Nous (Template:PronEng, Greek: Template:Polytonic or Template:Polytonic) is a philosophical term for mind or intellect. Outside of a philosophical context, it is used, in English, to denote "common sense," with a different pronunciation (Template:IPA).

Overview of usage by ancient GreeksEdit

The word nous is somewhat ambiguous, a result of being appropriated by successive philosophers to designate very different concepts. A further complication that nous (or Nous) refers, depending on the philosopher and the context, sometimes to a personal mental faculty or characteristic, and sometimes to a corresponding quality of the universe or God.

  • Homer used nous to signify mental activities in general, but in the pre-Socratics it became increasingly identified with knowledge and with reason as opposed to sense perception.
  • Anaxagoras's nous was a mechanical ordering force that formed the world out of an original chaos. It began the development of the cosmos.
  • Plato described it as the immortal, rational part of the soul. It is a godlike kind of thinking in which the truths of conclusions are immediately known without having to understand the preliminary premises.
  • Aristotle asserted that nous was the intellect, as distinguished from sense perception. He divided it into an active and passive nous. The passive is what receives intelligible forms, and the active is what illuminates the passive and makes potential knowledge into actual knowledge.
  • To the Stoics, it was the same as logos. This is the whole cosmic reason. It contains human reason as a part.
  • Plotinus described nous as one of the emanations from divine being.


The philosopher Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, born about 500 BC, introduced a new factor, nous (mind), which arranged all other things in their proper order, started them in motion, and continues to control them. In the philosophy of Anaxagoras the most original aspect of the Anaxagoras' system was his doctrine of nous (“mind” or “reason”). The cosmos was formed by mind in two stages: first, by a revolving and mixing process that still continues; and, second, by the development of living things. In the first, all of “the dark” came together to form the night, “the fluid” came like water in some form or other; later thinkers added air, fire, and earth to the list of fundamental elements. There is still controversy as to how his concept of mind is to be all of these particles that had existed in an even mixture, in which nothing could be distinguished, much like the indefinite apeiron of Anaximander. But then nous (intelligence) began at one point to set these particles into a whirling motion, foreseeing that in this way they would become separated from one another and then recombine. He used nous to initiate the process of cosmic development. Anaxagoras wrote:

All other things partake in a portion of everything, while nous is infinite and self-ruled, and is mixed with nothing, but is alone, itself by itself. For if it were not by itself, but were mixed with anything else, it would partake in all things if it were mixed with any; for in everything there is a portion of everything, as has been said by me in what goes before, and the things mixed with it would hinder it, so that it would have power over nothing in the same way that it has now being alone by itself. For it is the thinnest of all things and the purest, and it has all knowledge about everything and the greatest strength; and nous has power over all things, both greater and smaller, that have soul.[1]

Anaxagoras elaborated a quasi-dualistic theory according to which all things have existed from the beginning. Originally they existed in infinitesimal fragments, infinite in number and devoid of arrangement. Amongst these fragments were the seeds of all things which have since emerged by the process of aggregation and segregation, wherein homogeneous fragments came together. These processes are the work of nous which governs and arranges. But this nous (mind) is not incorporeal; it is the thinnest of all things; its action on the particle is conceived materially. It originated a rotatory movement, which arising in one point gradually extended till the whole was in motion, which motion continues and will continue infinitely. By this motion things are gradually constructed not entirely of homogeneous particles, but in each thing with a majority of a certain kind of particle. It is this aggregation which we describe variously as birth, death, maturity, decay, and of which the senses give inaccurate reports. His vague dualism works a very distinct advance upon the crude hylozoism of the early Ionians, and the criticisms of Plato and Aristotle show how highly his work was esteemed. The great danger is that we should credit him with more than he actually thought. His nous was not a spiritual force; it was no omnipotent deity; it is not a pantheistic world soul.[2] But by isolating Reason from all other growths, by representing it as the motor-energy of the Cosmos, in popularizing a term which suggested personality and will, Anaxagoras gave an impetus to ideas which were the basis of Aristotelian philosophy in Greece and in Europe at large.


For Plato it was generally equated with the rational part of the individual soul (to logistikon), although in his Republic it has a special function within this rational part. Plato tended to treat nous as the only immortal part of the soul. In the Timaeus, the title character also calls nous responsible for the creative work of the demiurge or maker who brought rational order to our universe. This craftsman imitated what he perceived in the world of eternal Forms.


Template:Seealso Template:The Works of Aristotle Aristotle also considered nous as intellect as intuitive understanding, distinguished from sense perception.[3] In De Anima (III.3-5) Aristotle divides nous into a passive intellect, which is affected and inseparable, as well as an active intellect, which alone is separable and therefore immortal and eternal. Aristotle (Metaphysics) identifies the Prime Mover with the nous that thinks about itself.

In the philosophy of Aristotle the soul (psyche) of a thing is what makes it alive; thus, every living thing, including plant life, has a soul. The mind or intellect (nous) can be described variously as a power, faculty, part, or aspect of the human soul. It should be noted that for Aristotle soul and intellect are not the same. He did not rule out the possibility that intellect might survive without the rest of the soul, as in Plato, but plants have a 'nutritive' soul without a mind.

Alexander of AphrodisiasEdit

In Alexander of Aphrodisias's On the Soul, he contends that the undeveloped reason in man is material (nous hulikos) and inseparable from the body. He argued strongly against the doctrine of immortality. He identified the active intellect (nous poietikos), through whose agency the potential intellect in man becomes actual, with God. In the early Renaissance his doctrine of the soul's mortality was adopted by Pietro Pomponazzi against the Thomists and the Averroists.


Later Platonists distinguished a hierarchy of three separate manifestations of nous, like Numenius of Apamea and for Plotinus nous is a second god (the direct image of the Good) containing within itself the world of intelligible being called demiurge.[4] The Nous holds these intelligible Forms, which exist through its contemplation, and points towards their source in the Good. It signifies a search for order by the part of the soul or mind that knows and thinks. In some philosophical forms of Greek mythology,[5][6][7] order was imposed by an anthropomorphic father of all things, the Demiurge.

In Neoplatonism there exists several levels of existence, reality or hypostasises the highest of which is that of the One the Monad, or the Good, which are identical but indescribable and indefinable in human language without conscious being but is the substance of all things. The next lower level is that of nous and or demiurge (pure intellect or reason); the third is that of the soul. There then follows the world perceived by the senses. Finally, at the lowest level there is matter which was only manifest by the nous or demiurge as the mind of men (see idealism).


Of the later Greek and Roman writers the Neoplatonist Plotinus is significant. According to him, objective reason (nous) and intelligence (logiki) as self-moving, becomes the formative influence which reduces dead matter to form. Matter when thus formed becomes a thought (logismoi) and its form is beauty. Objects are ugly so far as they are unacted upon by reason and therefore formless. The creative reason is absolute beauty. There are three degrees or stages of manifested beauty:

  1. that of human reason, which is the highest;
  2. that of the human soul, which is less perfect through its connexion with a material body;
  3. that of real objects, which is the lowest manifestation of all.

As to the precise forms of beauty, he supposed, in opposition to Aristotle, that a single thing not divisible into parts (like the One) might be beautiful through its unity and simplicity. He gives a high place to the beauty of colors in which material darkness is overpowered by light and warmth. In reference to artistic beauty he said that when the artist has notions as models for his creations, these may become more beautiful than natural objects. This is clearly a step away from Plato's doctrine towards our modern conception of artistic idealization.[8] Plotinus maintains, the Intelligence of God (nous), (demiurge) or (dyad) is an independent existent from the One or Monad, requiring nothing outside of itself for subsistence. The Intelligence (nous) may be understood as the storehouse of all potential beings, however only if every potential being is also recognized as an eternal and unchangeable thought in the Divine Mind. Plotinus refers to the Intelligence as God (theos).[9]


The Christian New Testament makes mention of the nous or noos in Template:Bibleverse, Template:Bibleverse-nb; Template:Bibleverse, Template:Bibleverse-nb; Template:Bibleverse, Template:Bibleverse-nb; Template:Bibleverse; and Template:Bibleverse.

Augustinian NeoplatonismEdit

In Augustinian Platonism, nous is a basis for metaphysical or religious thinking. This must be the result of the presence in the soul of higher realities and their action upon it. In Plotinus the illumination of the soul by Intellect and the One was the permanent cause of man's ability to know eternal reality. Augustine of Hippo was at this point very close to Plotinus, though for him there was a much sharper distinction.

The Form of the Good or "The Idea of the Good" in Plato's philosophy was identified with God by Augustine of Hippo.

