BMCR 2007.04.32

Aristotle’s Practical Side. On his Psychology, Ethics, Politics and Rhetoric

, Aristotle's practical side : on his psychology, ethics, politics and rhetoric. Philosophia antiqua, v. 101. Leiden: Brill, 2006. 1 online resource (xii, 482 pages).. ISBN 9789047409755. $194.00.

This book is a compilation of twenty four independent articles written by Fortenbaugh (henceforth “F”). Twenty two were previously published over the past four decades, and two (Chapters 6 and 15) are original to this volume. The book is arranged into the four topics named in subtitle, and articles are presented topically, not chronologically. F’s Introduction, however, tells the story of his scholarly history, and places the individual articles within this historical development. These articles were originally published in venues meant for specialists, and this book retains that same focus. There is a small amount of untranslated Greek. It is an interesting collection, though there is nothing new here. Indices on ancient sources and subjects are included. I shall describe select chapters from each of the four parts to give a sense of the book’s contents.

Part I: Psychology, opens with the theme that will recur in much of what follows: Aristotle’s analysis of emotions (pathe) as essentially involving cognition. This is the thesis F argues for in Chapter 1, “Aristotle’s Rhetoric on Emotions.” Emotions are not merely inner feelings or physiological responses that impel behavior (although that is part of emotion), as they were in earlier views of emotions that saw them as afflictions that befell one. Rather, emotions involve cognition in the form of a rational apprehension and evaluation of the relevant situation, and this evaluation is then usually manifested in goal-directed behavior. For instance, a frightened man is frightened because he judges his situation to be dangerous, and his response is to seek safety — a goal achieved by either fleeing or preparing to meet the danger. In particular, F argues that Aristotle followed the standards set out in his Posterior Analytics when he defines emotions (26-28). Aristotle sees cognition as both essential to and the efficient cause of emotional response, and so it must be included in a definition that “shows why.” The thought of outrage (a cognition) is essential to anger and also the efficient cause of anger, which Aristotle defines as “a desire for revenge on account of apparent insult” (27).

In discussing how Aristotle’s view of emotions developed from views in the Academy, F notes that Plato’s tripartite psychology failed to draw a clear distinction between emotional responses and bodily drives. Aristotle corrected this by his careful analysis of those pathe such as anger and fear that necessarily involve cognition and so can be reasonable or unreasonable, as opposed to non-rational, bodily pathe such as hunger. The resulting theory of emotion was an advance in Aristotle’s philosophical psychology, one which anticipated contemporary philosophical debate. An important consequence for Aristotle’s rhetorical theory is that emotional appeal became a reputable form of persuasion, because such appeal can be effected by reasoned argumentation that engages the audience’s judgment. Another important consequence is for Aristotle’s ethical theory: emotional response is seen as an intelligent form of human behavior, and moral virtue is a correct disposition in regard to emotion (e.g., courage guarantees a correct response to fearsome situations).

Chapter 3, “On the Antecedents of Aristotle’s Bipartite Psychology,” traces the roots of Aristotle’s division of the human soul into logical and alogical (to alogon) parts, i.e., reason and emotion, from two possible sources. The first is a view of emotion that is at least implicit in Euripides’ Medea, and thus implicit in popular thought. Euripides’ tragedy portrays a dishonored wife deliberating about taking revenge on her husband by murdering their children. F argues that Medea’s ambivalence manifests three different elements that correspond to elements within Aristotle’s bipartite psychology. First is her experience of the emotions of anger and grief. Second is her engagement in a process of means-end deliberation to determine how to translate her desire for revenge into action. Third is her engagement in reasoned reflection about her emotional response. While she is quite skilled at the second element, and well-known for her cleverness, she is deficient at the third, and unable to alter her emotional response in accordance with reasoned consideration. (This is a gender-specific deficiency, addressed in ch. 14.) In Medea’s inner turmoil, we see that reasoning is related to emotion in two distinguishable ways, yielding a bipartite from a tripartite distinction. Aristotle’s bipartite psychology associates the first element, emotion, with the alogical part. He combines the second and third elements, giving the logical part, reason, two aspects: a deliberative part that follows emotion, and a reflective part that can control emotion (48). Thus, Aristotle’s bipartition is “a dichotomy between emotional response on the one hand and means-end deliberation together with reasoned reflection about emotional response on the other” (44). Practical wisdom is the excellence of the deliberative part, and moral virtue is the excellence of the alogical part that experiences the emotions (for more on this distinction see ch. 7).

A second possible root of Aristotle’s bipartite psychology is Plato’s tripartite theory: it has been claimed that Aristotle merely combined the lower two parts of the Platonic soul, the spirited and appetitive, into one. F rejects this claim, arguing that Aristotle was himself critical of such a move that developed within the Academy. The Republic and Timaeus suggest a bipartition in which the spirited and appetitive parts are grouped together as the mortal soul and the rational part becomes the immortal soul (56). Yet each of the three parts has drives and desires, and emotions are assigned to the rational soul. In Aristotle’s psychology, however, all desires and emotions are limited to the alogical soul. F concludes that Aristotle’s bipartite psychology did not develop out of Plato’s version of bipartition. Nor did Aristotle invent the bipartite view of reason and emotion. Rather, Aristotle gave formal recognition to a dichotomy that was ready at hand in popular thought and Euripidean tragedy.

Chapter 6, “Aristotle and Theophrastus on Emotion,” is the newest paper in this volume.1 It largely repeats F’s earlier treatment of Aristotle’s analysis of emotional response, but adds a brief section (VIII) on Theophrastus, and a few new points (listed on p. 70, n. 4). F admits this paper is meant as an introduction to the topic (70).

The section on Theophrastus discusses his treatment of the related emotions of faultfinding, anger and rage. Like Aristotle, Theophrastus “analyzed anger in terms of thought, goal directed behavior, feelings and bodily change” (96). F says that Theophrastus’ innovation was his introduction of “difference in degree” to distinguish between closely related emotions such as faultfinding, anger and rage. F’s evidence is Simplicius, and F admits the uncertainty of attributing all of Simplicius’ report to Theophrastus, and also notes that no text reports the details of Theophrastus’ analysis of these three emotions. Nevertheless, F explains why he thinks it likely that Theophrastus applied difference in degree to one or more of the features involved in anger. For instance, Theophrastus may have said that anger is caused by a greater injustice than faultfinding, and rage by an even greater injustice than anger. The position F attributes to Theophrastus is justified by numerous hypothetical claims, and so is quite tentative, and is a minor point as well.

Ethics is the topic of Part II. Chapter 7, “Aristotle: Emotion and Moral Virtue,” rests on F’s view that emotion involves cognition, as described above in Chapter 1. F goes on to argue that Aristotle’s scientific psychology of the De Anima does not correspond to the bipartite psychology of his ethical and political works as closely as is sometimes assumed (122). The De Anima distinguishes the thought and reasoning of the rational soul, the sensation, imagination and impulse of the perceptive soul, and the purely biological functions of the nutritive soul. Aristotle’s bipartite psychology distinguishes the deliberation and reflection of the logical soul from the emotional response of the alogical soul. This ethical dichotomy does not group together all thought and judgment, because emotional response also involves deliberation and calculation. That is, within the rational soul Aristotle distinguishes between the alogical part which is obedient to logos and the logical part which has logos and engages in reasoning (124).

F argues that Aristotle’s scientific and bipartite psychologies are compatible, not contradictory, but still mark an important distinction. The scientific psychology is a faculty psychology that is tied to a scale of life ascending from plants to animals to humans. The bipartite ethical psychology is a human psychology based upon the fact that we describe and classify human behavior in terms of emotional response and reasoned deliberation (128). It distinguishes two kinds of intelligent human behavior. (A particular emotional response may be unreasonable when it is based on erroneous or unjustified cognitions, but still it involves rationality.)

It is this dichotomy of the bipartite psychology which underlies Aristotle’s distinction between moral virtue and practical wisdom. An emotion such as fear or anger involves a goal, and then the agent must calculate and deliberate concerning the means to achieve this goal. A morally virtuous man will have a proper goal because he properly apprehended and evaluated the situation. Possessing the moral virtue means that a man will have the correct emotional response, because he properly evaluated the situation. He will experience the emotion on the grounds he ought, at whom he ought, as he ought, when and for as long as he ought, etc. (115). His goal will be correct because it is justified by the situation. All of this activity — the apprehension and evaluation — is the activity of the alogical part of the rational soul. The excellence of this activity is moral virtue.

But moral virtue does not guarantee the correctness of the calculations concerning the means to achieve this goal — that is the domain of practical wisdom. Once the goal is set, the agent engages in means-end deliberation, considering the alternative means and deciding upon the best and most advantageous. The excellence of this sort of deliberation is practical wisdom, and it is the activity of the logical part of the rational soul. Thus, the sphere of moral virtue is emotional response and the goal that such emotion involves, while the sphere of practical wisdom is reasoned means-end deliberation to achieve that goal.

Part III is on Politics. In Chapter 14, “Aristotle on Slaves and Women,” Aristotle’s bipartite psychology is shown to underlie his view of the deficiency of women and natural slaves. F argues that Aristotle’s view of slaves and women is neither the prejudice of a privileged Greek male, nor the rationalization of the status quo by a misguided biologist, as is often thought. Rather, it is a political application of Aristotle’s important advance in philosophical psychology, i.e., the above-mentioned bipartite psychology. Aristotle holds that by nature the logical part rules and the alogical part is ruled (252), but women and slaves are defective in their logical soul and so it is unable to rule their emotions. This deficiency justifies why they should be ruled by their husbands, fathers, masters, etc.

Women are said to possess the deliberative capacity, but this capacity is “without authority” (akuron), while “natural” (as opposed to conventional) slaves lack the deliberative capacity entirely. F argues that Aristotle is explaining why women and slaves have the social roles and functions they have, and it is an explanation based on psychological (as well as physical) difference.

A woman is quite capable of deliberation and can in fact be very clever in calculating the means to achieve her end. She is also perfectly capable of reasoned reflection on her emotional response. These are the two activities of the logical side of her soul. Her deficiency is that the emotions of her alogical soul are so overwhelming that they overrule the decisions of her reasoned reflection, as seen in Medea’s ultimate decision to murder her children to achieve her goal of revenge.

A slave, however, wholly lacks the capacity to deliberate. F says that Aristotle denies the slave reason, but allows that he shares in reason to the extent that he can perceive it (243). The slave tends to act only on emotion and without reflection, although, like a child, he can be amenable to reasoned admonition, and like the slave boy in Plato’s Meno, he can follow the reasoning of another but is unable to do the reasoning himself. Since emotion for Aristotle is itself a cognitive activity, the slave is still classed among rational humans, instead of being demoted to the status of a non-rational animal.

F may be reading too much into Aristotle’s claim that the slave lacks the deliberative faculty. F takes this to mean that the slave entirely lacks the logical half of the human soul of Aristotle’s bipartite psychology. However, Aristotle says at Politics I.13 that the slave, like the woman, has both the logical and the alogical parts of soul, although these parts are present in slave, woman, and freeman “in different degrees” (1260a11-12). So the lack of the deliberative faculty cannot be equated to the lack of the entire logical half of the soul.

Chapter 15, “Aristotle’s Natural Slave,” is original to this volume. F defends the same views of Chapter 14, but in addressing recent scholarship gives a more detailed defense of some points. For instance, it has been argued that Aristotle’s slave “is ‘in no actual way’ different from an animal.”2 F denies this by distinguishing between Aristotle’s scientific psychology, which rests upon the tripartite theory of nutritive, sensitive, and rational soul, and his bipartite psychology, which rests upon the dichotomy of logical and alogical parts. Animals possess nutritive and sensitive soul, but wholly lack intelligence. Slaves possess rational soul, but are dominated by the alogical part since they lack the capacity to deliberate. The alogical part of the human soul, however, is still rational, because emotions involve judgment, cognition, and thought. Animals are incapable of emotion because they are incapable of cognition (on which see Chapter 9).

F is mostly an apologist for Aristotle’s sexist and classist views, arguing that these views are the consequence of Aristotle’s advances in philosophical psychology. But he does conclude Chapter 15 on a critical note, pointing out that Aristotle has no argument to justify treating slaves as property (261).

Part IV is on Rhetoric, and several chapters address “persuasion through character.” Chapter 17 discusses wisdom, virtue and goodwill as the three character traits making an orator trustworthy and so persuasive. Chapter 18 argues that the difference in Aristotle’s presentation of persuasion through character in Rhetoric 1.2 and 2.1 is due to their respective orientation towards judicial and deliberative oratory. In Chapter 19, F contrasts Aristotle’s account of persuasion through character, which attempts to maintain the audience’s impartiality, with Cicero’s account of “winning goodwill,” which attempts to arouse the audience’s emotions in such a way that impartiality is lost.

The one thesis that underlies most of the articles in this volume is F’s insistence that emotion for Aristotle is an essentially cognitive activity. F’s Aristotle on Emotion: A Contribution to Philosophical Psychology, Rhetoric, Poetics, Politics and Ethics (London: Duckworth, 1975), covered a lot of the same issues using the same arguments. In the thirty plus years since F first started making this claim, scholarly opinion is still divided, though most seem to agree with him to one degree or another. Knuuttila’s recent book on ancient and medieval views of emotion highlights the diversity of scholarly opinion on the exact relationship between feelings and emotions and their various cognitive components.3 Nussbaum, for instance, stresses the cognitivity of Aristotelian passions, and thinks Aristotle sees beliefs as both necessary and sufficient conditions of emotions.4 Sorabji, on the other hand, argues that Aristotle did not regard judgments as necessary for emotions, as they can also be aroused by imagination alone, without a belief.5 Knuuttila suggests a compromise: that Aristotle could think that there are “emotions proper” which do involve a cognitive judgment, and also “emotional phenomena” which are similar to emotions, but which have an affective representation rather than a judgment as their cognitive part (38).

This is an interesting book, covering a wide range of issues. However, considering the age of most of these articles, the redundancy with F’s 1975 book on the same topic, the lack of new substance in the two new articles, and the hefty price, this book will be worth buying only for individuals who are either fans of F’s work or doing serious research on the main topic. But it should be purchased by university libraries, as it is a very convenient compilation worth consulting by scholars researching the four subtopics.


1. It is also forthcoming in Passions and Progress in Greco-Roman Thought, ed. J. Fitzgerald (London: Routledge).

2. 260, citing N. Smith, “Aristotle’s Theory of Natural Slavery,” Phoenix 37 (1983) 117-122.

3. Simo Knuuttila, Emotions in Ancient and Medieval Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004).

4. 35-36, citing Martha Nussbaum, The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994): 88-90; and Upheavals of Thought: The Intelligence of Emotions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001): 63-4.

5. 38, n.73, citing R. Sorabji, Animal Minds and Human Morals: The Origins of the Western Debate (London: Duckworth, 1993): 56-7.