You are on page 1of 21

Aristotle and the Mind-Body Problem

Author(s): Robert Heinaman

Reviewed work(s):
Source: Phronesis, Vol. 35, No. 1 (1990), pp. 83-102
Published by: BRILL
Stable URL: .
Accessed: 19/03/2012 11:54
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact
BRILL is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Phronesis.
Aristotle and the Mind-Body Problem
In this paper I will argue that Aristotle's position on the mind-body problem
is probably best characterized as dualism. The
of whether dualism
is true divides into three questions: Are there immaterial, non-physical
substances? Are there non-physical mental events? Are there non-physical
mental properties? Since Aristotle's position is clearer with regard to the
first two issues than the third, I will confine the discussion to an examination
of Aristotle's position on those questions. Section I deals with Aristotle's
commitments in relation to the question about substance and section II
deals with the issue in relation to events. An alternative account of Aristot-
le's position on the second issue is examined and rejected in section III.
I will argue that, with reservations, it is plausible to say that Aristotle
accepts the existence of non-physical substances. On the question of mental
events, I will argue that Aristotle's position is at odds with both the dualist
and the physicalist views, but since in this case too it is plausible to say that
Aristotle accepts the existence of non-physical events, his overall position is
best classified as dualist. The evidence drawn on occurs largely in the
comparatively neglected first book of De Anima.
Many have thought, correctly, that Aristotle's views on the intellect
commit him to some sort of dualism with regard to the rational soul, but
reject this as an accurate representation of his position for other types of
sensitive, nutritive, etc. My argument in section
rests on no
assumptions about the soul peculiar to the intellect. Aristotle's dualism
regarding the soul holds for any kind of soul, including the souls of plants.
However, section II deals only with psychic events which have the soul as a
subject. Digestion and other actualizations of the nutritive soul are not
mental events because the proper subject of digestion, for example, is the
body alone.
Phronesis 1990. Vol. XXXVII (Accepted August 1989) 83
What must Aristotle believe in order to hold a dualist view of the soul? Of
course, he must believe that.
(1) the soul is an immaterial entity,
but clearly more is required. A materialist might believe that the structure
or shape of some wooden object is an immaterial entity - it is not made out
of matter - without abandoning his materialism. The shape, like weight or
velocity, will count as a physical property, and this the materialist is happy
to accept. Similarly, even if Aristotle accepted (1), he might think of the
soul as a kind of physical attribute of the body and so not be what we would
want to call a dualist. More is needed.
Belief in the possibility of the soul's existence separately from the body
suffices to make one a dualist, but Aristotle rejects that belief for at least
most types of soul. If Aristotle is committed to dualism, he must be
committed to a weaker version of it which admits that the soul cannot exist
apart from the body.
The question of whether Aristotle had some Cartesian concept of con-
sciousness is irrelevant to the issue, as Robinson has pointed out.' A
materialist might accept such a concept while a dualist might reject it.
Nowadays the mind-body problem revolves around the question of
whether psychological entities and laws are reducible to physical entities
and laws (or eliminable altogether). There is no question of Aristotle's
wishing to reduce "psychic laws" to physical laws (or eliminate anything),
so the relevant question with regard to Aristotle is: does he reduce psychic
entities (such as souls and mental events) to material entities (such as bodies
and physical changes)?
The fact that Aristotle considered the soul to be an immaterial entity
irreducible to matter is put beyond doubt by his arguments in De Anima I .3
and 4 which purport to prove that the soul is changeless.2
In I.2, 403b25-27, Aristotle had said that the living have been thought to
differ from the non-living in virtue of two characteristics
- movement and
perception. Since it is the presence of a soul that distinguishes the living
from the non-living, the soul of a living thing should explain why it is able to
move. And it was thought that this explanation would first have to posit that
the soul moves, and then say that the body of a living thing is caused to move
H.M. Robinson, "Mind and Body in Aristotle", Classical Quarterly, 28 (1978), p. 106.
Cf. Dc An. 411a24-26, De Gen. et Corr. 334al-15.
by the soul's motion. This account entails materialism, for the soul can
move only if it is a material object.3
Thus, for example, Democritus held the soul to be composed of fine
spherical atoms which move, bump into coarser atoms constituting the
body, and thereby cause it to move. And, of course, since Democritus'
atoms were material objects he had to say that the soul was a material
Aristotle agrees that the soul of a living thing explains why it moves as it
does, but he rejects the suggestion that the soul moves the body in the
manner proposed by Democritus by arguing, in I.3 and 4, that the soul
cannot change at all.
Why does Aristotle reject the possibility of a soul undergoing change? As
Alexander points out,4 it is because the soul is a form, and all forms are
immaterial, and hence changeless.5
The soul, being a form, is not a body6 and hence has no magnitude7 and is
not divisible into parts with magnitude. According to De Anima 409al-3
3Although Aristotle says that some of his predecessors characterized the soul as &ac-
(405bll), this does not mean that they considered it to be immaterial but rather
that they considered it to be constituted by a fine and rarified sort of stuff such as fire as
opposed to earth (409bl9-21; cf. Phys. 215b5, 10). Cf. R.D. Hicks, Aristotle, DeAnima
(New York, 1976), p. 227.
4 Alexander of Aphrodisias, DeAnima, ed. I. Bruns (Berlin, 1887), p. 17, 9-11; pp. 21,
22-22, 12; In Aristotelis Topicorum, ed. M. Wallies (Berlin, 1891), pp. 162, 25-163, 2;
pp. 164, 24-165, 3. Cf. Simplicius, In Aristotelis Physicorum, ed. H. Diels (Berlin, 1895),
p. 964, 14-17; p. 1250, 16-18; In Libros Aristotelis De Anima Commentaria, ed. M.
Hayduck (Berlin, 1882), p. 56, 26-28; G. Rodier, Traitt de l'dme (Paris, 1900), p. 136;
H.M. Robinson, "Aristotelian Dualism," in J. Annas (ed.), Oxford Studies in Ancient
Philosophy I (Oxford, 1983), p. 131.
