Reality or Being — Are these the same?

by Dr. David Fleischacker

This one is more for those who have studied Lonergan a bit.  Sorry to those who have not.

Though most today might think of being and reality as the same, what is meant by both today is not the same as that of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas. For them, Being is not only “that which is,” but a that which is that is necessarily intelligible. Being is intelligible and actual intelligibility is being. And just because you can name something does not mean it is intelligible, hence just because you can name something does not mean it exists.

In contrast to intelligible being is that which is not.  Statements do not get any easier to make which are true. Darkness is an easy example because its descriptive correlate has a relatively easy explanatory basis. It is the absence of any visible light waves.  We can name it but it has no intelligible being (at least in the visible range of light — there may be being beyond the visible light spectrum as a note).  More difficult are those absences that seem so real there must be something intelligible.  So, for example, inertia seems like it must have some kind of intelligibility.  After all great minds searched for the answer to the  cause of inertia for centuries upon centuries. But in the end it belongs to the empirical residue (see chapter 1 of Insight) and one likely will need an inverse insight to get that it lacks intelligible being (also see chapter 1).  More difficult is something like evil. But it too lacks intelligibility.  In fact it not only lacks intelligible being, but it is a privation of being and so introduces the absurd. In either case, these lack intelligibility and thus cannot have being.

Here is another way to get at the same point.  Let’s make a distinction between being and reality.  Let’s say that reality includes experiential absences, partial constitutive components of being (eg. the empirical residue), privations of intelligible being, and concrete being that is intelligible.  This makes it a larger category than being because it includes named nothingnesses and absences and privations.  Concrete and real being that is intelligible however is only “part” of this world, a larger world that really is not.

The import of grasping what the ancients meant by being and us moderns do not has a number of ramifications.  Without realizing the ancient meaning of being, disciplines like metaphysics will be misunderstood.  Evil will make no sense.  Why?  Because the ancient statements about being cannot be applied to nothingness, absences, and privations without being unintelligible.  And so us proud moderns will tend to think that these ancients were simply careless and unintelligent.  But it is the reality of moderns that is lacking.

Judgment and the Recovery of Being

by Dr. David Fleischacker

Lonergan’s explanatory formulation of the interior structure of judgment dismantles one of the great culprits of the modern world that has left vast reaches of the Western world in a dark age. It is dark because it thwarts self-transcendence precisely in one of the great powers of the human mind.  Judgement makes possible a real presence of a person to that which is.  It mediates a true encounter with intelligible being. In other words, authentic judgment allows being to dwell within one.  This darkness is the real forgetfulness of being.  Heidegger was only partially right. He did recognize something that was true about the fallen state of us.  But he still left one with out the ability to enjoy and rejoice in the goodness of even the littlest beings in the world.  Those little, finite beings–trees, rocks, the human body, stars, planets–were merely ontic things.  For him Being– the Ontological–was all that mattered, and even that notion lacks in Heidegger the liberty that Lonergan comes to discover. It is after all a transcendental notion.

When one proclaims that all is mere perspective, or one announces that one can never be sure of what truly is, or one thinks of reality as out there but not in here (in my head), then one is proclaiming that being is fundamentally unknown.  It is as Kant said, in the noumena.  This is the darkness in which today we are chained and enslaved.  It is a self-inflicted cave of own’s own mind, and if one is completely honest, then Derrida is right, even that cave is a mere trace. It too resides in the darkness.  Even my own thoughts flow in the differance of lost presence.

For most, I think the world of entertainment and work keeps them from facing this haunting darkness which they have absorbed since their day of birth.  Many do escape into a world of common sense and do not bother with these questions.  But if pushed in a direction they do not like, then as an instinctual mechanism of self-defense, they pull out the darkness of the no-nothings.

