Aristotle on the intelligibility of perception.
Concrete individuals make their appearance in De anima under the title of incidental perceptible objects (aistheton kata sumbebekos), but this designation does little to clarify Aristotle's position. The son of Diares (Aristotle's example of an incidental perceptible) (8) seems neither to be a straightforward perceptual object--it is, after all, perceived incidentally, in contrast to the objects of the five senses, which axe perceived in themselves (kath' hauta)--nor a straightforward intellectual object--it is, after all, perceived incidentally. By what faculty, then, do we apprehend the concrete individuals that populate our everyday lives?
It is tempting to answer that what is perceived is some particular configuration of colors, shapes, and so on (the objects perceived in themselves), and that this is interpreted to be some particular thing, such as the son of Diares, either by an act of intellect (in the case of humans) or by an act of the quasiperceptual faculty of phantasia (in the case of nonrational animals). (9) I will argue against this solution in what follows, and I will try to show that the concrete individual, the son of Diares, is apprehended in an act of perception; that perception is itself intelligible, and a separate act of interpretation is not required to make sense of perceptual experience.
The article proceeds as follows: in the first section, I briefly outline two reasons that support the position that I am arguing against, namely, that incidental perception is accomplished by an act of interpretation. In the second and third sections, I discuss each of these two reasons in turn. In the course of these discussions, I argue (a) that the incidental perceptible is indeed perceived and not interpreted, and (b) that what is perceived incidentally is an object as it bears significance to the projects and aims of the perceiver, rather than what the object is in itself (as it is commonly taken to be). Finally, I argue (c) that this new way of understanding what the incidental object of perception is provides a unified account of incidental perception that accommodates both animal and human incidental perception, while at the same time allowing that human perception is significantly different from that of nonrational animals. Because human projects include understanding and knowing, we can say that, unlike the perception of nonrational animals, human incidental perception includes perceiving a thing as what it is in itself. This kind of perception is made possible by intellect--it is, I argue, intellectually conditioned--but it is not perception that is interpreted by intellect. In the fourth and fifth sections, I offer an account of the relationship between intellect and perception that supports this interpretation of incidental perception, drawing on the hierarchical structure of the soul that Aristotle lays out in De anima. I conclude, in the sixth section, by elaborating and clarifying the way that intellect conditions perception.
Before I begin I would like to flag, without developing in detail, what I see to be the underlying philosophical issue at stake here. What is at stake philosophically in the question of the apprehension of concrete individuals is whether or not Aristotle thought of animals as having what we might call private cognitive activity, inner lives that are separable from their engagement with objects in their environments. The answer to this question, in turn, will influence the understanding of how we human animals direct our lives. To what degree are our ways of behaving determined by the ways we perceive, and to what degree are we free to act otherwise on the basis of a new way of thinking, a new interpretation of what we perceive? To what degree is our behavior merely responsive to our environments, and to what degree is it self-guided, chosen? This is at the heart of Aristotle's discussion, in the Nicomachean Ethics 3.5, of whether or not we are responsible for our actions if the way things appear to us is not in our control. (10) How much we apprehend by perception will determine how much of the way things appear to us is not under our direct, rational control.
I begin by addressing the position that incidental perception is the result of some sort of interpretation of the object of perception. There are two basic features of incidental perceptibles that make this position appealing. The first resides in the distinction between objects perceptible in themselves (hath' hauta) and objects perceptible incidentally. Aristotle devotes the bulk of his discussion of perception in De anima to the analysis of the five senses and their proper objects (color, sound, taste, scent, and the tangibles). (11) Each sense is defined by and is receptive of its own object, (12) and because we perceive by means of these and only these senses, (13) this seems to imply that these sensory objects are all that is, strictly speaking, perceived. (14) Anything exceeding the reception of these sensory objects (such as that the white is the son of Diares) is perceived incidentally, which means that it must be added to the basic perception of colors and sounds (and so on) by means of some other faculty. After all, Aristotle introduces incidental perception saying, "An object of perception is spoken of as incidental, e.g. if the white thing were the son of Diares; for you perceive this incidentally, since this which you perceive is incidental to the white. Hence too you are not affected by the object of perception as such." (15) This suggests that what one really perceives is the white, not the son of Diares, which does not affect one.
The second feature of the incidental perceptible that supports the position that incidental perception is the result of interpretation is that it seems undeniable that apprehending the son of Diares involves certain intellectual accomplishments, such as knowing the father-son relationship or what a human being is, and therefore also intellectual procedures, such as inference or judgment. This suggests that the son of Diares is an object of intellect to be applied to the perception, rather than an object of perception itself. Charles Kahn expresses this position most clearly, saying
The cognitive grasp of the world that comes from aisthesis alone is extremely limited and fragmentary. All interesting perceptual judgements extend well beyond the strict objects of sense to what Aristotle calls 'sensibles per accidens', the incidental objects of sense-perception, as in his example: 'that white shape there is the son of Diares' (418a21). What is not always noted by the commentators is that the incidental sensibles represent the overlap or conjoined action of sense and intellect. 'The son of Diares' is already a noeton, a complex conception involving the notions of human being and fatherhood.... Sense-perception per se cannot recognize even individual substances as such, since it has no access to any sortal concepts like man, horse, tree. (16)
I want to note Kahn's use of the term "notion" here: this line of reasoning does not require that one have a full-fledged understanding--an episteme--of what men, horses, or trees are: it requires only the observation that concepts of any kind--ordinary, everyday familiarity with things and also scientific understanding of those things--are not supplied by perception. To perceive incidentally the son of Diares does not require that I know that a human being is essentially a rational animal, it requires only that I am familiar with the sort of thing a human being is--but even this everyday familiarity is achieved by intellect, not perception.
