Free «“De Anima” by Aristotle and “Timaeus” by Plato» Essay Sample


This paper compares the relation of body and soul in Plato’s “Timeus” with that in Aristotle’s “De Anima”. Aristotle, being a student of Plato, disagreed with his teacher in a number of fundamental issues. Aristotle believed that Plato’s theory of ideas is completely inadequate to explain the empirical reality. He sought to overcome the Platonic gap between the world of sensual things and the world of ideas. Plato divided the human being into body and mind, having a different nature. The human soul is rational and immortal, while the body is something mortal and irrational. The secret of cognitive ability of the mind lies in the nature of the soul. The soul by Aristotle, in contrast to Plato’s views, cannot exist without the body, but it is immaterial, not bodily. Due to the soul people live, feel and think. It is a meaning and form, not a substance or a substrate. Therefore, the views of these philosophers are quite different, and this difference is discussed in this paper.


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In his late dialogue “Timaeus”, which is very important for understanding Plato’s philosophy, the author explains directly his cosmological doctrine. According to this doctrine, the world is a living being in the shape of a sphere. The world—as a living being—has a soul. This is the world soul. The soul is not a part of the world. The soul exists around the world and consists of three parts: the rational soul, the irascible soul, and the appetitive soul. They are distributed under the laws of the musical octave in the circles that attract the heavenly bodies by own movement. The body of the world consists of the elements of earth, water, fire and air. These elements form proportional compounds, according to the laws of numbers.

Since among all the visible forms the most beautiful one is the sphere, then the world is a sphere. Since “no unintelligent creature taken as a whole was fairer than the intelligent taken as a whole; and that intelligence could not be present in anything which was devoid of soul”, the world is animated intelligent spherical animal. This animal “is created of necessity corporeal, and also visible and tangible” (Plato).

The creator, who is infinitely kind, created the world, so that the good could move from the world of ideas into the sensually perceptible world: “when the Creator had framed the soul according to his will, he formed within her the corporeal universe, and brought the two together, and united them center to center” (Plato). Therefore, he created a world soul, and with it he formed four elements: “…the Creator compounded the world out of all the fire and all the water and all the air and all the earth” (Plato). Their mixture forms a corporeal nature. The world soul was created by the Creator prior to the world body: “…he made the soul in origin and excellence prior to and older than the body, to be the ruler and mistress, of whom the body was to be the subject” (Plato). It has a numerical structure and is created from a mixture of rational and irrational. It is the source of movement of the cosmos. The result is the world possessing a soul, and, therefore, it is alive. The order and rationality of the world are determined by the world soul. The knowledge about the ideas is stored in the soul as a reminder of what it had seen in the other, transcendental world. On earth these memories are forgotten at first, because the soul is preoccupied by sensual images, but then they come back to life.

Initially, the soul, according to Plato, exists on an unmoving star, until the moment appointed by fate, when it falls to the ground and incarnates. The first incarnation is always in the human body. The further fate of the soul depends on its behavior in the body. Those souls who remembered their true home and their purpose after the death of the body return back to the star and then wait for the moment of embodiment: “He who lived well during his appointed time was to return and dwell in his native star, and there he would have a blessed and congenial existence” (Plato). If the soul lived by the needs of the body and “had no philosophy in any of their thoughts, and never considered at all about the nature of the heavens”, then it is embodied in the animal, the nature of which corresponds to its behavior (for example, the souls of drunkards and gluttons go into pigs, the souls of poets and musicians into songbirds, souls of tyrants into predators, and so on). It goes on until the soul redeems its fall “by learning the harmonies and revolutions of the universe” (Plato). Then it is embodied in the human body again and its fate depends on its own.