I remember one day saying to a friend, “don’t you know that you can’t find happiness in hockey — he loved hockey to the neglect of nearly everything. He was able to deconstruct my simple quest with one stutter of his vocal cords and a brush of air sent my way in the wave of a hand.  I knew what he meant.  He meant you can’t really know the answer to what you are asking.  Don’t bother me with it.

Lonergan does not answer this deconstructive shallowness with the same brush of air and grunt.  No such simplicity can be found with his response.  Yet, amazingly, in one book he sends to the grave this particular darkness for any who want freedom from these chains that have been growing and entangling the Western world for 500 or more years.  I suppose one could argue that it has been longer and started with the nominalists, but the other day, someone I know — Dr. Chris Blum — pointed out rightly that without the founders of modernity (Descartes, Hume, Kant, etc.), these nominalists would have been forgotten.

Lonergan in one book opens the doors to the cave. That book is Insight. He let’s in some light. We can discover that the shadows and traces of being are not our genie lamp. With the great skill of a gifted surgeon, Lonergan, at the beginning of the book, asks the reader to examine in themselves the act of understanding. It begins a journey into a massive world of interiority and self-appropriation.  The attentive and careful reader who takes this journey is not asked to trust the writer in the end, though one must trust along the way.  He leads the reader from insight in math and science to that of common sense and things, all before he turns to the excavating work of exploring judgment.

It is a brilliant plan as anyone knows who has seriously read the text.  His first eight chapters remove the rocks that block the path to light and freedom, and then finally he removes the hinges of the locked doors of the cave.

Starting in chapter 9, he then begins to open the door.  In chapter 11, the reader gets asked to walk out of the cave unless he or she is too afraid to do so and simply refuses to see the beauty and the landscape of being.

In the next couple of chapters, through the notion of being and then of objectivity, Lonergan provides an explanatory account of why we can be present to being, and why being can dwell within us.  It gives the subject who has dwelt in the cave of the modern world a new wineskin and a new garment.  More technically, it is a new heuristic foundation to taste the beauty and glory of the real universe of being.

I could repeat Lonergan’s answer with regard to the conditions required for true judgments and the principle notion of objectivity, and why these happen in us all the time.  But for the full meaning of these explanatory formulations to burst forth and make sense, one really does need to travel down all of those earlier chapters of Insight first.

Hence, this blog you are reading is merely an invitation to those who have some inkling that perspectivalism and relativism are unhappy conclusions, and that traces of others are not so joyful as their real presence in filial and agapic bonds of love.

By the way, for those who are not able for various reasons to move into the explanatory account of the freedom and light of true judgment, do not worry.  Lonergan’s account reveals that good sound judgment gives you that liberty even when you are unable to explain why.  You really can love–in a mutual indwelling presence–your friend, your spouse, your child….and God, even if the how remains a mystery.


Isomorphic Existentialism

Existential Isomorphism

By Dr. David Fleischacker

I would like to make a simple statement. The finality of the human person is one of existential isomorphism.

Why Existential?

I am sure some will think that I have committed an error in tying the word existential to isomorphism.  Some would be disturbed if they knew what I meant.  Some of the dead might twitch a bit. Nietzsche I am sure would turn in his grave. Most of the 20th century existentialists might will themselves to rise from the dead and burn me at the stake and insist that God is still dead. They might call upon their leader — Friedrich, Friedrich, where art though — so that he could lead them in their inquisition with his sharpened words and golden pen.   So, let me be clear as to my fears of the power of these willful mongers.  Will to power and its maturation in the 20th century notion of self-realization are not what I mean by linking the two terms. Yet, there is a truth in the 20th century existentialists that I would like to return to the world of being and goodness and beauty.  As St. Augustine said about heresies, there is always a great truth in them which is why they can arrest people and capture their imaginations.  The same is true I would argue with Existentialists such as Sartre.  That nugget of truth is that human beings do have something to do with their coming to be in this world (or in their self-destruction).

