Albertus Magnus’ Philosophy of Knowledge and Understanding of Knowledge

Albertus Magnus’ Philosophy of Knowledge and Understanding of Knowledge

June 26, 2021 Off By Felso

Albertus Magnus originally sought a compromise between Plato and his student Aristotle.

The point where this search for reconciliation is most intense is the understanding of knowledge of both philosophers (Maurer, 1982: 156). However, we must say that Albertus Magnus was a Peripatetic rather than a Platonist. To put it more accurately, Albertus Magnus sees himself as an Aristotelian. This understanding also deeply influenced his student Thomas Aquinas, who will take place on the philosophy stage after him (Marenbon, 2007: 232-233). However, it is not possible to evaluate his entire philosophy in a healthy way without taking into account the Neoplatonic elements in it.

The most basic concept in both Plato’s and Aristotle’s understanding of knowledge is the concept of soul. Albertus Magnus says, “If we consider the soul itself, we agree with Plato, and if we consider the soul as the form that animates the body, we agree with Aristotle” (Maurer, 1982: 156). Among these approaches, of course, the thoughts of both Plato’s and Aristotle’s commentators are also important. Ibn Rushd, who is the most important of the Aristotelian commentators, appears as an important identity in the philosophy of Albertus Magnus. Although he is against Ibn Rushd in some of his works, he is a complete Averroist in some of his works. In particular, the problem of whether the active mind is common to all people, which is expressed in the De Anima of Aristotle, appears as an important starting point here.

Albertus Magnus says that man consists of soul and body. The relationship of the soul to the body is a natural relationship. However, considering the structure that we can call the essence of the soul, it is clear that the soul is an incorporeal substance. Therefore, the soul is complete in itself and independent of matter. Therefore, Albertus Magnus argues that the soul consists of the mind in a simple sense. The soul is trying to establish a partnership with the physical world by using its sense organs. This may produce the illusion that the soul operates in a dependent manner on the material; however, mind is essentially separate from matter (Maurer, 1982: 157).

As the soul is a spiritual substance, as we have just mentioned above, it is a form in the simple sense. In other words, the soul is a special creation of God, and therefore there is no room for the material in its content. The idea that the soul contains a special kind of matter was put forward by Bonaventura, as we mentioned earlier. Albertus Magnus flatly rejected this idea (Maurer, 1982: 157).

According to Albertus Magnus, there are two parts to the soul. The first is passive and the second is active. Every soul has such active and passive minds. As we mentioned above, Albertus Magnus thinks that the active mind is not common to all people, but that each person has his own active mind. These active minds are minds derived from the mind of God. Active minds are therefore the lights that illuminate the principles through which we act. These lights are naturally structures that share in the light of God, the most divine light.

There is also a passive mind in the soul. This mind is not a structure that we have because of the intertwining of the soul with the material. The reason why there is a passive mind in the soul is nothing else than that the soul has the property of accepting knowledge. The mind acquires information in two different ways. According to Albertus Magnus, knowing physical and mathematical objects is possible as a result of the mind turning to the senses and imagination and with a kind of abstraction. However, knowledge of metaphysical or divine objects cannot be obtained through the senses and through abstraction. Knowledge gained through abstraction cannot be realized without the illuminating help of God. That is, the active mind alone cannot know the realities of the physical world. For such knowing, an active mind illuminated by God’s own light is necessary (Maurer, 1982: 158; Marenbon, 2007: 234).

According to Albertus Magnus, knowledge shows a continuum from sensible objects to divine enlightenment. The function of the active mind in this continuity is to use the light it receives from God to abstract the material from physical objects. The necessity of this use comes from the presence of the soul in a body. The soul can obtain knowledge of this world only through the senses. The ultimate goal of man is to have a truly enlightened mind. It also means a mind blessed with divine light. Because only through this sanctification, the mind can rise to the knowledge of God, and only through that knowledge can man achieve his own endless happiness (Maurer, 1982: 159).

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ö