Manual Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon

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Towards a Modern Greek Lexicon of Untranslatables

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VI the noetic activity is explained in some detail. The distinction drawn previously Rep. IV, aa between episteme and doxa is maintained here, but we discover that there is more than one type of episteme. The upper part of the Line that represented knowledge of the noeta ibid. These two operations of the logistikon have been much debated; one school of thought sees dianoia as that activity of the mind which has as its object the "mathematicals," while the objects of noesis are the eide see mathematika 2 ; the other school sees dianoia as discursive reasoning in general and noesis as immediate intellectual intuition, in much the same way as Aristotle see Anal.

II, b; epagoge 3 and Plotinus see infra distinguished between logismos and nous. What is clear, however, is that the method of noesis is that known to Plato as dialektike; q. There are certain passages in Plato, echoed by Aristotle, that give somewhat more of a purely psychological insight into the workings of the intellective process. Both men seek to derive episteme from the Greek word to "stand" or "come to a halt" ephistamai and so explain intellection as a "coming to a halt" in the midst of a series of sense impressions, the "fixing" of an intuitive concept Grat. II, a; Phys.

VII, b. But this psychological approach is overwhelmed by a flood of ''physical'' considerations. Noesis is an activity and so must be located within the general categories of change and kinesis. Plato speaks of revolutions in the World Soul Tim. This owes nothing, of course, to introspection, but is based upon considerations of the revolutions of the body of the kosmos that reveal the motion of its own soul ibid. Aristotle's treatment of noesis, like his explanation of aisthesis, is conducted within the categories of potency dynamis and act energeia, q. The nous before it knows is actually nothing but potentially all the things it can know; the eide are present in it but only potentially De an.

III, a. When the nous begins to operate it passes from a passive to an activated state by reason of its becoming identical with its object, the intelligible form ibid. III, a : There is in noesis a parallel with aisthesis: just as aisthesis extracts the sensible forms eide of sensible objects see aisthesis 19 , so noesis thinks the intelligible forms in sensible images phantasiai , and noesis never occurs without these latter ibid. III, a-b.

Noesis can be directly of essences for the intuitive role of nous, see epagoge and compare Meta. The Atomists considered the soul, which was distributed throughout the body Aristotle, De an. I, a; Lucretius III, , to be the seat of all sensation for the mechanics of this, see aisthesis But given that soul psyche and mind nous are substantially the same De an.

I, a , it would seem to follow that sensation and thought are identical, and so Aristotle concluded Meta. As for its operation, since nous is nothing more than a kind of aggregation see holon 10 of soul-atoms in the breast, it is reasonable to suppose that some of the eidola penetrate beyond the surface sense organs, reach the interior of the breast, and so cause this higher type of perception see Lucretius IV, But we have already seen that the earlier Atomists had attempted to distinguish, by the purity of its constitution and its location, mind from soul.

The Epicureans preserved and refined the distinction and it is specifically present in Lucretius' consistent use of anima for psyche and animus for nous or dianoia mens is somewhat too narrow in connotation for the latter since the animus is the seat of volitional as well as intellectual activity; III, He clearly separates the two at , where he argues that part of the anima may be lost e.

For the Epicurean nous operates somewhat in the fashion of the senses. It too may directly perceive the eidola given off by bodies but that are not, in this case, grasped by the senses. Such are, for example, the accidental mixtures of eidola that give rise to the imagining of centaurs and chimeras Lucretius IV, , visions seen in dreams IV, , and the eidola ofthe gods v, g; Cicero, De nat. I, These operations are akin to Aristole's nous thinking of indivisible concepts De an.

III, a ; there is, as well, intellection componendo et dividendo, i. The images phantasiai in which the eidola are grouped are passed along to the dianoia or nous where they accumulate into general "preconceptions" prolepseis, q. These in turn serve as a standard of comparison for judgments hypolepseis about individual sensible things D. This is the area of opinion into which error enters see doxa 7; the Epicurean criterion of truth and error is discussed under enargeia. When Sophia "Wisdom" , youngest Aeon of the thirty, was brought into peril by her yearning after this knowledge, Nous was foremost of the Aeons in interceding for her.

From him, or through him from the Propator, Horos was sent to restore her. A similar conception of Nous appears in the later teaching of the Basilideans , according to which he is the first begotten of the Unbegotten Father, and himself the parent of Logos , from whom emanate successively Phronesis , Sophia , and Dunamis. But in this teaching, Nous is identified with Christ, is named Jesus , is sent to save those that believe, and returns to Him who sent him, after a Passion which is apparent only, Simon of Cyrene being substituted for him on the cross. The antecedent of these systems is that of Simon, [48] of whose six "roots" emanating from the Unbegotten Fire, Nous is first.

