Aristotle’s scientific work, according to Brett in his work “The History of Psychology”, is best characterised in terms of a methodology of observation and classification and a search for a definition that expressed the essence of whatever it was that was being studied:
“Explanation of the
There is much that is problematic with the above characterization of Aristotle’s scientific work. Firstly, the search for definition referred to above was only a part of a wider search for
Insofar as the claims relating to body’s falling and smoke rising to their so-called “natural places” are concerned these claims may be unhelpful characterizations of the Aristotelian idea of “final cause” or teleological explanations that in fact cannot be arbitrarily isolated from other types of explanations.
Brett continues the above line of inquiry by claiming the following:
“So few deductive consequences follow from saying that man is a rational animal because it is merely classificatory and incorporates no causal assumption.”
This is an unilluminating characterization of Aristotelian reflection on the essence and form of man that will definitively claim it to be substantially true that the formal, efficient and final causes or explanations are involved in any animal being a human form of an animal. There appears to be a fixation in the above quote on a perspectival view of “definition” that regards Aristotelian definitions as analytic truths constructed in an ivory tower far from the fields of observation and classification. Such a view believes there to be a realm of synthetic truths that alone can give us access to the truth about the world we dwell in. Aristotle did not divide truth up in such a radical fashion and like Kant would have insisted in response to such radical divisions that there are intermediate forms of truth(synthetic a priori truths) such as “Every event has a cause” that transcend experience and the context of discovery. Aristotle would have thought of such truth as substantial-truths belonging to the context of explanation/justification. Brett also claims that when we ask why men make laws that we do not want to be told that this is because he is a rational animal capable of discourse (which would be Aristotle’s complete definition of
“Explanations in terms of the functional dependence of variables which had far greater deductive possibilities than Aristotelian explanation by recourse to qualitative classifications.”
This type of explanation must have been an exciting prospect for psychologically inclined scientists during the
Brett, inspired by Galileo, then goes on to claim that Aristotle failed to make any “empirical contribution” to Psychology because of his limited grasp of the modern scientific method. We should remind readers in the context of such claims that Aristotle was one of the first empirical investigators of biological phenomena, using observation, classification, and dissection to build his biological theory. Brett does, however, reluctantly admit that Aristotle’s “conceptual contribution” to Psychology helped to provide arguments against materialistically inclined investigations:
“which included a demonstration of why mechanical types of explanation will never be of much use in Psychology.”
Brett appears to be unaware of the philosophical objection to his position which would claim that Causality is a conceptual category of thought, a cognitive attitude that we must adopt when investigating phenomena(that can be isolated from a whole and divided into causes and effects) in both the contexts of discovery and the contexts of explanation/justification. Causality can also, contra the view of Hume, be observed as is the case when we observe a builder building a house. This division, however, of psychological wholes into cause and effect may actually be a form of mechanization of the field of investigation that Brett complains is useless. After complaining about Hobbes and his mechanical theories Brett goes on to outline 4 of Aristotle’s metaphysical holistically-oriented assumptions presented in books one and two of De Anima:
“a)That soul is co-extensive with “life”
b)That soul is the actuality of a body furnished with organs
c) That the movements of such a body are to be explained in terms of its soul but that the soul itself is not moved.
