Two Conceptions of Soul in Aristotle

In David Ebrey (ed.), Theory and Practice in Aristotle's Natural Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 137-160 (2015)

Christopher Frey
University of South Carolina
Aristotle outlines two methods in De Anima that one can employ when one investigates the soul. The first focuses on the exercises of a living organism’s vital capacities and the proper objects upon which these activities are directed. The second focuses on a living organism’s nature, its internal principle of movement and rest, and the single end for the sake of which this principle is exercised. I argue that these two methods yield importantly different, and prima facie incompatible, views about what souls are. According to the first, the soul is a set of independently specifiable capacities that are related to one another in a manner that effects a unity of soul over and above the multiplicity. According to the second, the soul is a single, unitary nature that has a living organism’s form as its end. I bring the differences between these two conceptions of soul into relief and then attempt to reconcile the opposing views in a way privileges the conception according to which the soul is a unitary nature. In doing so, I discuss the following interrelated topics: (a) what makes a capacity a part of soul, (b) the relationship between the parts of soul within a given organism, (c) how a soul can be a unity while comprising various parts, (d) whether it is possible to give an adequate definition of life or soul, (e) what unity obtains among the various ways life is said that would allow for a proper, scientific investigation of life, and (f) the principle that grounds the hierarchy of souls—the nutritive, the perceptual, and the rational.
Keywords Aristotle  Soul  nature  life  capacity
Categories (categorize this paper)
Buy the book Find it on
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 65,683
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Why De Anima Needs III.12-13.Robert Howton - 2020 - In Gweltaz Guyomarc'H., Claire Louguet & Charlotte Murgier (eds.), Aristote et l'âme humaine. Lectures de 'De anima' III offertes à Michel Crubellier. Leuven: pp. 329-350.
Two Ways of Being for an End.Jessica Gelber - 2018 - Phronesis 63 (1):64-86.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Soul as Subject in Aristotle's De Anima.Christopher Shields - 1988 - Classical Quarterly 38 (01):140-.
Aristotle's De Anima : On Why the Soul is Not a Set of Capacities.Rebekah Johnston - 2011 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 19 (2):185-200.
The Powers of Aristotle's Soul by Thomas Kjeller Johansen (Review).Mary Katrina Krizan - 2014 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 52 (1):162-163.
Aristotle on Knowledge and the Sense of Touch.Michael Golluber - 2001 - Journal of Philosophical Research 26:655-680.
Does Aristotle Refute the Harmonia Theory of the Soul?Douglas J. Young - 2013 - Open Journal of Philosophy 3 (1):47-54.
The Extension of Method in Aristotle's "de Anima".Frans Baert - 1988 - Dissertation, University of Southern California
Perception and Thought in Aristotle's "de Anima".William A. Simpson - 1995 - Dissertation, University of Colorado at Boulder
Aristotle on Vice.Jozef Müller - 2015 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 23 (3):459-477.


Added to PP index

Total views
5 ( #1,183,238 of 2,462,436 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
2 ( #299,176 of 2,462,436 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes