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Robert Grosseteste

Philosophy of Intellect and Vision. Academia Verlag

Robert Grosseteste by John Shannon Hendrix
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Robert Grosseteste: Philosophy of Intellect and Vision focuses on two important areas in the philosophy of Robert Grosseteste at the beginning of the thirteenth century: Philosophy of Intellect and Philosophy of Vision. These two areas of Grosseteste’s philosophy have not been thoroughly explored, nor their importance established. Robert Grosseteste was the first chancellor of Oxford University, and Bishop of Lincoln 1235–53. This project aims to contribute to the importance of Robert Grosseteste in the history of philosophy. The project also aims to establish groundwork for further development in these two areas of philosophy. The book is based on readings of im-portant manuscripts by Grosseteste: On Light; On Lines, Angles and Figures; Commentary on the Posterior Analytics; and Hexaemeron. An important part of this project is an examination of the principal sources for Grosseteste’s philosophy: the classical philosophers (Plato, Aristotle, Euclid); the Greek commentators on Aristotle (Alexander of Aphrodisias and Themistius); the Arabic commentators on Aristotle (Alfarabi, Avicenna, Averroes); and the Neoplatonic tradition, which includes the Theology of Aristotle (based on the Enneads of Plotinus), the Liber de Causis (based on the Elements of Theology of Proclus), and the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius. The ex-amination builds upon the work of Grosseteste scholars such as James McEvoy, Richard William Southern, Alistair Cameron Crombie, and Bruce Stansfield Eastwood. It also builds upon the more general work of scholars such as Franz Brentano and Herbert A. Davidson. Certain philoso-phical concepts are developed from previous books which I have written, namely Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Spirit and Platonic Architectonics. Emphasis is placed in the project on the relation between Grosseteste’s philosophies and the previous philosophical influences, as well as subsequent philosophies in the middle ages (particularly the Franciscan School or Oxford School), and the Renaissance to the twentieth century. The philosophies are also considered in relation to the architecture of Lincoln Cathedral. The goal is to demonstrate the importance of Grosseteste in history, and to demonstrate the importance and relevance of the philosophies to the present day, to contribute to contemporary philosophy, and to lay some groundwork for further development in these two important areas of philosophy, Philosophy of Intellect and Philosophy of Vision.
Academia Verlag; February 2012
265 pages; ISBN 9783896655714
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Title: Robert Grosseteste
Author: John Shannon Hendrix
This project aims to contribute to the importance of Grosseteste in the history of philosophy, focusing on two areas of philosophy in particular—philosophy of intellect and philosophy of vision. These two areas of Grosseteste’s philosophy have not been thorougly explored, nor their importance established. The book also establishes groundwork for the further development of these two areas of philosophy. The book is based on a thorough reading of key manuscripts by Grosseteste: De Luce (On Light, 1225–1228); De lineis, angulis et figuris (On lines, angles and figures, c. 1230); Commentarius in Libros Analyticorum Posteriorum (Commentary on the Posterior Analytics, c. 1230); and the Hexaemeron (1237). The book builds upon scholarly work done on Grosseteste, most importantly by Richard William Southern (Robert Grosseteste: The Growth of an English Mind in Medieval Europe), Alistair Cameron Crombie (Robert Grosseteste and the Origins of Experimental Science 1100–1700), Bruce Stansfield Eastwood (The Geometrical Optics of Robert Grosseteste), and James McEvoy (The Philosophy of Robert Grosseteste). With many references to and translations of original Latin sources, the book is intended to be a work of original philosophy and commentary, with a historiography of Grosseteste’s philosophy. The exposition of the philosophy of Grosseteste is developed in relation to precedents and subsequent writers. The purpose of the book is to establish the influences, confluences, and importance of Grosseteste’s philosophies of intellect and vision in relation to precedents and subsequent thought. The book is the product of several years of research carried out as Visiting Professor at the University of Lincoln, in the shadow of the cathedral where Grosseteste was Bishop. The research was undertaken in collaboration with Nicholas Temple, Head of the Architecture School at Lincoln, and Nader El-Bizri, Research Associate at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in London, and Lecturer at the University of Cambridge. The book focuses in particular on the importance in the writings of Grosseteste of ancient Greek philosophy (Anaximander; Plato: Republic, Timaeus, Symposium; Aristotle: De anima; Euclid: Optica, Catoptrica); the Greek commentators on Aristotle (Alexander of Aphrodisias: De anima, De intellectu; Themistius: De anima); the Arabic commentators on Aristotle (Abu Nasr Alfarabi: De intellectu [Risala]; Ibn Sina [Avicenna]: Metaphysica [Shifa: De anima], Liber Naturalis, Najat; Ibn Rushd [Averroes]: Long Commentary on the De anima); and the Neoplatonic tradition (the Theology of Aristotle, the ninth century Arabic translation of the Enneads of Plotinus; Liber de Causis, containing fragments of the Elements of Theology of Proclus; and Grosseteste’s own commentaries on Pseudo-Dionysius: Commentary on the Celestial Hierarchy and Commentary on the Mystical Theology). There are also extended references in the book to the Enneads of Plotinus, the Commentary on the First Book of Euclid’s Elements of Proclus, and the Mystical Theology and Divine Names of Pseudo-Dionysius. Important secondary resources for the Greek and Arabic commentators include Franz Brentano, The Psychology of Aristotle: In Particular His Doctrine of the Active Intellect; and Herbert A. Davidson, Alfarabi, Avicenna, and Averroes, on Intellect. Important secondary resources for the Platonic and Neoplatonic tradition include two of my own books, Platonic Architectonics: Platonic Philosophies and the Visual Arts (for philosophy of vision), and Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Spirit: From Plotinus to Schelling and Hegel (for philosophy of intellect). The variety of sources illustrates the importance of the assimilation of all those traditions by Grosseteste, as Grosseteste’s work led to the Great Synthesis of Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, and to the development of natural philosophy or scientific philosophy in subsequent generations of the Franciscan School at Oxford (Adam Marsh, Roger Bacon, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, John Wycliffe), of which Grosseteste is seen as a progenitor. Grosseteste is considered to have founded the Franciscan School, and to have been the first Chancellor of Oxford University. The book also aims to establish the importance of Grosseteste’s philosophy to contemporary philosophy and psychoanalysis, making extended references to more recent figures such as Nicolas Cusanus (De docta ignorantia, De coniecturis, De circuli quadratura); Leon Battista Alberti (De pictura); Piero della Francesca (De prospectiva pingendi); and Marsilio Ficino (Theologia Platonica, De amore) from the Renaissance; Athanasius Kircher (Primitiae gnomonicae catoptricae) and René Descartes (The World, or a Treatise on Light and the Other Principal Objects of the Senses) from the seventeenth century; George Berkeley (An Essay Towards a New Theory of Vision), Immanuel Kant (Critique of Pure Reason), and Johann Gottlieb Fichte (Science of Knowledge) from the eighteenth century; Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (Phenomenology of Spirit) and Sigmund Freud (The Interpretation of Dreams) from the nineteenth century; and Jacques Lacan (The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis) principally from the twentieth century. There are some short translations in the text of Latin passages from printed versions of the original manuscripts, in the Vatican Library and the British Library. An important consideration of the book is the role that Grosseteste played as Bishop of Lincoln, 1235–53, and the relation of the philosophy to the architecture of Lincoln Cathedral, initiated for the most part during Grosseteste’s bishopric. The forms of the architecture were originated at Lincoln without precedent, and form the basis of the English Gothic architectural vocabulary. Grosseteste’s philosophy, in particular his description of the material world in the terms of mathematics and geometry in his De Lineis, considered to be the first scientific cosmology written since the Timaeus of Plato, his description of the autodiffusion of light in geometrical terms in De Luce, and his description of the ascension of intellect from the material (virtus cogitativa, intellectus passibilis) to the active or actual (virtus intellectiva and intelligentia), provides an explanation for the generation of the architectural forms of the cathedral. Key terms in the investigation of the philosophy of intellect include the virtus cogitativa or intellectus passibilis (material intellect, corresponding to the nous pathetikos of Aristotle, and the Reason Principle of Plotinus as dianoia or discursive thinking), intellectus agens or intellect in habitu (agent intellect), virtus intellectiva (corresponding to the nous poietikos of Aristotle or the Intellectual Principle of Plotinus), and intelligentia (divine intellect), the anima rationalis (rational soul), and the species sensibilis and species apprehensibilis. Key terms in the investigation of the philosophy of vision include the intromission and extramission theories of vision, lux spiritualis (spiritual light), lumen spiritualis (reflected spiritual light), irradiatio spiritualis (the radiation of the spiritual light in the mind), oculus mentis (mind’s eye), phantasia or imaginatio (imagination and picture thinking), species sensibilis (sensible form) and species apprehensibilis (intelligible form). The book is intended for philosophers, scholars and students, of philosophy, intellect, vision, aesthetics, architecture, medieval culture. The hope is that it would be of interest to individual scholars for