Miira Tuominen: "Soul and Body, Mind and Matter in Late Ancient Theories of Perception"

  • Date: –16:00
  • Location: Zoom (contact Pauliina Remes for link)
  • Organiser: Department of Philosophy
  • Contact person: Pauliina Remes
  • Seminarium

The Higher Seminar in the History of Philosophy

Miira Tuominen, Stockholm University: "Soul and Body, Mind and Matter in Late Ancient Theories of Perception"

There is a persistent debate in scholarship on Aristotle’s theory of perception between so-called literalism and spiritualism. Literalism claims that something in our sense-organism in some sense takes on the quality when we perceive it, while spiritualism maintains that no physical change is necessary for perception that simply is our becoming aware of a quality. The two claims can be formulated in various ways (Caston 2005), and today scholars tend to locate Aristotle’s theory between them. However, David Charles (2009 and 2021 forthcoming) has argued for a stronger view, called ’strong hylomorphism’ (Caston 2009), according to which the debate misses the mark with respect to Aristotle, since it is based on Cartesian dualism in which mind and matter are two really distinct substances the attributes and modifications of which are defined independently of those of the other. By contrast, according to Charles, for Aristotle the psychological process in, e.g., perception and emotion cannot be defined without essential reference to the relevant physical process and vice versa.

In this talk, I shall analyze the accounts of perception in two late ancient commentaries on Aristotle’s De anima. I shall argue, on the basis of textual evidence, that the debate between spiritualism and literalism indeed fails to capture the commentators’ views. Rather, Philoponus’ account could be analyzed as a form of strong hylomorphism, while, to the extent that Pseudo-Smplicius’ layered view is a form of dualism, the dualism is not Cartesian.