47 - God Only Knows: Aristotle on Mind and God

Drawing on the De Anima, On the Heavens, Physics and Metaphysics, Peter tackles Aristotle’s theory of mind and its relation to his theology.

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Further Reading: 

• V. Caston, "Aristotle on Consciousness," Mind 111 (2002), 751-815.

• M. Frede and D. Charles (eds), Aristotle's Metaphysics Lambda (Oxford: 2000).

• R. Heinaman, "Aristotle and the Mind-Body Problem," Phronesis 35 (1990), 83-102.

• T. Irwin, "Aristotle's Philosophy of Mind," in S. Everson (ed.), Psychology (Cambridge: 1991), 56-83.

• A. Kosman, ‘What does the Maker Mind Make?’ in M. Nussbaum and A.O. Rorty (eds), Essays on Aristotle's De Anima (Oxford: 1995), 343-58.

• R. Wardy, The Chain of Change: A Study of Aristotle's Physics VII (Cambridge: 1990).

Kenneth Connally's picture

The cause of change for Aristotle

Hi Peter, and/or anyone else reading! Fantastic series!

I'm a bit confused about how motion/change comes about in Aristotle's system. I get that the heavenly bodies and living organisms on earth are imitating the Celestial Movers/God to the extent that their physical forms are capable, by revolving eternally or maintaining the eternity of their species through reproduction. But first, it seems like physical motions need all 4 causes, not just the final cause. The reason you can't run a car engine forever isn't just because you'll eventually attain any goal you had for doing it (unless the goal is just to run a car engine forever). You'll also obviously run out of fuel, which seems like it belongs in the "efficient cause" category. So I don't see how just perpetually wanting to move should explain perpetual motion.

Second, in the De Anima Aristotle seems to say that appetition/desire and the capacity to sense are always found together, and only in animals--not even plants, let alone celestial bodies. So how can plants and heavenly bodies desire to imitate God without senses or concomitant desires? Also, even if they had senses and desires, it seems like they would need rationality as well, which only humans, celestial movers, and God have (I think), in order to desire something non-physical (like the eternality of God), since it can't be sensed directly, only inferred through the kind of logical process Aristotle goes through in the Metaphysics.

Peter Adamson's picture

Cause of change

These are actually two of the biggest controversies in the later tradition concerning Aristotle. There is a tendency in late antiquity and the medieval period to take God to be efficient as well as final cause, and even sometimes formal cause. The efficient cause reading is first suggested by Ammonius (see episode 97): since the heavens are caused to move by God and since their motion is essential, He is effectively making them exist. Aristotle's Physics book VIII tends to give the impression that God may be an efficient cause whereas the Metaphysics (book 12) suggests final cause only.

And in fact some later authors do ascribe sight and hearing to the heavens, though that is a minority view. One debate is whether the movers of the spheres are souls or only intellects - some say souls, in order to explain how they could move, since just thinking doesn't seem to explain motion.