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Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


ALBERTUS MAGNUS

(c. 1200 — 1280 )

 

CHRISTIAN ARISTOTELIANISM

Albertus Magnus (the 'Great'), known as Doctor Universalis (universal teacher) on account of his wide learning, was born at Lauingen (Swabia) in Germany, and studied at Padua and Cologne. He entered the Dominican Order in 1223 and then taught for many years in Germany, then in Paris as Regent Master (1240-48) before returning to Cologne. He was Bishop of Ratisbon 1260-62. Like Aristotle, he was interested in the physical sciences, and he had considerable knowledge of Arabian and Jewish philosophy. He wrote many commentaries on Aristotle and other philosophers. He is particularly notable for having been the teacher of Aquinas.

 

METAPHYSICS/ RELIGIOUS PHILOSOPHY

[1] Albert distinguished clearly between faith and reason. Each has a particular role to play in its own sphere. Theology is concerned with revelation [for example, Compendium of Theology, I, iv] while reason deals with Being, which is manifested in natural experience, and is the the object of metaphysics. (This for him included natural phenomena; he placed great value on the observation of nature and on scientific knowledge.) There is no incompatibility between faith and reason, but reason is recognised as having limits [ibid., I, iii, 13] [a]. God is the 'first Being (ens)' or Principle and First Intelligence. He is also omnipotent, self-knowing, pure act, and free to create. His existence is His substance and essence — which is indistinguishable from His will [b]. All these attributes are in reality but abstractions which we cannot predicate of Him because He transcends all our concepts; we can refer to Him only analogically [for example, Book of Causes, I, iii, 6] [c]. However, Albert believes we can prove that God exists because of the presence of motion in the world: an infinite chain of 'beginnings' would be contradictory; there must be a first mover [ibid., I, i, 7]. But he rejects the ontological argument [d]. He supposes the world was created freely by God in time and not from eternity, but this remains a probability and cannot be proved [e]. He also describes creation in terms of an emanation from God as first principle and Agent Intelligence [ibid., I, iv, 1] and accepted the existence of 'seminal reasons' [f]. Further successive 'intelligences', exhibiting ever greater diffusion of goodness [g], produce their own sphere of the universe, ending in the formation of the Earth, but God is in no way lessened by the creative process [g]. As for the production of individual beings, Albert says that this is brought about through the imposition of forms (which are images of God's Ideas) on matter as potentiality and by which it is actualized [h]. Forms are thus ante rem as the Divine Ideas, and also in re as universals in things. In so far as the soul can 'abstract' forms from individual things they are also said to be post rem [i]. It is matter which makes a thing a particular individual [Metaphysics, 12, I, 7] [j]. He is uncertain as to whether there is a multiplicity of forms in individuals but he rejects hylomorphism in so far as he considers form as dependent on a separate intelligence [k] and as not in itself constituting a composite with matter.

 

PSYCHOLOGY/KNOWLEDGE

[2] [See especially On the Nature and Origin of the Soul.] What the soul is (quod est) is a non-material spiritual substance: that by which it is (quo est), as possibility, actualized and given its function as soul is form — which it receives from God, of whom it is thereby the image. The soul is the 'animating' principle of the body [a]. Because it does not depend on the body for its proper operations Albert reasons that the soul is immortal [2, vi] [b]. He says each individual has both a possible and a separate active intellect but argues that there is not a single active intellect for all men [c]. This would be inconsistent with the possession by each man of his own individual being (esse), that is, the act of the rational soul.

[3] The forms in things are knowable by virtue of God's agent intellect which contains His Ideas [Metaphysics, 12, I, 9] [a]. This illuminates the active intellect of the individual soul thus enabling it to 'abstract' images from experience of sensible objects [b]. The possible intellect can thereby come to understand the sensible forms in things. From the understanding of sensible forms we can move on to ultimate knowledge of God. But we are here at the limits of our abstractive power. God as transcendent can be known only negatively or through His Ideas. Strictly speaking He lies beyond such predications as 'being' or 'substance' [c].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Albert is important for his clear demarcation of faith from reason and for his eclectic system which, perhaps to a greater extent than in any previous philosophy, attempted to incorporate Aristotelian elements into a framework which drew on both Neoplatonist and Arabian thought. While he did go some way towards resolving the conflict between illumination and sense-experience as the source of knowledge (supported by his emphasis on scientific observation and experimentation) by limiting the role of the former, it is arguable that his philosophy remains essentially Neoplatonic and open to the standard objections, and that genuine Aristotelian features are not adequately integrated. Indeed there are often serious inconsistencies in some of Albert's positions (for example, in relation to creation). Some scholars also claim that he was not an original thinker so much as an encyclopaedic but only partially successful systematizer. Nevertheless, Albert undoubtedly laid the foundations for the more coherent synthesis of his pupil Thomas Aquinas.