The correspondence of these "roots" with the first six Aeons that Valentinus derives from Bythos , is noted by Hippolytus.

F. E. PETERS, Greek Philosophical Terms a Historical Lexicon - PhilPapers

There are two offshoots of the entire ages, having neither beginning nor end Of these the one appears from above, the great power, the Nous of the universe, administering all things, male; the other from beneath, the great Epinoia , female, bringing forth all things. To Nous and Epinoia correspond Heaven and Earth, in the list given by Simon of the six material counterparts of his six emanations.

The identity of this list with the six material objects alleged by Herodotus [51] to be worshipped by the Persians , together with the supreme place given by Simon to Fire as the primordial power, leads us to look to Iran for the origin of these systems in one aspect. In another, they connect themselves with the teaching of Pythagoras and of Plato. There where is the nous , lies the treasure. During the Middle Ages , philosophy itself was in many places seen as opposed to the prevailing monotheistic religions, Islam , Christianity and Judaism.

The strongest philosophical tradition for some centuries was amongst Islamic philosophers, who later came to strongly influence the late medieval philosophers of western Christendom, and the Jewish diaspora in the Mediterranean area.


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While there were earlier Muslim philosophers such as Al Kindi , chronologically the three most influential concerning the intellect were Al Farabi , Avicenna , and finally Averroes , a westerner who lived in Spain and was highly influential in the late Middle Ages amongst Jewish and Christian philosophers. He was apparently innovative in at least some points.

He was clearly influenced by the same late classical world as neoplatonism, neopythagoreanism, but exactly how is less clear. Plotinus, Themistius and Alexander of Aphrodisias are generally accepted to have been influences. However while these three all placed the active intellect "at or near the top of the hierarchy of being", Al Farabi was clear in making it the lowest ranking in a series of distinct transcendental intelligences.

He is the first known person to have done this in a clear way. According to Davidson p. This is under the influence, according to Al Farabi, of the active intellect. Theoretical truth can only be received by this faculty in a figurative or symbolic form, because the imagination is a physical capability and can not receive theoretical information in a proper abstract form.

This rarely comes in a waking state, but more often in dreams. The lower type of prophecy is the best possible for the imaginative faculty, but the higher type of prophecy requires not only a receptive imagination, but also the condition of an "acquired intellect", where the human nous is in "conjunction" with the active intellect in the sense of God. Such a prophet is also a philosopher.

When a philosopher-prophet has the necessary leadership qualities, he becomes philosopher-king. In terms of cosmology, according to Davidson p. As in Al Farabi, there are several levels of intellect, intelligence or nous , each of the higher ones being associated with a celestial sphere. Avicenna however details three different types of effect which each of these higher intellects has, each "thinks" both the necessary existence and the possible being of the intelligence one level higher. And each "emanates" downwards the body and soul of its own celestial sphere, and also the intellect at the next lowest level.

The active intellect, as in Alfarabi, is the last in the chain. Avicenna sees active intellect as the cause not only of intelligible thought and the forms in the "sublunar" world we people live, but also the matter. In other words, three effects. Concerning the workings of the human soul, Avicenna, like Al Farabi, sees the "material intellect" or potential intellect as something that is not material.

He believed the soul was incorporeal, and the potential intellect was a disposition of it which was in the soul from birth. As in Al Farabi there are two further stages of potential for thinking, which are not yet actual thinking, first the mind acquires the most basic intelligible thoughts which we can not think in any other way, such as "the whole is greater than the part", then comes a second level of derivative intelligible thoughts which could be thought.

When reasoning in the sense of deriving conclusions from syllogisms , Avicenna says people are using a physical "cogitative" faculty mufakkira, fikra of the soul, which can err. The human cogitative faculty is the same as the "compositive imaginative faculty mutakhayyila in reference to the animal soul". Once a thought has been learned in a soul, the physical faculties of sense perception and imagination become unnecessary, and as a person acquires more thoughts, their soul becomes less connected to their body.

But the level of intellectual development does affect the type of afterlife that the soul can have. Only a soul which has reached the highest type of conjunction with the active intellect can form a perfect conjunction with it after the death of the body, and this is a supreme eudaimonia. Lesser intellectual achievement means a less happy or even painful afterlife. Concerning prophecy, Avicenna identifies a broader range of possibilities which fit into this model, which is still similar to that of Al Farabi.

