ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

Analyzing Aristotle's Account of Sense Perception

Updated on January 19, 2020
Luke Holm profile image

Luke Holm earned bachelor degrees in English and Philosophy from NIU. He is a middle school teacher and a creative writer.

Patient vs. Agent

Aristotle gives us an account of sense perception by determining to describe how the perceiving and being perceived process occurs. In order to do so, he will have to refer to his theories of change, and the potentiality and actuality of agents and patients. In Chapter 12 of De Anima, topics discussing the soul, Aristotle states that, “In general, with regard to all sense-perception, we must take it that the sense is that which can receive perceptible forms without their matter...” (Ackrill 186; 424a 17-18).

For Aristotle, “...that which perceives must be a particular extended magnitude, while what it is to be able to perceive are … a certain principle and potentiality of that thing” (424a 27-29).

In short, perceivers are conscious and sentient beings or patients who, like the imprint in wax from a golden ring, are impacted through their sensory perceptions by the agents which surround them.

Potentiality vs. Actuality

As patients, Aristotle believes that we have accurate perceptions of the world and multiple agents around us. An agent would be something like a tree. Through perception, patients observe the agent as it actually is. What an agent actually is, is its substantial form, its first level actuality. This is also the actualizing of its first level potentiality, the potential to be the agent. The substantial form of a thing is its essence, “what it is to be” the thing. However, the agent also has the ability to impact the patient like a ring impacts a piece of wax.

Without the agent, the patient has a first level actuality. First level actuality for a patient is simply being the patient. Likewise, without the patient, the agent has only a first-level actuality with respect to its second level potential to transmit its intelligible form to the patient. As the patient perceives the agent, the sensible form of the agent is manifested within the patient as the actualizing of a second-level potentiality.

The tree has the ability to manifest certain forms in a patient. The impact the tree has on the patient is the actualizing of the potentiality of the sensible form of the tree. As the tree stands without the perceiver, it is in a state of first level actuality. As a perceiver comes about, the tree engages in activities of second-level potentiality. Essentially, the second level potentiality of the tree is not actualized until the tree impacts the perceiver with its sensible form. Thus, a perceiver is necessary when actualizing the second level potentiality of an agent.

Actualizing Potentiality

This is where Aristotle brings back his account of change. In the agent and patient there are actualities and potentialities occurring. It is in the actualizing of the potentiality that change occurs, and potentiality resides both in the agent and the patient. Suppose that X is the patient and that Y is the agent. Apart from each other, there is no change occurring due to a certain interaction that could possibly take place. However, when X perceives Y, potentialities within both change and are actualized. X actualizes the potentiality to perceive Y, and Y actualizes the potentiality to make itself known to X. There can be no reductivist account of the change that occurs as X and Y actualize their potentials. There is only change that is occurring when there are actualizations of potential.

Now coming back to the original question of Aristotle’s account of sense perception, it seems as though perceivers are perceiving sensible objects through their sensory organs or capabilities. Lear states that “...for any logos (order) in the sensible object which makes it such as to appear a certain way, the very logos (order) is instantiated in the eye/sense organ upon the transmission of the form." Based on this reasoning, the sensible object is quite similar to the sense organ.

Therefore, sense perception occurs when the potentialities of the patient and agent are actualizing when they come into a realization of each other.

Aristotle's Theory of Perception

© 2020 JourneyHolm


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)