ALEXANDRISM—a philosophical doctrine from the twelfth to the fourteenth century, started by David of Dinant, referring to Aristotle’s doctrine indirectly through Alexander of Aphrodisia (commentator and interpreter of Aristotle in a naturalistic spirit); Alexandrism was one of the way in which a non-Christianised Aristotelianism entered mediaeval philosophy.
The starting point in Alexandrism was Aristotle’s theory of hylemorphism which conceived of being in terms of matter and form. Alexandrism had a wrong interpretation of hylemorphism, holding that only matter was real and denying the reality of matter (only matter, which is common to all things, is generic being). This consequently led to a kind of materialism. Matter, according to Alexandrism, is not perceptible to the senses but can be known only by reason. With this as the starting point, Alexandrism conceived of the essence of spirit and reason in a material way, also denying the existence of any differences between material beings. It regarded the variety of phenomena as an illusion (it merely seems to man that things differ). This illusion is not ratified by the reason. Thus there is no difference beween man and beast, or between a beast and something inanimate. Even the reason by which we try to explain everything is material. Since Alexander of Aphrodisia identified reason with God, Alexandrianism identified God with matter, arguing the matter possesses the attributes of God: it is unchanging, infinite, omnipresent, and all beings come from it.
Scholasticism could not accept the Alexandrist interpretation of Aristotle’s doctrine that the universe was uncreated and eternal in character (their interpretation came from Plotinus’ theory of emanation), nor could it accept their false conception of the agent intellect, their rejection of the immortality of the soul, or their pantheistic interpretation of God and matter. This properly explains why, at the Synod of Paris in 1210, the Church banned under pain of excommunication the public reading of Aristotle’s writings in the philosophy of nature, the writings of David of Dinant, and those of Amalric of Bène (the study of their works was permitted in Toulouse and Oxford). In 1231, Pope Gregory IX formed a commission to study the works of Aristotle. A more accurate knowledge and a right interpretation of Aristotle’s teachings, as was done by Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas among others, made it possible to assimilate his views in the Christian world. In 1366, with the pope’s assent, candidates for a licenciate in the liberal arts had to demonstrate a knowledge of Aristotle’s writings.
A. Birkenmajer, Décourte de fragments manuscrits de David de Dinant, Lv 1933; R. Jolivet, Essai sur les rapports entre la pensée grecque et la pensée chrétienne. Aristote et saint Thomas ou l’idée de création, P 1955; P. O. Kristeller, Paduan Averroism and Alexandrism in the Light of Recent Studies, in: Aristotelismo padovano e filosofia aristotelica (Atti del XII Congresso Internationale di Filosofia IX), Fi 1960, 47–156; M. Kurdziałek, Anatomische und embryologische Äusserungen Davids von Dinant, Wie 1961.