Averroes came to be regarded even in Europe as "the Commentator" to "the Philosopher", Aristotle, and his study of the questions surrounding the nous were very influential amongst Jewish and Christian philosophers, with some aspects being quite controversial. According to Herbert Davidson, Averroes' doctrine concerning nous can be divided into two periods. In the first, neoplatonic emanationism, not found in the original works of Aristotle, was combined with a naturalistic explanation of the human material intellect. In the later model of the universe, which was transmitted to Christian philosophers, Averroes "dismisses emanationism and explains the generation of living beings in the sublunar world naturalistically, all in the name of a more genuine Aristotelianism.

Yet it abandons the earlier naturalistic conception of the human material intellect and transforms the material intellect into something wholly un-Aristotelian, a single transcendent entity serving all mankind. It nominally salvages human conjunction with the active intellect, but in words that have little content.

This position, that humankind shares one active intellect, was taken up by Parisian philosophers such as Siger of Brabant , but also widely rejected by philosophers such as Albertus Magnus , Thomas Aquinas , Ramon Lull , and Duns Scotus. Despite being widely considered heretical, the position was later defended by many more European philosophers including John of Jandun , who was the primary link bringing this doctrine from Paris to Bologna. After him this position continued to be defended and also rejected by various writers in northern Italy.

In the 16th century it finally became a less common position after the renewal of an "Alexandrian" position based on that of Alexander of Aphrodisias, associated with Pietro Pomponazzi. The Christian New Testament makes mention of the nous or noos , generally translated in modern English as "mind", but also showing a link to God's will or law:. In the writings of the Christian fathers a sound or pure nous is considered essential to the cultivation of wisdom.

While philosophical works were not commonly read or taught in the early Middle Ages in most of Europe, the works of authors like Boethius and Augustine of Hippo formed an important exception. Both were influenced by neoplatonism, and were amongst the older works that were still known in the time of the Carolingian Renaissance , and the beginnings of Scholasticism. In his early years Augustine was heavily influenced by Manichaeism and afterwards by the Neoplatonism of Plotinus. Augustine used Neoplatonism selectively. For example, God, nous , can act directly upon matter, and not only through souls, and concerning the souls through which it works upon the world experienced by humanity, some are treated as angels.

Greek Philosophical Terms: A Historical Lexicon

Scholasticism becomes more clearly defined much later, as the peculiar native type of philosophy in medieval catholic Europe. In this period, Aristotle became "the Philosopher", and scholastic philosophers, like their Jewish and Muslim contemporaries, studied the concept of the intellectus on the basis not only of Aristotle, but also late classical interpreters like Augustine and Boethius. A European tradition of new and direct interpretations of Aristotle developed which was eventually strong enough to argue with partial success against some of the interpretations of Aristotle from the Islamic world, most notably Averroes' doctrine of their being one "active intellect" for all humanity.

Notable " Catholic " as opposed to Averroist Aristotelians included Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas , the founder of Thomism , which exists to this day in various forms. Concerning the nous , Thomism agrees with those Aristotelians who insist that the intellect is immaterial and separate from any bodily organs, but as per Christian doctrine, the whole of the human soul is immortal, not only the intellect. The human nous in Eastern Orthodox Christianity is the "eye of the heart or soul" or the "mind of the heart".

Saint Thalassius of Syria wrote that God created beings "with a capacity to receive the Spirit and to attain knowledge of Himself; He has brought into existence the senses and sensory perception to serve such beings". Eastern Orthodox Christians hold that God did this by creating mankind with intelligence and noetic faculties. Human reasoning is not enough: there will always remain an "irrational residue" which escapes analysis and which can not be expressed in concepts: it is this unknowable depth of things, that which constitutes their true, indefinable essence that also reflects the origin of things in God.

In Eastern Christianity it is by faith or intuitive truth that this component of an objects existence is grasped. Angels have intelligence and nous , whereas men have reason , both logos and dianoia , nous and sensory perception. This follows the idea that man is a microcosm and an expression of the whole creation or macrocosmos. The human nous was darkened after the Fall of Man which was the result of the rebellion of reason against the nous , [74] but after the purification healing or correction of the nous achieved through ascetic practices like hesychasm , the human nous the "eye of the heart" will see God's uncreated Light and feel God's uncreated love and beauty, at which point the nous will start the unceasing prayer of the heart and become illuminated, allowing the person to become an orthodox theologian.

