Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2010.12.56

Klaus Corcilius, Streben und Bewegen: Aristoteles' Theorie der animalischen Ortsbewegung. Quellen und Studien zur Philosophie Bd. 79.   Berlin/New York:  Walter de Gruyter, 2008.  Pp. x, 410.  ISBN 9783110194548.  $137.00.  

Reviewed by Peter Lautner (

The aim of the book is to show that human action does not essentially differ from animal movements; rather, it is an ‘improvement’ of them by the aid of important additions. Corcilius also aims to point out that the two accounts of motivation, De anima III 9-11 and De motu animalium do not contradict to one another. They form a coherent explanation. The book divides into two sections: the first discusses desire (o)/rexis) with its three kinds, appetite (ἐπιθυμία), spirit (θύμος) and wish (βούλησις), while the second deals with a general theory of animal locomotion, with an investigation into De anima III 9-11 and De motu animalium.

On examining the capacity of desire (τὸ ὀρεκτικόν) the author asks first whether it is an independent part of the soul or not. The main result is that the desiring capacity is not part or even a capacity of the soul, but a capacity of the animated being. This fits well with the general thesis that in the De anima Aristotle does not discuss the soul as such, but only insofar as it is part of the animated being (24). True, he does want to examine the definitional properties of the soul (I 1, 402a7), and these properties are called definitional because they belong exclusively to the thing to be defined. But examination of psychic functions such as sense-perception, memories, and episodes of thinking does not necessitate a discussion of the soul in itself, since these functions are properties of the ensouled bodies. For instance, sense-perception involves a specialized bodily structure, the sense-organ. Consequently, Aristotle offers explanations of psychic processes as they occur in the nature of ensouled bodies.

At this point one might raise the objection that if we assume that the soul can exist on its own then we would run against basic Aristotelian convictions. To say that the soul has such definitional properties might be to indicate that the soul can exist independently of the body. Corcilius is well aware of the risk. He insists that as the form of the organic body the soul cannot exist on its own. As a consequence, properties belonging to the soul alone are the properties mentioned in the definition of the soul. We have to define the principle (ἀρχή, De anima I 1, 402a6-8) which serves as the basis of explaining the phenomena connected to living bodies. Each soul belongs to a body but that does not mean that the definition and per se properties of the soul belong to a body as well (27). They are abstract, explanatory entities (reference is to An. Post. I 7, 75a36 ff.). We do find remarks in the De anima in connection with this principle, but it would be a mistake to take them as clarifying the soul-body relationship in an individual being. In sum, definitional properties play a role at the level of explanation without allowing for independent existence.

We turn next to the analysis of the motivational structure of actions. Corcilius shows that as they belong to the category of relatives, desires must be defined in respect of the objects they are directed to. These objects are, however, not singular things, but general goals. The basic definition is to be found in De anima III 7, 431a8-14. Non-rational desires such as pleasure and pain are defined as states of the body of the living being insofar as they are related to the appropriate sense-perceptions, which can be either good or bad for the living being itself. Following a well-known characterization, ‘good’ and ‘bad’ refer to bodily states that can be called so with a view to the ‘natural’ state of the animal; good is what disposes the body to conform with its natural condition. It is also important to see that ‘nature’ may not only mean a general condition appropriate to a species. It can also refer to dispositions and preferences acquired by the individual living being. On the other hand, non-rational desires are also defined as movements that directly follow from perceptions of pleasure and pain. They are antecedent causes of all kinds of animal locomotion.

That might raise the suspicion that Corcilius interprets Aristotle’s theory as a version of hedonism. He does, but we have to be clear that his point is not that Aristotle insists on a psychological type of hedonism; rather, Corcilius argues that Aristotle's theory is a sort of motivational hedonism, because perceptions of what is pleasant have a role in the causal chain leading to action. The division of desire into three species roughly corresponds to the tripartition of goods into psychic, bodily and external types; appetite relates to bodily goods, spirit to external goods, and wish to the goods of the soul (131). The division is explanatory in the sense that these types can occur in mixed forms, especially in human beings, since they can possess all three types of desire. Moreover, the types are distinguished not according to the concrete object of desire, but the relations that they bear on the object. The picture is rather complex. The lion desires neither the lamb, nor eating the lamb, these being only means whereby the goal has been reached. In this case there are four different levels (pursuit of the lamb – hunger (to be stuffed) – appetite (pleasure) desire (operation or restitution of the natural state) and we should not isolate any of them as the single goal. Among the three types wish, the rational desire towards objects that are always good has received a particularly detailed discussion (160-208). It is the direct outcome of the pleasure felt in thinking of such objects and has no contrary pain (Top. VI 8, 146b2). It allows for desires towards things which do not affect the person who wishes them . Consequently, when he does not acquire what he wished for, he will not necessarily be subject to pain or diminution of pleasure. Wish has no motivational force of its own because its rational, theoretical content is motivationally irrelevant (p. 172, with reference to De anima III 9, 432b26-29). It applies to rational content in general too (De partibus animalium I 1, 641a32-b10). Rather, its role in the formation of actions is due to the fact that its goals are always identical in extension with the goals of the two non-rational desires. This is the way rational contents will be relevant to initiating actions.

