PH354 Aristotle Week 5. Man’s Nature (2) Puzzles about Hylomorphism: Perception and Thought
Lecture Plan • The main elements of Aristotle’s account introduced. Aristotle’s view is that perception is a particular variety of change. • Different ways of understanding the claim that perception involves the reception of ‘sensible form without matter’. The debate between materialists and ‘spiritualists’ introduced. • We will look at the remarks on the debate in Lear (1988), and at his proposal that perception must be understood as involving both material and cognitive elements.
Lecture Plan • I will sketch out the apparent contrast between the discussion of ‘active intellect’ in De Anima Book III, chapter 5 and some of Aristotle’s earlier claims about thought. • I will sketch out two major schools of interpreting the notion of ‘active mind’,and what grounds them. • We will close by looking at the suggestions about Active Mind in Lear (1988).
Aristotle on Perception: Preliminaries • Perception distinguishes animals from things that possess only a nutritive soul • Perception is a type of event that involves sensory contact with the environment; a kind of contact that constitutes a form of awareness of the environment. • It involves sensory contact insofar as it is a relation (or apparent relation) to the environment that is mediated by a sense-organ; • Perception involves awareness in that in perception, aspects of the environment are brought to the attention in a way that allows them to play a role in action-guidance.
Perception is a change or a motion (kinesis) • “Perception consists in being moved and affected, as has been said; for it is thought to be a kind of alteration.” (416b33-35) • In perception, there is the alteration of some property in the subject, which is the subject’s being moved or affected by something. (The replacement of one property by another, or the ‘destruction’ of an absence by becoming some way)
Perception is the Reception of Form without Matter • In general, with regard to all sense-perception, we must take it that the sense is that which can receive perceptible forms without their matter, as wax receives the imprint of the ring without the iron or gold, and it takes the imprint which is of gold or bronze, but not qua gold or bronze. Similarly too in each case the sense is affected by that which has colour or flavor or sound, but by these not in so far as what each of them is spoken of as being, but in so far as they are things of a certain kind and in accordance with their principle.
Perception is the Reception of Form without Matter • The primary sense organ is that in which such a potentiality resides. These are then the same, although what it is for them to be such is not the same. For that which perceives must be a certain extended magnitude, while what it is to be able to perceive and the sense are surely not magnitudes, but rather a certain principle and potentiality of that thing. (424a18-28)
Perception is not a mere alteration • Being affected is not a single thing either; it is first a kind of destruction of something by its contrary, and second it is rather the preservation of that which is so potentially by that which is so actually and is like it in the way that a potentiality may be like an actuality.
Perception is not a mere alteration • For that which has knowledge comes to contemplate, and this is either not an alteration (for the development is of a thing into itself and into actuality) or a different kind of alteration. For this reason it is not right to say that something which understand is altered when it understands, any more than a builder when he builds. (417b1-10)
Aristotle on Perception • Perception is a kind of change • Which is in an organ of sense (or a perceptual faculty) • In which the sense “becomes like” the object sensed in some way (without taking on matter) • Which is not only an alteration but the actuality of a potential (as contemplation actualizes knowledge)
Materialism (See Sorabji (1977), Everson (1997)) • For the sense organ to take on sensible form without matter is for the respect in which the sense organ is like the perceptible form to be a literal case of the sharing of a property. • In perception, a physical process occurs in which some aspect of the environment is imprinted on the perceiver through a material process, involving the sense-organs. • When a perceiver perceives the redness of some object, the jelly in the eyeball becomes red.
