Originating Consciousness and Emanation within God

by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB In Lonergan’s theology of the Trinity as this is given in his The Triune God: Systematics, Lonergan postulates explanatory principles (as needed) in order to move toward richer experiences of meaning with respect to how the God of Christian belief is to be conceived and understood. If one can postulate an explanatory principle which allows one to apprehend a larger number of connections, a dogma of faith becomes more fully known with respect to its intrinsic meaningfulness. A truth by meaning acts within a person’s soul to effect a change in consciousness (which becomes a change in one’s life and how one lives one’s life). From a standpoint which is grounded in an interiority analysis of human subjectivity, Lonergan proposes that one can speak about an intellectual emanation within God if one supposes that God is conscious. As Aquinas had noted in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 18, a. 3, God has life “in the most perfect degree” by existing as an act of understanding. Nobody or nothing is more alive or more present to itself than God. God is intellectually conscious as an unrestricted act of understanding and, because this is so, it is not possible to conceive about how God can exist as an unrestricted act of understanding and, at the same time, not be aware of himself as someone who is existing as an unrestricted act of understanding. In lacking organs and acts of sense, it cannot be said that God is sensibly conscious. He cannot be conscious in a way which is determined by any act of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling. However, from a degree of self-knowledge that we have achieved–a degree which tells us that intellectual consciousness is specified or determined according to what kinds of intellectual act we are presently engaged in–on the basis of this principle, we can say about God’s intellectual consciousness that it is determined by only one act. From God’s perfect unity and utter simplicity (a simplicity that we have no direct experience of but to which we may conclude), with respect to God, we can say of him that he exists as an unrestricted act of understanding. No real distinction exists between his existence as an unrestricted act of understanding and the existence of intellectual consciousness in God. The two are identical. However, with respect to God’s existence as an unrestricted act of understanding, the unrestrictedness of this act, at the same time, also clearly suggests that it is an indeterminate act, i.e., it is whollly lacking in any restrictions or limitations (as an essentially reasonable, rational act). An infiniteness exists with respect to it, and this infiniteness or lack of restriction leads one to conclude that it possesses an inherent boundlessness. In the kind of language which Lonergan uses, God is inherently dynamic. Cf. Lonergan, Triune God: Systematics, p. 163. The lack of restriction suggests a degree and level of activity which can only belong to God and to no other being, i.e., no other subject. And so, we can say about God that God’s activity is always full and complete. There is nothing potential in it. There is nothing to be realized, nothing more to be done. Everything is always fully in act. As Aquinas had put it, God is pure act (actus purus). Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 14, a. 2. He understands everything about everything in an understanding and knowledge of self that, as dynamic, is to be perfectly identified with the unrestrictedness of God’s willing, doing, and causing. From the boundlessness of God’s understanding comes an understanding on our part that acknowledges a fittingness for the existence of emanations or processions within divine understanding (where one thing comes from another), a fittingness which Lonergan refers to as a “conscious exigence.” Something about the nature of divine understanding (in its infinity) suggests that intellectual emanations should exist within it although in a manner which should exist in a perfectly natural way (in a manner which is wholly proper to God). From the boundlessness or the essential dynamism of divine understanding, Lonergan then concludes that one can move from the unrestrictedness or infinity of God’s understanding to an understanding which can grasp how God’s understanding can be understood as a point of origin: as an “originating act.” Between an infinite act and an originating act in God only a conceptual distinction can be postulated and affirmed since, as has been noted, divine understanding is perfectly simple and one in itself. An infinite act cannot really differ from an originating act. But, on the other hand, to understand why the infinity of God’s understanding can be understood as an originating act (an originating act of understanding), one can refer to a datum of human consciousness which refers to our human self-consciousness and the knowing about knowing which exists in our self-consciousness. And so, with reference to God as an unrestricted act of understanding, a consciousness of self cannot but also exist in God’s unrestricted act of understanding since, in the unrestrictedness of his understanding, God cannot be unaware of the knowledge which God has of himself and of the unrestrictedness which exists in his divine understanding. In divine self-consciousness, in divine self-understanding, and in divine self-knowledge, an infinite knowing exists about an infinite knowing. The infinity of God’s understanding includes an infinity which refers to divine self-understanding and which is rooted in divine self-understanding. And so, when we advert to divine self-understanding and as we think about God’s self-knowledge (as much as this self-knowledge is unequivocally perfectly united with God’s being as an unrestricted act of understanding), we have a principle that can be used to help us understand how or why God’s existence as an infinite act of understanding can also be understood as an originating act of understanding–an origination act which exists as a first, most basic principle from which other things follow in a sequence which emanates but which is not caused (given that what is being emanated, in its infinity, possesses a status that is no less than the infinity of what is emanating in an originating act). In divine self-consciousness, an originating always already exists. It is already, constantly occurring. Everything else comes from it. With respect thus to how one might attempt to think about the possible existence of intellectual emanations within God, by attending to what Aquinas has to say about the subject, one finds two things. First, in Aquinas, an analogical explanation also speaks about God in terms of God’s existence as an act of understanding and the perfect kind of self-knowledge which exists in God. One understands something about the origins and provenance of Lonergan’s discussion even if one finds that Aquinas prefers to speak of movements within divine understanding in a manner which prefers a metaphysical form of expression and less a form of expression that refers to inner experiences of conscious acts. As Aquinas argues, for instance, about God’s self-knowledge (in different texts): what is understood in God’s act of understanding is the same as God’s act of understanding and, since God’s being is to be equated with God (existing as an act of understanding), God’s understanding is engaged essentially in self-understanding or self-knowing. See Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, 1, 48; Sententia super Metaphysicam, 12, 11, 2613; 2617; 2620; and Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 14, a. 2. Self-understanding accordingly exists as a fecund first principle from which everything else comes by way of sequences but not as effects. In the language that Aquinas uses, in or from God’s perfect self-understanding comes a perfect divine self-movement which is strictly internal. In Aquinas’s wo

