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The soul, according to Aristotle

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  1. Introduction.
  2. The first assertion that Aristotle makes about his conception of the soul.
  3. The soul is the form of a living thing.
  4. The soul as an even more specific type of actuality.
  5. Potentiality of the soul.
    1. The first level of potentialities: Nutrition.
    2. The second grouping of potentialities: Ones possessed by animals.
    3. Illustrating the presence of a third potentiality for Aristotle.
    4. The potentiality possessed only by humans: Intellect.
  6. Aristotle's conception of the soul.
  7. Objections that can be raised to Aristotle's conception.
    1. Distinguishing things with souls from things without.
    2. His idea of unique souls needing unique bodies.
  8. Conclusion.
  9. Bibliography.

In the work De Anima, Aristotle presents his account of the soul. He sees the soul as inexorably tied to a physical body. This is because the soul is a form, while the body is the matter that is acted upon. Inherent in this characterization of the soul is the idea that the soul is actuality while the body is potentiality. Aristotle specifies that the soul is the first actuality of the body's potentiality. After extrapolating on this, Aristotle outlines the different capacities of the soul, or what he calls ?potentialities.' He divides beings into three groups (plant, animal, and human) and illustrates the potentialities that each group possesses. Aristotle's conception of the soul is strong since it is based on his classic appeal to the natural world and our pragmatic perception of it. However, some objections can be raised about his definition of what possesses a soul as well as why souls act individually while possessing collective features.

[...] In this way we see that the pyramid structure helps to illustrate how basic species have basic potentialities of the soul, and as the being gets more complex so do the potentialities of the soul, with the top level having all potentialities actualized. The first level of potentialities is made up of Nutrition (the Nutritive potentiality) Aristotle writes, functions are generation and the use of nourishment.? (184 415a) In Aristotle's conception of Nutrition it has two functions. The first is reproduction and propagation of the species. [...]


[...] Although it helps Aristotle place importance on the potentialities in his conception of the soul, it seems that what Aristotle really means by this (or should mean) is that anything that is perishable must naturally have a soul. Since nutrition is the basic potentiality of a being that has a soul, essentially anything that has the potentiality to perish (and therefore needs the nutritive potentiality) can be seen as having a soul. This seems to be a better litmus test of possession of a soul, and avoids the problem of exactly how certain beings fulfill their nutritive function. [...]

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