ALEXANDER OF ALEXANDRIA—from the Bonini family, called Alexander the Younger (to distinguish him from Alexander of Hales), member of the Order of Friars Minor (Franciscans), a philosopher and theologian, born around 1270 in Alessandrii (Piemont), d. October 5, 1314 in Rome.
Alexander of Alexandria studied at the University of Paris around the end of the thirteenth century. There he met Blessed John Duns Scotus. In 1303 he obtained in Rome the degree of master of theology and a nomination as lecturer in the Lateran Palace. From 1307 on, he lectured in the Department of Theology at the University of Paris as an ordinary professor and also conducted quodlibetal disputations. In 1308 he was named provincial of Naples. In that position he was a zealous defender of his order against attacks from the spirituals. In June of 1313 in Barcelona he was elected general of the Franciscan order.
His writings are: In XII Aristotelis “Metaphysicae” libros expositio (published Ve 1572 as a work of Alexander of Hales); In libros “De anima” (Ox 1481); In IV libros “Sententiarum” (2 versions); Quodlibet (20 questions); the biblical commentaries Super Joannem, Super Ecclesiasticum, In Apocalipsim (P 1647) which was published as a work of Alexander of Hales; and Tractatus de usuris (ed. A. M. Hamelin, Un traité de moral économique au XIVe siècle, Lv 1962).
SCHOLARLY MILIEU. Alexander of Alexandria belonged to the Augustinian school of thought that took shape after the famous Parisian condemnation. The new Augustinian philosophical synthesis arose after 1277. It was the result of the difficulties encountered by Aristotelianism both in its Averroistic and Thomistic versions. The Augustinian doctrine turned out to be more elastic than other philosophical schools as it assimilated Aristotelianism. As a result, the Augustinian school quickly came to be recognized universally and become the main doctrinal current of the Middle Ages. Its representatives, including Alexander of Alexandria, tried to join Aristotelian naturalism and Augustinianism into a coherent whole: Aristotelian naturalism concerned the world as it can be perceived by the senses, and the Augustinian conception concerned the relation of the created world to God and the exemplar ideas that exist in God, which were the models according to which the world was formed. This was an attitude of concordance, i.e., it proclaimed that there was a harmony among various philosophical orientations. Alexander tried to do this work in this crucial period of history as a commentator on Aristotle’s works, which he interpreted in the categories of Christian philosophy, and as an exegete of Sacred Scripture.
THEORY OF SCIENCE. Recent studies have shown that a new approach to the theory of human knowledge was formed in the period of philosophical history in which Alexander did his scholarly work, the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth century. The new conception of the theory of science, in which Alexander had an important role, was characterized by a tendency to reformation. The fact that Alexander treated a wide range of methodological problems and regarded them as fundamental and as an introduction in every scientific discipline is revealing enough. Alexander followed the model of Aristotle and Averroes and approved of the application of the dialectical method, namely the method of methodical doubt, as the starting point in scientific investigations. Alexander placed a high value on dialectic confrontation in the starting point of the acquisition of knowledge, and he regarded it as an important element of the method of scientific knowledge. Alexander set forth many arguments for the usefulness and purpose of the application of this method. At no time did this method indicate a skeptical attitude, since Alexander held to the premise in his philosophical system that man is capable of acquiring knowledge by the innate light of the mind (“In homine est quaedam aptitudo ad omnem scientiam per lumen sui intellectus”). Alexander drew upon the Aristotelian theory of science when he divided philosophical disciplines into theoretical and practical. Logic stands apart from these divisions. Alexander saw logic as an independent discipline with a special role: “Scientiae utuntur logica sicut instrumento”. Logic had, as it did for Aristotle, the character of a preparatory and instrumental science in relation to the other sciences.
In Alexander of Alexandria’s classification of the sciences, based on innate powers of knowledge, there was no supernatural theology. Therefore Alexander accepted the conception of the separation of the philosophical and theological orders. Theology as a science based on faith (scientia fidei) did not function as a ruler in relation to the natural sciences (“Potest ostendi, quod aliae scientiae, quae innituntur lumini naturali, non subalternantur scientiae fidei”). Neither was there any opposition between these sciences: rather, they were complementary. Metaphysics held the highest position among the sciences based on the natural human intellect. Metaphysics treats the First Being to whom all other beings are ordered. This primacy was a result of the dignity of the object, God, in keeping with the accepted conception of science, but God in a strict sense was not the object of metaphysics, since being as being was the object of metaphysics. However, if God was considered at a philosophical level, it was only as the cause of being, namely the object of metaphysics. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas held this position before Alexander of Alexandria, but this position was rare in classical mediaeval philosophy.
Alexander accepted the mediaeval principle that the nobility of a science increases in proportion to the degree of abstraction applied in that field of knowledge. From this point of view, the theoretical sciences have greater dignity than the practical sciences. Alexander also applied another criterion for the primacy of one science over another—the utility of a science. When Alexander applied this criterion, he gave primacy to the practical sciences, especially productive sciences, over the theoretical sciences: “Plus est enim agere quam speculari tantum et plus est facere quam agere”. This was a new view, and it would be expanded in the fourteenth century in the via moderna. This means that Alexander of Alexandria anticipated the practical orientation of the fourteenth century.
To some degree, Alexander was a precursor of the changes in methods applied in science in the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. He departed from the traditional methodology of the sciences and advocated a greater application of induction and experience. In comparison to deduction, this method took the form of a probable proof. It was fully recognized in the fourteenth and fifteenth century when the status of scientific knowledge was enjoyed not only by knowledge acquired by the deductive method, but also by knowledge in a broader sense acquired by way of experience and induction. It is revealing that Alexander regarded experience not only as the starting point in the inductive process, but also as the criterion for judging the truth of scientific assertion, and these assertions were also acquired both by experiment and by deduction. He strongly emphasized the role of experience in the acquisition of knowledge, and this was a departure from the traditional model of science. Alexander thereby looked to the glorious tradition of the Oxford school, and at the same time he made an important contribution to the changes in the study of science that were beginning at the start of the fourteenth century.
PHILOSOPHY OF BEING. The object of the philosophy of being (metaphysics) is real beings, namely being as being. It is not concerned with intentional beings, but these are studied in logic. Reality as a whole is apprehended under the aspect of being as such with the help of analogical concepts. Being as conceived in this way includes created beings (both material and immaterial), and uncreated being. Therefore God as well is considered in metaphysics, although he is not considered in the strict sense, but as the cause of the object of metaphysics. According to the premises of Alexander’s metaphysics, only individual beings exist in reality apart from the mind (“Non concipio, quid sit aliqua realitas praeter realitatem individui”) This primacy of individual beings over general beings is found throughout Alexander’s philosophy. With this position, Alexander found himself among the initiators of the conception of being as concrete. Created beings, however, are not autonomous in their existence, since they exist by participation in God as in subsistent existence, and he created the world of finite beings. In these beings, essence and existence are not really distinct, but only mentally distinct. Alexander held that Aristotle supported this difference. Essence and existence are separate concepts, considered in relation to God as to the exemplar and efficient cause. The basis of this conception of being was the thesis taken from Revelation, that the things around us are created beings. This was therefore a heteronomous ontology, although Alexander declared that philosophy and theology were independent of each other. F. Suarez adopted up Alexander’s solution in the problem of essence and existence, although Suarez thought that the commentary he was using was the work of Alexander of Hales. Every corporeal being is composed of matter and form. In one composite being there are many forms which create an hierarchy; the ultimate form that decides the individuality of the real being within its species he called haecceitas. According to Alexander, prime matter possesses its own existence, although an imperfect existence, and therefore it can exist without any form. Alexander rejected the view that forms were subject to division because of matter; matter is not necessary to preserve the plurality of composite beings. For this reason, substances separate (separatae) from matter may be many in number within one species. The multiplication of the same form within one species occurs because the beings that belong to the species are separate and subsistent subjects (diversa supposita). There are real differences among individual beings. However, the properties of a being do not differ from their supposite either secundum rem or secundum rationem, but differ by virtue of something that is quoddam medium which is called a formal difference, and this is applied throughout Alexander’s philosophy.
PHILOSOPHICAL ANTHROPOLOGY. When Alexander of Alexandria connected the Augustinian school with the mediaeval philosophical tradition, he formulated his own conception of man. He stated that the soul is not the only substantial form in man, but that it joins with a body that has already been shaped by the bodily form. This meant that he accorded to the body an influence on psychic processes, for the psychic factor, not the object, played the chief role in the process of cognition. There is no real difference, only a formal difference, between the soul and its powers, and among the powers themselves. After the death of the body, only the intellectual soul persists, while the other powers perish along with the body. In his theory of the will, Alexander held as a principle that the order of activity had primacy over cognition, i.e., the will came before the intellect; the will is the efficient cause of the mind’s operation, while the will itself is the cause of the will’s operation. Man’s happiness resides in an act of will (love), and not in knowing. This position was characteristic of Augustinianism and, at the same time, characteristic of the practical orientation in philosophy of the fourteenth century.
THEORY OF KNOWLEDGE. Alexander’s epistemology was realistic in character. He started from the supposition that man, despite the Augustinian tradition, is capably of knowing the world around him by his own powers. This process occurs without divine illumination. In his view on the origin of concepts, Alexander held to the position of genetic empiricism: our intellectual cognition cannot take place unless the external world has a role in it. Although only individual beings exist in the world, the intellect perceives them in general terms as it abstracts features common to many things from their individual properties. The concepts that arise in this way contain the essence of things, namely their specific nature. Alexander called these universals in predication. In the vision of the world as concrete, no real specific natures exist; they only form the world of intentional beings. By faith he accepted the thesis that the world has been created, and he located in the divine intellect the exemplars according to which all created being had been formed. He called these exemplars universals in causation. This was an Augustinian conception that Alexander connected with Aristotelian realism moderated with respect to universals in predication. The human intellect acquires knowledge in the framework of general concepts; it does not grasp the entire richness of being. This means that our cognition as it makes use of the natural light of the intellect is imperfect, especially with regard to God and other spiritual substances. Theology provides a more perfect knowledge of spiritual substances. Yet the knowledge obtained in this way cannot be evaluated from a philosophical point of view, and purely philosophical knowledge cannot be corrected by theology. Alexander accepted both of these orders as different, but as equally legitimate ways leading to a knowledge of God: “Etsi in aliis facultatibus ratio praeveniat fidem, in facultate tamen theologiae fides praevenit rationem”.
THE RECEPTION OF ALEXANDER&RSQUO;S VIEWS. We can speak of how Alexander’s philosophical views were received only in reference to the Academy of Kraków. The influence of his views on other European academic centers has not yet been studied. We know that the metaphysics of F. Suarez has as one of its sources Alexander’s philosophical conception, and not as was mistakenly thought, the philosophy of Alexander of Hales. The influence of Alexander of Alexandria on the scholars of Kraków occurred in two periods, in the years 1423–1447, and 1477–1501. In the first period, John Orient was the spokesman for Alexander’s views in all their extent. He propagated a realistic school of philosophy opposed to nominalism. This position did not have any supporters during the time when Buridanism was dominant. In the last quarter of the fifteenth century when realism prevailed over nominalism, Alexander of Alexandria’s views became universally recognized among the masters of the Kraków Academy. John Sommerfelt, Jacob of Gostynin, John of Głogów, and many others were inclined to present historical Aristotelianism, and they did so through the prism of Alexander’s interpretation of Aristotle’s Metaphysics.
L. Veuthey, Alexandre d’Alexandrie, EtF 43 (1931), 145–176, 319–344, 44 (1932), 21–42, 193–207, 429–467; C. Fabro, Una fonte antitomista della metafisica Suareziana, DTh(p) 50 (1947), 57–678; R. Cenal, Alessandro de Alejandria su influjo en la mitafisica de Suarez, Pensamiento 4 (1948), 91–122; A. M. Hamelin, Le “Tractatus de usuris” de Maitre Alexandre d'Alexandrie, Culture 16 (1955), 129–161, 265–287; Z. Włodek, Filozofia bytu [Philosophy of being], in: Dzieje filozofii średniowiecznej w Polsce [History of mediaeval philosophy in Poland], III, Wr 1977 (passim); M. Markowski, Teoria poznania [Theory of cognition], in: Dzieje filozofii średniowiecznej w Polsce [History of mediaeval philosophy in Poland], VI, Wr 1978 (passim); F. Krause, Die Erkenntniskonzeption von Alexander Bonini aus Alessandria, MM XIII 2, B 1981, 1074–1083; idem, Filozoficzne poglądy Aleksandra z Aleksandrii i ich wpływ na Uniwersytet Krakowski [Philosophical views of Alexander of Alexandria and their influence on the University of Kraków], SMed 23 (1984) 2, 1–164; idem, Die Charakteristik des Begriffs Substanz bei Alexander Bonini aus Alessandri, MPhP 28 (1986), 33–39; idem, Die Struktur des Seins im Aspekt der Essenz und der Existenz bei Alexander aus Alessandria, SMed 25 (1988) 1, 119–143; idem, L’attitude d’Alexandre Bonini d’Alessandria à l’égard du principe d’individuation, SMed 34 (1999), 147–155.