rds (which suggest that Aquinas is working from a reflective understanding of human cognition), “what understands itself is said to move itself.” Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 18, a. 3, ad 1. And so, in this movement, one finds a kind of self-movement which is unlike any other kind of self-movement because it is the self-movement of a being (a “divine subject” as Lonergan would speak of it), who is fully and entirely perfect as he exists in himself (being fully in act in terms of its self-movement). Nothing in any way is lacking which is quite unlike the self-movement or any acts of origination that exist in other kinds of being. Second, in the metaphysical arguments of Aquinas, one finds discussions which add to the kind of understanding which Lonergan tries to give and to provoke in persons–discussions which move one’s understanding of subjective events toward an understanding which can grasp an order of transcendent objects. As an adage which can be quoted from a number of Lonergan’s writings: “the path to objectivity is by way of authentic subjectivity.” Hence, through introspective psychological analysis, one can find sources of meaning within the self which help move one toward an appreciative understanding of metaphysics (as the science or study of being). However, if one wants to understand how different thing fit together in a general scheme, as one naturally moves through subjectivity toward objectivity, one yearns for some kind of overall metaphysical grasp, a general understanding of things which can reveal a broad horizon–a wider scope of meaning which takes in a greater whole. And so, one finds this kind of meaning if one burrows into Aquinas’s texts. For instance, if one attends to a close reading about what Aquinas has to say about the existence of life in God (cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 18, a. 3), one finds a chain of reasoning which moves from one grade of being to another within the hierarchical order of being which exists in the universe. Self-movement (or origination) exists more prominently and more radically as one moves through created things: from plants to animals and then to human beings. Plants engage in self-movement when they send out shoots and move their leaves toward brighter light although they are not capable of locomotion. But, in contrast with plants, animals can move themselves from one location to another though some animals are more capable of locomotion than others. And then, when one turns to human beings, one finds that physical locomotion is sublated by a new species of locomotion which is intellectual or rational–a movement which belongs to the discursiveness of human cognition. In human inquiry, questions function as originating acts. Without inquiry, nothing else can follow. Nothing can come later in terms of acts of reasoning, understanding, and judgment. From acts of understanding, acts of conceptualization always follow. Relative to acts of conceptualization, acts of understanding present themselves as originating acts. However, as one attends to self-movement (or origination) as this exists in contingent things, one finds that the origination always exists or occurs in a conditioned way. If originating acts are to exist and function, other things need to happen. Prior acts need to occur; they need to be received. Acts of sense, for instance, need to be operative if questions are to arise about what is being experienced and known through our acts of sense. Acts of understanding in human beings always exist as receptions and not as actions. Hence, as one attends to the conditioned character of originating acts in the contingent order of things, and as one also attends to a trajectory which exists among contingent things and which points toward the necessity of some kind of act that is purely or radically originating, we are moved to acknowledge something which is purely and essentially originating in God’s existence as an unconditioned, unrestricted act of being and understanding. Something about this act is purely originating. It is purely originating from within itself even if this originating is a reality which we cannot properly know or comprehend in this life (though our reasoning and arguments does lead us to acknowledge the fact that such a thing exists–a special and unique originating which exists only in God and which accounts for every other kind of originating that can exist in other acts). In conclusion thus and more as a corollary than would otherwise be the case, if one recalls that, between the order of knowing and the order of being, an isomorphic structure exists (Aquinas speaks about proportionality while Lonergan speaks about isomorphism), one finds that an explanation of things that is proffered either in psychological terms or in metaphysical terms is not too comprehensive. Each is not quite adequate. Each is limited in some way since, in terms of meaning, each offers a different slant, a different perspective. But, if in one’s studying, reading, and thinking, one can intelligently move from one species of meaning to another (back and forth as is needed), one will better understand things if one can work with a critical philosophy of human cognition that can be combined with metaphysical apprehensions of meaning which are cognate. If one thinks in general about the relation between knowing and being (knowing and reality), one must conclude thus that knowing exists as a service to knowers. It exists so that potential knowers will be able to enter into a world which is greater than all the acts of cognition that are needed if one is to encounter into this greater world which is constituted by sets of real objects. On the basis then of this orientation of knowing to being, one can conclude that, in theology (and in other disciplines), in giving explanations for things, if consciousness (if activities which are constituted by consciousness) are to experience the transcendence which is proper to them, metaphysical apprehensions of meaning will serve as a corrective antidote. Between these two spheres or realms of meaning, a mutual enrichment in meaning should properly result.

