William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: Our Intellect Is Not A Separate Substance

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

We have several more weeks on the makeup and workings of the intellect and soul. None of this is easy material, and as comments to the series have shown, it is too easy to be confused. The most common error is using words in different senses that Aquinas did. Stick to the original.

Chapter 59 That man’s possible intellect is not a separate substance(alternate translation)

1 OTHERS there have been, who discovered another reason for maintaining that the intellectual soul cannot be united to the body as its form. For they say that the intellect which Aristotle calls possible, is a separate substance not united to us as a form.

2 They endeavour to prove this from the words of Aristotle, who says, speaking of this intellect, that it is separate, not mixed with the body, simple, impassible; which could not be said of it, if it were the body’s form…

Notes Aquinas is talking of the potential intellect, i.e. our intellects as being in potential. Those potentials are not actual, i.e. they are not a body.

4 Further. If it were the form of a material body, the receptivity of such an intellect would be of the same kind as the receptivity of primary matter; because that which is the form of a body, receives nothing without its matter. Now primary matter receives individual forms, in fact they are individualized through being in matter. Therefore the possible intellect would receive forms as they are individual: and consequently would not be cognizant of universals, which is clearly false.

5 Further. Primary matter is not cognizant of the forms which it receives. Consequently if the receptivity of the possible intellect were the same as of primary matter, neither would the possible intellect know the forms it receives: and this is false.

6 Moreover. There cannot possibly be an infinite power in a body, as proved by Aristotle (8 Phys.). Now the possible intellect is, in a manner, of infinite power, since by it we judge of an infinite number of things, inasmuch as by it we know universals, under which potentially infinite particulars are contained. Therefore the possible intellect is not a power in a body.

Notes In a body there cannot be infinite power, but in God, who is not a body, yes. We do often judge of the infinite, and we know something of it. Every universal and mathematical axiom, for instance, are statements of the infinite. But recall, there are infinities and there are infinities.

7 For these reasons Averroes was moved, and likewise some of the ancients, as he says, to hold that the possible intellect, by which the soul understands, has a separate being from the body, and is not the form of the body.

8 Since however such an intellect would nowise belong to us, nor should we understand thereby, unless it were in some way united to us, he defines the way in which it comes into touch with us, saying that the species actually understood is the form of the possible intellect, just as the actually visible is the form of the visual power. Hence there results one thing from the possible intellect and the actually understood form. Consequently the possible intellect is united to whomsoever the aforesaid understood form is united. Now it is united to us by means of the phantasm which is a kind of subject of that understood form: and in this way the possible intellect also is in touch with us.

Notes If this potential intellect were a body, it wouldn’t be us; it would have to be separate from us. But since clearly our intellects are in potential to unknown things, we’d have to have a way to communicate with this separate thing. And in that communication, our intellects would have to be in potential, which would be impossible, since our potential intellects would be separate. Next paragraphs clarify.

9 But it is easy to see that all this is nonsensical and impossible. For the one who understands is the one who has intellect. And the thing understood is the thing whose intelligible species is united to the intellect. Consequently though the intelligible species united to the intellect is in a man in some way, it does not follow that the man is the one who understands, but only that he is understood by the separate intellect.

10 Further. The actually understood species is the form of the possible intellect, as the visible species in act is the form of the visual power, or of the eye itself. Now the understood species is compared to the phantasm as the visible species in act is compared to the coloured object outside the soul: in fact he uses this comparison himself, as also does Aristotle. Therefore by the intelligible form the possible intellect is in touch with the phantasm which is in us, in the same way as the visual power with the colour that is in the stone. But this contact does not make the stone to see but to be seen. Therefore also the aforesaid contact of the possible intellect with us, does not make us to understand, but only to be understood. Now it is clear that it is properly and truly said that man understands, for we would not inquire into the nature of the intellect except for the fact that we understand ourselves. Therefore the aforesaid manner of contact is not sufficient.

11 Again. Every knower by its cognitive power is united to its object, and not vice versa, just as every operator by its operative power is united to the thing operated. Now man is intelligent by his intellect as by his cognitive power. Therefore he is not united to the intellect by the intelligible form, but by the intellect he is united to the intelligible.

12 Moreover. That by which a thing operates must be its form, for nothing acts except in so far as it is in act, and a thing is not in act except by that which is its form; wherefore Aristotle proves that the soul is a form, from the fact that an animal lives and senses through the soul. Now man understands, and this by his intellect only: wherefore Aristotle when inquiring into the principle whereby we understand describes to us the nature of the possible intellect. Therefore the possible intellect must be united to us formally and not merely by its object.

Notes Incidentally, this is why if computers are to become “self-aware”, it would all have to happen inside the box. But rapid calculations do not a mind make. The intellect is still not material, so there can never be strong AI.

13 Further. The intellect in act and the intelligible in act are one, just as the sense in act and the sensible in act. Not so however are the intellect in potentiality and the intelligible in potentiality, nor the sense in potentiality and the sensible in potentiality. Wherefore the species of a thing according as it is in the phantasms is not actually intelligible, for it is not thus that it is one with the intellect in act, but as abstracted from the phantasms: even so neither is the species of colour actually perceived according as it is in the stone, but only according as it is in the pupil. Now according to the opinion stated above the intelligible species is in contact with us only according as it is in the phantasms. Therefore it is not in contact with us according as it is one with the possible intellect as its form. Consequently it cannot be the means of bringing the possible intellect into contact with us: since according as it is in contact with the possible intellect it is not in contact with us, nor vice versa.

14 Now it is evident that he who devised this opinion was deceived by an equivocation. For colours existing outside the soul, given the presence of light, are actually visible as being able to move the sight, and not as actually perceived, according as they are one with the sense in act. In like manner the phantasms are made actually intelligible by the light of the active intellect, so that they can move the possible intellect, but not so that they be actually understood, according as they are one with the possible intellect made actual.

Notes Pay attention to the next paragraph.

15 Again. Where the living thing has a higher operation, there is a higher kind of life corresponding to that operation. For in plants we find only an action pertaining to nutrition. In animals we find a higher operation, namely sensation and local movement: wherefore the animal lives by a higher kind of life. But in man we find a yet higher vital operation than in the animal, namely intelligence. Therefore man must have a higher kind of life. Now life is through the soul. Therefore man will have a higher soul, whereby he lives, than is the sensitive soul. But none is higher than the intellect. Therefore the intellect is man’s soul: and consequently it is his form…

Notes Pay even more attention to the last paragraph.

18 Moreover. If man takes his species from being rational and having an intellect, whoever is in the human species, is rational and intelligent. But a child, even before leaving the womb, is in the human species: and yet it has not phantasms that are actually intelligible. Therefore a man has not an intellect through the intellect being in contact with man by means of an intelligible species the subject of which is a phantasm.

Notes Yes, that “clump” of cells (and makes you not a clump?) is still human even though “is has not phantasms that are actually intelligible”, i.e. it is not yet capable of assimilating and understanding sensory data.

11 Comments

  1. Interesting if a “clump” is human, then why doesn’t the church organise a funeral service to an early miscariage?

  2. No confusion on my part .
    DESPITE Thomas’s best efforts.

    I think the lack of understanding is on those reading comments and making massive or should I say precocious assumptions about the understanding of the readers and this is done without a blush when they are shown to be wrong.

  3. I can’t see any discrepancy, although the Thomistic terminology is very intimidating.

    As I have said before, the intellect is fed through the senses; and it usually is manifest through the activity of the physical body.

    Not always the case though. A physically inert (by some defect to its function) body can still be intellectually alert.

    Curious that Harry Stottle and ole Tom, without the benefit of modern technology, knew about that. Even more curious is that a heap of perverts with the benefit of technology and the wisdom of the ancients try to convince us that life is a function of some arbitrarily decreed mobility.

