The History of Psychology: Fundamental Questions

By Margaret P. Munger | Go to book overview
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Aristotle (384–322 B.C.) was raised in the court of Amyntas III, king of Macedonia and
grandfather of Alexander the Great, which may account for his distaste of court intrigue.
Aristotle's father was the court physician Nicomachus, who may have instructed his son in
the rudiments of medicine and thus be the ultimate source of Aristotle's love of biology and
zoology. Aristotle joined Plato's (p. 2) Academy in 367 B.C, and gained considerable fame
as a rhetorician during his 20 years there. Following Plato's death, Aristotle traveled with
some fellow students to Assos and established a new school in the Platonic tradition at the
invitation of a Hermeias of Atraneus. There Aristotle married his first wife Pythias, the
daughter of Hermeais. Soon after her death, Aristotle established a new philosophical cir-
cle on the island of Lesbos with fellow traveler Theophrastus. It was on Lesbos that Aristo-
tle began his extensive study of biology, spending hours investigating the lagoon of Pyrrha.
Aristotle's perspective on the soul is clearly influenced by his biological observations, par-
ticularly of plants and mollusks. In 343 or 342 B.C, Philip II of Macedon invited Aristotle to
tutor his son, Alexander, who would later earn the title “Great” by conquering most of the
known world. However, it is clear that the later conqueror did not pay particular attention
to his tutor's lectures on politics: he used both interracial marriage and imperial power to
achieve his goals. Aristotle returned to Athens to found the Lyceum, a rival to Plato's Acad-
emy, around 335 B.C One of the interesting differences between the schools was that
Platonic science focused on mathematics, while science at the Lyceum was founded on bi-
ology. With Alexander the Great's death in 323 B.C, an understandable wave of anti-Mace-
donian aggression led Aristotle to retreat to his mother's estates on the island of Euboea,
where he remained until his death. In his will, he left kind words and generous settlements
for his survivors, who included his companion Herpyllis and their son Nicomachus, and
even arranged for the bones of his first wife to be buried next to him.



Book I

1. Holding as we do that, while knowledge of any 402a   kind is a thing to be honoured and prized, one kind of it may, either by reason of its greater exactness or of a higher dignity and greater wonderfulness in its objects, be more honourable and precious than another, on both accounts we should naturally be led to place in the front rank the study of the soul. The knowledge of the soul admittedly contributes greatly to the advance of truth in general, and, above all, to our understanding of Nature, for the   5 soul is in some sense the principle of animal life. Our aim is to grasp and understand, first its essential nature, and secondly its properties; of these some are thought to be affections proper to the soul itself, while others are considered to attach to the animal1 owing to the presence within it of soul.

To attain any assured knowledge about the

From Aristotle De Anima, Books 1 and 3. In J. S. Smith (Trans.), Introduction to Aristotle, (pp. 155–159, 216–245). Chicago: Uni-
versity of Chicago Press, 1973.


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