Aristotle may seem like a poor candidate for dualism, but, if you think back to our discussion
of his concept of soul, you may remember that while the soul was the form of a person, and
thus was an integral part of what the person is, the mind was necessarily disconnected from the
body. Thus, since the mind was a part of the soul that was separate from the rest, sometimes
referred to as the "intellectual soul", it too forms a kind of dualism. Aristotle was still a
Platonist so he also saw that experience could only be described as a bodily function. The
imagination, which he determined was an attribute of the senses and therefore of the body, was
the imaging mechanism of experience. At the same time, he said that it was a mechanism that
the mind made use of. Anyone who derives knowledge from experience must answer the
question how does one gain knowledge of a world that includes both the past and the future
from experience which entails neither. This is an act of creativity, an activity that is beyond
the capabilities of the senses or of an imaging mechanism. Remember, knowledge of the
unchanging necessarily implies a concept of time because without time the concept of the
unchanging has no meaning. But more important to our present quest is the problem of training
and learning. And for the answer to that we must turn not to De Anima, but to The
The Nicomachean Ethics is not a discussion of ethical theory, it is a discussion of ethical actions.
Therefore the existence of an ethical structure in society is simply assumed. The nature or the
origination of that structure is not plumbed. It is the role of a man to increase his own virtue
and it is the role of the polis to provide an atmosphere conducive to moral development among
the citizens. a study of theoretical ethics would necessarily require an explanation of the source
or ground for an ethical system and would be forced to choose between rival systems, or at the
very least acknowledge their differences. For Aristotle man is a member of an essentially just
system and it is his duty to improve his own virtue through virtuous action while improving the
system through political action. So, when we discuss the Nichomachean Ethics we are
not discussing knowledge or theory. We are discussing "training."
Training is the development of neural structures that have the simple responsibility of
recognizing specific patterns in the environment picked up by the senses. Unlike knowledge
approaches, training does not require rational thought. A dog or a parrot can be trained.
Modern computer scientists working with neural computers and neural simulations in serial
computers have developed a few of these kinds of structures. In cooperation with cognitive
psychologists, they have been building a large inventory of such concepts under the general
name, "connectionism". Structures of this kind are used, for example, by the post office for
reading hand-written zip codes on letters. We need not assume that the number of types of
these structures is small. With the billions of neural connections in the brain the possibility of a
large number of different kinds of structures is possible. The prime purpose of training is to
develop these structures. The prime purpose of the structures is to reduce the amount of
variety in the environment to a manageable level. When G. E. Moore said that concepts like
yellow, and the "Good" are simple and undefinable, he was trying to say, almost a century
before knowledge of these neural structures was developed, that they are learned through
training. You cannot describe yellow to someone. By pointing out yellow things to a child so
that he develops a structure in his mind that responds to what is consistent among them, you
train the child how to identify yellow. These structures predate language. And they are a
necessary prerequisite for language. When we say that ethics is a matter of training we are
saying that we develop neural structures in our brain which make us ethical people. Aristotle's
approach to ethics is not as a theorist, but as a trainer. Again, his Nichomachean
Ethics is not a textbook on ethics, it is a handbook for the ethical man.
The term "virtue" as used by the Greeks is a measure of how well something achieves the
purpose (fourth or final cause) of its existence. Man is both an animal and a rational being.
For this reason Aristotle divided the virtues into two kinds, intellectual and moral. The
differences between the two lie in the way they are developed. Intellectual virtues are
developed through teaching, and moral virtues through habit. This makes both the result of
training. The first through the aid of a teacher. The second through active exercise of the
virtues themselves. He said that a person becomes a good builder by building well and he
becomes a just man by doing just acts.
So, let us return to Aristotle's definition of the kind of happiness that everyone naturally strives
for. In his own words, "Activity of the soul in accordance with virtue." This includes only
those activities which have an effect on virtue, that is, that modify how well the individual
accomplishes his purpose in life. But the purpose of a person's life, his final or fourth cause, is
individual to the person. Therefore the right activity at any moment in time is specific to the
person, the moment, and the specific situation. His use of the concept of the mean is somewhat
misleading until you examine it closely. He said that moral virtues always involve a mean
between two extremes. For example courage is a mean between cowardice and foolhardiness.
Each of those are the extremes of the continuum on which courage is found. Every act of
courage is an act that lies somewhere between these two extremes. However, since every person
is an individual and every event occurs under a set of specific conditions, the exact point on
that continuum that would correspond to a courageous act is different for every act. An
example he gave was in the case of sailors and non-sailors at sea during a bad storm. The non-sailors do not have the experience of the sailors. So an act that would be brave for a sailor who
knew through experience how much the ship could tolerate would be foolhardy for the non-sailor who had no idea of the limits of the ship. For this reason Aristotle called Prudence, or
Practical Wisdom, knowledge of the ultimate particular.
If we think of virtue in an Aristotelian sense it is not knowledge. He called virtues
dispositions. A virtuous person chooses the right action automatically. He has no need to
calculate what action is best for the moment. But a virtuous act, that is an act which has an
effect on virtue, is an act that is calculated. In order for an act to have an effect on the virtue
of a person, seen as his disposition to automatically choose the right actions, three conditions
must be true.
(1) He must know what he is doing.
(2) He must choose to do the action and he must choose to do it for its own sake.
(3) He must do it from a fixed and permanent disposition.
Thus the active training element in virtuous actions is choice. For that reason Aristotle
developed a detailed explanation of choice. Jack and Jill could not choose to pick up segments.
The choice was made by the machinist who set them up. The frog could not choose to snag or
not to snag flies. This choice was developed through natural selection. Of all of the animals on
this planet only man actively exercises choice.
What makes choice the most important part of moral training? First it is voluntary. This is
what separates an ethical act from a virtuous action. We recognize this even today in our legal
system. If a person chooses to kill someone he is guilty of murder. If he kills the same person
accidentally he is at best guilty of manslaughter. Killing a person in either case is an immoral
act but only in the first case is it an immoral action because the addition of the quality of
choice makes it an act that will have an effect on the virtue of the person. In other words,
Aristotle contends, a person can commit a murder and be guilty of a heinous offense. But only
if he chooses to kill from a fixed and permanent disposition is he a murderer. Again, we
recognize this in our modern judicial system. A person who kills out of choice commits first
degree murder and is treated differently from the person who is guilty of second or third
What makes choice so important is that choices are made only after deliberation. So choice is
never involved with the end of an action. The end of the action is determined prior to
deliberation. Our murderer did not choose to want his wife's money. He did not deliberate
over whether he should desire to be rid of her. His deliberation concerned only the choice of
action that would best result in his becoming a rich widower. Deliberation, then concerns not
the end of the action, but the best way to attain the end. This is important for Aristotle's
concept of virtuous acts. For example, a man has a desire to be wealthy and to be single. He
can become both if his wife were to somehow die. He then deliberates on the possible actions
that will result in his becoming both rich and single. The result of his decision will determine
whether he becomes a murderer or not. Thus even if a person has never developed a respect
for moral ends once he has deliberated on the best actions he still has the opportunity to
improve his own virtue by choosing not to commit murder.
So we can see that in Aristotle's view virtue is not knowledge, though knowledge particularly of
good ends is necessary in order to become virtuous. But, our search is for an understanding of
the concept of dualism. Training involves the development of neural structures that
automatically result in actions determined by the inputs to the structures. In the case of
Aristotelian virtue ethics it is involved in the developments of structures which result in
dispositions to act in specific ways. But choice itself is not a disposition. It is a deliberative
act. There is nothing automatic about it. Choice requires knowledge concerning future
outcomes determined through knowledge of past outcomes. In an Aristotelian sense, particularly
as developed by Aquinas, this involves an entity that is disconnected from the body. All inputs
to the body are through the senses and they do not react to time. Even memory does not
involve time. Time is a relationship between events and an abstract periodicity. This requires
an entity that is outside the body and its sensual system. If we see it this way then we can see
that it is this entity that actually is responsible for developing moral excellence through training.
Descartes' dualism includes some aspects taken from Aristotle. For example he too said that
imagination is a bodily function but that the mind imagines. He brought out another important
point when he discussed the actions of the passions. These were activities entirely bodily in
nature that did not involve the mind or thinking. His detailed explanation of this mechanism
might seem strange to our more modern view of human physiology and psychology, but it does
answer the question of automatic responses that would be acceptable to someone who lived in
the seventeenth century and therefore assumed the world to be mechanically connected. He did
not get into the problem of the development of these functions.
We must be wary of another problem with the Cartesian concept of mind or soul as being
separate from the body. Modern philosophers call this the problem of the Cartesian theater.
This is the idea that the mind, or soul, is located at a specific point in the brain and from that
judgement seat manipulates the body. Descartes tried to solve a problem that both Aristotle and
Aquinas ignored. That was the problem that if everything that moved had to be pushed then
there had to be a mechanical explanation for every action. For this reason Descartes found it
necessary to seat the mind or soul in what he called the pineal gland, a small gland inside the
brain. However, when he made the soul or mind incorporeal he said that it was not extended in
space, thus it could not be located anywhere. However, this paradox is simply an artifact of the
assumption of a totally mechanical universe and has nothing to do with dualism, so we can safely
set that idea aside.
Though John Locke did not directly confront the problem of dualism, his concept of particular
objects forming simple ideas and of perceptions being always of actual things requires
something in which these perceptions must exist. Through the senses alone it is not possible to
detect things. They only interact with what Locke called secondary qualities of objects. This
led Hume and most subsequent philosophers to reject Locke's "ideas." However, these "ideas"
are the equivalent of the modern connectionist structures which automatically respond to objects
in experience. This means that they are the result of training. They are also physical, being
patterns of neural connections. Therefore there is nothing mysterious about them. They also
correspond to Aristotle's concept of imagination. They respond to the objects they are trained
to identify, and they create images in the mind of the same things when we contemplate their
existence. All epistemology that begins with the Humean approach to perception deals with the
possibility of knowledge of external objects through an analysis of direct sensual awareness. If
we see that awareness as not of sensory stimulation, but of objects in the environment we have
created structures to recognize, then awareness takes on a completely different, and very
Lockean appearance. We now have a physical mechanism through which the ideas of John
Locke become direct representations of objects in our environment. But this not only backs up
Locke, it also backs up the Cartesian-Aristotelian idea that what they called imagination, the
image creating mechanism that responds to the senses is physical, it is part of the body.
Does this help us to understand the sources of our knowledge? To begin with this makes
Locke's complex ideas, the ideas of secondary qualities that we derive from analyzing the simple
ideas of our imaging function, simply a crude version of Kant. We can say this because we
have bridged the problem of transcendentalism. The point is that knowledge can not be derived
from training. Training, in the sense of building connectionist structures, operates only on
appearances. At the same time, connectionist structures play a very important role in the
survival of man. As I said back in chapter 7, a prehistoric man facing a charging saber-toothed
tiger, or a modern man facing a careening out of control automobile both have the same
problem. They must react immediately. There is no time for judgement. The mind is simply
too slow. If man did not have the capability of immediate action without mental consideration,
he would have been extinct long ago. As Locke explained perception, it is an immediate
connection between sensation and a pre-established judgement. The judgement must already
exist, having been developed through previous experience, through training. Then and only
then can the mind arrive at the perception. This makes sense if you consider that the first time
you experience something it takes a period of time before you realize exactly what it is you
have perceived. It has an advantage over Descartes in that by including in the description
elements formed from previous experience, it illustrates the Lockean dependence on both
experience and learning. Lockean ideas have always seemed to be occult fantasies to many
philosophers. However, from a connectionist perspective we can see that Lockean ideas are
simply the outputs from connectionist structures. This means that they are the result of
training. Locke then said that we develop complex ideas of things by analyzing these ideas, by
applying mental operations to them. This requires again an entity that is separate from the
However, before I give the impression that I am suggesting the existence of a Cartesian spiritual
mind that is in some way an incorporeal substance, I would like to turn to a different way of
looking at reality.