  4. Ye Olde Statistician

    November 20, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    It’s helpful to understand the distinction between the active and passive intellect, or as sometimes said, the agent intellect and the possible intellect or receptive intellect. It is the process by which the perception of a particular, concrete object gives birth to an abstract, universal concept:

    The process by which concepts or ideas are fo,rmed from sense knowledge is usually explained in terms of a special intellective function known as abstraction. The ability to abstract is a sign that the intellect itself is not purely passive in forming the idea but exercises an active role also. The active role of the intellect is designated by a special name, the creative or agent intellect, and its passive power is correspondingly denominated the receptive or possible intellect. Through sense knowledge, the knower is in possession of the percept of a concrete, material object. By its own natural light, the agent intellect illuminates this percept and abstracts from it various meanings or contents that are latent within the object perceived, leaving aside all the individuating notes that characterize the object in its singularity.* The process results in one or more intentional forms or intelligible species, which the creative intellect impresses on the receptive intellect, and so gives rise there to corresponding abstract, universal concepts thro0ugh which the object can be understood. The termination of this process, the concept, is called such because it is the result of a vital operation whereby it is actually conceived (from the Lat. conceptus), or given birth to, within the receptive intellect, once the knower has achieved understanding of the object presented in sense experience.
    — William Wallace, The Modeling of Nature: Philosophy of Science and Philosophy of Nature in Synthesis; pp. 132-133

    * for example, this sweet, red, shiny apple is abstracted to the concept not only of “appleness” (which is a universal because it can be applied to that apple, and the other apple) but also of “redness” (also universal because it can be applied to a stop light or to a firemen’s suspenders), “sweetness,” etc. The words of a language are always universals, which is why language use is a sure-fire indicator of intellection.

  5. Interesting if a “clump” is human, then why doesn’t the church organise a funeral service to an early miscariage?

    Because that is typically the responsibility of the parents, once asked the Church is happy to help: http://www.catholicstand.com/how-to-bury-your-baby-after-a-miscarriage/

  6. Yos, they are only universals because we define them as such.

  7. Oh really, ‘redness’ is only a universal because we define it as such? There is nothing else about ‘redness’ that might justify that designation? Does everything change if I called it quiddity? No, of course not.

  8. T.A: “Where the living thing has a higher operation, there is a higher kind of life corresponding to that operation. For in plants we find only an action pertaining to nutrition. In animals we find a higher operation, namely sensation and local movement: wherefore the animal lives by a higher kind of life. But in man we find a yet higher vital operation than in the animal, namely intelligence. Therefore man must have a higher kind of life. Now life is through the soul. Therefore man will have a higher soul, whereby he lives, than is the sensitive soul. But none is higher than the intellect. Therefore the intellect is man’s soul: and consequently it is his form”

    “Now life is through the soul.”
    – Using T.A’s logic, plants have souls (they’re alive), though these must be primitive. Man’s is higher.

    “But none is higher than the intellect. Therefore the intellect is man’s soul: and consequently it is his form”
    – We know from studies of brain damage (especially via strokes) that human intellect is inextricably bound into brain structures and will dissipate in predicable degree along with the extent of damage to brain structures associated with consciousness & intellect;
    – We know from various studies that if the human brain’s neural connections are not stimulated early in life (within the first few months), those connections wither and are lost … in extreme cases of abuse (e.g. children locked away with minimal interaction) many brain structures do not form and the child becomes permanently stunted (e.g. having marginal language capability, etc.).

    In other words, if one accepts T.A., the soul is intellect…and we’ve since learned the intellect is a manifestation of perishable brain structures — thus the soul must also be perishable — ALL of his derived implications (of eternal soul, etc.) are logically unsupportable.

    T.A. based, in part, his theological/metaphysical conclusions on what to him seemed supernatural but have long since been scientifically proven otherwise. This is not “scientism” but objective well-established fact.