In other words, I want to recover the rightful place of human freedom or decisions.  I want to place it back into a normative framework of a naturally ordered universe that has its nature in a finality that is oriented as Lonergan argues in Insight toward increasing intelligibility and being and goodness. These transcendentals are the norm of the normativity of all existence, especially when they become conscious and active in the human soul as an actuation of the capacity for self-transcendence.  It takes wisdom to figure this out.

So, what about isomorphism?

In Insight Lonergan argues that the structure of cognition is isomorphic with that of being.  Hence, intellectually patterned experience, insights into conjugate and central forms, and judgments affirming those insights as true are isomorphic to conjugate and central potency, form, and act of beings.

J (judgement)   –>    Conjugate and Central Act

U (understanding)–>    Conjugate and Central Form

E (experience)–>  Conjugate and Central Potency

It is not just any E, U, and J that matters to this isomorphism.  The relevant conscious and intentional operations are those that have moved into explanatory accounts of this world–hence insights that emerge in intellectually patterned experience, and then are verified in judgments about the truth of those explanatory insights.

What this means is that in true explanatory knowledge, the human soul has come to be a mirror (as St. Thomas notes) of that which it knows, and it knows that which it knows by becoming a mirror to that which it knows.

Adding the term “existential” goes beyond what Lonergan does in Insight. And as mentioned, I want to expel it of the licentious willfulness that one finds in 20th century existentialist philosophers. I want to recover an older meaning of existence found in St. Thomas and Aristotle, one that links together being and becoming into a harmonious unity.  The act of will is only an act of will when it is based on an intelligibility, and thus it is an authentic volitional act when rooted on form, not on nothingness (which actually is impossible because we cannot create from nothing).  It really combines some of Lonergan’s later developments in Insight with those of his later life, namely the link of metaphysics and its isomorphism with intellectually patterned consciousness to the moral order and the level of decision.  In short, when decisions are based upon the fullness of the cognitive isomorphism with being, then one’s decisions shift one to an explicit participant in the unfolding potency of being [as a note, even one who operates in the world of common sense is a participant in the unfolding potency of being, but only implicitly.  Common non-sense however is evil because it is a failure to participate in this finality of the universe.], and thus participate in a moral isomorphism with the emergent universe and its finality.

I would like to add one other piece that identifies a more complete existential isomorphism, namely when the entire neural and motor-sensory operations, along with their landscape of emotions and passions join in on the isomorphism. For this to take place, the neural and motor-sensory levels need to reach an integrity in which they are intelligibly ordered in the higher levels of the moral and cognitive isomorphism (see what Lonergan does in his last chapter in Insight “Special Transcendent Knowledge”).  In other words, all levels of development when united in a sublating or subsuming fashion into the highest reaches of conscious intentionality form an authentic existential isomorphism of the soul with an emergent universe.

Interestingly, the university when setup right has as its specific end this existential isomorphism in which the totality of the person (organic and neural, motor-sensory, intellectual, rational, volitional, religious) is mediated toward this unity with the finality of the universe.

Just a thought that has tremendous ramifications.

From David Fleischacker

Just a quick note.  I will be publishing a reflection every Friday at 3 pm. Most of these will be short pointers and thoughts about the writings of Bernard Lonergan.


David Fleischacker

Trinitarian Reflections: The Transcentdental Notions and God, blog 1

by David Fleischacker

About two years ago, I started a new notebook on linking together the University and its life with that of the Holy Trinity.  One of the areas that I wondered about was whether the Transcendental Notions (TN) could provide any type of analogy for understanding the three persons of the Holy Trinity.  There are after all, three transcendental notions that Lonergan develops which are spiritual in nature, hence intrinsically independent of the empirical residue.  These spiritual transcendental notions are Lonergan’s transposition of the agent intellect found in Aristotle and St. Thomas, and of the Light of Being (conscience, mind, etc) as found in the Platonists and St. Augustine (as a note, Augustine was clearly not a Platonist once you get into his head more thoroughly even if he learned much from them and borrowed some notions from them).

