• javra
    1.7k
    Anyway, what I suspect at back of all this, is that ‘nous’ has a meaning which modernity, generally, literally can’t understand. It’s something that was lost in the transition to modernity, to understand it requires a shift in perspectiveWayfarer

    :grin: Yes, I suspect the same thing.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    10.2k
    Of course self-consciousness is a type of consciousness. But self-reflexive consciousness or consciousness being aware of itself is on a higher level than objective consciousness or consciousness being aware of things other than itself. Aristotle himself distinguishes between "active" and "passive" consciousness and clearly classifies the former as higher than the latter.Apollodorus

    The difference between the active and passive aspects are described as the difference between acting, and being acted on. This does not correlate to the difference between being conscious of other objects, and conscious of oneself. So if the active part of consciousness is higher than the passive, this does not mean that self-consciousness is higher than consciousness. Since the consciousness in self-consciousness is acted on, because it is thinking on itself, it cannot be purely active, i.e., it is the (passive) object of thought just as much as it is the act of thinking.

    I agree though, that both Plato and Aristotle posited self-consciousness as a higher level of consciousness. What I've been arguing is that this was a mistake. It is not consistent with the bulk of Aristotle's principles. There is really no principle given which justifies the idea that being conscious of oneself is higher than being conscious of others. And, since all the basic principles of morality are derived from respect for others, rather than from a selfish self-consciousness, we ought to be extremely wary of this proposal, that self-consciousness is higher than consciousness.

    Furthermore, we find that empirical evidence, from the sensations of external objects, provides the strongest support for any knowledge. That's why "science" is so successful. Since we have both moral philosophy, and science, as proof that consciousness of external objects is "higher" than self-consciousness, if we are inclined to class levels of consciousness in this way, we need to dismiss the way proposed by Plato and Aristotle, as mistaken. The idea that self-consciousness is higher than being conscious of other things, is simply inconsistent with all of our knowledge.

    The intellect’s capacity to “think itself” identifies it as a form of consciousness and highlights the similarity between Plato’s and Aristotle’s conception of intellect or nous. It is this close similarity that enables those familiar with Plato to correctly understand Aristotle.Apollodorus

    What you say here, "to correctly understand Aristotle" is not really true, because you latch on to a small point here, the immortality of the intellect, which is inconsistent with all the parts that I pointed at, and you claim that this is the correct understanding.

    The basic idea behind all of this is that of hylomorphic dualism - that the psyche (soul) has two aspects, sensory and intellectual. Intellect is what sees the forms/essence/ideas and it does that by in some sense becoming one with it. Obviously there is no such union on the level of sensory interaction but there is on the level of the intellect.Wayfarer

    Aristotelian hylomorphism is the idea that all material objects consist of a duality of form and matter, the form is the cause of the matter being what it is instead of something else. In the case of a living body the form is the soul.
  • Apollodorus
    3.4k
    We nowadays best interpret nous as intellect. Intellect to us most always connotes thought as reasoning,javra

    That's exactly where the problem is. Reading Plato and Aristotle was always done in the Greek original, even in the Roman Empire and later of course in the Greek-speaking Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) down to modern times.

    The problem started with attempts to translate Ancient Greek terms into Latin that (even more than modern English) had no equivalent philosophical terminology. In fact, many Latin words were calqued on Greek ones, not always with the best results. This is how we ended up with English "intellect". French "esprit" or German "Geist" is much closer, denoting the intelligent life principle in man that has a wide range of faculties aside from thinking or reasoning.

    "Nous" in Ancient Greek has a wide range of meaning, including consciousness, intelligence, reason, mind, understanding, soul, etc., always depending on the context. Among other things, nous is also the soul's faculty of intuition, insight, contemplation, and higher perception or experience.

    This is why it is best left untranslated, otherwise we get results that are more confusing than enlightening, as with phronesis, another term with no equivalent in modern languages which is more like "wisdom" but is often rendered as "prudence"!

    My advice would be not to try to translate it but to try to understand it. So yes, "understanding" is the key to it in that sense.

    It sounds like you are saying the Nous, as a principle, is a substance of some kind.Paine

    Depending on how you define "principle" and "substance", nous can be either, none, or both. However we choose to define it though, Aristotle calls it "immortal", "eternal", "separable" (from the body-mind compound), etc.

    What you say here, "to correctly understand Aristotle" is not really true, because you latch on to a small point here, the immortality of the intellect, which is inconsistent with all the parts that I pointed at, and you claim that this is the correct understanding.Metaphysician Undercover

    That's why we must agree to disagree.

    No one argues that Aristotle and Plato are identical. The point is that there is similarity and a high degree of harmony between their views, as shown by Gerson and others, not to mention the whole Platonic (or "Neo-Platonic") tradition.

