Aristotle on Memory and Mind

A project to interpret Aristotle on the structure of memory and of the human mind. When we experience the world, how does the world 'enter' our minds so that we can have knowledge of it?

Department: Philosophy

Supervised by: Prof. David S. Oderberg

The Placement Project

Aristotle's theory of mind is subject to various interpretations, largely due to the difficulty of interpreting some key texts in his book De Anima (On the Soul). Some see him as a dualist, appealing to the 'active intellect' as a distinguishing, immaterial feature of rational minds. Others interpret his texts on the active intellect as interpolations by other authors or as not representing Aristotle's real view. Instead, they say, he was a materialist about the mind. The aim of this project is to study closely, both in the original Greek and in translation, the key Aristotelian texts on mind and memory, with a view to providing the most plausible interpretation that reconciles the various tensions in his works such as De Anima and the Metaphysics. Having settled on a plausible interpretation, the aim is to evaluate the theory philosophically and with reference to developments in psychology and cognitive science. Key questions for research are: (1) Does the faculty of memory have real existence prior to the formation of particular memories, and does this help us understand Aristotle’s distinction between rational and non-rational (e.g. animal) minds? (2) Is the famous ‘active intellect’ of Aristotle’s De Anima merely conceptually distinct from other part of the mind, or does it have real existence in its own right? Could it exist separately from the passive intellect? (3) For Aristotle, knowledge involves the mind’s somehow ‘taking on’ the forms of real objects. What does this famous view of knowledge mean? Can we replace the metaphor with something philosophically robust? What kind of theory of mind would we get as a result? (4) Does Aristotle’s theory require that recollection essentially involves the active intellect? He wants to distinguish animal and rational minds (only the latter having active intellect), but can he do so if animals too have memory?


1) Close study, under guidance, of the key texts from Aristotle. 2) Study of the most well-known commentators on Aristotle's theory of mind, such as Barnes, Irwin, and Sorabji. 3) Construction of the most plausible interpretation of Aristotle on mind and memory. 4) Philosophical evaluation of the theory in relation to our empirical knowledge of mental operations from psychology and cognitive science.

Skills, knowledge and experience required

1) Confidence in and willingness to undertake in-depth study of Aristotle's works relevant to the project. 2) Skills of textual interpretation. 3) Skills of critical philosophical evaluation. 4) Ability to locate appropriate primary and secondary literature via online databases and in hard copy. 5) Willingness to assimilate and present basic empirical information from psychology and cognitive science sufficient for a philosophical project.

Skills which will be developed during the placement

1) Developed proficiency in reading and interpreting Aristotle. 2) Improved skill at textual analysis. 3) Enhanced skill in independent research and literature review.

Place of Work

Home and University.

Hours of Work

15 hours/week

Approximate Start and End Dates (not fixed)

Wednesday 01 July 2015 - Saturday 15 August 2015

How to Apply

Covering letter plus curriculum vitae to be submitted by 20th March, following which interviews will be conducted jointly with PI and another member of the Philosophy Department. Covering letter should demonstrate reasons for wanting to undertake the project, possession of relevant skills, and ability to manage time and work to schedule.

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