Wednesday, January 18, 2012

How Many Divisions Has the Soul?

Stalin famously inquired in 1944 how many divisions the pope had.  Reportedly, Pope Pius XII replied that “You can tell my son Joseph that he will meet my divisions in heaven”.

Almost as confusing is Aristotle's explanation of the elements of the soul in Nicomachean Ethics I 13. OK, chaps, he says, there are, first of all, the rational and the irrational, although they are not quite as obviously discrete elements as "the parts of the body."

Never mind about the vegetative aspect of the irrational soul, he says, that operates even in nurslings and embryos, not to mention "full-grown creatures."  This irrational element seems to operate in a world of its own and is uninfluenced by reason.

However, there is another irrational element that seems partially connected with the rational element, and indeed can be influenced by it.  This element is an "appetitive" and "desiring element."  It might move a man "aright and towards the best objects".  But there seems to be another principle that "fights and resists" the rational principle.  Thus the appetitive element shares in the rational element only "in so far as it listens to and obeys it".

Now here is where things get tricky.  The appetitive irrational element seems to be subdivided into two parts, the one that does the right thing on its own, and the other capable of obeying the the rational principle as articulated, e.g., by one's father.

But what about the rational principle?  What about that?  Well, that seems to be divided into two sub-elements too.  For "some of the virtues are intellectual and other moral".  The man of good character we praise for being "good-tempered or temperate"; the wise man for "his state of mind".

So there we are.  For the Aristotelian soul we have a rational element and an irrational element.  We divide the rational element into the intellectual and moral, and the irrational into vegetative and appetitive.  But the appetitive we subdivide into a rational part, insofar as it is persuaded by or obeys the rational principle, and the irrational part, which just does what it does, in opposition to the rational principle.

How many divisions has the soul?  Counting only "leaf" elements, we have five.  Counting all nodes from the complete soul on down, we have a total of nine.  Who knows how many divisions there will be in heaven?

Remember, the point of all this is to understand that "activity of soul in accordance with perfect virtue" which is happiness or eudaimonia.

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