    Some key points in common are:

    1. Priority of intelligibles to sensibles.
    2. Eternality of Forms.
    3. Forms (eide) are not the same as universals (katholou). (There are similarities and differences.)
    4. Forms in the intelligible realm.
    5. Form instances or “images” (eikones) in the sensible realm.
    6. Forms make cognition possible.
    7. The cognizing subject is the “intellect” or nous.
    8. Immortality of “intellect” (nous).
    9. Identity of “intellect” or nous and man’s true self, etc.

    Though philosophy aims to attain knowledge or wisdom (sophia or phronesis), the ultimate goal of philosophy is the source of knowledge or wisdom itself which is consciousness.

    Consciousness is always aware of itself and this self-reflexive awareness is an activity of consciousness that is already there as the background of other activities of consciousness.

    In other words, normal activity involves change. The self-awareness of consciousness is an activity that does not involve change as the awareness is of the same changeless consciousness.

    When self-aware consciousness (that is already "active" in an act of self-reflexive awareness) becomes active in the ordinary sense, e.g., as in an act of sensory perception, there is awareness of (1) perception, (2) perceiving subject, (3) means of perception, and (4) (external or physical) object of perception.

    The perception is the equivalent of knowledge, and consciousness qua consciousness the equivalent of the source of knowledge.

    At the highest level of perception (knowledge) consciousness is cognitively identical with the perception. Therefore, the highest form of knowledge is self-knowledge which is knowledge of oneself as consciousness or nous.

    This means that the source of knowledge can be discovered only through introspective inquiry or internalization of consciousness. This is not only logical, but also a matter of experience as detailed in my previous posts.

    If consciousness is the source of knowledge, then that source is to be found within consciousness itself, at the center of experience which is logically within us as conscious beings. And the way to that center passes through the same states of consciousness we experience naturally, i.e., waking, dreaming, and deep sleep, with self-aware consciousness always in the background of all experience.

    Whether we like it or not, because they are an important (and usually neglected) aspect of consciousness, dreams will become more prominent in this process, especially lucid dreams, precognitive dreams, and dream-visions. This is why all philosophers in the Platonic tradition, for example, from Socrates to Proclus and others had precognitive and other dreams in which certain truths were revealed to them.

    The bottom line is that humans and other intelligent beings are communicative because the consciousness or intelligence in us is communicative. If we pay attention to consciousness and communicate with it, it will communicate with us and teach us things we did not know before. In any case, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

    If, on the other hand, we insist on claiming that consciousness does not exist, or that the way to truth is through the study of physical matter, or through the consciousness of lower forms of life, then it's a different story. Either way, as I said before, the choice is yours. Nothing to do with me.
  • Paine
    542

    I was asking for references in Aristotle that supported your suggestion that a soul survived death as a particular unit. When I said: 'It sounds like you are saying the Nous, as a principle, is a substance of some kind.', i was only referring to how the idea is put forth by Aristotle. It is certainly the case that other writers had different views.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    10.2k
    Consciousness is always aware of itself and this self-reflexive awareness is an activity of consciousness that is already there as the background of other activities of consciousness.Apollodorus

    Then it seems you agree with me on this point. If consciousness is always self consciousness, then self-consciousness is the lowest, most base form of consciousness, being a part of every form of consciousness. And consciousness as an awareness of external things is a higher form of consciousness, consisting of that lower form with something else added.

    At the highest level of perception (knowledge) consciousness is cognitively identical with the perception. Therefore, the highest form of knowledge is self-knowledge which is knowledge of oneself as consciousness or nous.Apollodorus

    Now where do you draw this conclusion from? In no form of knowledge is the knowledge identical with the thing known. This is where the error lies. If the thing known was the very same as (identical to) the knowledge, the knowledge would be absolutely perfect. But there is no such thing as perfect knowledge, hence the need for skepticism.

    This is why the method you describe is faulty. You assume that perfection in knowledge can be obtained through a direct unity between knower (soul), and thing known (intellect or consciousness). The problem is that you neglect the reality of the medium which exists between these two (the material body), which makes such a direct unity, and perfect knowledge, impossible.

    If, on the other hand, we insist on claiming that consciousness does not exist, or that the way to truth is through the study of physical matter, or through the consciousness of lower forms of life, then it's a different story.Apollodorus

    So you deny the need to understand physical matter, and lower life forms, because you think perfect knowledge will be obtain by the direct unity between soul and intellect. But if you would understand the true metaphysics of Plato and Aristotle, you would see how the material body affects the way that the soul uses the intellect to know itself, rendering such perfect knowledge as impossible. And, you would see the need to understand physical matter and the lower life forms, in order to grasp how these affections taint our knowledge.
  • Janus
    12.6k
    Anyway, what I suspect at back of all this, is that ‘nous’ has a meaning which modernity, generally, literally can’t understand. It’s something that was lost in the transition to modernity, to understand it requires a shift in perspective.Wayfarer

    I think this is BS. If a modern can understand the assumptions underpinning the idea of nous that were made by the Ancient Greeks then one can understand the concept as it was understood by the Greeks. If moderns cannot find out what those assumptions are, then sure, moderns could not understand them, and consequently could not understand what nous meant for the Greeks.

