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Encyclopedia of Psychology Alan E. Kazdin, PhD, Editor-in-Chie

ARISTOTLE ( 384-322 BCE)

Perhaps the most fundamental contribution Aristotle made to the theory of mind is that his is the first systematic alternative formulation to the two standard ways of understanding mental functioning: as identical with and reducible to physical events, or as qualitatively different from physical events. Aristotle was the first to present the full range of psychological and logical arguments revealing the pitfalls in both these approaches and to offer arguments supporting a “hylomorphic” alternative (or even a generally functionalist alternative as Putnam. 1975, has argued). He proposed that all events that can be known must be physical events, but these may be described in two complementary ways, depending upon one’s focus: the “material” and the “formal.” The matter describes the physical constituents of the entities involved and the form describes the organization of these constituents into a unitary whole.

The situation naturally gets more complicated in trying to describe and understand living things, because the form of a living thing refers both to the way that it functions as a whole and to the related ways that its parts function. Moreover, as creatures get more complex materially, the classes of functions they can perform also become more complex. The totality of a creature’s living functions constitutes its psyche, or life principle. Human functioning is the most complex because it includes not only the capacity to live, grow, and reproduce (as with plants), nor just perception, desire, memory, imagination, and voluntary motion (as with animals), but also the capacity to reason about and organize one’s life according to a plan. This hierarchy of living capacities constitutes the human psyche (De anima II.I), an inclusive part-whole system, in which events at the physiological level necessarily participate in but do not by themselves constitute psychological events.

Aristotle used teleological explanation for three classes of biological relationships: those in which the functioning of organismic subsystems is explained by the functioning of the whole organism; those in which particular developmental changes in an organism are explained by the nature and functioning of the mature organism; and those in which the voluntary behavior of an animal is explained by the value of the outcome that it normally produces.

Exactly which classes of human and animal action should be grouped together because they are controlled by common classes of outcome, and exactly what laws describe the nature of such control, are empirical questions that investigators of operant behavior, comparative psychology, and child development have studied for generations. And the organization of related human goals (as well as the conflict among incompatible ones) has been studied by cognitive, social, and personality psychologists with equal intensity. While both mechanistic and physiological analyses may reveal how a pattern of behavior emerges, it is teleological explanation that reveals why it emerges.

In addition, Aristotle portrays perceptual capacity at any moment as limited, so that stimuli compete both within and between sense modalities in order to be perceived

Aristotle’s arguments concerning the DFH and its constituents make it clear that all animals, and especially all humans, are essentially composed of their developmental functional histories and that each DFH reveals the transactional nature of an animal whose future life is constrained by prior interactions between its essential nature and its circumstances.

Tags: encyclopedia of psychology
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