Lonergan and Aquinas and Questions about Using a Faculty Psychology

by Dunstan Robidoux, OSB

In the works of Aquinas and, sometimes, even in some of Lonergan’s writings, one finds references to human conscious life in words which traditionally belong to a psychological language which today is not viewed with much favor. In the bulk of his work, in the context of his intentionality analysis, Lonergan adverts to human conscious life in terms which usually speak about acts of experiencing, understanding, judging, deliberating, and doing. But, in contrast, Aquinas tends to speak more simply about intellect and will, or about the difference between theoretical and practical reason. Cf. Lonergan, Second Collection, p. 79. In Aquinas, a faculty psychology can be detected. Intellect and will are viewed as distinct faculties and, as one attends to them, other distinctions can be made so that one can say that this is not that. One is not the other.

In some descriptive language that Lonergan uses, with respect to what is meant by faculty psychology, Lonergan notes that faculty psychology tends to separate things when it speaks about the inner life of human beings. Cf. Method in Theology, p. 120; Philosophical and Theological Papers 1965-1980, p. 37. The distinctions made tend to detract from grasping how very many things are related to each other in the life of the human psyche and how different elements all rely and depend on each other. In Lonergan’s own words (p. 37):

A faculty psychology divides man up; it distinguishes intellect and will, sense perception and imagination, emotion and conation, only to leave us with unresolved problems of priority and rank. Is sense to be preferred to intellect, or intellect to sense? Is intellect to be preferred to will, or will to intellect? Is one to be a sensist, an intellectualist, or a voluntarist?

Then, in moving to an explanation, Lonergan notes that Aristotelian psychology existed as a kind of deduction or subordinate science. Cf. Papers, p. 395. Its basic terms were crafted as adaptions of basic principles as these were derived from metaphysics as “first science” or “first philosophy.” The human soul is a special kind of form; the body, a special instance of matter. One reaches the human soul by adding specifications or differences that distinguish the human soul from other kinds of souls. The human being is soon defined as a rational animal. Rationality sets human beings apart from plants and animals. And so, by this approach, a hierarchy gradually manifests itself with respect to the structure of the human psyche. A rational human soul tends to present itself as a basic first principle. This principle is identified as the mind or intellect. All various human desires or appetites are then understood in terms of how they relate to the life of the human mind. An ordering of desires is postulated in a manner which tends to separate purely intellectual desires from other kinds of desire. Intellectual desires are commonly distinguished from purely volitional or appetitive desires. Lower desires serve higher desires or, by a mediation that is effected by higher desires which sustain the life of the mind, lower desires are subordinated to serve higher purposes and goals. In the wake of Socrates’s footsteps, it is said that reason rules will. If one knows the good, one does the good. But, from a contrary standpoint which works from Christian belief and an Augustinian teaching which speaks about the formative power of love within human individuals and human history, it is suggested that our desires or passions rule our reason. Our desires move us ultimately either toward God or toward our ruin and self-destruction. It is said thus that “a person ‘is’ what he or she loves.” Cf. Augustine, Tractates on the First Letter of John 5.7-8; 2,14. Without love, we are lost.

Hence, as Lonergan argues, by an analysis which attempts to grasp how one thing leads or follows from another, linear relations are postulated in arguments which cannot too easily speak about a play or interaction that reveals a far much more complex reality which is constitutive of the life of human beings as subjects. By not attending to our experience of consciousness through our self-consciousness, interrelated intentional operations are not attended to. They are commonly not noticed and identified.

In thinking then about Lonergan’s account and as one compares it with contemporary accounts, one finds that, by and large, it agrees with contemporary understandings which speak about separations and a lack of relation between elements. According to an interpretation gleaned from internet sources (http://employees.csbsju.edu/esass/facultypsychology.htm):

Faculty psychology conceived of the human mind as consisting of separate powers or faculties. It viewed the mind as a separate entity, as something apart from the physical body. A popular form of this theory held that the mind consisted of three separate powers: the will, the emotions, and the intellect. The mind (especially the intellect) was seen as a kind of muscle and, by exercising it, one could strengthen to control the will and the emotions.

However, as one engages in a close and careful reading of Aquinas’s texts, one might wonder if Aquinas is being adequately understood if one places too great a weight on his use of a language which speaks about faculties. Yes, certainly, Aquinas speaks about intellect and will and about the difference that distinguishes theoretical reasoning from practical reasoning. However, at the same time, textual evidence can be cited to the effect that Aquinas also speaks about necessary, ongoing interactions between acts of sense and acts of the intellect and necessary, ongoing interactions between acts of the intellect and acts of the will in the life of human beings.

On the necessity of a constant, ongoing interaction between acts of sense and acts of understanding, Aquinas notes that the proper object of human inquiry is always an intelligibility that is embedded in materiality. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 12, a. 11. The nature of this object helps to explain why human knowing always requires an interaction between the exteriority of sense and the interiority of intellect– as Aquinas often speaks of it. Cf. In 2 Scriptum super libros sententiarum, d. 20, a. 2, ad 3; In 3, d. 14, a. 3, sol. 3; Summa Contra Gentiles, 2, 96, 10; Sententia super librum De caelo et mundo, n. 2; and Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, a. 8. Because the human intellect relies on what sense can do to help and encourage its reasoning activities, it can then be argued that thinking and reasoning is done by human beings and not by minds or intellects. Human personhood cannot be identified with the existence of the human intellect, mind, or soul. Cf. Francis Selman, Aspects of Aquinas (Dublin: Veritas, 2005), p. 105. In a self-assembling way, human understanding discursively functions through a constant, ongoing interaction a rebus ad animam, “from things to the soul” by way of reception and, conversely, ab anima ad res, “from the soul to things” by way of motion. Cf. De Veritate, q. 10, aa. 5-6; Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, a. 8. Acts of sense continually interact with acts of understanding. The composite structure of human cognition explains why human knowing knows things that possess a like composite structure.