    Those assumptions are either accessible to the modern mind or not; if not then, as some claim, it is simply impossible for us, due to anachronism, to understand nous as the Greeks did. But in that case, we literally could have no idea how they understood nous, and could not justifiably saying anything positive about it at all; including making claims about the Greek understanding being "higher or lower".
  • Wayfarer
    16.3k
    The reason I say that is because I think there was an implicitly different understanding of the nature of the world before modernity. We understand the world in terms of objects and forces, an impersonal conglomeration of basic physical forces. Whereas for the pre-modern the world was literally animated by spirit with which there was an I-thou relationship (Martin Buber) not the impersonal instrumentalism we now live in. This is what Weber refers to as ‘the great disenchantment’. Of course the positivists will dismiss it all as nostalgia but they are welcome to their sterile laboratory.
  • Wayfarer
    16.3k
    When I said: 'It sounds like you are saying the Nous, as a principle, is a substance of some kind.'Paine

    You need to be mindful of Aristotle’s term ‘ousia’ which is translated as ‘substance’. it has a different meaning to what we mean by ‘substance’ i.e. a material with uniform properties. ‘Ousia’ is a form of the verb ‘to be’ and is nearer in meaning to ‘being’ or ‘subject’ than what we call ‘substance’.
  • Janus
    12.6k
    The reason I say that is because I think there was an implicitly different understanding of the nature of the world before modernity. Where we understand the world in terms of objects and forces, an impersonal conglomeration of basic physical forces.Wayfarer

    You haven't said what you think that "implicitly different understanding" consists in. If you can't say what it consists in, then you have no evidence that such an understanding existed. If you can say what it consists in then there is no barrier to understanding it now. Of course, understanding it does not entail agreeing with it; although you do often seem to conflate understanding with agreement.
  • creativesoul
    10.6k


    Scientific reasoning has it's limits. Those are often ignored by some using scientific knowledge. Science, for example, has nothing at all to say about what we ought do in some circumstance or another. Since so much of our interdependent lives rely heavily upon such considerations, science simply cannot tell us what to do. It can, however, inform our reasoning with relevant facts.
  • Wayfarer
    16.3k
    OK I guess what I’m saying is that ‘nous’ has a dimension which the way we use ‘intellect’ today doesn’t have. I think it’s a qualitative dimension, which is associated with the concern of traditional philosophy with the good and the beautiful - ethics and aesthetics - in a way which today’s scientifically-oriented analytical philosophy generally isn’t. And that does tie back to the understanding that the Universe is animated by an intelligence, which of course implies theism of some description (even if only in the philosophical rather than theological sense.)

    I rather like the Wikipedia entry on Nous https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nous particularly paragraphs 2 and 3. When I say the meaning of nous has been forgotten, it is because the kind of understanding it describes is associated with Platonist and Aristotelian philosophy which has generally been rejected with the advent of modernity which is predominantly empiricist and nominalist.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    10.2k
    If a modern can understand the assumptions underpinning the idea of nous that were made by the Ancient Greeks then one can understand the concept as it was understood by the Greeks. If moderns cannot find out what those assumptions are, then sure, moderns could not understand them, and consequently could not understand what nous meant for the Greeks.Janus

    We understand the world in terms of objects and forces, an impersonal conglomeration of basic physical forces.Wayfarer

    What is required when looking back like this, is to develop the mindset of a lesser developed intellect. This is what I've been trying to explain, the way to a higher understanding is through understanding the lower, and this reveals the types of changes which occur in the passage from lower to higher. As we see here, the passage from lower to higher was a turning outward of the mind, from self-consciousness to consciousness of one's environment. And this is contrary to what Appolodorus is proposing here, that the way to higher intelligence is to turn the mind inward.

    The turning outward of the mind is fraught with problems of inversion. Inside we apprehend the soul as inhering deep within, and activity flows outward. Outside we see activity in all different directions. We've tried to posit a Soul as the source of this activity, but we do not see the inward-outward flow of activity in external bodies, so the Soul seems out of place. But of course we cannot see (sense perception) through the material bodies to apprehend this activity within, and this leaves the Soul of other material bodies as inapprehensible. Therefore the Soul is dismissed because the motion it causes is not perceived by the senses. And when we turn back inward we are inclined to dismiss the inner soul as well, because its activities have not be objectified (i.e. determinism). And so we are lost, incapable of the first degree of understanding, which is derived from self-reflection.