5 Meta. 1032b14, 1035a28-29, 1037al-2, 1044b21-24, 27-29, 1075al-2; Phys. 224bl-13,
The fact that the soul's changelessness rules out the possibility of its being a material
object has now been pointed out by C. Shields ("Soul and Body in Aristotle", Oxford
Studies in Ancient Philsophy VI (1988), pp. 114-18), and section I of the present paper
can be read as an attempt to strengthen his first argument for ascribing dualism to
Aristotle by adding the following points. (i) There is an explanation of why an object
lacking magnitude cannot change based on the requirements for a subject of change
found in Phys. VI.4 and 10. It is this rather than the arguments found in De Anima 1.3
that provides the basic explanation of why the soul is changeless. (ii) For reasons to be
mentioned shortly, establishing that the soul is not a material substance does not by itself
warrant the conclusion that Aristotle is a dualist. A stronger claim should, and can, be
De An. 412a17, 414a20-21, Parva Nat. 467b14; cf. De Part. Anim. 652b7-9.
De An. 407a2-22, De Motu Anim. 703al-3; cf. De An. 424a26-28, Meta. 1075a6-7,
Phys. 212b7-12, 28-29.
and the arguments of Physics VI.4 and 10, this excludes the possibility of
the soul's changing.8
The conclusion that the soul is changeless was an important development
in Aristotle's views which is linked to other changes of position, for example
in his account of pleasure. Previously Aristotle had not hesitated to speak of
the soul as the subject of change. In the Categories the soul is the substance
which is the proper subject for different kinds of qualities (la25-26, 9b33-
35), and a distinguishing feature of a substance is its capacity to persist
through a change between contraries (4alb19). Similarly, the Protrepti-
cus thinks of living as a change undergone by the soul (B80, 83 - During),
and the Topics too speaks of the soul's changing (120b21-26, 123al5-17).9
At this stage Aristotle apparently is willing to say that if F and G are
qualities whose proper subject is the soul, then the soul's transition between
F and G is a change in the soul.
By the time he wrote Physics VII, Aristotle was no longer willing to
accept this. There we find a rather strange intermediate position where
some but not all transitions between different qualities of the soul are
changes. The intellectual part of the soul both acquires and uses knowledge
but neither is an alteration - a qualitative change - in the intellect. But this is
not due to any difference between soul and matter, for the perceptive soul
does undergo alterations (244b10-12, 247a4-17, 248a6-9)1I and some transi-
This is also required by Aristotle's view that a self-mover must be divisible into the
changing subject of motion - the body, and an unchanging mover - the soul (Phys.
VIII.5; cf. 266b28-29).
Note too that Aristotle says that alteration - the only species of change which the soul
could possibly undergo - has a perceptible object as its proper subject (De Gen. et Corr.
319bl-15) and that the subject of a quality is divisible (Phys. 236b7-8, De Caelo
Nevertheless, in many passages from what I take to be mature works Aristotle ascribes
change to the soul. While he doubtless often uses 'x(vYjaoL' in a broad sense, this
doesn't seem to account for Phys. IV. 11 where 'change' must be used in a strict sense in
the definition of time but is still ascribed to the soul. Likewise Aristotle ascribes change
to points (Phys. 219b6-19, 227b14-17) despite the fact that they have no magnitude and
Phys. VI. 10 explicitly denies that they can change.
H. Cherniss takes Top. 111b4-8 and 121a30-39 to show that the Topics asserts the view
that pleasure is not a change and the soul does not undergo change (Aristotle's Criticism
of Plato and the Academy (New York, 1962), p. 589). But there is no reason to believe
that Aristotle wishes to use the arguments there presented as illustrations to derive those
conclusions. For example, Aristotle says that if the soul changes, then it must undergo
one of the species of change - alteration, locomotion etc. But he does not deny that any
species of change does characterize the soul and then conclude that the genus change
does not apply to it either.
Cf. De An. 406b10-11, An. Post. 1.29, Rhet. 1369b33-1370al.
tions of state in material objects are not alterations but completions (or
tXcr6oEL5). What Aristotle wishes to prove in VII.3 is that alteration
occurs in a subject - soul or matter - only with respect to qualities which are
perceptible. If the qualities in question are not of that kind but are rather
conditions, states or shapes, then the subject - soul or matter - transiting
between them is not thereby altered. If the qualities are perceptible, then
the subject - body or soul - is altered. Since the intellect is not affected by
sensible qualities, it is only the perceptive part of the soul that suffers
Aristotle's ascription of change to the soul in these earlier phases does
not mean that he was then a materialist, any more than in Plato's case.1'
Rather, by the time he wrote De Anima he had more clearly thought out
what was required of a proper subject of change and had concluded that
such a subject could not lack magnitude. Believing that souls lack magni-
tude he had to conclude that souls are changeless.
But why did he come to believe that a subject of change must possess
magnitude? The answer can be found in Physics VI.4, 234blO-20.12 In any
change there is a subject, starting-point and end-point of the change. The
end-point of the change is the newly acquired feature; the starting-point is
the feature lost in the change; and the subject is what persists throughout
the change, what begins with the starting-point and finishes with the
Suppose that a subject is changing from A to B, where B is what the
subject "first" changes into rather than an extreme (et; 6 8 tETafriXEX s6
7QwOCoV). For example, if A is white, take B to be grey rather than black.
Suppose the subject is now engaged in the process of changing from A to B.
Then, Aristotle argues, the subject cannot be in A as a whole for then the
subject would be at the starting-point of the change rather than changing.
Nor can the subject be in B as a whole for then it would be true that it has
But note that already in Phys. VII Aristotle thinks that a subject of change is divisible
(242a40, 47-48). How this is to be reconciled with VII's ascription of alteration to the soul
is unclear.