Materialism • “In vision, for example, the eye-jelly (kore) does not receive particles or other bits of matter from the scene observed. It simply takes on colour patches (perceptible forms) to match it. One advantage of understanding a literal taking on of colour is that this explains how shapes and sizes can be received: the coloured patches in the eye-jelly have shapes and (small-scale) sizes corresponding to those of the scene.” (Sorabji (1992): 209)
Materialism: For • ‘Moreover, even that which sees is in a way coloured; for each sense-organ is receptive of the object of perception without its matter. That is why perceptions and imaginings remain in the sense-organs even when the objects of perception are gone.’ 425b20-25 • ‘(Talking of touch) Their sense-organ, that of touch, in which the sense called touch primarily resides, is the part which is potentially such as they are. For perceiving is a form of being affected; hence, that which acts makes that part, which is potentially as it is, such as it is itself actually.’ (423b29-424a1)
Materialism: For • If Aristotle is interpreted as a materialist, we can understand him as offering a functionalist theory of perception that may be independently attractive. • On this view, different kinds of physical change might realize the process of perception • If this is correct, then the falsehood of Aristotle’s particular claims about physiological change might be no bar to the success of a broadly Aristotelian theory of perception.
Materialism: Against • The theory is simplistic and would have been capable of empirical refutation even by Aristotle • What is the formal aspect of the account? What does the change realize? • Issues concerning the adequacy of materialism as a theory of perception.
Spiritualism (See Burnyeat (1990)) • “(W)e are forced to conclude that the organ’s becoming like the object is not its literally and physiologically becoming hard or warm but a noticing or becoming aware of hardness or warmth. All these physical-seeming descriptions—the organ’s becoming like the object, its being affected, acted on, or altered by sensible qualities, its taking on sensible form without the matter—all these are referring to what Aquinas calls a ‘spiritual change’, a becoming aware of a sensible quality in the environment.” (Burnyeat (1990): 21)
Spiritualism: For • Being affected is not a single thing either; it is first a kind of destruction of something by its contrary, and second it is rather the preservation of that which is so potentially by that which is so actually and is like it in the way that a potentiality may be like an actuality…
Spiritualism: For • For that which has knowledge comes to contemplate, and this is either not an alteration (for the development is of a thing into itself and into actuality) or a different kind of alteration. For this reason it is not right to say that something which understand is altered when it understands, any more than a builder when he builds. (417b1-10) • If materialism is correct, why the qualification? Why wouldn’t perception just be an alteration?
Spiritualism: For • “Actual sense perception is so spoken of in the same way as contemplation; but there is a difference in that in sense-perception the things which are able to produce the activity are external, i.e. the objects of sight and hearing, and similarly for the rest of the objects of perception…
Spiritualism: For • The reason is that actual perception is of particulars, while knowledge is of universals; and these are somehow in the soul itself. For this reason it is open to us to think when we wish, but perceiving is not similarly open to us; for there must be the object of perception.” 417b18-25
Spiritualism: Against • What is the material basis of perception on this view? Could perception occur without a body? • Cohen (1992) wonders how well the wax/ring analogy fits this theory. If things can be perceived when they are intentionally present, or when the perceiver is aware of them, then how can Aristotle’s claim that in perception form is received ‘without matter’ be understood?
A Mixed View: Lear (1988) • Perception involves both a change and an activity • In both change and activity, a potentiality becomes actual (sensible form and capacity to perceive) • In perception, there is a single occurrence that actualizes two distinct potentialities. • The occurrence involves both something material—the transmission of form through light—and something spiritual (awareness)
A Mixed View: Lear (1988) • “Perception, too, is a very special sort of change. On the one hand, the process of transmission of the sensible form from the object to the perceiver is a change. A tree causes me to see a tree. Sensory perception depends upon an external cause which somehow activates the medium between perceiver and object, and the end state of the process is the sensory awareness. On the other hand, the product of the change, sensory awareness, is an activity. Seeing, Aristotle says, is complete at every moment, and we engage in it for its own sake, not just for its usefulness.” (1988: 105)
A Mixed View: Lear (1988) • Lear (1988) maintains that for Aristotle the awareness and the change are the same actuality. But he also describes perception or awareness as the ‘end state’ of the process of form transmission, and the ‘product’ of the change. Are these ideas consistent? • If a change or process has a certain state or activity as its end, then it would appear that they cannot be the same actuality. The state or activity would seem to require the absence of the change. Perhaps there is a better way to read Lear (1988), or to understand Aristotle’s views within the spirit of his account?