In this belief, the soul is created in the image of God. The same is held true of the soul or heart : it has nous , word and spirit. To understand this better first an understanding of Saint Gregory Palamas 's teaching that man is a representation of the trinitarian mystery should be addressed. This holds that God is not meant in the sense that the Trinity should be understood anthropomorphically , but man is to be understood in a triune way.

Or, that the Trinitarian God is not to be interpreted from the point of view of individual man, but man is interpreted on the basis of the Trinitarian God. And this interpretation is revelatory not merely psychological and human. This means that it is only when a person is within the revelation, as all the saints lived, that he can grasp this understanding completely see theoria. The second presupposition is that mankind has and is composed of nous , word and spirit like the trinitarian mode of being. Man's nous , word and spirit are not hypostases or individual existences or realities, but activities or energies of the soul - whereas in the case with God or the Persons of the Holy Trinity , each are indeed hypostases.

So these three components of each individual man are 'inseparable from one another' but they do not have a personal character" when in speaking of the being or ontology that is mankind. The nous as the eye of the soul, which some Fathers also call the heart, is the centre of man and is where true spiritual knowledge is validated. This is seen as true knowledge which is "implanted in the nous as always co-existing with it". The so-called "early modern" philosophers of western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries established arguments which led to the establishment of modern science as a methodical approach to improve the welfare of humanity by learning to control nature.

As such, speculation about metaphysics , which cannot be used for anything practical, and which can never be confirmed against the reality we experience, started to be deliberately avoided, especially according to the so-called " empiricist " arguments of philosophers such as Bacon , Hobbes , Locke and Hume. The Latin motto " nihil in intellectu nisi prius fuerit in sensu " nothing in the intellect without first being in the senses has been described as the "guiding principle of empiricism" in the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy.

These philosophers explain the intellect as something developed from experience of sensations, being interpreted by the brain in a physical way, and nothing else, which means that absolute knowledge is impossible. For Bacon, Hobbes and Locke, who wrote in both English and Latin, " intellectus " was translated as "understanding". For this reason, modern science should be methodical, in order not to be misled by the weak human intellect. He felt that lesser known Greek philosophers such as Democritus "who did not suppose a mind or reason in the frame of things", have been arrogantly dismissed because of Aristotelianism leading to a situation in his time wherein "the search of the physical causes hath been neglected, and passed in silence".

These philosophers also tended not to emphasize the distinction between reason and intellect, describing the peculiar universal or abstract definitions of human understanding as being man-made and resulting from reason itself. On the other hand, into modern times some philosophers have continued to propose that the human mind has an in-born " a priori " ability to know the truth conclusively, and these philosophers have needed to argue that the human mind has direct and intuitive ideas about nature, and this means it can not be limited entirely to what can be known from sense perception.

Amongst the early modern philosophers, some such as Descartes , Spinoza , Leibniz , and Kant , tend to be distinguished from the empiricists as rationalists , and to some extent at least some of them are called idealists , and their writings on the intellect or understanding present various doubts about empiricism, and in some cases they argued for positions which appear more similar to those of medieval and classical philosophers.

The first in this series of modern rationalists, Descartes, is credited with defining a " mind-body problem " which is a major subject of discussion for university philosophy courses. According to the presentation his 2nd Meditation , the human mind and body are different in kind, and while Descartes agrees with Hobbes for example that the human body works like a clockwork mechanism, and its workings include memory and imagination, the real human is the thinking being, a soul, which is not part of that mechanism.

Descartes explicitly refused to divide this soul into its traditional parts such as intellect and reason, saying that these things were indivisible aspects of the soul. Descartes was therefore a dualist , but very much in opposition to traditional Aristotelian dualism. In his 6th Meditation he deliberately uses traditional terms and states that his active faculty of giving ideas to his thought must be corporeal, because the things perceived are clearly external to his own thinking and corporeal, while his passive faculty must be incorporeal unless God is deliberately deceiving us, and then in this case the active faculty would be from God.

This is the opposite of the traditional explanation found for example in Alexander of Aphrodisias and discussed above, for whom the passive intellect is material, while the active intellect is not. One result is that in many Aristotelian conceptions of the nous , for example that of Thomas Aquinas , the senses are still a source of all the intellect's conceptions. However, with the strict separation of mind and body proposed by Descartes, it becomes possible to propose that there can be thought about objects never perceived with the body's senses, such as a thousand sided geometrical figure.