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22 - The soul’s faculties

from IV - Soul and knowledge

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2014

Dag Nikolaus Hasse
Affiliation:
Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Robert Pasnau
Affiliation:
University of Colorado Boulder
Christina van Dyke
Affiliation:
Calvin College, Michigan
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Summary

Most medieval thinkers assume that the human soul has several faculties or powers: basic faculties such as digestion or growth, more elaborate faculties such as movement, vision, or imagination, and the characteristically human faculties of will and intellect. This was the mainstream position, but it was not left unquestioned in the later Middle Ages and in early modern philosophy. Several nominalists, for instance, argue that the powers of the soul are nothing but different names for the soul itself, as it is active in different ways. Later, in the seventeenth century, mechanistic philosophers such as René Descartes claim that there is no real distinction between power and act, nor between soul and powers. Descartes reserves the term ‘soul’ for the mind, and so reduces the number of powers drastically; he claims that all lower powers, such as sense perception or imagination, are equivalent either to the mind or certain powers of the body. Even Thomistic authors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, who usually defend the theory of the faculties, at times question the traditional set of faculties and reduce their number. Francisco Suárez, for example, holds that common sense, imagination, estimation, and memory are in fact one power, because all these functions can be attributed to one faculty.

Nevertheless, in spite of the criticisms voiced by nominalist and early modern philosophers, medieval faculty psychology itself was well supported by arguments that have their origin in Greek philosophy. In the Republic, for example, Plato proposes a threefold division of the soul into reason, spirit, and desire. He bases this theory on the fact that there are conflicts in the soul: we may desire an object and at the same time reject it, as when we desire to drink something but reject it because we think it is bad for us. This can be explained, he believes, only by assuming that the soul has distinct parts that can come into conflict with each other (435e–439d).

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2014

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References

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  • The soul’s faculties
  • Edited by Robert Pasnau, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Edited in association with Christina van Dyke, Calvin College, Michigan
  • Book: The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy
  • Online publication: 05 August 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHO9781107446953.028
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  • The soul’s faculties
  • Edited by Robert Pasnau, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Edited in association with Christina van Dyke, Calvin College, Michigan
  • Book: The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy
  • Online publication: 05 August 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHO9781107446953.028
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • The soul’s faculties
  • Edited by Robert Pasnau, University of Colorado Boulder
  • Edited in association with Christina van Dyke, Calvin College, Michigan
  • Book: The Cambridge History of Medieval Philosophy
  • Online publication: 05 August 2014
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CHO9781107446953.028
Available formats
×