Phantasms of Reason and Shadows of Matter: Averroes’s Notion of the Imagination and Its Renaissance Interpreters
In Averroes’s view of the cosmos, living beings discern, animals imagine, individual human beings cogitate, humankind as a whole thinks, and intellects intuit and understand themselves. In other words, natural operations in living organisms are capable of discriminating between the useful and the harmful, animal nature processes images (intentions is Averroes’s term) from matter, individual men cogitate those images and the human intellect thinks insofar as it is considered a species, i.e., the human species. In this sense, the intellect of the human species thinks the sublunary world as one collective representation of the universe to be further abstracted and processed by higher levels of intellectual activity. A number of Renaissance philosophers, depending on how they interpreted the special relationship between intellects, the material intellect and bodily imaginations, elaborated a series of fascinating solutions in response to Averroes’s challenging view. This chapter focuses on the notion of the imagination – and dream imagination in particular – and intends to demonstrate the important role played by this faculty in unravelling some of the most notorious puzzles of Averroes’s philosophy. As will become clear over the course of this chapter, this role needs to be explored in all its various dimensions (metaphysical, epistemological, cosmological, medical and theologico-political).