Space vs Natural Light

The idea of a “space of reasons” — implicit in Kant (not to mention Plato and Aristotle), and explicitly developed by Wilfrid Sellars — is an alternative to the traditional Thomistic, Cartesian, and Wolffian notion of the “natural light of reason”.

In effect, the natural light is supposed to be an intuitive source of truths. In other words, it is a form of the intellectual intuition or immediate apprehension of truths that Kant and Hegel rejected.

By contrast, the space of reasons is the space of the give and take of dialogue. Reasons are not independent truths; they are reasons for (or against) something or other. The space of reasons is concerned with what is a good reason for what. The idea of the space of reasons is that every judgment or assertion intrinsically invites questions as to the reasons for it and the goodness of those, and reasons in turn may have other reasons.

In Aristotelian terms, the space of reasons is a form of potentiality. It is my best candidate for explaining what Aristotelian “potential intellect” is supposed to be, and I relate that to Aristotle’s ambivalence on whether or not intellect is a part of the soul. The space of reasons has a similar ambiguous status, in that it is independent of any particular individual, but nonetheless operates only in and through the thought of individuals.

Space of Reasons, Potential Intellect?

Having recently written a bit more about the “space of reasons”, it occurs to me that this makes a good model for the perplexing and commonly misunderstood notion of a “separate” potential intellect. I’ve suggested previously that the space of reasons belongs in the register of Aristotelian potentiality, and elsewhere argued that the controversial “separate” potential intellect was not supposed to be some cosmic mind pulling the strings of our minds, but rather more like a shared tool that we all use and help improve. This tentative identification brings things a bit more into focus.

Although scholastic discourse about separate intellect used metaphysical vocabulary, what was actually said by Averroes about separate potential intellect clearly places it inside of time, and in an intimate relation to all rational animals. It was said to function as a kind of thesaurus (literally, “treasury”) of universals abstracted from concrete forms in human imagination, but to be “nothing at all” apart from operations that result from human imagination. (See “This Human Understands”; “This Human”, Again; Averroes as Read by de Libera; Separate Substances?)