Gundissalinus’ Reception of Universal Hylomorphism and Its Influence in the 13th Century

Implementation: University of Notre Dame, 2015.

Funding Institutions: University of Notre Dame and SIEPM.

In his De processione mundi, Gundissalinus merges together a wide range of Arabic, Hebrew and Latin sources in the clear attempt of updating the Latin philosophical debate through the new knowledge of “the Arabs”, finally available. Gundissalinus is the very first Latin philosopher receiving, developing and then accepting some of the most tricky philosophical doctrines of the next century, such as the theory of mediated creation, the doctrine of the plurality of substantial forms and, above all, the doctrine of universal hylomorphism in metaphysics and the doctrine of the unity of the agent intellect in psychology.

This reception is guided by two main Arabic sources: Avicenna and Avicebron, whose very presence in the De processione is proven by the myriad of direct quotations of their texts. Regarding Avicenna – whose relevance for Gundissalinus is due, in all probability, to the influence of his collaborator, the Jewish philosopher Abraham ibn Daud (Avendauth) – the main aspect Gundissalinus receives and develops is the doctrine of necessary and possible being, according to which only the first Cause has an uncaused, necessary and auto-sufficient being, and only its action can bring into being everything that follows, that is, all the creatures whose being is marked by a possibility of both being and not-being. It is only thanks to the causal influence of the first Cause that the possible being transforms – ontologically – into a necessary being per aliud, i.e. thanks to something other than itself, thus receiving actual existence.

Gundissalinus, who quotes in his treatise two chapters from the Ilahiyyat (Metaphysica I, 6-7), does not merely accept this theory, but he develops it by combining the ontological status of necessary and possible being with the Aristotelian doctrines of act and potency and matter and form, pushing the Avicennian perspective to its extreme consequences. Thus, the possible being is seen as having a proper potential being, that is actualized by the intervention of the first Cause, directly if the caused is one of the first created, or mediately and through the secondary cause if it is subsequent. The link between these two theories is not necessarily awkward in the Avicennian perspective, since it is possible to find already in the Metaphysica many hints at this very same identification of necessary being per aliud and actual being, and of possible being and potential being.

This scenario is definitely different in relation to the hylomorphic doctrine. Gundissalinus’ adoption of Ibn Gabirol’s universal hylomorphism is at first sight deeply at variance with the reception of Avicenna’s ontology, which explicitly denies every hylomorphic composition of spiritual substances. Gundissalinus, nevertheless, likewise considers universal hylomorphism as a necessary complement to the necessary/possible and potency/act doctrines: if the first causation produces a necessary being per aliud and this very causation is the actualization of a potency, it is necessary to suppose something that structurally has a possible being – matter and form ante coniunctionem – whose junction corresponds to the actualization of both and of their compound in the created being. And granted that this is true, it should necessarily be claimed that every being caused by the necessary being is made of matter and form, i.e. universal hylomorphism must be accepted.

My research will clarify what are the theoretical consequences of Gundissalinus’ reception of the Fons Vitae, and in particular its combination with the ontology inherited by Avicenna, by checking not only the perspectives Ibn Sina presents in his Metaphysica, but also the first two books of his Physics, where Avicenna criticises and rejects universal hylomorphism. Another possible factor of influence shall also be verified and analysed, which is the philosophical production of Abraham ibn Daud. As it is likely that Ibn Daud has played an important role for Gundissalinus’ focus on Avicenna, it is also worth remarking that Avendauth is a strict opponent of Ibn Gabirol and his universal hylomorphism. For this reason, and due to the close proximity of Gundissalinus and Abraham ibn Dawud, I shall proceed to a comparative examination of the ha-Emunah ha-Ramah, in order to verify whether and how Avendauth has influenced the ontological theory of Gundissalinus.

Finally, once the entire structure of Gundissalinus’ hylomorphism has been thoroughly scrutinized and its coherence checked, I shall deal with the issue concerning the history of the effects of this peculiar ontology. As is well known, amongst the readers of Gundissalinus’ works we count Albertus Magnus (De homine), and probably also his student Thomas Aquinas. According to the fundamental study of Brunner (1965), a wide range of incompatibilities may be seen between the hylomorphism refuted by Thomas Aquinas in his De substantiis separatis, and that discussed in the Fons Vitae. I am persuaded that these incompatibilities are not due to some miscomprehension of the text by Thomas Aquinas, but possibly to his access to another source presenting the same theory with some different and fundamental nuances. This other source would be precisely Gundissalinus’ De processione mundi, that may have been used by Aquinas as a complementary explanation of Avicebron’s work.

© 2016 Nicola Polloni