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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 3, 1998

Ancient Philosophy

Abraham P. Bos
Pages 48-54

Aristotle’s Psychology
The Traditional (hylomorphistic) Interpretation Refuted

The psychology of Aristotle has never been understood in a historically correct way. A new interpretation of the De anima will be proposed in which this work can be seen as compatible with the psychology that can be reconstructed from the fragments of Aristotle's lost dialogues and the De motu animalium and other biological works (in which the notions of pneuma and 'vital heat' play a crucial role) and the doxographical data gathered from ancient writers besides the commentators. In De anima, II, 412b5, where psychè is defined as 'the first entelecheia of a natural body that is organikon,' the words 'natural body' should not be taken to mean 'the body of a living plant, animal or human being' but to stand for 'elementary body.' And the qualification 'organikon' should not be understood as 'equipped with organs' (as it always has) but in the sense of 'serving as an instrument to the soul.' This 'instrumental body' that is inseparably connected with the soul is the seat of desire (orexis), which physically influences the parts of the visible body. Besides those two corrections there are the words ta merè in 412b18 that should be taken as meaning not 'parts of the body' but 'parts of the soul.' Aristotle is arguing there that even those parts of the soul that are not yet actualized in the embryo of a new living being can be said to be 'not without body.'

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