De anima 3:5 (part 3: objections and responses)


1.) Aristotle’s first move in describing intellect is to call it receptive. It suffers or detects objects from the exterior world and so is essentially passive. Aristotle then proves that it is not only passive, but nothing actual before it thinks, and so, as described, it has no power to actualize itself. This requires positing an active intellect to explain how mind thinks at all.

2.) Throughout 3:4 Aristotle uses passivity and potentiality metaphors, including the tabula rasa. These are balanced out in 3:5 by pointing to the corresponding actuality, sc. a making or actualizing intellect.

3.) We need no account of the actual sensible world – we can just open our eyes and see it. But the actual intelligible world needs to be made actual. It is not simply given as though it were a scientific object in front of us.


1.) The conclusion that Aristotle derives from the receptivity of intellect is its being impassive (apathes). He further assumes that the first objection one would make of his description of intellect in 3:4 is that its impassivity would make it unable to interact with the material world. To assume that soul is passive is not only against the littera of the text but it assumes that Aristotle is giving an account of intellect that is unable to do the one thing that intellects do. It is to assume that Aristotle’s description of nous is of something unable to think.

The fundamental problem with the line of reasoning in the objection is that it misunderstands the receptivity of intellect as the inertness or inactivity. It misunderstands the difference between the receptivity of cognition and the receptivity of matter.

2.) The point of the tabula rasa example is to support an argument that mind is impassible in the face of an interaction-problem objection. The point is that an interactive system could not be a mind any more than a chalk-covered blackboard could be a writing surface. Interactive systems presuppose the interacting parts are both actual before they act, and the negation of this is exactly what is peculiar about mind. The interaction problem is a failure to understand what mind is in the same way as it would be a failure to understand writing with chalk if we thought we had to chalk-up the board to get it ready for writing.

3.) The world is given as scientific in the same way that it is given as sensible: as an object of experience that presents us with the problem of whether it is only an object or also a feature of the mind-independent world.


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