One of the immediate difficulties of course which one finds noted in Lonergan is that in finding an analogy for the Holy Trinity, we need to deal with acts or operations, not with anything in potency.  The TN are a kind of potency, but much different than normal.  These actually have the power or capacity to bring about self-transcendence.  In St. Thomas (and Aristotle), these “lights” of the mind have the power to illumine, hence they act as agent causes.  Most potencies do not have such capabilities.  Hence the reason these lights are in a kind of actuality as well.  Notice how some of the metaphysical terms and relations get stretched (but not violated! or confused).  The TN are in a potency in relationship to the operations that arise, but in relationship to the potencies in the human subject to receive these operations they are in act.  Many would say that this imprecision of the metaphysical terms and relations is why one needs to leave out the metaphysical, and turn to intentionality analysis. That is true in part, but if one does so, one as Lonergan notes in Insight, needs to run the full circuit, and return to metaphysics, both to refine the metaphysics, but also to articulate the intelligibilities discovered as belonging to being.  To stay merely with a cognitive apprehension of conscious and intentional life leaves one ignorant of its “reality.”  So the circuit does need to be run.

The reason I mention the circuit is because if one is to transpose the analogies for the Holy Trinity found in St. Thomas, then one needs to deal with some of the metaphysical points that he makes, such as God is pure act, and hence we need to find analogies in act that help us, and this is true of the Persons as well as of God.  The Father is pure act, as is the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Hence, are the TN in act enough for them to be used as analogies?

The TNs, though in a kind of potency, are also the “light” that makes possible the conscious and intentional operations.  This means that in some manner, they are more in act than the operations.  They underpin, penetrate, and transcend all operations.  Still, there must be a reason that Lonergan did not turn toward these as analogies. He stuck with operations (eg. apprehension of the good, judgment of value of the good, love/decision of/for the good). I suppose one could argue that these operations are in part constituted by the TN, as the TN penetrate them.  We could look at what that “penetration” means.  It of course is not physical, but spiritual.  Descriptively, it “illumines” the operation.  It is what “receives” the operation.  It is what “beholds” the operation.  The TN is not only light, but also an intentional focus, hence can be described as the “eye” of the mind as well.  I am tending to think that the TN is both light and eye (hence not distinct as these are physically in us — but I could be wrong).  I suppose one could say the “eye” is the conscious subject as awakened in a TN and thus seeking an answer, hence waiting for an operation that mediates the answer.  Then once the operation emerges, the subject as beholding the operation in the TN is an eye that beholds.  The subject is however conscious through the TN, and thus the TN constitutes both the horizon and the subject as a gazing subject.

One of the areas that I explored a couple years ago in my notebook was whether there was a sufficient distinction and set of relations between the TN to result in some kind of analogy that sheds light upon the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Thus, does the TN of intelligibility have a kind of relationship to that of being/truth such that the former begets that latter.  Of course, this does not happen without an operation. And it does not happen without the subject moving (raising the question for reflection).  Likewise does the TN of goodness spirate from the TN of being?  I cannot repeat all of the reflections here, but I can say that my reflections were not conclusive.  I do intend however to start publishing these reflections in this particular sequence of blogs.

Even if I discover that those reflections do provide an interesting analogy, there is still the further question about whether the analogy is an improvement upon that of the operations as such.  I have a suspicion that they do not, but they might help to deepen my understanding of the operational based analogy (apprehension of the good, judgement of value of the good, decision for the good).  Part of my reason for this suspicion is that God as pure act is the cause of the light that is in us, which we call the TNs.  The TNs do allow us to grasp the unrestricted nature of the operations in God, but those are operations in God, not TNs.   Just a few thoughts.

More later.

