I am a mathematics PhD student who has an interest in philosophy. In my undergraduate work, I took a minor in philosophy. I never took a course on the great thinkers such as Aristotle, Socrates, or Plato. A few months ago, I sat in on a PhD philosophy course on Aristotle. Unfortunately, the demand of my other courses didn't allow me to continue. I have all the materials from the class, however, and wanted to know how much would I gain from self studying.

The course was specifically in analyzing De Anima.

I have the De Anima. I have the analysis of it. Is that enough for me to just read it and understand it?

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    Maybe you can use some other text, like e.g. SEP's entry on Aristotle’s Psychology as well as some introductory book, like e.g. the Cambridge Companion to A. Apr 7, 2019 at 17:36
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    IMO, the difficulty is to read De Anima without a more general introduction to A's work. Apr 7, 2019 at 17:42
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    Some colleges emphasize independent studies, so presumably it may be a worthwhile venture. The only difference is that you wouldn't receive official credit for it. You would have to be content with just the personal rewards you might gain from your efforts. But for some of us, that's the best part and the motivating factor.
    – Bread
    Apr 7, 2019 at 17:47
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    Why do you think it wouldn't be? Whether it's enough to have a single book is a different question. Apr 7, 2019 at 23:18
  • Sure. Just make sure you start with a good commentary, and only delve into the original sources when you are sufficiently familiar with the context and sensitivized to particulars of Aristotle's thought. I am not sure what sort of "analysis" you have, but parts of De Anima are tricky (e.g. on the "agent intellect") and had lasting influence, the nuances would only be fleshed out in compare-and-contrast mode that a good commentary would do.
    – Conifold
    Apr 8, 2019 at 21:25

4 Answers 4


What you have with the "materials from the class" is a codification of "explicit knowledge" derived from someone else's "tacit knowledge". The only way to make that codification your own tacit knowledge, which is the goal of learning, is self-study, that is, reading and understanding the codified material yourself. You have to understand it for it to become knowledge.

A benefit of having a class is participation in a "community of practice". In the class you would be learning or talking about the material with others. One way to substitute, or complement, that class situation is through on-line communities such as these stack exchanges. There are currently 43 results from a "De Anima" search and 332 questions on Aristotle. You can participate in a community of practice by answering and asking questions related to De Anima right here.

Although you already have materials, codified explicit knowledge, to start a self-study, the following might be other places to look for more information:

  1. Look for texts on archive.org. For example, you can find there R. D. Hick's translation of De Anima. There is other material to choose from.
  2. Search for information in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Christopher Shields has an article on "Aristotle" there. The bibliography in that article is a source of more information.
  3. Search for information in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. There is an anonymous article on Aristotle there.

For the question "how much would I gain from self studying", this would be influenced by your own motivation within your available community of practice. Clearly a university setting offers a community of practice that may allow you to produce explicit knowledge that is professionally recognized.


Read a commentary on De Anima, like that by St. Thomas Aquinas.


It's possible to self-study all of philosophy, starting with the pre-Socratics and moving through both Plato and Aristotle, on to Plotinus and the Neoplatonists, and thence to medieval and modern philosophy and the the convoluted analytics. I've pretty much undertaken such a "self study" course in philosophy over the decades and actually feel this is a better way to gain an acquaintance with at least the fundamentals than taking formal courses in the subject. I took exactly two courses in philosophy as an undergrad, one appropriately named "Introduction to Philosophy" and then "Existentialism" (because the sixties) and that was it. It can be a struggle trying to wrap your head around some of the concepts (especially Kant's "transcendental idealism") but well worth the effort. And, like I say, Plato and Aristotle are a good start, as they lay out the basic issues....


Yes, I think if you have the time and motivation to "self study" Aristotle, you should do so. I will take it a step further. As a former History Instructor, I always believed that it was important to learn about a person's historical and biographical background beforehand. While this type of preliminary information is not directly relevant in understanding the voluminous and complex ideas of Aristotle, it can provide you with a more comprehensive understanding of Aristotle, the man, as well as the time he lived through.

The "self-study"-(or "autodidactic") approach towards understanding Aristotle is commendable, as well as recommendable. However, I would also seriously consider enrolling in a few Philosophy courses, such as Introduction to Philosophy, History of Philosophy or (if it still offered at Colleges and Universities), a survey course on Aristotle. Each of these courses will place you in an atmosphere that is more communitarian and will allow for vigorous debates and interpretations of Aristotle's ideas and meanings. And if you are in the presence of a great and intellectually engaging Teacher, he or she will also challenge your ability to better understand Aristotle's myriad of ideas.

The autodidactic and classroom approaches are equally indispensable and valuable for an introduction to Aristotle.

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