Study of the Soul by Aristotle


The problem of relationship between mind and soul is one of the oldest in the scope of human studies. The researchers mostly emphasize that relationship between mind and soul is durable and versatile. On the other hand, this relationship can be justified as the ratio between the material and the ideal. Soul is a reflection of the body and each reflection corresponds to its own body. In general, problems of the mind-soul and body-soul relationship have been permanent subjects of the study throughout all human history. Both Western and Eastern philosophies are unanimous in their opinion that the soul in understanding of people is something related to life, death, dreams, etc. For centuries, the researchers aimed to comprehend the secrets of soul and reveal features of interaction between mind and body.

There are a lot of points of view concerning interrelation of soul and mind. The difference is explained not only by the spread in time and historical epochs, but also by the degree of human comprehension of the nature and organization of the universe. Descartes, Aristotle, Siger, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham and other famed philosophers devoted their works to the study of mind-soul issue. Robert Pasnau considered difference and similarity of their views in the second chapter of the book “Mind, Cognition and Representation: The Tradition of Commentaries on Aristotle’s De Anima”.


Robert Pasnau compares the studies of various philosophers, including Descartes, with the works of Aristotle. Hense, it would be advisable firstly to list the main Aristotle’s assertions, which other researchers either confirm or deny. The first of them is: human soul also includes mind in addition to the plant and animal components. So it is the most complex, hierarchical and rational soul.

Aristotle does not find convincing justification for assertion that the mind is connected to the body. He argues that the mind does not have a body at all and is a component part of the soul, “the mind seems implanted in us as a kind of substance” (4).

According to Aristotle, in terms of relations of the soul and human body, the soul provides body’s existence. It is separated from the actualities, which responds for other actions, associated with life (3).

Descartes’ Point of View

According to Descartes, mind-soul problem is one of the most complicated and incredible in its nature, which the philosopher tried to prove and solve in his works (1). He distinguished mind and soul into different notions, which cooperate and are independent at the same time.

Descartes supposed that until uncertain time, our ancestors could not differ between thinking principle and the other ones, which collate us with other living beings. According to Descartes: “Once they came to recognize the difference, they referred to the principle of thought as ‘mind’, and took it to be a part, the principal part, of the soul” (1). Though, this statement sounds extremely fabulously because all living beings are able to differentiate themselves from others which is the basis for formation of relationship between different species.

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In his works Aristotle stated that elimination of the notion “soul” as a mediator between the undivided mind and divisible body played an essential role in separation of the concepts of soul and mind. Imagination and feeling, attributed to animals as well were assigned to the soul. Descartes also assigns sensations to the mind, but his attitude to other powers, which make humans similar to animals, proves entire to be contrary. “Descartes does construe “mind” widely enough to include sensation, but he of course cannot allow the nutritive powers (feeding, growing, reproducing) to be a part of the soul” (4).

Descartes identified the soul and the mind and referred to them as imagination and sense modes of the mind respectively. The rational soul is identical to ability of thinking. Animals’ and a human body are only machines. On the contrary to Aristotle, who endowed all living beings to posess soul, Descartes claimed: “Descartes resists attributing souls of any kind to plants and animals” (4).

Confirmation and Denegation of the Descartes’ and Aristotle’s Views

Siger’s and Descartes’ works show certain similar points, contrary to Aristotle. At the time, when Aristotle affirms, that the soul, including the mind in its composition, gives the existence to and controls the body, “… they agree that the mind is not what gives the body existence, and they agree that the mind is an independent substance” (6).
The most intriguing is the theory about location of the mind. “Most fundamentally, Siger and Descartes agree from the start that there is no room for the mind within soul, when the soul is conceived in Aristotelian terms” (). Therefore, , let us consider their studies of this question.

Descartes showed great interest to achievements of the medicine of that time. He paid special attention to the pineal gland, located in the central part of the brain. To his belief, it is the place where spiritual substance interacts with the body. Although, the soul does not supersede any space, it “seats” in this gland. Connection of mind and body as a whole fits into the scheme of essentially mechanical interaction.

Siger supposes that “all human beings share the same intellect” (6). He explains this statement by the following: Possible intellect receives multiple existence connection with the souls of individuals after the death. Intellect (mind) combines with the body not in its being, but in its operations. It means that all its actions are carried out through the cognitive abilities that are directly related to the body. The most significant Siger’s statement about relationships between soul and body is that reasonable soul is the form of human body, which determines the nature of man as a rational living being.

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Augustine’s representation of the soul is the same. He considered that the mind can be named the soul as well. But at the same time Augustine adheres to the point, that the soul is infinite in its relation to the human. Depending on its present property, it can be named in various ways, for example, memory or the mind, but it remains the same notion. “Their properties are distinct, but their essence is one” (7). The soul keeps a history of all events and personal life, and controls the body. At the same time, the main activity of the soul is determined not by the mind, but by the will. A relentless search for divine truth is possible only if there is a strong will, based on faith.

Scotus and Ockham reveal the same point of view as the Descartes concerning the problem of emphasizing two different notions: the soul and the mind. They endow the mind with ability of informing and controlling human body. Ockham can not determine location of the soul in the meaning of the mind, but he claims, that it is somewhere inside the man’s body. Though, incomplete picture of human organism does not allow to determine the exact space occupied by the mind. “Both Descartes and Ockham, for instance, speak of the rational soul as existing wholly in the whole body and wholly in each part of the body, and they both contrast that with those animal operations that are extended and material” (11).

From the other hand, Ockham wanted to characterize the reasonable soul as an immaterial substance, the existence of which is indicated by the facts of consciousness. However, it is impossible to study the notion in isolation from the consciousness. Hence, the hidden nature of the rational soul will forever remain an exorbitant experience. This statement contradicts to the Descartes’ study, in which he describes the mind from the mechanical point of view.

Ockham doubts the possibility of an exhaustive knowledge of the rational soul in both theoretical and experimental way. But he does not disprove an assertion about the mind as the form of the body, “even the actuality of the body” (11).

Vision of the “Soul” by Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas defines the soul as a multifunctional substance, which includes the mind. From one hand, he determines the mind as one component part of the soul, which allows it to carry out some function. From the other hand, it is not the essence of the soul, because it does not ensure life of the human body. “Aquinas can argue that the intellect is not part of the soul’s essence because the intellect’s operation is not essential to a human being’s very existence” (12).


The author analyzed various points of view concerning vision of the soul in its initial meaning of the word and the soul in the sense of the mind. According to this analysis, some philosophers consider that the mind is a constituent part of the soul. The other researchers distinguish the notions of the mind and the soul that can exist independently and cooperate with each other. Taking into consideration l Descartes’ study about location and body-soul relationship, it has not been yet correctly defined what kind of substance is the mind (is it widespread or densely spaced) as well as its location in the human body.

One more question still remains open: What does the human body obey to and how do the notions of will, intellect, soul and mind relate? Concerning this question, Aquinas subordinated the will to the intellect, while Scotus and Ockham subordinated the intellect to the will.