BMCR 2005.06.13

Aristote et le mouvement des animaux. Dix études sur le De motu animalium

, , Aristote et le mouvement des animaux : dix études sur le De motu animalium. La Collection "Philosophie". Villeneuve d'Ascq: Presses universitaires du Septentrion, 2004. 239 pages ; 24 cm.. ISBN 2859398406. €22.00.

This collection of essays (hereafter AMA) derives from a conference on Aristotle’s De motu animalium (hereafter δμἀ, held at the University Charles de Gaulle-Lille 3 in October 2001. A quarter of a century after Nussbaum’s groundbreaking work,1 the editors’ aim was to take a bearing on our knowledge of this short and intricate treatise and to examine the perspectives opened by the most recent research.

The volume is stimulating: there are many first-rate papers, which will be very useful to the specialist. However, I have some reservations about its achievement as a pedagogical tool. The editors hope that the various contributions may serve as a “guide de lecture” (p. 7): this may be true for some of them, but I doubt that any homogeneous perspective about DMA can be easily extracted from the whole collection. Indeed, the various papers adopt quite different perspectives (and often presuppose substantial familiarity with Aristotle); some are rather long (40 pages), others fairly short (11 pages); some address specific passages of DMA, while others are more “transversal” or comparative. Given the difficulty of DMA and the variety of approaches presented here, one may also regret the absence of an introduction by the editors: there is only one page of presentation (p. 7). One can also regret the absence of an index. In fact, AMA reflects the current state of scholarship about DMA: many tracks seem worth pursuing, but, as the treatise has remained less studied than other portions of Aristotle’s philosophy, we are still in the dark concerning some of its central aspects (but thanks to some papers inside, we have now a much clearer view of the ins and outs of DMA). In other words, it is not time for a synthesis comparable in scope to Nussbaum’s (even though AMA doesn’t neglect anything central in DMA and if needed rightly corrects Nussbaum’s interpretation). But it is time for the pursuit of various research paradigms. On this point, AMA provides an excellent reflection of promising investigations, and should be read as such.

DMA is a composite and often elliptical text, which can be divided into two parts: one part (chapters 1-5) deals with a general theory of motion, the other (chapters 6-11) with animal motion. The relationship between the two parts remains obscure — as does Aristotle’s intention in each part, even if the study of animal motion is clearly made up of three inquiries. First comes what may be called a “theory of intentional action”, encapsulated in the so-called “practical syllogism”; second, a physical explanation of movement, whose lineaments have been introduced in the first half of DMA and other Aristotelian works; third, a theory of the formation of desire.2

Papers by Morison, Lefebvre and Bodnár focus on Aristotle’s natural philosophy and thus deal, more or less directly, with the first half of DMA. Papers by Crubellier, Gourinat, Labarrière and Morel pertain to the philosophy of animal motion and action set out in DMA’s second half. The contributions by Rashed and Fazzo are more philological in nature and deal with matters of chronology and composition. Bénatouïl’s paper is a bit apart in the collection, since it deals with the use of a specific method (analogy) in the whole treatise.

In “Le ‘syllogisme pratique’, ou comment la pensée meut le corps” (pp. 9-26), Michel Crubellier sets out a stimulating interpretation of Aristotle’s remarks concerning the practical syllogism. The paper is not intended as an exhaustive examination of this question (a whole book would be hardly enough): its strength lies in the way it judiciously gathers various indications about Aristotle’s philosophy of action (mainly taken from DMA, the De anima and the Nicomachean Ethics) with an original reading of the first sentence of DMA 7.

Let us begin with DMA 7, 701a7-8 — a sentence which deserves a careful reading. Here is the Greek text, followed by Nussbaum’s translation: πῶς δὲ νοῶν ὁτὲ μὲν πράττει ὁτὲ δ’ οὐ πράττει, καὶ κινεῖται, ὁτὲ δ’οὐ κινεῖται;“But how does it happen that thinking is sometimes accompanied by action and sometimes not, sometimes by motion, and sometimes not?” Crubellier has some doubts about this understanding of the text (p. 10), and they are worth mentioning. According to this translation, what is at stake here is the understanding why a man (or, more generally, an animal) doesn’t always act. But it would really be a strange question and the presence of the participle νοῶν seems difficult to account for. Does Aristotle mean one should account for the fact that the animal doesn’t constantly act while it is thinking? Of course, such a translation might be kept if there were no alternatives, but there is one, rightly seen by Crubellier, which agrees naturally and convincingly with the whole chapter. Indeed, Aristotle wants to provide a reconstruction of the thoughts which explain one’s choice and one’s action (or inaction). So the text should read as follows (p. 9): “Quel mode de pensée fait que l’on agit (ou, le cas échéant, s’abstient d’agir) et que l’on accomplit un mouvement (ou, le cas échéant, reste immobile)?” In short, Crubellier takes πῶς δὲ νοῶν as an apposition: it bears on the various alternatives (action, inaction; movement, rest), which are all considered in this context as resulting from a choice.

This new understanding of the opening of DMA 7 gives the whole chapter a more realistic reading. Aristotle tries to account both for the homogeneity of intentional and reflexive human conduct and its application to animal behaviour (pp. 10-11). Deliberation thus appears as a more refined way to reach the same goals as the animals (survival, well-being, pleasure), who reach them in a more immediate (and impoverished) way. Therefore, the so-called “practical syllogism” must be seen above all as a model of animal activity and only secondarily as a model of human deliberation. As noted before, together with a physical explanation of movement and a theory of the formation of desire, it provides a complete description of animal movement. But if our understanding of the practical syllogism should not follow the model of a deductive inference, what is the point of comparing it with a kind of inference (DMA 7, 701a8-9)? Crubellier makes here a suggestive remark which nicely summarizes his interpretation: “de même que les prémisses du syllogisme théorique expliquent la conclusion, la rencontre de la majeure et de la mineure explique l’action. La majeure devient une règle pour l’action lorsqu’elle rencontre la mineure” (p. 22). Surely, much more needs to be said about the meaning of “explain” here, but Crubellier’s paper makes a good job of placing DMA in the right perspective and stressing many of its stakes.

Jean-Baptiste Gourinat’s “Syllogisme pratique et logique déontique” (pp. 27-66) takes a quite different look at the practical syllogism. Whereas Crubellier insisted upon seeing the practical syllogism as belonging to a “biological” examination of animal motion, Gourinat examines it in a much more intellectualist vein, even if his conclusions (p. 65) are in part consonant with Crubellier’s — but only in part, because Gourinat sticks to the traditional reading of DMA 7, 701a7-8 and interprets Aristotle’s intention about the practical syllogism accordingly (p. 59). He tries to compare Aristotle’s practical syllogism and modern systems of deontic logic, notably those of G. H. von Wright and G. Kalinowski,3 who consider Aristotle one of their precursors. The first part of the paper (pp. 28-38) provides a very useful and informative overview of deontic logic (notably Kalinowski’s work, which I think is less known than von Wright’s). The second part (from p. 38), following Kalinowski’s steps, expounds a detailed formal analysis of the syllogisms of DMA. It is often well argued (see for instance pp. 55-57) and full of good sense (for example, p. 40, n. 40 about the confusion between order and obligation).

Ben Morison’s “Self-motion in Physics VIII” (pp. 67-79) is a short but incisive paper. It doesn’t deal directly with DMA, but it sheds a welcome light on Aristotle’s theory of motion and particularly animal motion. Contrary to a widespread interpretation,4 Morison argues that in Physics VIII, Aristotle doesn’t claim that when an animal “self-moves”, the principle of its motion comes from its environment. According to Morison, Aristotle doesn’t claim that the principle of that motion derives from outside the animal either (p. 67). The main problem of this traditional interpretation is well-known: it contradicts Aristotle’s repeated claim that animal motion is due to the animal itself (that is, to its soul). Morison studies the two passages from the Physics (VIII, 2, 253a7-21; VIII, 6, 259b1-22) that are supposed to ground the orthodox interpretation and, besides directing various objections to it, works out his own reading.

The sense in which animals are self-movers is not straightforward: at Physics VIII, 259b7, Aristotle explains that animals strictly speaking do not move themselves ( οὐ κυρίως).5 This is because a self-mover is divided into two parts: one which remains unmoved and the other which is moved by the first. So the self-motion of the animal is not derived from the whole animal (once again, this doesn’t mean the environment is the main cause of the animal’s self-motion): it is derived from a part of it. However, when an animal moves, the soul of the self-mover (the animal) is actually moved — but accidentally ( Physics VIII, 259b20-22). Being moved accidentally, the animal’s soul is ruled out as a cause of the continual motion of the universe. Therefore, the existence of animal motion poses no threat to Aristotle’s general theory of motion (most notably the existence of a Prime Mover), because the souls of the self-movers cannot be the unmoved movers responsible for the continual motion of the universe.

With Thomas Bénatouïl’s paper, “L’usage des analogies dans le De motu animalium” (pp. 81-114), we’re back to DMA. Bénatouïl rightly notices that the most famous passages in DMA are comparisons. This provides a good reason to study the use of the analogies in this treatise. Accordingly, his article follows the whole progress of DMA, noticing the various kinds of analogies set out by Aristotle and their epistemological significance. On the way, it provides a helpful overview of the contents of DMA. From a pedagogical point of view, I would have favoured its location as the first paper in the collection.

David Lefebvre’s “La critique du mythe d’Atlas. DMA, 3, 699a27-b11″ (pp. 115-136) tackles one of the most curious and difficult passages of DMA. At DMA 2, 698b8-13, Aristotle argues that any rest within the animal is ineffective if there is not something outside which is unqualifiedly at rest and unmoved, and that this has implications beyond animals to the motion and course of the universe. Aristotle thus extends his discussion of animal motion to a “cosmological” study of motion. He goes so far as to question the validity of this principle when applied to the whole cosmos (699a12-14): “if something moves the whole heavens, must this, too, be unmoved and be neither any part of the heavens, nor in the heavens?” Chapters 2 to 5 of DMA address this question, but Aristotle’s approach, for many reasons well explained by Lefebvre (pp.116-117), is odd. So we should find a good reason to account for the way he deals with a problem which is solved in other works. In other words, why does Aristotle think it necessary to refute the myth of Atlas, when he had already established that the heavens could not be moved by an internal heavenly mover?6

Lefebvre must be praised for his painstaking examination of Aristotle’s refutation of the myth of Atlas, which guides the reader through the tangles of Aristotle’s natural philosophy. He shows convincingly that the present refutation of the myth of Atlas is, in a way, a dead end (p. 136). This is not the right way to introduce the finalism and the doctrine of the Prime Unmoved Mover which appear at DMA, chapter 6 (and these considerations are precisely founded on reflections exterior to DMA’s first half). It is rather a kind of thought-experiment, which, as acknowledged by Lefebvre, remains obscure on many points.

In “The mechanical principles of animal motion” (pp.137-147), István Bodnár argues that Aristotle’s DMA and Progression of Animals deploy some of the explanatory techniques available, notably, from the pseudo-Aristotelian Mechanics. Accordingly, Bodnár draws attention to the parallels between the two Aristotelian treatises and the mechanical one. The discussion is often illuminating and helps to direct one through Aristotle’s numerous kinematical observations.

