An Aristotelian Theory of Divine Illumination: Robert Grosseteste's Commentary on the Posterior Analytics

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Abstract
Two central accounts of human cognition emerge over the course of the Middle Ages: the theory of divine illumination and an Aristotelian theory centered on abstraction from sense data. Typically, these two accounts are seen as competing views of the origins of human knowledge; theories of divine illumination focus on God’s direct intervention in our epistemic lives, whereas Aristotelian theories generally claim that our knowledge derives primarily (or even entirely) from sense perception. In this paper, I address an early attempt to reconcile these two accounts—namely, Robert Grosseteste’s commentary on Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics—and I argue that Grosseteste’s efforts to bring Aristotle’s account of human cognition into harmony with a theory of divine illumination proves both philosophically interesting and largely successful. Grosseteste’s claim that God does not directly illumine our intellects in this life opens his theory to the worry that Grosseteste leaves the divine out of his theory of divine illumination in the CPA. Steven Marrone, for example, holds that Grosseteste’s Aristotelian focus in this work causes him to abandon the theory of divine illumination he advocated in the earlier De veritate in favor of a modified theory of “human” illumination. I argue in contrast that Grosseteste does give God a role in human knowledge in the CPA—a role that allows human beings to remain largely responsible for the acquisition of knowledge while still requiring God’s illumination for actual cognition. In short, I conclude that, although human bodies interfere with God’s direct illumination of our intellects, God nevertheless plays a crucial ideogenic role in human cognition by illuminating the objects of our intellection and making them intelligible to us.
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Archival date: 2018-06-01
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2010-08-16

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