Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Bos, Abraham P.: Aristotle on God's Life-Generating Power and on Pneuma as Its Vehicle

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Bos, Abraham P.: Aristotle on God's Life-Generating Power and on Pneuma as Its Vehicle

Article excerpt

BOS, Abraham P. Aristotle on God's Life-Generating Power and on Pneuma as Its Vehicle. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2018. vi + 333 pp. Cloth, $95.00; paper $29.95--One of the most intriguing and disputed questions in Aristotle is the nature of pneuma and the role it plays in his philosophy. In this book, against the widely accepted and longstanding standard interpretation, and recapitulating many years of personal research, A. P. Bos defends his novel view of the centrality of pneuma in Aristotle's philosophy as the "organic" (instrumental) body of the divine power in the sublunary sphere. The "organic body" that Aristotle refers to in his famous definition of the soul as entelecheia (see De anima 2.1), according to Bos's reading, is not the visible body equipped with organs (an interpretation for which Bos blames the ancient commentator Alexander of Aphrodisias), but rather pneuma itself. Pneuma, Bos explains, is neither one of the four terrestrial elements (it must be carefully distinguished both from natural fire and from air or breath) nor separated from them, but analogous to the fifth element, ether, in the astral sphere. It is not a sixth element either, but the instrument by which the divine power is present in the sublunary sphere "incognito," as Bos himself puts it. The book shows the advantages of Bos's novel interpretation of Aristotle. I will briefly point out some of them. First, it makes good sense of Aristotle's criticism of Plato's account of the soul: For Aristotle, the divine does not make, but rather begets, all things through its power, and there is a clear distinction between intellect and soul. Second, Bos's interpretation is able to bring together Aristotle's theology, on the one hand, and his cosmology and natural philosophy (in particular his account of generation and life), on the other, explaining why in nature we find teleology and a desire for the divine and immortality among lower, material beings. Third, Bos's interpretation makes good sense of passages such as Generation of Animals 2.3 (pneuma is different from fire and analogous to the element of the stars) and Physics 1.9 (matter desires form as the ugly desires the beautiful), which are more difficult to explain on the standard interpretation. Fourth, Bos's view makes room for the authenticity of two treatises (On the Cosmos and On the Life-Bearing Spirit), which, on the standard interpretation, have not been considered genuinely Aristotelian. Finally, Bos's account of pneuma provides a compelling explanation of why Aristotle would attribute life to plants, which do not breathe, as well as to animal embryos from the moment of fertilization and long before they develop lungs and start to breathe: Life requires a specific body, but not necessarily, at its lowest (vegetative) level, a body equipped with organs; the soul, the entelecheia, is present in the pneuma as its proper instrumental body. …

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