Life in Action: Nutritive Souls in Aristotle
Aristotle saw nutrition as the most fundamental life activity, the ability to turn not-self into self. That activity undergirds and supports all the others. He spoke concretely of three souls, identified by their life activities. Vegetables operate through nutrition and reproduction. They consume resources and have offspring. Animals interact with their environment through sensation and locomotion. They have the vegetable activities but they also sense and respond to stimuli. Finally, humans reason. Aristotle provides both etiological and a physiological accounts of vegetable souls. The etiological account can be usefully compared to evolution by natural selection. The physiological account, invoking vital heat, does not fit well with modern science. Nor do the concepts of form necessary to animal and rational souls.
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