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In his treatise “On the Soul” Aristotle defines the soul in the system of thinking of his metaphysics (the essence, the form, features, the nature of being, entelechy). The soul exists only in an organic, not an artificial body (an ax does not have the soul). This natural body must have the possibility of life. Actuality of this opportunity (entelechy) is the soul. According to Aristotle, “the soul must be a substance in the sense of the form of a natural body having life potentially within it. But substance is actuality, and thus soul is the actuality of a body as above characterized”. He argues that “the soul is the first grade of actuality of a natural body having life potentially in it”. Also, the body “would have had to be a natural body of a particular kind, viz. one having in itself the power of setting itself in movement and arresting itself” (Aristotle). Thus, Aristotle wants to say that the soul is included only in a natural body capable of living. The soul is a life partner. Its existence is the evidence of completion of the body, actuality of possible life: “while waking is actuality in a sense corresponding to the cutting and the seeing, the soul is actuality in the sense corresponding to the power of sight and the power in the tool; the body corresponds to what exists in potentiality; as the pupil plus the power of sight constitutes the eye, so the soul plus the body constitutes the animal” (Aristotle).

Being a form and anessence of life, the soul is the “essential whatness” and “the first grade of actuality of a natural body having life potentially in it”. “From this it indubitably follows that the soul is inseparable from its body” (Aristotle). Though it is not the body itself, it belongs to the body, which is valuable for the soul. The soul cares about what kind of body it exists in: “the soul cannot be without a body, while it cannot be a body; it is not a body but something relative to a body. That is why it is in a body, and a body of a definite kind” (Aristotle). Therefore, Aristotle rejects the Platonic doctrine of the transmigration of souls. On their part, all living natural bodies are the tools existing for the sake of the soul as the causes and the beginnings of a living body in three senses: “It is (a) the source or origin of movement, it is (b) the end, it is (c) the essence of the whole living body” (Aristotle). But this applies only to souls of plants and animals.

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            As to the human soul, plant and animal components of the human soul cannot be separated from the body as well as the souls of plants and animals. In most cases, Aristotle assumes that the soul does not feel anything without the body and does not act without it, for example, experiencing anger, courage, desire, and other feelings. He concludes that all the states of the soul are connected with the body: anger, humility, fear, compassion, courage, and joy, love and loathing. These states of the soul are also experienced by the body.

            Aristotle gives examples showing that emotions are the functions not only of the soul but also of the body. If the body is not in the excitement, a great misfortune will not cause proper emotions, so people often turn to stone in order to protect themselves from suffering. Thus, Aristotle concludes that states of the soul have their basis in material items. Similarly, in general, the ability to feel anything is not possible without a body. Without a body the activities of a plant’s soul are absolutely impossible.

However, a rational soul is not the actuality of the body. After all, “some may be separable because they are not the actualities of any body at all” (Aristotle). This is what mind is: if the faculty of sensation is not possible without a body, the mind exists separately from it. Although Aristotle says that it is not clear whether mind and the ability to speculate exist separately and independently of the body, he still says: “it seems to be a widely different kind of soul, differing as what is eternal from what is perishable; it alone is capable of existence in isolation from all other psychic powers” (Aristotle). He cannot find any convincing grounds for the assertion that mind is connected to the body. Aristotle says that mind does not have an organ. This assertion is strange for its time, because the Pythagorean Alcmaeon had found the organ of thinking in the brain long before Aristotle.


The soul, according to Plato, is an immortal essence. It consists of three parts: the reasonable one (addressing to the ideas), the emotional one (volitional), and the sensual one (driven by passions). For the whole cosmos, the global mind is the source of harmony, a force capable of adequately realizing itself, being at the same an active beginning, a helmsman of the soul, governing the body, which is itself devoid of the ability to move. In the process of thinking the soul is active, self-contradictory, dialogic and reflexive.

Aristotle believed that the soul, having a commitment, is nothing else but an organizing principle, inseparable from the body, the source and mode of regulation of the body, and its objective behavior. The soul is the entelechy (actuality) of the body, i.e. a purposeful energy, the driving force of the body, transforming possibility into a reality. The soul by Aristotle, contrary to Plato, cannot exist without the body, but it is immaterial, not bodily. Due to the existence of soul people live, feel and think. It is the meaning and form, not a substance or substrate.

Aristotle gave an analysis of the various parts of the soul: the memory of emotions, the transition from feelings to general perception and from there to a generalized representation; the transition from the opinion to knowledge and from directly perceived desire to the rational will. The soul discerns and knows things, but it spends a lot of time making errors. According to Aristotle, the death of the body releases the soul to its eternal life. The soul is eternal and immortal.

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