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Dissertation Summary

Aristotle on Psychic Subjecthood and Explanation


Ryan Cook
For a variety of reasons Aristotle holds that sublunary livin! thin!s can be understood only as composites of formal and material components " as hylomorphic compounds of soul and body# $o this extent Aristotelian explanations of the chan!es and activities characteristic of plants and animals %ill normally make reference to both an or!anism&s psychic capacities and the bodily materials in %hich they are reali'ed indicatin! not only ho% such phenomena contribute to the %ider forms of life expressive of their souls or essences but ho% these activities are related to the underlyin! material or!ans and chan!es throu!h %hich they are carried out# (n explainin! %hy flo%ers send out roots horses !allop and human bein!s perceive color then one %ill first need to understand %hy !ro%in! movin! and perceivin! in these %ays form an essential part of survivin! and flourishin! as a !iven or!anism# $o provide a complete account of these activities ho%ever one %ill also need to offer detailed descriptions of %hat roots hooves and eyes are made of and of ho% bein! made of precisely such materials allo%s these or!ans to !ro% move and perceive in the re)uired %ays# (n recent literature Aristotle&s commitment to such hylomorphic explanations has been linked to a stron!er thesis* the claim that souls taken all by themselves are incapable of underlyin! any of the events and chan!es involved in such life activities# +n this vie% all such processes are the common property of a sin!le essentially ensouled body and this sin!le body is the subject of all actions and affections involved in biolo!ical or co!nitive processes# ,ence it is only the livin! or ensouled flo%er %hich causes its roots to !ro% do%n%ards and only the livin! or ensouled eye %hich causes a human bein! to see the color red# ( do not think that Aristotle endorses this stron!er thesis# +n the contrary ( believe that several texts evince a firm commitment to states and events that belon! uni)uely to souls# -y dissertation offers a sustained ar!ument on behalf of this vie% and provides a novel interpretation of those passa!es often thou!ht to contradict it# $his interpretation depends on the reco!nition that constraints on the explanation of complete life"activities %ill often diver!e from those %hich apply to the internal components of such processes# $hus even thou!h all complete acts of %eavin! sensin! or house"buildin! may need bodily or!ans this does not rule out that such acts mi!ht be partly constituted by uni)uely psychic states and events# (nstead a fuller understandin! of the explanatory roles played by subjecthood claims allo%s us to see that there is a lar!e class of relevant predicates %hich must belon! to the soul alone# $he co!nitive representations involved in activities of technical production provide a clear example of this class# As immaterial analo!ues of the concrete forms brou!ht into

Dissertation Summary Ryan Cook existence by sculptors and doctors such representations !overn and explain the skilled actions of artisans# (n this %ay they play .efficient/ causal roles as robust as those played by the chisel that shapes the stone or the heat that %arms the patient0s body in achievin! its health# 1et crucially these representations never come into direct contact %ith the materials on %hich they %ork and are not subject to counter"affection %hen causally active# 2nlike a chisel or the heat of a fire a sculptor0s co!nitive !rasp of a statue and a doctor0s conception of health %ill never blunt cool do%n or be in any %ay affected by the materials they have a hand in shapin!# Focusin! initially on such co!nitive representations my dissertation ar!ues that they must take souls as their primary subjects# $his ar!ument relies lar!ely on the analyses of contact actin! and bein! affected found in Aristotle&s +n 3eneration and Corruption treatments %hich immediately precede a discussion of a!ents %hose causally relevant attributes are said not to be .in matter#/ Examinin! the connections bet%een subjecthood materiality and the explanation of certain possibilities for reciprocal chan!e ( sho% that the relevant co!nitive representations cannot possibly be housed in items %hich contain any of the four elemental bodies as constituents# Rather their abilities to !overn such non"reciprocal chan!es can be explained only if they belon! immediately to souls# 4y the end of this discussion a philosophical position of !reat sophistication emer!es# Far from representin! only unnecessary features of Aristotelian metaphysics ( ar!ue psychic a!ents on Aristotle0s vie% reflect his fundamental commitment to treatin! psycholo!y as an extension of physics and to explainin! intentional states %ithin a frame%ork focused primarily on bodily chan!es# For this reason ( conclude Aristotle&s distinction bet%een material and psychic subjects is best understood as an attempt to develop a schema that %ill be unified enou!h to permit interactions bet%een physical attributes and co!nitive states yet diverse enou!h to capture those features uni)uely associated %ith psycholo!ical processes# -y dissertation approaches this topic over the course of five chapters# (n Chapter ( the basic notion of a proper subject is introduced and the broader si!nificance of Aristotelian subjecthood is outlined# $he importance of such subjecthood as a criterion of ontolo!ical and explanatory priority is particularly stressed and preliminary evidence supportin! the soul0s ability to underlie predicates as their subjects is provided# (n addition texts typically held to deny independent subjecthood to souls are presented and discussed# ,avin! established these connections bet%een subjecthood substance and explanation ( then turn to my o%n positive claims concernin! the soul0s subjecthood# $o this end Chapter (( be!ins by providin! a synoptic vie% of 3C (#5"6 ar!uin! that Aristotle0s analyses of contact actin! and bein! affected are meant to provide not one but t%o distinct senses of these terms# $he first %hich Aristotle refers to as .authoritative / is associated %ith three"dimensional bodies of various sorts and provides the basic in!redients re)uired to establish the elements of earth air fire and 2