    Back from the digression. We cannot start with the assumption of a higher intellect, describe it, and proceed to direct our minds toward obtaining this position, because that higher intellect is outside the realm of possibility of our own intellects. Therefore we cannot describe it, and we know not where to go. But we can look backward at the lower levels of intellectual capacity, understand what was already understood, come to apprehend the changes which have occurred to produce the higher level, and derive some direction in this way. This method of looking backward to obtain direction for the future, is very well demonstrated by Plato.
  • Apollodorus
    3.4k
    I was asking for references in Aristotle that supported your suggestion that a soul survived death as a particular unit.Paine

    Aristotle distinguishes between soul (psyche) and “intellect” (nous). He says that the soul is perishable and that the nous is separable from the soul and immortal, eternal, unaffected, etc.

    It [the nous] would seem, however, to be a distinct species of soul, and it alone is capable of separation from the body, as that which is eternal from that which is perishable (De Anima 413b24-29).

    And it is this [active] intellect which is separable and impassive and unmixed, being in its essential nature an activity. For that which acts is always superior to that which is acted upon, the cause or principle to the matter … It is, however, only when separated that it is its true self, and this, its essential nature, alone is immortal and eternal (De Anima 430a23).

    But we ought, so far as in us lies, to put on immortality, and do all that we can to live in conformity with the highest that is in us [the nous which is immortal and divine] (Nicomachean Ethics 1177b30).

    All I can say is that it is generally assumed - since antiquity - that Aristotle’s nous postexists the death of the physical body (and associated lower soul) as a particular unit. In any case, I am not aware of any statements to the contrary.

    If a modern can understand the assumptions underpinning the idea of nous that were made by the Ancient Greeks then one can understand the concept as it was understood by the Greeks.Janus

    Of course moderns can understand the Ancient Greek concept of nous if it is explained to them, or even better, if they read Plato and Aristotle and see the various senses in which it is used.

    The problem is when readers take nous to be synonymous in all respects with modern words like English “intellect”. Depending on the context, nous can mean intellect, but its range of meaning is much broader than the word “intellect”.

    ‘Ousia’ is a form of the verb ‘to be’ and is nearer in meaning to ‘being’ or ‘subject’ than what we call ‘substance’.Wayfarer

    Correct. This is why ousia (from eimi, “to be”) is also translated as “essence”, i.e., the inherent nature of a thing. “Essence” itself is derived from Latin essentia which Cicero coined to translate Greek ousia.

    The same happens with Plato’s Forms being mistaken for “universals”, etc. Without a proper understanding of the terminology used we can't get very far.
  • Janus
    12.6k


    I agree that it seems to the modern mind that the ancients (in their ignorance or innocence) reified ideas like goodness, beauty, virtue, justice and so on, and this is the extra "dimension" that nous has that the modern conception of intellect lacks. Where I disagree is that you say this tendency to reify ideas has been "forgotten", rather than giving what I see as a more accurate description, that would say it has (at least been thought to have) been overcome (although obviously not entirely, since probably more than half of humanity still think this way), seen through, transcended or whatever.

    Of course you can disagree that this overcoming has been a step towards greater understanding; that argument is always going to be open-ended, and which pole you support will depend on your basic presuppositions concerning the nature and provenance of the human imagination and intuition,

  • Paine
    542

    Yes, the nous is seen as a principle of actuality that does not perish. The question is how to understand the relation of that principle to a composite being such as a man. Aristotle frames the existence of principles generally through distinguishing the potential from the actual rather than describing particular beings to be participating in a Form:

    Of matter, some is intelligible and some sensible, and in a formula, it is always the case that one part is actuality for example, in the case of a circle, "a plane figure. But of the things which have no matter, whether intelligible or sensible, each is immediately just a unity as well as just a being, such as a this, or a quality, or a quantity. And so in their definitions, too, neither "being" nor "one" is present, and the essence of each is immediately a unity as well as a being. Consequentially, nothing else is the cause of oneness or of being in each of them, for each is immediately a being and a unity, not in the sense that "being" and "unity' are their genera, nor in the sense they exist apart from individuals.
    It is because of this difficulty that some thinkers speak of participation but are perplexed what causes participation and what it is to participate, and others speak of communion with the soul, as when Lycophron says that knowledge is the communion of knowing with the soul, and still others call life a composition or connection of soul with body. However, the same argument applies to all; for being healthy, too, will be a communion or connection or a composition of soul and health, and the being of a triangular bronze will be a composition of bronze and a triangle, and being white will be a composition of surface and whiteness. They are speaking in this manner because they are seeking a unifying formula of, and a difference between potentiality and actuality. But as we have stated, the last matter and the form are one and the same; the one exists potentially, the other as actuality. Thus, it is like asking what the cause of unity is and what causes something to be one; for each thing is a kind of unity, and potentiality and actuality taken together exist somehow as one. So, there is no other cause, unless it be the mover which causes the motion from potency to actuality. But all things which have no matter are without qualifications just unities of one kind or another.
    — Metaphysics, 1045b, translated by HG Apostle

    The distinction made above appears again a little bit later in Book Lambda where the soul as a cause is distinguished from the individuals composed through its activity:

    Moving causes exist prior to what they generate, but a cause in the sense of a formula exists at the same time as that of which it is the cause. For when a man is healthy, it is at that time that also health exists; and the shape of the bronze sphere exists at the same time as the bronze sphere. But if there is something that remains after, this should be considered. For in some cases there is nothing to prevent this; for example, if the soul is such, not all of it but only the intellect, for it is perhaps impossible for all of the soul to remain. It is evident, then, at least because of all this, that there is necessity for the Ideas to exist; for it is a man that begets a man, an individual that begets an individual, and similarly in the case of the arts, for the art of medicine is the formula of health. — Metaphysics, 1070a, 20, ibid

    At this point, it is natural to wonder in what manner an "individual' can said to remain if the intellect continues after death. What distinguishes one human life from another must largely be the result of the 'composition' as one of the three kinds of being. As for the individual remembering themselves, Aristotle's Memory and Reminiscence (453a) places much emphasis upon memory involving corporeal elements in parallel with what makes sense-perception possible.
  • Wayfarer
    16.3k
    I don't agree that the quest for the good and the beautiful amounted to a reification.

    Step back a bit. 'Objective consciousness' is a relatively new development. At the outset of the scientific revolution, a decision was made that science would treat only of those attributes which were amenable to objective measurement and quantification. This omits or occludes the qualitative dimension of existence as a methodological step. But from there it's a very short step to declaring that the world is 'devoid of meaning'. If it's devoid, it's because it's been voided! But now this becomes regarded as 'scientific fact', when really it's the product of an attitude - an attitude which won't be acknowledged, because of the blind spot that it engenders. (This is the subject of Husserl's Crisis of the European Sciences.)

    At this point, it is natural to wonder in what manner an "individual' can said to remain if the intellect continues after deathPaine

    There's a recent book that addresses this idea, Surviving Death, Mark Johnson. And thanks for those excerpts, they're very interesting.
  • Janus
    12.6k
    I think it is unquestionable that ideas were reified by (some of) the ancients, such as Plato. Those thinkers believed ideas had an existence independent of the human mind; whether in a realm of forms or the mind of God.

    Empirical science cannot deal with meaning; it was not that, at some point, a "decision" was made to abandon it. The irony is that you seem to see physical existence as meaningless; whereas as I see it as being replete with meaning. That makes it look to me like you have swallowed the common notion that matter is lifeless and meaningless.

    It's not a blind spot for science, but an acknowledgement of its limitations. The fact that there are some people for whom what science can examine, analyze and understand exhausts the Real doesn't entail that such an attitude is in any way essential to science itself.
  • Wayfarer
    16.3k
    That makes it look to me like you have swallowed the common notion that matter is lifeless and meaningless.Janus

    I’m pointing it out, I’ve by no means ‘swallowed’ it. It’s been swallowed whole by your mate Dennett. ( :clap: for the capital ‘R’, though!)
  • Janus
    12.6k
    I’m pointing it out, I’ve by no means ‘swallowed’ it. It’s been swallowed whole by your mate Dennett. ( :clap: for the capital ‘R’, though!)Wayfarer

    I'm not sure Dennett would agree with you about what you think he thinks. In any case if you haven't swallowed the idea that the physical is lifeless and meaningless, then you would have no need of the transcendent as a source of meaning, and nor would you have any problem with physicalism. So, I must admit, I'm finding your position a wee bit puzzling.
  • Paine
    542
    There's a recent book that addresses this idea, Surviving Death, Mark Johnson.Wayfarer

    Sounds interesting. Please give a passage or two that reflects the situation as Aristotle framed it.
  • Wayfarer
    16.3k
    I'll get back to you on that. I didn't have in mind Aristotle in particular, but that this book addresses the question of the sense in what element of the individual can be said to survive (or transcend) death. It's taken from a lecture series, currently reading it.
  • Apollodorus
    3.4k
    The question is how to understand the relation of that principle to a composite being such as a man. Aristotle frames the existence of principles generally through distinguishing the potential from the actual rather than describing particular beings to be participating in a FormPaine

    Correct. Aristotle’s interest in Forms appears to be tied in the first place to attempts to explain intellectual processes. What he seems to suggest is that higher, non-discursive intellect contains Forms that are accessed by lower, discursive intellect by means of images (or mental copies of Forms) and used as a basis for discursive thinking and cognition.

    However, like Plato, Aristotle offers no detailed explanation for how exactly the higher intellect relates to the soul or description of what the intellect is and does after the death of the body-soul composite.

    I think the reason for this is that the main concern in both Plato and Aristotle is to prepare the philosopher for life after death and this seems to imply the conscious self-identification with that in man that is said to survive death.

    When seen in this way, the ultimate purpose of Forms is not to explain the phenomena of the sensible world which are going to be left behind after death anyway, but how consciousness generates experience on higher planes of existence, knowledge of which may enable the individual consciousness to elevate itself to higher modes of experience or existence.

