Aristotle on the Soul (Book 2, Chapter 1 of De Anima)

So much for historical accounts of the soul: let us dismiss them and make a fresh start. ‘Substance’ refers to (a) matter, as in potentiality, (b) form or essence, as in actuality, (c) that which is compounded of both matter and form. Among substances are bodies and especially natural bodies. Of natural bodies, some have life in them, others not, and every natural body that has life is necessarily a substance in the sense of being a composite. However, the body is the subject or matter, not that which is attributed to it. Hence, the soul must be a substance in the sense of the form of a natural body having life potentially within it. As substance is actuality, soul is the actuality (entelecheia) of a body, that in virtue of which it is the kind of the body that it is. There are two kinds or grades of actuality, one that is akin to the possession of knowledge, and another to the exercise of knowledge. The first grade of actuality is thus a capacity to engage in the activity which is the corresponding second grade of actuality, and soul can be thought of as such a capacity, namely, a capacity to engage in the sorts of activity that are characteristic of the natural body of which it is the form, for instance, self-nourishment, growth, decay, movement and rest, perception, and intellect. Thus, the soul can be described as the first grade of actuality of a natural organised body.

That is why we can wholly dismiss as unnecessary the question whether the soul and the body are one: it is as meaningless as to ask whether the wax and the shape given to it by the stamp are one, or generally the matter of a thing and that of which it is the matter. Unity has many senses (as many as ‘is’ has), but the most proper and fundamental sense of both is the relation of an actuality to that of which it is the actuality … [The soul] is a substance in the sense which corresponds to the definitive formula of a thing’s essence.

Freud in a Nutshell

People with a high level of anxiety have historically been referred to as ‘neurotic’. The term ‘neurosis’ derives from the Ancient Greek neuron (nerve) and loosely means ‘disease of the nerves’. The core feature of neurosis is anxiety, but neurosis can manifest as a range of other problems such as irritability, depression, perfectionism, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, and even personality disorders such as anankastic personality disorder. Although neurosis in some form or other is very common, it can prevent us from enjoying the moment, adapting usefully to our environment, and developing a richer, more complex, and more fulfilling outlook on life. The psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) believed that neurotic people fundamentally had issues with the meaning and purpose of their life. In his autobiography of 1961, Memories, Dreams, Reflections, he noted that ‘The majority of my patients consisted not of believers but of those who had lost their faith’. Interestingly, Jung also believed that neurosis could be beneficial to some people despite its debilitating effects.

The most original, influential, and contentious theory of neurosis is that of Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Freud attended medical school at the University of Vienna from 1873 to 1881, carrying out research in physiology under the German scientist Ernst von Brűcke and later specialising in neurology. In 1885-86 he spent the best part of a year in Paris, and returned to Vienna inspired by the French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot’s use of hypnosis in the treatment of ‘hysteria’, an old-fashioned term referring to the conversion of anxiety into physical and psychological symptoms. Freud opened a private practice for the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders but eventually gave up the practice of hypnosis, instead preferring the method of ‘free association’ which involved asking patients to relax on a couch and say whatever came into their minds. In 1895, inspired by the case of a patient called Anna O, he published the seminal Studies on Hysteria with his friend and colleague Josef Breuer. After publishing The Interpretation of Dreams in 1899 and The Psychopathology of Everyday Life in 1901, both public successes, Freud obtained a professorship at the University of Vienna where he began to gather a devoted following. He remained a prolific writer throughout his life, publishing (amongst others) Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality in 1905, Totem and Taboo in 1913, and Beyond the Pleasure Principle in 1920. After the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938, he fled to London, where he died the following year of cancer of the jaw. His daughter, Anna Freud, became a distinguished psychoanalyst who developed the concept of ego defense mechanisms (see other posts on this blog).

