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Aristotle on perception, phantasia and skepticism

Grant number: 13/18513-4
Support type:Scholarships abroad - Research Internship - Post-doctor
Effective date (Start): January 01, 2014
Effective date (End): May 31, 2014
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Philosophy - History of Philosophy
Principal researcher:Roberto Bolzani Filho
Grantee:Evan Robert Keeling
Supervisor abroad: Robert Bolton
Home Institution: Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil
Research place: Rutgers The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, United States  


There has very recently been a renewed interest in Aristotelian philosophy of mind. One of the most important parts of Aristotle's general theory of the soul or mind is his theory of perception. He claims that during perception the soul takes on the form of the object being perceived. Thus can the soul somehow perceive a stone without becoming a stone itself. In my PhD thesis I discussed Aristotle's theory of perception as it relates to the problem of false perceptions. In addition to perception, Aristotle also recognizes another process, which he calls phantasia-closely related to perception but different from it-that allows certain types of representation to take place. It is this process that I am most interested in. In particular, I want to understand how Aristotle uses phantasia to explain false perceptions, thus connecting Aristotle's views on perception and the mind with his epistemology. For Aristotle, basic perceptions are infallible. (He calls them perceptions of the special objects of sense.) He therefore needs an explanation for how false perceptions are possible. In my thesis, I argued that Aristotle introduces phantasia (or 'appearance') into his theory to deal with this problem. My goal in this research is to continue developing this idea by getting a better understanding of what phantasia is and how it interacts with perception. Simply understanding the nature of phantasia is surprisingly contentious and difficult, so much so that some scholars say Aristotle's conception of phantasia is incoherent. Part of the problem is that he seems to believe both that phantasia is an automatic side-effect of perception, but it is a matter of choice when it occurs-it is "up to us when we wish" (De Anima 3.3). My solution, though I need to defend it in more detail, is to say that perception always produces certain images but that these images often go overlooked and that they can be brought to mind at will. It is also controversial to say, as I do, that phantasia can mix with perception. Aristotle never says this quite explicitly. I take it to be necessary since, on my reading, he needs phantasia to explain false perceptions. This implies that certain types of perception are predicative, and I take it that what happens is an image, or a memory, is predicated of a perceived object. Understanding these ideas better will lead to a better understanding of Aristotle's theory of soul and his epistemology in general. (AU)

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