Similarly, with respect to interactions between intellect and will, Aquinas argues that the human will does not exist separately from a life of the intellect. Knowing and willing move each other in a reciprocal relation between the two which excludes the primacy of reason over the will (as, since Socrates, the Greeks would have it) and also excludes the primacy of the will over the intellect (as many modern thinkers would have it: Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Nietzsche, and Freud). In one’s understanding, one’s desires and inclinations are known and, in one’s desires and affections, one moves toward inquires which seek understanding. Cf. De Veritate, q. 9, a. 10, ad 3, 2ae ser. Willing moves knowing for the good which can be achieved either purely in knowing, or by and through a knowing that leads to other kinds of activities. Cf. De Veritate, q. 22, a. 12; De Malo, q. 6, a. 1: “I understand because I will to do so.” Two partial causes act together in the life of the will to move human willingness. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 9, a. 1; a. 3. Though reasoning and understanding, a particular object or end is specified as something which should be desired by our willing it. But, at the same time, the will moves itself in possessing an intelligible nature of its own. A distinct set of first principles is constitutive of its inner life. In the order of our desires, some kind of concrete good is always being desired by us as often as we may err in determining what goods we should desire and seek to attain. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 1, a. 7. An order of actions which is constitutive of the life of the will gives the will a characteristic form or structure that is normative for all of its operations, although, at the start of things, an appetibile or “seekable” specifies the object of a particular striving. Cf. Rhonheimer, Natural Law and Practical Reason, p. 26; p. 32; p. 71. Will exists within reason even as it can never be compelled by any act of reasoning and understanding to do a given task. Cf. In 2 Scriptum super libros sententiarum, d. 25, q. 1, a. 2; De Veritate, q. 22, a. 6; Summa Contra Gentiles, 3, 10, 17; De Malo, q. 3, a. 3; Peri Hermeneias, 1, 14; and Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 81, a. 3, ad 2; q. 82, a. 2. Knowing and willing condition each other in a mutually causal way through a form of reciprocal or mutual priority which Aquinas explicitly identifies. As Aquinas argues in the De Veritate, q. 14, a. 5, ad 5 (trans. F. Crowe, Three Thomist Studies, p. 82):

…will and intellect have a mutual priority over one another, but not in the same way. Intellect’s priority over will is in receiving (in via receptionis), for if anything is to move the will it must first be received into intellect…. But in moving or acting (in movendo sive agendo) will has priority, because every action or movement comes from the intention of the good; and hence it is that the will, whose proper object is the good precisely as good, is said to move all the lower powers.

More succinctly, in the Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 83, a. 3, ad 3, the same point is averred:

The intellect precedes the will, in one way, by proposing its object to it. In another way, the will precedes the intellect, in the order of motion to act, which motion pertains to sin.

Hence, as one compares Aquinas’s position with that of Lonergan on the relations which exist among the different elements that, together, are constitutive of human psychic life, one finds substantial common agreement. Both acknowledge a mutual conditioning which exists in the interior life of human beings. In the reality which exists, everything happens through a constant interaction that obtains between different material and spiritual elements. As much as one might want to distinguish elements apart from each other and then determine why one element should not be confused with another, one must acknowledge the reality of basic relations which are necessary if anything at all is to happen. Each element exists so that another can properly exist and function. The sensing is for the sake of understanding and, for the sake of growth in understanding, one must return to one’s sensing. Similarly, with respect to knowing and willing, each exists for the sake of the other. Without knowing, willing cannot build or construct anything and, conversely, without willing, no one can give their lives in efforts that are dedicated to a search for knowledge and wisdom.

Lonergan admits that, yes, he engages in an intentionality analysis. He argues that, by doing so, he can accomplish two tasks. He can distinguish a hierarchical ordering of things which exists in the life of the human psyche. Cf. Papers, p. 396. In borrowing from Aristotle an understanding of human inquiry which distinguishes between different types or sets of questions, he can distinguish distinct levels or stages of human conscious operation in the structure of human cognition. Cf. Lonergan, Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas, p. 26. Certain things do normally follow from each other or come after each other. And yet, within this same ordering, a mutual conditioning accounts for interactions that move things forward in the life of human beings. No element exists separately from another even if all the elements can be properly distinguished from each other. In Lonergan’s intentionality analysis, a development presents itself but as an achievement that is grounded in a number of earlier achievements in the history of catholic thought.