In sum, the two basic reasons for holding that incidental perception is the result of the interpretation of perception, rather than the accomplishment of perception itself, are: (1) Aristotle seems to limit perception to the apprehension of the objects of the five senses--color, sound, flavor, scent, the tangibles; and (2) incidental perceptibles such as the son of Diares cannot be recognized unless one has a developed conceptual apparatus--familiarity with the concepts of "son," "human being," and the like. These two reasons are complementary but independent of one another: one could hold that incidental perception requires concepts without thereby holding that perception is limited to the five sensory objects, and vice versa. This is clear if one considers whether nonrational animals perceive incidentally, on each account: if one holds (2), only humans perceive incidentally, because only humans have access to concepts. But (1) does not commit us either way with respect to nonrational animals: it could be that nonrational animals perceive incidentally by means of phantasia or some other faculty available to nonrational animals. Each reason, therefore, warrants a separate discussion, and I will take up each in turn.
First I will address the position that incidental perception is accomplished by interpretation because all that is perceived, strictly speaking, are the proper objects of sense that are perceived in themselves. A consequence of restricting perception in this way to the reception of the objects perceived in themselves is that either (a) nonrational animals do not apprehend concrete individuals that are incidentally perceived at all (and such incidental perception is only available to humans), (17) or (b) these sensory objects are interpreted by the quasiperceptual faculty of phantasia in nonhuman animals. (18) After all, such animals lack intellect; perception is their highest faculty. I think, however, that neither of these consequences is tenable, and this will motivate us to abandon the restriction of perception to the objects of the five senses.
In the final chapters of De anima, Aristotle assigns perception an essential role in the animal's life: because nature does nothing in vain, he argues, and animals have perception, perception must be necessary for the animal's pursuit of its aims, (19) namely, self-preservation, (20) and, in some animals, well-being. (21) If perception is to fulfill this role, it must enable the animal to make meaningful distinctions among the objects it encounters: it is only because the animal distinguishes, by means of touch and taste, between what it ought to pursue in order to be nourished and what it ought to avoid that it is able to survive; (22) in animals with locomotion, it is necessary to make these distinctions in advance by means of sight, smell, and hearing. (23)
These meaningful distinctions already exceed the reception of the five sensible objects, to varying degrees. (24) Animals perceive objects as pleasant or painful, which is the same as perceiving them as objects of pursuit or avoidance; (25) taste perceives "what is tangible and nutritive"; (26) the animal hears "in order that something may be indicated to it"; (27) lions perceive a cow's braying as a sign that the cow (and its meat) are near; (28) and the hound enjoys the smell of the hare because "the smell produces the perception [of the meat]"; (29) dogs perceive a knock on the door as a threat, and a person as either friend or foe. (30) None of these characteristics--pleasant, painful, nutritive, indicative, representing meat, being a threat or friendly--is an object of the five senses, but the ability to make distinctions such as these is the reason that animals have perception in the first place. This suggests that Aristotle does not restrict perception to the five sensory objects, but instead he includes some incidental perceptibles in this faculty. An animal perceives not merely a tall brown shape moving toward it, but also that it is a threat, or pleasant, or meat, and behaves accordingly. Simply put, because an animal discerns meaningful differences, it must perceive incidental perceptibles. (31)
Of course, it could be that it is not perception that enables the animal to respond to the world in the appropriate way, but that it is phantasia that guides the animal's behavior by interpreting the perception. Indeed, Aristotle often comments on the close connection between animal behavior and phantasia, as, for example, when he remarks, "movement is always for the sake of something and involves imagination and desire." (32) However, granting that phantasia plays an important role in animal psychology and behavior, (33) it cannot do the work of interpreting the contents of perception, for the reason that Aristotle insists that phantasia is derived from perception: it is "a movement taking place as a result of actual perception." (34) Indeed, he explicitly identifies three kinds of phantasia, arising from the three kinds of perception--the perception of proper sensibles, common sensibles, and incidental perceptibles (35)--which suggests that the interpretation is already in the perception that results in the phantasia. (36) Far from excluding incidental perceptibles from perception strictly speaking, then, it seems that Aristotle takes incidental perception to be an essential part of the animal's perceptual experience.
The second reason for considering incidental perception to be the result of the interpretation of the contents of perception is that it seems to involve intellectual accomplishments and procedures--concepts, inference, and the like. The animal may perceive some object as nutritious but surely does not perceive it as food; the dog perceives its master's steak as tasty, as pleasant, and perhaps even as meat, but not as steak, or as beef, or as a former cow. Similarly, the dog perceives a person as a friend, but certainly not as the son of Diares. This kind of object is perceived only incidentally because it is judged, inferred, or interpreted to be such on the basis of one's knowledge and conceptual apparatus.
There are reasons to resist even this line of interpretation. For one thing, Aristotle does not distinguish between kinds of incidental perceptibles, those that do and those that do not require intellectual input; indeed, his primary example of an incidental perceptible is the son of Diares, not something that is pleasant or threatening. Nor does he refer to incidental perceptibles as anything but aistheta, whereas on this interpretation they might better be called noeta. (37) Even in the Nicomachean Ethics, a study in which the concern with the particular is emphasized, (38) he consistently maintains that this kind of particular is perceived. (39) For example, Aristotle argues that one does not deliberate about particulars, such as "whether this is a loaf of bread or whether it has been baked as it ought to have been--for these belong to perception." (40) Thus, even when discussing uniquely human matters, Aristotle maintains that perception discerns what a particular is--a well-baked loaf of bread--and not intellect applying its understanding to perception. Furthermore, in De insomniis, Aristotle remarks that "we seem to see that the approaching object is white no less than that it is a man," (41) again suggesting that the incidental perceptible (in this case, a person) is perceived (in this case, by sight).
