Friday, July 27, 2018


C. D. C. Reeve, Aristotle. 'De anima': Translated with Introduction and Notes. The New Hackett Aristotle. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 2017. Pp. xliv, 227. ISBN 9781624666193. $22.00 (pb). ISBN 9781624666209. (hb).

Reviewed by David J. Murphy, New York (

Version at BMCR home site


Although some Aristotelian treatises boast more English translations—the Nicomachean Ethics comes to mind—the De Anima (= DA), or On the Soul, is well represented. Hicks' 1907 Greek text with translation and commentary is still useful, and Ross's 1961 text/paraphrase/commentary remains indispensible. Smith's 1908 version persists in revised form in The Revised Oxford Translation. The clarity of Creed in R. Bambrough's The Philosophy of Aristotle (London/New York 1963) makes his a good version for students. Two years ago we got the excellent translation and commentary of Christopher Shields (Oxford 2016), and Fred Miller's translation with other treatises is just out (Oxford 2018). Why Reeve's, then?

Some practical reasons: cost, size, clarity and readability. Add to this a trove of resources for studying DA. As in previous volumes in his series of Aristotelian translations, Reeve leads off with his views of Aristotle's goals in the treatise. He takes pains to situate within Aristotle's system the science that DA maps out—a "science of soul" with "its feet in botany and its head in theology" (p. xxviii). Notes explain editorial decisions about the Greek text, clarify Aristotle's phrasing, and provide parallels that connect a passage to other areas of Aristotle's thought. The index of English terms, identified by transliterated Greek terms, is comprehensive. The volume will benefit undergraduate and graduate students and the professional.

First, to Reeve's translation. It is clear and substantially accurate (caveats below). For his Greek text Reeve follows Ross's OCT (1956) without Fragmenta I‒IV. As in his previous translations, Reeve tends to render a Greek term consistently by a given English term: e.g. "substance" for οὐσία. Some choices diverge from familiar Latinate equivalents but are explained in the notes, e.g. "coincidence" rather than "accident" for συμβεβηκός, or "understanding" rather than "intellect" for νοῦς, although "think" works better than "understand" at 417b24, νοῆσαι ὁπόταν βούληται. "Account" is Reeve's preference for λόγος, but although he distinguishes its senses in Aristotle (p. 78), more flexibility in translating would have averted "soul . . . will be an account" (414a13-14; better: "a sort of organization," Shields), while "ratio" better fits 416a17 than "account."

Reeve helps one navigate some intricate arguments by numbering their steps in the text. He brings clarity to many passages by supplementing the Greek's elliptical phrasing. In many cases, English words inserted for clarity are enclosed in square brackets, though not always. For example, at 412a6-8, I capitalize words that do not render Greek words of the OCT but which elucidate the passage: "We say, then, that one kind (genos) among the beings is substance, and of this, one SORT IS SUBSTANCE as matter, which is intrinsically not a this something, and another is shape and form, on the basis of which SOMETHING is already said TO BE a this something . . ."

Where Reeve deviates from Ross's OCT to follow Ross 1961 or some other reading, he usually prints his preferred Greek in a note. My caveats arise from places where Reeve does not identify his deviations from the OCT. I pass over alterations of syntax, for more problematic are cases where, with no explanation, (1) English words presuppose different Greek words from those in the OCT, or (2) Greek words are not translated.

(1) includes two passages where Reeve, without saying so, translates material that was secluded in the OCT, viz. καὶ τὸ πάθος, 426a2, and καὶ ἔστιν ὡς οὐχ ἓν τὸ αὐτό, 426a28 (also secluded in Ross 1961). More troublesome are passages where the English presumes Greek words different from those printed in either edition of Ross, for the result can amount to positive error. εἴδη δ' οἱ ἀριθμοὶ οὗτοι τῶν πραγμάτων at 404b27 means "And these numbers are the forms of things," not "and the numbers are the Forms of these." "Pleasant" for ἤδη at 433b8 looks like a misreading of the Greek as ἡδύ. Other cases are: "elements" for ἀρχῶν at 404b18, "are" for ἐλέγοντο at 404b25, "in accord with the body" for κατὰ τόπον at 406b2, "cannot" for οὐ δεῖ at 406b7, "there are" for ἔχειν (i.e. "they have") at 408a16, "soul" for ζωῆς at 416b9, "sound" for πληγή at 419b13, "a distinct" for ἑτέρα at 425b13, "seeing that" for εἰ at 430b29, "an animal has a desiring part" for ὀρεκτικὸν τὸ ζῷον bis at 433b27-8. At 422b21, the reference of τοῦτο is not merely "the flesh" (p. 41) but "the flesh or that which in the other animals is analogous."

