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Volume 9/10, 2011/2012

L’âme et ses Discours de l’Antiquité au Moyen Âge

Miriam C. D. Peixoto
Pages 217-242

L’activité de l’âme démocritéenne
de la sensation et de l’intellection

The thought of the ancient atomists about the activity of the soul in the body is an important chapter in the history of reflection on the soul in ancient philosophy. A review of testimonies and fragments attributed to Democritus of Abdera shows its singular conception of the soul as a complex network of transactions through which it exercises, inside compound bodies, its role in driving principle of beings animated. These texts show the tension and dynamism that characterize the activity of the soul and especially the close relationship between the activities of perceiving and thinking, essential activities to the economy of living beings, now for what is the management of biological life, now in terms of knowledge and human action. What we propose here is to examine how Democritus conceived the activity of the soul in its complexity and the various operations through which it accomplishes its function in the animation and the maintenance of life of animate beings, and particularly of human life. To do this, we will take as a basis the testimonies referred to the nature of the soul – especially the testimony of Aristotle and his disciples and commentators – and then examine the activities through which proceeds its role of motor principle, namely the sensations and the intellection. And, finally, we intend to demonstrate that these operations should not be considered, in the context of atomist thought, as two independent and opposed faculties or activities, but as two different levels or degree, contiguous and complementary, of one and the same activity.