Aristotle’s fantastic claim

Plato (at least in his middle period) felt in necessary to posit a world of forms that we lived in before falling to earth and being immersed in the amnesia of reincarnation. Aristotle denied this, and for years I’ve thought of him as the less mystical, more earthly thinker. But this is all wrong. Aristotle is just as convinced of the world of forms as Plato is, but he adds to it the extravagant and arresting claim that every individual makes this world. His agent intellect doesn’t go around lighting up forms piecemeal – it’s a sun generating an entire universe of forms, even if there is an extrinsic limit (from the body) on the number that can enter into our consciousness. We don’t need to reincarnate from one world into another because we are creators of the very world that Plato would have us descend from. The description of the being responsible for this creation is startling and scandalous – it is difficult to give a careful read to Aristotle’s account of the agent intellect without thinking that he is describing a god. Seen from this angle, the Scriptural notion of being the image of God through intellect and will takes on a much deeper significance. It’s not just that God knows and we know too; it’s that human knowledge involves the procession of a universe. Just as God is a creator in the real order we are creators in the intentional order, though in our case only an infinitesimal amount of our creation rises above the extrinsic limitations of body and out of the universe of subconscious life.


  1. A said,

    September 27, 2011 at 8:52 am


    Mulla Sadra Shirazi (d. 1636/41) has some interesting things to say about this idea of the soul’s creativity vis-a-vis knowledge. You should give him a read if you ever get the chance to.

  2. September 27, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    John Paul II’s Letter to Artists is actually all about this, but from the point of view of creation vs. artistry, not mysticism proper.

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