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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Language, Literature and Humanities - Alexander von Humboldt Professorship

Project description

In recent years, a growing number of scientists have emphasized that a large part of our so-called ‘human’ behavior is determined by mechanisms of action that we share with other animals, thus challenging our understanding of ourselves as morally responsible and self-controlled beings. The aim of my project is to pursue a similar project within the field of Aristotle studies, namely, to attempt to understand Aristotle’s conception of the moral agent from the standpoint of his biology. Interestingly, Aristotle held that the capacity that enables us to act is one we share with the other animals, and, consequently, that rationality is not a prerequisite for action (broadly understood). Furthermore, his biological works show that he recognized that some sort of intelligence must be ascribed to animals in order to account for the complexity which their behavior often displays. Since animals must lack whatever property it is that makes our behavior ‘human’, one question this raises (and which I will attempt to answer in my dissertation) is what it is that enables animals to display ‘intelligent’ behavior nonetheless. A related question which I will attempt to answer is what it is that qualifies human behavior as human, and whether this property is something that influences all of our behavior (or the behavior of us all) or something that only some humans succeed at realizing fully. The ultimate aim of my research is to show that the factors which according to Aristotle are determinative for the full realization of our humanity are in fact largely physiological: the material processes which, by themselves, threaten to seize control over our behavior (thus making us regress to our animal nature) must be subdued and brought to a state of equilibrium, in order for that capacity which truly makes us human to emerge and function properly.