Dissertation Summary Ryan Cook %ater as understood in the 3reek tradition Aristotle inherited as the universe0s most fundamental material constituents# 2sin! this sense of contact Aristotle provides descriptions of phenomena involved in all instances of bodily interaction# $he second sense %hich Aristotle refers to as .extended / is associated %ith a!ents %hose causal activities cannot be reduced to material interactions bet%een elemental bodies# 2sin! this sense Aristotle describes phenomena involved in hi!her"order biolo!ical and psycholo!ical processes ran!in! from the reproduction of or!anisms to the perception of color# Follo%in! this !eneral analysis Chapter ((( provides a detailed treatment of Aristotle0s authoritative sense of contact# Siftin! carefully throu!h poorly understood discussions in 3C and the Physics ( analy'e his treatment0s pro!ression from the idea that touch re)uires a certain topolo!ical relation bet%een the outer limits of material bodies to the claim that the primary objects of this relation must be elemental bodies possessed of either li!htness or heaviness# Alon! the %ay ( ar!ue that such bodily limits must be understood as formal items of a special sort that such formal items are capable of possessin! the sorts of primary places re)uired by Aristotle0s definition of contact and that Aristotle ackno%led!es both mathematical and physical senses of location# Contrary to much recent scholarship ( also establish that the objects of such contact must be capable of !enuinely reciprocal causal interactions both actin! on and bein! affected by other elemental bodies# Chapter (7 then turns to Aristotle0s extended sense of contact %hich is said to apply to a class of items capable of touchin! others %ithout thereby bein! touched in return# A!ainst lon!standin! scholarly traditions ( ar!ue that these items cannot be construed as either !eometrical or astronomical entities and must instead be understood as immaterial or psychic capacities that bear only an indirect relationship to material bodies# For this reason Aristotle indicates these objects of one"%ay contact %ill not possess the sorts of authoritative locations associated %ith both %ei!ht and the four elements and %ill be able to act on various patients %ithout also openin! themselves up to bein! affected# Proceedin! to 3C (#60s treatment of actin! and bein! affected Chapter 7 dra%s further distinctions bet%een these t%o classes of entities# Dra%in! on Aristotle0s assertion that the objects of authoritative action share a sin!le material substrate delineated by pairs of contrary attributes ( first use the !eneral model of chan!e laid do%n in Physics (((#8"9 to sho% %hy interactions bet%een )ualitatively opposed elements must have an inherently reciprocal structure# Since any item that is actually hot must also be potentially cold ( claim it follo%s that the same contact relations that allo% a particular fire to heat a pail of %ater %ill also permit this fire to be cooled in return by somethin! else somethin! cold# ,ence all items capable of t%o"%ay contact must be counter"affected %hen en!a!ed in causal processes and %ill lose at least some of the causal po%ers responsible for their activity in the process# For this same reason ho%ever those items %hose causal attributes are not essentially tied to material elements and their contraries %ill be capable of actin! %ithout openin! 3

Dissertation Summary Ryan Cook themselves up to such counter"affection and loss# ,ence an individual intellect0s !rasp of architecture can !overn the sorts of chan!es involved in buildin! a house %ithout losin! any of its capacity to build further houses and an or!anism0s soul can create a further or!anism of the same type %ithout also compromisin! its po%ers of !eneration# (n Chapter 7( 7( the precedin! results are applied to those remarks of Aristotle0s typically used by interpreters to deny on Aristotle0s behalf subjecthood to souls# Returnin! to passa!es from the De Anima introduced in Chapter ( ( ar!ue that these texts merely reinforce the complex account of action and bein! affected provided in the 3C# $he soul cannot possibly %eave or build houses by itself but this is only because such activities involve component chan!es that re)uire elemental bodies as a!ential subjects# $his does not entail that the first principles of such activities cannot be provided by forms and states predicated directly of soul alone# (nstead as the dissertation has established this possibility is positively necessary in certain cases#