1 What Basic Functions Must Animals Do To Stay Alive Aristotle and Al-Farabi on Soul

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Aristotle and Al-Farabi on Soul

For Aristotle, the soul has no form and is the form of matter. Spirit is the capacity by which matter or body can perform certain activities such as growth, decay, movement, nutrition, reproduction, perception and intellect. In the hierarchy of the functions of the soul, the rational soul that performs the intellect is the one that lies at the top. Humans have rational souls, but animals do not. Animals perform the functions of the sentient soul (perception and movement) and the nutritive soul (growth and nourishment). The soul, for Aristotle, is not a thing, it is a capacity of matter so it stays with matter. Body capacity is not divisible. For example, an ax is only metal and wood, but its ability to cut is its soul. For Aristotle, the thinking part of the soul is less complex and will survive death. The more complex parts of the soul rely on matter and cannot exist without a body.

Aristotle introduces the active intellect, a part of the rational soul that will survive immortality. Therefore, spirit is inseparable from matter, and it is a capacity, but a part of this capacity can be separated. This part is the active intellect. He characterizes the active mind as distinct, intact and unmixed, being essentially actuality and also eternal. Herein lies the controversy. Capacities are based and not free. How can a part of the capacity be separated from which it is a capacity i.

For the Arab philosopher, Al-Farabi, the purpose of human beings is to develop rational powers through the use of the will. The rational intellect must be developed for the rational soul to become immortal. Here, we know that Al-Farabi thinks quite similarly to Aristotle. So, as confusing as it is to understand what Al-Farabi’s beliefs were about the immortality of the soul, we know for sure that he believed, like Aristotle, in the immortality of a part of the soul which is the rational part or active intellect. However, Al-Farabi has a different interpretation of Aristotle’s active intellect.

For Al-Farabi, human beings are between two worlds: the higher, immaterial world of heavenly intellects and the lower, immaterial world of decaying organisms. Human beings have a rational capacity in their soul that is the active intellect that connects them to the higher realm. Active intellect is that which turns the potentially intelligible to earthly men into actual intellect. So one goal of a man is to move towards perfection or the First Cause.

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