Of God and His Creatures

Of the Opinion of Avicenna, who supposed Intellectual Forms not to be preserved in the Potential Intellect*

THE above arguments (against Averroes) seem to be obviated by the theory of Avicenna. He says that intellectual impressions do not remain in the potential intellect except just so long as they are being actually understood.* And this he endeavours to prove from the fact that forms are actually apprehended so long as they remain in the faculty that apprehends them: thus in the act of perception both sense and intellect become identified with their objects:* hence it seems that whenever sense or intellect is united with its object, as having taken its form, actual apprehension, sensible or intellectual, occurs. But the faculties which preserve forms which not actually apprehended, he says, are not the faculties that apprehend those forms, but storehouses (thesauros) attached to the said apprehensive faculties. Thus phantasy is the storehouse of forms apprehended by sense; and memory, according to him, is the storehouse of notions apprehended independently of sensation, as when the sheep apprehends the hostility of the wolf. The capacity of these faculties for storing up forms not actually apprehended* comes from their having certain bodily organs in which the forms are received, such reception following close upon the (first) apprehension;* and thereby the apprehensive faculty, turning to these storehouses, apprehends in act. But it is acknowledged that the potential intellect is an apprehensive faculty, and has no bodily organ: hence Avicenna concludes that it is impossible for intellectual impressions to be preserved in the potential intellect except so long as it is actually understanding. Therefore, one of three things: either (i) these intellectual impressions must be preserved in some bodily organ, or faculty having a bodily organ: or (2) they must be self-existent intelligible forms, to which our potential intellect stands in the relation of a mirror to the objects mirrored: or (3) whenever the potential intellect understands, these intellectual impressions must flow into it afresh from some separate agent. The first of these three suppositions is impossible: because forms existing in faculties that use bodily organs are only potentially intelligible.* The second supposition is the opinion of Plato, which Aristotle rejects. Hence Avicenna concludes that, whenever we actually understand, there flow into our potential intellect intellectual impressions from the active intellect, which he assumes to be an intelligence subsisting apart. If any one objects against him that then there is no difference between a man when he first learns, and when he wishes to review and study again something which he has learnt before, he replies that to learn and con over again what we know is nothing else than to acquire a perfect habit of uniting ourselves with the (extrinsic) active intelligence, so as to receive therefrom the intellectual form; and therefore, before we come to reflect on and use our knowledge, there is in man a bare potentiality of such reception, but reflection on our knowledge is like potentiality reduced to act. And this view seems consonant with what Aristotle teaches, that memory is not in the intellectual but in the sensitive part of the soul.* So it seems that the preservation of intellectual impressions does not belong to the intellectual part of the soul.* But on careful consideration this theory will be found ultimately to differ little or nothing from the theory of Plato. Plato supposed forms of intellect to be separately existing substances, whence knowledge flowed in upon our souls: Avicenna supposes one separate substance, the active intellect, to be the source when knowledge flows in upon our souls. Now it makes no matter for the acquirement of knowledge whether our knowledge is caused by one separate substance or by several. Either way it will follow that our knowledge is not caused by sensible things: the contrary of which conclusion appears from the fact that any one wanting in any one sense is wanting in acquaintance with the sensible objects of which that sense takes cognisance.

1. It is a novelty to say that the potential intellect, viewing the impressions made by singular things in the phantasy, is lit up by the light of the active intellect to know the universal; and that the action of the lower faculties, phantasy, memory, and cogitative faculty, fit and prepare the soul to receive the emanation of the active intellect. This, I say, is novel and strange doctrine: for we see that our soul is better disposed to receive impressions from intelligences subsisting apart, the further it is removed from bodily and sensible things: the higher is attained by receding from the lower. It is not therefore likely that any regarding of bodily phantasms should dispose our soul to receive the influence of an intelligence subsisting apart. Plato made a better study of the basis of his position: for he supposed that sensible appearances do not dispose the soul to receive the influence of separately subsisting forms, but merely rouse the intellect to consider knowledge that has been already caused in it by an external principle: for he supposed that from the beginning knowledge of all things intellectually knowable was caused in our souls by separately existing forms, or ideas: hence learning, he said, was nothing else than recollecting.*

3. Intellectual knowledge is more perfect than sensory. If therefore in sensory knowledge there is some power of preserving apprehensions, much more will this be the case in intellectual knowledge.

6. This opinion is contrary to the mind of Aristotle, who says that the potential intellect is "the place of ideas": which is tantamount to saying that it is a "storehouse" of intellectual impressions, to use Avicenna's own phrase.

The arguments to the contrary are easily solved. For the potential intellect is perfectly actuated about intellectual impressions when it is actually considering them: when it is not actually considering them, it is not perfectly actuated about them, but is in a condition intermediate between potentiality and actuality.* As for memory, that is located in the sentient part of the soul, because the objects of memory fall under a definite time for there is no memory but of the past; and therefore, since there is no abstraction of its object from individualising conditions, memory does not belong to the intellectual side of our nature, which deals with universals This however does not bar the potential intellect's preservation of intellectual impressions, which are abstracted from all particular conditions.

2.73 : That the Potential Intellect is not One and the Same in all men
2.75 : Confutation of the Arguments which seem to prove the Unity of the Potential Intellect