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Fred Miller

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Most recently, from Prof. Miller:

Aristotle - On the Soul and Other Psychological Works

Notre Dame Review


Peek into Fred Miller's paper at Ayn Rand Society Meeting 2005 here

I expect this paper will be included in a planned volume on Aristotle and Rand in the series Ayn Rand Society Philosophical Studies.

Edited by Boydstun
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On 8/27/2023 at 8:27 PM, Boydstun said:

. . .

The substance of a thing is its form [11]. The substance of a living thing is its form, that is, its soul. “The soul . . . is the form in its role as final cause” (Lennox 2021, 230).

I do not see that postulation of soul in anything living and taking it thrice over as cause of distinctively living actions—thrice over cause of each: nutrition-pursuit, perception, and reproduction—is explanatory at all unless soul has some meaning independent of being that form of a living thing which is its final cause. To define soul as formal causal explanation or any explanation at all of the distinctive dynamic characteristics of the living is merely to conceive those characteristics of the phenomenon that is life in a wider metaphysical framework of formal causation. Without a preexisting meaning of soul—say, a clipped edition of human psyche in animals and an additionally clipped edition in plants[12]—and an argument for identification of that with form in living things, the posit of soul explains vegetative teleology no more than form of the living, which is to say, not at all.

[11] See Cohen and Reeve 2020, §§5–11.

[12] Bremer 1983, 125–31. 


Bremer, J. 1983. The Early Greek Concept of the Soul. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Cohen, M.S. and C.D.C. Reeve 2020. Aristotle’s Metaphysics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 

Jansen, L. and P. Sandstad, editors, 2021. Neo-Aristotelian Perspectives on Formal Causation. New York: Routledge.

Lennox, J.G. 2021. Form as Cause and the Formal Cause. In Jansen and Sandstad 2021.

Concerning the human soul, Aristotle has it that though all sectors of it are separate from the human body, only one sector is separable from the body (Miller 2012). The separable constituent of soul is the active intellect (DA 430a17, 22–23). What had been traditionally called the active intellect, Miller denotes as the productive capacity of the mind. It can continue to exist when the body dies, whereas the other constituents of soul die with the body. Powers of nutrition, perception, and desire die with the body (DA 413b14–15).

“The principle in plants is also a sort of soul. For this alone is shared by both animals and plants, and it is separated from the perceptive principle, although nothing can possess perception without it” (DA 411b28–30). 

“Matter is potentiality, while form is actualization” (DA 412a10). 

“The soul must be a substance as the form of a natural body which possess life potentially. / But a substance is an actualization. Therefore it is the actualization of a body of this sort. . . . The soul is the first actualization of a natural body which possess life potentially. . . . / [The soul] is the substance corresponding to the account, and this is the essence of a particular sort of body” (DA 412a,b). 

In Parts of Animals Aristotle develops explanatory resources he thinks required for a successful study of animals and animal life. He argues for the explanatory priority of final/formal causes over efficient/material causes. In the natural science of animals, in Aristotle’s view, the starting point of the science should be that entity which is to be, by the activities: the mature healthy animal. That end is the governing cause in animal life, and it is the source of the necessity in the sequential formation and the operation of the parts of the animal, unlike necessity in geometry or in mathematical astronomy (PA 639b12–640a6; Meta. 996a29–31; Phys. 200a15–23). Further: Gotthelf 2012, 155-58; Lennox 2021, 83–85, 88, 138, 162–68, 273; and Leunissen 2010, 81–89, 155–75.

The soul in vegetative life—nutrition, growth, and reproduction—belongs to plants and also to animals, including humans, in the view of Aristotle. This sort of mortal soul in vegetative life, I gather so far, is not something conceivable to the medieval Scholastics nor to Descartes. They really could not conceive of any teleology in nature that is not, even if invisibly, by an intelligent director. So far as I understand the history so far, Aristotle’s posit of vegetative teleological causation in living things, setting the ends which efficient causation shall bring about finally gets revived seriously (in an unsung way) in the last couple of centuries, during which modern science has uncovered those efficient causes bringing about the ends set by vegetative teleological causation. 


Aristotle c.348–322 B.C.E. On the Soul (DA), F.D. Miller, translator. 2018. New York: Oxford University Press.

——. Parts of Animals. W. Ogle, translator. In Barnes 1984. 

——. Aristotle Metaphysics. C.D.C. Reeve, translator. 2016. Indianapolis: Hackett.

——. Aristotle Physics. C.D.C. Reeve, translator. 2018. Indianapolis: Hackett.

Barnes, J. 1984. The Complete Works of Aristotle. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Gotthelf, A. 2012. Teleology, First Principles, and Scientific Method in Aristotle’s Biology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Leunissen, M. 2010. Explanation and Teleology in Aristotle’s Science of Nature. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Lennox, J.G. 2021. Aristotle on Inquiry – Erotetic Frameworks and Domain-Specific Norms. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Miller, F.D. 2012. Aristotle on the Separability of Mind. Chapter 13 of The Oxford Handbook of Aristotle. C. Shields, editor. New York: Oxford University Press.

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