    So Forms seem to fulfill a multiple explanatory function:

    1. As eternal, unchanging entities, they explain the possibility of knowledge in an ever-changing world.

    2. As immaterial, ontologically prior entities, they explain the phenomenon of identity in difference.

    3. As principles of order, they explain how universal consciousness, creative intelligence, or divine nous organizes itself in order to generate the intelligible and sensible realms.

    Of course, it may be argued that Aristotle does not always make the same metaphysical claims as his teacher Plato. However, in practice, Aristotle was seldom studied in isolation. As a general rule, students of philosophy would study the writings of Plato, Aristotle, and other leading philosophers, and would form their own opinion as to which views or combination of views were the most logically and philosophically satisfactory.

    This is precisely why the philosophical system that came to be known as “Platonism” is a synthesis of several philosophical schools. Aristotle’s own system consists of Platonic and other teachings combined with his own views.
  • Janus
    12.6k
    I read it quite a few years ago. From my recall the idea is that we survive in the memories of others.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    10.2k
    I think the reason for this is that the main concern in both Plato and Aristotle is to prepare the philosopher for life after death and this seems to imply the conscious self-identification with that in man that is said to survive death.Apollodorus

    This is a stretch of your imagination. Aristotle has volumes of material concerning knowledge of the physical world, criteria for correct judgement, etc.. The question of life after death has only a few passing mentions. Even his ethics is based in "happiness" which is a description of the human being's earthly condition. It is not based in a higher existence after death, heaven, hell, or anything like that. Plato is quite similar, and although the issue of life after death takes a more prominent position than in Aristotle, it is incorrect to say that it is "the main concern".
  • Paine
    542
    Aristotle’s interest in Forms appears to be tied in the first place to attempts to explain intellectual processes. What he seems to suggest is that higher, non-discursive intellect contains Forms that are accessed by lower, discursive intellect by means of images (or mental copies of Forms) and used as a basis for discursive thinking and cognition.Apollodorus

    Where do you read this notion in Aristotle?

    What is clearly stated in Aristotle is an interest in understanding causes of events and the reality of actual beings. There is a consideration of the sciences of the first things and the cosmology of eternal objects. But the study of nature as Fusis is also accorded the rank of a theoretical science. Experience in the world is a necessary condition of knowledge.
  • Apollodorus
    3.4k
    What is clearly stated in Aristotle is an interest in understanding causes of events and the reality of actual beings. There is a consideration of the sciences of the first things and the cosmology of eternal objects. But the study of nature as Fusis is also accorded the rank of a theoretical science. Experience in the world is a necessary condition of knowledge.Paine

    Forms clearly play a role in human intellection and cognition:

    Now, if thinking is analogous to perceiving, it will consist in a being acted upon by the object of thought (noeton) or in something else of this kind. This part of the soul [the nous], then, must be impassive, but receptive of the Form (eidos) and potentially like this Form, though not identical with it … Therefore it has been well said that the soul is a place of Forms (eide): except that this is not true of the whole soul, but only of the soul which can think, and again that the Forms (eide) are there not in actuality, but potentiality … (De Anima 429a15 ff.).

    Of course Aristotle is also concerned with the sensible world. But the fact remains that the intelligible world is higher than the sensible, and the higher part of the soul is higher than the lower. What is higher takes precedence over the lower. This is why Aristotle urges the philosopher to identify with the higher element (nous) in him:

    But we ought, so far as in us lies, to put on immortality, and do all that we can to live in conformity with the highest that is in us [the nous which is immortal and divine] (Nicomachean Ethics 1177b30).

    Identification with the highest element in man is the whole point of Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophy. The highest happiness comes from the highest activity which is contemplation (theoria):

    The activity of the Gods, which is supremely happy, must be a form of contemplation; and therefore among human activities that which is the most akin to the Gods' will be the happiest (Nicomachean Ethics 1178b20).

    According to both Plato and Aristotle the main function of nous, in addition to self-awareness, is contemplation of higher realities.

    This means that once the nous has become separated on the death of the body-mind composite, and is “itself by itself”, there will be little activity left other than contemplation.

    As the act and experience of contemplation of higher realities is the same in all cases, this means that “personality” in the normal sense of the word ceases to exist.

    Gerson writes:

    The activity of intellect in both Plato and Aristotle is impersonal only in the sense of being nonidiosyncratic. The contents of intellect’s thinking when it is thinking that which is intelligible is the same for everyone. If I am nothing but an intellect, then, ideally, I differ from you solo numero. Emotions, appetites, memories, and sensations are not just numerically distinct for different embodied persons, they are idiosyncratic as well, insofar as they depend on a unique body.
    The identity between a subject of intellection and a subject of the idiosyncratic states of embodiment is deeply obscure. I do not want to suggest that either Plato or Aristotle has anything like a satisfactory explanation for this. But I do wish to insist they share a conviction in general about how to bridge the gap between the embodied person and the disembodied person.
    By ‘gap’ I mean the natural disinclination most embodied persons have to embrace the destiny of a disembodied person so described. The shared conviction is that philosophical activity has a transformative effect on embodied persons. As one becomes habituated to the philosophical life, one comes to identify oneself with ‘the better part’. I do not suppose that Plato or even Neoplatonists of the strictest observance believed that such identification could be perfectly achieved while embodied. But as Plato urges in Republic, quite reasonably enough, it is better to be closer to the ideal than to be further away. In any case, for Plato, and, as I have argued, for Aristotle as well, that is the ideal, like it or not (Aristotle and Other Platonists, p. 286).