Lonergan and Aquinas: Isomorphism and Proportionality

by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB

The Thomism of Lonergan’s philosophy and theology is accepted by some and rejected by others. On the one hand, Lonergan says about himself that he spent eleven years “reaching up to the mind of Aquinas.” Some of his writings are replete with references to Aquinas. But, at the same time, others argue that something is very wrong with Lonergan’s study of human cognition (his intentionality analysis). Lonergan is accordingly often referred to as a Kantian. He is seen as a promoter of subjectivism and so, as a Kantian, it is said that, in Lonergan, no joining exists between subjectivity and objectivity. From Lonergan’s subjectivity, one cannot move into objectivity. Metaphysics has no foundation.

Now, in addressing this question, it has to be admitted that a fully adequate discussion is no small undertaking. One would have to understand Kant’s own position thoroughly before entering into a similar study of both Aquinas and Lonergan and about how the thought of all these thinkers relates. Such a project cannot be attempted here. However, in order to raise a few questions and to suggest where lines of convergence can possibly be detected, I would like to speak about Aquinas and Lonergan in terms of a number of restricted issues and topics. My presupposition will be the thesis that Lonergan’s thought is not as original as some would believe. In order to understand Lonergan’s thought, one best begins with Aquinas. While some admittedly argue that, to understand Aquinas, one best begins with Lonergan, I will argue to the converse. By reading Aquinas, one best creates conditions that will lead to a better understanding of Lonergan’s thought and a grasp of its true significance.

In Lonergan’s Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, principally in the context of a discussion which speaks about metaphysics as science, it is argued that an isomorphic structure exists between knowing and being. Or, in the words of a more traditional language, a connatural relation exists between the order of human knowing, on one side, and the order of being or reality, on the other. For every element that can be distinguished in the structure of human cognition, a correlative element can be identified in the structure of the known (a known which Lonergan refers to as “proportionate being”). Every metaphysical element is grounded in a corresponding element or act that, as individual, is partially constitutive of the knowing which belongs to human cognition. In Insight (and elsewhere), Lonergan argues against a theory of knowledge which alleges that human knowing is some kind of simple, single act (i.e., a species of intuition). On the contrary, human knowing is complex and, at times, cumbersome. It is constituted by a number or a series of different acts that have each different natures and which are all related to each other in a self-assembling pattern that is normative for human beings. Where Lonergan speaks about experiencing, understanding, and judging as three levels that succeed and sublate one another in the structure of human knowing, three correlative metaphysical components can be distinguished in terms of potency, form, and act. A critical metaphysics is grounded or established on the basis of a critical understanding of human cognition–an understanding that is arrived at through a very personal form of inquiry which emphasizes the importance of self-understanding. Begin an inquiry into metaphysics by first developing a strategy of inquiry which leads toward self-understanding.However, given Lonergan’s theory of an isomorphic relation between the structure of human knowing and the structure of what is known (which can be articulated in a much more sophisticated fashion than what is given here), let us look at Aquinas’s notion of proportionality as this relates to what he has to say about how human knowing is related to what human knowing is able to know. On understanding this notion of proportionality (as Aquinas understood it through his own acts of understanding), one can then think about it and ponder it and ask if a connatural relation exists between it and Lonergan’s theory of isomorphic relations. Is Lonergan’s theory of isomorphism a development of Aquinas’s notion of proportionality?

With respect then to Aquinas’s notion of proportionality, it should be noted that Aquinas begins with an understanding which Aristotle had had. “It is as ridiculous to say, the soul alone understands, as to say, alone it builds or weaves.” Cf. De Veritate, q. 19, a. 1. Knowing is a co-operative effort. It involves both soul and body since human knowing occurs in a being that is formed by two principles. Soul (anima) is united to body (corpus) whereby the soul takes a body and then converts it into a certain kind of body which lives and functions as a result of the soul’s causality. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 75, a. 1. The body is needed by the soul if the soul’s intellectual operations are to occur. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, a. 4. Hence, human beings exist as incarnate spirits. Anima mea non est ego. “My soul is not I.” Cf. Expositio et Lectura super Epistolas Pauli Apostoli, In II ad I Cor., 15, lect. 2, no. 924. The soul gives a form or structure to the materiality of the body in order to order the body to the soul and, from this form or structure, the knowing of the human soul derives its characteristic form or structure. Cf. Summa Contra Gentiles, 2, 83, 26. Human knowing emerges as a function of the structuring of the human soul in terms of how human beings exist as embodied beings.

Hence, given the structure or nature of human knowing, Aquinas argues that certain conclusions can be properly drawn about a relation or proportion which exists between knowing and being. As Aquinas notes in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 12, a. 4:

A thing is known by being present in the knower but how it is present is determined by a knower’s way of being. How something knows depends on how it exists. Hence, if the way of being of a thing which is to be known is beyond what belongs to a knower, knowing such a thing would be beyond the natural power [or natural potency] of the knower.

Cognitive activity, as performed by human beings, has its own proper object (specified as an intelligibility that exists within matter). “A thing’s mode of knowing depends on its mode of being. But our soul, as long as we live in this life, has its being in corporeal matter; hence, naturally, it knows only what has a form in matter, or what can be known by such a form.” Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 12, a. 11. Between the mode of being and the mode of knowing, a proportion, proportio, or correlation can be discovered and this proportion between the mode of a subject’s being and the mode of its knowing carries over into a proportion that is reflected in the order of being or reality which is the subject matter of ontology or metaphysics.