Under (2), Greek words not translated, I have found: τοῦ τριγώνου 402b20, καὶ θερμόν 404a1, τοῦτον 404b3, τὴν ψυχὴν 404b10, διὰ τί 405a9, ἐν ("among") 405b1, τις 414a13, 420b28 ὑπὸ τῆς ἐν τούτοις τοῖς μορίοις ψυχῆς, 431a23 <ἑκάτερον> (Ross's addition passed over in silence), 431b7 ὥσπερ ὁρῶν, 432b11‒12 καὶ ἐγρηγορήσεως, 435a17 αὐτῶν ("themselves"), 435b2 τοῦτο.

(1) and (2) are not frequent enough to militate against purchasing the book. Still, if one is relying on Reeve for one's own writing, one should check his translations of DA and of portions of other treatises translated in the notes.

Now to Reeve's interpretation. As in earlier publications, he does not deny that Aristotle's corpus contains discrepancies and signs of development, but he takes what one might call a holistic approach. Reeve seeks to interpret Aristotle by Aristotle, drawing on his own deep knowledge of the texts to find passages to help explain obscurities. In the Introduction, after a biographical sketch, Reeve expounds two major topics in Aristotle's system: (I) the mechanisms by which soul performs its operations in living things, from plants to intellect, the human's "true self" (pp. xvii-xxxii); (II) the way Aristotelian science is structured by deduction, induction, and scientific starting points (pp. xxxii-xliv). The connection? Soul's nature and activity is the subject matter of the science delineated in DA. In his notes, Reeve expounds his views on many issues in DA, such as the active intellect (pp. 177-9) or the steps involved in reasoning to an action (pp. 192-5).

Deserving of a closer look is Reeve's attempt to identify a psychic vehicle that carries "codes" and thus directs living bodies to perform their functions. He concludes that "small motions . . . in the relevant part of the soul . . . transmit [an object's] perceptual or intelligible form . . . to other parts of the soul . . . where they trigger movements of sinews and joints" (p. 188). In biological treatises, connate pneuma, which carries vital heat (GA 762a20), powers these motions (MA 703a9-28), and in semen pneuma transmits soul to offspring (GA 736b34-7). Replicating his own earlier treatment, Reeve assigns these functions to pneuma in DA as well (pp. xx-xxiv).1 He makes a strong case, though he does not acknowledge that many doubt that pneuma plays this rôle in DA.2 Of the mechanism by which intellect as divine enters the human from outside, θύραθεν (GA 736b27-8), Aristotle nowhere gives an explicit account. Reeve's solution is that motions of the celestial element, aether, enter "male seed in embryogenesis" to pass on the potency of intellect (pp. xxiv-xxvii).3 I am not convinced that Aristotle formalized this solution—if any. Aether is a constituent only of heavenly bodies, whose circular locomotion is unvarying (e.g. Cael. I.2-3, Mete. I.3-4). In passages that mention it alongside sublunary bodies, aether is but analogous to some constituent of them (DA 418b7-9, GA 736b29-737a1). Genesis involves only the four sublunary elements (GC 298a24-b5). Since the subject of locomotion is body, and aetherial bodies do not naturally move up or down, it is not clear how aether's motions could penetrate the sublunary world to imprint semen or embryo.

The notes are replete with parallels from Aristotle and earlier thinkers, translated by Reeve and put to work to illuminate DA. Reeve disentangles difficult passages and lets us know what resists disentangling. Readers will profit from distinctions among Aristotelian terms, concepts, and linguistic features. Many discussions could almost stand as encyclopedia entries, such as an eight-point explication of ἐπιστήμη, "scientific knowledge" (pp. 107-10).

