Of God and His Creatures

That the Potential Intellect of Man is not a Spirit subsisting apart from Matter*

THERE were others who used another invention in maintaining the point, that a subsistent intelligence cannot be united with a body as its form. They say that the intellect which Aristotle calls 'potential,' is a spiritual being, subsisting apart by itself, and not united with us as a form. And this they endeavour to prove from the words of Aristotle, who says, speaking of this intellect, that it is "separate, unmixed with body, simple and impassible," terms which could not be applied to it, they say, if it were the form of a body.* Also from the argument by which Aristotle proves that because the potential intellect receives all impressions of sensible things, and is in potentiality to them all, it must be devoid of all to begin with, as the pupil of the eye, which receives all impressions of colours, is devoid of all colour; because if it had of itself any colour, that colour would prevent other colours from being seen; nay, nothing would be seen except under that colour; and the like would be the case of the potential intellect, if it had of itself any form or nature of sensible things, as it would have were it the form of any body; because, since form and matter make one, the form must participate to some extent in the nature of that whereof it is the form.* These passages moved Averroes* to suppose the potential intellect, whereby the soul understands, to be separate in being from the body, and not to be the form of the body. But because this intellect would have no connexion with us, nor should we be able to understand by it unless it were somehow united with us, Averroes fixes upon a mode in which it is united with us, as he thinks, sufficiently. He says that an impression actually made in the understanding is a 'form' of the potential intellect, in the same way that an actually visible appearance, as such, is a 'form' of the visual faculty; hence out of the potential intellect, and this form or impression actually made in the same, there results one being. With whatever being therefore this 'form' of the understanding is conjoined, the potential intellect is also conjoined with that being. But this 'form 'is conjoined with us by means of the 'phantasm,' or image in the phantasy, which image is a Sort of subject receiving in itself that 'form' of understanding.

1. It is easy to see how frivolous and impossible all this construction is. For what has understanding is intelligent; and that of which an intelligible impression is united with the understanding, is understood. The fact that an intelligible impression, united with a (foreign) understanding, comes somehow to be in man, will not render man intelligent; it will merely make him understood by that separately subsisting intelligence.

2. Besides, the impression actually in understanding is the form of the potential intellect, in the same way that the actual visible appearance is the form of the visual power, or eye. But the impression actually in understanding is to the phantasms as the actual visible appearance is to the coloured surface, which is outside the soul. This similitude is used by Averroes, as also by Aristotle. Therefore the supposed union of the potential intellect (by means of the intelligible form) with the phantasm that is in us will resemble the union of the visual power with the colour that is in the stone. But this union does not make the stone see, but be seen. Therefore the aforesaid union does not make us understand, but be understood. But, plainly, it is properly and truly said that man understands: for we should not be investigating the nature of understanding were it not for the fact that we have understanding. The above mode of union then is insufficient.

3. The intellect in the act of understanding and the object as represented in understanding are one, as also the sense in the act of sensation and the object as represented in sense. But the understanding as apt to understand and its object as open to representation in understanding are not one, as neither is sense, so far as it is apt to have sensation, one with its object, so far as that is open to be represented in sensation.* The impression made by the object, so far as it lies in images of the phantasy, is not any representation in the understanding. Only by undergoing a process of abstraction from such images does the impression became one with the intellect in the act of understanding. In like manner the impression of colour is actually felt in sense, not as it is in the stone, but as it is in the eye. Now, on the theory of Averroes, the intelligible form, or impression in the understanding, only comes to be conjoined with us by finding place in the images of our phantasy. Therefore it is not conjoined with us inasmuch as it is one with the potential intellect, being its form. Therefore it cannot be the medium whereby the potential intellect is conjoined with us: because, in so far as it is conjoined with the potential intellect, it is not conjoined with us; and in so far as it is conjoined with us, it is not conjoined with the potential intellect.

2.58 : That Vegetative, Sentient, and Intelligent are not in Man Three Souls
2.60 : That a Man is not a member of the Human Species by possession of Passive Intellect, but by possession of Potential Intellect