Active Intellect In Aristotle,
All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight. This is the foundation of human knowledge Aristotle presents us with in Book Alpha of the Metaphysics. The next question which we must naturally ask ourselves is, How? How is it that we can have any knowledge at all? We by our very nature desire to know and we
love the senses in themselves but what is the relationship between the two and by what faculty are we able to call anything knowledge once sense perception has occurred?
Aristotle sets up as his faculty for knowledge both the active and the passive intellects. We begin to have knowledge through sense experience. We cannot know without sense experienceand it is from sense experience that all knowledge is therefore generated. Knowledge for Aristotle is a knowledge of universals, that is, a knowledge of Essences. Thought is thus the faculty by
which we come to comprehend universals. And since material objects are a composite unity of essence and existence, it naturally follows that we grasp the universal through our encounter with the particular. What follows is a series of events which leads to knowledge.
The passive intellect receives the image from the sense data and it is stamped upon the passive intellect from the material impression. From this stamp the active intellect is to draw out of it and somehow make a universal concept from this particular experience. But there is something more at work here. There is something in the mind ( more specifically in the soul) that
somehow comprehends and makes universals intelligible. Various theories have been postulated concerning this but we shall concentrate on Aristotle and leave the other philosophies for now.
What is at work in man is a divine reason immanent in mans soul. Somehow man is connected to and shares in divine reason. A distinction must be made here. We are not saying that the human souls capacity to grasp universals is in some way a maker or shares in the pure act of God, but that without this divine reason at work in the souls of men no understanding of universals could take place at all. The mind works on the material given to it, that is its potential, and from this material it moves to actuality. An example of this is the man who is without music becoming musical. His potential to be musical always existed in him but it wasnt until he studied the particulars of music that he became a musical man. Aristotle refers in his Meteorology (1072,
b14) ...that we can live a life like that of a God, a time of reason being broken down where we become aware of the oneness with the principles, whose knowledge is always actual and always complete. The active intellect does not in any way act strictly on material that was already there but undisclosed, it does act on material given to it in sense experience and illuminated by mans
reason and divine reason as well. We share in the reason of God Aristotle believed. The philosopher God is a God of pure act, in other words Thought thinking Thought. This is the goal of man, to achieve a similar state of being in contemplation and reflection. And it is only through the active intellect that man is able to come to universals.
The active intellect acts on the passive intellect the way an artist acts on stone to create an image. The artist impresses the form of a knowable object into the stone and the active intellect impresses a knowable object onto the passive intellect. We must not make the mistake here of understanding the active intellect as a medium between the passive intellect and the object to be
known. Knowledge for Aristotle is a direct and not mediated relationship. The relationship of active to passive intellect is that of illumination shared in divine reason whereby man is able to see the universal in the particular and understand or grasp the idea of universal. This I liken to the statue