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Conference Paper

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Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy (2010)


Any interpretation of Aristotle’s phantasia should aim to account for the unusual

presentation he gives of it in De Anima III 3. The procedure of this chapter is not typical to his investigations into the soul’s faculties. His accounts usually proceed from an examination of its objects, since they determine the nature and character of its activities. But Aristotle does not clearly state what the objects of fantasiva are, leading some scholars to conclude that it has no objects of its own and, hence, is not a genuine or full faculty. Instead of detailing its objects, he begins the chapter with the argument that his predecessors cannot account for the possibility of error because they take sense-perceiving (aijsqavnesqai) to be identical to understanding (fronei`n, 427a21-22). Phantasia is abruptly introduced in the course of this discussion. After distinguishing sense-perception from understanding (fronei`n) and thinking (noei`n), Aristotle writes, “For phantasia is different from sense-perception and discursive thought” (427b14-15). He then turns his attention to phantasia, but to specify, at least initially, what it is not. The negative analysis effectively provides a list of features phantasia can have; however, we are left to wonder which of these features are essential to it, if any. It is only in the last section of the chapter beginning at 428b10 that Aristotle provides something of a positive account. Phantasia, he there explains, is a motion that occurs as the result of actual sense-perceiving (428b13, b25-26), is similar to sense-perception (428b14), and is that in virtue of which its possessor can do and be affected by many things (428b16-17).



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