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Aristotle - History of Animals - Tree of Life



Type of Spiritual Experience


Aristotle's concept of the great chain of being is almost identical to the Tree of Life.  His idea was that it was a functional one and by working back along the cause effect chain one should be able to deduce the functions in each ‘genera’ which by extension is the Intelligence hierarchy. 

His ideas on the soul are also extraordinarily helpful.  One can see that here he refined the ideas of his predecessors combinng physical observation with metaphysical insight.

My view is that this work was written during his time on Lesbos whilst he was studying the animals there and before his daughter had died.  This latter event seemed to have made a huge impression on him and he appears to 'lose his faith' in the gods - an understandable reaction in the circumstances.

A description of the experience


For Charles Singer, "Nothing is more remarkable than [Aristotle's] efforts to [exhibit] the relationships of living things as a scala naturae" Aristotle's History of Animals classified organisms in relation to a hierarchical "Ladder of Life" (scala naturae or Great Chain of Being), placing them according to complexity of structure and function so that higher organisms showed greater vitality and ability to move.  Aristotle believed that intellectual purposes, i.e., final causes, guided all natural processes.

"For that for the sake of which a thing is, is its principle, and the becoming is for the sake of the end; and the actuality is the end, and it is for the sake of this that the potentiality is acquired. For animals do not see in order that they may have sight, but they have sight that they may see."

Aristotle also held that the level of a creature's perfection was reflected in its form, but not preordained by that form. Ideas like this, and his ideas about souls, are not regarded as science at all in modern times.

He placed emphasis on the type(s) of soul an organism possessed, asserting that plants possess a vegetative soul, responsible for reproduction and growth, animals a vegetative and a sensitive soul, responsible for mobility and sensation, and humans a vegetative, a sensitive, and a rational soul, capable of thought and reflection.

Aristotle, in contrast to earlier philosophers, but in accordance with the Egyptians, placed the rational soul in the heart, rather than the brain

The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items


Tree of life

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps