The Science of the Soul

The Commentary Tradition on Aristotle's De anima, c. 1260-c. 1360

Sander De Boer

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The transformation of the science of the soul between 1260 and 1360.

Aristotle's highly influential work on the soul, entitled De anima, formed part of the core curriculum of medieval universities and was discussed intensively. It covers a range of topics in philosophical psychology, such as the relationship between mind and body and the nature of abstract thought. However, there is a key difference in scope between the socalled ‘science of the soul', based on Aristotle, and modern philosophical psychology. This book starts from a basic premise accepted by all medieval commentators, namely that the science of the soul studies not just human beings but all living beings. As such, its methodology and approach must also apply to plants and animals. The Science of the Soul discusses how philosophers, from Thomas Aquinas to Pierre d'Ailly, dealt with the difficult task of giving a unified account of life and traces the various stages in the transformation of the science of the soul between 1260 and 1360. The emerging picture is that of a gradual disruption of the unified approach to the soul, which will ultimately lead to the emergence of psychology as a separate discipline.

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Chapter 1: Introduction
1.1 Subject matter
1.2 Status quaestionis
1.3 Periodisation and sources
1.3.1 A chronological list of consulted commentaries
1.4 Orthography, punctuation and translations

Chapter 2: Overview
2.1 The introduction of the De anima into the Latin West
2.2 The soul as perfectio
2.2.1 Avicenna's influence
2.3 The soul as forma
2.3.1 Immortal but not personal: radical Aristotelianism
2.3.2 Formality and subsistence combined: Thomas Aquinas
2.3.3 A substance, but also a form
2.4 Unicity versus plurality of substantial form

Chapter 3: Methodologic al discussions
3.1 The scientific status of the scientia de anima
3.1.1 Imperceptibility
3.1.2 Simplicity
3.1.3 Potentiality
3.1.4 The study of the soul within natural philosophy
3.1.5 Radulphus Brito against John of Jandun
3.1.6 An increasing focus on the intellect
3.2 The subject matter of the scientia de anima
3.2.1 The soul as subject matter
3.2.2 The ensouled body sub ratione animae as subject matter
3.2.3 Leaving the subject matter undecided
3.2.4 Summary
3.3 The epistemic status of the scientia de anima
3.3.1 Unproblematic beginnings: Thomas Aquinas
3.3.2 Certitude and nobility combined: Anonymus Van Steenberghen and Walter Burley
3.3.3 Increasing difficulties: Anonymus Bazan, Radulphus Brito and John of Jandun
3.3.4 The final stages: John Buridan and Nicole Oresme
3.4 Conclusions

Chapter 4: The Aristotelian definition of the soul
4.1 Aristotle's definition of the soul
4.1.1 Thomas Aquinas's views on the matter of the soul
4.1.2 The Anonymi
4.2 Fourteenth-century interpretations
4.2.1 The substantiality of the soul
4.2.2 The actuality of the body
4.3 Can we perceive the identity of accidents?
4.3.1 Thomas Aquinas
4.3.2 Radulphus Brito
4.3.3 John of Jandun
4.3.4 John Buridan
4.4 Excursus: condemnations and polemics
4.5 Conclusions

Chapter 5: Substance, powers and acts
5.1 A curious fourteenth-century thought experiment
5.2 One soul or multiple souls?
5.2.1 John Buridan's arguments against a plurality of souls
5.2.2 Nicole Oresme's hesitation
5.2.3 Summary
5.3 The relation between the soul and its powers
5.3.1 Arguments against a real distinction
5.3.2 Arguments in favor of a real distinction
5.3.3 Some preliminary conclusions
5.3.4 The identification of the soul with its powers
5.4 The soul's presence in the body
5.4.1 From annulose to perfect animals
5.4.2 Is the soul extended or not?
5.4.3 The discussion of the soul's presence after Ockham
5.4.4 Is the power of sight really present in the foot?
5.4.5 From annulose animals to perfect animals
5.5 From animal soul to human soul
5.5.1 The intellective soul: material or immaterial?
5.6 Epilogue and conclusions
5.6.1 The fragile unity of the science of the soul

Chapter 6: Final conclusions

Published sources
Secondary literature

Index Codicum Manuscriptorum

Index Nominum

Format: Monograph - hardback

Size: 240 × 160 × 30 mm

352 pages

ISBN: 9789058679307

Publication: March 06, 2013

Series: Ancient and Medieval Philosophy - Series 1 46

Languages: English

Stock item number: 81233

Sander de Boer is Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Groningen (Faculty of Philosophy). He works mainly on the history of philosophical psychology.
Malgrado questi limiti, il libro di de Boer rappresenta un contributo importante alla storia della dottrina dell’anima, e più in generale alla storia della tradizione aristotelica. Scritto in modo chiaro, ben documentato, capace di analizzare gli sviluppi interni alla tradizione aristotelica ma anche di valutare l’impatto che su di essa ebbero esigenze teologiche e interventi delle autorità ecclesiastiche (cfr. in particolare le pp. 197-206), questo libro mostra come la scientia de anima sia nel medioevo «as much about animals and even plants as it is about human beings» (p. 4); ma al tempo stesso chiarisce come, fra XIII e XIV secolo, si sia creata una sempre più ampia divaricazione fra l’analisi delle anime non umane e quella dell’anima umana, quindi sia emersa una crescente sfiducia nella possibilità di comprendere appieno la natura di quest’ultima tramite strumenti esclusivamente razionali.
Luca Bianchi, Rivista di storia della filosofia, n. 1, 2017

This is a technically impressive study of an ongoing philosophical debate, to which Thomas Aquinas made a major contribution but which continued to provoke discussion.
Constant J. Mews, Parergon 32.2 (2015)


Leaving aside these historiographical differences, one must say that Sander de Boer's study is a readable, solid and well-argued study. De Boer studies new material beyond beaten paths - concerning authors (e.g. the several Anonymi, Oresme and Jandun), as well as places (e.g. Ockham's reception not only in Oxford but also in Paris). He acutely judges the arguments of the different positions, and always offers a clear statement on them. The author surveys the existing literature and discusses it at the relevant places. In the end, one must explicitly highlight that De Boer discloses the systematic status of the relationship between soul and body in this particular period. Future scholars and students of philosophical psychology in the Middle Ages should take a look at De Boer's study in order to be able to better judge a certain position concerning philosophical psychology in a systematic way.
Thomas Jeschke, Tijdschrift voor Filosofie, 76 (2014), 2