On attempts to construe the early Aristotle as a materialist who identified the soul with
the fifth element, see Cherniss, Aristotle's Criticism of Plato and the Academy, appendix
12 Cf. the similar argument in VI. 10, 240b8-241a26, and 225a31, 242a40, 47-48, 257a33-
bl, 258b25, 267a22-23. Note that the argument in VI.4 is intended only to establish that a
subject of change is divisible into parts, not that it is infinitely divisible (Phys. 235b4-5).
By 'change' I mean x(v1aL; as defined in Phys. III and contrasted with bviELa
(activity) in Meta. IX.6 and EN X.4. When
covers both change and activity I
translate it as 'acutality'.
become B, not that it is becoming B. Since the subject cannot as a whole be
in both A and B or in neither, part of the subject must be in A and part in
B.13 But that means the subject of change, any subject of change, must be
divisible into parts. Since the soul, like any form, is not divisible into parts,
it cannot change. Therefore it is immaterial, since for Aristotle all matter is
changeable and divisible. And since there is no question but that Aristotle
considered the soul to be a substance,"4 the soul is an immaterial substance.
But before we can secure the claim that Aristotle is a dualist, a further
question must be addressed: does Aristotle consider the soul to be the
organization of the body?"5 For those who think that being an organization
conflicts with being a substance, this possibility is ruled out. But Meta H.2
makes it doubtful that Aristotle agrees. And if artifacts are substances,
their forms are substances, but in many cases such a form will be the
organization of the artifact's material parts. So the interpretation which
understands Aristotle's soul to be the organization of the body which
enables an organism to engage in certain types of behavior cannot be clearly
ruled out on this basis. And if the soul were simply the organization of the
body, then it would be far from clear that the soul is a "non-physical" entity.
The characterization of Aristotle as a dualist would be very dubious.
But there is a conclusive objection to this interpretation: in DeAnima I.4
Aristotle argues that the soul is not the organization of the body.
If Aristotle were to express the view that the soul is the organization of
the body, what Greek word would serve for 'organization'? The possibil-
Cf. 230b29-231al, 240a19-29.
Meta. 1017b1O-16, 24-26, 1035bl4-16, 1037a5, 28-29, 1043a29-36, 1077b31-34; DeAn.
410a13-22, 412al9-21, blO-13, 415bll-14, De Part. Anim. 64la25-29, De Gen. Anim.
I do not understand why Richard Sorabji ("Body and Soul in Aristotle", in J. Barnes,
M. Schofield and R. Sorabji (eds.), Articles on Artistotle, vol. 4 (London, 1979),
p. 48)
and Terry Irwin (Aristotle's First Principles (Oxford, 1988), p. 291) think that Meta
1041bll-33 shows that an immaterial soul could not be a "component" of a composite
living thing of form and matter. Whatever they may mean by 'component', what the
passage does show is that the form is not another element (GooXrtov) in the composi-
te. Since the passage defines an element as a material component (1041b31-33; cf.
1088bl4-16, De Caelo 302al5-19), all 1041b31-33 proves is that the form is not a material
component of the composite, not that it is not an immaterial component. Aristotle
repeatedly speaks of the composite as being composed of ((x) form and matter (e.g.
Meta. 1035al7-20, b32-33, 1037a29-30).
"s Thus A. Edel, Aristotle and His Philosophy (London, 1982), pp. 144-45; M. Nuss-
baum, Aristotle's De Motu Animalium (Princeton, 1978), pp. 71, 73, 149, and "Aristote-
lian Dualism", pp. 200-1; M. Frede, "Substance in Aristotle's Metaphysics", in A.
Gotthelf (ed.), Aristotle on Nature and Living Things (Bristol, 1988), p. 21.
ities seem to be: Td~tL (arrangement),
(mixture), X6yo;
(combination), &IMOml; (state) or
tion). The first word does not occur in DeAnima, but the next four do, in I.4
where Aristotle argues that the soul is not a mixture or proportion or
combination of bodily parts.
TMere are three things to be distinguished here. A combination of bodies
is a juxtaposition of particles of the bodies which leaves the nature of the
original particles intact. For example, I might throw sand and sawdust
together in such a way that particles of sand and sawdust lie next to each
other and are still particles of sand and sawdust. But when two bodies are
mixed they act on one another in such a way that the natures of the original
bodies are altered to a different nature - a kind of chemical reaction takes
place. 16 And the proportion is simply the ratio of the amounts of the mixed
or combined bodies.
If, as Aristotle argues, the soul is not any kind of combination or mixture
or proportion, then it cannot be an organization of bodily parts. It is useless
to appeal to the notions of arrangement or state or condition and ascribe to
Aristotle the view that one of these terms expresses the type of organization
of bodily parts with which the soul is to be identified. For in De An. 1.4
(408al-3) Aristotle says that, unlike the soul, it would be correct to identify
health or the other bodily virtues with a harmony of bodily parts. And Meta.
E.19 and 20, after defining a state (b60mEaL;) as an arrangement
of what has parts, says that a condition
is a kind of state, and gives
health as an example."7 So health is an arrangement of bodily parts, a
condition and a state of the body; and given DeAn. 408al-3's contrast of the
soul with health, the conclusion must be that, for Aristotle, the soul is none
of these. For every term X that might express the concept of organization in
Greek, Aristotle denies that the soul is an X of bodily parts. The view that
Aristotle considers the soul to be some organization of the body is false.
Further evidence that Aristotle rejects the view that the soul is the
organization of the body is supplied by the fact that although Aristotle
defines the soul as the form of the body, he at times suggests that an
animal's soul is "located primarily" in the heart.18 This would make no
De Gen. et Corr. 1.10.
Cf. Phys. 246b3-10; Top. 116b17-22; Fragmenta (ed. Ross), pp. 19-20; Alexander, De
Anima, p. 25, 4-7. Contrast Top. 145a33-bll.
Parva Nat. 450a28-29, 467b13-16, 469a4-b6, 478b32-479al; De Part. Anim. 665al-13,
667b19-22; De Motu Anim. 702bl5-21, 703a36-b2; Meta. 1035b25-28; cf. Parva Nat.
