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THE DOCTRINE OF THE POSSIBLE AND AGENT INTELLECTS IN GONSALVUS HISPANUS' QUESTION XIII. One of the best places to observe the synthetic quabty of Mediaeval thought in its effort to bring into harmony the non-Christian knowledge and the Christian faith is the miUenium-long controversy on the doctrine of the possible and agent intellects.1 The doctrine itself is many sided, having not only epistemological applications but also very important metaphysical and ethical consequences depending on the philosophical interpretation given to it. Of these we shall be concerned primarily with the controversies on the metaphysical or ontological status of these intellects since it is to their solution that Gonsalvus addresses his question thirteen, the subject of the present essay. The controversy was faced by the Latin West from three different angles: first, a purely philosophical aspect which sought to solve the philosophical problems raised by the question; second, a theological preoccupation with its relationship to doctrines of the orthodox Faith; and third, the historical concern with the position which the authoritative texts of Aristotle presented. These three perspectives or ways of looking at the doctrine, all present in Gonsalvus' treatment of the subject as we shall see, center upon the three metaphysical questions arising from it, namely: i) Whether the possible and agent intellects are part of the human soul or outside it ; 2) Whether they are one in all men or multiplied in accordance with the number of these; and 3) Whether they are no more than two different epistemological functions of the same faculty of the soul or not. The importance of the answers to these questions for the Christian theologian and philosopher can never be overestimated. In addition to their interest for the historical understanding of Aristotle's thought, and for the creation of a coherent and adequate philosophical view of 1 As we shall see, the terms used in this controvery vary widely. However we have chosen to use these as a modus operandi to begin our discussion since they are more widely known, probably because they were used by St. Thomas. They are also used by Gonsalvus. 6 JORGE T. GRACIA the nature of man and the metaphysical status of his epistemological powers, they are intimately related to two capital doctrines of the Christian faith: the immortaUty of the individual human soul, and its moral sanctions after death. The possibility of endangering these two is without doubt the prime motor behind the long questiones that were dedicated to this controversy in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. However, it was not the theologians of the Christian West who first posed these questions. Long before the Latin world inherited the controversy early commentators of Aristotle had noticed the ambiguity arising from the famous text from his De anima2 and had begun the process of unravelling the implications of its possible solutions.3 But it was not until the Arabic thinkers took hold of the problem that most of these impbcations were developed to any extent. From these different positions, as elaborated by them, the Latinsbegan their attempt to findan answer that would cohere with Christian theology. Thus it is necessary for an understanding of the way in which the Latins posed these questions and the nomenclature employed to glance at the development of the doctrine within the Islamic world. Thiswe shall nowattemptto dobriefly. GeneraUy speaking, there are two basic positions concerning the metaphysical or ontological status of the possible and agent inteUects developed by Islamic thinkers. One was fully elaborated by Avicenna after it had enjoyed a long tradition of development before him in a less complete form. The other, apparently without precedent, yet favoured by many after him, was carefuUy developed by Averroes.4 PREDECESSORS OF AVICENNA Of the predecessors of Avicenna the most important investigators of this question were Alkindi and Alfarabi. The first wrote a treatise entitled De intellectu5 in which he proposed a fourfold specific division of the inteUect foUowing, according to him, the doctrine of Plato and 2 III, 5; 130 a 10 ff. * Of these the most important of all for the transmission of the problem to posterity was Alexander of Aphrodisias who, in a section of his De anima...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 5-36
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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