Chapter 2: Various Opinions Concerning the Activities Proper to the Actualizing Intellect
CERTUM est officium mentis agentis esse agere, hoc est trahere de potestate ad actum, sed in quodnam agere dicatur, & quomodo, obscurissima res est, & maxime controversa: alii namque dicunt ipsam agere in phantasmata, non in mentem patibilem; alii in mentem patibilem; alii in mentem patibililem, non in phantasmata; alii vero in ambo simul.
Prima sententia Latinorum fuit, praesertim D. Thomae, qui in 3 Libro de anima, & in prima parte summae quaest. 79, artic. 3 & 4, and in quaestionibus disputatis de spiritalibus creaturis articulo decimo & in locis fusissime de hac re loquitur, asserit rationem agentis in hoc esse constituta, ut agat in phantasmata:
eiusdem sententiae est Ioan. Bacconius in primo sententiarum q. 2. prologi, ubi dicit officium intellectus agentis esse propter phantasmata, & totam eius actionem in phantasmatibus terminari, neque ulterius progredi.
Pro hac opinione videtur argumentum sumi ex verbis Aristot. in contex. 13, tertii, libri de anima, ubi declarans officium intellectus agentis inquit ipsum esse sicut lumen, nam lumen facit colores, qui potestate sunt, esse actu colores: quemadmodum igitur lumen non agit in oculum, sed in obiectum colorem, & ipsum ducit de potestate ad actum; ita intellectus agens agit in phantasmata, non in intellectum patibiliem;
ideo potest inde colligi argumentum tale: officium omnis agentis est trahere de potestate ad actum; sed Arist. hoc officium tribuit intellectui agenti ratione obiectorum, facit enim de intellectis potestate actu intellecta; ergo in phantasmata agit, non in intellectum patibilem.
Contra vero Simplicius videtur ei total actionem tribuere respectu intellectus patibilis; putat enim utrunque esse unam & eandem substantiam, & unum intellectum, qui ut in se manens dicatur agens, & ut progressus dicatur patibilis; quoniam ipse ut in se manens seipsum ut progressum ducit de potestate ad actum, de imperfectione ad perfectionem. Hanc sententiam Aver. in commentario quinto tertii libri de anima [cf. pdf page 411] Themistio attribuit, attamen non satis liquet Themistiarum fuisse huius opinionis (Note 2).
Hanc eandem sequitur Ioannes Gandavensis in quaestiones 24 & 25 tertii libri de anima, ubi totam actionem intellectus agentis inquit esse in intellectum patibilem, non in phantasmata, & ipsum in intellectu patibili producere actum intelligendi.
Pro hac sententia sumitur argumentum ex Arist. in contex. 17 eiusdem libri, ubi ex eo quod detur intellectus patiens, infert dari etiam intellectum agentem propterea quod omni patienti respondet aliquod agens: vult igitur Arist. intellectum patientem, & ut agat in eum:
ratio nanque illa vana esset, nisi agens ageret in illudmet patiens, cui respondere debet:
hoc idem Arist. exempla declarant; inquit enim intellectum agentem ita se habere ad intellectu patibilem, ut ars ad materiam se habet, ars autem in materiam agit; ita materia prima est patiens, in quod agunt omnia agentia naturalia; quare etiam intellectus patibilis dicitur patiens respectu agentis: nomen quoque ipsum hoc ostendit ; non enim phantasmata vocavit patientia, sed ipsum patibilem intellectum, in hunc itaque voluit agere intellectum agentem.
Averroes autem varius fuisse videtur: quandoque enim asserit actionem intellectus agentis requiri propter intellectum patibilem, ut ipsum ad actum ducat, atque perficiat; quandoque propter phantasmata, ut ea transferat de gradu in gradum, hoc est de materialibus faciat immaterialia, & de intellectis potestate actu intellecta:
quare videtur Averroes existimasse officium intellectus agentis requiri propter utranque actionem ductus
fortasse utrisque argumentis ex verbis Aristotelis sumptis, quibus duas priores sectas usas esse diximus; nam Aristotelis in contextu decimoseptimo tertii libri de anima dicere videtur intellectum agentem agere in intellectum patibilem, deinde in decimooctavo videtur assere ipsum agere etiam in phantasmata.
Ideo sententiam hanc nonnulli recentiores sequuti sunt, qui eam magis declarantes dixerunt intellectum agentem esse idem re cum intellectu patibili, & esse cognoscentem, & eatenus in illum agere, quatenus tribuit illi cognitionem ut hac ratione dicatur intellectionem producere, quia intellecui patibiili tribuit cognitionem, quam ipse agens prius habebat. Haec sunt, quae ab aliis dicuntur, a me brevissime collecta.