One might raise two realted issues. The first concerns the vita contemplativa suggested in the last chapters of Nicomachean Ethics Book X. If wish has no independent motive force of its own, we have to rethink the implications of the theoretical way of life. What kinds of actions does it involve? If, as seems likely, we have no non-rational desire for contemplation, how can we account for the motivational background of such a way of life? The other concerns akrasia which is, on Aristotle’s view, specifically human. The classical account (e.g., in Plato’s Protagoras 352D-E) describes it as a conflict between two independent motivational forces. Of the two kinds of akrasia, weakness and recklessness, the former one implies deliberation, yet the person does not persist with the conclusions of his deliberations. It seems as if the weak acratic person has two sets of motivation at work. Aristotle seems to claim in Nicomachean Ethics VII 5, 1146a27 that appetite can move each of our parts.1 If by “parts” we must mean parts of the soul, then we may make one of the two claims: /1/ there are no conflicting motivational forces in us, or, /2/ there are, but the appetite overwrites the motivation raised by deliberation. It might seem as if Corcilius supported the first option. Instead of having conflicting desires the acratic person looks for a ground which enables him to fulfill the desire so that the fulfillment seems to him morally justified. This is the motive force behind his deliberation (281). Corcilius says elsewhere 2 that strong appetites induce the weak acratic to be content with some flimsy justification and to act accordingly, without noticing that this action is the opposite of what he was about to do, which is a kind of self-deception. The opposition is not between the contents of knowledge, but rather at the level of propositions governing the particular way of action, which are derived from that particular knowledge. At this point one might ask if the distinction between two kinds of knowledge, that possessed and that actually used, applies to the propositions as well.

In the second part of the book the author examines the account of animal locomotion to be found in De anima III 9-11, and De motu animalium 6-11. These texts present the same theory, although there is a difference in approach. The passages in De Anima focus on the parts of the soul which we can use as principles to clarify locomotion of the animals, whereas the De motu concentrates on the explanation of particular occurrences. The former offers a causal theory of locomotion in which no single capacity of the soul moves the animal on its own. Movement happens when the affects produced by the object of sense-perception lead to desire. For an animal to be in motion, therefore, it needs both a cognitive content and an appropriate desire that are parts of a continuous process within the agent, rather than belonging to co-ordinate parts of the soul. Desire is the starting point of a cognitive act which is in turn the starting point of action (259, referring to De anima III 10, 433a15-17). Conflicts between different desires can be explained by the aid of phantasia; by being not always true it differs from reason though it is equally capable of initiating actions (264-265).

Coricilius' discussion of De motu starts with two questions (289, 303). What is the starting point in the sense of efficient cause for the particular sorts of locomotion (flying, creeping, etc.) in animals? And how does the soul move the body? The first question is answered with recurrence to the practical syllogism as discussed in De motu 7, 701a7-b1. This is interpreted in the context of a causal theory which maintains the unbroken continuity of causality in natural processes (303). It shows the conditions whereby animal locomotion will be necessary. The premises are not propositions but the two phases in the arousal of movement; the major premise represents an undetermined desire whereas the minor represents a perception of a particular object.

The way in which the soul moves the body is described in terms of physiology. It is a process that begins with a change of temperature, continues through a change in the condition of bodily ingredients in the proper parts of the body, and ends up in the contraction and expansion of su/mfuton pneuma. This is not to say, however, that the capacity of desire is endowed with a specific substrate. Rather, connate pneuma serves a transitory role from purely qualitative changes in the body to the mechanical ‘push and draw’ (433b26-7 quoted on p. 338) that is responsible for locomotion. The point is not that it can perform tasks that the elements cannot (340); after all, it is made up of air throughout. The limit of Aristotle’s empiricism is that here we do not have any evidence for the cohesion of such a structure in the body of the animal.

The book is furnished with a fine, highly informative bibliography, a detailed index of passages and a short one of ancient and modern authors.

All in all, this is an excellent book with rich and subtle argumentation. I noticed only a few slips (e.g., read symphyton for symphton on p. 17, the entries on Victor Caston and Klaus Corcilius are somewhat garbled in the Bibliography, and we should read Verbeke for Verbecke on p. 337, n. 85). Anyone interested in Aristotle’s theory of human motivation, or in human motivation in general, should not miss it.


1.   The text runs as follows: δ’ ἐπιθυμία ἄγει; κινεῖν γὰρ ἕκαστον δύναται τῶν μορίων. Unlike Corcilius, who takes ἕκαστον to be the subject of the second clause (“Denn jeder der beiden (Seelen-) Teile vermag in Bewegung zu setzen.”, p. 281), I am tempted to think that the subject is ἐπιθυμία because the text seems to say that appetite can drive the person and that this is manifested also in judgments made by virtue of this influence. At any rate, it might also fit the picture Corcilius draws on p. 261.
2.   See, K. Corcilius, ‘Die erste Aporie zur Akrasie in EN VII’, in: K. Corcilius & Chr. Rapp (eds.), Handlung – Wille – Willensschwäche. Beiträge zur Aristotelischen Handlungstheorie. Stuttgart: Steiner, 2008, 143-173.

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