Aristotle (384-322 B.C.)…
continuing series on
Human Intelligence published August 2005 in the
Riverside Review

Ambitious young Athenians and other Greeks gravitated to Plato’s Academy, where they hoped to acquire mental strength and agility. Among Plato’s students was a 17 year old youth by the name of Aristotle. His father was a physician to the king of Macedonia, a country 200 miles north of Athens. For the next 20 years Aristotle studied under Plato. In 342 B.C., King Philip of Macedonia called him to tutor his son Alexander, then 14. After Alexander the Great conquered Greece and Persia and became king, he supported his teacher’s scientific researches by having his army located in far away countries collect biological specimens and sent them to Aristotle. After six years in Macedonia Aristotle returned to Athens, established his school in the Lyceum, and taught for another 14 years. Aristotle died at the age of 62.

Although Plato and Aristotle shared many concerns, their minds worked in different ways. Plato was intuitive and poetic; Aristotle viewed the world through the cool, objective eyes of the laboratory scientist. Aristotle’s chief interests were biology and medicine, but he took all knowledge as his preserve, and he was constantly noting down details of weather, metaphysics, political science, and human behavior.

Aristotle is often regarded as the father of psychology (the science of human behavior), and his book, De Anima (On the Soul), was the first book on psychology. Many believe he contributed more to prescience psychology than any other person, both qualitatively and quantitatively. Aristotle postulates that the body and the mind exist as facets of the same being, with the mind being simply one of the body's functions. Aristotle believed that thinking requires the use of images. While some animals can imagine, only man thinks. Knowing (nous) differs from thinking in that it is an active, creative process leading to the recognition of universals; it is akin to intuition, it does not cause movement, and it is independent of the other functions of the human mind.
The core of Aristotle's account of moral virtue is his doctrine of the mean. According to this doctrine, moral virtues are desire-regulating character traits which are at a mean between more extreme character traits (or vices). For example, in response to the natural emotion of fear, we should develop the virtuous character trait of courage. If we develop an excessive character trait by curbing fear too much, then we are said to be rash, which is a vice. If, on the other extreme, we develop a deficient character trait by curbing fear too little, then we are said to be cowardly, which is also a vice. The virtue of courage, then, lies at the mean between the excessive extreme of rashness, and the deficient extreme of cowardice. Aristotle is quick to point out that the virtuous mean is not a strict mathematical mean between two extremes. For example, if eating 100 apples is too many, and eating zero apples is too little, this does not imply that we should eat 50 apples, which is the mathematical mean. Instead, the mean is rationally determined, based on the relative merits of the situation. That is, it is "as a prudent man would determine it." He concludes that it is difficult to live the virtuous life primarily because it is often difficult to find the mean between the extremes.
Aristotle described the human mind as a substance able to receive knowledge. Knowledge is obtained through the mind's capability of intelligence, although the five senses are also necessary to obtain knowledge. As Aristotle describes the process, the sense receives the form of sensible objects without the matter, just as the wax receives the impression of the signet-ring without the iron or the gold.