In different texts Aquinas speaks about a proportionality in the structure of knowing. One text in the Summa Contra Gentiles, 2, 96, 5 directly speaks about proportionality when it says that “the mode of a thing’s proper operation corresponds proportionately to the mode of its substance and nature.” Italics mine. And then, with respect to a proportion which exists between the order of knowing and an order or structure in that which is known, in the In 4 Scriptum super libros sententiarum. d. 49, q. 2, a. 1, ad 6, an earlier text, Aquinas refers to a proportion which should exist between the order or structure of knowing and a like order which should exist in the order of what can be properly and connaturally known. “The potency of the one knowing has to be on a level with the knowability of the thing known.” In the Super Boetium De Trinitate, q. 1, a. 2, ad 3, the same kind of point is reiterated when it said that “some kind of proportion is needed between the knowing power which exists in a knower and what is known as a knowable object.” The reason given is that “the knowable object exists as a kind of actuality within the knowing power of a knower.” Later texts in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, a. 7; a. 8; q. 85, a. 1; and a. 8 specify how a connatural, proportional relation should be understood to exist between human knowing and what a human knower knows. A proportion or correlation naturally and properly exists between the embodiment of the human soul (the soul informing a body) and the embedded existence of forms within matter which are the proper object of human knowing. As Aquinas goes on to note in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 88, a. 1, “our intellect in its present state of life has a natural relationship to the natures of material things,” or, more precisely, as Aquinas states it in Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 108, a. 5, “something is said to be in a certain thing by the proper mode when it is adequate and proportionate to its nature.” Cf. Frederick E. Crowe in Three Thomist Studies, ed. Fred Lawrence, p. 223, nn. 51-52.

With respect to human beings then, and also with respect to angels and God, a distinct strict proportion exists between the knowing of a certain type of subject, on the one hand, and what is being known by the same subject, on the other hand. In the context, for instance, of a strict proportion which exists between a created intellect and a created form, a created intellect can possibly come to exhaustively understand a created form but, with respect to an uncreated form, this is impossible. Cf. Lectura super Ioannem 1, 18, lect. 11, nn. 208-21, as cited by Jean-Pierre Torrell, Saint Thomas Aquinas Volume 2 Spiritual Master, p. 51, n. 69. Uncreated forms can only be properly and adequately understood by uncreated acts of understanding.

On the basis then of the embodiment which properly belongs to the character of incarnate human existence, given then what Aquinas says about human sensible experience and first and second operations of the human mind, Aquinas distinguishes between objects of sense and objects of intellect in a way which indicates that, for every element which exists in the cognitional order, a corresponding element can be posited in the ontological or metaphysical order. See Crowe, p. 212. While, for instance, the object of human sensible experience is an object as it exists in corporeal matter (presenting itself as a form as it exists in corporeal matter; Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 85, a. 1: forma prout in materia corporali existit; [forma] prout est in tali materia), the object of human understanding is a form that has been grasped as a quiddity, essence, or “whatness” which exists in corporeal matter (cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, a. 7; Super I Sententiarum, d. 19, q. 5, a. 1, ad 7). In the context of inquiry, a sensible or material form, present in an image or phantasm, is first grasped by an act of sense, but it is grasped in a manner which then hopefully triggers an act of understanding that then apprehends the meaning of an intelligible form which specifies what something is. Cf. Sententia libri Ethicorum, 6, 9, 1239. Sensible form is to be distinguished from intelligible form. And then, thirdly, when a second operation of the mind begins to ask about the possible truth or reality of a given essence or form, in the reflective understanding which occurs in judgment, its term is the positing of existence or being: esse or actuality. Cf. Super I Sententiarum, d. 19, q. 5, a. 1, ad 7; De Veritate, q. 4, a. 2; q. 3, a. 2; q. 14, a. 1, pp. 208-9; Sententia super Metaphysicam, 6, 4, 1232. As Aquinas summarizes his thesis in the Super Boetium De Trinitate, q. 5, a. 3:

The intellect has two operations…which correspond to two principles in things. The first operation has regard to the nature itself of a thing, in virtue of which the known thing holds a certain rank among beings, whether it be a complete thing, as some whole, or an incomplete thing, as a part or an accident. The second operation has regard to a things’s act of existing (esse), which results from the union of the principles of a thing in composite substances, or, as in the case of simple substances, accompanies the thing’s simple nature.

In a species of proportion which speaks about a correlation between the order of knowing and the order of being, acts of sense are correlated with potency (they reveal potency), acts of understanding with form (they reveal form), and acts of judgment with act (they reveal act or actuality).

However, as the ordering which exists within knowing also reveals a like ordering in the structure of reality, a mutual or reciprocal form of proportion can be specifically identified. It informs the species of proportionality which, in Aquinas, correlates every cognitional act with a corresponding metaphysical principle or element. In this specification, acts or elements within a set cannot be understood apart from each other and how each relates to the other. As every act of sense is ordered to first acts of understanding which, in turn, are ordered to second acts of understanding present in judgment, their metaphysical correlatives are also similarly ordered. Potency is ordered to form and form to act. Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 54, a. 3. Everything which exists in material things exists as a composite of potency, form, and act and, conversely, every act of knowing is a composite of experiencing, understanding, and judging. Each act or element exists as it is because each is mutually ordered to all the other acts or elements. Citing some of Aquinas’s own words, “what is intrinsically ordered to something else ‘cannot be understood apart from that other’.” Cf. Super Boetium De Trinitate, q. 5, a. 3.

