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The Sleeping Musician. Aristotle’s Vegetative Soul and Ralph Cudworth’s Plastic Nature

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Chapter Summary

In his True Intellectual System of the Universe, Ralph Cudworth asserts that human souls are not always conscious of whatever they have in them, in the same way that a sleeping musician is not himself conscious of his musical skills, which are still somehow inside him. While trying to invalidate Descartes' sharp division between matter and intellect as res extensa and res cogitans, Ralph Cudworth opposes physiology as mechanically conceived and replaces it with the concept of 'plastic nature'. This plastic nature is responsible for order and regularity as signs of the incorporeal principles guiding Cudworth's 'intellectual system of the universe'. The existence of a certain amount of confusion between psychology and physiology in Aristotle's account of perception may actually cause similar confusion in Cudworth as well; this adds to his lack of interest in sensation or perception and to his preference for the concept of vegetative soul.

Keywords:Aristotle; Descartes; human souls; plastic nature; Ralph Cudworth; sleeping musician; True Intellectual System of the Universe; vegetative soul



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