The Potential and Active Intellect in Avicenna’s Philosophy and its Reception in the Thought of Thomas Aquinas

Michał Zembrzuski

The aim of this article is to present Avicenna᾿s most important statements about intellect and to show how Thomas Aquinas interpreted them in his works. Avicenna᾿s understanding of active and potential intellect, like the treatise De anima and anthropologi­cal solutions, influenced the philosophical thought of the Middle Ages. Avicenna separated active intellect from man and attributed to it all the cognitive activity performed by man. At the same time, he identified potential intellect with the soul, which made it an immaterial structure assuming cognitive forms and giving immortality. The sensual cognitive faculties, and particularly the inner senses, only disposed the soul to accept the influence of the sepa­rate, active intellect. This influence consisted in forming imagination (abstraction) to make it accessible to the potential intellect. The potential intellect, which goes to the next – succes­sive states, acquires proficiency in knowledge, and is perfected to the highest possible degree. Avicenna rejected the possibility of intellectual memory, because even if the active intellect was the giver of forms, the potential intellect was not a storehouse for them. The cognitive forms were in it, as long as he considered it in the act, and as long as he was influenced by the active intellect. Thomas Aquinas adopted different solutions in his anthropology, and thus did not agree with Avicenna᾿s opinion about intellect.

DOI: 10.37240/AHFiMS.2022.66.67.4


Keywords: Avicenna · Thomas Aquinas · Active Intellect · Potential Intellect · Abstrac­tion · Memory

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