Just as a painter, no matter how accomplished, cannot represent an animal he has neither seen or has no idea of… A man could not form an idea of an object unless he knew it in advance… but if he already has an idea of it, it is pointless for him to form another idea of it.
De la recherche de la vérité 3.2.3.
The conclusion is that man cannot form an idea, and so lacks what the A-T tradition calls an agent intellect.
In response to an unrelated argument, Cajetan articulates a premise that challenges this: an active power does not presuppose an object but makes it. (De ente et essentia, q. 8)
The dispute is fascinating because profound and difficult consequences are immediately at stake no matter what side one takes. Malebranche’s option leaves us with some form of Platonism, or direct participation in the divine mind; but the Aristotelian option, though preserving the power of man to make his own ideas, nevertheless only does this by invoking a very peculiar sort of agency, namely, one that does not act for an end. Acting for an end presupposes the intentional existence of the end to be made, but this is exactly what we must deny when it is a matter of the intentional thing itself being made.
I’m attracted to the Aristotelian response, though informed by Malebranche’s argument. It’s just the sort of paradoxical reality that might help to shed new light on old paradoxes. Some ideas:
1.) A response to the Euthyphro dilemma. At the heart of the Euthyphro dilemma is whether the divine is, along with us, subordinate to some goal or end or whether it is independent of it. If the first, God is seen as subordinate, if the second, then as apart from any reason or law. But the action of the agent intellect seems like a third option, since it is at once totally rational and yet not subordinate to a governing abstract paradigm.
2.) A new articulation between nature and spirit. Nature is subordinate to paradigm ideas, and depends on them to act (nature is a sort of existence that is never wholly simultaneous, though there is still some causality from a wholly simultaneous idea). Spirit, on the other hand, is rational without being essentially subordinate to governing ideas. In the measure of perfection that the spirit has, so too it is independent of the paradigm.
3.) New account of the immortality of the intellect. All change requires being subordinate to a new paradigm, but the action of the intellect is not so subordinate, and so neither is this a possibility for intellect.