Finally, for what it's worth, the evidence of experience counts against this interpretation of incidental perception: it seems to me that I see a tree, I do not judge or infer that what is in front of me is a tree.
In a similar vein, I recognize that another person's perception of the same thing will differ depending on background, education, and so on. I hear Stravinsky's Rite of Spring far differently than a conductor or a classical musician hears it. Language is the most intimate example of this intuition: I cannot help but understand words spoken in my language, even in dreams when intellect lies dormant, whereas to another they are opaque, mere sounds; the immediacy and inevitability with which one understands one's own language appears to preclude an act of judgment. (42)
But, perhaps, far from deciding the question, all this discussion does is to rearticulate the puzzle: given the distinction Aristotle draws between objects of intellect and objects of perception, between the faculties of intellect and perception, how can he allow that we perceive in a way that requires learning and understanding? The examples of hearing language and the Rite of Spring are ambiguous: they suggest, on the one hand, that incidental perception does draw on intellectual resources--one needs to learn a language, one will hear music differently as a result of studying it--and also, on the other hand, that it is perception that draws on these resources.
There are two problems at work here. The first is a problem of mechanics, of understanding the operation of (we might say) learned perception: if it is not by judgment or inference that we apprehend the son of Diares, and yet such apprehension requires concepts, how is such apprehension accomplished? The second problem is one of scope: if it is indeed incidental perception that apprehends the son of Diares, it ought to have the same structure as the incidental perception of other animals--but these animals do not have concepts.
Both problems, I suggest, have a single resolution: if incidental perception apprehends not what a thing is, as it is often understood, (43) but instead apprehends a thing in its significance to the perceiver's desires, projects, and aims, (44) then we can maintain both that the incidental perceptible is indeed perceived and that, in some cases, it is informed by intellectual accomplishments. What I mean is this: what my cat Gertie perceives incidentally is not (for example) a mouse qua mouse, but something to-be-chased. Human perception also takes this form--I perceive a mouse as something to-be-fled--because humans are animals. But to be human is not simply to be animal: insofar as the human is a rational animal, exercising one's rationality in the pursuit of knowledge and understanding is essential to human nature. After all, Aristotle famously opens Metaphysics with the sweeping claim that all human beings by nature desire to know. (45) Thus, although I perceive a mouse as something to-be-fled, I also perceive the mouse as a mouse, and, if I am a biologist, perhaps as a kind of mammal, an example of the species, and so on. In the same way that I do not judge a mouse to be something to-be-fled--I just flee (and, in fact, were I to employ my judgment I would judge that it is not something that I ought to flee)--neither do I judge that it is a mouse. Instead, with the proper education or experience, I incidentally perceive that it is a mouse.
It is difficult to be certain that this is what Aristotle means by incidental perceptible, for he nowhere discusses either what the incidental object of perception is or how it is perceived. Nonetheless, as we have seen, he is clear that animals perceive things as pleasant or painful, to be pursued or avoided, dangerous or welcoming, predator or prey; it is also clear that to perceive things in this way is not the same as receiving sensory input, and so must be perceived incidentally. But this is just to say that what an animal perceives incidentally is a perceptible object in its significance for that animal. Perception is a capacity common to rational and nonrational animals, (46) and this might lead us to expect the same account to apply to humans.
If this proposal is to be successful, we should be able to find in Aristotle the suggestion that intellect can be related to perception in a way that is other than applying concepts in acts of judgment or inference. In fact, I think we find just such a relationship when we consider the structure of the soul that Aristotle describes in De anima, and especially the hierarchy of the parts of the soul. (47) Aristotle makes two claims in the early chapters of De anima 2 that are relevant here: (a) there is a hierarchy of faculties, with the nutritive faculty at the bottom, the perceptual faculty in the middle, and the intellectual faculty at the top; (48) (b) the lower faculties are present in the higher ones potentially. (49) Here we will find that the highest faculty of soul conditions the activity of the lower faculties. What this means, for the issue of those cases of incidental perception that draw upon intellectual accomplishments, is that intellect informs human perception by providing a project and an orientation toward the world that releases perception from the constraints of merely self-interested (animal) aims. In this section, I will discuss the sense in which the lower faculties are present potentially in the higher, and in the following section I will apply this discussion to the relationship between perception and intellect.
In De anima 2.3, Aristotle introduces an analogy between souls and geometrical figures, remarking that, with regard to ensouled beings, just as with regard to geometrical figures, the soul that is higher in the sequence holds within it the previous soul potentially (dunamis). (50) In the same way that the triangle is in the quadrilateral potentially, so too is the nutritive (threptikon) in the perceptive (aisthetikon) potentially. On the face of it, this analogy at the very least indicates that the parts of the soul are not on equal footing--the soul, it seems, is not constituted by a conjunction of independent parts. Rather, describing the lower faculties as potentially within the higher suggests that in some way the activity of the lower faculties depends upon the activity of the higher. This superficial indication is borne out by a closer look at the analogy.