Jean-Louis Labarrière’s very dense paper “Désir, sensation et altération” (pp. 149-165) is an extract from his book Langage, vie politique et mouvement des animaux. Études aristotéliciennes (Paris: Vrin, 2004) — an insightful work which is a major representative of the revival of studies on the DMA. Here Labarrière focuses on Aristotle’s theory of the formation of desire. For Aristotle, “the animal moves in virtue of desire or choice, when some alteration has taken place in accordance with sense-perception or phantasia” (DMA 6, 701a4-6) (this remark applies to voluntary movements). However, if the mover is the desiring part of the soul, it cannot be an unmoved mover: the faculty of desire imparts movement while being itself moved (DMA 6, 700b35-701a). Now such a motion must be accounted for, both from a psychological (the use of the faculties, which the practical syllogism must explain) and a physiological point of view (the mechanism of corporeal parts, already alluded to in the treatise). The notion of “alteration” ( ἀλλοίωσις) plays a key role here, pertaining to sensation and motion: most notably, it sets animal motion apart from the motion of automatic puppets (pp. 153-159). Briefly put, desire moves only if there has been some alteration. The nature of ἀλλοίωσις (that is, a change according to quality) and the significance of the physiological and psychological modifications it brings about are well explained by Labarrière (pp. 159-164). He rightly insists on the role of the central notions of pneuma, heat and cold. One of the main strengths of the paper is the way it connects psychological and physiological matters. As Labarrière remarks (p. 149), the distinction between “psychology” and “physiology” must not be passed over in silence, but neither should it be stressed excessively. This leads him, in the course of his exposition (pp. 160-161), to side against Burnyeat in the ongoing controversy about the nature of perception.7 If one follows his argumentation, it seems indeed rather uncomfortable to resist a physiological interpretation of sensation (namely, the idea that there is a material alteration in the sense-organ), especially if, like Labarrière, one takes seriously DMA 8 (and there seems to be no good reason to do otherwise).

“Volontaire, involontaire et non-volontaire dans le chapitre 11 du DMA d’Aristote” (pp. 167-183), by Pierre-Marie Morel, is a close examination of DMA 11, the treatise’s last chapter. In the preceding chapters, Aristotle had focused on voluntary movements.8 He must now explain what he calls involuntary ( ἀκουσίος) and non-voluntary ( οὐχ ἑκουσίος) movements. Involuntary movements are, for example, those of the heart and the penis (acceleration of cardiac rhythm, erection), because these are moved when something appears, but without the command of thought. By contrast, non-voluntary movements (such as sleep, waking, breathing) are those where there is neither phantasia nor desire and a fortiori no control of thought.

Morel casts light on this complex passage. He argues from a perspective which in many ways agrees with Labarrière’s, taking seriously the physiological considerations that are omnipresent in Aristotle’s text. According to Morel (p. 168), the main problem of DMA 11, apart from identifying the causes of involuntary and non-voluntary movements, is to answer the following question: under which conditions can we ascribe to the animal the movements it didn’t cause intentionally? Put differently, the problem is about the way animals can be said to be “self-movers”, all the more so when what is at stake is not their voluntary movements. Two interpretations might be given here. One, labelled “restrictive” by Morel and set out notably by Nussbaum, considers that “local motion is the only genuine self-motion”.9 The other, championed by Morel, considers that other kinds of natural motion can rightly be called “self-motions”. DMA 11 upholds the second reading, since it shows that the aetiology of involuntary and non-voluntary movements is organic and internal to the animal (p. 170) — the role of heat variations here cannot be overestimated. Of course, this aetiology shows that movements other than voluntary are, strictly speaking, movements of the animal’s parts (DMA 11, 703b5). We must then wonder if, given the relation between the parts and the internal principle, we are entitled to maintain the thesis of animals as self-movers. Morel thinks we can (p.180). It is sufficient if the animal is a “global self-mover”, that is, it is the ultimate cause of its internal and external movements; it is not necessary for him to be an “integral self-mover”, which would intentionally cause all its own movements. The last two papers (by Rashed and Fazzo) argue for new hypotheses about the composition of DMA and its place in the Aristotelian corpus. Such an investigation is required if we want to make sense of the obscure and lapidary character of DMA, which is often even more elliptical than other Aristotelian treatises. Philological acumen gives a better view of the conceptual tensions which run through Aristotle’s DMA.

Marwan Rashed’s paper “Agrégat de parties ou vinculum substantiale ? Sur une hésitation conceptuelle et textuelle du corpus aristotélicien” (pp. 185-202) is a fine rehabilitation of genetic studies of the Aristotelian corpus. Such studies are now out of fashion, for good and bad reasons. The good reasons are well-known: existing studies of Aristotle’s philosophical development are quite arbitrary, since the genetician indexes ideas to words (but often on doubtful bases), so as to make possible a chronological development marking Aristotle’s escape from Platonism (or his coming closer to Platonism). On the other hand, it is hard to see how Aristotle could have written his whole corpus after Plato’s death. We face an unpleasant situation: genetic studies appear both necessary and unproductive, or anyway unconvincing.

Fortunately, Rashed provides us with good tools to overcome this aporia. First, a diagnosis. There is no stylistic evolution to be found in Aristotle’s works. Therefore, “il faut reconnaître, si l’on admet que la rédaction du corpus a dû s’étaler sur plus de vingt ans, que les textes tels que nous les lisons actualisent sans cesse des matériaux antérieurs” (p. 186). It is precisely this continuous updating which must be investigated from a genetic point of view. One will thus pick out successive effets de corpus which will disclose the evolution of Aristotle’s thought. Second, a method. Among the various devices likely to shed light upon these “corpus effects”, the examination of the various prologues of Aristotle’s works and the analysis of the Greek (Byzantine) and Arabic manuscript traditions are most useful. Rashed devotes his paper to such a study. Examining the evolution of Aristotle’s biological and physiological corpus, Rashed argues that DMA was integrated into it very late. Moreover, he shows, convincingly to my mind, that:

1) the Parva naturalia, as we know them, are never attested in the independent Greek textual tradition;

2) this tradition always transmits the first half of the Parva naturalia 10 (hereafter PN) along with DMA;

3) there is a time when Aristotle thought of History of Animals, Parts of Animals II-IV and Generation of Animals as a self-contained biological corpus;

4) the psychological developments such as the De anima were introduced into this corpus at a later time;

5) it is very likely that Aristotle had some hesitations about the composition of the whole of Parva naturalia;

6) this wavering reveals a tension between hylemorphism and the study of a living substance as an aggregate of parts;

7) it is very likely that Parts of Animals I was integrated rather late into the biological corpus, for which it served as an introduction;

8) it is very likely that DMA was integrated as a sequel to the first half of PN;

9) it is likely that the two distinct but parallel prologues of De longitudine et brevitate vitae correspond to two different integrative functions of the second half of PN; therefore, they correspond to two distinct ways of ordering the biological corpus;

10) it is likely that the last work integrated by Aristotle was DMA.

Whereas Rashed studies the composition of the biological corpus and DMA’s place in it, Silvia Fazzo examines the composition of DMA itself in her “Sur la composition du traité dit de motu animalium : contribution à l’analyse de la théorie aristotélicienne du premier moteur” (pp. 203-229). Fazzo follows in some respects the same method as Rashed, since she devotes a large part of her argument to the study of the various prologues of the DMA.11 These prologues (at 1, 698a1-7; 1, 698a7-14; 6, 700b4-11) reveal the way Aristotle ordered or put in a new perspective an existing material. Fazzo’s meticulous study of DMA’s prologues and contents leads to the following conclusions:

1) The title De motu animalium is clearly spurious (pp. 210-212). Moreover, there is no evidence that Aristotle ever wanted to give a title to this work.

2) The DMA is the combination of two distinct inquiries, which the various prologues attempt (with mitigated success) to bring together. The first one, called DMA 1 (chapters 1-5), is a kind of preliminary examination of movement. In some ways, it is both a parallel and a prolegomenon to the inquiry on motion which culminates in Metaphysics Λ. However, DMA 1 is much less successful than Physics VIII and Metaphysics Λ. Here, Fazzo confirms Lefebvre’s analysis. The second one, called DMA 2 (chapters 6-11), specifically addresses animal motion. It follows De sensu 1 and De anima III, 10. It is probably later than Metaphysics Λ and De anima III (p. 228). It fits perfectly into the physiological corpus.

3) But the status of DMA as a whole is much harder to assess — the subject matter (motion) and the general method (the analogy between universe and animal) cannot manage to give the treatise a perfect unity. Because of its first half, it is not, strictly speaking, a zoological work. It looks as if Aristotle, after much wavering and perhaps for lack of anything better, decided to add it to the biological corpus.

The DMA has not received the same attention as other parts of the Aristotelian corpus. For reasons of space, I have left out many interesting developments of this volume. But it is clear that AMA, whose papers are often representative of the most recent trends in Aristotelian scholarship, is a welcome addition to Aristotelian studies.

I noted a few misprints, none of them of importance, except for some problems with bibliographical references.

For Gourinat’s paper, Kalinowski 1972 generally refers to G. Kalinowski, La logique des normes.

Authors often refer to Nussbaum 1985. This reference doesn’t appear in the bibliography. The book in question is the paperback edition (with corrections) of Nussbaum’s edition, translation and commentary.

On p. 55, n. 71, one should read Kalinowki 1953 instead of Kalinowski 1951.

On p. 204, l. 10, one should read 700b4-11 instead of 700a4-11.

On p. 212, n. 24 (begun p. 211), one should read Fazzo 2004 instead of Fazzo 2003.


1. See Martha Nussbaum, Aristotle’s De motu animalium, Text with Translation, Commentary and Interpretative Essays, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1978.

2. See Crubellier’s paper, pp. 13-14.

3. To mention only a sample of works, see G. H. von Wright, “Deontic Logic”, Mind 60, 1951, pp. 1-15; id., Practical Reason, Blackwell, 1983; G. Kalinowski, La logique des norms, Paris, PUF,1962; id., Etudes de logique déontique 1 (1953-1969), Paris, Librairie Générale de Droit et de Jurisprudence, 1972.

4. Held for example by Martha Nussbaum, Aristotle’s De motu animalium, p. 119, and David Furley, “Self-movers”, in G. E. R. Lloyd and G. E. L. Owen (edd.), Aristotle on Mind and the Senses, Proceedings of the seventh Symposium Aristotelicum, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1978, pp. 176-77.

5. The meaning of this expression (and other similar ones) is very well discussed, pp. 73-75.

6. Such a question takes for granted that DMA as a whole is later than Physics VIII and Metaphysics Λ. There are good reasons to believe that DMA’s second half (chapters 6-11) is later than Metaphysics Λ. See below, on Fazzo’s paper.

7. Labarrière refers to Myles Burnyeat, “Is an Aristotelian Philosophy of Mind Still Credible? A Draft”, in M. C. Nussbaum and A. O. Rorty (eds), Essays on Aristotle’s De anima, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 15-26, and “Aristote voit du rouge et entend un ‘do’: combien se passe-t-il de choses? Remarques sur De anima II, 7-8″, Revue philosophique de la France et de l’Etranger 118, 1993, pp. 263-280. Burnyeat is followed by T. K. Johansen, Aristotle on the Sense-Organs, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998, chapter 6. For a competing view, which sets out a materialist reading of Aristotle’s theory of perception, see (among others) Richard Sorabji, “Body and Soul in Aristotle’, Philosophy 49, 1974, pp. 63-89; id., “Intentionality and Physiological Processes: Aristotle’s Theory of Sense-Perception”, in Nussbaum and Rorty, op. cit., pp. 195-225; and Stephen Everson, Aristotle on Perception, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1997, chapter 5.

8. However, one should remember here that the way Aristotle addresses these various kinds of movement in DMA differs from the way he deals with them in the Nicomachean Ethics III, 1-3 and the Eudemian Ethics II, 6-10. The discrepancies between DMA and the Ethics are mainly due to the different kinds of inquiry pursued in these works: DMA studies the movements of all the animals, the Ethics the moral and legal qualification of human actions (p. 174).

9. Nussbaum, op. cit., p. 119.

10. De sensu, De memoria, De somno et vigilia, De insomniis and De divinatione per somnia. The second half of PN is made up of the following treatises: De longitudine et brevitate vitae, De iuventute and senectute and De respiratione.

11. Fazzo had already devoted a significant study to the prologues of Aristotle’s treatises. See Silvia Fazzo, “Esordi e trattati in Aristotele”, in Linguaggio, mente e mondo. Saggi di filosofia del linguaggio, filosofia della mente e metafisica, a cura di M. Carrara, G. De Anna, S. Magrin, Padova, 2004, pp. 19-38.