Perhaps most intriguing and perplexing among Aristotle’s writings is his theory on how the human intellect passes from a non-thinking state to a thinking one. Aristotle assumed that human thought reflects reality in a distortion-free manner. He also assumed that inborn qualities would taint the thoughts acquired by the human intellect, thus preventing it from performing its proper function. As a result, he took the human intellect to be a “part of the soul” with the ability to “become each thing” but with no nature of its own (De Anima 3.4.429a 10, 21-22; 429b 6). Next, he argued for the presence in the soul, as in all things, of “matter” and a “cause” or “agent” which leads the matter from potentiality to actuality. Thus, Aristotle posited, alongside the potential or material intellect capable of “becoming all things” via the acquisition of all thoughts, an active intellect capable of “making all things” via the making of all thoughts. (De Anima 3.5.430a 10-15).
The meaning of potential intellect and active intellect and the relationship between them are not clear in Aristotle’s De Anima. Is the active intellect part of the human soul or separate from it? (Davidson 3-4). “If the active intellect is entirely independent of the body, how can we reconcile it with Aristotle’s prevailing view of soul as the form of body” (Bunnin and Yu 11-12)? These questions have perplexed philosophers, who have tried to answer them, for two thousand years. Among them were ancient Greek commentators, medieval Islamic, Jewish, and Christian philosophers, and European philosophers. Each of them carefully studied Aristotle, looking for the answers to these questions. In his writings they expected to find the key to man’s essence, his fate, and the structure of the universe (Davidson 3-4). I will demonstrate that the Averroist interpretation of Aristotle’s active intellect is most consistent with Aristotle’s system and, at the same time, that Aristotle is consistent with Plato on this subject, justifying the Neoplatonist interpretation of Aristotle.