In Studies on Hysteria, Freud and Breuer formulated the psychoanalytic theory according to which neuroses have their origins in deeply traumatic and consequently repressed experiences. Treatment requires the patient to recall these repressed experiences into consciousness and to confront them once and for all, leading to a sudden and dramatic outpouring of emotion (catharsis) and the gaining of insight. This can be achieved through the methods of free association and dream interpretation, and a relative lack of direct involvement by the psychoanalyst so as to encourage the patient to project his thoughts and feelings onto him – a process called ‘transference’ (by contrast, in ‘countertransference’ it is the psychoanalyst who projects his thoughts and feelings onto the patient). In the course of analysis, the patient is likely to display ‘resistance’ in the form of changing the topic, blanking out, falling asleep, coming late, or missing an appointment; such behaviour merely suggests that he is close to recalling repressed material but afraid of doing so. Other than dream interpretation and free association, other recognized routes into the unconscious are parapraxes (slips of the tongue) and jokes. For this reason, Freud famously noted that ‘there is no such thing as a joke.’

In The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), Freud developed his ‘topographical model’ of the mind, describing the conscious, unconscious, and a layer between the two called the preconscious which, though not conscious, could be readily accessed. Freud later became dissatisfied with the topographical model and replaced it with a so-called ‘structural model’ according to which the mind is divided into the id, ego, and superego (see figure). The id is fully unconscious and contains our drives and repressed feelings and emotions. It is dominated by the ‘pleasure principle’, and so seeks out immediate gratification. The id is opposed by the partly conscious superego, a sort of moral judge arising from the internalisation of parental figures and, by extension, of society itself. In the middle sits the mostly conscious ego. Dominated by the ‘reality principle’, the function of the ego is to reconciliate the id and the superego and thereby enable us to engage with reality. Neurotic anxiety arises when the ego is overwhelmed by the demands made upon it by the id, the superego, and reality. To cope with these demands, the ego employs defense mechanisms to block or distort impulses from the id, thereby making them more acceptable and less threatening. A broad range of ego defence mechanisms have since been recognised.

Freud's structural and topographical models of the mind

For Freud, the drives or instincts that motivate human behaviour (‘life instinct’) are primarily driven by the sex drive or ‘libido’ (Latin, I desire). This life-instinct is counterbalanced by the ‘death instinct’, the unconscious desire to be dead and at peace (the ‘Nirvana principle’). Even in children the libido is the primary motivating force, and children must progress through various stages of psychosexual development before they can reach psychosexual maturity. Each one of these stages of psychosexual development (except the latent stage) is focussed on the erogenous zone – the mouth, the anus, the phallus, or the genitals – that provides the greatest pleasure at that stage. For Freud, neuroses ultimately arise from frustrations encountered during a stage of psychosexual development, and are therefore sexual in nature. Freud’s stages of psychosexual development are summarised in the table below.

The Oedipus/Electra complex is arguably the most controversial of Freud’s theories, and can be interpreted either literally (as Freud intended it to be) or metaphorically. According to Freud, the phallic stage gives rise to the Oedipus complex, Oedipus being a mythological King of Thebes who inadvertently killed his father and married his mother. In the Oedipus complex, a boy sees his mother as a love-object, and feels the need to compete with his father for her attention. His father becomes a threat to him and so he begins to fear for his penis (‘castration anxiety’). As his father is stronger than he is, he has no choice but to displace his feelings for his mother onto other girls and to begin identifying with his father/aggressor – thereby becoming a man like him. Girls do not go through the Oedipus complex but through the Electra complex, Electra being a mythological Princess of Mycenae who wanted her brother Orestes to avenge their father’s death by killing their mother. In the Electra complex, a girl this time sees her father as a love-object, because she feels the need to have a baby as a substitute for the penis that she is lacking. As she discovers that her father is not available to her as a love-object, she displaces her feelings for him onto other boys and begins to identify with her mother – thereby becoming a woman like her. In either case, the main task in the phallic stage is the establishment of sexual identity.

Although much derided in his time and still today, Freud is unquestionably one of the deepest and most original thinkers of the 20th century. He is credited with discovering the unconscious and inventing psychoanalysis, and had a colossal influence not only on his field of psychiatry but also on art, literature, and the humanities. He may have been thinking of himself when he noted that, ‘The voice of intelligence is soft, but does not die until it has made itself heard.’ (‘Die Stimme des Intellekts ist leise, aber sie ruht nicht, ehe sie sich Gehör verschafft hat.’)

Jung in a Nutshell

Wandelt sich rasch auch die Welt, by RM Rilke

Wandelt sich rasch auch die Welt
wie Wolkengestalten,
alles Vollendete fällt
heim zum Uralten.

