De Anima III c. 4 and 5

0.) While it gets read as an account of the potential and agent intellects, but I think this misses the main point and makes the description of nous very un-Aristotelian.

1.) Even if we believe that Aristotle is describing a possible intellect in III. 4, he is also clearly arguing for the immateriality of intellect. STA, for example, simply inserts these arguments in the Summa as the proof for intellectual immateriality.

2.) Potentiality first arises in the discussion because Aristotle draws an analogy from sensation to intellection. How else could a empiricist like him say anything about intellection, given he thinks it is not given to sense experience? The safest and least controversial claim A. can make is that intellect is a kind of perception, i.e. a way of receiving information about something. This was common ground even for Plato and the sophists, though the sophists defined knowledge by perception whereas Plato thought it was something in addition.

3.) The whole point of drawing the analogy is to divide intellection from sense. Intellect perceives, but

The mind, then, since it thinks all things, must needs be unmixed. For by intruding its own form it hinders and obstructs that which is alien to it; hence it has no other nature than this, that it is a potential capacity. Thus, then, the part of the soul which we call mind the intellect… is nothing at all actually before it thinks. Hence, too, we cannot reasonably conceive it to be mixed with the body.

The language is strained and might not translate well. The conclusion is that the mind has no definite structure before it thinks, like a central nervous system that is first assembled and then put to work. Perception is reception and so is incompatible with possession, and so if intellect possessed any form or actuality it could not perceive form or actuality as such.

4.) To read 4 as an account of the potential intellect misses the point of the chapter and makes the whole presentation very un-aristotelian. He is not trying to discuss supposedly passive intellect before ever speaking of intellect simply but to speak of the fundamental nature of the intellect by comparing it to sensation as a perceptive power and seeing the peculiar object of intellect as requiring intellect to have no actual structure before it thinks.

5.) No actual structure before it thinks. This is the core teaching of III.4, and the claim is so bizarre and unassimilable that it goes unnoticed. True, there is talk of an intellect as possible, but the stress is always that it is possible to all things or to actuality as such, and so can have no finite structure. Aristotle then drives this point home with supplemental dialectical arguments against intellective corporeality, each of which draws out a new element in intellective immateriality.

6.) I suspect that if we thanked Aristotle for dividing potential from agent intellects in III. 4 and 5 he would be baffled and ask us what we were reading. He, I suspect, simply wanted to discuss the nature of nous, first by an analogy to sensation and perception, and then by a different analogy in c. 5. More on this next analogy later.

7.) So how should one read what looks like a obvious proof text for two intellects?

These distinct elements [becoming and agency] must likewise be found within the soul.

And in fact mind as we have described it is what it is what it is by virtue of becoming all things, while there is another which is what it is by virtue of making all things.

More on this later too.

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