Why the View of Intellect in De Anima I 4 Isn’t Aristotle’s Own

British Journal for the History of Philosophy 26 (2):241-254 (2018)
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In De Anima I 4, Aristotle describes the intellect (nous) as a sort of substance, separate and incorruptible. Myles Burnyeat and Lloyd Gerson take this as proof that, for Aristotle, the intellect is a separate eternal entity, not a power belonging to individual humans. Against this reading, I show that this passage does not express Aristotle’s own views, but dialectically examines a reputable position (endoxon) about the intellect that seems to show that it can be subject to change. The passage’s argument for the indestructibility of intellect via an analogy to perception does not fit with Aristotle’s own views. Aristotle thinks that perception operates via bodily organs, but denies this of understanding. He also requires separability from the body for indestructibility, something this analogy rules out. However, Aristotle’s Platonist interlocutors may well endorse such an argument. My dialectical interpretation best resolves the interpretative difficulties and explains its place in the larger context, Aristotle’s discussion of Platonist views on the soul. Aristotle presents a challenge to his insistence that the soul is subject to change, dialectically resolves that challenge, and then ends by reserving the right to give a different account of the intellect.

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Caleb Cohoe
Metropolitan State University of Denver


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