The Intellect • (i) In De Anima, Book III, chapter 4, Aristotle discusses mind, thought and thinking. • (ii) ‘Mind’ is the specific capacity or set of capacities that is exercised in thought and thinking. (It’s what post-Cartesians would think of as ‘soul’) • (iii) The account of the mind and its exercise in thought exhibits both similarities and differences from the account of perception.
The Intellect • (iv) In thinking thoughts, the soul comes to take on the forms of things that are external to it. • “Now if thinking is akin to perceiving, it must be either being affected in some way by the object of thought or something else of this kind. It must then be unaffected, but capable of receiving the form, and potentially such as it, although not identical with it; and as that which is capable of perceiving is to the objects of perception, so must the intellect be to its objects.” 429a13-18.
The Intellect • “Since a magnitude and what it is to be a magnitude are different, and water and what it is to be water (and so too for many other things, but not for all; for in some cases they are the same), we judge what it is to be flesh and flesh itself either by means of something different or the same thing differently disposed.
The Intellect • For flesh does not exist apart from matter, but like the snub it is a this in a this. It is, then, with the faculty of sense-perception that we judge the hot and the cold and those things of which flesh is in a certain proportion. But it is by something else, either something distinct or something which is to the former as the bent line is to itself when straightened out, that we judge what it is to be flesh.” (429b10-18)
De Anima, Book III, chapter 5 • Since in the whole of nature there is something which is matter to each kind of thing (and this is potentially all of them), while on the other hand there is something else which is their cause and is productive by producing them all—these being related as an art to its material—so there must also be these differences in the soul. And there is an intellect which is of this kind by becoming all things, and there is another which is so by producing all things, as a kind of disposition, like light, does; for in a way light too makes colours which are potential into actual colours. And this intellect is distinct, unaffected and unmixed, being in essence activity.
De Anima, Book III, chapter 5 • For that which acts is always superior to that which is affected, and the first principle to the matter. Actual knowledge is identical with its object; but potential knowledge is prior in time in the individual but not prior even in time in general; and it is not the case that it sometimes thinks and at other times not. In separation it is just what it is and this alone is immortal and eternal. (But we do not remember because this is unaffected, whereas the passive intellect is perishable, and without this thinks nothing.) (430a10-25)
Active Intellect • It produces all things • It is in essence activity • It is always thinking • It can exist in separation (from the body?) • It is ‘immortal and eternal’ • But how does this cohere with Aristotle’s philosophy of mind, and his general metaphysics, given that Aristotle’s hylomorphic approach to living beings is, in general, it seems, directed at providing an alternative to Platonic views about soul.
Questions about Active Mind • 1. Propositions (a)-(e) describe various properties and activities of active mind. But what is ‘active mind’ (perhaps what is an active mind?) such that these are properties and activities of it? • 2. Propositions (a)-(e) describe various properties and activities of active mind. How are we to understand these properties and activities? (e.g. what does it come to to be immortal and eternal? To produce all things?) • Clearly, our answers to these questions won’t be independent of one another.
Active Mind as Human Mind • When Aristotle refers to agent intellect, he is referring to a type of understanding or capacity that human beings possess. • In virtue of having this kind of understanding, human beings are capable of some form of continued existence after death. • This kind of interpretation is advanced by Aquinas in Summa Theologica, by Rist (1966), and by Ross (1949).
Active Mind as Human Mind: Against • It might be reasonable to assume, in the light of Aristotle’s general approach to the soul and mental functioning, that the intellect, were this to be understood as ‘thinking soul’ or ‘intellectual soul’ is not something that can exist independently of the living being. • But it is just not clear how the human soul or intellect could have any of the capacities and powers Aristotle talks about here.