Über dem Wandel und Gang,
weiter und freier,
währt noch dein Vor-Gesang,
Gott mit der Leier.

Nicht sind die Leiden erkannt,
nicht ist die Liebe gelernt,
und was im Tod uns entfernt,

ist nicht entschleiert.
Einzig das Lied überm Land
heiligt und feiert.


The world changes quickly,
like the shapes of clouds,
everything once finished falls
back to the ancient ground.

Far beyond change and progress,
greater and more free,
your early song carries on,
god with the lyre.

Pain has not been understood,
love has not been learned,
and that which leaves us in death

is not revealed.
Over the land all but the song
hallows and exalts.

(Translated by Neel Burton)

Aristotle on Friendship (Book 8 of the Nicomachean Ethics)

After what we have said, a discussion of friendship would naturally follow, since it is a virtue or implies virtue, and is besides most necessary with a view to living. For without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods; even rich men and those in possession of office and of dominating power are thought to need friends most of all; for what is the use of such prosperity without the opportunity of beneficence, which is exercised chiefly and in its most laudable form towards friends?

Other than this, friendship protects prosperity, is a refuge in poverty and misfortune, keeps the young from error, assists the elderly, and stimulates to noble actions those in the prime of life. Friendship deepens thought and reinforces action. Parent feels it for offspring and offspring for parent, not only among men but also among most animals. It holds states together, and lawgivers care more for it than for justice. People who are friends have no need for justice, but people who are just need friendship as well, and the truest form of justice is a friendly quality. Friendship is not only necessary but noble, and it is those with the greatest virtue who are friends most of all. Some philosophers say that friendship is a kind of likeness, others say the opposite. But is there only one type of friendship?

This question may be cleared up by identifying the object of love. There are three grounds upon which a person might wish another well, who, to be truly a friend, must both recognise and reciprocate this well-wishing: that he is useful, that he is pleasant, or that he is good. These reasons differ from one another in kind, and it follows that so do the corresponding forms of love and friendship. Yet, only those who love each other because they are good love each other for themselves, whereas friendships that are founded on usefulness or pleasure are only incidental, and are easily dissolved if one or both parties ceases to be useful or pleasant. These break ups are made more difficult if one or both parties has misrepresented himself or has been misled into thinking that he is loved for himself rather than for some incidental attribute. After a break up, each party should retain some consideration for the other in honour of their former friendship. Friendships that are founded on usefulness are particularly frequent in the elderly, and those on pleasure in the young. As the young are both pleasure seeking and dominated by their emotions, they quickly fall in and out of love, changing often within a single day.

Perfect friendship is the friendship of men who are good, and alike in virtue; for these wish well alike to each other qua good, and they are good themselves. Now those who wish well to their friends for their sake are most truly friends; for they do this by reason of their own nature and not incidentally; therefore their friendship lasts as long as they are good – and goodness is an enduring thing.

The good are not only good to each other, but also useful and pleasant, and this without qualification. It follows that love and friendship are to be found most and in their best form between such virtuous people. Unfortunately, such perfect friendships are as rare as virtuous people themselves, and require a lot of time and familiarity, for people cannot know and trust each other until, as the proverb says, they have eaten salt together. A wish for friendship may arise quickly, but perfect friendship itself does not, and then only in those who are loveable and who are conscious of this fact. In loving his friend, a person loves both the friend and that which is good for him personally, and this need not involve any contradiction. Thus, the person wishes the same things for himself and for his friend, and shares in the same joys and sorrows. He makes an equal return in goodwill and pleasantness, in accordance with the saying that friendship is equality.

There are some relationships, such as those between older and younger or ruler and subject, in which there is a clear inequality between the parties. In such unequal relationships, each party makes a different return according to the nature of the relationship. For instance, a father renders one thing to his son, and the son renders another, equally appropriate, thing to his father. At the same time, the son should love his father more than his father loves him, and in proportion to his superior merit – thereby re-establishing a sort of equality. If, however, persons are vastly unequal in virtue or in wealth or in anything else, then they cannot be friends, and men of no account do not expect to be friends with the best or wisest men.