On this issue see T. Tracy, "Heart and Soul in Aristotle", in J. Anton and A. Preus
sense if the soul were the body's organization: a body's organization is not
"located primarily" in any bodily part.
The point is put beyond question by Aristotle's insistence (408b20-29)
that the soul is unaffected by (non-fatal) damage to the body of a living
thing.'9 If the soul were the organization of the body that constitutes the
living thing's capacity to engage in certain kinds of behavior, then the part
of the soul which is an animal's capacity to see would have to comprise the
organization of the animal's eyes. In which case the destruction or crippling
of the eyes of an animal would at the same time destroy that part of the soul,
since the relevant organization would be destroyed. But this is just what
Aristotle rejects: an old man, he says, could see as well as a young man if he
were given a new eye. The damage to the physical eye leaves the soul
unaffected. So the relevant part of the soul continues to exist even when the
bodily organization is gone, and hence the soul cannot be that organization.
The soul of a living thing is not an organization of bodily parts, but rather
something which supervenes on bodily parts when they have been orga-
nized in a certain way (408a20-21: [ &AAov
TL o1oa (xoi5 X6yov)
tW(VEaL ro';
The point is made with great clarity by
Alexander.20 Aristotle certainly believes that the soul of a living thing is
dependent for its own existence on the existence of bodily parts arranged in
a certain way.2' But the fact that this organization is a necessary condition
for the soul's existence does not require us to identify it with the soul.
Rather the soul is a dynamis that supervenes (biny(yvETac) on the body
when the organization of matter has reached certain level. From the ac-
count we find in De GenerationeAnimalium (735al4-17, 736a35-b4) we can
see that different soul-constituting capacities will supervene on the material
organization at different stages of the living thing's development.
The soul is a form and all forms are immaterial entities. But forms can be
related to matter in three ways:
(1) A form which is a structural or physical feature of matter, e.g., the form
of an artifact such as a house, or a color, or a certain arrangement of
bodily parts such as health.
(eds.), Essays in Ancient Greek Philosophy II (Albany, 1983), pp. 321-29. As is well
Nuyens' mistaken belief that this view about the soul's location conflicts
with the definition of the soul as the form of the body led him to some now discredited
hypotheses regarding Aristotle's development (L'Ovolution de la psychologie d'Aristote
(Louvain, 1948) ).
19 Cf. H.M. Robinson, "Mind and Body in Aristotle", p. 120.
2 Alexander, De Anima, pp. 24, 18-26, 30.
21 De An. 403b2-3 413a3-5, 414al9-20, 427a26-27; Parva Nat. 453a2-6, 14-15; De Gen.
Anim. 736b21-29; EN 1128bl3-15; Dc Caelo 278bl-3.
(2) A form which is not an immediate structural or physical feature of
matter but is supervenient and dependent for its existence on immedi-
ate physical features of matter - such as the power of a drug, according
to Alexander, and the soul, according to Aristotle.
(3) A form which does not depend on matter or material features for its
If Aristotle held the soul to be a form of the third sort he would be a
Cartesian dualist. At most he thinks the intellect is such a form. If Aristotle
held the soul to fall into (1), then there would be at least some plausibility in
labelling him a materialist, despite the fact that the soul would still be an
immaterial substance. I have argued that Aristotle believes the soul to fall
into the second class of forms. Since this makes his position very like that of
present day "emergent dualists", it is, I think, best to classify Aristotle as a
So: on the standard account of the dualist-physicalist distinction the
former accepts the existence of non-physical entities and the latter does not.
Non-physical entities are explained as being entities irreducible to physical
entities. On this understanding of the issue, Aristotle is a dualist.
But there is a complication in that this account of the physical-non-
physical distinction, and hence of the physicalist-dualist distinction, is
inadequate. Philosophers disagree as to whether a dispositional property
such as fragility should be considered a real property distinct from its
physical base
say, the molecular structure of glass. Suppose Jones believes
dispositions are real properties but rejects the identification of them with
their physical bases. Then Jones might consider fragility to be an emergent
property that supervenes on certain physical states but is irreducible to any
of these material bases. That in no way commits Jones to denying that
fragility is a physical property.
Likewise, the irreducibility of a form of kind (2) need not show that it is
non-physical. Given this unclarity, it also becomes unclear whether 'dualist'
is the correct label to apply to Aristotle's position.
Furthermore, Alexander' compares the soul with the power of a drug
which is not identical to the matter it is found in or to the matter's orga-
nization. The comparison suggests that Alexander does not see any radical
break with the physical when the soul supervenes, and there is no evidence
to suggest that Aristotle did either.
Hence, the interpretation of Aristotle as a dualist remains problematic
for two reasons: (i) at least as far as I know, there is no account available
See n. 20.
enabling us to draw a clear distinction between non-physical and physical
emergent entities or, hence, between the dualist and the physicalist; (ii)
even if such an account of the physical-non-physical distinction were or is
available, there is no reason to believe that it or anything like it entered into
Aristotle's thinking about the soul.
Aristotle explains what he considers a psychological event to be at the end
of De Anima I.1, 403a3-bl9. He begins by asking whether psychic events
belong only to the soul of the living thing or also have the body as a
subject. And from the succeeding lines it is apparent that Aristotle equates
this question to the following one: Is it true that, for any appropriate
predicate F, "the soul (of the living thing) is F" entails "the body is
changing?" Aristotle goes on to claim that with the possible exception of
thinking, the entailment always holds. So, apart, possibly, from thought,
any psychic event involves a bodily change.
Aristotle then (403a24-bl9) proceeds to say that for at least most psychic
events, there will be a bodily change which is not merely necessary for its
occurrence but serves as the matter of the psychological event which, like a
material substance, is a composite of form and matter. If so, what is the
form of a psychic event? The matter is a change in the body. The form will
be something true of the soul since Aristotle has just explained that psychic
events are common to body and soul. It cannot be a change given that that is
the material part of a psychic event and a soul cannot change.
