A deductive account of the multiple soul question

Aristotle defines a soul as a thing that makes things potentially alive actually alive. But this description is applies has three or four distinct instances:

1.) Physical assimilationSoul is what can turn calcium in the environment into actual bones, or protein in the environment into muscle, or oxygen in the air into something in blood cells. The “physical” here involves addition of mass and the change of place of things so that they enter into an already existing individual. This is Aristotle’s “nutritive” soul, though it has to include respiration and any other mode of physical assimilation. The preservation of the individual by fighting off disease or fixing injuries is included here as well so far as things are activated to preserve the integrity and wholeness of the already existing individual.

2.) Generation of the individual. Here again, things potentially alive are made actually alive, but they are not made alive within some already existing individual, but as an existing individual. The process will not always be the same: it differs for vegatables/dividing zygotes or asexual beings or sexual ones.

3.) Cognitive assimilation. Knowing is a vital activity, and so here again things potentially living are incorporated into something actually living. Unlike (1), the assimilated thing is preserved in its full alterity, even though the thing is assimilated to something already existing. So far as there is some presupposed subject, it is like physical assimilation; so far as the act of the act itself is something other than this subject it is like generation.

Cognitive assimilation itself must divide into an object that is partially constituted by the subject and those that are in no way constituted by the subject. Sensible objects are clearly of the first sort since they all involve some interaction with an organ. Other objects are not constituted in their first act by interacting with an organ – mathematical objects, or realities like cause, or idealizations or ideals as such. A purely interactive account of nature would have to simply deny that these things are objects of cognition at all, though this strikes me as a dead end.

Locomotion does not constitute a distinct aspect of soul, but is instrumental to the above three so far as we need to move around eat, reproduce, or some to know some things. Again, motion in animals does not seem to be essentially different from change of structure in plants – both are simply instrumental to the effective harvesting of energy or the detecting of environmental signals.

On this account, there are three or four accounts we can give of soul, each of which are really separable in one way or another. Each satisfies a different sense of a principle that makes something potentially alive to be actually alive.


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