ALEXANDER OF APHRODISIA (Αλεξανδρος ‘ο Αφροδισια)—a philosopher, the last scholarch of Athenian peripatetic philosophy in the years 198–211. He lived in the first and second century AD.
His teachers included Herminos, Aristocles of Messina, and Sosigenes. He is regarded as one of the greatest commentators on Aristotle. The value of his work results primarily from his fuller systematization of the philosophical views of Aristotelianism, since similar problems appear in the writings of Theophrastus, Straton of Lampsacus, Boethos of Sidon, and Alexander of Aegae. His works also influenced Arab thinkers, especially Averroes, and the philosophers of the Renaissance.
His interpretation of the Stagirite’s philosophy has been called naturalistic because he ascribes a greater role and significance to the physical elements of being, although at the same time Alexander strongly emphasizes God’s transcendence. He identifies God with pure act.
In his philosophy, Alexander of Aphrodisia accented three points of his master’s doctrine: (1) concepts refer only to the sphere of the operation of the human reason; (2) existence can be attributed only to substances as individuals; (3) unlike Aristotle, Alexander denied God’s transcendence in relation to the world and stated that God is an immanent principle, although at the same time he said that God is pure act with no potency. However, God may move in himself.
Alexander of Aphrodisia transformed Aristotle’s doctrine of two intellects, the active and the potential intellect. as it is found in the De anima. Alexander identified the active intellect with the pure act in which all cognitive forms are found. The active intellect was complete separate from man, spiritual, immortal, eternal, and one and the same for all men. The potential intellect was dependent upon the internal sense of phantasy. It was also called the material intellect. It would become intellect in act under the influence of a cognitive form that came from the active intellect. Thereby the potential intellect could also be called the effected or acquired intellect. Both the potential intellect and the acquired intellect were for Alexander merely the corporeal disposition of the soul. The soul was the form of the body and perished with the body.
Alexander of Aphrodisia’s views first influenced Arab thinkers, especially Averroes. The Arab thinkers accented the difference between the soul as the form of the body and the intellect, which in its existence was independent of man. Mediaeval Europe knew Alexander’s doctrine chiefly through the critique of that doctrine in Arab philosophical works, and also through a fragment of his work, De Anima that was translated in the mid-twelfth century by Gerhard of Cremona. That work was given the title of De intellectu. Around 1260, William of Moerbecke translated Alexander’s treatise, Meteorologica. Alexander’s works were more strongly echoed among the philosophers of the Renaissance. In 1495, Girolamo Donato translated Book I of the De anima. The discussion of the immortality of the soul between Peter Pomponazii, who defended Alexander’s position, and Thomas de Vio (Cajetan), who accented Aristotle’s understanding as developed by Saint Thomas Aquinas, was also expressed in the decrees of the Fifth Lateran Council, which condemned the proposition that the human soul was mortal.
Alexander, Commentaria in Aristotelem graeca, I–II, B 1883–1901; idem, Supplementum Aristotelicum, II 1–2, B 1887–1892; F. Nourisson, Essai sur Alexandre d’Afrodisia, P 1870; P. Wilpert, Reste verlorener Aristotelesschriften bei Alexander von Afrodisia, Hermes (1940), 369–396; R. Hackworth, Notes on Some Passages of Alexander of Aphrodisia’s “De fato”, CQ (1946), 37–44; J. Legowicz, Historia filozofii starożytnej Grecji i Rzymu [History of the philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome], Wwa 1986, 501–503.