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Aristotle on the Emotions and Body-Soul Unity

Myrna Gabbe

This paper concerns Aristotle’s conception of body and soul unity, and in particular the body-soul unity that manifests when one is in the grips of an emotion. The point of departure is an oft-cited argument at the end De Anima I 1, wherein Aristotle insists that unity requires that the affections of the soul, e.g. emotions, be shared with the body. On the face of it, it is unclear what Aristotle might mean by this. Are affections of the soul psychic (e.g. mental) states realized through the body? Or are the affections of the soul also affections of the body? The typical interpretation assumes the former reading, effectively giving to Aristotle contemporary concerns about the relationship of soul and body. I argue for the latter reading: that the affections are complex activities, involving the sensible and intelligible discernments of the body and soul. On this reading, the body-soul unity demonstrated by affections like anger and fear (Aristotle’s examples) is not ontological; their relationship cannot be captured on analogy to contemporary notions of brain and mind. I shall argue that when it comes to the emotions, Aristotle’s primary interest is to explain how the various parts of an emotion are coordinated such as to reflect the unity of individual: the sensations in the body, the judgment of the intellect, the obsessive thoughts on the matter at hand, the pains and pleasures all need to be coordinated and orchestrated if the parts of an emotion belong to different capacities of the individual. And I shall argue that, when it comes to the emotions, the unity of body and soul is, first and foremost, teleological.