 

READING

Albert: Summa de Creaturis (Handbook of Doctrine Concerning Creatures); Liber de Causis et Processu Universitatis (Book of the Causes and Procession of the Universe); Summa Theologiae (Compendium of Theology); Liber de Natura et Origine Animae (Book on the Nature and Origin of the Soul). Extracts available in S. Tugwell (ed.), Albert and Thomas: Selected Writings, and R. McKeon (op.cit.), vol I, ch. 9. There do not seem to be any full-length studies in English, but see:

M. Dreyer, 'Albertus Magnus', in J. J. E. Garcia (ed.), A Companion to Philosophy in the Middle Ages.

Collections of essays

F. Kovach and R. Shahan (eds.), Albert the Great: Commemorative Essays.

J. Weisheipl (ed.), Albertus Magnus and the Sciences: Commemorative Essays.

 

 

CONNECTIONS

Albertus Magnus

 

[1a] Faith and reason; metaphysics through reason concerned with Being

   Aristotle

   Augustine

   Avicenna

Aquinas

[13a]

[1i]

[1a]

[1a b]

 

[1b] God: prime Mover, First Cause, omnipotent, self-knowing; his existence is his essence

   Aristotle

   Avicenna

   Wm of Auvergne

Aquinas

[12e]

[1d]

[1h]

[3a]

 

[1c] Analogical predication of attributes to transcendent God

   Ps-Dionysius

Aquinas

[1b]

[3c]

 

[1d]

God's existence — proofs:

i from motion

ii rejects ontological argument

   Aristotle

Aquinas

   Anselm

Aquinas

[12e]

[3e]

[1e]

[3d]

 

[1e] Creation in time ex nihilo (probable but not demonstrable)

   Aristotle

   Augustine

   Ps-Dionysius

   Avicenna

Aquinas

[12e]

[4b 6a]

[1c]

[3a]

[3f]

 

[1f g] Creative emanation of world from God as First Intelligence; seminal reasons

   Aristotle

   Plotinus

   Augustine

   Ps-Dionysus

   Avicenna

Aquinas

[15d]

[1c 1i]

[4b 4e]

[1c d]

[3a 3b c]

[2c 3f]

 

[1g] Hierarchy of Intelligences and goodness

   Augustine

   Ps-Dionysus

   Avicenna

   Wm of Auvergne

Aquinas

[4a]

[1e]

[3d]

[1c]

[3b]

 

[1h] Forms from God's Ideas actualize matter (potency to act)

   Aristotle

   Augustine

   Avicenna

Aquinas

[14b]

[4c]

[2a]

[1e 2a e 3b]

 

[1i] Forms ante rem, in re (universals), and post rem

   Aristotle

   Avicenna

Aquinas

[13d e 14c]

[1b]

[6e]

 

[1j] Individuation by matter

   Aristotle

   Avicenna

Aquinas

[14a]

[3e 4b]

[2b]

 

[1k] No hylomorphism

   Augustine

   Wm of Auvergne

Aquinas

[4a]

[1e]

[2a]

 

[2a] Soul as animating principle and form of body; quod est actualized by quo est

   Aristotle

   Boethius

   Avicenna

   Wm of Auvergne

Aquinas

[15b]

[1b]

[4a 4b]

[2a c]

[5a]

 

[2b] Immortality of rational soul

   Avicenna

   Averroes

Aquinas

[4d]

[3e]

[5e]

 

[2c] Possible and separate active intellect in individual soul; no universal active intellect; intelligence = God

   Avicenna

   Averroes

   Wm of Auvergne

Aquinas

[3e 4c]

[3d e]

[2c]

[5b 5f]

 

[3a] Knowledge of forms through God's Agent Intellect and Ideas

   Augustine

   Avicenna

   Averroes

Aquinas

[1g]

[5a]

[3c]

[6d]

 

[3b] Knowledge: abstraction and Divine illumination

   Aristotle

   Augustine

   Wm of Auvergne

Aquinas

[16d e]

[2a c]

[3b]

[6d]

 

[3c] God known negatively or through his Ideas

   Augustine

   Ps-Dionysus

Aquinas

[2c]

[1b c]

[7a]