• However he knew that contemporary philosophers often argued (as in modern science) that nous and perception are just two aspects of one physical activity, and that perception
    is the source of knowledge and understanding (not the other way around).

  • [2] Alternative English terms used in philosophy include “understanding” and “mind”; or sometimes “thought” or “reason” (in the sense of that which reasons, not the activity
    of reasoning).

  • Students of the history of philosophy continue to debate Aristotle’s intent, particularly the question whether he considered the active intellect to be an aspect of the human
    soul or an entity existing independently of man.

  • [20] Aristotle[edit] See also: Dianoia and Active intellect Like Plato, Aristotle saw the nous or intellect of an individual as somehow similar to sense perception but also

  • This sort of intellect [which is like light in the way it makes potential things work as what they are] is separate, as well as being without attributes and unmixed, since
    it is by its thinghood a being-at-work [energeia], for what acts is always distinguished in stature above what is acted upon, as a governing source is above the material it works on.

  • Anaxagoras Anaxagoras, born about 500 BC, is the first person who is definitely known to have explained the concept of a nous (mind), which arranged all other things in the
    cosmos in their proper order, started them in a rotating motion, and continuing to control them to some extent, having an especially strong connection with living things.

  • Like Plato before him, Aristotle believes Anaxagoras’ cosmic nous implies and requires the cosmos to have intentions or ends: “Anaxagoras makes the Good a principle as causing
    motion; for Mind (nous) moves things, but moves them for some end, and therefore there must be some other Good—unless it is as we say; for on our view the art of medicine is in a sense health.

  • He did not rule out the possibility that nous might survive without the rest of the soul, as in Plato, but he specifically says that this immortal nous does not include any
    memories or anything else specific to an individual’s life.

  • Derived from this it was also sometimes argued, in classical and medieval philosophy, that the individual nous must require help of a spiritual and divine type.

  • [3][4] It is also often described as something equivalent to perception except that it works within the mind (“the mind’s eye”).

  • In Aristotle’s influential works, which are the main source of later philosophical meanings, nous was carefully distinguished from sense perception, imagination, and reason,
    although these terms are closely inter-related.

  • As mentioned above, Plato criticized Anaxagoras’ materialism, or understanding that the intellect of nature only set the cosmos in motion, but is no longer seen as the cause
    of physical events.

  • Pre-Socratic usage In early Greek uses, Homer used nous to signify mental activities of both mortals and immortals, for example what they really have on their mind as opposed
    to what they say aloud.

  • [37] In any case, in Al-Farabi and Avicenna, the term took on a new meaning, distinguishing it from the active intellect in any simple sense – an ultimate stage of the human
    intellect where a kind of close relationship (a “conjunction”) is made between a person’s active intellect and the transcendental nous itself.

  • And intellect [nous] is directed at what is ultimate on both sides, since it is intellect and not reason [logos] that is directed at both the first terms [horoi] and the ultimate
    particulars, on the one side at the changeless first terms in demonstrations, and on the other side, in thinking about action, at the other sort of premise, the variable particular; for these particulars are the sources [archai] from which
    one discerns that for the sake of which an action is, since the universals are derived from the particulars.

  • …since in nature one thing is the material for each kind [genos] (this is what is in potency all the particular things of that kind) but it is something else that is the
    causal and productive thing by which all of them are formed, as is the case with an art in relation to its material, it is necessary in the soul too that these distinct aspects be present; the one sort is intellect [nous] by becoming all things,
    the other sort by forming all things, in the way an active condition [hexis] like light too makes the colors that are in potency be at work as colors.

  • [16] Plato[edit] See also: Phaedo and Timaeus (dialogue) Plato used the word nous in many ways that were not unusual in the everyday Greek of the time, and often simply meant
    “good sense” or “awareness”.

  • By this type of account, it also came to be argued that the human understanding (nous) somehow stems from this cosmic nous, which is however not just a recipient of order,
    but a creator of it.

  • Just exactly how Plato believed that the nous of people lets them come to understand things in any way that improves upon sense perception and the kind of thinking which animals
    have, is a subject of long running discussion and debate.

  • [42] They also incorporated a theory of anamnesis, or knowledge coming from the past lives of our immortal souls, like that found in some of Plato’s dialogues.

  • As in Aristotelianism, they explained the interpretation of sense data requiring the mind to be stamped or formed with ideas, and that people have shared conceptions that
    help them make sense of things (koine ennoia).

  • In the Philebus Socrates argues that nous in individual humans must share in a cosmic nous, in the same way that human bodies are made up of small parts of the elements found
    in the rest of the universe.

  • [14] For example, in his Memorabilia 1.4.8, he describes Socrates asking a friend sceptical of religion, “Are you, then, of the opinion that intelligence (nous) alone exists
    nowhere and that you by some good chance seized hold of it, while—as you think—those surpassingly large and infinitely numerous things [all the earth and water] are in such orderly condition through some senselessness?”