d)That there are levels of
Psuche is the Greek term discussed here and Brett displays in this discussion a lack of awareness of the hermeneutic difficulties in translating a foreign remote language. In 1943 we find, for example, Martin Heidegger in his lectures on Parmenides, claiming that psuche as a term is untranslatable by just any language. Latin translations of key Greek terms, he argues, have been particularly problematic and hindered serious research for centuries. Brett characteristically transforms this issue into an issue about definitions and writes:
“Aristotle insisted on the widest possible definition of “soul” and returns to the old Pre-Platonic pre-rationalistic view that soul is virtually the principle of all life”
The crucial term in the above quote is the term “principle” and this alone should suffice to reject the idea that Aristotle was merely attempting to define the term
“We can treat a man as a body and explain his movements in terms of physical laws if all we wish to explain is why he falls to the ground at a certain rate: for in this respect he is no different from a stone. But we distinguish jumping off a cliff “on purpose” from descending on top of a landslide. Jumping is something we do, whereas being swept away by a landslide is something that happens to us. The movements involved in jumping and slipping require a different sort of explanation”
In this specific discussion Brett, however, fails to connect the role of teleological explanation in particular and conceptual explanation in general to the specification of what, as he put it, is done “on purpose”
In relation to Aristotle’s claim “that the soul is the actuality of a body furnished with organs” we find Brett surprisingly evoking the category of substance that he had systematically avoided in his earlier discussion of the qualitative being the primary category of reality. In this context there is
“The soul, therefore, must be substance in the second sense of form. It is the form of a natural body which has life in it as a capacity. Such a substance is actuality in the first sense. Body is dunamis or potentiality in relation to this capacity.”
The concept of “final cause” is finally acknowledged as important insofar as its relation to rationality is concerned: reason, it is argued, imposes a formula upon the efficient causes of desiring and wishing. This formula imposes the terms of means and ends as well as areté (doing the right thing in the right way at the right time) upon our desires and wishes. Brett then paradoxically, after having questioned the substantial category of reality and teleological explanations, claims:
“Surely Aristotle here indicated the sorts of concepts which are absolutely indispensable for accounting for anything which we call human action.”
Human action is obviously a rational power or potentiality connected conceptually with many other powers such as perception, memory, imagination, language as well as desire, wish, and reason. Given the interconnection of this schema of “powers”, the futility of a materialistically inclined behavioural account of action can immediately be appreciated. Psuche is a principle that moves the body, and thought and consciousness is the medium in which such movement is initiated. Psuche also possesses powers or potentialities which are capacities to do certain things and it is absolutely absurd to postulate that capacity is something that can be moved or move. Brett has no difficulty in pointing out this logical objection in relation to capacity but not in relation to Psuche- the principle. Thought is in no sense a spatial entity. It has an essential relation to temporality and insofar as thought can then be said to possess parts, they would have the serial unity similar to that of a number. A thought occurs in a time and comes to rest in that time in accordance with its category and telos. If the thought is a belief it will aim at the truth and if it is an intention it will aim at the good action. The point of origin of such thoughts is in the soul. In a certain sense, the concept of action appears to be logically connected to the reason that regulates the action in relation to the rules of successful performance leading to an end. In other words, action is a value-laden concept in the way in which the concept of behaviour is not. This might account for the fact that it is behaviour and not action the contemporary Psychologist prefers to study: behaviour is easier to isolate as a variable and thus easier to manipulate and measure. The conceptual framework of action and its connection to a matrix of powers or capacities makes this task of observation, isolation, manipulation, and measurement much more difficult, if not impossible.
The conceptual framework of action forces us also to recognize the
“the life of the individual is the proximate universal by which we judge the standard of conduct or practice in the case of the individual, so the individual’s life is a universal that comprehends many species. The psychological functions embracing as they do the whole individual life are valued according as they further its excellence more or less.”
It is not certain that this paraphrasing of the power of the individual in terms of psychological functions is not essentially going to confuse the issue of what the good life or good city-state are in their essential constitutions. One of these so-called psychological functions is, according to Brett, sensation, which he claims is a discriminative faculty that perceives differences. and there follows a discussion of the subjective/objective distinction that is used throughout this work: a distinction Aristotle would have rejected as theoretically otiose. Aristotle’s account of the senses refers to his matrix of form and matter, and sensation in that context is regarded as a form of knowledge caused to come into existence by the motions that are assimilated by the sense organs and the body. These motions are then transformed by the sense organs into “knowledge” of qualities such as black, white, sweet, sour etc. The “form” of the black object becomes an element of the above knowledge state, received by the eye. The object has the power to influence the sense organ and the sense organ has the power to assimilate the form of the object. The form of the object is assimilated by the organ in “the act of sensation”. Brett then inserts into this discussion the modern idea of consciousness together with his earlier subject/object distinction:
“in all sensation an objective stimulus is the cause of a change which precedes through a medium into consciousness.”
