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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


ALEXANDER of HALES

(1185 — 1245)

 

AUGUSTINIANISM

Born in Halesowen, Gloucestershire, Alexander studied in Paris. He entered the Franciscan Order some time during the 1230s and became the first Franciscan professor of theology at Paris. He was active in both university and church matters. He was given the honorific title 'Doctor Irrefragabilis' (The Irrefutable Teacher). His philosophical ideas come to us principally through students' lecture notes (Gloss and Disputed Questions). They are not always consistent with the views set out in the Compendium of Theology (Summa Theologica). However, he is not now regarded as having been the author of this text, although his influence on it is apparent.

 

METAPHYSICS/ RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHY

[1] According to Alexander [Gloss I] God possesses the attributes of unity, truth, eternity, goodness, power, and wisdom; He is simple — 'what He is' (quod est) is identical to 'that by which He is' (quo est); He is the efficient and final cause of the world; and He is totally free — even to the extent of being able to order a breach of the moral law [a], unless it contradicts himself as the final end of man's actions, that is, as the source of the natural law. Man (like all creatures) is a 'composite' being: the quod est (his substance) constituting his 'concreteness', while his quo est is his essence — which makes him what he is, namely, human; and this humanity comes from God [b]. Man, like God, is free, his freedom being found in both his intellect and will working together [Questions] [c]. Evil is seen as a privation [d]. Alexander rejected the theory of emanation and held the view that God created the world of matter and form immediately and freely, all things being contained within Himself as 'exemplars', and hylomorphism applying only to corporeal beings [e]. His creatures, as effects, derive qualities, for example, goodness, from Him by 'participation' [f]. Alexander said it can be proved the world is not eternal [g]. God's existence too can be proved through both authoritative faith and reason: the arguments Alexander employed include appeals to contingency, causality, the eternity of truth, goodness, and unity (the transcendental attributes), the idea of perfection, and the soul's awareness that it had a beginning [h].

 

PSYCHOLOGY

[2] [Gloss II; Questions] The soul is created directly by God. In the Summa it is argued that it is composed of a 'spiritual matter' and a spiritual form (as are the angels). It is thus itself a simple substance which, as the principle of motion and perfection, is united with and animates the body, much in the way that a sailor inhabits his ship. However, it is uncertain that this actually was Alexander's own view, as statements in Gloss II contradict this 'composition' view of the soul. Nevertheless the soul is said to have three 'powers', which are distinct from its essence: vegetative, sensitive, and intellectual or rational. The rational power is both active and passive — two different intellects in the same soul; and these (if this is Alexander's view) correspond to the soul's form and 'spiritual matter'. He rejects the idea of a separate active intellect; the rational soul is a single unity [a].

 

KNOWLEDGE

[3] God being incomprehensible cannot be directly known by man, though what He is can be known analogically by the natural light of reason as a consequence of 'participation'. Knowledge of God is implanted 'actually' in the human intellect [a] (even in that of unbelievers), though this knowledge may not be explicit or brought to consciousness when the soul is turned towards the world of creatures instead of toward God. The active intellect is able to abstract both the forms of corporeal things and spiritual forms, but God's illumination is needed for the latter [b].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Alexander is important for developing systematically the Augustinian tradition of Paris which was to have considerable influence in the thirteenth century. He made no radical changes to it, but while generally critical of Aristotle he felt able to incorporate some of its elements, together with Neoplatonic doctrines, provided they did not conflict with Christian revelation. The various aspects of Alexander's thought are subject to the kinds of criticism which we have already seen levelled against Augustinianism.

 

READING

Alexander: Glossa (Gloss) and Quaestiones Disputae (Disputed Questions). The Summa Theologica is probably a compilation and represents the general philosophical position of the Franciscan School of the day. There does not seem to be any readily available English translation of his works; for commentary one must rely on standard histories such as those of Copleston or Marenbon... But see also:

C. M. Cullen, 'Alexander of Hales', in J. J. E. Garcia (ed.), A Companion to Philosophy in the Middle Ages.

 

 

CONNECTIONS

Alexander of Hales

 

[1a] God as simple, efficient and final cause, and totally free

   Boethius

   Ps-Dionysius

   Wm of Auvergne

Bonaventura

[1b c]

[1c]

[1e]

[3d]

 

[1b] Man as composite: quod est and quo est.

   Boethius

   Wm of Auvergne

[1b]

[2c]

 

[1c] Man's freedom (function of intellect and will)

   Augustine

   Boethius

[5a]

[1h]

 

[1d] Evil as privation

   Augustine

   Boethius

   Ps-Dionysius

Bonaventura

[5b]

[1f]

[1g]

[7d]

 

[1e g] World (of matter and form) not eternal; created by God; no emanation; hylomorphism only in corporeal beings; exemplars in God

   Aristotle

   Augustine

   Boethius

   Ps-Dionysius

Bonaventura

[12d e]

[4b c]

[1g]

[1c]

[2a 2b 4a]

 

[1f] Qualities of world and 'participation'

   Ps-Dionysius

   Anselm

[1g]

[1b]

 

[1h]

God's existence — proofs:

i contingency/ causality

ii eternal truth/ idea of perfection

   Augustine

   Anselm

   Augustine

   Anselm

Bonaventura

[3b]

[1b c]

[3a]

[1f]

[1c]

 

[2a] The soul: substantial and rational unity; active and passive intellects as [?] 'spiritual' form and matter — inseparable from soul; ['composite' view; cf. pilot in ship]

   Aristotle

   Augustine

Bonaventura

   Descartes

[15d]

[7a b]

[5a c d]

[3g]

 

[3a] God unknowable; what He is is known via analogy; no univocity; but knowledge implanted can be made explicit; 'participation'

   Augustine

   Boethius

Bonaventura

   Aquinas

   Descartes

[2c]

[1d]

[6c]

[3b]

[3b]

 

 

[3b] Knowledge: active intellect abstracts form; divine illumination

   Aristotle

   Augustine

Bonaventura

[16d e]

[2a c]

[6b c]