  • In his Phaedo, Plato’s teacher Socrates is made to say just before dying that his discovery of Anaxagoras’ concept of a cosmic nous as the cause of the order of things, was
    an important turning point for him.

  • The One is prior to it, but not in the sense that a normal cause is prior to an effect, but instead Intellect is called an emanation of the One.

  • [19] On the other hand, Socrates seems to suggest that he also failed to develop a fully satisfactory teleological and dualistic understanding of a mind of nature, whose aims
    represent the Good, which all parts of nature aim at.

  • It leads to a method whereby Aristotle analyses causation and motion in terms of the potentialities and actualities of all things, whereby all matter possesses various possibilities
    or potentialities of form and end, and these possibilities become more fully real as their potential forms become actual or active reality (something they will do on their own, by nature, unless stopped because of other natural things happening).

  • [11] According to Anaxagoras the cosmos is made of infinitely divisible matter, every bit of which can inherently become anything, except Mind (nous), which is also matter,
    but which can only be found separated from this general mixture, or else mixed into living things, or in other words in the Greek terminology of the time, things with a soul (psychē).

  • Nous, or Greek (UK: /naʊs/,[1] US: /nuːs/), sometimes equated to intellect or intelligence, is a concept from classical philosophy for the faculty of the human mind necessary
    for understanding what is true or real.

  • In pre-Socratic philosophy, it became increasingly distinguished as a source of knowledge and reasoning opposed to mere sense perception or thinking influenced by the body
    such as emotion.

  • What our mind sees directly in order to really understand things must not be the constantly changing material things, but unchanging entities that exist in a different way,
    the so-called “forms” or “ideas”.

  • But at the same time according to Aristotle each thing is also caused by the natural forms they are tending to become, and the natural ends or aims, which somehow exist in
    nature as causes, even in cases where human plans and aims are not involved.

  • In his Generation of Animals Aristotle specifically says that while other parts of the soul come from the parents, physically, the human nous, must come from outside, into
    the body, because it is divine or godly, and it has nothing in common with the energeia of the body.

  • Nous, he states, is the source of the first principles or sources (archai) of definitions, and it develops naturally as people gain experience.

  • [23] In his Nicomachean Ethics, Book VI Aristotle divides the soul into two parts, one which has reason and one which does not, but then divides the part which has reason
    into the reasoning (logistikos) part itself which is lower, and the higher “knowing” part which contemplates general principles (archai).

  • • The Nous (usually translated as “Intellect”, or “Intelligence” in this context, or sometimes “mind” or “reason”) is described as God, or more precisely an image of God,
    often referred to as the demiurge.

  • The term prolepsis was used by Epicureans to describe the way the mind forms general concepts from sense perceptions.

  • [35] On the other hand, he identified the active intellect (nous poietikos), through whose agency the potential intellect in man becomes actual, not with anything from within
    people, but with the divine creator itself.

  • Like Parmenides, Plato argued that relying on sense perception can never lead to true knowledge, only opinion.

  • Aristotle explained that the changes of things can be described in terms of four causes at the same time.

  • It was one of several words related to thought, thinking, and perceiving with the mind.

  • On the other hand, in the Meno for example, Plato’s Socrates explains the theory of anamnesis whereby people are born with ideas already in their soul, which they somehow
    remember from previous lives.

  • The soul is also an energeia: it acts upon or actualizes its own thoughts and creates “a separate, material cosmos that is the living image of the spiritual or noetic Cosmos
    contained as a unified thought within the Intelligence”.

  • [26] The passage is often read together with Metaphysics, Book XII, ch.7-10, where Aristotle makes nous as an actuality a central subject within a discussion of the cause
    of being and the cosmos.

  • The mind or intellect (nous) can be described variously as a power, faculty, part, or aspect of the human soul.

  • [39] On the other hand, concerning the active intellect, like Alexander and Plotinus, he saw this as a transcendent being existing above and outside man.

  • For him then, discussion of nous is connected to discussion of how the human mind sets definitions in a consistent and communicable way, and whether people must be born with
    some innate potential to understand the same universal categories in the same logical ways.

  • [17] On the other hand, in some of his Platonic dialogues it is described by key characters in a higher sense, which was apparently already common.

  • Concerning the cosmos, in the Timaeus, the title character also tells a “likely story” in which nous is responsible for the creative work of the demiurge or maker who brought
    rational order to our universe.

  • Knowledge, in its being-at-work, is the same as the thing it knows, and while knowledge in potency comes first in time in any one knower, in the whole of things it does not
    take precedence even in time.

  • [24] This he explains after first comparing the four other truth revealing capacities of soul: technical know how, logically deduced knowledge (sometimes translated as “scientific
    knowledge”), practical wisdom, and lastly theoretical wisdom (sophia), which is defined by Aristotle as the combination of nous and .

