Main Topics Covered: the agency of the agent intellect, the role of the passive intellect, the object of the agent intellect vs. the object of the passive intellect, what the passive intellect understands, the role of the agent intellect in supplying a perfecting form to its object, the non-interaction of agent and passive intellects, how the passive intellect comes to understand the agent intellect, the proper reading of the opening lines of De Anima III.5
Chapter 4: Vera Sententia de Actione Intellectus Agentis
De actione igitur mentis agentis ego hanc esse puto veritatem iuxta Aristot. opinionem, vt agere dicatur in intellectum patibilem non in phantasmata, sed phantasmatibus iungatur vt forma constituens obiectum motivum intellectus patibilis; clarum hoc est considerantibus argumentum Arist. in contextus 17. eius libri; ibi namque constitutio intellectu patiente colligit mentis agentis necessitatem, quia nihil imperfectum, & tale potestate vult in sua imperfectione manere, fed ad perfectionem ducatur necesse est; non potest autem semet ipsum perficere; ergo requirit agens, a quo perficiatur, ducaturque de potestate ad actum; agit ergo mens agens in mentem patientem, non in phantasmata, sed eis iungitur ut forma.
Vnde colligimus, quomodo agat in intellectum patibilem: non enim agit vt solus, & vt agens distinctum a phantasmatibus, tum quia sequeretur posse absque phantasmate intellectionem fieri, tum etiam quia agit vt habitus, & forma phantasmatum: agit igitur vt iunctus phantasmatibus, ita vt ex vtrisque vnum consitituatur obiectum perfectum, & potens in intellectu patibili speciem producere; quare vnum tantum est agens, ipsum phantasma, lumen vero intellectus agentis non est agens separatum, sed est perfectio phantasmatis, quae constituit obiectum perfectum, & potens movere intellectu patibilem.
Ideo recta est illorum sententia, qui dicunt intellectum agentem esse agentem vt intelligibilem potius, quam vt intelligentem; quia si debet reddere phantasma actu intelligibile, oportet ipsum per se esse actu intelligibilem, quemadmodum etiam lumen, quatenus est per se visibile, non quatenus videns, reddit colorem actu visibilem: est quidem necessarium vt ipse quoque sit intellectus aliquis, quia omne actu intelligibilis est intellectus, non in hoc tamen consistit ratio agentis, sed in eo quod sit actu Intelligibilis: hoc autem non ita accipiedum est, vt dicamus ipsum ita intelligibilem esse, vt a nostro intellectu intelligatur secundum propriam naturam, & quatenus est quaedam substantia abiuncta a materia; hoc enim fortasse est vltimum, quod a nobis cognoscitur: sed eatenus dicitur agere vt intelligibilis, quatenus est ratio intelligibilitatis aliorum, id est, quatenus est actus, & perfectio, qua caetera redduntur intelligibilia; proinde dicitur intelligibilis, non quod ipse intelligantur; sed quod per ipsum alia intelligantur; sic enim & lumen una cum colore locum habet vnius obiecti visibilis, & moventis; non enim quod ipse sol, seu eius lumen videri separatim dicatur, sed quia est ratio, qua colores sunt actu visibiles.
Facultas igitur passiva intellectus patibilis non respicit aliud agens, quam obiectum phantasma; sed hoc non potest agere, nisi ab intellectu agente perficiatur, & fiat obiectum actu motivum: quare intellectus agens est forma, qua obiectum fit actu obiectum, proinde respicit obiectum ut forma, patibilem vero intellectum ut agens, non quidem agens separatum, sed ut forma constitutiva agentis. Haec est absque dubio sententia Aristotelis, quam ipse magno cum artificio significavit: nam in context. illo 17. docuit rationem agentis esse respectu intellectus patibilis, deinde in 18. modum actionis declaravit, ne intelligeremus esse agens distinctium ab obiectis; comparavit enim utrunque intellectum cum obiectis dicens, hic sit omnia, ille vero omnia facit, idest facit esse actu intelligibilia; facit autem ut habitus quidam, idest ut forma & perfectio, quae obiectis iuncta consitituit obiectum actu, & perfectum, quemadmodum declaravimus.
Chapter 4: A True Opinion Concerning the Action of the Agent Intellect
Therefore, regarding the action of the mental agent, I believe the following to be a true opinion, that, according to Aristotle, it is said to act upon the passive intellect not on images, but on images, but is joined to images as a form constituting the moving object of the passive intellect. This is made clear by considering Aristotle’s argument in contextus 17 [The opening lines of De Anima III.5] of this book, for Aristotle gathers there the necessity for the agent intellect from the constitution of the patient intellect, since nothing imperfect and in a state of potentiality wishes to remain in an imperfect state, but must necessarily be led to its natural perfectedness [See note 1]. However, it cannot bring itself to a state of completion on its own; therefore, it requires an agent whereby it might be made complete and led from a state of potentiality to actuality. For that reason, the mental agent acts upon the the passive mind and not on images, but is conjoined to them as a form.
From thence we gather the way in which it acts upon the passive mind: for it acts like the sun, and as an agent distinct from images, both since it follows that the act of understanding can occur without an image and also since it acts as a disposition and the form of phantasms. It acts, therefore, as something joined to phantasms, so that from each of the two one perfect object is constituted, capable of producing an intelligible form of that object in the passive intellect. Wherefore, the image is, but one agent, while the light of the agent intellect is not a separate agent, but is the “completion” of the image whereby it constitutes a completed object, capable of moving the passive intellect.
Therefore, the opinion of those who speak of the agent intellect as an intelligible agent rather than as an intelligent one, is correct, since if it must render an image actually intelligible, it is necessary that it should, itself, be, of itself, actually intelligible, just as light, inasmuch as it is, of itself, visible, not insofar as it is seeing, renders colors actually visible. In fact, it is necessary that it should itself also be something understood, since everything made actually intelligible is understood, though the nature of the agent does not consist in this, but in the fact that it is actually intelligible. But we should not be taken as indicating by this that it is intelligible to the extent that we understand the intellect according to its own nature and insofar as it is a substance separated from matter: for this is perhaps the ultimate thing that is known by us. However, it is said to act insofar as it is intelligible, to the extent that it is the means of intelligibility for other things, that is, to the extent that it is an enactment and completion whereby other things are made intelligible. And yet, it is nevertheless called intelligible, not since it is itself understood, but since since other things are understood by means of it: for thus, light also shares a location with the color of one visible and moving object: for it is not that the sun itself or its light is said to be seen separately, but that it is seen since it is the means whereby colors are actually visible.
It follows that the passive faculty of the intellect which is able to undergo change is not oriented toward any agent other than an image-object. Moreover, it cannot act unless it is brought to completion and made an actually moving object, so that the agent intellect is the form whereby an object becomes an actual object. Accordingly, it is related to its object as its form, while the passive intellect is related it as to an agent–not, to be sure as a separate agent, but as the constitutive form of an agent. This is without doubt Aristotle’s opinion, which he indicated with great artifice: for in the aforementioned contextus 17 he informs us that it is of the nature of the agent to be related to the passive intellect and then in contextus 18, he explains its mode of action so that we should not understand its agent to be distinct from its object: for he compares each intellect with its object, saying, “this is all things,” while the other “makes all things,” which is to say that it makes them to be actually intelligible. Finally, it “makes” after the manner of a natural disposition, i.e. as a form and a completion, which, when it is joined to its object, constitutes an actual, perfected object as we have explained.