Aristotle’s Philosophy on the Body, Mind and Soul

For a long time controversy has surrounded the relationship among the three terms of the body, mind and soul. Whereas different scholars have made efforts to study them, consensus is yet to be reached. For instance, Thomas Nagel insists on the significance of the mind because of its role in a person’s intellect. By doing so, he distances himself from the philosophical position of reductionism. Aristotle was yet another philosopher that has researched this issue and has provided a lot of information about the soul. Through definition of the soul, Aristotle brought in its philosophical interpretation. He also categorized living beings into classes. Furthermore, Aristotle analyzed the faculties to which the living beings belong by giving a description of the functioning of the five senses. This paper describes and analyses Thomas Nagel’s idea about consciousness as well as Aristotle’s definition of the soul including his account on the faculties.

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The Consciousness of Living Beings

Consciousness refers to people’s awareness of what they perceive with their senses and thus the environment around them in totality. Thomas Nagel’s ideas on the concept of consciousness are consistent with this definition. He is of the opinion that one must feel something to be considered conscious. Through his arguments, Nagel distances himself from the philosophical position of reductionism, which proposes that a system is nothing more than its constituent parts. The scholar uses his paper “What is it like to be a bat?” to refute the arguments of the reductionists. Although Nagel recognizes the fact that consciousness is not just limited to human beings, he argues that it is only possible to living beings that are special. According to him, conscious living beings are special because they are capable of experiencing things that happen in their surrounding.

Nagel believes that consciousness is subjective in nature because each living organism has unique conscious experiences. In his arguments, the scholar uses the example of a bat where he insists on the statement that bats have conscious experiences just like many other living beings. He, however, argues that each group of living beings has unique conscious experiences which are limited to that specific group. As such, Nagel uses the paper on “What is it like to be a bat?” to defend his position. According to him, although people may imagine how it feels to be a bat, their imaginations would be limited to the people’s thoughts on bats’ behavior such as flying and hanging upside down. Nagel believes that one group of living beings such human beings cannot have conscious experiences similar to those of other groups because they have a different mindset. These established attitudes and ideas are determined by the unique brain structure of each group of living beings.

Nagel’s argument that consciousness enables a living being to be aware of experiences highlights its importance. The facts put across by Nigel show that consciousness is essential for defining the identity of a living being. The paper “What is it like to be a bat?” shows that conscious experiences differ from one group of living beings to another. Nagel uses this work to demonstrate that no matter how much certain group of living organisms may try to be like another group, they cannot have the same conscious experiences. The reason behind this statement is that conscious experiences have a mental component. However, Nagel’s arguments make the mind-body problem interesting because he argues that conscious experiences are subjective in nature yet he accepts that a living being can only copy how another living being behaves.

Nagel also believes and insists that the philosophical approach of reductionism does not work. He refutes this concept because he believes that conscious experiences are subjective in nature and therefore they cannot be explained by reductionists’ means which are objective in nature. For a reductionist viewpoint to be used in explaining consciousness, the subjective nature of conscious experiences should have to be ignored. Nagel denies this because reductionism attributes conscious experiences to some physical aspects. He argues that these phenomena are subjective in nature and, therefore, claims that existence of the physical property of consciousness stated by reductionists cannot be confirmed. This explains why Nagel uses the example of the bats to elucidate the concept of consciousness. He tries to show the difference between his subjective concepts and the reductionists objective ones.

Aristotle’s Definition of Soul

The term “soul” has proven to be yet another point of contention concerning its definition. Some scholars have based the explanation of this term on religion, some others on philosophy while others have grounded their interpretation on mythological traditions. However, all these groups seem to have one thing in common; comparing the soul to the immortal part of the living beings. Aristotle defines the soul as the first and the main essence of a living being. Therefore, according to him, it defines the primary activities of living beings. When talking about living things, Aristotle refers to plants and animals. According to him, the two groups of living beings, that is, the animals and plants, are the only groups that have souls. Aristotle further believes that they continue to live because of their souls.

