The Echoes of the Mind (9-5) Aristotle


All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire.  ~ Aristotle

Aristotle (384–322 bce) was one of Plato’s brightest pupils. He studied under Plato for 20 years, from the age of 17 to 37.

Aristotle was the first philosopher to treat many psychology topics: perception, learning, memory, sleep, dreams, and geriatrics. His book On the Soul had the first history of psychology.

Both Plato and Aristotle were interested in essential truths. But their approaches to discovery, and their conclusions, were diametric. Whereas Plato dwelled on deduction, Aristotle was one the first Greek philosophers to advocate induction. Aristotle’s bold inductive approach of theorizing general principles from limited information was prone to wrong conclusions. In this, Aristotle started a tradition still commonly found in modern science.

Aristotle did correctly cast memory as associative, based upon similarity, contiguity, and contrast. He noted that repetition engenders retention, and that some associations are more easily formed than others.

Aristotle aptly treated emotions as an amplifier to one’s disposition, as well as acting as motivation. Aristotle observed that emotions evoke selective perception.

We are readily deluded respecting the operations of sense-perception when we are excited by emotion, and different persons according to their different emotions. In fits of anger, and also in all states of appetite, all men become easily deceived, and more so the more their emotions are excited. ~ Aristotle


Aristotle considered catharsis positively, describing drama as capable of arousing emotions that can have a purgative effect. Millennia later, Sigmund Freud made catharsis a central concept in his psychoanalytic theory.

The chime of catharsis rings to this day in the debate over the effect of violence portrayed in the popular media: whether it purges aggressive urges or engenders violence. The answer is unequivocal: violence begets violence. Children exposed to violence are more aggressive than other children.

The aftereffects of exposure to violence are often long-lasting. The stress of witnessing violence accelerates aging. At the least, as a means of coping, repeated exposure to violence desensitizes.


Ultimately, Aristotle cast his lot with naïve empiricists: without experiences the mind is a blank slate. Aristotle throttled the idea of inborn information, concluding that all we can ever know come from life’s experiences. Aristotle’s conclusion contradicts the simple observation that people have ideas outside of their own experience or exposure, and that we innately know how to learn and perform certain functions (precocious knowledge).