Eastern OrthodoxEdit

The human nous in Eastern Orthodox Christianity is the "eye of the heart or soul" or the "mind of the heart".[10][11][12][13] The soul of man, is created by God in His image, man's soul is intelligent and noetic. St Thalassios wrote that God created beings "with a capacity to receive the Spirit and to attain knowledge of Himself; He has brought into existence the senses and sensory perception to serve such beings". Eastern Orthodox Christians hold that God did this by creating mankind with intelligence and noetic faculties.[14] Angels have intelligence and nous, whereas men have reason both logos and dianoia, nous and sensory perception. This follows the idea that man is a microcosm and an expression of the whole creation or macrocosmos. The human nous was darkened after the Fall of Man (which was the result of the rebellion of reason against the nous),[15] but after the purification (healing or correction) of the nous (achieved through ascetic practices like hesychasm), the human nous (the "eye of the heart") will see God's uncreated Light (and feel God's uncreated love and beauty, at which point the nous will start the unceasing prayer of the heart) and become illuminated, allowing the person to become an orthodox theologian.[16][17][18]

In this belief, the soul is created in the image of God. Since God is Trinitarian, Mankind is Nous,reason both logos and dianoia and Spirit. The same is held true of the soul (or heart): it has nous, word and spirit. To understand this better first an understanding of St Gregory Palamas's teaching that man is a representation of the trinitarian mystery should be addressed. This holds that God is not meant in the sense that the Trinity should be understood anthropomorphically, but man is to be understood in a triune way. Or, that the Trinitarian God is not to be interpreted from the point of view of individual man, but man is interpreted on the basis of the Trinitarian God. And this interpretation is revelatory not merely psychological and human. This means that it is only when a person is within the revelation, as all the saints lived, that he can grasp this understanding completely (see theoria). The second presupposition is that mankind has and is composed of nous, word and spirit like the trinitarian mode of being. Man's nous, word and spirit are not hypostases or individual existences or realities, but activities or energies of the soul. Were as in the case with God or the Persons of the Holy Trinity each are indeed hypostases. So these three components of each individual man are `inseparable from one another' but they do not have a personal character" when in speaking of the being or ontology that is mankind. The nous as the eye of the soul, which some Fathers also call the heart, is the center of man and is where true (spiritual) knowledge is validated. This is seen as true knowledge which is "implanted in the nous as always co-existing with it".[19]



In the Valentinian system, Nous is the first male Aeon. Together with his conjugate female Aeon, Aletheia, he emanates from the Propator Bythos and his coeternal Ennoia or Sige; and these four form the primordial Tetrad. Like the other male Aeons he is sometimes regarded as androgynous, including in himself the female Aeon who is paired with him. He is the Only Begotten; and is styled the Father, the Beginning of all, inasmuch as from him are derived immediately or mediately the remaining Aeons who complete the Ogdoad, thence the Decad, and thence the Dodecad; in all thirty, Aeons constituting the Pleroma. He alone is capable of knowing the Propator; but when he desired to impart like knowledge to the other Aeons, was withheld from so doing by Sige. When Sophia, youngest Aeon of the thirty, was brought into peril by her yearning after this knowledge, Nous was foremost of the Aeons in interceding for her. From him, or through him from the Propator, Horos was sent to restore her. After her restoration, Nous, according to the providence of the Propator, produced another pair, Christ and the Holy Spirit, "in order to give fixity and stedfastness (εἰς πῆξιν καὶ στηριγμὸν) to the Pleroma." For this Christ teaches the Aeons to be content to know that the Propator is in himself incomprehensible, and can be perceived only through the Only Begotten (Nous).[20]


A similar conception of Nous appears in the later teaching of the Basilidean School, according to which he is the first begotten of the Unbegotten Father, and himself the parent of Logos, from whom emanate successively Phronesis, Sophia, and Dynamis. But in this teaching Nous is identified with Christ, is named Jesus, is sent to save those that believe, and returns to Him who sent him, after a passion which is apparent only,—Simon the Cyrenian being substituted for him on the cross.[21] It is probable, however, that Nous had a place in the original system of Basilides himself; for his Ogdoad, "the great Archon of the universe, the ineffable"[22] is apparently made up of the five members named by Irenaeus (as above), together with two whom we find in Clement,[23] Dikaiosyne and Eirene,—added to the originating Father.

Simon MagusEdit

The antecedent of these systems is that of Simon Magus,[24] of whose six "roots" emanating from the Unbegotten Fire, Nous is first. The correspondence of these "roots" with the first six Aeons which Valentinus derives from Bythos, is noted by Hippolytus.[25] Simon says in his Ἀπόφασις μεγάλη,[26]

There are two offshoots of the entire ages, having neither beginning nor end.... Of these the one appears from above, the great power, the Nous of the universe, administering all things, male; the other from beneath, the great Epinoia, female, bringing forth all things.

