Of God and His Creatures

Alexander of Aphrodisias (there were three towns of that name, one in Caria, one in Cilicia, and one in Thrace) expounded Aristotle at Athens, A.D. 200. Among the Greek commentators on the Philosopher he holds the place that Averroes holds among the Mohammedans: hence his similar surname of ho exêgêtês (the commentator). Averroes, while continually wrangling with Alexander, especially on the nature of the potential intellect, speaks of him with great regard. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the schools of Northern Italy were filled with eager disputants, Alexandrists and Averroists. St Thomas in his later Opusculum de unitate intellectus denies that Alexander held the view which he here ascribes to him: he says that it was falsely imputed to him by Averroes. Be that as it may, the opinion at present standing for confutation comes to this. The 'potential intellect,' to all intents and purposes, is identified with what Averroes, and St Thomas with him, calls the 'passive intellect,' described in the opening of Chap. LX, which 'intellect' is admitted on all hands to be in man, not extrinsic to him.

There is a good account of Alexander in a Dissertation by Augustus Elfes, published at Bonn (Straus) in 1887, entitled Aristotelis doctrina de mente humana, pars prima, Alexandri Aphrodisiensis et Joannis Philoponi commentationes. Alexander calls the potential intellect hulikos, as in the Latin versions of Averroes it is called materialis. But with Alexander the potential intellect is a bodily (organic) faculty: in fact it is silently confounded with the nous pathêtikos of Aristotle; whereas in Averroes, St Thomas, and (we may add) in Aristotle himself, it is a spiritual faculty. This is the great mistake of Alexander. He says, epitêdeiotês tis estin ho hulikos nous, eoikôs pinakidi agraphô -- in this agreeing with Aristotle, De anima, III, iv, 12: who says the potential intellect, to begin with, is like "a notebook in which nothing is actually written." The word epitêdeiotês appears in St Thomas as praeparatio (predisposition). To meet Aristotle's saying that the potential intellect apathês (unimpressed by material things), Alexander distinguishes between the predisposition of the tablet to be written on, and the tablet itself: the tablet, he says, is impressed and changed, but not the predisposition. This looks like quibbling. Alexander made the 'active intellect' one for all men; and even identified it with God.

On the other hand, G. Rodier, Aristote, Traité de l'ame (Leroux, Paris, 1900), vol. II, pp. 457, 460, has a clear statement and able defence of Alexander's notion of epitêdeiotês.

Of God and His Creatures: 2.62