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CHAPTER LXXVIII—That it was not the opinion of Aristotle that the Active Intellect
is a separately Subsistent Intelligence, but rather that it is a part of the Soul422422 This chapter
is a running commentary on De anima, III, v, and may be more
profitably presented by a description of its contents than by a translation.
1. On ἀνάγκη καὶ ἐν τῇ ψυχῇ ὑπάρχειν ταύτας τὰς διαφοράς (these differences must also be in the soul), St Thomas points out that the differences in question, to wit, the potential and the active intellect, are both said to be “in the soul,” which excludes either of them from being a faculty extrinsic to the soul.
2. On ἐν ἁπάσῃ τῇ φύσει, which in his translation appears as in omni natura, and which he takes to mean, not as the Greek means, “in all nature,” but in every natural substance,” he argues that both the ὕλη, or potential intellect, and the αἴτιον καὶ ποιητικόν, or active intellect, must be in the natural substance of the soul.
3. Upon the words, used of the active intellect, that it is ὡς ἕξις τις, οἷον τὸ φῶς (as a habit, like light), he says that as a habit does not exist by itself, so neither can, on this showing, the active intellect. He adds that ‘habit’ here does not mean ‘habitual knowledge,’ as when we speak of ‘a habit (i.e., habitual knowledge) of first principles,’ but a positive endowment, actual and formal, as opposed to privation and potentiality.
4. Of the four epithets bestowed on the active intellect, χωριστός, ἀμιγής, ἀπαθής, τῇ οὐσίᾳ ὤν ἐνεργείᾳ (separate, unmingled, impassible, by essence being in act), he observes that the first and second have already been applied to the potential intellect: see Chap. IV, n. 6, ὁ δὲ χωριστός: IV, 3, ἀμιγῆ εἶναι . . . . οὐδὲ μεμῖχθαι τῳ σώματι. The third, he says, has been applied to the potential intellect with a distinction (he refers to iv, 5, 6): the potential intellect is impassible, as not being acted on by matter, having no bodily organ to receive direct impressions from material things: but it receives impressions from the active intellect. The fourth, he says, has been flatly denied of the potential intellect, which is said, iv, 12, to be δυνάμει πως τὰ νοητά, ἀλλ᾽ ἐντελεχείᾳ οὐδὲν πρίν ἂν νοῇ (potentially identified with the intelligible forms, but actually nothing before it understands). He concludes that the word χωριστός is only applied to the active intellect in the same sense in which it has already been referred to the potential intellect, iv, 9, τὸ μὲν γὰρ αἰσθητικὸν οὐκ ἄνευ σώματος, ὁ δὲ χωριστός (the faculty of sense is not without body, but this is separate). He identifies χωριστός with ἄνευ σώματος, as meaning ‘operative without bodily organ.’
5. On τὸ δ᾽ αὐτό ἐστιν ἡ κατ᾽ ἐνέργειαν ἐπιστήμη τῷ πράγματι (actual knowledge is identical with its object), — which means that, inasmuch as objects of knowledge become present by representation in the mind, the mind in knowing anything knows itself, — St Thomas blames Averroes for taking this to be true only of the active intellect: he cites iv, 13, τὸ αὐτό ἐστι τὸ νοοῦν καὶ τὸ νοούμενον, ἡ γὰρ θεωρητικὴ ἐπιστήμη καὶ τὸ οὕτως ἐπιστητὸν τὸ αὐτό ἐστιν (knower and known are identical, for speculative science and its object are one), where he says that Aristotle speaks, not of the active, but of the potential intellect. In the words ἡ κατ᾽ ἐνέργειαν ἐπιστήμη (scientia in acta) St Thomas discovers a tertium quid, which is neither potential nor active intellect, but a combination of the two: he calls it intellectus in actu, ‘the intellect as actually understanding,’ the concrete mind at work.
6. On ἡ δὲ κατὰ δύναμιν χρόνῳ προτέρα ἐν τῷ ἑνί, ὅλως οὐδὲ χρόνῳ (potential knowledge is prior in time to actual knowledge in the individual, but all the world over it is not prior even in time), he is misled by his Latin translation, qui vero secundum potentiam, as though the Greek had been ὁ δὲ κατὰ δύναμιν νοῦς. He takes it for a question of priority in time between the potential intellect and the concrete, actually thinking mind (intellectus in actu). The error is not serious.
7. Coming to οὐχ ὁτὲ μὲν νοεῖ, ὁτὲ δὲ οὐ νοεῖ (it does not at one time think, and at another time not think), he says that this is spoken of the actually thinking mind, to mark it off from the potential intellect. His conclusion is: “The mind comes to be actually thinking by being identified with the objects of thought: hence it is not open to it at times to think and at times not to think.” This may mean — as undoubtedly it is Aristotle’s meaning: ‘There must be thinking so long as there are things: but there are always things: therefore there is always thinking.’ Then the question comes: ‘Yes, but whose thinking?’ — to which St Thomas gives no answer. To interpret with Silvester Maurus, ‘so long as the mind is actually thinking, it thinks unceasingly,’ is to father no very profound truth upon the Philosopher.
