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THE ACCURACY OF ARISTOTLE'S DEFINITION OF THE SOUL DANIEL MCINERNY University of St. Thomas/Center for Thomistic Studies Houston, Texas AT THE OUTSET of the De anima Aristotle claims that while knowledge of any kind is a thing to be prized, one kind of knowledge is prized more than another "either by mason of its greater exactness [kat'akribeian], or of a higher dignity and greater wonderfulness of its objects," 1 and knowledge of the soul, he judges, satisfies both these criteria (402a4). While the attributes of nobility and wonderfulness quite obviously belong to the science of the soul, the claim Aristotle makes for its exactness, or accuracy, is far less conspicuous. R. D. Hicks in his commentary on the De anima suggests that for Aristotle the meaning of accuracy varies according as it is applied either to demonstration (apodeixis) or scientific knowledge (episteme).2 The accuracy belonging to demonstration is a function of the necessary nature of premises yielding, through correct reasoning, necessary conclusions. The paradigmatic instance of such accuracy is to be found of course in mathematics, while less accurate forms of argument are found, for example, in the various branches of political science, the premises of which are contingent:' The accuracy belonging to scientific knowledge, 1 Aristotle, De anima 402al-3, trans. J. A. Smith in The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984). Unless otherwise noted all translations from Aristotle's works will be taken from this Oxford edition. 2 R. D. Hicks, Aristotle: De anima (New York: Arno Press, 1976), 174-75. 3 See Aristotle's comments on the varying degrees of accuracy in demonstration at, for example, Nicomachean Ethics 1.3 (1094bll-27) and 2.12 (1104al-6). 571 572 DANIEL MCINERNY on the other hand, is not so much a function of the type of demonstration employed, as of the objects with which such a science deals. In this context, Hicks explains, akribes means "abstract" in the sense of being simpler and logically prior. Thus in the Metaphysics Aristotle states that those sciences are more accurate that have to do with first causes, for the sciences that start from fewer premises are more accurate than those that are complicated with additional determinations. Arithmetic, accordingly , is more accurate than geometry.4 With this distinction in hand we can readily see how the De anima provides accurate knowledge of the soul, insofar as Aristotle's definition of soul as the first actuality of a natural organic body potentially having life is of something "abstract,'' that is, of something more simple and logically prior to the knowledge of specific kinds of soul. But as this definition of soul is pursued by Aristotle within the context of natural philosophy, we should also expect its accuracy to be affirmed by the necessities belonging to theoretical demonstration. In other words, Aristotle's investigation of the soul, as a theoretical undertaking, stakes its claim to accuracy not only on the fact it seeks to define something simpler and logically prior to certain other things, but also on the demonstrability of this definition.5 Though in recent years the De anima has enjoyed a generous 4 Metaphysics 1.2 (982a25ff.) 5 Hicks's comment on 402a3, where Aristotle claims that the study of the soul is to be prized both for its accuracy and for the nobility of its subject matter, neglects this point. "In this treatise," Hicks writes, "our subject is to empsuchon z11on e empsuchon, and we deal preeminently with the form (which is akineton) not with the matter; and in proportion as we do this we regard the empsuchon z1Jon not concretely as made up of sarks, ostoun, neuron, and the like, but abstractly as living, moving, perceiving, thinking, these attributes being due to soul as cause" (Hicks, Aristotle: De anima, 175). This is correct as far as it goes, but, as we will show, the claim of accuracy for this study is also warranted given the demonstrability of the definition of soul as form. Siwek's comment is even less to the point: "Non desunt, qui vocabulum akribeian vertant 'accuratio'. ... Cui versioni favere videntur (Meta. K.7 1064a4; Top...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 571-593
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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