His native city was probably the Aphrodisias in Caria, an inland city of southwestern Asia Minor. The only direct information about his date and activities is the dedication of his On Fate to the emperors Septimius Severus and Caracalla in gratitude for his appointment to an endowed chair. Nothing is known about his background or his education, except that his teacher was Aristoteles of Mytilene, rather than the more famous Aristocles of Messene, as had been conjectured by certain scholars since the 16th. How much Alexander owed to his teachers is hard to guess, for he sometimes criticizes Sosigenes and Herminus extensively. But it is clear from the scope and depth of his work that he was a well-trained philosopher with a broad range of knowledge and interests.

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In this way, he provides an Aristotelian interpreta- tion of the problems related to such concepts. In the paper it is exposed how the conception of providence defended by Alexander means a rejection of the divine care of the particulars, since the divinities are only provident for species. Several texts be- longing to the Middle Platonic philosophers will convince us that such thinkers and not directly Aristotle are the origin of the thesis that will be understood as the conventional Aristotelian position, namely that divinity only orders species but not individuals.

So, he tries to explain new themes such as fate and providence. Although in fact he inte- grates foreign ideas from other schools, his conception of fate and provi- dence pretends to be strict Aristotelism. Nature in the first sense will be the cause of nature in the second sense. Alexander will maintain that the cosmos as we know it is shaped by the gods, whose will would be to benefit the sublunar world and causes every good in it.

However, this beneficent intention is reduced to the species of beings, while particular providence is expressly denied i. Moreover, this providence belongs only to the gods subordinated to the first immobile mover, who only knows himself and is completely inert.

We will study this question by taking into account some treatises of Alexander where he studies these subjects, especially De providentia, trans- mitted to us only in Arabic. In addition, De fato, De principiis and De anima mantissa, as well as some of his Quaestiones would be important for our pur- pose. According to him, the supreme good—the god—does not benefit only some things, like the rest of the goods, but its presence extends to all things to the extent that they are able to participate in it.

Ac- cording to Alexander, incorruptible beings act upon corruptible beings in a similar way as a corruptible thing can interact with another one. In this way, the divine power is transmitted from heaven to the lower entities and thus Alexander can corroborate the words attributed to Thales Aristot.

The presence of the divine in all things is also sustained by Alexander De prov. For Alexander, therefore, the divine power is who shapes the form of each thing making of it a work of the intelligence and the will of the gods.

It consists, ultimately, in an effect of the movement of the sky that the gods execute. Yet it is not possible that the result of each singular generation is also ciphered there, because individuals are different from each other; it is due to the hazardous coincidences which occur in their respective generations, coincidences occasioned by matter De prov.

According to Alexander, the first Unmoved Mover would live by contemplating Himself and He would not exercise any exter- nal activity at all. The souls of the heavenly spheres would be who, by virtue of their desire to imitate His immobility, would produce the circular motion of the heaven as an imitation of such a contemplative life.

Already the author of De mundo conceived God as the law governing the whole universe b Ac- cording to this work, the law permeates all social life and, by remaining itself immutable, achieves different results in each of the members of the polis. As Aristotle had asserted De philosophia, ed. Ross, fr. But an unlimited number cannot partake in order. That is a task for the divine power which holds together the whole [of this universe].

However, when Alexander explains the presence of the divine power in the world as a law, he is forced to accept the Platonic tenets that 10 FORUM Volume 3 7—18 alexander of aphrodisias on fate, providence and nature the author of De mundo already accepted, namely, that divine disposition determined the general factors, while the multiplication of individuals was due to matter. Likewise, Alexander admitted, as the author of De mundo, that the least influence of divine power in the sublunary world is due to matter, which prevents the reception of divine power in all its purity; in fact, he as- serted that divine power was extended to all things, and the greater or lesser extent in which it occurred depended on their capacity to participate in it.

Individuals would not be enclosed in providential plans because they cannot be understood by divine intel- ligence and because, ultimately, they would be a certain type of degraded reality.

The best candidates to fill this position could be the Middle Platonic thinkers, since some of them denied the existence of particular providence, that is, a providence that also considers individuals.

It is thus possible to conclude that there must have been a period in which the Peripatetics merely held the thesis that divine providence was restricted to heaven, but they did not deny particular providence or, at least, they did not do it by appealing to the impossibility of knowing the individuals.

The main Aristotelian thesis was that providence was confined in heaven, but such dictum admits different in- terpretations. We can find a testimony of our hypothetical transitional state of Peripatetic doctrine of providence in Epictetus, who enumerates various theories of providence.

The first of the other two 3 is very close to the Aristotelian dictum on providence that limits it to heaven, while the second one 4 emphasizes the very question of divine knowledge restricted to the general aspects. It is significant that both theories are separate, although they seem to possess some similarity.

Such as aspect makes it similar to the doctrine of De mundo, where God is compared to a great ruler who only rules the supralunar world in a direct way and places the administration of the rest in the power of his subordinates. However, as we said, such approach did not compel the au- thor to deny that God is concerned with the sublunary world, unlike what we see attributed here to the fourth theory that expressly rejects the care of individuals.

A doctrine close to that of the author of De mundo was also defended by the peripatetic Critolaus, who has sometimes been accused of denying the knowledge of the particulars. Wehrli, fr. Conse- quently, the neglect of the singulars corresponds, then, to a precise philo- sophical theory that we will find formulated in certain authors who will not be related to the Peripate but rather to Middle Platonism. It does not surprise us that Alexander is inspired by these authors since he himself declares that they have a doctrine close to his own one: the first divinity God would not deal with the world, entrusting providence to the remaining divine beings gods.

