ABSTRACT

Part Three (“The Salvation of Intellect in Arabic Aristotelian Philosophy”) is an exposition of philosophical views and vocabulary requisite for the interpretation of Cavalcanti’s project presented in Parts Four and Five. Specifically, we will focus on the philosopher’s version of salvation in the afterlife, the Conjunction with the Active Intellect, as variously treated by the three most important classical Islamic rationalist philosophers, al-Farabi, Avicenna, and Averroes. These philosophers teach that the Active Intellect, an entirely nonmaterial superlunary substance, is the lowest (closest to the realm of nature or materiality) in a hierarchy of cosmic nonmaterial Intelligences that emanate from the First Cause (i.e., God). Humans are born with the potential for intellection; some time just after their birth the Active Intellect acts upon them by endowing them with first principles (basic premises intuitively known as true, such as “the whole is greater than the part”). Through putting these first principles to use as instruments for laboring through a philosophical curriculum in physics, humans can attain actual intellection of the intelligible forms of natural entities. When humans attain actual intellection of the intelligible forms of all or most of the natural entities, they themselves become Intellects and attain or nearly attain the same ontological rank as the Active Intellect. This is for humans the highest happiness, ultimate felicity, perfection—what is referred to in religions as heaven, salvation, the blessed afterlife. This highest happiness or ultimate felicity is reserved for metaphysicians only—those who through completing a full philosophical curriculum in physics have gained knowledge of the metaphysical reality of the cosmos. In some accounts, such metaphysical knowledge is unattainable and immortality for humans is “an old wives’ tale.” Yet, following the imperative laid down by Aristotle in Nicomachean Ethics, the philosopher must nonetheless “strain every nerve” to reach what may well be unreachable.