Monday, 17 March 2014

Anscombe on Aristotle/Vritti & Upadhi


I mentioned in my previous post Snakes and Ladders that Advaita has found that narrow land between Realism and Idealism by using the concept of the vritti or mental modification which is identical to the object in a non-numerical way. That needs to be teazed out further but I offer this extended quote from Anscombe which indicates a ‘family resemblance’ between the theory of Aristotle on passive and active intellect and the Advaitins ‘vritti’ and ‘upadhi’/limiting adjunct.

Now the existence of the things is precisely the actualisation of this possibility: thus we find Aristotle constantly distinguishing between existence on the one hand and on the other (a) actuality (b) whatever is actualised by that actuality. In comparison with the latter, existence seems to relate to form; the existence of the matter that composes Socrates is substantial existence as a human being; but in comparison with ‘actuality’ or the formal cause, existence is is particular and material. The contrast between actuality and existence is drawn especially in his theory of knowledge, according to which if, say, a sighted animal receives a sense impression of red, the ‘actuality’ or ‘form’ signified by the word ‘red’ is one and the same in the seen object and the sensation, but the ‘existence’ of the red thing and the sensation of red is different. Either existence however, is the actualisation - and hence the actuality, and one and the same actuality - of what was before a mere potentiality. Similarly the intellect is actualised by the forms, which also actualise matter; again, the ‘actuality’ will be the same but the ‘existence’ different.

The theory has the attraction of seeming to preserve that internal relation which must be shown to hold between what we may quite generally call ‘cognitions’ and their objects, without falling into idealism. The forms which the intellect in understanding are without matter, and are made to be so by the intellect, which thus divides into a ‘passive’ intellect actualised by these forms, and a ‘productive’ intellect that makes the forms-without-matter: Aristotle compares this to light making colours actual. Thus it appears that the objects of understanding are only potential in material things, although, as they exist in material things, they are the actualisation of the matter of those things. It is ground for intense regret that Aristotle never expounded his ideas for the general public, shewing those unversed in these difficult conceptions how they might attain to them. For so far as his ideas are sound, they must be capable of a clearer exposition than he has given them.
(From Three Philosophers by G.E.M. Anscombe and P. Geach // citation: Anscombe on Aristotle)
Note: Italics in quote mine.

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