    This hi-lites why Briggs & those of similar ilk like to pounce on “scientism” — not because science is believed by some to eventually explain everything…but because it has, and will continue, to explain certain things that force one to relinquish a belief preferred over truth.

    And therein lies one of the ironies of religion–ostensibly claiming to seek truth, it simultaneously strives to suppress certain truths, or even the search for them…or even the willingness to acknowledge that such a search might turn something up. Or, it will simply try and ignore such inconvenient facts.

  9. Ye Olde Statistician

    November 21, 2016 at 5:30 pm

    they are only universals because we define them as such

    No, “dog” is a universal because it applies to all dogs, not just the one currently and concretely perceived by the eye-brain. It even applies to dogs not yet seen or even the abstraction of dogginess itself, stripped of all sensible matter. Without these universals, natural science would be impossible.

  10. Ye Olde Statistician

    November 21, 2016 at 6:01 pm

    T.A: “in plants we find only an action pertaining to nutrition. In animals we find a higher operation, namely sensation and local movement: wherefore the animal lives by a higher kind of life. But in man we find a yet higher vital operation than in the animal, namely intelligence. Therefore man must have a higher kind of life. Now life is through the soul. Therefore man will have a higher soul, whereby he lives, than is the sensitive soul. But none is higher than the intellect. Therefore the intellect is man’s soul: and consequently it is his form”

    Using T.A’s logic, plants have souls (they’re alive), though these must be primitive. Man’s is higher.

    Certainly. To people raised Cartesian this may seem odd, but it is precisely the case that plants have “digestive souls.” In fact, digestion is the most basic form of cognition. The plant absorbs the matter while discarding the form. The “sensitive soul” absorbs the form while discarding the matter. (When we see a rose, little roses do not grow in our minds.) But note that the sensitive soul “builds on” to the digestive soul: an animal also digests and reproduces, grows and develops, maintains homeostasis with its Umwelt.
    https://2.bp.blogspot.com/–nDKQdkWaGE/WDN5Duld0vI/AAAAAAAABaY/44JxEGf9GL8zplyImN7lIko5SF4bxjqngCLcB/s400/Slide3.JPG

    We know from studies of brain damage (especially via strokes) that human intellect is inextricably bound into brain structures and will dissipate in predicable degree along with the extent of damage to brain structures associated with consciousness & intellect…
    In other words, if … the soul is intellect…

    No. Intellection is one of the powers of the rational soul. There is no guarantee that these powers will be actualized in any particular individual at any particular time. A living creature is a synolon, a union of body and soul (or of matter and energy, to use the Greek word for ‘soul’: the matter cannot act unless it is energized). Naturally, a synolon must be understood in a synolistic (‘holisitic’) manner. The condition of the soul affects the state of the body and the condition of the body affects the state of the soul.

    In humans, nutritive objects include oxygen (for combustion), food, and glandular secretions via the respiratory, digestive, and endocrine systems. The matter is broken down and distributed to the body via the circulatory system, and the excess is carried away via the excretory system.

    Because the brain (and other organs) depend upon adequate blood flow, etc., man’s conscious life is conditioned by the soundness of his circulatory system. Some Late Moderns presume that because low blood pressure or other nutritive evils affect man’s thinking that man’s thinking is a physical state. As usual, physicalism gets half the picture.
    https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=447603865959500290#editor/target=post;postID=2597133228086695085

    we’ve since learned the intellect is a manifestation of perishable brain structures

    Or else we’ve learned that if you damage the disc, the software will not run.

    T.A. based, in part, his theological/metaphysical conclusions on what to him seemed supernatural

    Which conclusions were based on supernatural premises. Be specific, show your data.

  11. One thing which struck me was how at a microscopic level plant cells are so dynamic even compared to animal ones.
    The degree of complexity and interconnectedness or dovetailing is seemingly miraculous. Not in the sense that the mechanism isn’t understood but that it all works. A plant cell seems on close observation as active and dynamic as an animal cell. It struck me (before I was ever a gardener) how dull plants seemed until you look so close. There’s a whole lot happening in the simplest cell in a plant. They have a life force of their own which moves always in the direction of success whether growing towards light or down for water, synthesis of sugars, reproduction, homeostasis. and on and on. Even combination and co-operation with soil fungi and bacteria. At a cellular level it’s all going on and to top it all they’re beautiful.

    It is the lack of movement which leads to the appearance of lifelessness. The venus fly trap or the sensitive plant make me think about this. There is a gradation of life force as I’m calling it. Whether this equates to soul, maybe.

    As for the brain function argument I do wonder why it is so assumed that because a part is damaged temporarily in most cases, or permanently in others that this means there is no soul. People are looking in the wrong place and dimension.

    The two things are not the same. Ability to function is not equal to life and certainly not to life value as many would have it.
    ………………….
    Intellect is not effected by a stroke (CVA) If a mastermind winner has a stroke he does not suddenly have less intellect. The parts of the brain which functioned to produce the effect of intellect are not functioning or are functioning perfectly but cannot make the connections with the outside world. In the latter case which is very common Damage to speech areas mean the patient is locked inside as happens with severe or untreated Parkinson’s. It is often easier for people to consider that the person has gone. In cases where nothing can apparently be done this is understandable but it’s not the same as saying that it is true. Again, think of the Parkinson’s example. The new ethos which is the current doctrine in medicine is dead ended, lacks imagination and will stunts advancement in care and cure.

    Yos’s disc analogy is nearer the mark in that IF we could restore all derangements, damage and dysfunction whilst there is still life in a body we would consider that person as before. They are always in potential to be healthy as we like to see people. This used to be the old ethos. Now so many neuroscientists have given up on the patient as they gave up on the soul.

    Consciousness, intellect and soul are not the same things. (That is, intellect in the everyday sense.)

    Then there is neuroplasticity which is evidence, to me, of that life force in action. Just like the plant that hits a bed of rock and grows it’s root sideways or the plant trained to grow a certain way or shape is really functioning for maximum success in acquiring light, water and nutrients. That it is known how this happens isn’t the point but that it does so with an inevitability without killing the plant itself. There are even plants or bulbs which amaze the gardener when they do what they’re not supposed to. Every keen gardener would have their own tales. Not just mutation.

    If we could always tap into this neuroplasticity and make it happen for sure we would have made progress indeed just as if we could harnace the body’s natural placebo or endorphins which are said to be sixty times stronger than heroine. (I don’t know who measured it, it’s just what is estimated but the effects are very real.) Every clinician knows they use it. Perhaps there are some sadistic ones out there who don’t.

    Think people who can’t move or walk properly running out of a burning building or carrying weight they shouldn’t be able to ordinarily.
    This is why a headache goes off before the drug will have had time to work. So much is not known.
    The one who thinks they are immune to placebo are typical patients! Nobody is immune totally.

    I was once scornfully ‘dealt with’ on here because I suggested placebo was a normal part of any clinical work and even surgical procedures. There’s no darkness but ignorance. There’s no escaping placebo. I spoke of the therapeutic MRI. The ‘brain tumour for sure’ which caused all the symptoms also caused by chronic dehydration. So advice to sort that was given and an MRI. The advice on it’s own would NEVER have been enough. Just one example. I didn’t break the rules because she had all the ‘right symptoms!’ That’s how it’s done, cynically.

    This is not an argument against science at all but medical science is one of the worst examples of exactness, accuracy and consistency. For that kind of science study a computer precision engineering, or stick with maths.

    If all you ever do is READ the study that reveals how the proposed treatment is supposed to work and never see a real patient you will think every new discovery is ground breaking and fantastic. It is mostly an exercise in live experimentation.
    Medicine advances by patching, trial end error. much error and a lot of trial.

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