ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

249. His Philosophy. -- Alexander brought to perfection an important teaching method in scholastic philosophy and theology. After giving the reasons for and against a given view, like Peter Abelard (174) -- reasons drawn from Grecian, Arabian and Jewish sources, in addition to the traditional ones -- he goes on to discuss the proper answer to be given to the proposed question, and the arguments brought forward on either side. This triple division of the question -- the pro, the contra and the resolutio -- is found in all the scholastic works of the thirteenth century.

In metaphysics, Alexander teaches that God is pure actuality, actus purus, while every other being, whether spiritual or corporeal, is composed not only of essence and existence,{1} but also of matter and form, that is to say, of potency and act. This is like Avicebron's teaching (221), though the name of the Jewish philosopher is not mentioned. There are, however, essential differences between the Jewish and the Christian philosopher. For Alexander appeals to the peripatetic doctrine of potency and act in justification of his theory. He also guards the materia universalis from all suspicion of monism, realizing the incompatibility of scholasticism with pantheism. He therefore rejects the Arabian doctrine that the soul is an emanation from a higher intelligence, and the view of David of Dinant (208) that God is the materia prima of all things, particularly of the human soul.{2} Then, too, the spiritual matter is not subject to local motion, nor does it serve as a basis for substantial change (nec est subjecta motui nec contrarietati -- in contrast with terrestrial matter which is subservient to both, and with celestial matter which is subject to local change alone.{3} The whole Franciscan school, with the exception of John de la Rochelle, accepted this fundamental theory of the hylemorphic composition of all contingent things. It had a companion theory in the doctrine of the plurality of substantial forms: a view that was almost universal before St. Thomas's time. Alexander recognizes this plurality in composite things (mixta), whether living or inorganic. In psychology{4} Alexander makes a bold but unsuccessful attempt to fuse together the doctrines of Aristotle and those of St. Augustine. He examines seven definitions of the soul, taken from the De Spiritu et Anima, and endeavours to reconcile them with the definition given by Aristotle.{5} To understand the nature of the soul, we must seek its ultimate causes (Aristotle): God is its efficient cause, and happiness is its end, or final cause: it is composed of matter and form -- just as the body too possesses its forma corporalis. The union of soul and body (unio nativa) is effected ad modum formae cum materia. This multiplicity of real elements is in keeping with Alexander's Metaphysics; it accentuates the independence of the soul in regard to the body (St. Augustine); but it jeopardizes the unity of the composite human individual.

Dealing with the activities of the soul, Alexander timidly ventures to question the theory of the identity of the soul with its faculties (anti-Augustinism). He makes a vis naturalis the principle of life, with the heart for organ: following in this the physiological teaching of Alfred of Sereshel in the De Motu Cordis. On the other hand, when he comes to treat of the intellect and knowledge he holds to the Augustinian division of the mind into ratio, intellectus and intelligentia, having for objects, respectively, the knowledge of the corporeal world and judgments relating thereto, the knowledge of created spirits, and the knowledge of the rationes aeternae and of first principles. Then, by a curious turn of speculation, he partially applies to this Augustinian doctrine the peripatetic theory of abstraction: the intelligible forms of the ratio are abstract; and their genesis is effected by the combined action of active and possible intellect -- two spiritual faculties within us -- together with the co-operation of a third intellect, the intellectus materialis, of the material and perishable order, and really identical with the phantasia or vis cogitativa.{6} The domain of abstraction he confines to the corporeal world; the rationes aeternae or deductive knowledge of creatures in the Divine essence (Exemplarism), and the knowledge of first principles, are implanted in us by a special Divine illumination. Alexander was one of the first, in dealing with the will, to distinguish between synderesis and conscientia.

{1} Contrary to what we find usually stated, Alexander admitted a real distinction between essence and existence. Certain commentaries on the Metaphysics, wrongly attributed to Alexander, being in reality the work of another Alexander of Alexandria, deny a real distinction. Hence the error. We therefore correct our previous edition on this point. Cf. SCHINDELE, Zur Geschichte d. Untersuchung von Wesenheit u. Dasein in d. Scholastik.(München, 1908): contains notes on the question, pp. 26 and 27 (246).

{2} Alexander's doctrine has no real, historical connection with Rhaban Maur's teaching on the corporeity of all things, though both views have certain analogies with each other (126).

{3} GUTTMANN, op. cit., p. 39, doubts about Alexander's drawing from Avicebron, Inasmuch as the latter advocates the homogeneity of primary matter, while the former rejects this view.

{4} According to ENDRES (252).

{5} "Substantia, non tantum ut forma substantialis, sed ut quod ens in se, praeter hoc quod est actus corporis . . . est substantia praeter substantiam corporis" (S. Theol., q. 59, m. 2, § 1, res).

{6} Cf. AVERROËS, who gives the intellectus materialis a different meaning.

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