The Relation Between Human and Divine Intellection in Aristotle's Theoria and Thomas Aquinas's Contemplatio
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Some comparative studies of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas put emphasis on the similarities between Aristotelian and Thomistic metaphysics. In this study, however, I have attempted to show a salient difference; a respect in which Thomas's system cannot accommodate certain Aristotelian tenets. I have argued that, although Thomas tries to incorporate Aristotle's account of intellection, he cannot consistently do so. For an integration of this sort entails that the created intellect is identical with God when it contemplates him. This, however, is a conclusion that would rightly be rejected as metaphysically implausible in Thomas's system. Aristotle's view of intellection entails that the intellect is identical with whatever it contemplates when that object possesses no matter. For, intellection, which is itself immaterial, assumes the form of whatever it contemplates, and furthermore, matter is what individuates distinct entities that share the same form. If all this is so, then the human intellect becomes identical with Aristotle's god when it contemplates him. In Aristotle's system, this would not present any problems, for a very interesting reason: Aristotle, on an interpretation of his thought that seems textually plausible, teaches that part of the human mind is identical with divine intellect, or nous; that this part is "implanted" in the human being "from outside" and is the most divine part?and so, part of the human being can rightly be said to be eternal.1 Thomas, however, in accordance with Christian doctrine, holds that the human intellect has its own created identity, and differs numerically from person to person. But Thomas's adoption of prominent theses from Aristotle's account of intellection unfortunately entails that the human intellect, in contemplatio, becomes identical with God, since God is immaterial and identical with his essence. After looking at some possible solutions, I argue that this is not a desirable outcome in Thomas's Christian metaphysic, for several good reasons.