Since the formal aspect of a psychic event is a feature of the soul and must
also be an occurrence and not a power or condition of the soul, the only
alternative among the menagerie of Aristotelian beings is an activity in the
sense contrasted with change in Meta IX.6 and EN X.4. So a psychic event,
for Aristotle, is a composite of activity and change. The activity (form)
takes place in the soul of a living thing and the change (matter) occurs in its
body. The composite psychic event is not an activity any more than the
composite human being is a soul.
The end of De An. I.1 shows that there are only two possibilities: an
activity such as seeing red must be either the form of a psychological event
or a composite of form and matter where the matter is a bodily change. But
the second alternative is not possible.
Aristotle believes that a change necessarily occupies a period
of time
(Phys. 234a24-31) because it is itself divisible into temporal parts with
"magnitude". This structure of a change is determined by the analogous
structure of its path and in turn determines the time occupied by the change
to have an analogous structure (Phys. 207b21-25, 219al-14, 235al5-17).
We must, of course, distinguish the divisibility of the change itself from the
divisibility of the time it occupies, just as we must distinguish the divisibility
of a play into the three acts constituting it from the divisibility of the time
occupied by the play into three hours. The fact that a play is composed of
parts with a temporal magnitude means that the play cannot be squeezed
into a moment but is itself spread out over time and so must exist for a
period of time. Likewise the fact that a change is composed of temporal
parts with "size" means that it is spread out over a period of time and cannot
be squeezed into a moment.
On the other hand, an activity does not divide into temporal parts but like
a point is a whole "all" of which exists whenever it exists (EN 1174b9-14).
Just as a point has no spatial parts so an activity has no temporal parts.
Because it is temporally indivisible an activity "wholly" exists in a moment
(EN 1174al4-19, b7-9). So even if it lasts for a period of time, this will not
consist in further temporal phases of the activity revealing themselves as
different parts of the time occupied by a change disclose different stages of
the change itself. If an activity exists at the present moment then even if it
lasts for 10 seconds "all" of it is present at that first moment and it is not the
case that more of it will come into existence in the future. The time
following that first moment will not reveal further parts of the activity but
only further phases of time occupied by the activity.
Since a change not only occupies a period of time but is itself divisible into
different temporal parts, whereas an activity is not divisible into temporal
parts, it is as absurd to suppose that an activity could be composed of a
change as it is to suppose that a spatially indivisible point could be com-
posed of a spatially divisible magnitude. For the same reason it is absurd to
suppose that the same thing could be an activity under one description and a
change under a different description.
This fundamental difference between activity and change explains other
temporal differences between them that rule out the possibility that an
activity could be "made out of' a change. (1) An activity exists in a
moment but a change does not. So when an activity exists in a moment there
then exists no change that could constitute the activity. (2) The same result
follows if Aristotle allows (as I believe he does) that an activity can exist for
one and only one moment.
(3) There is a first moment t when an activity A exists but there is no first
moment or time when a change C exists (Phys. 236a7-27). On the proposal
under consideration, the activity
is a composite the matter of which is
a bodily change - C. Then there are two possibilities. Suppose t is the first
moment of activity A. Either (1) t is a limit of the time occupied by C - at t
and prior to t C does not exist but for a period of time of which t is the first
limit it does exist; or (2) C begins to exist before t.
On (1), "all" of the temporally indivisible activity A exists at t but C does
not. Therefore C could not constitute A.
On (2), since C exists before t and moments are not next to one another,
there will be a period of time occupied by C prior to t. Now if C is the
material part of the activity, then the time needed for the change to come to
be from the last moment of the period of rest until t will also be time needed
for the activity's coming to be. If the change constitutes the activity in the
way Socrates' flesh and bones constitute Socrates, then the stages of the
change's coming to be' up until t will be stages of the activity's coming to
be, just as stages of Socrates' body coming to be are stages of Socrates'
coming to be. And the time necessary for the stages of the change prior to t
to pass by will also be time necessary for the activity to come to be. So
contrary to EN 1174b9-14, there will be no difference on this score between
change and activity.
Since, then, an activity cannot be a composite the matter of which is a
bodily change, the only alternative is that an activity is the formal aspect of a
psychological occurrence, i.e. it is that part of a psychological occurrence
the proper subject of which is the soul.
Not only do activities occur in souls, they occur only in souls. This claim
receives support from the examples of activities listed by Aristotle which
are all psychic occurrences: thinking, perceiving, living, living well, plea-
sure.2? And the clear implication of EN 1173b7-13 is that the soul is the
subject even of activities that are bodily pleasures. Further, a soul has no
magnitude and it is certain at least that the nature of an activity is not such as
to demand that its proper subject be an entity possessing magnitude. Phys.
VI.4's argument that the subject of a change possesses magnitude rests on a
distinctive feature of change: it has a path with starting-point and end-point
(and intermediate points) which are specifically different. And it is conse-
quently argued that
if A and B are two such features on a path of change
then since a changing subject cannot be A as a whole or B as a whole, part
'Stages of the change coming to be' is used in the sense in which fluting the columns and
fitting the stones together are stages in temple-building's "coming to be". Help in
understanding EN 1174bl2-14's implication that there is generation of change is provi-
ded by Phys. 206a21-25, 29-33, 219b9-1O.
Cf. R. Polansky, "Energeia in Aristotle's Metaphysics IX", Ancient Philosophy, 3
(1983), p. 165.
the subject must be A and another part B. But an activity has no path.
There is no distance from one quality, quantity or place to another covered
by the subject of an activity. So VI.4's argument cannot be applied to derive
the conclusion that the subject of an activity possesses magnitude.'
