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Why the view of the Intellect in De Anima I.4 Isn't Aristotle's Own

Caleb Cohoe

Metropolitan State University of Denver

The status of nous in Aristotle’s De Anima (DA) has been controversial from antiquity onwards. Is it simply a power of the human soul, albeit one that may be able to function without the body (I will call this the Human Intellect view)? Is it a unitary extra-bodily intelligence, human in species, which individual human beings temporarily participate in (I will call this the Platonist Intellect view)? Is it the first unmoved mover of Metaphysics Λ (I will call this the Divine Intellect view)? While discussion usually focuses on DA III 5, several recent commentators, including Myles Burnyeat and Lloyd Gerson, have pointed to a passage from I 4 as evidence against the Human Intellect view. In their view, Aristotle claims there that the intellect is a sort of substance, separate from the human being, and is incorruptible in a way that the human being and ordinary human activities are not. Such a reading would provide support for the Divine Intellect and Platonist Intellect interpretations and count against the Human Intellect view on which nous is a power of the individual human soul.

By closely examining this passage and its context I will show that we can interpret this passage much more satisfactorily if we read it not as expressing Aristotle’s own views, but as dialectically examining a reputable position (ἔνδοξον) about the intellect which seems to show that it can be subject to change. Aristotle presents the view, examines it and shows its relevant implications for the question of whether the soul is subject to change, and then, in the final sentence of the passage, reserves for himself the right to give a different account of the intellect. My dialectical interpretation best resolves the interpretative difficulties of this passage and explains its place in the context of the chapter. On this reading, the passage does not support the Platonist or Divine Intellect view over the Human Intellect one.

Session/Panel Title

Ancient Greek Philosophy (organized by the Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy)

Session/Paper Number

61.2

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