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Alexander of Aphrodisias (fl. c. AD 200)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-A006-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 23, 2024, from

Article Summary

The Peripatetic philosopher Alexander was known to posterity as the commentator on Aristotle, until Averroes took over this title. His commentaries eclipsed most of those of his predecessors, which now survive only in scattered quotations. Used by Plotinus, Alexander’s commentaries were the basis for subsequent work on Aristotle by Neoplatonist commentators, and even though some themselves survive only in quotations by these later writers, Alexander’s interpretations of particular passages are still helpful and are cited by commentators today.

In addition to Alexander’s commentaries we have a number of monographs, and also collections of short discussions which are connected with themes in his writings, though some are probably by pupils rather than by Alexander himself. Alexander’s most influential and controversial doctrine has been his interpretation of Aristotle’s theory of soul and intellect; regarding the soul as the product of the mixture of the bodily elements, he has been seen as subordinating form to matter and as thereby misinterpreting Aristotle. Certainly his view excludes any immortality for individuals, but even if Aristotle himself allowed this it is arguable that to do so was incompatible with his definition of soul as the form of potentially living body. Alexander himself interpreted Aristotle’s ‘active intellect’ not as an immortal element in each individual, but as god, the unmoved mover, apprehended by our own intellects. Both on the question of soul and on that of the status of universals, Alexander gives a non-Platonizing reading of Aristotle, which accounts for some of the criticism to which he has been subjected by successors both ancient and modern. His treatment of the problem of free will has also been influential, though his criticisms of determinism are more telling than his own positive solution.

Seeing his task as interpreting Aristotle’s writings with the aid of one another and explaining apparent inconsistencies, Alexander contributed to the growth of Aristotelianism as a system; he does not criticize nor challenge Aristotle, and regards his own innovations as Aristotelian doctrine, developed in the context of new questions which Aristotle himself had not confronted in the same form. He was better at seeing the details than at comprehending the global picture, and the potential of some of his doctrinal contributions is most apparent in what they suggested to others; but there is still much to interest philosophers in his detailed argumentation on particular points and passages.

Citing this article:
Sharples, R.W.. Alexander of Aphrodisias (fl. c. AD 200), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-A006-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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