ALFRED OF SARESHEL (Alfred Anglicus, Alfred the Englishman)—a translator and leading philosophy of the Oxford school, part of the school of mediaeval philosophy that developed in the twelfth and thirteenth century at the University of Oxford characterized by metaphysics in the spirit of St. Augustine, and science in the spirit of empiricism.
The dates of his birth and death are not exactly known. He probably came from Shareshull, Stafford County in England. He studied medicine outside of England, possibly in the medical schools in Salerno and Montpellier. He wrote of these schools in his work De motu cordis (On the motion of the heart). He went to Toledo and studied philosophical works in the college of translators. He wrote commentaries on Aristotle’s Meteorologica and De plantis. We know that Alfred’s work De motu cordis was dedicated to his friend Neckham and that it was written before 1217. The work became a textbook in the mid-thirteenth century in the department of liberal arts in Paris. It was not an original work, but Alfred collected and expanded on the views of other authors. He added his own views on the theory of life, and this was his contribution to mediaeval thought.
Alfred followed Aristotle, whose writings he came to know in Toledo, and held a concept of the soul as the perfection (form) of an organic body and the principle of change. He held that there are three functions of the soul: vegetative, sensitive, and rational. He regarded life as the condition and foundation for change in an organism: the soul is the source of life for the organism, where life is the first function of the soul. Life is the act of the soul joined with the body and it occurs in equal measure in all organisms. He tried to combine the views of Aristotle and Plato and stated that the heart is the chief instrument of the soul, and that between the body and the soul there must be some intermediary or connector. This view was typical of his time and occasioned many misunderstandings. Besides these views, in his De motu cordis we also find neo-Platonic conceptions of life, the soul, and the hierarchy of beings.
Alfred’s achievements were in translating, commenting upon, and popularizing the Arab science. He thereby contributed to spreading Arab philosophical thought. He also placed a high value on empirical studies.
Tatarkiewicz HF I 267; Gilson HFS 215, 605; Z. Włodek, Alfred Anglik i jego teoria życia [Alfred the Englishman and his theory of life], RF 5 (1957) 3, 95–112; G. Bonafede, Enciclopedia Filosofica, R 1979, I 182.