In turning then to how Aquinas goes on to speak about this ordering, in the Sententia super Metaphysicam, 9, 5, 1827-9, he notes that one discovers relations of mutual proportion among metaphysical principles through correlative relations of mutual proportion which also exist as differentiations within the structure and process of human cognition. The difference, for instance, between potency and act is illustrated and paralleled by the difference between sleeping and being awake. Capability or potentiality is distinguished from an act or operation which refers to a realized state of being. Since, cognitionally, for instance, the form of a material thing can only be understood (or apprehended) if it is detached from a material thing through an act of abstraction which functions by way of an interaction between sense and intellect, the form of a material thing (as a metaphysical principle) is understood as something which cannot exist apart from its union with matter (although the form of an immaterial thing can be understood apart from any union with matter). Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 79, a. 7. An awareness of transitions in human cognition reveals a metaphysical principle which speaks about transitions that move from potency to act. Hence, by way of application in metaphysics, it can be said that potency stands to form as the organic body to the soul, the will to habitual righteousness, the possible intellect to habitual knowledge, the ears to hearing, and an eye to sight. Cf. De Potentia, q. 1, a. 1, Sententia super Metaphysicam, 9, 5, 1827-9; Lonergan, The Incarnate Word, p. 140, an unpublished manuscript translated 1989 by Charles C. Hefling, Jr. from the Latin of the De Verbo Incarnato. Form is act (first act) in relation to potency, but in relation to an act of being or operation (second act), it is a second species of potency. The first act of form is not to be confused with the second act of being or operation. By extension, in the relation which exists between form and act, it can be said that “as sight stands to actually seeing, [the faculty of] hearing to actually hearing, habitual knowledge to actually understanding, habitual righteousness to actually willing rightly, soul to actually living,…form stands to act.” Cf. Incarnate Word, p. 140. Through a reflection that is grounded in cognitive self-consciousness, metaphysical principles can be identified and all can be understood in terms of how they are all ordered to each other.

By way of conclusion then, Aquinas’s notion of proportionality derives from Aquinas’s experience of himself as a thinking, knowing subject. The subjectivity of his understanding is seen to participate in a wholly natural way in an objectivity that his understanding is naturally directed toward. No inherent, unbridgeable gap necessarily exists between the subjectivity, on the one hand, and objectivity, on the other. The subjectivity of a thinking, knowing being is joined to the objectivity of what can be known through a person’s subjectivity. The human spirit moves into objectivity through its self-transcending operations. Through our initial desires and aspirations, we are immediately joined to a world that is greater than ourselves. And then, by our activities which emerge as responses to what we want and desire, we can be joined ever more intimately to this same greater world which transcends our finite human existence. Within ourselves, unrestricted desires serve as a point of connection. In thinking about Aquinas’s notion of proportionality, we can rightly ask if Lonergan’s theory of isomorphism is essentially taken from Aquinas’s notion of proportionality. Is Lonergan’s theory genuinely Thomist?

Knowing and Willing in Aquinas

By Dunstan Robidoux, OSB

In the common literature which exists about Aquinas, he is frequently described as an “intellectualist.” His philosophy (or theology) is frequently regarded as “intellectualist” which implies that he subscribes to a tradition which emphasizes the primary of the human intellect in the life of human beings. However, is this popular view somewhat misleading for more than one reason? Can a development be detected in Aquinas which offers a more nuanced position, a thesis which jars with simple intellectualism and which can be reconciled with a degree of voluntarism? Is Aquinas misunderstood because many of his readers today could be working from a truncated understanding of what could be meant by “intellectualism”?

Early on, in his analysis, In interpreting Aristotle’s De Anima, 3, 433b10-13 in the Sentencia Libri De anima, 3, 15, 830; p. 246, Aquinas argues that, in Aristotle, the “absolute starting point of movement” in the movement of desire or appetite is the apprehension of a desired object, either through the powers of human imagination or the activity of the human intellect. Appetibile apprehensum movet appetitum; “the apprehended object of desire moves the appetite” (citing J. Michael Stebbins’s translation, Divine Initiative: Grace, World-Order, and Human Freedom in the Early Writings of Bernard Lonergan, p. 323, n. 90) even if this phrasing only presents the meaning of Aquinas’s interpretation and so does not cite any literal wording from any text written by Aquinas. On the whole, in the early writings of Aquinas, the will tends to be viewed in passive terms. It is something which is acted upon. Cf. Lonergan, “On God and Secondary Causes,” Collection, p. 63. It lacks a causality of its own.