As a guiding idea, consider the relationship between the triangle and the quadrilateral. The triangle is in the quadrilateral potentially because, although the quadrilateral is logically independent of--its definition makes no reference to--the triangle, (51) it is a feature of the quadrilateral that it can be construed as being made up of two triangles. Said otherwise, the quadrilateral can be divided, in logos, in a particular way such that two triangles will emerge. Aristotle often describes the parts of mathematical objects this way. In Metaphysics 7.6, for example, he uses such language to illustrate the concept of actuality (energeia): Hermes is potentially in the block of wood, and the half line is potentially in the whole line, because they can be separated out ([aphairesthai). (52) But the triangles are not essentially constitutive of the quadrilateral; to be a quadrilateral is not primarily to be made up of two triangles, and this means that the triangles are not in the quadrilateral in full actuality. Analogously, a substantial change is required to bring either Hermes or the half line into actuality: a block of wood is no longer a block of wood once it is a statue of Hermes. To bring the triangles (or the half lines, or Hermes) into actuality would be to reverse the order of priority, dissolving the quadrilateral into a composite of two triangles. Aristotle nearly says as much in Metaphysics 7.10: "For even if the line when divided passes away into its halves, or the man into bones and muscles and flesh, it does not follow that they are composed of these as parts of their essence (ousia), but rather as matter (hule); and these are parts of the concrete thing (sunolon), but not also of the form (eidos)." (53) I say "nearly" says as much because, insofar as the triangles are forms of the same order as the quadrilaterals--both triangles and quadrilaterals are figures in their own right--it would not be accurate to say that they are in potentiality in the whole in the way that matter is potentially in the composite. When triangles are separated in place or magnitude, the whole in the sense of the form, rather than in the sense of the composite, would no longer be the whole that it is; but nonetheless the triangles can be singled out in logos.
From the figure-soul analogy we may infer that the nutritive soul is in the perceptive soul potentially in the same way that the triangle is potentially in the quadrilateral, that is, insofar as it can be logically or definitionally singled out within the perceptive soul. Indeed, the case is stronger with regard to the structure of the soul because it is impossible to separate out the parts in magnitude or in place, whereas one can separate in place two triangles out of the concrete quadrilateral. As a result, even though the body, which is the matter of which the soul is the form, can be divided in place, the soul nonetheless remains whole (in some cases). (54) The perceptive soul can in logos be divided into a perceptive part and a nutritive part, but in actuality and essentially it is primarily a perceptive whole. (55)
The analogy suggests that were a nutritive soul to be fully active as a part of the perceptive soul, the perceptive soul would be reduced to its parts. The question of the sense in which the nutritive soul is in the perceptive in potentiality thus turns on the difference between the nutritive kind of soul and the nutritive part of soul: what is in some cases a kind of soul is in other cases a part. The nutritive capacity is both a plant soul and a part of the animal soul, and the intellectual capacity is both a divine soul and a part of the human soul. Of course, these will be the same insofar as in both cases they accomplish the same activities--the nutritive capacity and the plant soul both accomplish nutrition and growth. However, there must be some difference, for otherwise the animal soul would be a plant soul plus an animal soul, and Aristotle recognizes this difference by saying the nutritive is "potentially" in the perceptive soul. What is potential about the nutritive soul that renders it appropriate to be a part of the perceptive soul?
It is perhaps tempting to think that the nutritive soul would emerge were the perceptive part somehow to be damaged, just as a triangle would emerge were the quadrilateral really to be cut in half along the diagonal. But this is not the case with souls; as Aristotle notes, an animal must have the sense of touch if it is to live at all. (56) If the sense of touch is destroyed, so is the animal. (57) Likewise, a person who loses his brain functioning is not able to survive without artificial support. The nutritive soul does not emerge when the whole is severed, in contrast to the way that geometrical figures emerge. Yet this reflection provides a clue for understanding this relation of potentiality. The difference between one kind of soul and that kind as a part of a different kind of soul is in its directive capacity or lack of it: the kind of soul is self-sufficient, but when that kind is a part of another soul it is no longer sufficient to support the life of the animal. The nutritive soul is all that is necessary for plant life to sustain itself, but the nutritive part of the animal soul is not sufficient to sustain the life of the animal. The activity of the lower part of the soul in some way depends upon the activity of the higher.
This interpretation of the analogy is borne out by Aristotle's analysis of the sense of touch, and this analysis provides a model for the relationship between intellect and perception. Touch, Aristotle says, is the most necessary sense, that without which the animal would not be an animal, (58) nor able to survive. (59) And touch is the appetitive sense--it is the sense that produces the desire for food and for drink. (60) Aristotle even goes so far as to say in De sensu that flavor--the object of taste, closely related to touch (61)--is an affection of the nutritive part of the soul. (62) The nutritive faculty, when it constitutes the whole plant soul, is sufficient unto itself--it depends on no other faculty in order to do its work. But as soon as perception is introduced, it no longer does its work independently: it requires the perceptive animal to provide it with the means to do its work, and in this sense the nutritive faculty is potentially within the perceptive soul. Hunger becomes a condition for the activity of the nutritive faculty, and hunger is, indeed, produced by an activity of the perceptive part of the soul. (63) The nutritive activity of digestion is conditioned by perception, but is, nevertheless, still an activity of the nutritive part of the soul.
Of course, other activities of the nutritive faculty occur independently of perception: hearts beat and blood circulates automatically and without requiring perception. And so we should draw a distinction between an automatic side of the nutritive soul and a side that is "obedient to perception" (to employ language Aristotle uses in the Nicomachean Ethics in a different context, (64) that is, a side that is conditioned by perceptual activity.
