The Metaphor of Light

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The Metaphor of Light

The classical unresolved problem of the active intellect, raised by Aristotle in De Anima III.5, has received several interpretations in the history of philosophy. In this paper, I will recover the old hypotheses according to which the active intellect is the god of Aristotle's metaphysics. I propose that if the active intellect is god, it is not an efficient cause but the final cause of human thought-the entelecheia of the human rational soul. Nevertheless, the problem of the active intellect is insoluble simply because we do not count with all the elements required to obtain a sound solution. Yet it can be attenuated by an approach that renders much more coherence to De Anima III.5 than other attempts. To this end, I will (1) analyse the classical conception of Aristotle's two intellects, (2) work on the explanation par excellence of the active intellect, the metaphor of light, distinguishing the double conception of potency and act that may be found in it, and (3) analyse the concept of entelecheia as the process by which the active intellect actualizes intelligibles in the sense of the final cause.

One of the classic problems, and one of the most difficult to solve in Aristotelian philosophy, is that there is no text in which Aristotle explicitly states how the intellect manages to make 'intelligibles in actuality', that is, ideas. What he says in the fifth chapter of the third book of De Anima, instead of clarifying how man thinks, makes the intellectual process even more obscure, because the soul, as enteleceia of the body, is presented as one unit, but the mentioned text refers to two intellects, and one of them appears to be immortal, not human.

It is this intellect, precisely, which Aristotle describes as separate, immortal and eternal, characteristics attributed only to god. Based on such terms, critics have made numerous interpretations on the relationship between rational thought and god: whether man is (or has) the active intellect, whether he thinks together with god, or whether only god is the agent and man is a passive-potential intellect.

We think that the active intellect is, indeed, god, but that it is not 'really' an efficient cause of human thought, but rather the final cause or enteleceia of the human rational soul. Joseph Owens and W. Guthrie have recently affirmed this hypothesis. Traditionally, however, some other authors, even though they consider the active intellect to be a separate entity, have doubted or denied that it is god.
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