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Colloque La physiognomonie à la Renaissance / The Arts and Sciences of the Face 1500–1850

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« That mental states follow the conditions of the body » (Pseudo-?) Aristotle’s Physiognomonics and its reception in the later Aristotelian tradition
Philip van der Eijk (Newcastle University)

13 décembre 2007

L’héritage et son interprétation - session Physiognomonie et philosophie classiques présidée par Marwan Rashed (Paris).

This presentation is concerned with the role of Aristotelian thought in the development of physiognomical theory in antiquity. I will briefly dwell on Aristotle’s own position and that advocated by the early Peripatetic treatise Physiognomonica; but most of our attention will be devoted to the reception of these ideas in later antiquity, especially in the tradition of commentaries on Aristotle’s works as these were written from the 2nd century onwards. In particular, we will consider two little-known references to physiognomy and some related passages on body-mind correspondences in the commentary by the late 5th century author John Philoponus on Aristotle’s work On the Soul. This will serve as a basis for a more general consideration of the contribution of Aristotelian thought to physiognomic theory in antiquity. That contribution can be said to be twofold: epistemological and psycho-physical. Aristotelian thought reflected on the inferential nature of physiognomical reasoning and spelled out the conditions under which such reasoning might fulfil the criteria for syllogistic reasoning. Secondly, the Aristotelian theory of the relationship between body and soul and the close correspondence between mental and physical states provided a philosophical basis for physiognomical claims about the way in which the latter might reflect the former. A special case here was the way in which even the activities of the rational part of the soul were believed to be capable of being influenced by, and reflected in bodily variations. In this respect, the later commentators provided clarification on an issue on which Aristotle himself had remained notoriously ambivalent.

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Philip van der Eijk Philip van der Eijk (Newcastle University)