It is certain that the activity proper to the actualizing mind is to act: that is, to draw from a potential state to an actual one. But what it is said to act upon and how is a most obscure matter and generates the greatest controversy. For some say that is acts upon images, (see note 1) and not upon the mind in a state of potentiality; others, that it does act on the mind in a state of potency; and, to be sure, some say that it acts upon both together.
The first opinion was proposed by the Latin authors, but most notably by Saint Thomas, who, in his commentary on Book 3 of the de Anima and in the first part of the Summa, Q. 79, articles 3 and 4, and in Disputed Questions on Created Spirits, art. 10 and in very widely scattered places discusses this topic. He asserts that the nature of its agency consists in this: that it acts upon images.
John Baconthorpe (John Bacon)
John Bacon was of this same opinion. In the first book of his Commentary on the Sentences, Q. 2 he writes that the activity proper to the actualizing intellect is in relation to images, and that the entirety of its action terminates in images and does not proceed further.
In favor of this opinion, it appears that the argument is taken from Aristotle’s words in Contextus 13, of Book 3 [de Anima 3.5], where, when he is speaking of the the activity proper to the actualizing intellect, Aristotle says that it is like a light, for it makes colors, which were in a state of potentiality, to exist as actual colors. Therefore, just as light does not act upon the eye but on the colored object and takes it from a state of potentiality into actuality, so the actualizing intellect acts upon images and not upon the intellect in a state of potentiality.
It follows that an argument can be gathered therein of the following kind:  the activity proper to every actualizing element is to draw from a state of potentiality to actuality; moreover,  Aristotle attributes this function to the actualizing intellect on account of its objects, for it makes its objects actually understood from ones that are potentially understood. Therefore,  it acts upon images and not in the passive intellect.
Simplicius, to the contrary, seems to attribute its entire activity to the passive intellect, for he thought that each was one and the same substance and one intellect, which, as abiding in itself is called an agent, but as a process is called “passive.” As abiding in itself he considered it a “self-same” thing; as a process it moves from a state of potentiality to one of actuality, from an unfinished state to a state of completion. Averroes attributes this opinion to Themistius in his comment 5 on the third book of the de Anima, although, it is not quite clear that this was the opinion of Themistius (Note 2).
Jean of Jandun (Johannes Gandavensis)
Jean of Jandun follows the same view in questions 24 and 25 in the third book of the Quaestiones de Anima, where he says that the entire action of the actualizing intellect is upon the passive intellect, not upon images, and that it brings about the act of understanding in the passive intellect.
In support of this view, an argument is taken from Aristotle’s works in context 17 of the same book, where, from the fact that a passive intellect is present, Aristotle infers that an actualizing intellect must also be present, accordingly, since to every potentiality there corresponds an actualizing agent, Therefore, it is claimed that Aristotle intends for there to be a passive intellect so that the actualizing intellect might act upon it. That reasoning would be pointless unless the actualizing agent were to act upon that very passive element to which it must correspond. When Aristotle discusses this same point he uses examples: for instance, he says that the actualizing agent is related to the potential intellect as a craft is related to matter and moreover, as craft acts on matter, : in the same way prime matter is a passive principle on which all natural agents act; wherefore, the passive intellect is also called “passive” with respect to an agent;  its very name indicates this too: for he did not call images passive, but the passive intellect itself, and so he intends for the agent intellect to act upon the latter.
But Averroes seems to held a different opinion: for sometimes [a] he asserts that the action of the actualizing agent is required for the passive intellect, so that it might bring it to actuality and bring it to completion; and sometimes [b] he says that the activity of the agent intellect it is for the sake of images, so that it may transfer them from one step to the next-that is, so that it makes immaterial objects out of material ones and and bring potential intellgibiles to actual intelligibility. For that reason, Averroes seems to have supposed that the proper activity of the agent intellect is required for each action of taking from potentiality to actuality.
Both arguments may perhaps be taken from Aristotle’s words we said the two prior sects made use of: for Aristotle in contextus 17 of book III [De Anima III.5] of the De Anima seems to say that the actualizing intellect acts acts on the passive intellect, but then, in contextus 18 [cf. note 3], he seems to assert that it also acts upon images. Therefore, several recent authors have followed this opinion, who, expounding it to a greater extent, have said that the agent intellect is the same thing as the passive intellect, that it is a knows, and insofar as it acts upon it, gives it knowledge. By this reasoning it is said to produce intellectual activity, since it gives knowledge to the passive intellect that the agent intellect first posessed. These are the opinions which are given by others, which I have very briefly collected.