Aristotle’s Conception of the SoulJune 26, 2021
It was stated that the Greek philosophy until the Sophists was mainly based on the studies of nature, and since the Sophists, the human being has become one of the main areas of study of philosophy with his thinking, acting, moral and social life. Of course, it is out of question that Aristotle, who was a systematic thinker and developed important teachings in every branch of philosophy, did not think about human actions and the social and political structures he created.
Ideas to be developed on human actions and human structures such as society, city, and state should undoubtedly be prioritized by a certain understanding of human. Both Plato and Aristotle thought of man first and foremost as a spiritual being. According to Plato, the soul (psykhe) was the thing that belonged most to us, and it was not possible to talk about the good or badness of anything that did not have a soul in it. Therefore, wherever moral good or bad was spoken of, there was necessarily a spirit or spirituality in question. Aristotle did not think differently from Plato in this general understanding. In order to understand human actions and human structures such as society or the state, it was necessary to determine what a human being is, and to analyze the human spirit because human is a spirit first and foremost.
Aristotle criticized the understanding of soul of the thinkers before him, especially Plato, in two main ways. As it will be remembered, Plato thought that the soul was a structure made up of three parts. According to Aristotle, this attitude is an error arising from not fully comprehending the unity of the soul. According to him, it is more correct to talk about different faculties and powers (dynameis) of the soul rather than different parts of it. Aristotle claimed that the thinkers before him did not adequately grasp the essential relationship of the soul with the body. According to him, it was not right to think that the soul could completely separate from the body and lead a life of its own. Thus, Aristotle was closing the doors from the very beginning to the doctrine of transmigration, which Plato relied on so much. Aristotle saw the body as a means by which the soul expresses itself (Guthrie, 1999: 143-144). It is possible to think of Aristotle’s thoughts on this subject in parallel with his views on the relationship between matter and form. Just like Plato, he always saw the soul as a form-like structure, and naturally associated the body with matter. Just as he claimed that form and matter were never separate but interconnected, he argued that spirit and body were always together. When we look at this picture, Aristotle accepts that it has a completely different structure from matter, unlike the Democritusians who explain the soul with atoms in the last instance, and in this respect, he was on the side of the Platonists. But unlike the Platonists, he did not see it as separate from the body, and he established the relationship he established between matter and form between soul and body. According to Aristotle, the soul is nothing but the actualization of the body, the manifestation of the spirituality hidden in the body. On the other hand, Aristotle, just like Plato, saw the spirit as a principle of movement and connected the movement of the body to the spirit, just as he connected the movement of matter to form.
With these features, the soul was the source of the body’s movement, the ultimate cause and true substance of the body (Copleston, 1997: 64). In this understanding, body and soul are not two separate substances as in Plato, but are inseparable elements of a single substance. On the other hand, besides being the principle of action, the soul is the only aspect of us capable of knowing, and with this feature, it constitutes the reason why we are rational beings (Ross, 2002: 158-159). But knowing and thinking is only one aspect of the soul, and this aspect is unique to man. However, Aristotle did not see the soul as something unique to humans. According to him, every living being is a unity consisting of a soul and a body, and there is spirituality in plants and animals as well as in humans. Since plants and animals are structurally very different from humans, their spirituality should not be the same as humans’. What then does the soul look like in plants and animals?
His studies on plants and animals occupy an important place in Aristotle’s research on nature, and he is the thinker who made perhaps the most detailed studies in this field in ancient times. Aristotle saw the realm of living things as the area in which purposefulness and purposefulness in the universe were seen most clearly (Weber, 1993: 81). The fact that living things can move on their own led Aristotle to think that they also have a kind of spirituality. Aristotle divided the manifestations of spirituality in the field of nature into three stages that rise above each other and applied these stages to all living things, from plants to humans. According to this understanding, the first level where the soul manifests itself is the basic functions such as nutrition and reproduction. All living things have a natural inclination to feed and reproduce, and therefore, in simple and inferior species such as plants, the soul is merely food,