These terms of subject/object and consciousness are not terms we can find in Aristotle’s writings but a stimulus proceeding through a medium into consciousness suggests passivity on the part of the subject rather than an “act”. If this is the case then it would seem to contradict the earlier assertion that psychological theorizing ought to be about what a subject does rather than what happens to him/her. Later, Brett refers to activity on the part of the sense organ but this is activity that is caused to happen by an external cause and may not as a consequence fall into the category of a human psuche causing itself to do things. The major difference between these two types of change is a metaphysical difference between things that cause themselves to do things(activity) and things that cause other things to become active. Even Kantian Philosophy in the context of such discussions claims that all representations in the mind be they intuitive or conceptual, are accompanied by an “I think”–an active process of thought. The experiencing of black, then, could be a passive affair in which the subject passively experiences(senses) blackness or it can be an active intuitive affair in which the blackness is intuited to be spatial, to be out there or enveloping me. The latter involves a cognitive attitude toward the blackness the former does not. This “I think” however should not be confused with the Cartesian Ego that stands in some relation of epistemological certainty to its own thinking and in some kind of opposition to the objects of representation. This Kantian “I think” is, on the contrary, an Aristotelian holistic idea of a continuously enduring Subject brought into existence by an act of generation and destined for ruin and destruction at the end of its life and who during the course of its life actively “reasons” about or “contemplates” true beliefs and good actions.
According to Jonathan Lear in his work “Aristotle; the desire to understand”:
“We are not satisfied to know, for example, that the heavens move in such a way: nor will we be satisfied to know a vast array of such fats about the phenomena. We want to know why the heavens move that way, why the phenomena are as they are. We are after more than knowledge, we are after understanding.”(p6)
Only principles provide us with that understanding and enable us to systematically connect and thereby understand phenomena and the facts about them. Thinking desires both knowledge and understanding and the human begins according to Aristotle, his contemplative life by being in awe of the heavens prior to the search for the principle(s) that explain why they are as they are. The state of awe and wonder subsides when we achieve the kind of understanding provided by explanations of the phenomena in terms of principles. This kind of explanation is, according to Aristotle, possibly more “scientific” then the kind of investigation that dedicates itself to accumulating the “facts” about the heavens. Both kinds of investigation are important but they are to be distinguished: the concepts and methods used in the context of discovery are significantly different (and yet related in some ways) to the concepts and methods that are used in the context of explanation/justification.
“For Reason is with Aristotle, as with Plato, a light within:it guides the footsteps of man on the daily paths of life, it illuminates the dark places of nature: in it is the birth of art, and it becomes ar last divine and immortal.”
For both Aristotle and his teacher Reason was something that brought light to the world and both would have thought that the attempt to place reason within man, and not in the discourse in the agora, or in the laws of the Callipolis was an unnecessary spatialisation of something that is a potential power that is only actualised under the right circumstances whether that be in the mode of theoretical belief or practical action and whether it be the beliefs and actions of the individual or of institutions such as the judiciary and religious temples.
Lear points out in the context of the above discussion that the term epistemé as used by the Greeks transcends the modern subject-object distinction that is so often used in epistemological discussions:
“Aristotle uses epistemé in two ways: first to refer to an organized body of knowledge, like geometry: second to refer to the state of the soul of a person who has learned this body of knowledge.”(p7)
Lear goes on to interestingly argue that the
Brett’s scientific psychological account, having placed reason inside man,
“The rational creature is conscious of the principle as well as of the impulse, and so becomes the subject of voluntary as well as of impulsive actions…there are in him the desires of the beast united with a reason that is godlike: in the relation of these two are contained the problems of the psychology of conduct.”
Lurking in the background of these reflections is, of course, the desire to isolate variables and connect causes and effects whether it be in the arena of impulse and the emotions or the arena of what he calls “conduct”.
