Ancient Greek Psychology and the Modern Mind-Body Debate

Aarhus, Denmark: Aarhus University Press (1986)
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Ancient Greek Psychology and the Modern Mind-Body Debate offers an overview of Platonic-Aristotelian thought on man with a view to considering what its alternative conceptual framework may contribute to the modern debate which is dominated by the scepticism confronting modern reductionism. The mind-body problem is central to the modern philosophical and cultural debate because we cannot understand what man is until we understand what consciousness is and how it interacts with the body. Although many suggestions have been offered, no convincing account has as yet appeared. Perhaps it was all mistaken ideology from the start? A crucial (and fatal?) distinction was made by modern natural science in the 17th century between the subjective/qualitative and the objective/quantitative. The ancient Greeks, notably Plato and Aristotle, focused not on consciousness and experience, but on goal-directed reason/form, and the contrast was not mechanical matter, but the particular. The latter owed its intelligibility and being to reason and form and did not, therefore, constitute a realm of its own. Hence the ancient picture of man did not fall apart either: the soul is conceived of as a dynamic-telic aspect of the human organism. Considering the problems and consequent scepticism that confronts modern reductionism and the recent appearance of holistic ideology in many areas it is suggested that we take a fresh look at the alternative conceptual framework of our ancient Greek ancestors.



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Erik Ostenfeld
Aarhus University

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