Aristotle’s soul is a first principle (an ‘efficient cause’) of every vital change in an animal, in the way that a craft is a cause of its product’s coming-to-be. We argue that the soul’s causal efficacy cannot therefore be reduced to the formal constitution of vital phenomena, or to discrete interventions into independently constituted processes, but involves the exercise of vital powers. This reading does better justice to Aristotle’s conception of craft as a rational productive disposition; and it captures the soul’s continuous causal role as that which brings about all forms of vital change and underwrites their unity.
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See also Frede1980. In the terminology introduced by Judson 1994 souls as well as crafts are efficient causes of a non-energetic sort: their causality is something other than ‘the transmission of energy or motion’ (165-6). Cohen 1992 71-2 entertains a strategy similar to Frede’s although he seems less optimistic about its prospects: for Aristotle ‘form or essence can also be an agent an efficient cause . . . It may well be replied that Aristotle’s attribution of efficient causal efficacy to psuchē (and to form in general) should not be taken literally. His talk of psuchē as an agent may be just a manner of speaking. (A parallel case: you may know perfectly well that a computer program is a set of rules an abstract characterization of behavior in terms of inputs and outputs and still say that the program “runs” the computer “tells” it what to do and “causes” it to behave as it does. It is simply easier to talk that way.) . . . The success of the functionalist interpretation seems to me to depend on whether the apparent role of psuchē as efficient cause can be satisfactorily explained away. I am not convinced that it can be.’
Corcilius and Gregoric201387explicitly employ the analogy with crafts: the art of carpentry insofar as it consists of a system of rules and procedures for building tables is the formal cause of a real table (or its coming to be) but it can be said to be a table’s efficient cause only insofar as it figures in the content of episodes of awareness (of those rules and procedures) in the mind of a carpenter when he is actually building a table.
Everson199746ff. reads Frede’s view as mistakenly attributing to Aristotle the claim that an art understood as an abstract object is an efficient cause. Aristotle’s actual view he argues is instead that the efficient causes of particular changes can only be particular substances identified as the bearers of relevant capacities (such as e.g. a certain art).
Cf. Sorabji198052-3166-74; Gotthelf 1987 226 n. 51; and Gill 1989 200-2. As shown by Aristotle’s own canonical examples (cf. Phys. 2.3 194b29-32) his notion of a source of motion—what we call ‘efficient cause’ a term first attested in Alexander of Aphrodisias (poiētikon aition)—is not univocal even in the context of the Physics (cf. Kelsey 2004 Gourinat 2013). As Meyer 1987 174 points out Aristotle’s very definition of dunamis already picks it out as a principle of motion: ‘a mover is none other than an Aristotelian efficient cause by another name for the capacity (dunamis) in virtue of which a mover is a mover is also called the “origin of motion and change” (Metaph. 1019a15-16 19-20) . . . Sometimes Aristotle calls the capacity itself and not its possessor the efficient cause without any apparent intended difference (Ph. 195a6-8).’ Gotthelf 1987 advances an interpretation of Aristotle’s conception of final causality based on the notion of ‘irreducible potential’ and claims that his view provides material for a general account of the four causes in terms of potentiality and actuality with the bearer of active potential as the efficient cause and the form as that which the potential and the process of change are irreducibly for as formal and final cause (cf. 226 n. 51). Marmodoro (2007; 2013; 2014 ch. 1) proposes to treat all Aristotelian causes in a unified manner in terms of the activation of causal powers.
As Kosman2013188sharply states it: ‘Such activity’ i.e. the living of a representative human life ‘viewed from one perspective is energeia in contrast to kinesis. But it consists . . . of a complex series of motions or of activities that in turn consist of motions and that together constitute the motions and cycles of a characteristically human life. Eating perceiving moving falling asleep and waking and thinking are merely some of the more obvious of such motions. And it may from another perspective be thought itself to constitute a single motion: the waxing and waning career of an animal life that is bounded by birth and death.’ On the idea that an Aristotelian praxis (a form of energeia) may be composed of although not reducible to a variety of kineseis see Natali 2002. For a hylomorphic account of the connection between phusis and dunameis which we take to be compatible with our claims here see Frey 2015a Section 6.
We are indebted here to Henry2005who connects this conception of continuity with Aristotle’s claim that the parts of animals develop in an ‘uninterrupted sequence’ (cf. ga 2.5 741b9) following Simplicius’ reading of Aristotle’s model of embryological development: the growth of the embryo’s parts is not a mere succession of discrete changes but a single continuous change which is the actualization of one potential (cf. Simplicius in Phys. 3131 ff. Diels). In Gotthelf’s words (2012 81): ‘the initial source of motion the active potentiality that resides first in the father’s seminal material and then primarily in the foetus’ heart is continuously active all the way through the development.’ In the same vein Bowin 2012 21 opposes ‘single changes’ to mere ‘collections of changes’ the former being governed by a ‘unique potentiality’ or a ‘single motive principle’ that is missing in the latter.
This is a point made by Menn2002124ff. For some passages where Aristotle stresses the conceptual priority of the craft-instrument relation to the point of seemingly getting rid of the craftsman see Phys. 2.3 195b21-5; 2.5 196b26; Metaph. 7.7 1032b11-14; da 1.3 407b20-7; 3.5 430a10-14; ga 1.21 729b20-1. Aristotle’s referring to the efficacious agency that is causally relevant to the realization of the building as the movement of the craft and not as the movement of the craftsman even if taken to be unproblematic in the case of crafts becomes a source of complication in the embryological case. The trouble arises from the notorious fact that by the time the female katamēnia are growing into an embryo under ‘the agency of nature’ (ἡ δὲ τῆς φύσεως κίνησις 735a3) these residues have lost any contact with the father’s body whence the seed first came. Everything happens as if the seminal tools kept shaping the embryo on their own and without being in contact with the craftsman or ‘first mover’ of the generative process. As Aristotle reminds us ‘one thing cannot set up a motion in another without touching it (κινεῖν τε γὰρ µὴ ἁπτόµενον ἀδύνατον) nor can a thing be affected in any way by anything that does not set up a motion in it’ (ga 2.1 734a3-4). Now Aristotle seeks to provide what is needed by resorting to the mechanical model of automatic puppets which allows for the present efficacy of some former (generative) action whose effects are relayed by intermediate movers long after it took place. Cf. ga 2.1 734b7-17. See Henry 2005 for an argument that the reference to automata in De generatione animalium is employed not to reduce the causality at work in generation to a series of mechanical gears operating one after another but to illustrate a single potential being actualized throughout the process of generation. In that way the whole process counts as caused by the original efficient cause even in the absence of physical contact. For the efficient causal role of soul as phusis in animal generation see Code 1987 and Henry 2008.
Sedley2007174makes this point commenting on Aristotle’s methodological preference to start with what is more familiar to us: ‘The causal processes of nature make more sense in their own right . . . but the causal processes of craft make more sense to us because all of us have practiced a craft or witnessed one at close quarters.’