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CHAPTER TWO: Sense-perception

Ierodiakonou, Charalambos Karnac Books ePub

Aristotle gives great importance to the function of sense-perception; he considers it as the primary basis for other functions, like imagination, memory, and thought. For that reason he devotes a rather long treatise to Sense and Sensibilia (Peri aestheseos kai aestheton); but also in his work On the Soul many chapters (in Books II and III) deal with subjects of special interest to psychology.

The philosopher starts the discussion by stating that sense-perception is the result of an activation and a process which leads to change (alloiosis) in the organism, functional and possibly structural—as one can gather from his whole exposition. Sense-perception is considered an active phenomenon and not one passively produced by an external stimulus, as other philosophers of his time thought. That is why, according to Aristotle, both the function of sense-perception and the perceptible object must be viewed at a certain moment as being “in a potential state” (dynamei [417a]) and at other times as “in action” (energeia [417a]). So a sensory organ does not function by itself, but is always alert and ready to accept a stimulus and be activated for a percept to be produced. When stimulation starts, both the stimulating object and the sensory organ are in action until the process is completed and the external object has become perceptible by the person.

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CHAPTER THIRTEEN: Family relations

Ierodiakonou, Charalambos Karnac Books ePub

Family relations are described in quite some extent in three chapters (Book VIII) of the Nicomachean Ethics. Aristotle gives particular importance to the structure and function of the household (oikos), as shown in his epigrammatic phrase “the household comes first and is more indispensable than the state (polis = city-state)” (1162a). This statement, combined with another in the same text—”Man is by Nature inclined to live in couples rather than as a political being” (1162a)—makes clear the position of the philosopher, who gives more weight to the psychological needs of an individual through intrafamilial relations than his role in the state as a citizen. Such a view is not frequently found in ancient Greek literature, since in those times the duty of a free citizen (polites) and generally his life were inseparable from that of the city. Even when Aristotle formulates his classical phrase in the Eudemian Ethics— “Man is a sociable (koinonikon) animal” (1242a)—a few lines further he completes: “It is in the household that one can find the beginning and the sources of love, of community life and of justice” (1242b).

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CHAPTER EIGHT: Nutrition and reproduction

Ierodiakonou, Charalambos Karnac Books ePub

Nutrition and reproduction are enumerated by Aristotle in Book II of his work On the Soul, together and on the same line with basic mental functions (sensory, psychomotor, thought), while today we consider those two more as biological. Yet, in a broader sense, one can speak of them as psychosomatic—see, for instance, psychogenic anorexia, bulimia, and impotence.

The ancient philosopher explains his categorization on the fact that nutrition through food maintains life, and life exists in beings possessing a soul (he even coined the term “nutritive soul”). “Since nothing is fed which is not alive, the body which is fed is besouled—and that happens not by chance” (416b). He also remarks that nutrition is necessary from birth until death for everything that is alive. Without nutrition, it is impossible for a being to grow, mature and, lastly, decay. The Stagirite underlines the psychic power of nutrition, which continuously preserves a creature in order to remain the way that it is; food in addition prepares a being to act appropriately.

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CHAPTER FIVE: Affect (mood)

Ierodiakonou, Charalambos Karnac Books ePub

The emotional condition that bears the term “affect” or “mood” in psychology and psychiatry is not dealt with by Aristotle in On the Soul to the extent that one would expect. In a few passages he uses the word thym-ikon, which in modern Greek even today means “emotional disposition” and the root of which is met in many other languages; for example, in English, “dysthymia”, “hypothymia”, and “athymia”. The philosopher does not analyse the content of the term thym-ikon, nor does he bring any examples, while he connects it with epi-thymia, that is, desire, by saying that in both states man is seeking pleasure. Of course, to some degree it is true that the mood is usually searching for something pleasurable and that man's emotional condition moves between opposite poles: pleasure–displeasure; joy–sadness; love–hate. Aristotle comments on the reactions to such conditions by saying that man, depending on the situation, will either proceed and pursue or avoid and leave (an equivalent to the modern psychophysiological rule of fight-or-flight).

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CHAPTER TEN: The effects of the environment

Ierodiakonou, Charalambos Karnac Books ePub

Apart from the capabilities and potentialities with which Nature has supplied Man, did Aristotle accept that the environment also is influential in the shaping of the personality? The answer is definitely positive. Before I present relevant passages from his books for a more extensive discussion, I will here first make reference to a few descriptions of his indicating that even in animals the environment, animate or inanimate, has a direct effect on their behaviour and ethos.

During periods of shortage of food, the philosopher describes, there is war among wild animals, sometimes of the same species, until some leave the place of shortage or die. On the contrary, if there is ample food in the environment the animals live in peace; in the text there is the example of crocodiles which in ancient Egypt the priests managed to tame by caring for and feeding.

There are cases of animals and birds which show a change in their behaviour when they lose their partner and remain alone in their environment. The Stagirite cites the case of a cock that, when the mother of his young chickens dies, starts “taking them around and feeding them” (631b). The surprising change mentioned surpasses a simple alteration in behaviour, since such a cock no more acts as a male: he does not crow at dawn nor does he want to have sex with a new hen. A similar change of gender role and instinctual drives takes place, according to History of Animals, in the case of a hen that fights and beats a cock; such a hen then begins to crow early in the morning and even tries to have sex with other hens!

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