However, in a development of view which gradually transcends the simple intellectualism of Aristotle, in Aquinas (and in Lonergan’s analysis of Aquinas), will and intellect are related in a way which is best understood in terms of a mutual causality or a causality of mutual priority. In analyzing how Aquinas understands how the human will is related to the life of the intellect, in his Grace and Freedom, pp. 95-96 and pp. 319-320, Lonergan argues that, when Aquinas speaks about the causality of the human will (the fact that it has a causality of its own), he rejects Aristotle’s understanding which had viewed the will as purely a function of reason (as a “wholly passive potency,” quoting Stebbins, p. 84). Cf. Patrick Byrne, “Thomist Sources of Lonergan’s Dynamic World-View,” Thomist: 117. See Thomas Aquinas, In 2 Scriptum super libros sententiarum, d. 25, q. 1, a. 2; De Veritate, q. 22, a. 6; Summa Contra Gentiles, 3, 10, 17; De Malo, q. 3, a. 3; Peri Hermeneias, 1, 14; and Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 81, a. 3, ad 2; q. 82, a. 2 for texts which deny that acts of understanding and judgment force or necessitate the will to engage in its activities which lead to a desired end. While the life of the human imagination and the human intellect does admittedly play a primary role in exciting the human will toward movement, a double primary causality is in fact to be postulated (two operative efficient causes) since the human will also acts (to move itself) on the basis of naturally desired ends which already belong to the structure of the will and which incline it to act in certain ways or in certain directions. “To will and not to will lie within the power of the will” (Summa Contra Gentiles, 3, 10, 17; 3, p. 61). Cf. De Malo, q. 6, a. 1. The human will is in fact moved by two causes, or two principles, which refer to a structure of reason and a structure of desire or appetite which are related to each other and which work together to move things forward in human life. As one’s understanding specifies an object or end which is to be desired by one’s human willing (Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 9, a. 1), at the same time, the self-movement of the will is accounted for by its own ends and first principles which, rationally, are constitutive of its inner life (q. 9, a. 3). The object or end is a practical good that is being desired or wanted. An appetibile or “seekable” designates the object of a striving. Cf. Martin Rhonheimer, Natural Law and Practical Reason, p. 26; p. 32; p. 71.

As this double causality is played out in the life of human beings in a way which also reveals a certain parallel in the structure of intellect and will in the rational life of human beings, where in the structure and operations of human cognition the object is a knowledge of specific facts, in the end, judgments belonging to the will (as a knowing which seeks to grasp courses of action) are also rationally made by reducing hypothesized conclusions to first principles in order to establish specific courses of action which can then be implemented to realize a desired, concrete good. In the life of the will, the will moves itself by working for ends or objectives which are constitutive of its first principles and by effecting a kind of reduction which tries to move from ends specified by first principles back towards specific means that can lead to the ultimate attainment of one’s desired ends. As, in theoretical understanding, from a general premiss in a syllogism one moves toward a specific conclusion, in the same way, from an end or object which functions as a kind of premiss in practical or moral understanding (Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 13, a. 3) and which is to be identified with the human will’s fundamental orientation toward the good (Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 90, a. 2; q. 94, a. 2 cited by Frederick Crowe, “Dialectic and the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises,” Appropriating the Lonergan Idea, p. 238), one moves toward a choice which designates a very specific means that can lead to other, higher means and ends which ultimately lead to an end that satisfies all of one’s desires and whose desiring has served as a catalyst to construct an ascending scale of related means and ends. If one is to reach an ultimate goal, one must discover a very specific, initial means or concrete step whose execution will initiate a series of actions that will lead to ultimately desired ends. A teological order or structure belongs to the dynamism of the human will as this will constructs a relation of means and ends which lead to the actualization of a highest goal or end, and as this same will works with other human wills to order means and ends in ways which distinguish how persons differently will and live their lives. As Aquinas argues above in the Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 13, a. 3, for a physician, a patient’s health is something ultimate. A physician will make decisions based on what will nourish or restore a patient’s health. But, if one is a patient or a potential patient, one might decide to forego certain medical treatments because one wishes to attain higher objectives: end which transcend the health of one’s body. The end of one person’s life or activity can become a means for another person’s life or activity. Cf. Crowe, pp. 237-8. In the life of the will, one usually works from an initial, inchoate sense of basic ends or objectives and, from there, one works toward specific objectives which designate means that are made known through co-operative activities that are centered in acts of inquiring, understanding, and judging.

Knowing and willing clearly move each other in a reciprocal relation which more fully reveals an existential tension which inherently exists within human life and, thus, a certain lack of simplicity: a mysteriousness or wonder which exists about the meaning of our human existence. A mutual or reciprocal causality excludes, on the one hand, a simple primacy of the reason over the will (as the Greeks would largely have it) and, on the other hand, a simple primacy of the will over the intellect (as many modern thinkers would have it, thinkers such as Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Nietzsche, and Freud). In one’s understanding, one’s desires and inclinations are known and in one’s desires and affections, one moves toward one’s acts of understanding (from what is already understood to what has yet to be understood). Cf. De Veritate, q. 9, a. 10, ad 3, 2ae ser. In the context of modern voluntarism, the human will is usually not seen as a reasonable or rational thing. Intellect and will, “intellectualism” and “voluntarism,” tend to be set apart from each other in a false dichotomy that can be overcome through a self-understanding which can begin to realize that our human understanding grows and develops through a constant interaction between intellect and will (which would also include a constant, ongoing interaction between sense and intellect in the life of the human mind). For a better understanding of modern contemporary views which emphasize the primacy of the will over the intellect, on Hobbes and the primacy of the human lust for power in human life, see Eric Voegelin, Modernity without Restraint: Science, Politics, and Gnosticism, vol. 5, ed. Manfred Henningsen (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000), p. 307.