Alexander of Aphrodisias on Simultaneous Perception

In David Bennett & Juhana Toivanen (eds.), Philosophical Problems in Sense Perception: Testing the Limits of Aristotelianism. Springer. pp. 91-124 (2020)
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Alexander of Aphrodisias picks up Aristotle’s insufficient treatment of simultaneous perception and develops an adequate solution for the problem, thereby offering an account of the unity of perceptual consciousness—the single mental activity of a single subject with complex content. I show the adequacy of the solution by using as criteria the requirements that have been identified by Aristotle and approved (and explained) by Alexander. I analyze Alexander’s solution in two turns. First, with respect to heterogeneous perceptibles, Alexander adopts and reformulates Aristotle’s metaphorical account invoking the analogy with a point. Second, with respect to homogeneous opposites, accordingly, perception is judgement, but it involves physical changes in diverse parts of the primary sense-organ. By this account Alexander resolves the issue of the unity of the subject on the level of the capacity of the soul, and coordinates the complexity of content with the complexity on the physical level. In addition to being adequate, the solution is faithful to Aristotle. I suggest that the interpretative decisions Alexander makes (the clarification of the analogy; the reference he finds to the analogy; the two components of the solution, judgement and parts of the organ) form an ingenious extension of Aristotle’s treatment. Interestingly, even though many elements in Alexander’s interpretation are taken up by modern commentators, no one has followed it in its entirety, nor even treated it in its own right.

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Attila Hangai
Institute of Philosophy, Research Centre for The Humanities


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