To Nous and Epinoia correspond Heaven and Earth, in the list given by Simon of the six material counterparts of his six emanations. The identity of this list with the six material objects alleged by Herodotus[27] to be worshipped by the Persians, together with the supreme place given by Simon to Fire as the primordial power, leads us to look to Persia for the origin of these systems in one aspect. In another, they connect themselves with the teaching of Pythagoras and of Plato.

Gospel of MaryEdit

According to the Gospel of Mary, Jesus himself articulates the essence of Nous:

"There where is the nous, lies the treasure." Then I said to him: "Lord, when someone meets you in a Moment of Vision, is it through the soul [psyche] that they see, or is it through the spirit [pneuma]?" The Teacher answered: "It is neither through the soul nor the spirit, but the nous between the two which sees the vision..."
The Gospel of Mary, p. 10

See alsoEdit


  1. Anaxagoras, DK B 12, trans. by J. Burnet
  2. See Phaedo 97-9 for the cosmic role of nous.
  3. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Aristotle's Ethics, Glossary of terms [1]
  4. Encyclopedia of The Study in Philosophy (1969), Vol. 5, article on subject "Nous", article author: G.B. Kerferd
  5. Python: A Study of Delphic Myth and Its Origin By Joseph Eddy Fontenrose pg 226
  6. Chorology: On Beginning in Plato's Timaeus By John Sallis pg 86 ISBN 0253213088
  7. The Mythology of Ancient Greece and Italy By Thomas Keightley Whittaker, p. 44 (Oxford University Press)
  8. Everson, S. (ed.) (1991) Companions to Ancient Thought 2: Psychology, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Includes chapters on Plato, Aristotle and Plotinus.
  9. Plotinus. The Enneads. Translated by Stephen MacKenna. Abridged and edited by John M. Dillon (Penguin Books, 1991)
  10. Neptic Monasticism
  11. "What is the Human Nous?" by John Romanides
  12. "Before embarking on this study, the reader is asked to absorb a few Greek terms for which there is no English word that would not be imprecise or misleading. Chief among these is NOUS, which refers to the `eye of the heart' and is often translated as mind or intellect. Here we keep the Greek word NOUS throughout. The adjective related to it is NOETIC (noeros)." Orthodox Psychotherapy Section The Knowledge of God according to St. Gregory Palamas by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos published by Birth of Theotokos Monastery,Greece (January 1, 2005) ISBN 978-9607070272
  13. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, SVS Press, 1997. (ISBN 0-913836-31-1) James Clarke & Co Ltd, 1991. (ISBN 0-227-67919-9) pgs 200-201
  14. G.E.H; Sherrard, Philip; Ware, Kallistos (Timothy). The Philokalia, Vol. 4 Pg432 Nous the highest faculity in man, through which - provided it is purified - he knows God or the inner essences or principles (q.v.) of created things by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception. Unlike the dianoia or reason (q.v.), from which it must be carefully distinguished, the intellect does not function by formulating abstract concepts and then arguing on this basis to a conclusion reached through deductive reasoning, but it understands divine truth by means of immediate experience, intuition or 'simple cognition' (the term used by St Isaac the Syrian).The intellect dwells in the 'depths of the soul'; it constitutes the innermost aspect of the heart (St Diadochos, 79, 88: in our translatio, vol. i, pp.. 280, 287). The intellect is the organ of contemplation (q.v.), the 'eye of the heart' (Makarian Homilies).
  15. "THE ILLNESS AND CURE OF THE SOUL" Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
  16. Neptic Monasticism
  17. The Relationship between Prayer and Theology
  18. "JESUS CHRIST - THE LIFE OF THE WORLD", John S. Romanides
  19. Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos (2005), Orthodox Psychotherapy, Tr. Esther E. Cunningham Williams (Birth of Theotokos Monastery, Greece), ISBN 978-9607070272
  20. Iren. Haeres. I. i. 1-5; Hippol. Ref. vi. 29-31; Theod. Haer. Fab. i. 7.
  21. Iren. I. xxiv. 4; Theod. H. E. i. 4.
  22. Hipp. vi. 25.
  23. Clement of Alexandria, Strom. iv. 25.
  24. Hipp. vi. 12 ff.; Theod. I. i.
  25. Hipp. vi. 20.
  26. Ap. Hipp. vi. 18.
  27. Herodotus, i.

External linksEdit

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