Eth. Nic., I, 13, 1102 a 26 ff., b 13 ff. (see also De An., III, 9, 432 a 26 with Hicks' reference to M. M., I, 1, 1182 a 23). F. Nuyens, L'evolution de la psychologie d'Aristote (Louvain, 1948), p. 189, infers from the lack of agreement between Eth. Nic. and De An. that even the last version of Aristotle's Ethics had been completed before the characteristic doctrines of De Anima took shape. Yet in arguing his case Nuyens ignores those passages in which Aristotle brings in the concepts of his psychology-and discards them as offering no help towards an ethical theory. In particular ir OperrLKo6v, while in itself a valid concept, cannot serve as basis of an dvOpwrivra dper' (Eth. Nic., I, 13, 1102 a 32-b 12; cf. also I, 6, 1097 b 33-1098 a 3, VI, 13, 1144 a 9 f. and Eth. Eud., II, 1, 1219 b 20-4, 36 ff.). And indeed how could he-or anyone before the days of evolutionary thinking-establish a system of human conduct upon the foundation of biological soul- functions ?

    Eth. Nic., VII, 7, 1149 a 24 ff. 10 See esp. Pol., VII, 7. On Plato's source for the term Ovuozoet8s (Rep.,

    IV, 435 E and passim) see Jaeger, Eranos, XLIV (1946), pp. 123 ff.


    This content downloaded from on Tue, 11 Feb 2014 10:24:47 AMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


    Plato clings to his own psychology to the extent of localizing the different parts of soul in appropriate regions of the body, namely the rational in the head, the spirited in the chest, and the appetitive (to which we shall presently