The Role of Aristotle’s Metaphysics 12.9

in Méthexis
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Ch.9 of Metaph. 12 gives no support to the common view (against which I have argued elsewhere) that in ch.7 Aristotle identifies his Prime Mover not only as a god but also as an intellect. Rather, ch.9 approaches the divinity of intellect as a common belief (ἔνδοξον) from the Greek philosophical and poetic tradition (as at ch.7, 1072b23) that now requires dialectical testing. Here Aristotle initially establishes that there is a most active intellect (proposed ch.7, 1072b18–19: demonstrated ch.9, 1074b17–21, b28–9), and that it contemplates what is best (proposed loc. cit.: demonstrated ch.9, 1074b21–7). Thus ch.9 proceeds by deducing, as a new result, characteristics implying that this intellect is itself the Prime Mover, since its object, qua best, must be the god of ch.7, and divine intellect is essentially identical (1074b33–1074a5), and an indivisible unity (a5–10), with that object.

The Role of Aristotle’s Metaphysics 12.9

in Méthexis



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Bordt (2011) argues that strictly speaking "Prime Mover" is not a correct name for what ­Aristotle here designates as perfectly actual substance since the former term does not specify its essence but merely an incidental attribute; nevertheless I use the term throughout what follows merely as a matter of convention and convenience.


Blyth (forthcoming); cf. Blyth (2015) 456–7 with n. 57 and the summary here below pp. 78–9.


Thus I agree with Gabriel (2009) in denying that Metaph. 12.7 establishes that Aristotle’s ­primary god is an intellect but reject both his further views (i) that this is not shown in ch.9 either and (ii) that Aristotle does not at all identify this god as an intellect. For reasons to reject the denial by Bodéüs (2000) p. 26 that Metaph. 12.7 1072b18–30 identifies the Prime Mover as a god see Blyth (forthcoming) and cf. Blyth (2015) 457 n. 59.


Ross (1924) ii.397 argues that the topic is the Prime Mover with which Brunschwig (2000) 277 n. 10 agrees on the basis that 1074b20 b30 b33 34 and 1075a10 in ch.9 all imply the subject is the intellect of god and cf. similarly Ross (1924) ii.284–5 on 1074b26–7. By contrast ­Kosman (2000) 307–8 claims it is about all "thought" as divine; but this seems mistaken insofar as the argument excludes certain kinds of noēsis from the subject (see below). Bradshaw (2001) 3 seems partly right nevertheless to claim "divine mind [is] in a sense mind itself"; he says (13) that it is about all actual intellect and "it is true that God being wholly in act is identical with intellect thus active but so is human intellect when and to the extent that it achieves perfect realisation"; see now also Diamond (2015). Bradshaw further claims that this applies to the thinking of any forms but I hope to argue in detail elsewhere that it is restricted to the case of intellect thinking exclusively itself and that is the highest potential of the human intellect too; but this is beyond the scope of the present paper.


Bradshaw (2001) 9argues that Aristotle’s claim naturally follows from "the identification implicitly made by the passage’s location in the chapter of ‘thinking in itself’ with divine thought" by which he means an identification of this nous as the god but the intrinsically best nous (for which at this stage there are other possible candidates: see following) would in any case be expected to contemplate what is intrinsically best (i.e. the Prime Mover which is immediately subsequently identified as a god).


Nevertheless as shown in Blyth (2015) Aristotle does not attribute intellects to the heavenly spheres apart from those that are their independently existing unmoved movers.


 Cf. Ross (1924) ii.397 cited above also Burnyeat’s suggestion ap. Brunschwig (2000) 277 n. 10 and Frede (2012) 192.


 See Pépin (1968): "beyond nous" in the sense of "beyond human nous" I think; Pépin ­discusses and rejects this view (56–62) but his reasons do not seem dispositive; cf. ­somewhat similarly ee 8.2 1248a28–9 although this is in a dialectical context involving a popular and not a theologically refined conception of god and so not here significant I believe. For a contrary view see Gabriel (2009) 386 n. 3 and 396.


 See Pépin (1968) 57 for refs. elsewhere in Aristotle to the divinity of intellect.


By contrast Lear (1988) 293 explains the chapter’s role starting from his attribution to Aristotle of what he calls "objective idealism" (cf. 309) arguing that Aristotle’s world needs a mind that is actively thinking primary substance; but this is back to front: (a) physical nature depends directly on primary substance as such (Metaph. 12.5–6 12.7 1072a23–6); (b) this substance qua divine (Metaph 12.7) is likely to be nous (Metaph 12.9 init.); and (c) this is only possible if it contemplates itself (Metaph 12.9 passim).


