Gersonides on the Role of the Active Intellect in Human Cognition

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Gersonides sought to base knowledge of unchanging universals on an empirical basis, in effect marrying the epistemologies of Plato and Aristotle. Recent scholarly studies have pointed to allegedly unresolved tensions in Gersonides' epistemology, claiming especially to find strains between Gersonides' Wars of the Lord and his commentary on Song of Songs. The issue turns on the role of the active intellect in cognition: does it emanate ready-made knowledge upon the human material intellect, thereby transforming it into an acquired intellect (a Platonizing approach) or is its role more limited, restricted to enabling the material intellect to pick out the general natures of things from the sensory data presented to it by the inferior faculties of the soul? A detailed analysis of Gersonides' epistemological writings shows that they are consistent and internally harmonious; his epistemology is, as he claims it to be, fundamentally Aristotelian, with the addition of one Platonizing element. Further support for rejecting more thoroughgoing Platonizing interpretations of Gersonides' epistemology is found in his doctrine that there can be no new cognitions after death, a point he repeatedly emphasizes: cognition is thus shown ultimately to depend upon sensation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-259
Number of pages27
JournalHebrew Union College Annual
StatePublished - 1994


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