Furthermore, the indivisibility of the subject of an activity may be neces-
sary given Aristotle's view that a change, its subject and time are all alike
divisible or indivisible (Phys.. 235al3-b5), whereas the time of an activity
may be indivisible (EN 1174al4-19, b7-14). For this may imply that the
subject of an activity cannot be necessarily divisible, as any material object
Many will object that activities cannot be restricted to psychic events
because, e.g., walking and housebuilding must (or can) be counted as
activities. One motivation for this view is the "tense-test" according to
which Xing is an activity if "A is Xing" entails "A has Xed". But on
Aristotle's own view (Phys. VI.6) "A is walking" entails "A has walked".
Again, activities are ends, but people may walk for its own sake, and in that
case it is an activity.
I cannot fully reply to this objection here, but it rests on a misunder-
standing of Aristotle's distinction, including the failure to appreciate that
activities and changes fall under hierarchies of species and genera just as
items in other categories do (Phys.. V.4). Aristotle is drawing a distinction
between mutually exclusive classes of beings, not between verbs or verb-
phrases. Nor is the distinction based on a grammatical difference.
In Phys. Vl 6 Aristotle argues that it may be simultaneously true that A is
changing and A has changed, but this does not mean at all that a change is
an activity. Suppose A changes place from B to E in time
to t4.
tq t
4 II _
Aristotle thinks that there are infinitely many points (or places) along the
path B-E to which A can be said to be changing in the course of t1-t4. VI.6's
claim is that if we pick out one of these, say the change from B to D, then
5 Likewise the considerations brought forward at Phys. 236a27-35 and 240a19-29 which
require the divisibility of the subject of change will not apply to the subject of an activity.
when A is changing from B to D, A has changed a different change, say from
B to C (and infinitely many others).
This does not show that change is an activity for two reasons. (i) In the
"tense-test" it must be the same change that is referred to by the present
and the perfect (Phys. 231b28-232al), but in VI.6 different changes are
referred to by the present and perfect. (ii) The tense-test, properly under-
stood, does not state that the truth of one statement is or is not simultaneous
with the truth of another statement. Rather it asserts that non-linguistic
states of affairs (or events) are or are not simultaneous. In VI.6 "A is
changing" and "A has changed" may be simultaneously true statements,
but the relevant point is that the state of affairs referred to by the second
is earlier than the event referred to by the first (236b34, 237bS).
Here it is also essential to bear in mind that just as "A's walking"and "A's
walking from B to D" denote the same being, so "A is walking" and "A is
walking from B to D" both refer to the same being. And we have already
seen that it is impossible for the same thing to be an activity and a change.
Note too that housebuilding (or walking), like changes and unlike activ-
ities, (1) can be fast or slow, and so (2) must occupy time; (3) is divisible into
parts specifically different from each other and the whole (cf. Phys. VI.4,
ENX.4); (4) has a divisible path with different starting- and end-points; (5)
ends with an old feature lost and a new feature deposited in the subject of
change; (6) has an end
the house
distinct from itself and so (7) is not
indefinitely continuable; (8) depends for its species on what happens later:
if no house results it wasn't housebuilding after all. Furthermore, these
characteristics of housebuilding (or walking) are unrelated to the question
of whether the housebuilder engaged in housebuilding for its own sake or as
a means to an end. For example, Jones' housebuilding for its own sake
cannot bring it about that his housebuilding need not occupy time or is
indivisible into specifically different stages.6 As Aristotle explains in Meta.
IX.6, the end (in the relevant sense) of walking is a limit of the walk.Since
Some believe that moral actions are activities, but I argue against such an inter-
pretation in "Aristotle and the Identity of Actions", History of Philosophy Quarterly, 4
(1987), pp. 307-28.
Although I will not address them here, problems arise for Aristotle's position in the
case of psychological events such as learning, and even for practical and theoretical
thinking (De An. 407a23-31, EN 1142b26-28). I believe that the case of leaming leaves
Aristotle with an unresolved incoherence in his views but that the case of thinking can be
dealt with: thinking a proposition is not an activity but a succession of discrete activities
(Cat. 4b22-23, 32-37; De Int. 16al3-16; Meta. 1020a7-11; De An. 407a6-10, 430a27-28,
b14-15, 432all-12).
walking and housebuilding cannot be their own limits they cannot be ends in
the relevant sense.
Now in order to see that the above interpretation of a psychic event fits
Aristotle's text, one has to take into consideration an ambiguity in terms
referring to psychic events. This ambiguity corresponds to the ambiguity of
terms referring to substances which are composites of form and matter. In
the Metaphysics terms such as 'man' and 'horse' are used either to refer to
the form on its own, i.e., in these cases, the soul, or to the composite of form
and matter.27 Similarly for psychological terms such as 'perception' and
'anger': they refer to composites of form (activity) and matter (change) but
can also be understood to refer to the activity alone. And this is what 'anger'
denotes when the dialectician defines anger as the desire to return pain for
pain (403a30-31). Omitted is any reference to the matter of the composite
a bodily change
which must be taken into consideration by the natural
scientist who studies anger. (The same ambiguity will apply to 'desire').?8
Meta. 1032al7-19, 22-25, 1033a24-33, b14-18, 1034bl1, 1035a6-9, 1036al6-19, 1037a7-
10, 1043a29-b4, 1069b35-1070a4; cf. De Gen. et Corr. 321b19-22.
Note that Meta. 1043a33-34 proves that Aristotle does not think the ambiguity holds
only for the names of composites of form and matter which are substances. Also,
1043a34-35 and 1037a5-10 prove that in the case of substance terms the ambiguity is not
that they can denote either the individual composite or the universal species.
Given the ambiguity of terms referring to psychic events, we can meet a possible
objection to my claim that the soul alone rather than the composite of soul and body is the
proper subject of activities. In a well known passage at De An. 408b13-15 Aristotle says:
"For perhaps it is better not to say that the soul pities or learns or thinks, but that the man
does so with the soul." This naturally suggests that the proper subject of an activity such
as anger is not the soul but the composite.
