Volume 9, Issue 1, Fall 2004
Across the Tradition of Philosophy
Aristotle and Functionalism
A Re-Examination of their “Natural” Disagreement
In this paper I provide a compelling argument against the thesis that Aristotle’s understanding of the relation between the soul and the body can be construed as
functionalist, despite some passages that would seem to support such an interpretation. Toward this end, in section I of the essay I offer an interpretation of Aristotle’s account of the soul-body relation that emphasizes the non-contingent nature of the connection between the soul and a specific kind of body, arguing that Aristotle’s account of the soul as the “form” and “actuality” of the living thing, and of the organic body as its “matter” and “potentiality,” shows their necessary relation with one another. In section II, I present the functionalist account of mind, placing especial emphasis on its post-Cartesian genesis, which takes seriously the “problematic” status of the relation between mind and body. I then attempt to show, in section III, how because functionalism holds that psychic capacities can be realized within a number of different material bases, including physical and artificial systems, it is incompatible with Aristotle’s conception of the necessary soul-body relation, and thus that Aristotle’s account of psuche is not best construed as functionalist.