research, and that it would be of interest for classroom use, in studies or courses in any of these areas. In relation to the previously published books on Grosseteste, this book is intended especially for these areas of study: philosophy of intellect, the Greek and Arabic commentators on Aristotle, philosophy of vision, the Neoplatonic tradition, and aesthetics. The book is intended to supplement books on Grosseteste which focus on biography (Francis Seymour Stevenson, Robert Grosseteste, Bishop of Lincoln), scientific philosophy (Crombie, Eastwood), or theology (Southern, McEvoy). The approach taken represents a development in Grosseteste scholarship, revealing previously unexplored areas of his philosophical development and influence, which should certainly contribute to further establishing his importance in the history of philosophy. The chapter entitled “Philosophy of Intellect” identifies the philosophy of intellect developed by Grosseteste, which should be seen as an important contribution to philosophical development, in relation to classical, medieval, and modern philosophy. Grosseteste first studied at the Cathedral School of Lincoln, serving Bishop Hugh of Lincoln as clerk. In the 1190s Grosseteste was a clerk of the Bishop at Hereford. Texts to which Grosseteste was probably exposed include the Theology of Aristotle, the Fons Vitae of Avicebron, the Metaphysica of Algazel, the Liber de Causis, the De Intellectu of Alkindi, the Risala of Abu Nasr Alfarabi, and the Metaphysica (Shifa: De anima) of Avicenna. In treatises such as the Commentary on the Posterior Analytics and the Hexaemeron, Grosseteste developed a philosophy of intellect, influenced by Greek and Arabic commentaries on Aristotle’s De anima, which contain Neoplatonic influences. In the De anima of Aristotle, Book III, a productive intellect is distinguished from a potential intellect. In the De anima of Alexander of Aphrodisias, the productive intellect is the active intellect (nous poietikos), and the potential intellect is the material intellect (nous hylikos). The material intellect is perfected as intellection (intellectus in habitu) in discursive reason (dianoia), which Grosseteste follows. The nous poietikos is taken as a purely spiritual substance acting on human intellect, as in the intelligentia of Grosseteste, and the First Cause in the Liber de Causis. The capacity for receiving the influence of the nous poietikos is the material intellect, through which knowledge is acquired. “Greek Precedents” further defines and elaborates Grosseteste’s philosophy of intellect in relation to classical philosophy. Grosseteste became familiar with Aristotle, Greek and Arabic scientific treatises, and the Neoplatonism filtered through works such as the Theology of Aristotle, Fons Vitae or Liber de Causis. His most important writings can be seen as a mixture of these three sources. Grosseteste is sometimes credited with being the first Western scholar to incorporate Aristotle into his writings in a significant way, and the scholar who “introduced Aristotle to the West,” rather than Albertus Magnus. Grosseteste’s commentaries on the Posterior Analytics, Physics and Metaphysics are the first in the West, and his writings are filled with citations from treatises by Aristotle such as De Caelo, Meteorologica, De Sensu, De Anima, De Generatione et Corruptione, and De Animalibus, all newly translated. Most importantly, Grosseteste maintained, from Aristotle, that sense experience is necessary for knowledge, but that ultimately a certain type of knowledge can form independently of sense experience. As Bishop of Lincoln, Grosseteste appointed John of Basingstoke as Archdeacon of Leicester. John, who had spent time in Greece, as Chaplain in the Latin Duchy of Athens, and had brought back original Greek texts to England, is believed to have helped Grosseteste with translations from the Greek, which preoccupied him in his early years as Bishop, as suggested by Matthew Paris. John compiled a Greek grammar, the Donatus grecus. Grosseteste is seen as the first prominent figure to promote the learning of Greek in scholarship in England. Knowledge of Greek allowed Grosseteste to focus his attention on translations of the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius after 1235, perhaps between 1240 and 1243, which he must have seen as a way that he could use his bishopric to benefit scholarship, by putting together teams of scholars and translators to produce scholarly works. Grosseteste translated the Celestial Hierarchy, Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, Divine Names, and Mystical Theology of Pseudo-Dionysius. “Arabic Precedents” further defines and elaborates the philosophy of intellect of Grosseteste in relation to medieval philosophy, in particular the Arabic commentators on Aristotle. In the 1190s Robert Grosseteste was a clerk of the Bishop at Hereford. The Cathedral School of Hereford was a center for Arabic learning in the late twelfth century. The important Arabic texts which establish a precedent for the philosophy of intellect of Grosseteste include the Risala of Abu Nasr Alfarabi; the Liber Naturalis (al-Tabi’iyyat), Shifā: De anima and Najat (Salvation) of Avicenna (Ibn Sina); and the Long Commentary on the De anima (Sharh