Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Thorp, John


Aristotle appears to indicate in various passages in the De Anima that imagination is a kind of thought, and my thesis attempts to make some sense out of this claim. I examine three possible interpretations of the claim that imagination is a kind of thought and eliminate two of them. The first states that Aristotle only calls imagination a kind of thought in a superficial “in name only” sense. The second, more radical interpretation, identifies images as the most basic kind of thoughts. My final chapter defends a more moderate position—inspired by Avempace and the early Averroes—which steers between the superficial and radical interpretations, by construing the formal content of images as a sort of quasi-corporeal substrate for the generation of learned thoughts.

Summary for Lay Audience

My first chapter underscores a tension in Aristotle’s account of the imaginative faculty. On the one hand, the bulk of the textual evidence suggests that Aristotle regarded the imagination as something akin to perception, with images just being residual after-effects of perceptual acts. On the other hand, there are several troublesome passages which liken the imagination to a kind of thinking. But whereas other commentators have attempted to explain these troublesome passages away, my thesis seriously considers whether (and in what sense) Aristotelian imagination might be regarded as a kind of thinking. My second chapter briefly examines the possibility that Aristotle was only speaking colloquially when he described the imagination as a kind of thought. After rejecting this hypothesis, my third chapter turns to the much more radical hypothesis that Aristotelian images just are thoughts. If confirmed, this would require us to seriously rethink Aristotle’s understanding of humanity’s place relative to non-human animals, as it would imply that many non-human animals (i.e., those with imagination) share with us a capacity for thought. But while this hypothesis does withstand many of the objections that have been raised against it, it still proves untenable because images reside within the bodily organs, whereas thought-acts, on Aristotle’s view, are very famously unblended with the body. My fourth chapter defends the more moderate claim that images, while not identical with thoughts, nevertheless contribute to their generation, by providing the raw “material” from which they are derived. In order to unpack this in a manner which does not imply that thoughts are blended with the bodily, I invoke the interpretive work of the twelfth century Islamic commentator Ibn Bajjah, who’d posited that images contain “spiritual forms,” which possess a limited degree of independence from the body that enables them to undergo changes in their own right. In addition to resolving the tension in Aristotle’s account of the imagination, this theory also offers a gradualist account of the intellect’s emergence, thereby providing an answer to the notoriously difficult question of how the intellect can be at once unblended with the body, but also, ultimately, derived from it.