Let us then look at some texts which help us to verify how these authors propose the doctrine of providence. This also refers to the comparison of divine providence with a law; something that remembers the exposition of De mundo and is also found in Alexander. Indeed, in another treatise devoted to the influence of the divinity on the cosmos, Alexander says: This nature and power are the cause of the unity and order of the world.

In the same way as happens in one city having one ruler residing in it, not separated from it, we also say that a certain spiritual power penetrates the whole world and holds its parts together. Since the city is ruled by one authority only which is its leader or established law, so is the one world, since it is one body, continuous, eternal, imperishable, containing and encompassing all things, and comprehending them De princ.

To identify the divinity with a cosmic law is a comparison also present among the Stoics, but it is precisely the way that allows the Middle Pla- tonists to develop their conception of providence, namely, that of a provi- dence confined in a higher sphere, which takes care of the universal good by overlooking the sublunary world.

What, then, is the quality of this fate, considered in turn as this kind of formula? It is, we may conjecture, of the quality of the law of a state, which in the first place promulgates most, if not all, of its commands as consequents of hypotheses, and secondly, so far as it can, embraces all the concerns of a state in the form of universal statements.

They are insignificant and its existence is due to the multiplicity of matter. At the end of the day, it is the very conception of knowledge that Alexander defends in his argumentation of On Providence against particular providence.

It does not say, as it were, that such and such a person will do this, and that such and such another will suffer FORUM Volume 3 7—18 13 david torrijos-castrillejo that, for that would result in an infinity of possibilities, since the number of people who come into being is infinite, and the things that happen to them are also infinite; and then the concept of what is in our power would go out of the window, and so would praise and blame, and everything like that.

But fate consists rather in the fact that if a soul chooses a given type of life and performs such-and-such actions, such-and-such consequences will follow for it. On the other hand, in his treatise On Providence, the core of the argumentation against the knowledge of the particulars by the divinity arises from the impossibility of doing an infinite number of different acts of knowledge at the same time; this impossibility is due to the infinity of objects of knowledge present in the world.

For this reason, in his paraphrastic translation of the treatise De mundo, he does not hesitate to deny that the first God personally takes care of all the details of the cosmos De mundo, A similar conception of providence is testified by Nemesius of Emesa, who attributes it to Plato and rejects it, precisely for this very reason: according to him, it is difficult to accept that God is provident of every singular aspect of the things if all singulars arise only by virtue of the necessity of the fate, thought it is sub- ordinated to providence.

His 14 FORUM Volume 3 7—18 alexander of aphrodisias on fate, providence and nature discussion is inspired by Aristotelian principles, mostly in the very idea of the unmoved mover and its action upon the world. Such a thesis is founded on the doctrine of Aristotle, but could be coined by Critolaus; later, it was developed by the author of De mundo. Alexander admits that providence affects the sublunary world too, but only in a global way.

If he wished to refute the accusations of Atticus, or at least his line of argumentation, then he should have explained why it is nec- essary to seek moral rectitude, even though divinity does not reward either bad or good people. But this issue is absent from De providentia and other similar treatises such as De fato, his Quaestiones or De principiis. Our comparison with Middle Platonists lead us to think that this inter- pretation of the dictum attributed to Aristotle, instead of being a faithful reception of him, is influenced by gnoseological and metaphysical presup- positions foreign to his thought.

This would recommend the interpretation of other Aristotelian authors who developed his thought in other ways; I am referring to interpreters like Boethius or Aquinas among the Latins, and John of Damascus among the Greeks, who sustained particular providence by using Aristotelian principles.

Questioni sulla provvidenza, ed. The last part of the quoted text seems to recall De an. For the text and translation of De principiis, I follow Charles Genequand ed. See Eth. See De prov. See Quaest. See Ps. Morani, p. Questioni sulla provvidenza, p. Matter is principle of irregularity in the sublunary world; it precisely deter- mines the low capacity to receive the influence of the providence that char- acterizes this sphere of the cosmos: see Paul Moraux, Der Aristotelismus bei den Griechen von Andronikos bis Alexander von Aphrodisias, 3.

See De an. Sharples inclines to deny the providence to the first unmoved mover and leave it only in the hands of the subordinate gods to him: see Robert W. Sharples does not insist on the igno- rance of individuals but he ascribes mainly to this Peripatetic philosopher the theory that the divinity would completely disregard the sublunary world id.

According to this scholar, although this teaching does not follow necessarily from what we know of him, it would not be in contradiction with the notices at our disposal: see ibid.

Phillip H. See for instance Plato, Polit. Whittaker, p. See Dillon, The Middle Platonists, cit. See Nemesius Emesenus, De nat. See Jan den Boeft, Calcidius on Fate. His Doctrine and Sources, Brill, Leiden , pp. Some testimonies of the predominance of this interpretation could be, among others, Tatianus, Ad graecos, 2; Nemesius Emesenus, De nat.

See Atticus, ed. See also Robert W. Sharples, Peripatetics, in Lloyd P. Gerson ed.


Alexander of Aphrodisias On Fate, or How Human Beings Escape Determinism



Alexander of Aphrodisias on Fate


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