Greek Philosophy – Aristotle’s On The Soul

Plato three souls

One of Aristotle’s most influential works for hundreds of years, like Plato’s Timaeus not widely read today as much as other works, is his De Anima, “On the Soul”, his psychology.  Aristotle, like the Pythagorean Timaeus of Plato’s dialogue, thought that we have three souls, a lower vegetative appetite, an emotional and sensitive spirit, and a rational mind.  The rational mind is the most perfect and highest manifestation of the body.  Like Empedocles, Aristotle argued that the mind is impressed by things as a seal is stamped in hot wax, and in this way gains conceptions.

Human Eye

Aristotle notes that there are five senses, with touch the lowest, hearing the most informative and instructive, and sight the highest and most noble.  Notice that, parallel with Plato, touch, as well as taste, deal in the earthly, hearing, as well as smell, deal in air (which is why, like the police of Plato’s Republic, the ear is the best at receiving orders and information, and sight deals in fire and light.  Sight is also the most powerful element in that it is the farthest reaching.  Touch and taste require immediate contact with a sensed thing, smell gives us a bit of distance, hearing even more, but sight reaches furthest of all.  Aristotle says that the heart is the central sense organ, receiving the perceptions and motions from the five senses.  While the senses are limited and deal with particular things, the mind is free and deals with universals.  While the Unmoved Mover is the universal mind of the cosmos, human individuals are given particular minds with a limited conception, just as the senses are limited and particular.

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