Aristotle’s Psychology

Fortunately, I have read Aristotle’s Psychology for a class I am teaching at Loyola University in the philosophy of psychology. One of the interesting ideas in this book is Aristotle’s observation that each animal has capacities that contribute to that animal’s survival and “life meaning,” or function. The argument is that human beings are the only animals that possess a capacity for self-reflective thought, and, therefore, this capacity is necessary for survival, but it is also necessary for life satisfaction.

While human beings have similar desires and needs as other animals, in addition, we have a capacity and therefore a need to reflectively make choices in the context of what is ethically sound. This is the basis of character. This is possible because of deliberate reflection. And it is this activity that leads to life satisfaction, or fulfillment.

From the book: p. 99 “Eudaimonia [the flourishing life] is, then, not some mysterious condition of being that one somehow falls into as a result of good genes or sound instruction; it is an actually conceived state of being toward which a person strives. A life becomes a work of art evolving, the artist altering the methods, the materials, and even the conception of the intended work as he goes along. Though constructive behavior is initially conditioned, the child moves beyond the stage of animality and into the stage of rationality. In this stage and state—and equipped with behavioral dispositions that have been anchored to creature comforts—this now rational being can finally come to order his conduct and plan his life in an authentic manner; i.e., the conduct now reflects what the actor himself has chosen for himself, cognizant not only of alternatives, but of the fact that such choices in the past were shaped by forces external to himself. [This]  is to recognize that ongoing virtuous actions are at once a source of, an expression of, and a means to, pleasure…..What distinguishes [simple pleasures] from eudaimonia is that the latter is not an episodic detail to be added to or subtracted from life; it is the very form of life.”

In other words, it is the lived life, informed by self-conscious reflection, which results in an incremental development of character over a lifetime. Our choices create us, and we cannot avoid them. Our freedom lies in our process of how we go about making those choices and acting on them.



About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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2 Responses to Aristotle’s Psychology

  1. Carlos Alejandro Mejía Ardila says:

    I really enjoy your blog, specially the fact that it is about not te corrective nature of psychology but rather the positive psychology focus on how to live life to its fullest. Aristoteles isnt the only philosopher who believes about living correctly makes you grow your “spirit”, Nietzsche and Plato have the same view with the Ubersmench and the Philosopher king respectively. This ideas have influenced the history of psychology for example Maslow and his last level of his pyramid, the self actualization. Carl Rogers also mentions the way to become an ideal man. What it is important to note about all this philosophers is that psychology has reviewed their ideas because they took a naturalistic, materialistic and monist approach, which led them to be more legit despite their age.

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