As the nutritive faculty is potentially within the perceptual soul, so the perceptual faculty is potentially within the intellectual soul. If the analogy holds, we should expect that there is a side of perception that is "obedient to intellect" and conditioned by it, and a side that is independent and automatic. This distinction maps well onto the distinction between the reception of the five sensibles and the perception of incidental perceptibles: I cannot help but sense the warmth of the room or an itch, (65) but the perception of the son of Diares is conditioned by intellectual accomplishments. Just as digestion gets going on the basis of perceiving hunger or food, so too incidental perception gets going, sometimes, on the basis of knowing what people are or what sons are. But just as digestion is still an activity of the nutritive faculty, so too is the apprehension of the son of Diares an activity of the perceptual faculty. In this way, we may say that intellect structures and orients human perception, but doesn't interpret it in an act of judgment or inference.
Perhaps this is why Aristotle offers that perplexing characterization of the faculty that apprehends the being of material objects as either a faculty distinct from the perception that discerns the material, or related to it "as a bent line is related to itself when straightened out." (66) When contemplating what flesh is, intellect operates alone (albeit employing phantasmata (67)), and so is best understood as a distinct faculty; but when seeing some particular flesh as flesh, it is perception operating on the basis of the understanding of what flesh is. In this latter scenario, what apprehends the being of the flesh is perception straightened out by intellect.
Furthermore, if we understand the incidental perceptible to be the apprehension of a perceptual object in its significance for the perceiver's projects, we have an avenue to interpret this "straightened out" perception. Animals perceive things in light of their desires and needs, and they must perceive in this way if they are to survive and flourish. But this does not get at what a thing really is, and in this way, perception is "bent," that is, bent toward the idiosyncratic desires of the perceiver. To perceive the son of Diares, on the other hand, is not to perceive an object in light of some idiosyncratic desire; it is to perceive who this person is. In this way, it is perception "straightened out." Intellect conditions perception by releasing it from the idiosyncratic self-interested aims that ordinarily inform it.
I began with the question of how we apprehend concrete individuals, given the division that Aristotle draws between the objects of intellect and the objects of perception: Socrates is a material particular, but what it is to be Socrates is not. In the end, my position is that it is perception that apprehends the concrete individual, but that perception's operation is not independent of intellect (in rational animals). Intellect informs perception, expanding its possibilities and enabling it to grasp what it is that is perceived. It may seem that this position is not so very different from the position that, as Kahn puts it, "the incidental sensibles represent the overlap or conjoined action of sense and intellect." (68) In the final analysis, my position is very close to this one, but importantly different. In this final section, I would like to elaborate on the difference between my position and the position Kahn expresses. In so doing, I will clarify both how intellect conditions perception and why it is important to see the relationship between intellect and perception in this way.
The place where I disagree with Kahn's position is the manner in which the line between intellect and perception is drawn. Kahn considers perception alone--that is, perception in animals that lack intellect--to be "extremely limited and fragmentaiy" because all that perception on its own apprehends is, for example,
red in its particularity, as the visible quality of a given object.... Red as a general notion, as a member of the genus color or of the category quality, is already conceived as a noeton, not as a proper object of the sense faculty. Furthermore, taken as common sensibles such properties as number and shape will designate only very rough discriminations. (69)
Anything over and above this particular redness, even seeing red as "red" and especially incidental perceptibles, requires intellectual resources. The problem with drawing the line between perception and intellect in this way is that it renders nonhuman animal perception and behavior unintelligible, as Kahn recognizes. (70) Furthermore, it renders some human behavior unintelligible--the behavior, for example, of the intoxicated person reciting Empedocles' verses (71) or a sleeping person's dreams. In each of these cases, intellect is dormant--it is not intellect actively making sense of the perceptions of these people, and yet their perceptions evidently make sense.
If the experience of people acting while intellect is dormant is to be intelligible, we need to draw the line between perception and intellect differently, to allow that more is packed into perception than Kahn allows. Kahn rightly says, "[O]ur perceptual experience is penetrated through and through by conceptual elements derived from nous." (72) The question is: how does intellect penetrate perception through and through? If this penetration requires, in each instance of perception, an act of intellect, we cannot explain the intelligibility of the intoxicated person's behavior or the sleeping person's dreams. If we are to explain these phenomena, we must say that intellect has shaped perception in such a way that perception, when operating on its own, still makes sense. Gaining an everyday understanding of "person" is an act of intellect; this concept, "person," then informs our perception such that even when intellect is not active, we perceive that the white is a person, and in particular the son of Diares.
There are two ways intellect penetrates perception: first, it provides the general orientation toward things as to-be-known, in light of the natural desire to know, that first opens up the possibility of incidentally perceiving things as what-they-are (rather than as they bear significance to one's self-interested aims). This general orientation makes possible, as Kahn argues, (73) the development of experience (empeiria) and the process of induction (epagoge) described in Metaphysics 1.1 and Posterior Analytics 2.19. This is, we might say, a bottom-up alteration of the nature of perception. Second, there is a corresponding top-down alteration of the nature of perception: once a concept is acquired--an accomplishment of intellect--it conditions and informs perception by leaving its mark, by branding perceptual experience with the general terms acquired. So, for example, once one learns what a cat is (in an ordinary way) one will see cats, even without the active input of intellect. In this conditioned perception, we might say that intellect is implicit in the perceptual activity.
The upshot of this analysis is that we are shaping the way that we see things, quite literally and quite broadly, in our everyday acquisition of concepts and notions. If our everyday familiar notions indeed condition the ways that we perceive things, it is of utmost importance, in an ethical context, that we take care to educate ourselves well--that we learn to see things in a just and equitable manner so that we will, even without thinking, treat them well.
University of Minnesota Duluth
(1) These are the two cognitive faculties that Aristotle identifies as having their own objects, that is, as directly apprehending something in the world. The other cognitive capacity that Aristotle discusses in De anima is phantasia, imagination. This faculty, important as it is, is not responsible for the original apprehension of things in the world. I discuss phantasia below.
(2) De anima (hereafter, DA) 2.4.415a20-22.
(3) DA 2.6.417b21-23, 417b27.
(4) DA 2.6.417b21-23.
(5) Metaphysics 1.1.981a18-24.
(6) See Metaphysics 7.8.1034a5-8.
(7) DA 3.4.429b 10-13. Translations of De anima are from D. W. Hamlyn, Aristotle: De Anima Books II and III (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968), modified.
(8) DA 2.6.418a20-21.
(9) This is meant to express, in a general way, a common way of understanding the perception of incidental perceptibles as "indirect" perception, as compared to the "direct" perception of the proper and common sensibles which are perceived hath' hauta. For such ways of understanding incidental perception, see, for example, Terence Irwin, Aristotle's First Principles (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), [section]166 (hereafter, AFP); Irving Block, "Aristotle and the Physical Object," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 21, no. 1 (September 1960): 94 (hereafter, "Physical Object"); Deborah Modrak, "Koine Aisthesis and the Discrimination of Sensible Differences in De Anima III.2," Canadian Journal of Philosophy 11 no. 3 (September 1981): 412 (hereafter, "Koine Aisthesis"); Charles Kahn, "Aristotle on Thinking," in Essays on Aristotle's De Anima, ed. Martha C. Nussbaum and Amelie Rorty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 367-69 (hereafter, "Thinking"); Dorothea Frede, "The Cognitive Role of Phantasia in Aristotle," Essays on Aristotle's De Anima, ed. Martha C. Nussbaum and Amelie Rorty (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 287 n. 27 (hereafter, "Phantasia"). See Stanford Cashdollar, "Aristotle's Account of Incidental Perception," Phronesis 18, no. 2 (1973): 156-75 (hereafter, "Incidental"), for the position that incidental perception is truly an act of aisthesis and not another faculty.
(10) Nicomachean Ethics (hereafter, NE) 3.5.1114a31-b25.
(11) DA 2.7-12.
(12) DA 2.6.418all-13.
(13) DA 3.1.424b22-425a13.
(14) I leave aside the common objects of perception for the sake of simplicity of expression. The reason I am focusing on incidental perceptibles as opposed to common sensibles is that Aristotle clearly thinks that the common sensibles are apprehended by perception: like the proper sensibles, they are perceived hath' hauta, in themselves. See, for example, Stephen Everson, Aristotle on Perception (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), 148-57 (hereafter, Perception)-, Pavel Gregoric, Aristotle on the Common Sense (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 68-82 (hereafter, Common Sense)-, Thomas Johansen, The Powers of Aristotle's Soul (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 176-79 (hereafter, Powers)-, Charles Kahn, "Sensation and Consciousness in Aristotle's Psychology," Archiv fur Geschichte der Philosophic 48, no. 1 (January 1966): 52 (hereafter, "Sensation"); Joseph Owens, "Aristotle on the Common Sensibles and Incidental Perception," Phoenix 36, no. 3 (1982): 215-36, for discussions of the perception of the common sensibles. Ultimately, I am interested in the relationship between perception and intellect, and inquiring into incidental perception is more illuminating for this purpose.
(15) DA 2.6.418a20-24.
(16) Kahn, "Thinking," 367-68. See Kahn, "Sensation," 46. Similarly Block, "Physical Object," takes incidental perception to be not perception at all but an "association of ideas" (94). See also Modrak, "Koine Aisthesis," 412-14, who takes incidental perception to be indirect, and Irwin, AFP, who takes incidental perception to involve inference (316-25); see Iakovos Vasiliou, "Perception, Knowledge, and the Skeptic in Aristotle," Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 14 (1996): 88-99 (hereafter, "Perception") for a discussion of these positions.
(17) So Modrak, "Koine Aisthesis," 413, seems to say. Kahn, "Thinking," recognizes that this is a problematic consequence of his view that incidental perceptibles are noeta (369 n. 17).
(18) Martha C. Nussbaum, in "Essay Five: The Role of Phantasia in Aristotle's Explanation of Action," Aristotle's De Motu Animalium (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978) (hereafter, DM) expresses this position clearly: "The phantasia is just our interpretation of the data presented to us" (248). However, the line she draws between phantasia and aisthesis is porous. She sees this interpretive function of phantasia to be inseparable from the receptive function of aishthesis: "that aisthesis and phantasia are 'the same faculty' now amounts to a contention that reception and interpretation are not separable, but thoroughly interdependent. There is no receptive 'innocent eye' in perception" (261). Furthermore, she admits that "Aristotle is, admittedly, not entirely consistent" concerning whether phantasia is a distinct faculty from aisthesis or an aspect of aisthesis (259). Frede, "Phantasia," similarly argues that phantasia synthesizes the manifold present perceptions (282-87); Irwin, AFP, also argues that phantasia is operative in the animal's incidental perception (317-19, 323-25).
(19) DA 3.12.434a30-b1.
(20) DA 3.13.434b16-18. And locomotion as it serves self-preservation (DA 3.13 434b24-26, De sensu 1.436b18-437a1).
(21) DA 3.13.434b25-435a5, 435b21.