    At the end of the day, the ultimate goal of philosophy is self-knowledge. If self-knowledge is the highest form of cognition, and the philosopher is serious about achieving his or her true identity, then this can be done only through some form of introspective inquiry or self-reflexive thinking that has the nous (i.e., self-aware consciousness or intelligence) itself as its central focus.
  • Paine
    542

    Gerson assumes an answer to my question when he says:

    The identity between a subject of intellection and a subject of the idiosyncratic states of embodiment is deeply obscure. I do not want to suggest that either Plato or Aristotle has anything like a satisfactory explanation for this. But I do wish to insist they share a conviction in general about how to bridge the gap between the embodied person and the disembodied person.

    The issue I raised is whether the active principle of the intellect is a person as one who experiences themselves as such after that principle is separated from the composition of a living individual. Plotinus' view of the soul differs sharply from Aristotle's regarding what elements are being discussed:

    When he (Plato) advises us to separate the soul from the body, he does not mean any local separation (that is, the sort of separation that is established by nature). He means the soul must not incline towards the body and towards thoughts concerned with sense objects but must become alienated from the body. We achieve this separation when we elevate to the intelligible world the lower part of the soul which is established in the sense world and which is the sole agent which produces and fashions the body and busies itself about it. — Ennead V, i, 10, translated by Joseph Katz

    There is no trace of the hylomorphism on display in De Anima. Aristotle is specifically concerning himself with the 'local separation' that Plotinus dismisses here. Plotinus rejects the notion of the "composition" as being any concern of true philosophy. The 'lower part" of the soul being named the 'sole agent' negates the distinctions of causes whereby the generation of living creatures can be recognized and studied. The view is not only uninterested in a cosmos outside of the psychology of our experience, it gives a tinge of disrepute to such interests.

    Gerson's description is perfectly in tune with the philosophy of Plotinus. It is a questionable form of expression in the language of Aristotle.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    10.2k
    Identification with the highest element in man is the whole point of Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophy.Apollodorus

    The issue seems to be what it means to be "the highest". If we go by logical priority, the soul is the highest, as first cause of the living body, and what is required (necessary) for the activities of all the various potentials of living beings. However, we are generally inclined to place the soul, being first cause, at the base, the foundation, and we perceive the base as lower. On the other hand, you place the intellectual capacity, being the soul's ability to know itself, as the highest.

    In Plato there is definitely a conflation of the soul and the intellect. Mind, as the power of reason, and soul, are often interchangeable. This is primarily because Plato had not thoroughly worked out the passive/active division. Aristotle worked out the passive (potential)/actual division, and gave "soul" a proper definition as the active cause of the living body. From this it follows that the capacities of living beings are the soul's potentials. We might ask the further question, as Aquinas does, how does an actuality (the soul) have potentials as properties.

    So it really doesn't make sense for you to say that "identification with the highest element is the whole point of Plato’s and Aristotle’s philosophy". It would be better said that a chief point in both of their philosophies was an attempt to identify the highest element, thus recognizing that the highest element had not been properly identified.
  • Apollodorus
    3.4k
    The issue I raised is whether the active principle of the intellect is a person as one who experiences themselves as such after that principle is separated from the composition of a living individual. Plotinus' view of the soul differs sharply from Aristotle's regarding what elements are being discussedPaine

    Well, Plotinus is entitled to his own views like everyone else. Plato doesn’t say that his followers must follow him ad litteram. But the quote from Gerson is not about Plotinus. He very clearly says what he thinks are Plato and Aristotle’s views on the subject of the intellect’s “survival” or “transcendence” after death:

    The activity of intellect in both Plato and Aristotle is impersonal only in the sense of being nonidiosyncratic. The contents of intellect’s thinking when it is thinking that which is intelligible is the same for everyone. If I am nothing but an intellect, then, ideally, I differ from you solo numero. Emotions, appetites, memories, and sensations are not just numerically distinct for different embodied persons, they are idiosyncratic as well, insofar as they depend on a unique body.

    According to Gerson, for Aristotle the “surviving” or “transcending” part of man is a type of impersonal intelligence. Gerson’s interpretation sounds reasonable enough to me.

    The impersonality of the nous following physical death is I think one of the reasons why Aristotle urges philosophers to self-identify with that higher element in man as opposed to lower elements belonging to the body-mind compound.