Some parallels seem longer than necessary, however, and I wonder whether some of this effort could have been diverted to citing secondary literature. Reeve elects not to express "scholarly consensus on issues" but instead, his "own take on them" (ix). Still, on controversial issues, readers benefit from knowing when the commentator's are not the only cogent views—as, for example, about connate pneuma. We are told as though it is fact that the celestial spheres of De Caelo 292a14-22 "are eternally living divine beings, with souls somewhat like our own" (p. 117, cf. 91, 196-7). This is a matter of controversy, as is Reeve's assumption that "the primary god" is the being described throughout all of Cael. 279a11-28 (p. 178).4 Reeve's discussion of the difference between ἐνέργεια and ἐντελέχεια in Aristotle's usage is penetrating (pp. 72-3), but he leaves Aristotle sounding muddled: "where energeia seems yet more unfortunate in its connotations, Aristotle uses it anyway." Citation of specialized studies would have helped.5 I am not wishing for a different book, only for acknowledgment of strong divergent views.

Some nitpicking about the notes. <ἀλλὰ> τὸ, Torstrik's emendation at 420a6, was not adopted in the OCT (contra n. 253). Meta. 1008b30-1 does not say that δόξα "must be based on rational calculation" (contra n. 326), although other passages cited by Reeve do establish this. In the text at 428b20, Reeve follows Bywater's transposition, but in n. 339 he says that he does not. Although Reeve says that ἐνέργεια appears 671 times in the corpus and ἐντελέχεια 138 times, TLG lemma searches turn up 590 vs. 144 hits; if Reeve's figures are based on different editions from those used in the TLG, he does not tell us (p. 73). The imagery at 434a13 is of two balls, or perhaps two celestial spheres, not of a ball-and-socket joint with a stationary and a moving piece (p. 190); the moving piece is not denoted by σφαῖρα in Aristotle, and a desire that overrides another desire is itself also moved.

The volume is well produced with few mechanical errors. The sentence fragment at the very beginning of DA (p. 2) arose when "Supposing" in an earlier draft was not corrected to "We suppose".6 "For while . . . but the question involves" at Meta. 1074b15 (n. 364) also seems residue of an uncorrected draft. The words "not only" should precede, not follow, "the knowledge of the what-it-is" (402b17); "first" should precede "namely" not "impossibilities" (408b34). 408a20 should read "the cause of any random mixture, or of the one" (my emphasis). The few typos I noticed are "Aristotle" for "Aristote" in the title of the Budé (p. xiii; the initial date of publication, 1966, should be given), "a . . . movements" (sic, p. xx), "orgizatai" for "orgizêtai" (p. 4), brackets on "eternal" (pp. xxii and 33), τινι for τίνι (p. 145), "an" for "and" (p. 166, l. 2), "energeia" for "energeiai" (p. 179).

The reader will best appreciate this book who rises to Reeve's challenge to enter "the vast dialectical enterprise of coming to understand Aristotle for oneself" (p. ix). Anyone working on the De Anima will want to consult it.


1.   Cf. Action, Contemplation, and Happiness. An Essay on Aristotle (Cambridge MA, 2012), 5-8.
2.   See citations assembled by A. Bos, Aristotle on God's Life-Generating Power and on Pneuma as its Vehicle (Albany, 2018), 132 n. 1.
3.   These pages largely reproduce Reeve 2012, 16-19; cf. also Reeve's Substantial Knowledge: Aristotle's Metaphysics (Indianapolis, 2000), 55-99.
4.   Cf. D. Blyth, "Heavenly Soul in Aristotle," Apeiron 48 (2015) 427-65, esp. 442-6; H. J. Easterling, Mnemosyne 22 (1969) 202.
5.   E.g. G. A. Blair, "The Meaning of 'Energeia' and 'Entelecheia' in Aristotle," IPQ 7 (1967), 101-17; J. J. Cleary, "'Powers that Be': The Concept of Potency in Plato and Aristotle," Méthexis 11 (1998) 19-64.
6.   Caleb Cohoe, NDPR 2018.03.19.

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