On Unity of Intellect

Introduction by Richard Taylor

Averroes says: “…And it will not have substance if not this, namely what is possible. Therefore that part of the mind which is said to be intellect (and I mean by intellect that through which we distinguish and think), is not actually one of the entities before it understands. When he (Aristotle) declared that material intellect does not have any form of material things, he began to define it in this way, and he said that it does not have nature according to this except nature of the possibility for receiving understood material forms. And he said, "and thus it has no nature," et cetera. That is, then that part of the mind which is called material intellect has no nature and essence by which it could be arranged insofar as it is material except the nature of possibility, when it is stripped from all forms material and intelligible.”

Original Latin

Averroes is perhaps most famous or infamous among his Latin readers for his doctrine of the unity of intellect.  That is to say, Averroes viewed the intellect as an intellectual mind shared by all human knowers.

The doctrine developed out of the Greek and Arabic traditions and through Averroes' own critical encounter with the Paraphase of the De Anima by Themistius (ca. 317-388). It held that human intellectual thought  was possible only by a sharing in the natures of the transcendent receptive Material Intellect and actualizing Agent Intellect.

In this selection Averroes explains the special nature of the Material Intellect as receptivity of intelligibles and he attributes to Aristotle himself the view that this is a special nature not identical to matter, form or the composite of the two.