Questions for Tuesday (2/10) Aristotle Call


I’m reading the text at the same time you are but here are some questions that should help to guide our discussion tomorrow, Tuesday 2/10 at 8pm NYC time.

“On the Soul”
pages 535 – 603 in our text

1. What is the goal that Aristotle sets out to achieve in this book?  
Why is the study of the soul so important, according to A. Does he, in your opinion, achieve his goal?

2. What are the key questions that Aristotle sets up in his introduction (pages 535 – 538)?

3. Why, in the course of asking the question “what is the soul?”, are we talking about matter, light, causality, potentiality/actuality, sound, touch, smell, air, fire…?

4. Throughout this book, Aristotle comments on questions that remain important for centuries.

For example:
– Is the soul a part of the body or separate from it?
– What is the relationship between potentiality and actuality in all its forms?
– What is movement? (think Newton)
– What is mind?
– What is old age?
– What is matter?
– Is nature driven by design? (think Darwin)
– What is relationship between opposites?
– What is purpose of soul/life? (again, think Darwin)
– What is light? (think Einstein)
– What is colour? (think Matisse)
– What are seeing and perception?

And the list goes on.

Question: what subjects or questions did Aristotle touch on that inspired you to see the history of a subject in a different way?

Perhaps you are familiar with Darwin’s insights into evolution driven by random mutation and natural selection. And Dawkin’s reaffirmation that the purpose of a living thing is to reproduce itself (i.e. . “The Selfish Gene”). So what did you think when you read on page 562 “Nature, like mind, always does whatever it does for the sake of something, which something is its end.” And then a few pages later
this: “…the end of this soul is to generate another being like that in which it is…” (page 564).

The point here is not to praise nor criticize Aristotle but to see the history of ideas. It gave me new insight into why “intelligent design”  
is so compelling, though completely and utterly wrong. Perhaps, it is a human urge to see design and intelligence where none exists.  
Certainly, Aristotle felt it to be clearly true – nature does what it does for the “sake of something, which something is its end.”

Aristotle should be read not because his science is accurate – though there are some stunningly interesting things that predate what science has shown to be true – like my second quote above. No, he should be read because of his heroic effort to explain the world as he saw it with the tools he had available.

I am humbled by his attempt and made more grateful for the thousands of years of knowledge that we today have at our disposal to ask and answer the most interesting questions about our world. Reading Aristotle and watching him struggle with these important questions makes me appreciate at a much deeper level the efforts by thousands of scientists over thousands of years that has given us the depth of knowledge and insight that we have available today. He motivates me to learn more.

As Aristotle says in his first sentence, “knowledge of any kind is a thing to be honoured and prized.”

If his goal were actually to inspire readers to grasp the importance of that first sentence, then “On the Soul” succeeds in its goal. Indeed.


09. February 2009 by Arrian
Categories: Aristotle, Study Questions | Tags: | 1 comment

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