Active Mind as Human Mind: For • Aristotle does not indicate at the start of book 5 that he has switched to talking about non-human beings or capacities. • It is not true that the characterization of the ‘potential intellect’ (that which is moved to take on intelligible forms) doesn’t suggest any such features. For example, Aristotle clearly thinks that this is a highly unusual capacity, in that it is non-bodily in a basic respect. • (“(i)t is reasonable that it should not be mixed with the body; for in that case it would come to be of a certain kind, either cold or hot, or it would even have an organ like the faculty of perception; but as things are it has none.” (429a24-7))
Active Mind as Human Mind: For • And it is clear that even in his basic introduction to the notion of soul in De Anima Book II, Aristotle is already indicating that his hylomorphic account of the soul isn’t inconsistent with the idea that some parts of the soul may be separable. • “That, therefore, the soul or certain parts of it, if it is divisible, cannot be separated from the body is quite clear; for in some cases the actuality is of the parts themselves. Not that anything prevents at any rate some parts from being separable, because of their being actualities of no body.” (my italics). (413a4-8)…
Active Mind as Human Mind: For • “Concerning the intellect and the potentiality for contemplation the situation is not so far clear, but it seems to be a different kind of soul, and this alone can exist separately, as the everlasting can from the perishable.” (413b, 24-27) • In the absence of explicit evidence that Aristotle is here talking about God or infinite substance, there are general methodological reasons to take it that Aristotle is here just talking about human minds (it is a more economical interpretation). This depends on having something to say about how the activities and properties could be activities of a human intellect.
Active Mind as Divine Mind • Aristotle’s view only appears to be inconsistent with his hylomorphic view of human beings. • His various claims about agent intellect do not threaten his hylomorphic view of the living being, at least of humans, because these claims do not concern such beings. • There are different possible versions of this approach. One possible claim is that the discussion of agent intellect concerns God. A different possible claim is that the claims concern other intelligences who are not God, but are superior to beings such as us. • The view that these passages concern the nature of God is primarily associated with the ancient commentator Alexander of Aphrodisias.
Active Mind as Divine Mind: For • On this view, one doesn’t need to credit Aristotle with the holding of personal immortality, or Platonic views about the immortality of the soul. To this extent, the suggestion preserves some kind of anti-Platonism in the discussion of the human soul. • The list of properties of active mind bears a striking resemblance to the list of properties used to describe God in Metaphysics XII Lambda.
Active Mind as Divine Mind: For • On such a principle, then, depend the heavens and the world of nature. And its life is such as the best we can enjoy, and enjoy it for but a short time. For it is every in this state (which we cannot be), since its actuality is also pleasure. (And therefore waking, perception and thinking are most pleasant, and hopes and memories are so because of their reference to these). (1072b,14-18)
Active Mind as Divine Mind: For • If then God is always in that good state, in which we sometimes are, this compels our wonder; and if in better that compels it yet more. And God is in a better state. And life also belongs to God; for the actuality of thought is life, and God is that actuality; and God’s essential actuality is life most good and eternal. We say therefore that God is a living being, eternal, most good, so that life and duration and continuous and eternal belong to God; for this is God. (1072b, 23-30) • But God is claimed to be unique: there is only one thing that has that set of properties.
Active Mind as Divine Mind: Against • There is no evidence in the text that the shift from chapter 4 to chapter 5 involves such a radical change in topic; from human minds to the mind of God
More Questions about Active Mind • 1. If active mind is God, what is it for God to act in these ways or possess these properties? What is the activity of God? • 2. If active mind is a form of intellect that Aristotle takes to be possessed by humans, then how are we to understand the activities and properties detailed in (a)-(e)? • These are questions that we will discuss in detail in the last week of term. But let us finish by looking briefly at the discussion offered in Lear (1988).