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Aristotle's Two Intellects: A Modest Proposal

In: Phronesis
Author: Victor Caston
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Abstract

In De anima 3.5, Aristotle argues for the existence of a second intellect, the so-called "Agent Intellect." The logical structure of his argument turns on a distinction between different types of soul, rather than different faculties within a given soul; and the attributes he assigns to the second species make it clear that his concern here - as at the climax of his other great works, such as the Metaphysics, the Nicomachean and the Eudemian Ethics - is the difference between the human and the divine. If this is right, we needn't go on a wild goose chase trying to invent a role for the so-called Agent Intellect to play. God moves our intellects as he moves the heavenly spheres, "as a beloved": he constitutes the complete actualization towards which all of our intellectual striving is directed. Aristotle regards such final causation as an efficient cause, but not in a way that would make it part of what we would call the causal processes or mechanisms of human psychology. But, he would insist, it is essential for appreciating who we are and what our place is in the world.

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