Action, Perception, and the Living Body: Aristotle on the Physiological Foundations of Moral Psychology

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Date
2009
Authors
Russo, Michael P.
Advisor
Singpurwalla, Rachel G. K.
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Abstract
In this dissertation I show that Aristotle's moral psychology is grounded in his natural philosophy of the living body. Moral psychology studies the ways in which agency and moral responsibility are rooted in the functional structure of the psyche. For Aristotle, the psyche - that is, the soul (<italic>psychê</italic>) - is unified with the living body, and its functional structure is integrated with the dispositional propensities of the body's material constituents. On account of this, "the soul neither does anything nor has anything done to it without the body..." (<italic>DA</italic> I.1, 403a 5) Accordingly, Aristotle considers it an "absurdity" of the accounts of his predecessors that "they attach the soul to the body and set it into it, determining no further what the cause of this is or what the condition of the body is..." (<italic>DA</italic> I.3, 407b 14) However, most contemporary interpretations of Aristotle's moral psychology suffer from essentially this same problem: they interpret Aristotle's explanation of, say, voluntary action or lack of self-restraint (<italic>akrasia</italic>) in entirely psychological terms, and say nothing about the physiological processes that Aristotle takes to partially constitute, and to critically influence, these phenomena. Here I address this imbalance by exploring Aristotle's view of the somatic dimension of moral psychology. More specifically, I examine Aristotle's so-called "hylomorphism" - the view that a living thing's body and soul are its material and its form (respectively) - and his account of the physiological functions underlying "incidental perception" (roughly, "seeing as" or perceiving particulars under a description), voluntary action, practical reasoning and its role in moving us to act, lack of self-restraint, and moral development.
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