Aristotle’s characterization of the soul encapsulates the correlation between the body and the emotion. According to the philosopher, the body is just matter while the soul constitutes the form of the body. In his description, Aristotle seems to believe that the correlation between the body and the soul denotes that emotions are indeed the engine of life. More so, the scholar elucidates that emotions or the soul represent the form of the body and coordinate the process of perception as well as movement and reproduction among living beings. Therefore, it is evident that soul controls the functioning and organization of the body. According to Aristotle, the body ceases to exist in the absence of the soul. He is of the opinion that a living being is dead without it and, therefore, can be compared to an object which only has a name. Consequently, according to Aristotle the body and the soul cannot exist separately.

Aristotle is also remembered for his categorization of living beings. His simplest classification divides them into two categories of plants and animals. Besides, Aristotle classifies organisms in three distinct categories using the soul as the principle factor of classification. According to this dichotomy, plants rank is the lowest among all the living beings because they are the only beings that comprise the vegetative soul. Animals, on the other hand, fall in the second place in this hierarchy because they are believed to have appetites. The section in which animals fall is believed to be higher than that of the plants. Human beings, in their turn, fall in the third and highest category because they possess the ability to reason. According to Aristotle, his classifications are based on the belief that the soul has three divides. The first divide, which is related to the plants, is referred to as the nutritive soul. The second degree, which covers the animals, is called the sensitive soul. The third degree is the rational soul and it is associated with the human beings. The three classes are based on the concept that any living being that belongs to a higher degree of the soul, exhibits characteristics of the preceding degree as well.

The analysis provided in this paper reveals that Thomas Nagel’s and Aristotle’s concepts on the “mind-body” problem are different. As Nagel argues about the conscious experiences of living beings, he rules out the relationship of the mind and the body over the same issue. According to the scholar, cognizance is something that comes as a result of mental processes because the physical aspect cannot be proven. In compliance with Aristotle, the senses, which are parts of the body, enable human beings to receive knowledge out of reality. This contradicts Nagel’s opinion which distances the mind from the body.

Aristotle’s Account of the Faculties

Aristotle examined the soul faculties and categorized them as mind, perception and nutrition. Later on, the philosopher redefined his faculties and made some amendments to include desire as a distinct faculty. In his ranking, nutrition received the highest score because it is a common phenomenon among all creatures. Intellect and perception were ranked lower because he believed that all creatures have perceptions and intellect at different degrees. In his examination, Aristotle grouped the five senses of smell, touch, hearing, taste and sight. He regarded them as critical to living organisms.

Aristotle not only categorizes the soul into the faculties of the nutritive, sensitive and rational souls but also gives a detailed account of them. The philosopher contemplates a lot on the faculty of perception by discussing the five senses. According to him, the main difference between animals and plants is perception because plants lack the five senses. For instance, Aristotle argues that human beings can be considered as objects of sense because just like animals they must have perception to live.

When taking about the senses, Aristotle refers to the senses of touch, smell, hearing, taste and sight. He informs that the sense organs have cellular structures that serve as receptors when human beings and animals are exposed to stimuli. However, Aristotle argues that human beings and animals should have at least the sense of touch. He believes that obtaining it enables human beings to respond to extreme temperatures and contacts of any kind. Aristotle describes work as a basic element that enables any organisms to meet the life necessities. He depicts it as the process through which organisms undergo to attain the life prerequisites. Aristotle regards the object of sense as a process through which reason is achieved. Object of sense, as defined by the philosopher, is the concept through which an organism arrives at reason.


The arguments about the relationship between the body and the mind put across by Thomas Nagel and Aristotle show that the mind-body problem remains a contentious issue. Nagel considers this question through his analysis of consciousness. According to him, consciousness is a state that only applies to the living beings that have the mental ability to be aware of their environment. Nagel persists that consciousness is limited to the mind and refutes the physical aspect in his arguments. He further argues that conscious experiences are unique for each group of living beings. Aristotle, on the other hand, examines the mind-body problem through his explanations of the soul. His arguments differ from Nagel’s statements because he insists that the body and the soul cannot exist separately.


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