    As pointed out in my previous posts, it wouldn’t make sense for a philosopher to identify with parts of him that not only are not his true self, but are perishable.

    Obviously, if the nous is man’s true self, true knowledge and happiness are attained through identification with the nous and its contemplative activity, as Aristotle says.

    But the point I was trying to make is that the way I see it, it is imperative to look at things from a synoptic perspective. And this necessitates not only an ability to see through the anti-Platonist propaganda and disinformation, but also taking into consideration Aristotle’s Platonic background.

    As Plato says in the Republic, the Good is the source of all knowledge and of everything that is good, therefore, the Good is the “highest lesson” or the “highest thing to learn” (Rep. 505a).

    Similarly, Aristotle begins his Nicomachean Ethics by stating that “the Good is that at which all things aim”:

    If our activities have some end which we want for its own sake, and for the sake of which we want all the other ends, it is clear that this must be the good, that is, the supreme good. Does it not follow, then, that a knowledge of the good is of great importance to us for the conduct of our lives? (Nicomachean Ethics. 1094a15-25)

    He then says:

    What is the highest of all practical goods? Well, so far as the name goes, there is pretty general agreement. ‘It is happiness,’ say both ordinary and cultured people … But when it comes to saying in what happiness consists, opinions differ, and the account given by the generality of mankind is not at all like that of the wise … Some, however, have held the view that over and above these particular goods there is another which is Good in itself and the cause of whatever goodness there is in all these others (Nicomachean Ethics. 1095a15-30)

    And he eventually comes to the conclusion that the highest happiness comes from the highest activity which is contemplation (theoria) of higher realities.

    The activity of the Gods, which is supremely happy, must be a form of contemplation; and therefore among human activities that which is the most akin to the God’s will be the happiest (Nicomachean Ethics 1178b20).

    Plato also says that the Good is the cause of everything good and that it makes the universe good like itself by imposing order on the universe.

    Aristotle says pretty much the same thing:

    An excessively large number cannot participate in order: to give it order would surely be a task for divine power, which holds even this universe together (Politics 1326a32-33)

    The Universe is a system made up of heaven and earth and the elements which are contained in them. But the word is also used in another sense of the ordering and arrangement of all things, preserved by and through God (De Mundo 391b9-11)

    There still remains for us to treat briefly, as we have discussed the other objects, of the cause which holds all things together … The old explanation which we have all inherited from our fathers, is that all things are from God and were framed for us by God, and that no created thing is of itself sufficient for itself, deprived of the permanence which it derives from him … It is therefore better, even as it is more seemly and befitting God, to suppose that the power which is stablished in the heavens is the cause of permanence even in those things which are furthest removed from it – in a word, in all things (De Mundo 397b9-398a5)

    Thus a single harmony orders the composition of the whole – heaven and earth and the whole Universe – by the mingling of the most contrary principles … all the earth, the sea, the ether, the sun, the moon, and the whole heaven are ordered by a single power extending through all, which has created the whole universe out of separate and different elements, embracing them all on one spherical surface and forcing the most contrary natures to live in agreement with one another in the universe, and thus contriving the permanence of the whole (Politics 396b20-30)

    Aristotle also says that the universe is created by an Intellect in conjunction with Nature:

    Since there can be nothing incidental unless there is something primary for it to be incidental to, it follows that there can be no incidental causation except as incident to direct causation. Chance and fortune, therefore, imply the antecedent activity of Intellect (Nous) and Nature (Physis) as causes; so that, even if the cause of the heavens were ever so casual, yet Intellect and Nature must have been causes antecedently, not only of many other things we could mention, but of the universe itself (Physics 198a10-13)

    If we take an unbiased look at the larger picture, I think a clear Platonic pattern begins to emerge:

    1. Supreme principle of goodness.
    2. Divine power that orders and holds together the universe.
    3. Divine Intellect as cause of the universe.
    4. Forms.
    5. Immortality of individual intellect.
    6. The best life is a life lived in harmony with intellect.
    7. Contemplation of higher realities is the highest form of activity, etc.

    We can see that, despite differences, Aristotle operates within paradigms that are largely Platonic. This is why IMO we need to bear this in mind in order to understand him correctly.

    In any case, it is clear that the nous as an immaterial, eternal and unaffected intelligence plays as much a central role in Aristotle’s system as it does in Plato and Platonism.
  • Paine
    542

    Gerson is a scholar whose focus has long been on Plotinus and your description of 'Platonism' is very close to his view. Gerson used the expression "disembodied self." There is source for that expression in Plotinus. I am not aware of a source for that language about self in Plato. Perhaps Gerson throws some light upon that topic somewhere.

    The purpose of my comparison between Plotinus and Aristotle was not to challenge an overarching theory of what the different authors might agree upon regarding eternity and immortality in general but to ask what Aristotle imagines the Nous continuing after death entails. There are plenty of notions where the immortality of the soul is not a repetition of a lived identity. None of your observations approach the question framed as such.
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