8. Upon χωρισθεὶς δέ ἐστι μόνον τοῦθ᾽ ὃπερ ἐστί (when separated, it is only that which it is) St. Thomas is altogether thrown out by his Latin, separatum hoc solum quod vere est (that alone is separate which truly is), as though χωρισθεὶς (separatum) were the predicate. He takes the meaning to be that the actually thinking mind in man, inclusive at once of potential and active intellect, is ‘separate’ in the sense of not operating through a bodily organ. On τοῦτο μόνον ἀθάνατον καὶ ἀΐδιον (this alone is mortal and everlasting), all his comment is “as being independent of the body, since it is separate.” On the last sentence, οὐ μνημονεύομεν δὲ κ.τ.λ., he makes no comment whatever in this place, but see Chap. LXXX, arg. 5.
No one can seriously contend that, working under such disadvantages, St Thomas has succeeded in adequately interpreting this, one of the most difficult chapters in Aristotle. I recommend the reader to study it in G. Rodier’s masterly work, Aristote, Traité de l’âme, 2 vols., text, translation, and notes (Leroux, Paris, 1900). I offer these few final remarks.
(a) From ἀεὶ γὰρ to οὐδὲ χρόνῳ, is a parenthesis; as Philoponus says, τοῦτο ἐν μέσῳ ἔρριψεν. The meaning is, as St Thomas well indicates, that though in the individual mind knowledge is first potential, then actual, yet somewhere in the range of being there is an actual knowledge prior to all potential. This is only carrying out the Aristotelian principle that ultimately the actual always precedes the potential: ἐστὶ γὰρ ἐξ ἐνελεχείᾳ ὄντος πάντα τὰ γιγνόμενα (De anima, III, vii, 1), a principle well put forward by Rodier, vol. II, p. 490. What actually thinking mind precedes all potentiality of thought, Aristotle does not tell us in this chapter.
(b) The words, ἀλλ᾽ οὐχ ὁτὲ μὲν νοεῖ, ὄτε δὲ οὐ νοεῖ, are to be taken in close connexion with τῇ οὐσίᾳ ὢν ἐνεργείᾳ, the whole meaning: ‘this mind, ever essentially active, thinks continually, and not merely at intervals.’ Whether this refers to the mind of the race, Aristotle agreeing with Averroes that mankind have existed from eternity, or whether it points to some superhuman intelligence, is a question which will be debated as long as Aristotle continues to be read.
(c) χωρισθεὶς δ᾽ἐστὶ μόνον τοῦθ᾽ ὅπερ ἐστί, “when separated from the body [in death, as Rodier rightly explains], it is its proper self, and nothing else,” — pure νοῦς, apart from phantasy and sensation and bodily organism; and this pure νοῦς is, in some undefined way, “immortal and everlasting.” In ἐστὶ τοῦθ᾽ ὅπερ ἐστί I think we may further recognise some slight influence of a familiar idiom, by which a Greek says that a thing ‘is what it is,’ when he is either unable or reluctant to enter into further detail.
(d) The concluding words mean: ‘We have no memory [after death, of the transactions of our earthly existence], because though the νοῦς is unaffected by death (ἀπαθές), yet the passive intellect [ὁ παθητικὸς νοῦς, the cogitative faculty with the phantasy, see St Thomas, Chap. LX], is perishable [and perishes with the body], and without this there is no understanding [of things learnt in life with its concurrence, — cf. De anima, III, viii, 5, ὃταν θεωρῇ ἀνάγκη ἅμα φάντασμά τι θεωρεῖν].’ This sense seems definitely fixed as the mind of Aristotle by a previous passage, De anima, I, iv, 12-15: — “The νοῦς within us seems to be a subsistent being (οὐσία) and imperishable. If it could be impaired, it would be impaired most in the feebleness of old age: whereas, we may say, the case is the same with intellect as with sense: for if the old man got a young man’s eye, he would see as the young man does. So old age is not an affection of the soul, but an affection of what contains the soul, as in drunken bouts and illnesses. Thus the intellectual and speculative faculty decays when something else in the man decays, but of itself it is imperishable (ἀπαθές). But the exercise of the cogitative faculty (τὸ διανοεῖσθαι), and the passions of love and hate, are not functions of νοῦς, but of this individual organism that contains νοῦς, as containing it. Therefore when this organism perishes in death, the soul neither remembers nor loves: for memory and [the passion of] love were not affections of the intelligent soul, but of the compound organism wherein soul and matter met, which has not perished: but νοῦς perhaps is something more divine and imperishable (ὁ δὲ νοῦς ἴσως θειότερόν τι καὶ ἀπαθές ἐστιν).
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