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Gendlin, E.T. (2004). Line by line commentary on Aristotle's 'De Anima' II & III [Excerpts from the Introduction]. Unpublished manuscript. From

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Eugene T. Gendlin


Currently many philosophers emphasize the fact that there is no single right reading of a text. It is true that different concerns can be rolled up to a text, in response to which the text will speak back very differently. But a text must first be recognized as a deliberately and carefully constructed thing with a plan, parts, links, and internal sense-making. The best practitioners of the slogan that "there is no text" analyze a text very carefully and accurately, in order to determine how to "deconstruct" it. That stage has not been reached as long as the text seems to contain a great deal of puzzling nonsense.

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When we understand some of the ways of a foreign country, we come to notice peculiarities of our own country which we never noticed as such before. Seen from the foreign point of view, our familiar ways can become puzzling. How could they have seemed so natural before? Similarly, understanding a foreign text requires becoming aware of assumptions of our own, which did not seem to be assumptions before. If this does not happen, we cannot grasp the arguments in the text. I therefore sometimes ask the reader to consider our usual views from Aristotle's vantage point. Then our own assumptions become puzzling, and we won't read them into Aristotle's passages.

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Of course you want to understand Aristotle's De Anima for its own sake. It is one of the great works of all time. Also, the De Anima and the Metaphysics clarify each other very much because Aristotle shows here what he says there only in general. But there is a larger "byproduct." Once you have followed his thinking with your own, you will have created pathways in your understanding which will serve you even if you no longer remember what Aristotle said. Whatever other pathways you may think along, you will be implicitly protected from many kinds of error and oversimplification by the fact that you have once thought along with him. His kind of thinking, his powerful strategies, the type of concept-making that you find here, will always be implicitly available to you, made richer by everything else you know.

In my opinion the functional, experience-near type of concept which Aristotle creates is incapable of achieving the reductive success which our Western, abstract, mathematical type of concept provides. On the other hand, there is much that must inherently elude the mathematical kind of concept, perhaps especially the chief characteristics of living things and people. The De Anima may contribute some conceptual strategies for the eventual development of an additional kind of modern science of living things and humans, which we need.

Different modes of thinking are each capable of opening great reaches that would otherwise stay closed. Therefore every powerful philosophy is of interest not only in itself, but because it adds immensely to what we become capable of thinking in our own contexts in the present.

A philosopher stands at the edge of thought where the familiar meanings open into unformed possibilities, where words can combine in odd sentences to say what those words have never said before. In reading any philosophy, if we gradually grasp how the words are used in the sentences, if we struggle to stand where that philosopher stands, if we attempt to see from there what that philosopher sees from there, and if we then pursue how that philosopher proceeds from there, we [Page 6] are never again limited just to already existing concepts. Once we can think at that edge, we cannot help but develop our own thinking further and further. Then we can open any topic in many ways that were not part of that philosophy.

Aristotle is surely wrong about hundreds of things and right about hundreds of other things, but his mode of thought and conceptual strategies are neither right nor wrong. They are uniquely valuable in any period including the present for anyone who tries to think freshly. Modes of thought are not right or wrong, just valuable.

Paragraphs excerpted from pages 2, 4, 5 and 6 of the unpublished manuscript.

ŠEugene T. Gendlin

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  • Biographic Note: Eugene T. Gendlin is a seminal American philosopher and psychologist. He received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Chicago and taught there from 1963 to 1995. His philosophical work is concerned especially with the relationship between logic and implicit intricacy. Philosophy books include Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning, Language Beyond Post-Modernism: Saying and Thinking in Gendlin's Philosophy edited by David Michael Levin, (fourteen commentaries and Gendlin’s replies), and A Process Model. There is a world wide network of applications and practices ( stemming from this philosophy. Gendlin has been honored three times by the American Psychological Association for his development of Experiential Psychotherapy. He was a founder and editor for many years of the Association’s Clinical Division Journal, Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice. His book Focusing has sold over half a million copies and has appeared in seventeen languages. His psychology-related books are Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams and Focusing-Oriented Psychotherapy.
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