Unmixing the Intellect: Aristotle on Cognitive Powers and Bodily Organs
(forthcoming from Greenwood Press)
(order here)

by Joseph M. Magee

Aristotle’s philosophy of mind has been an area of active scholarship for several years, especially since the appearance of Martha Nussbaum and Amelie Oksenberg Rorty’s edited anthology, Essays on Aristotle’s De Anima (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992). The majority of this scholarship has concentrated on Aristotle’s account of sensation and has generally sought to find in his ancient account insights applicable to contemporary materialistic explanations of mental life. Seldom is Aristotle’s doctrine of mind (noØV) dealt with in any depth. One exception, Michael Wedin’s Mind and Imagination in Aristotle (New Haven: Yale University Press,1988), does offer an interpretation of Aristotle’s doctrine of noØV, but it is also notable for advancing the sensational claim that mind, like the senses, is a thoroughly material power (Aristotle’s apparent denials to the contrary notwithstanding). In most of the scholarship, the claim that Aristotle espouses a materialist theory is almost never questioned, except by those like Myles Burnyeat (who believes Aristotle’s sui generis explanation is mysterious at best and ought to be "scrapped") and committed dualists like Howard Robinson.

It was against this background that I wrote, Unmixing the Intellect: Aristotle on Cognitive Powers and Bodily Organs. In this work, I examine closely Aristotle’s doctrine of the intellect, focusing on De Anima 3. 4, but also examining what he has to say about noØV in other parts of the DA and other works as well. Furthermore, since Aristotle begins the explanation of his own theory of noØV by comparing it with the sense faculty (aÇsqhsiV), I likewise examine his explanation of sensation. In the course of this examination, I challenge many of the standard materialist interpretations of Aristotle’s doctrine of both noØV and aÇsqhsiV. Since Aristotle’s theory at least appears incompatible with his alleged materialism, and since anti-materialists (such as Aquinas) have claimed to be faithful interpreters of his theory, a detailed examination of the theory in the light of contemporary theories is warranted in order to help build a consensus of understanding about Aristotle’s doctrine.

Unmixing the Intellect, then, primarily examines Aristotle’s arguments in De Anima, Book 3, Chapter 4, that the intellect is separate from the body, and does so in the light of recent interpretations which employ prominent theories in contemporary philosophy of mind. Chapter One surveys these contemporary views, and emphasizes the implications of the materialist theories and their use by interpreters of Aristotle’s doctrines of sense and intellect. Chapter Two defends the claim that Aristotle intended DA 3. 4 to prove that the intellect is separate from the body against the interpretation of Michael Wedin who believes that Aristotle’s theory of mind is an essentially materialist one. This defense is carried out mainly through careful textual analysis. Chapter Three challenges certain claims of Richard Sorabji by showing that Aristotle holds that the intellect is like the sense faculty in being receptive of the forms of objects, in becoming like its objects and in becoming the same as its objects. This is important because although both the intellect and the sense receive the form of their objects, how they differ in doing this is Aristotle’s argumentative basis that mind is separate from the body. Accordingly, Chapter Four examines Aristotle’s treatment of the senses and their relation to the body, first evaluating, but ultimately rejecting, Stephen Everson’s interpretation that the act of perception supervenes on material alterations to sense organs. In the light of this evaluation, I propose that Aristotle, in fact, teaches that perceptual awareness (as the reception of form without matter) is an activity (¦nXrgeia), a process or state which he opposes to the standard material process of alteration, but an activity which, nevertheless, still occurs in material sense organs. Finally, in Chapter Five, I explore the implications which the fact that the senses are embodied cognitive powers have for the nature of their activities and objects. For instance, their organs limit each to one species of object. This then allows me to offer an explanation and interpretation of Aristotle’s arguments in DA 3. 4 for the separability of noØV as contrasted with the senses, and defend this interpretation against various alternate readings of, and objections to, Aristotle’s arguments. I ultimately conclude that Aristotle did intend to demonstrate that the intellect is separate from the body and that, given his understanding of the senses and what is distinctive of mind, his arguments are successful.

(order here)