On intellects- potential : agent :: non-beatified : beatified

While one can read Aristotle’s distinction between potential and agent intellect in the way the Medieval Muslims and Christians did, namely through Alexander’s account of an illuminated and illuminating intellect, what Aristotle was actually claiming was that embodied intellects can be considered as embodied or as intellects, and as embodied they are potential and as intellects they actualize and give rise to the intelligible world.

Embodied cognition is potential because (a) it is sometimes thinking and sometimes not and (b) the reality of death gives rise to intellect as intellect from merely embodied intellect, since intellect is cognition of being and therefore cannot be a finite or physical structure. Aristotle interprets (a) as also contrary to the nature of intellect as intellect, probably because he’s working from an argument like:

Whatever gives rise to the eternal is eternal.

The intellect, as intellect, gives rise to the eternal.

Therefore, the intellect, as intellect, is eternal.

In other words, we can experience that some truths are true at all times or would even be true were there no times, and anything that can give rise to such things would have to share in this character. Our experience of (a) requires that the thoughts we have now are something in addition to intellection as such even while it eternal in itself, and its eventual separation by death will give us “what is only itself and nothing more, and this alone is eternal and imperishable”.

STA, however, radically re-contextualizes Aristotle’s claim by teaching that the truths of the human intellect, as truths, are not eternal. They appear to be eternal by being true at all times, but:

That something is always and everywhere, can be understood in two ways. In one way, as having in itself the power of extension to all time and to all places, as it belongs to God to be everywhere and always. In the other way as not having in itself determination to any place or time, as primary matter is said to be one, not because it has one form, but by the absence of all distinguishing form. In this manner all universals are said to be everywhere and always, in so far as universals are independent of place and time. It does not, however, follow from this that they are eternal, except in an intellect, if one exists that is eternal.

So created truth is not measured by time, but not because it contains all time. Created truth is finite in time but not measured by time; uncreated truth is neither finite in time nor measured by it. While this doesn’t do anything to change Aristotle’s claim (b), it gives a new way of understanding the relation between potential and agent intellect. All finite intellects (men or angels) are potential intellects so far as their conceptions are not the divine essence, but since the beatific vision is the created possession of this essence, then the finite intellect is a potential intellect not in relation to some its bodiless state but relative to the beatific vision.

In this sense, the distinction between the potential and agent intellect is common to men and angels. They are potential intellects so far as they lack all beatitude (whether they are in via or not) and they are agent intellects so far as they are blessed.

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