 Cf. similarly Brunschwig (2000) 278and cf. Frede (2012) 199 "That endoxa need not be true does of course not mean that they cannot be true or that that their status is dubious. It only means that they are both in need of and worthy of further scrutiny. … For not all items on Aristotle’s list can and will pass closer inspection."


 Cf. De Filippo (1995) 549 on the distinction of terms.


 Cf. De Filippo (1995) 554 with n. 16 contra e.g. Ross (1924)ii.397 and cf. Brunschwig (2000) 285–6. Note that owing to both the absence of a natural English verb etymologically connnected with either "intellect" or "mind" as νοεῖν is to νοῦς in Greek and also the misleading implications strictly speaking of either "think" or "know" common in English-language scholarship for convenience I here render νοεῖν by "contemplate" although this corresponds more properly with θεωρεῖν.


The schema provided by Elders (1972) 252–3and his discussion does not explain the ­relation of the latter simplifying question (1074b23–4) to the preceding division. Ross (1924)ii.397 ignores its status as a question in his explanation although stating it in his summary (396); cf. similarly Bonitz (1848–9) 515–6.


 Cf. Elders (1972) 254–5 following Aquinas (1961) §§ 2608–9. Ross (1924) ii.397 compares Metaph. 9.8 1050b24–8 on the effortlessness of celestial rotation without a potential for the ­opposite condition.


 Cf. Brunschwig (2000) 285–6who notes that 1072b28–33 argues against the possibility that the intellect’s object is unchanging but different from itself.


 Cf. Brunschwig (2000) 277–8calling this the "perfection principle". Note that τὸ κράτιστον (1074b34) should be interpreted in relation to κρεῖττον (b32–3: "preferable") and χείριστον (b31: "worst") contra the suggestion of DeFilippo (1995) 558–9 following Elders (1972) 257 that it means literally "most powerful" i.e. independent; at the risk of being pedantic: the grammatical subject of the clause εἴπερ ἐστὶ τὸ κράτιστον is divine mind qua its own object not qua cognitive subject as is clear from its role in the argumentation.


Brunschwig (2000) 235 observes that while this is an essential feature of the Prime Mover it is mentioned not only at Metaph. 12.7 1072a25–7 b7 1073a4 but also ch.1 1069a33-b2 and ch.6 1071b3–5 in the partition of kinds of substance.


Bodéüs (2000) 22–3 and 133–5 (quoting 1074b25–35 at p.133) seems to misunderstand both Aristotle’s doctrine and his methodology when he states that Aristotle would accept as metaphysical truth the popular belief that the gods are providential and on this basis argues that the distinction between providential gods as appealed to in Aristotle’s ethical and political works and the divine intellect of Metaph. 12.7 and 9 implies that the latter is not shown to be his highest god. Firstly the realm of effects otherwise attributable to providence is normally explained by Aristotle in terms of natural teleology or chance (see Ph. 2.3–8 generally); moreover the variant of his slogan "nature does nothing in vain" (as e.g. ia 2 704b15) given at De caelo 1.4 271a34 as "The god and nature do nothing in vain" suggests strongly that references to the gods’ providence are to be understood as references to natural teleology; secondly Aristotle’s arguments are by his own admission divided into those based on the subject matter itself and dialectical arguments (cf. e.g. Ph. 8.8 264a7–9); but dialectical arguments begin from common assumptions or those of the interlocutor and consequently particularly in ethics and politics arguments that begin from popular beliefs about the gods cannot be taken to have interpretive priority for Aristotle’s physical or metaphysical doctrines over the natural interpretation of those texts themselves. (Note that the present chapter’s dialectical results do not contradict those of earlier chapters of Bk 12 but extend the inquiry beyond the realm of physical cosmological and astonomical premises and conclusions.)


 See esp. the refs. to Zeller (1897) and Brunschwig (2000) above note 36.


 Cf. Brunschwig (2000) 292; but he seems thereupon to agree with Ross (1924) ii.398 who suggests the second objection is not answered on Ross’s view because 1074b38–1075a5 answers the first and in the case of self-knowledge the second becomes meaningless; yet his explanation of the latter point is unpersuasive.


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