  • [5] It has been suggested that the basic meaning is something like “awareness”.

  • Aristotle’s remarks on the concept of what came to be called the “active intellect” and “passive intellect” (along with various other terms) are amongst “the most intensely
    studied sentences in the history of philosophy”.

  • “[29] In the philosophy of Aristotle the soul (psyche) of a body is what makes it alive, and is its actualized form; thus, every living thing, including plant life, has a

  • Aristotle’s special description of causality is especially apparent in the natural development of living things.

  • [26] Aristotle says that the passive intellect receives the intelligible forms of things, but that the active intellect is required to make the potential knowledge into actual
    knowledge, in the same way that light makes potential colours into actual colours.

  • Nous is associated with the rational (logistikon) part of the individual human soul, which by nature should rule.

  • • The intellect from outside, which became the “acquired intellect” in Islamic philosophy, describes the incorporeal active intellect which comes from outside man, and becomes
    an object of thought, making the material intellect actual and active.

  • Amongst the new proposals he made was a way of explaining causality, and nous is an important part of his explanation.

  • Socratic philosophy Xenophon[edit] Xenophon, the less famous of the two students of Socrates whose written accounts of him have survived, recorded that he taught his students
    a kind of teleological justification of piety and respect for divine order in nature.

  • Two of these four causes are similar to the materialist understanding: each thing has a material which causes it to be how it is, and some other thing which set in motion
    or initiated some process of change.

  • [35] For him, the only possible human immortality is an immortality of a detached human thought, more specifically when the nous has as the object of its thought the active
    intellect itself, or another incorporeal intelligible form.

  • [32] Alexander of Aphrodisias[edit] Main article: Alexander of Aphrodisias Alexander of Aphrodisias was a Peripatetic (Aristotelian) and his On the Soul (referred to as De
    anima in its traditional Latin title), explained that by his interpretation of Aristotle, potential intellect in man, that which has no nature but receives one from the active intellect, is material, and also called the “material intellect”
    (nous hulikos) and it is inseparable from the body, being “only a disposition” of it.

  • In post-Aristotelian discussions, the exact boundaries between perception, understanding of perception, and reasoning have not always agreed with the definitions of Aristotle,
    even though his terminology remains influential.

  • His description was in other words (shockingly for the time) corporeal or mechanical, with the moon made of earth, the sun and stars made of red hot metal (beliefs Socrates
    was later accused of holding during his trial) and nous itself being a physically fine type of matter which also gathered and concentrated with the development of the cosmos.

  • This does not mean that at one time it thinks but at another time it does not think, but when separated it is just exactly what it is, and this alone is deathless and everlasting
    (though we have no memory, because this sort of intellect is not acted upon, while the sort that is acted upon is destructible), and without this nothing thinks.

  • Post-Aristotelian classical theories[edit] Until the early modern era, much of the discussion which has survived today concerning nous or intellect, in Europe, Africa and
    the Middle East, concerned how to correctly interpret Aristotle and Plato.

  • “[28] Alexander of Aphrodisias, for example, equated this active intellect which is God with the one explained in De Anima, while Themistius thought they could not be simply

  • Later in the same discussion he compares the nous, which directs each person’s body, to the good sense (phronēsis) of the god, which is in everything, arranging things to
    its pleasure (1.4.17).

  • [8] Among some Greek authors, a faculty of intelligence known as a “higher mind” came to be considered as a property of the cosmos as a whole.

  • As Davidson remarks: Just what Aristotle meant by potential intellect and active intellect – terms not even explicit in the De anima and at best implied – and just how he
    understood the interaction between them remains moot.

  • But as in Anaxagoras this cosmic reason, like human reason but higher, is connected to the reason of individual humans.

  • [12] Anaxagoras wrote: All other things partake in a portion of everything, while nous is infinite and self-ruled, and is mixed with nothing, but is alone, itself by itself.


Works Cited

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2. ^ Several of the terms commonly used in English philosophical contexts come directly from classical languages. Nous itself comes from
Ancient Greek νοῦς (nous) or νόος. “Intellect” comes from Latin intellēctus and intellegentia. To describe the activity of this faculty, the word intellection is sometimes used in philosophical contexts, as well as the Greek words noēsis and noeîn
(νόησις, νοεῖν).
3. ^ See entry for νόος Archived 2021-03-08 at the Wayback Machine in Liddell & Scott, on the Perseus Project.
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Rorty, Richard (1979), Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, Princeton University Press page 38.
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David (2007), Creationism and Its Critics in Antiquity, University of California Press, ISBN 9780520934368. It has been claimed that his report might be the earliest report of such an argument in Ahbel-Rappe, Sara (30 August 2009), Socrates: A Guide
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