The Unity of Intellect in Aristotle's De Anima

Phronesis 49 (4):348-373 (2004)
Abstract
Desperately difficult texts inevitably elicit desperate hermeneutical measures. Aristotle's De Anima, book three, chapter five, is evidently one such text. At least since the time of Alexander of Aphrodisias, scholars have felt compelled to draw some remarkable conclusions regarding Aristotle's brief remarks in this passage regarding intellect. One such claim is that in chapter five, Aristotle introduces a second intellect, the so-called 'agent intellect', an intellect distinct from the 'passive intellect', the supposed focus of discussion up until this passage.1 This view is a direct descendent of the view of Alexander himself, who identified the agent intellect with the divine intellect.2 Even the staunchest defender of such a view is typically at a loss to give a plausible explanation of why the divine intellect pops into and then out of the picture in the intense and closely argued discussion of the human intellect that goes from chapter four through to the end of chapter seven.3 Revolting against an extravagant postulation of entities, Michael Wedin, for example, has argued with considerable subtlety and ingenuity that there is in fact only one intellect discussed in De Anima.4 This unified intellect is fully capable of being integrated into Aristotle's hylomorphic psychology. In order to make his case, though, Wedin is himself forced (1) to discount the importance of some texts and (2) to interpret others in a way that strains credulity.
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