Emotions obviously play an important role in man’s existence both for reasons of survival and for the achievement of what Psychologists call “the quality of life” which in their eyes can be achieved by the scientific regulation of pleasures and pains. Brett, in this context, refers not to action but pure movement and claims that sense images are exciting causes. The
“Desire has an emotional quality because it begins in the pain of want and ends in the pleasure of satisfaction. Anger, fear, and courage are types of feelings which are allied to Temper or the spirit of resistance: anger arises from the sense of wrong and seeks after revenge: fear is consciousness of danger with
It appears from the above quote that, at least insofar as The Wish is concerned thought in some form(“imaginations of good and evil for oneself or others”) must be involved and this in turn surely means that the wish is amenable to the influence of reason. It should also, however, be recalled that the emotions in general, can also be pathological states and processes requiring “cathartic” treatments. The emotions of Pity and Fear, for Aristotle, were not necessarily pathological formations but they also required what amounts to (almost) medical intervention by poets using literary techniques(processes of thought) for their catharsis. The exclusion of thought to the benefit of imagination by Brett does not quite fit the phenomena we are confronted with in this field of inquiry.
Mental illness obviously interferes with both our sense of reality and our attempts to lead successful virtuous lives. Excessive fear and insufficient courage, if part of our characters, may be pathological conditions requiring education and sometimes therapy. Such therapy follows the principle outlined in the Greek oracular pronouncement “Nothing too much” and also the Aristotelian Principle of the golden mean. The imagination obviously plays a part in the formation of pathological states which are the results of sensory images and processes and not reason. Psychoanalysis attempts to use reason technically to bring about a therapy that enables patients to, if not understand themselves, at least accumulate facts about themselves of which they were perhaps unaware. Brett does not, however, mention Psychoanalysis in this context in spite of its obvious relevance. He continues instead to speak of conation, a notion which for him is related to
“At its lowest level, conation is the immediate impulse to pursue or avoid. When this impulse is subjected to deliberation it is raised to the level of choice: for choice is rationalized impulse or conation based on rational deliberation. Thus a movement must be the outcome of two distinct processes
The idea of freedom and someone being set free by rational deliberation obviously arises in relation to the above reflection but the insertion of the “picture of the end” may be a mischaracterization of the very universal thought about the end. This “picture theory” of psychological reflection takes us in the opposite direction to that of the
In the above
It is rather the form or principle of the change from, for example, there being an empty plot of land to there appearing a house built upon the land that Aristotle focuses upon. He reflects upon materialistic explanations that relate only to the material used in this process of change and comments that following the journey of the materials from the quarries and the woods to their manipulation by the builder(efficient cause) to the final finished product will never fully explain the change we have witnessed. For that, he argues, we would need to understand how the
It should not be forgotten that abstract and concrete forms are being transmitted in the polis. For the benefit of the
Having divided action and conduct into parts we then see the consequence of such division for ethical understanding. Brett claims the following:
“..desire and wish and will are all harmonious in the complete character. This, as an ethical ideal, implies that the true good and the object of all from the psychological standpoint, the goodness and badness of the end, is not of primary importance. The question that belongs to Psychology is that of unity or coordination of impulses, not the question of the rightness of intention.”
So, we see the intentional ends of the house, the welfare of the patient, and the successful education of the student are not of primary importance for Brett as they are for Aristotle. This is an astonishing conclusion and appears to leave the realm of practical and theoretical reasoning curiously determined by hypothetical considerations. This we must point out is entirely inconsistent with the Aristotelian position. Brett continues his tactic of division and divides particular action from any universal to which it might belong and he ominously further claims that only rarely does the means and the ends of action form what he calls an “ideal unity” What does he mean here? That houses are not successfully built, patients only rarely cured and that teaching only rarely results in learning? This, of course, would seem to follow if intentions are merely subjective and the pure physically described movements what is truly objective. This is not, however in accordance with the logic or metaphysics of Aristotle who regarded intentions as the embodiments of the forms or principles of house building, health after treatment, and knowledge and wisdom imparted by teaching.
Our world is a world composed of principles and not the totality of facts or variables of the scientist.