Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Philosophy, Science and the Sciences

HS Theories of Abstraction / Intellect from Alexander to Averroes

Menn, Stephen; Muehlethaler, Lukas

Tue. 16-18, DOR 24, 1.406

A great deal not only of medieval psychology and epistemology but also of medieval metaphysics, and sometimes even cosmology, turns on the theory of the “agent intellect,” its relation to other mental powers and acts (all confusingly labeled “intellect”), and its role in abstracting form from matter or from images, or even in imposing form on matter. This theory starts from Aristotle’s De Anima III,4-5, and is elaborated first by Alexander of Aphrodisias and then, following him, by Plotinus, Themistius, and the sixth-century Platonist commentators on the De Anima (Philoponus, pseudo-Philoponus, pseudo-Simplicius), and then in Arabic notably by al-Fârâbî, Avicenna and Averroes. This seminar will explore this late ancient and medieval discussion, beginning with Aristotle and Alexander and then concentrating on Arabic writers, building up to Averroes and in particular to his Great Commentary on the De Anima, recently made available in translation (from the Latin—the Arabic is lost) by Richard Taylor. If time permits we will also look at some Latin developments (Thomas Aquinas, Henry of Ghent), as well as later developments in the Arabic tradition. The seminar is intended both for students of philosophy and for students of Islamicate intellectual history. Students should have some prior study of Aristotle’s theoretical philosophy and in particular his psychology; no knowledge of Arabic language or philosophy is presupposed. The seminar would be a natural sequel to the same instructors’ SS 2012 seminar on Avicenna on the soul, but does not presuppose it; for students of Arabic or Islamic studies, that seminar would give sufficient background in Aristotle. The seminar might usefully be combined with the colloquium on Alexander. The seminar will be conducted bilingually in German and English: students must understand both languages but need speak only one of them.