Touching, thinking, being: The sense of touch in Aristotle's De Anima and its implications

Minerva - An Internet Journal of Philosophy 17 (1):74-101 (2013)
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Abstract

Aristotle’s treatment of tactility is at odds with the hierarchical order of psyche’s faculties. Touching is the commonest and lowest power; it is possessed by all sentient beings; thinking is, on the contrary, the highest faculty that distinguishes human beings. Yet, while Aristotle maintains against some of his predecessors that to think is not to sense, he nevertheless posits a causal link between practical intelligence and tactility and even describes noetic activity as a certain kind of touch. This essay elucidates Aristotle’s analysis of the sense of touch in De anima and argues that tactility provides a paradigm for sensitivity in general and in particular for the reflexivity of sensation whereby the senses disclose not only what they are sensing but also that they are sensing. This feature, it is argued, has epistemological and ontological consequences. The sense of touch testifies to the physical presence of material beings and provides an empirical verification of substance’s essential feature, namely, self-reference.

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Pascal Massie
Miami University, Ohio

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