Perception Versus Thinking: Chapter 3

Rambam carefully weaves Aristotle's categories of thought into his religious study.

We start with a brief overview of Aristotle's concept of Thought.

Aristotle: Sense-Data Versus Ideas

Perception for Aristotle entails any sort of mental exercise upon a sensible object: any physical sense-data is understood by the mind under its "Perception" faculty. This Perception reacts to sense-data: Perception is Hostage and can not consciously decide what to perceive or even how to perceive it.

Sounds depressing... however, all is not lost: there are Ideas.

Ideas require a different sort of mind: they demand Active Thinking. Ideas can be intelligible without being an object of perception. Ideas do not occur spontaneously nor passively. Aristotle had difficulty defining the origin of this Active Intellect, though, because there was no Creative God to endow man with these attributes.

Rambam: Active Intellect is a Divine Quality

Rambam solves the problem of the source of the Active Intellect by attributing it to God and his Creation. Notably, this is very close to St. Thomas Aquinas' thesis, too.

With the power of an Active Intellect, Rambam then shines "new light" on his exegesis and illuminates the deepest truths.

Tabnit vs Temnuah

Rambam establishes the proof for this argument by demonstrating the frequency and distribution of both tabnit and temunah, associating their use with the intended meaning.


  • derived from the verb banah which means "he built"
  • "signifies the build and construction of a thing"
  • refers only to shape of physical objects: never used to refer or allude to Divine qualities of God

temunah has three meanings:

  • sense-data put into a Form category (e.g. "round pizza is a circle")
  • forms in our imagination, such as memory of past sense-data or experiences
  • "the true form of an object, which is perceived only by the intellect: and it is in this third signification that the term is applied to God."

Rambam Emphasises Divine and Non-Material/Perceptible Qualities of God

Rambam's objective with this chapter is to clearly demonstrate that God's qualities are not a fit object for the Passive Intellect but only the Active Intellect.

While God's creations subsist in the Perceptive world, the Divine aspects of God, though they may manifest is intelligible or physical symbols, only have even symbolic meaning because of the Divine Form imbued in them by God.