This article sheds new light on Themistius’ argument in what is philosophically the most original section of his extant work, namely On Aristotle's On the Soul 100.16–109.3: here, Themistius offers a systematic interpretation of Aristotle's ‘agent’ intellect and its ‘potential’ and ‘passive’ counterparts. A solution to two textual difficulties at 101.36–102.2 is proposed, supported by the Arabic translation. This allows us to see that Themistius engages at length with a Platonizing reading of the enigmatic final lines of De anima III.5, (...) where Aristotle explains ‘why we do not remember’. This Platonizing reading can be safely identified with the one developed in a fragmentary text extant only in Arabic under the title Porphyry's treatise On the soul. While Themistius rejects this reading, he turns out to be heavily influenced by the author's interpretation of the ‘agent’, ‘potential’ and ‘passive’ intellect. These findings offer us a new glimpse into Themistius’ philosophical programme: he is searching for an alternative to both the austere Aristotelianism of Alexander of Aphrodisias and the all too Platonizing reading of Aristotle adopted by thinkers such as Porphyry. (shrink)
The idea that nous comes from without, deriving from Aristotle’s Generation of Animals II.3, became a key element in late ancient and Medieval accounts of human rationality drawing on Aristotle’s De Anima. But two very different understandings of the concept were around (often occurring next to each other): either it was taken to refer to the human capacity for thought and its origin outside the natural ontogenetic process; or it was taken to stand for the most perfect act of thought, (...) existing separately as the supreme divinity, and becoming, hopefully, ours at the very climax of human development. This paper shows how these two influential conceptions derive from the work of the two greatest scholars of Aristotle’s school, Theophrastus and Alexander of Aphrodisias, respectively. More to the point: it shows that (i) there is an intriguing philosophical story to be told of how the notion developed from one understanding to the other, this being the core of a larger story of nous from without in Western thought; and that (ii) this story sheds new light on what was at stake in the early – genuinely Peripatetic – reception of Aristotle’s account of nous (as contrasted with later, heavily Platonized, interpretations). (shrink)
This paper reconstructs the account of concept formation developed in the 4th Century A.D. by Themistius in the most ancient extant commentary on Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics. Themistius’ account can be contrasted with two widespread modern interpretations of Aristotle. Unlike psychological empiricists, Themistius ascribes an active role in concept formation to our innate capacity of understanding. Unlike intuitionists, he would not be satisfied by saying that νοῦς “intuits” or “spots” concepts. Rather, the question is what makes our νοῦς capable of “finding” (...) and “recognizing” concepts in experience, and this can only be an understanding prior to all experience. Themistius seems to be responding here to Platonist arguments against Aristotle’s epistemology: postulating a “potential νοῦς” is not enough, for one can apply Meno’s dilemma to it and ask how it can recognize that it has found what it was looking for. But, contrary to the judgment of some modern scholars, Themistius never embraced the theory of recollection either. He argued that both empiricism and Platonist innatism are wrong and developed a middle path marked by a strong interdependence between the perceptive and the rational capacity. This holds for all rational learning, and concept formation is its first stage: to form a concept means to learn something genuinely new, but also to recognize it as falling, e. g., under one of the ten categories. While being presented as a mere “paraphrasis” of Aristotle’s words, Themistius’ account is a well-advised and original response to the epistemological debates of his time. (shrink)
The article reconstructs a late ancient debate concerning a dilemma raised by Aristotle’s De anima: How can an impassive soul account for perceiving qua being affected by perceptual objects? It is argued that Alexander and Themistius developed radically different approaches which can be better understood within a larger context of the dialogue between Aristotelianism and Platonism. The debate is shown to be instructive in underlining difficulties inherent in Aristotle’s account.