(22) DA 3.12.434b16-19, 3.13.435b19-25.
(23) DA 3.12.434b22-26.
(24) This point is made by Irwin, AFP, 317-19, 323-25; and a similar one is made by Nussbaum, DM, 256. Everson, Perception, denies this: "For it is just not true that one needs to be aware of objects as what-they-are-called rather than as bearers of certain properties in order to be able to act upon them" (164), where the relevant properties are the five sensible objects. It seems to me that the objects of the five senses are not distinctive enough to explain animal behavior: not all dry and hot things are nutritious for an animal (compare DA 2.3.414b7-9, which Everson cites to make his argument), and the animal must be able to distinguish among these. Moreover, an animal is able to recognize the same organism through time, across changes in that organism's sensory qualities. For example, my cat recognizes me in different clothes, with perfume on, without my glasses on, when I'm sitting and when I'm standing, and so on. If all she perceived were the sensible qualities that I bear, every day she would treat me as a stranger.
(25) DA 3.7.431a8-14.
(26) DA 3.12.434b21-22.
(27) DA 3.13.435b24.
(28) NE 3.10.1118a20-22. Translations of NE are from Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011).
(30) NE 7.6.1149a28-29.
(31) Cashdollar, "Incidental" (163-64), makes a similar point. There is, of course, more than one kind of incidental perception: in addition to the incidental perception of the son of Diares, Aristotle notes that sight (for example) may incidentally perceive the object of another sense, such as seeing the sweetness of the white thing (DA 3.1.425a21-24,425a30-b3). It is incidental to sight that the white is sweet, just as it is incidental to the senses generally that the brown moving thing is a bear or a threat. What is important for the animal's behavior is the latter incidental perception, even if the former is a component of it.
(32) DA 3.9.432b15-16, compare DA 2.3.429a4-7: "And because imaginations persist and are similar to perceptions, animals do many things in accordance with them, some because they lack reason, viz. the beasts, and others because their reason is sometimes obscured by passion, disease, or sleep, viz. men"; 3.7 431b2-5: "That which can think, therefore, thinks the forms in phantasmata, and just as in those what is to be pursued or avoided is determined for it, so, apart from perception, when it is concerned with phantasmata, it is moved"; 3.10 433a9-12: "It is at any rate clear that these two produce movement, either desire or intellect, if we set down phantasia as a kind of thought"; compare 433a20-21; see also the passages from De motu animalium in note 36 below.
(33) And recognizing that the nature and role of phantasia is a complex and important issue: for discussions of phantasia and its role(s), see, for example, Victor Caston, "Why Aristotle Needs Imagination," Phronesis 51, no. 1 (1996): 20-55; Jessica Moss, Aristotle on the Apparent Good (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), chap. 1, [section] 3; Everson, Perception, 157-86; Hendrik Lorenz, The Brute Within: Appetitive Desire in Plato and Aristotle (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), chaps. 9-11; Michael Wedin, Mind and Imagination in Aristotle (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), chap. 3; Malcolm Schofield, "Aristotle on Imagination," in Aristotle on Mind and the Smses, ed. G. E. R. Lloyd and G. E. L. Owen (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), 40-70; Nussbaum, DM, 221-70; and Frede, "Phantasia." Frede argues that phantasia serves to synthesize and temporally expand the powers of aisthesis, establishing a "field of vision" (282-87). My own position is that one of the functions of phantasia is temporally to expand perceptual experience, enabling an animal to form a desire for anticipated water, for example, on a hot day, and to perceive, for example, a family member on the basis of having perceived that person previously. I do not think it performs the synthesizing role Frede argues for, for the reason that phantasia is a result of incidental perception, in addition to proper and common perception. If phantasia synthesized discrete perceptions, incidental perception would be redundant.
(34) DA 3.3.429al-2.
(35) DA 3.3.428M7-27.
(36) Several times in De motu animalium, Aristotle affords perception, phantasia, and thinking the same role in the mechanics of animal motion (700M9-21: "For both phantasia and aisthesis hold the same place as thought, since they are concerned with making distinctions"; 701a4-6: "For the animal moves and progresses in virtue of desire or choice, when some alteration has taken place in accordance with aisthesis or phantasia701a29-33: "For whenever a creature is actually using aisthesis or phantasia or thought towards the thing for-the-sake-of-which, he does at once what he desires.... 'I have to drink,' says appetite. 'Here's drink,' says aisthesis or phantasia or thought"; 701M6-19: "Alteration is caused by phantasiai and aistheseis and ideas. For aistheseis are at once a kind of alteration, and phantasia and thinking have the power of the actual thing." Translations are from Nussbaum, DM.) This suggests that perception itself can guide animal behavior.
(37) As Kahn calls them in "Thinking" (368). This point is made by Deborah Modrak, Aristotle: The Power of Perception (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987), 69. See Vasiliou's discussion of the effectiveness of this evidence ("Perception," 88-91).
(38) NE 2.7.1107a28-31.
(39) NE 2.9.1109b23, 3.3.1113a1-2, 4.5.1126b4, 6.8.1142a27, 6.11.1143b6, 7.3.1147a27, 7.3.1147b18.
(40) NE 3.3.1112b34-1113a2.
(41) De insomniis 458b 14-15 (translated by W. S. Hett, Aristotle, On the Soul, Parva Naturalia, On Breath [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957]). This point is made by Everson Perception (221), to undermine the idea that incidental perception is accomplished by inference from perceptual data. He points out, rightly, that Aristotle says this of dreams, but in a context wherein Aristotle is drawing out the similarity between dreams and perception (see his n. 71).