kitab al-nafs) of Averroes (Ibn Rushd). These texts contain a synthesis of Platonic and Aristotelian doctrines, influences of the Greek commentators on Aristotle, Alexander of Aphrodisias and Themistius, and influences of Plotinus and Proclus, all of which Grosseteste seemed to absorb and develop in the treatises in which he formulated a philosophy of intellect, namely the Commentary on the Posterior Analytics and the Hexaemeron. “Philosophy of Vision” defines the philosophy of vision developed by Grosseteste, which, like his philosophy of intellect, has important implications in relation to classical, medieval, and modern philosophy, in particular as it applies to philosophies and theories of vision and perception, aesthetics and artistic production. In De luce seu de inchoatione formarum, the treatise on light written between 1225 and 1228, Grosseteste explains that light is the first corporeal form, the origin of matter. A point of light autodiffuses itself instantaneously into the form of a sphere of any size, the sphere being the geometrical form which encapsulates all structure of matter, from classical philosophy. Light is the first corporeal form because it is without dimension and is the closest “to the forms that exist apart from matter,” meaning the “intelligences” or intelligible forms. By “multiplying itself and diffusing itself instantaneously in every direction,” light introduces “dimension in every direction into matter.” In the same way that light is the first corporeal substance in the universe, light is also the first instrument of the soul, the anima rationalis or the mind, in its effect on the body through the senses. “Geometries” focuses on Grosseteste’s cosmologies, the De Luce and De Lineis, which combine classical philosophical sources with contemporary empirical methods to initiate a new natural or scientific philosophy, that associated with the Franciscan School at Oxford. This essay also considers the relation between Grosseteste’s philosophies and the architecture of Lincoln Cathedral. Such a relation extends the importance of Grosseteste’s writings to medieval culture, and establishes an important interpretation of its artistic and architectural production. After 1225 Grosseteste was lecturing in theology at Oxford. The treatise on light, De Luce, was probably written between 1225 and 1228, and was shortly followed by the Commentary on the Posterior Analytics (Commentarius in Libros Analyticorum Posteriorum) and the De Lineis (Libellus Lincolniensis de Phisicis Lineis Angulis et Figuris), Grosseteste’s most influential treatises, completed before 1233, two years before he became Bishop of Lincoln, while he was lecturing to the Franciscans at Oxford. De Luce combines Greek, Arabic, and Christian theological sources in describing a metaphysics of light. De Lineis was written in combination with De Natura Locorum, which applies the abstract geometries of De Lineis to natural phenomena, and attempts to explain the actions and formation of light and visible phenomena, in particular such actions as reflection, refraction, and rarefaction, through geometry, as they are perceived as an image or species. The virtus of lux, or the power of celestial light, as it becomes rays of light in lumen, or reflected light, is applied to earthly phenomena as it is translated to geometry, perspective, and optics, in a new natural philosophy. The most important treatise of Grosseteste which contains explanations of geometries which can be found in the architecture of Lincoln Cathedral is the De lineis, angulis et figuris. The primary role that geometry plays in this particular treatise is the most important key to formulating an interpretation and understanding of the generation of architectural forms in the cathedral, based in the geometries, as they are related to philosophical concepts. Such an analysis can provide an important level of understanding of the forms of English Gothic architecture, as they are introduced at Lincoln. An English translation of the treatise can be found in a dissertation by Bruce Stansfield Eastwood, The Geometrical Optics of Robert Grosseteste. The treatise can also be found in its original Latin in the British Library: Libellus Linconiensis de Phisicis Lineis Angulis et Figuris per quas omnes Acciones Naturales Complentur. I have given several talks at the University of Lincoln, and three papers on Grosseteste at the Conference on Ancient and Medieval Philosophy at Fordham University: “The Philosophy of Intellect of Robert Grosseteste,” “The Philosophy of Vision of Robert Grosseteste,” and “The Geometries of Robert Grosseteste and the Architecture of Lincoln Cathedral.” A portion of the chapter on geometries appears in another volume written as Professor at the University of Lincoln, Architecture as Cosmology: Lincoln Cathedral and English Gothic Architecture. I presented a paper for the International Society for Neoplatonic Studies, “Neoplatonic Influence in the Writings of Robert Grosseteste,” which was published in an anthology by Academia Verlag, Conversations Platonic and Neoplatonic: Intellect, Soul, and Nature, edited by John Finamore and Robert Berchman. I would like to thank Jürgen Richarz and Holger Drosdek at Academia Verlag for the production of this volume.