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19. Sensation and Desire


Subject Classics, Psychology

People Aristotle

Key-Topics desire

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405122238.2009.00022.x


It would be difficult to exaggerate the importance Aristotle attaches to sensation ( aisthesis ). It plays a key role in how we come to have knowledge and how we hit upon the right thing to do. In Aristotle's treatise on the soul, the De Anima , the psychological capacity that is discussed at greatest length is the perceptual faculty of the soul and its various functions. These include the five senses, the common sense and imagination. Elsewhere in the corpus Aristotle extends the functions of the perceptual faculty to include memory, dreaming and consciousness. Desire is another important concept in Aristotle's psychology. His account of it in the De Anima is quite compressed but without desire, there can be no action. Sentience and locomotion are the two characteristics that distinguish animals from plants. A concept of desire, broad enough to cover all types of motivation, is required, Aristotle recognizes, in order to explain self-movement. In light of the multi-faceted nature of Aristotle's concepts of sensation ( aisthesis ) and desire ( orexis ), it would be wise to adopt a cautious attitude about identifying these notions too closely with the concepts we associate with the English terms “sensation” and “desire.” This is especially true in the case of aisthesis . This Aristotelian term has been variously translated in different texts as “sensation,” “perception,” “awareness,” ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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