However, the sense of this claim becomes clearer when we see that it occurs in a
context (408a34-b8) where Aristotle is arguing that the soul does not change while
conceding that psychic states like anger are changes in the body (408b5-11). If anger is
understood as being a change in the body, then in the present context 'anger' refers to the
composite of form (in the soul) and change in the body. Hence, when Aristotle says that
we should not say that the soul is angry but rather ascribe the predicate to the composite
man, he is saying that the composite psychic event should be ascribed to the composite
substance. For if we ascribed the composite psychic event
form and bodily change
the soul alone, we would mistakenly ascribe change to the soul.
So Aristotle is saying that the proper subject of the composite psychic event is the
composite substance, and that is entirely consistent with the view that the proper subject
of the form of the psychic event is the soul alone; just as it is consistent with the view that
the proper subject of the matter of the psychic event (the bodily change) is the body
alone. And the fact is that even after 408b13-15 Aristotle repeatedly refers to the soul as
the subject of mental events (402a7-10, blO-14, 403a3-16, 409bl5-16, 411a24-28,
429al-11, 17-18, 22-24, 31-b4, 23-24, 29, 430b5-6; Parva Nat. 445b16, 447b7, 24,
449a5-6, 8-9).
At the end of Book II (424b16-18) Aristotle says that smelling is some-
thing over and above undergoing a change
TL), i.e. over and
above the matter of smelling, viz. perceiving (T6
atoOdvEoOac). 'Perceiving' here refers to the formal aspect of the per-
ception apart from the change in the body of the smeller. It must do so if it
states the formal aspect of the perception. For if 'perception' here denoted
a composite, then perception could not be what smelling is over and above
(ncaQd) a bodily change.
So a typical psychological event is a change in the body as well as an
activity, just as Socrates is flesh and bones as well as a soul. Perception,
recollection, anger, fear and shame (e.g.) are bodily
(De An. 427a27, Parva Nat. 453al4-15, 26, EN 1128bl3-15), unlike think-
ing which is not a bodily actuality (De An. 427a26-27, De Gen. Anim.
736b21-29, EN 1117b28-31), even if it requires one (viz. imagination) in
order to occur in human beings.29 So while Aristotle disagrees with the
materialist in holding a psychological event to be not reducible to a bodily
change, he also disagrees with the dualist in holding a psychological event to
be a bodily event, for the matter of such an event is a physical change.
The relation between the change and activity composing a psychic event
can be causal. Which way the causal relation runs will vary with the type of
the psychic event. Thus, at De An. 408b15-18 Aristotle says that in the case
of recollection the change occurring in the body may be caused by the soul,
i.e., I suggest, by the form of recollection, an activity occurring in the soul.
On the other hand, in the case of perception the causal chain must proceed
in the opposite direction
- a sequence of changes in the body leads to the
occurrence of an activity in the soul. Similarly, Parva Nat. 436b6-7 says that
perception comes to be in the soul via the body.?'
It is in this way that, in the case of psychic events, the soul is an efficient
cause of bodily events. David Charles3" has objected that the soul cannot be
an efficient cause of physical events because any such cause must have
extension and magnitude and be divisible. A mover moves another thing
only if it comes into contact with the moved object. Given Aristotle's
definition of contact,32 only a material object can have contact, and that
29 Note how the alternatives are distinguished at De An. 403a8-9.
3 I do not wish to dispute the suggestion that in at least some cases activities "supervene"
on changes rather than being efficiently caused by them. We know from EN X. 1-5 that
the activity of pleasure supervenes (bntyyvE?aL) on other activities, but I am not
certain that Aristotle distinguishes this relation from efficient causation in this type of
D. Charles, Aristotle's Philosophy of Action (London, 1984), p. 218.
with another material object. So a mover, like a moved object, must have
extension and magnitude. The soul lacks magnitude and extension, and
therefore it cannot be a mover, or at least can be one only incidentally in
virtue of existing in matter which is, properly, a mover.
But Aristotle believes only that whatever moves an object naturally
must do so by coming into contact with it and hence itself suffers a
reaction from the moved object (Phys. 201a24-25, 198a27-29, 202a3-9, De
Gen. Anim. 768bl5-25). And as Aristotle points out in De Anima (406b24-
25), it is precisely not in this way that the soul moves the body but "through
choice and thought". Aristotle does not elaborate, but since he is explicitly
ruling out the soul's
changing being a cause of the animal's motion, 'choice'
and 'thought' can only refer to activities (or perhaps sequences of activities):
choice and thought must be actualities and there is no other kind of actuality
that is an occurrence available in Aristotle's ontology.33
Further, De Gen. et. Corr. distinguishes two types of efficient cause. In
every case the moved object will be a physical magnitude, but only certain
movers properly touch the moved object, viz. those which themselves have
position and magnitude (322b32-323al, 5, 10-12; cf. De Gen. Anim.
768bl5-25). In these cases the mover will be a moved mover because it will
in turn be acted on by the moved object. So if A moves B in this way, both A
and B have magnitude, and A will touch B and B will touch A, and A will
move B and B will move A.
But sometimes the mover A is without magnitude, and then A will
"touch" B but not be touched or, hence, moved by B in return (la' 6U
LoleL 5unaOf 6v-ra - 328a22; cf. 323al3-34, De An. 406a3-4, Phys. 258a18-
259a3).3 This describes the relation between soul and body demanded by
Aristotle's account of self-motion in Phys. VIII.5. The soul is immaterial
and without magnitude and hence cannot be touched by the body which it
moves. And so it cannot be moved in return, and hence is an unmoved
So it is clear that Aristotle does not believe that only material bodies can
be efficient causes of change.
Phys. V-3; 231a21-23.
3 Cf. Alexander, DeAnima Libri Mantissa, in Bruns (ed.), op. cit., p. 106, 5-17. Choice
and thought are, of course, efficient causes of action (EN 1139a31-33).
3 Cf. Alexander, De Anima, pp. 21, 22-22, 12; Simplicius, In Aristotelis Physicorum,
p. 1243, 25f.
To close I will consider a possible objection to my conclusion that what a
psychic event is over and above a physical change is an activity. For
according to one popular view Aristotle is a functionalist,35 and on this view
a mental event is, in addition to a material change, a certain functional
characteristic; or perhaps rather the material change which is (alone) the
mental event has such a characteristic. According to functionalism a certain
type of mental event is to be defined in terms of its causal role, specifically in
terms of its causal relations to sensory input, behavioral output, and other
mental states. This would allow Aristotle to give a materialist account of
psychological events for a physical event may have such a causal role. But
whether the causal role is counted as a physical or non-physical property, it
will be a disposition of the material change which is the matter of the psychic
event and not, as I claimed, an activity. Hence, the form of a psychic event
is not an activity possibly causing or caused by the bodily change but the
causal role of that change.
It should be noted, to begin with, that there is no evidence that Aristotle
shares the belief which is one of the main motivations of functionalism, viz.
the belief that the same mental state can have different physical real-
izations. For example, different species of animal can, it is said, have the
same mental state even though its physical realization will differ in the
different species. And then it is concluded that a type of mental event
cannot be identified with a type of physical event. On the other hand,
functionalism easily handles this possibility of multiple realizations.
It is true that Aristotle allows that the same
event may be
found in different species of animal (Hist. Anim. 588al5f.; cf. De Part.
Anim. 639al5-22, 645b3-6) but nothing he says suggests that he believes
that the physical basis of the same psychological state will vary. It may be
that he thought, e.g., that boiling blood is the physical basis of anger in
every species of animal that can experience anger.
There are good reasons to reject the view that Aristotle is a functionalist.
To begin with, for the functionalist the only essential features of a psycho-
logical event are its functional features. Thus, while brain matter may in
See, e.g., N. Block, "Introduction: What is Functionalism?" in N. Block (ed.),
in the Philosophy of Psychology (London, 1980), pp. 171, 177; M. Nussbaum,
Aristotle's De Motu Animalium, p. 146; E. Hartman, Substance, Body and Soul (Prin-
ceton, 1977), pp. 197-98, 211; S. Marc Cohen. "The Credibility of Aristotle's Philosophy
of Mind", in M. Matthen (ed.), Aristotle Today (Alberta, 1986), pp. 103-21.
fact realize pain in man, it is possible that eventually some synthetic
material should come to play the causal role of pain, and then the synthetic
material would realize pain. Generally, it is an essential feature of function-
alism that it allows the same
state to be realized in different
types of matter or event. Aristotle rejects this. At the close of De An. 1.1 he
says that it is part of the definition of anger that it is boiling blood.' He does
not say that it is in part matter which must have features enabling it to play
the causal role of anger. Similarly, fear is defined as refrigeration (De Part.
Anim. 667al2-19, 692a24-25, Rhet. 1389b32), i.e. as being that specific type
of change, not merely as whatever type of change has certain causal
Further, suppose one accepts, as I do, Richard Sorabji's interpretation37
according to which the vision of a red object consists in, as far as its matter is
concerned, the eye-jelly becoming red. Could this specific type of change
not be necessary for the perception of red? Could the matter of seeing red,
for Aristotle, be a change to yellow, green or any other sensible quality?
No, because Aristotle thinks that the perception of a sensible quality
involves the sense organ becoming like the perceived quality (De An.
418a3-6, 422a7, b14-16, 423b27-424a2, 424a7-10, 17-18, 425b22-24). If so,
the specific change of becoming red is necessary for the perception of red,
and a similar point applies to the rest of the five senses: the organ must
acquire the specific quality perceived. Contrary to a functionalist view,
Aristotle considers specific types of perception to be tied down to specific
types of bodily change.
Secondly, Aristotle allows that one's body can be in the same condition as
it is when one is in a certain psychological state but not be in that psycholog-
ical state (De An. 403a21-22). This is incompatible with a materialistic
functionalism for a physical state which realizes a certain psychological
state in human beings cannot fail to have the functional features which
make it the realization of that psychological state when it exists in a person.
Thirdly, if we look at some of the formal definitions of psychological
events given by Aristotle, they often fail to conform to the functionalist
style of definition. For example, in Rhet. 11.3 Aristotle first defines growing
calm as the quieting of anger and then explains what can cause it.
Consider the psychological occurrence of theoretical contemplation. A
typical cause of this event will be the theoretical knowledge which is the
3' 403a21-22, 31; cf. De Part. Anim. 650b35-651a3. It is not clear whether Aristotle is
thinking of anger in general or anger in human beings alone. But either way Aristotle's
definition rules out a functionalist interpretation.
3 "Body and Soul in Aristotle", pp. 49-50.
potentiality for that actuality, just as knowledge of the art of housebuilding
is a cause of its actuality of housebuilding (Meta. 1032b21-23, De Gen.
Anim. 730b15-19, De Gen. et Corr. 324a35-bl, 335b32-33). But Aristotle
rules out
the actuality in terms of the potentiality (Meta. 1049b12-
17, De An. 415al8-20). So not all of the typical causes of contemplation are
used to define it, and a parallel point holds for any psychological occur-
rence. Again, when Aristotle says at EN 1177b2 that nothing comes to be
from contemplation apart from the contemplation itself, this means at least
that the definition of contemplation will not incorporate any statement
asserting that it causes certain effects. Nor could any final causes be re-
ferred to in a definition of contemplation. So the psychological event of
contemplation is not functionally defined by Aristotle, and therefore he
cannot have wanted, in general, to give a functional account of mental
Finally, a functional characteristic is a quality - a disposition - whereas a
psychological event is an event, falling into the category of doing (nIoLEiV)
or suffering
Aristotle can no more allow an event to be consti-
tuted by a quality than he can allow a substance to be constituted out of
qualities (De An 410a13-22; Meta. 1038b23-27, 1039a30-32, 1070b2-4,
1073a36, 1086b37-1087a4, 1088b2-4; cf. Phys. 265al5-16). The form of an
event must be an event, just as the form of a substance must be a
University College London
3 I would like to thank Malcolm Schofield for his helpful comments on an earlier draft of
this paper.