(42) That we perceive the meanings of sounds is suggested by Aristotle's insertion of a distinction between sound and voice in DA 2.8: "For, as we have said, not every sound (psophos) made by an animal is voice (phone) (for it is possible to make a sound with the tongue or as in coughing); but that which does the striking must have soul and there must be a certain imagination (for voice is a particular sound which has meaning)" (420b29-33); similarly in De sensu, while discussing the reasons sight and hearing are necessary, Aristotle remarks: "But hearing only conveys differences of sound (psophos) [in contrast to sight, which conveys many differences], and to a few differences of voice (phone). Incidentally (kata sumbebekos), hearing makes the largest contribution to wisdom (phronesis). For logos, which is the cause of learning, is so because it is audible; but it is audible not in itself (kath' hauton) but incidentally (kata sumbebekos), because it is composed of words, and each word is a symbol" (437a9-15) (translations of De sensu are from W. S. Hett, Aristotle, On the Soul, Parva Naturalia, On Breath [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957], modified). This latter passage suggests that the meaning of words is perceived incidentally.
(43) So, for example, Nussbaum, DM, 259; Frede, "Phantasia," 287; Kahn, "Thinking," 368; Everson, Perception, 187-93, speaks of them this way, but doesn't need to.
(44) This is suggested by Irwin's discussion (AFP, 324), and by Cashdollar, "Incidental," 163-64.
(45) Metaphysics 1.1.980a1.
(46) DA 2.3.414b32-415a11; compare NE 1.7.1098a1-3.
(47) For discussions of the sense in which the soul has parts, and what these parts are, see Klaus Corcilius and Pavel Gregorio, "Separability vs. Difference: Parts and Capacities of the Soul in Aristotle," Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 39 (2010): 81-120 (hereafter, "Separability"); Johansen, Powers, chap. 3; and Jennifer Whiting, "Locomotive Soul: the Parts of the Soul in Aristotle's Scientific Works," Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 22 (2002): 141-200 (hereafter, "Locomotive Soul").
(48) DA 2.3.414b32-415a11.
(49) DA 2.3.414b28-32.
(50) This analogy between the sequence of figures and sequence of souls is often interpreted in light of questions about whether or not there is a genus of soul that can be the subject of a definition properly speaking. See, for example, Julie Ward, "Souls and Figures: Defining the Soul in De Anima ii.3," Ancient Philosophy 16 (1996): 113-28, and citations there. My concern is not with the definition of soul per se, but rather with the internal complexity of souls, and as a result, I take from this passage a description of the relationship of parts of soul within a complex soul. After all, in this passage Aristotle is referring to ensouled creatures (empsuchoh), rather than souls taken abstractly. This approach is consistent with concerns about definitions, and I am persuaded by Ward's argument that there is no proper definition of soul over and above the kinds of soul. Just as there is no "life" over and above kinds of life, so there is no "soul" over and above kinds of soul. See Johansen, Powers, for an alternative account of the definition of soul (chaps. 1-2, especially pp. 62-63).
(51) For a discussion of the definitional independence as an interpretation of what Aristotle means by separable in logos (DA 2.2.413b13-29) with regard to the parts of the soul, see Corcilius and Gregoric, "Separability"; Johansen, Powers-, and Whiting, "Locomotive Soul."
(52) Metaphysics 7.6.1048a34.
(53) Metaphysics 7.10.1035a17-22. Translations of Metaphysics are from W. D. Ross in The Complete Works of Aristotle Vols. 1 & 2, ed. Jonathan Barnes (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984).
(54) DA 2.2.413M6-24.
(55) This is consistent with Johansen's understanding of potentiality (dunamis) as a way of being that does not in itself "make one exercise that capacity" (Powers, 20). I will argue that the activity of a subordinate part of the soul is conditioned by the higher and defining part, and similarly Johansen argues that "[t]he reason why a capacity is not in itself sufficient for its own exercise is that other factors are required, such as one's desire and the opportunity to exercise the capacity in the case of active capacities, or external agents or prompts in the case of passive capacities" (ibid., 20).
(56) DA 2.3.413b5-7.
(57) DA 3.13.435b2-12.
(58) DA 2.2.413b4, 414a2-3.
(59) DA 3.12.434b10-18.
(60) DA 2.3.414b6-7.
(61) DA 2.10.422a8, 3.12.434b 18-19.
(62) De sensu 436b17-18.
(63) ZM 2.3.414M1-13.
(64) NE 1.7.1098a4.
(65) So Aristotle remarks in NE 3.5, "And yet nobody exhorts us to do those things that are neither up to us nor voluntary, on the grounds that it is pointless to persuade someone not to feel heat or suffer pain or be hungry or any other such thing, since we will suffer them nonetheless" (1113b26-30).
(66) DA 3.4.429b 10-13.
(67) DA 3.7.431a16-17, 3.8.432a8-9.
(68) Kahn, "Thinking," 368.
(69) Ibid., 367.
(70) Ibid., 368 n. 17.
(71) NE 7.3.1147a19-22.
(72) Kahn, "Thinking," 365.
(73) Ibid, 368-69.
Correspondence to: Eve Rabinoff, Department of Philosophy, University of Minnesota Duluth, 1121 University Drive, ABAH 369, Duluth, MN 55812.
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||The Review of Metaphysics|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2015|
|Previous Article:||George L. Kline (1921-2014).|
|Next Article:||St. Thomas on the incorruptibility of the human soul: a reassessment of his argument from natural desire.|