Psyche and Kerberos.
Saturday, March 29, 2008

De Anima

The picture above is supposed to be Psyche. As you can see she’s next to Cerberus or Kerberos, the three headed dog of Hades. I remembered the picture from the old Book of Knowledge that my parents bought when I was a child. They had sections that synopsized the Greek classics, and articles on mythology. I would stare at the pictures, and read the stories and articles over and over again. The page I’ve linked to has a picture of Psyche by Waterhouse, and one by Burne-Jones. I thought for a second of Blake’s illustration of Paolo and Francesca, but upon looking at it again, see the correspondence isn’t that great. (For a color photo of Blake’s picture go here. For additional pictures of Psyche, go here.)

While some parts of Aristotle are fairly clear, and can be read without having recourse to teachers or ancillary material to clarify points, the Rhetoric and the Poetics for example, other parts are best read in a classroom setting where there is feedback on difficult points. De Anima falls into the latter category, so if anyone expects profundity from me on this work, they will be sadly disappointed. (I leave it as an open question whether I have been profound on anything so far.)

First off, De Anima is not primarily a work of theological speculation on the existence and qualities of the soul. It is more in line with 19th and 20th century experimental and behavioral psychology in that it deals with questions of sense and perception. There is some comment on the possibility of immortality, but it is only in passing.

Book I is an introduction, and in chapter ii gives that academic favorite, “the survey of the scholarship,” which forms the introductory part of every great academic thesis. Stephen Deadalus, in The Portrait of the Artist, makes a disparaging remark about Aristotle as a student of Plato, and it is here that one feels the justice of that remark. In chapter iii he refutes the view that the soul moves. In iv he maintains that the soul is not a harmony, that it is not moved with non-local movement, and that it is not a self-moving number.

Book II opens with two definitions of the soul, and follows with a discussion of the faculties of the soul. The nutritive faculty, described in iv is common to plants, animals, and humans. Aristotle recognizes that there exists a soul in plants, and animals. These souls are differentiated by the faculties present in each soul. In plants we have the nutritive faculty, but do not have the faculties related to the senses. In animals we have the faculties related to some, but not all, of the senses. Some animals, because of their environment, lack certain senses. It is in man that we find the mind. Aristotle devotes chapters 7–11 to each of the senses, and concludes with a chapter on the general characteristics of the senses.

Book III opens with a consideration of the number of external senses. In iii he distinguishes among thinking, perceiving, and imagining. Perceiving he regards as universal in the animal world, while thinking is found only in a small part of it. Imagination is depicted as a freer activity than judgment. Chapters iv and v deal with the passive and active minds. Chapter ix considers what part of the soul is responsible for motion. Aristotle does not, as far as I understand him, introduce the notion of the will as a separate faculty of the soul. I suppose that could be filed under the desiderative aspect, but I’m not sure about that. Chapter xii asserts that “The nutritive soul then must be possessed by everything that is alive, and every such thing is endowed with soul from its birth to its death.” This leaves unanswered the embryological question as to whether that which is unborn has a soul. Since Aristotle has framed the question in terms of nutrition, then anything that is capable of nutrition would seem to have at least that kind of soul. Chapter xiii continues the discussion of the relations of the faculties of the soul.

Aristotle does not give an extensive commentary here on the immortality of the soul. He seems to think that if anything of the soul survives after death, it is the mind.

Next up is Tacitus, Annals. The Gospels and some of the Epistles are on the reading list, but since I hear those on a regular basis, I’m not doing them at present. Tacitus will be followed by excerpts from Plotinus, and then a short treatise by St. Anselm.