Aristotle (384–322 BC)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A022-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved October 17, 2018, from

19. Appearance and thought

Appearance (or ‘imagination’; phantasia) links perception to goal-directed movement. A lion sees or smells a deer; it takes pleasure in the prospect of eating the deer, and so wants to catch the deer. To connect perception with pleasure and desire, we need to say how the deer appears to the lion (as prey); this is what Aristotle calls the lion’s appearance of the deer (On the Soul III 3, 7).

Aristotle denies that this appearance constitutes a belief (doxa). He argues that belief requires reason and inference, which non-human animals lack; in his view, they lack any grasp of a universal, and have only appearances and memory of particulars (Nicomachean Ethics 1147b4–5). The operations of sense, memory and experience are necessary, but not sufficient, for the grasp of a universal that is expressed in concepts and beliefs (Posterior Analytics II 19; Metaphysics I 1).

Concepts and beliefs require intellect (nous) actualized in ‘understanding’ or ‘thinking’ (noein; On the Soul III 4) (see Nous). Thought differs from perception in so far as it grasps universal essences – for example, what flesh is, as opposed to flesh. Perception does not include grasp of the universal as such; in grasping the universal, we recognize some feature of our experience as a ground for attributing the universal to a particular that we experience.

To explain how the mind is capable of grasping universals when we interact causally with particular perceptible objects, Aristotle distinguishes two aspects of intellect – passive and ‘productive’ (or ‘active’ or ‘agent’) – claiming that these two aspects must combine to produce thought of universals (On the Soul III 5). He does not say how productive intellect contributes to our grasp of universals. Later interpreters suggest that productive intellect abstracts the aspects relevant to the universal from the other features of particulars that are combined with them in perception (Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a q.79 a.3).

Aristotle takes the presence of this productive intellect to be necessary for any thinking at all. Moreover, he believes that productive intellect is capable of existing without a body. He still maintains his belief in the inseparability of soul from body; for since productive intellect is not a type of soul, its separate existence is not the separate existence of a soul.

Citing this article:
Irwin, T.H.. Appearance and thought. Aristotle (384–322 BC), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A022-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

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