At one point Aristotle called mind a 'sort of soul', at another
point a 'part of soul' and at another, a form of soul. His best
explanation said that the soul is like a mathematical series,
only one in which each succeeding term is dependant on those
preceding. He said, for example, that plants and animals have an
appetitive soul because they both must absorb food. Animals also
have a sensitive soul but having an appetitive soul is necessary
to having a sensitive soul. Mind, on the other hand only exists
in those animals which have both the appetitive and the sensitive
soul. In other words, each term requires the existence of those
below it. But whether these definitions deal with separable
units or not he has not determined.
Thinking, Aristotle said, is like perception except thinking
can be in error. But let us look at
Aristotle's words concerning mind and thinking.
Turning now to the part of the soul which the soul knows and
thinks (whether this is separable from the others in definition
only or spatially as well) we have to inquire (1) what
differentiates this part, and (2) how thinking can take place.
If thinking is like perceiving it must be a process in which the
soul is acted upon by what is capable of being thought, or a
process different from but analogous to that. The thinking part
of the soul must therefore be, while impassable, capable of
receiving the form of an object; that is, must be potentially
identical in character with its object without being the object.
Mind must be related to what is thinkable, as sense is to what is
This relationship between what is thought of and the thought of
it has always posed a problem for philosophers. Aristotle
avoided the specifics of the relationship while making clear that
such a relationship must exist and that relationship must be
specific to what is being thought. Remember, that the soul and
the body of an existing living entity cannot be separated except
in thought any more than the form of a non-living object can be
separated from the object itself. Therefore the mind, in
contemplating existing objects extracts from our experience of
these objects the essence or form of that which the object is.
In the case of living objects this is the soul. That means that
the mind must have the ability to become itself the forms of that
which it thinks of. This makes the souls of living things
thinkable entities and not physical entities.
Therefore, since everything is a possible object of thought, mind
in order, as Anaxagorus says, to dominate, that is, to know, must
be pure from all admixture; for a copresence of what is alien to
its nature is a hindrance and a block; it follows that it too,
like the sensitive part, can have no nature of its own other than
that of having a certain capacity. Thus, that in the soul which
is called mind (by mind I mean that whereby the soul thinks and
judges) is, before it thinks, not actually any real thing. For
this reason it cannot reasonably be regarded as blended with the
body; if so it would acquire some quality, e.g. warmth or cold,
or even have an organ like the sensitive faculty.
While the faculty of sensation is dependent on the body, mind is
not because following the strong stimulation of a sense we find
ourselves less able to utilize that sense. On the other hand,
thought about an object that is highly intelligible results in an
increase in our ability to think. The accumulation of knowledge
such as in science is accomplished by the mind, through the
process of extraction, becoming the form of each of the possible
objects. Once an accumulation has been developed mind is able
then to think about itself. Then Aristotle posed this question.
If mind is thinkable and what is thinkable is in kind one and the
same then mind will either belong to everything, or will contain
something in common with all other realities which make them
thinkable. His answer was that mind is potentially whatever is
thinkable though it is nothing until it has thought. What it
thinks must be in it in the same way that characters are in a
writing tablet prior to anything being written on it.
Michael Wedin brought out some
interesting points regarding the relationship between mind and
imagination in Aristotle. Imagination according to Aristotle is
that mechanism by which we produce images of the things we
perceive. Wedin chose this paragraph from De Anima as what he
called Aristotle's 'canonical theory of imagination.'
But since it is possible that when one thing is moved a different
thing is moved by it, and since imagination is thought to be a
sort of movement, and is thought not to occur apart from
perception but in perceiving things, and in relation to that of
which there is perception, and since it is possible for movement
to occur as a result of actual perception, and since this movement
is necessarily like the perception, this movement cannot exist
apart from the perception or in things that are not perceiving
things. And the possessor of the movement may do and be affected
by many things in respect of it, and it may be true or false.
Without getting into Wedin's arguments for his position, what he
maintained was that Aristotle's concept of imagination is an
image producing mechanism that is included in the body and tied
to the senses. However, he went on to say that Aristotle also
made that same imagination the image producing agent of the mind.
Above we saw that Aristotle made mind free of connection to the
body. Thus, the mind is eternal or immortal. But its connection
to imagination makes it such that it loses its potency once the
body is dead. He said later that the intellect, or that by which
we recognize first principles and valid arguments, is eternal,
which left one more door open for later Christians to put
Aristotelian ideas into a Christian context.