Most people prefer to be loved rather than to love because they are avid of flattery. However, friendship depends more on loving than on being loved, and an enduring friendship requires due measures of loving. Like loves like, and this is especially true in the case of virtue, for virtuous people hold fast to each other, and neither go wrong nor let their friend go wrong. Wicked people on the other hand do not even remain like to themselves, let alone to each other, and become friends only for a short time so as to delight in each other’s wickedness.

Just as friendship binds together individuals, so justice binds together communities. Friendship is closely related to justice, and the demands of justice increase with the strength of a friendship. For this reason, it is more terrible to defraud a friend than a citizen, more terrible not to help a brother than a stranger, and more terrible to wound a father than anyone else. At the same time, the friendship of kindred and that of citizens should be marked off from the rest on the grounds that they rely on a sort of compact and are therefore more like mere friendships of association.

There are three kinds of constitution, monarchy, aristocracy, and timocracy or polity, monarchy being the best kind and timocracy the worst. Their respective perversions are tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy, in which privileges are not extended according to merit and rulers look after their own interest rather than the common interest. Of the perversions, tyranny is the worst and democracy is the least bad, with the result that the perversion of the best is the worst and that of the worst is the best. The relationship between father and son is analogous to monarchy, that between man and wife to aristocracy, and that between brothers to timocracy. If these relationships become devoid of friendship or justice, they descend into the perversions of the constitutions to which they are analogous.

Complaints and reproaches tend to arise in the friendship of utility, since those who are friends on the ground of pleasure both get at the same time that which they desire, and those who are friends on the ground of virtue are anxious to do well by each other. Differences also tend to arise in friendships of superior and inferior, for each expects to get more out of the other, and the friendship ends up being dissolved. The better or more useful person expects that he should get more, or else he feels less like he is being a friend and more like he is performing an act of public service. The more needy or inferior person also thinks that he should get more, reasoning that there is otherwise no use in being the friend of a good or powerful person. Each party is justified in his claim, and each should get more out of the friendship than the other – but not of the same thing. The superior person should get more honour, and the inferior person more gain. However, it is often the case that a benefactor loves his beneficiary more than his beneficiary loves him in return because it is more pleasurable to give than to receive and because the benefactor is in some sense responsible for ‘creating’ the beneficiary, much like an artist creates a work of art. It is preferable to have a small number of meaningful friendships than many superficial ones. A virtuous person may be self-sufficient, yet he will seek out friends, for friendship is one of the greatest goods in life.

Aristotle on Pleasure

Some philosophers think that no pleasure is a good; others think that only some pleasures are good and that most are bad; and yet others think that all pleasures are good, even though they are not the supreme good. However, none of their many arguments is able to prove that pleasure is not a good or even the supreme good, this for three principle reasons. (1) The good or bad need not be simply good or bad, but good or bad for a certain person or at a certain time. (2) The good or bad is either an activity (energeia) or a state (hexis), and there are pleasures that come from being restored to our natural state, and pleasures – such as the pleasure of contemplation – that come from being in our natural state. (3) Pleasures are not processes but activities; as activities, they are also ends in themselves. It is true that some pleasures are harmful, but this is only in a limited sense. On the other hand, the higher pleasures that are enjoyed by the temperate person are not harmful in any sense. If it can be agreed that pain is bad and to be avoided, then it can also be agreed that pleasure (the contrary of pain) is good and to be sought out. All men think that the happy life is pleasurable, and cannot conceive of an ideal of happiness that is divorced from pleasure. All animals avoid pain and pursue pleasure, and if some of the pleasures that they pursue are bad, this need not imply that all pleasures are bad or even that the supreme good is not some pleasure. Things that are pleasurable incidentally in that they act as restoratives can be contrasted to things that are pleasurable by nature in that they stimulate the action of the healthy nature. These natural or higher pleasures do not admit of pain and therefore neither of excess. If the majority of men prefer incidental pleasures to natural or higher pleasures, this is because of man’s vicious nature. In truth, pleasure is found more in rest than in movement, and God perpetually enjoys a single and unalloyed pleasure.

- Nicomachean Ethics, Book VII, Chapters 11-14


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 176 other followers

%d bloggers like this: