[1.3.7] Hylomorphism in Aristotle’s Psychology

Aristotle (384-322 BC) in De Anima analyzes different essential aspects of the soul using the structure of hylomorphism (see also [1.3.5]), based on the following analogy:

Hylomorphism in generalObjectMatterForm
Hylomorphism in living beingLiving BeingBodySoul
Hylomorphism in perception PerceptionPerceptive FacultyObject of Perception
Hylomorphism in thinking ThinkingMindObject of Tought

The corresponding models are presented below:

1. Hylomorphism in living beings:

Hylomorphism in living being

“the presence of the soul explains why this matter is the matter of a human being, as opposed to some other kind of thing. Now, this way of looking at soul-body relations as a special case of form-matter relations treats reference to the soul as an integral part of any complete explanation of a living being, of any kind. To this degree, Aristotle thinks that Plato and other dualists are right to stress the importance of the soul in explanations of living beings. At the same time, he sees their commitment to the separability of the soul from the body as unjustified merely by appeal to formal causation: he will allow that the soul is distinct from the body, and is indeed the actuality of the body, but he sees that these concessions by themselves provide no grounds for supposing that the soul can exist without the body. His hylomorphism, then, embraces neither reductive materialism nor Platonic dualism. Instead, it seeks to steer a middle course between these alternatives by pointing out, implicitly, and rightly, that these are not exhaustive options.” (Read more)

2. Hylomorphism in perception:

Hylomorphism in perception

“Aristotle claims that perception is best understood on the model of hylomorphic change generally… : ‘the perceptive faculty is in potentiality such as the object of perception already is in actuality’ and that when something is affected by an object of perception, ‘it is made like it and is such as that thing is…
S perceives O if and only if: (i) S has the capacity requisite for receiving O’s sensible form; (ii) O acts upon that capacity by enforming it; and, as a result, (iii) S’s relevant capacity becomes isomorphic with that form.” (Read more)

3. Hylomorphism in thinking:

Hylomorphism in thinking

thinking consists in a mind’s becoming enformed by some object of thought, so that actual thinking occurs whenever some suitably prepared mind is ‘made like’ its object by being affected by it.
This hylomorphic analysis of thinking is evidently a simple extension of the general model of hylomorphic change exploited by Aristotle in a host of similar contexts. Accordingly, Aristotle’s initial account of thinking will directly parallel his analysis of perception (De Anima iii 4, 429a13–18). That is, at least in schematic outline, Aristotle will offer the following approach. For any given thinker S and an arbitrary object of thought O:
S thinks O if and only if: (i) S has the capacity requisite for receiving O’s intelligible form; (ii) O acts upon that capacity by enforming it; and, as a result, (iii) S’s relevant capacity becomes isomorphic with that form.” (Read more)


The source of all citations and more about the topic in: Shields, Christopher, “Aristotle’s Psychology“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2016 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 15/04/2019

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