Aristotle On Odour And Smell

Mark A. Johnstone

in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, Volume 43

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780199666164
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191751936 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy

Aristotle On Odour And Smell

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The sense of smell occupies a peculiar intermediate position in Aristotle's theory of sense perception: odours, like colours and sounds, are perceived at a distance through an external medium; yet in their nature they are intimately related to flavours, the proper objects of taste, which for Aristotle is a form of touch. This paper examines Aristotle's claims about odour and smell, especially in De Anima II.9 and De Sensu 5, to see what light they shed on his theory of sense perception more generally. First, it is argued that neither of the two most influential recent ways of understanding Aristotle's theory of perception can adequately account for what he says about the sense of smell. Then the paper offers a new, positive account, resolving various puzzles raised by Aristotle's claims about the nature of odour and its relation to flavour. Finally, it is concluded that Aristotle's discussions of odour and smell suggest a plausible way of understanding the relationship, on his view, between ordinary, material changes in the sense organs and the activation of the capacity to perceive, considered as such.

Keywords: Aristotle; sense; perception; smell; soul; De Anima; De Sensu; odour; flavour; sense perception

Chapter.  20477 words. 

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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