Feeding the thirst of Jesus Christ

Why does Jesus need or want us to feed him? It would seem that the only appropriate relation to him is to allow him to feed us. Very true of course. At the same time, from the Cross, he cries out that he thirsts.  He thirsts as St. Mother Theresa tells us.  Jesus is in those whom we meet, especially the poor and the destitute.  All of those who fall under the beatitudes.  He thirsts in and through them for us to give him a bit of drink and food.  It is part of the immense mystery of being a member of the body of our Lord.  He knows us.  He knows us in his divinity and he knows us in his humanity.  As he hung on the Cross, he proclaimed the thirst of his entire body, as it exists in his mind and heart.  This is the meaning of the unity of Christ and his body.  In fact, it is a unity that each of us has with each other.  When anyone thirsts, and it comes to dwell in us, it then comes to inform us as a constitutive act of meaning.  Hence another’s thirst becomes our own.  Likewise with Jesus Christ. We are his.  And we are in him.  He thirsts because we thirst.  He thirsts because he became one of us.  And as he fills that thirst, so we as part of him are to fill that thirst as well. This is the meaning of to abide and to mutually indwell.

Annual Lonergan Epiphany potluck luncheon, February 5

Dear friends, we will have our annual Epiphany potluck luncheon on Sunday February 5 at 12:15 pm, immediately after midday office which begins at 12:05 pm.  Please feel free to bring friends.  The more, the merrier.  We give thanks to God for all good things, most especially the gift of friendship.  with love to you all…

New Seminar: reading Stratford Caldecott’s Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-enchantment

Message from David Alexander: Our next book selection is Beauty for Truth’s Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Stratford Caldecott. I want to suggest everyone procure their copy and we meet for the first discussion on 1/25/2017. The reading for the discussion is the Introduction and the first chapter, pgs. 11- 36.

The book is short, about 150 pages. We could either meet once a month and cover two chapters per session or meet every two to three weeks and cover one chapter of the six chapters per session, whichever you would prefer. Perhaps it will be easier to decide after our first reading, judging from the content.

Judgment in Aristotle, two natures

As a qualification on how we are to understand judgment in Aristotle, please note that, in the kind of analysis which we find in Aristotle and also in the manner of his conceptualization and language, in our acts of judgment thus, a dual nature is distinguished or two natures are indicated in a way which seems to juxtapose one nature with another. Two natures exist instead of one nature. A synthetic, constructive element is alluded to, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, an affirmative, declarative element. Hence, questions exist (later questions were posed) which asked if Aristotle was successful in clearly distinguishing between the being of these two different aspects (existing as two distinct elements, each having its own distinct nature).1 Did he, in fact, clearly distinguish between acts of direct understanding and acts of reflective understanding which exist as acts of judgment since, in Aristotle, judgment engages in two different kinds of tasks. On the one hand, allegedly within our judgments, (1) a composition or a putting together of different concepts occurs or, on the other hand, a separation of concepts when we realize that some concepts should not be combined or joined with each other. If an act of direct understanding (which, as noted, Aristotle conceptualizes as an act of “simple apprehension”) moves through the instrumentality of an imagined fertile, apt image (existing as a phantasm) toward a single, distinct concept or a definition which expresses the fruit or the grasp of one’s prior act of understanding (in Aristotle’s understanding of the nature or the intelligibility of all our direct acts of understanding as we move from the being and the order of sense to the order and the being of understanding: ta men oun eidê to noêtikon en tois phantasmasi noei; the “intellect grasps forms in images”),2 a fortiori, if we should speak in this way about the being of a “simple apprehension,” then, to a greater degree, if we are to speak about how two or more concepts can be put together to reveal a greater unity or a link that exists between these concepts (leading to a larger, more general concept), then, in order to identify and to distinguish this species of intellectual act, we should or we must speak about the being of a “complex apprehension.” These exist allegedly as judgments. These judgments introduce an order which should exist among our ideas and concepts. However, if, for us, the intellectual object is not simply the apprehension of a conceptual complex unity but if, in fact, it is an understanding which wants to declare or know about the reality or the truth of one or more concepts (whether we should speak about simple concepts or about complex concepts), then, within this larger, greater, more demanding context, in Aristotle, a second understanding of judgment presents itself to us in terms of how it seeks to posit a relation or a synthesis which has been grasped by us in our prior acts of understanding. The object here is not essentially a synthesis, the apprehension or the grasp of a synthesis which points to a higher or a wider understanding of things but, instead, the taking of an already understood synthesis and further acts which would work toward an act of understanding which can conclude or move toward a declaration of its reality or a declaration of its truth (or which can deny the factuality of its reality or the factuality of its truth). This is so. This is not so. Either way, in affirmation or negation, a truth is known and it is grasped by us as known. In our awareness, a truth is known in terms of its reasonableness or cogency: hence, its being, its reality. The consciousness or experience that we have of evidence points to the being or the reality of a truth and, as an effect which would thus follow from this, with Aquinas, we would say about ourselves that “knowledge exists as one of the effects of truth” [cognitio est quidam veritatis effectus].3 The one comes from the other.

In Aristotle thus, depending on which passages or texts are being studied, a clear distinction does not exist between that which exists as understanding and that which exists as judgment (acts of direct understanding versus acts of reflective understanding) because judgment, in the language of “composition and division,” resembles acts of direct understanding in terms of the unities which are being grasped and understood by them (by our acts of understanding): unities which transcend pluralities and multiplicities as these exist initially among the givens of the data of our sense perception. However, in Aristotle, the being of judgments is such that they also seek to determine if a correspondence exists between that which exists as a form of mental synthesis within ourselves and that which exists as a species of real synthesis within the being of truly existing things (the being of truly existing objects). A real distinction accordingly exists between the type of answer that is given to this kind of question and the type of answer which is given to a question which asks about how concepts can be related to each other in ways that could lead to the understanding and eventually the expression of a new, more general concept.

On the basis then of this real distinction and as a species of new first principle, in the later work of Aquinas and also in the later work of Bernard Lonergan, clarifications were introduced into the thinking and the conceptuality of Aristotle’s analysis in a manner which attempted to introduce degrees of clarity that had not been too obvious to anyone or to most persons who had attempted earlier to read into the corpus of Aristotle’s philosophy in order to find, within it, a coherent understanding about how things exist within the reality of the world within which we all live (a reality which includes the kind of being which we have and which we are as human beings where our kind of being includes the kind of knowing which belongs to us as human beings and which does not belong to other kinds of living being). From an incoherent understanding about the nature of our human judgment (from an incoherent understanding about the nature of our human cognition), we can thus wonder if, for some in the subsequent history of reflection within philosophy, the result has been a defective, incoherent understanding about the nature of existing things where, in metaphysics, we turn to this science in order to move toward a comprehensive or a general understanding about the nature of all existing things qua the nature of being in general as it applies to all things which enjoy some form of real existence. What can be implied about the nature of our world if our point of departure is a particular belief or a particular understanding about the nature of our human knowing, an understanding which could be lacking in the degree of rationality which should belong to it?4

1Lonergan, Verbum, pp. 61-62.

2Aristotle, De Anima, 3, 7, 431b, as cited by Sala, Lonergan and Kant, p. 161, n. 72.

3Aquinas, De veritate, q. 1, a. 1, as cited by Sala, Lonergan and Kant, p. 147, n. 71.

4Randall, Aristotle, p. 6.

Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 84, Notes

Notes on Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a, q. 84

ST 1.84: How does the human intellect know bodies (which are beneath it)

ST 1.84.1 Does the soul know bodies through the intellect

Objection 1: Bodies are understood by the senses, incorporeals by the intellect

Reply: This refers to the medium of knowledge, not the object

Objection 2: Sense:Intelligible :: Intellect:Sensible.  Since senses can’t understand intelligible things, the intellect can’t understand sensible things

Reply: Intellect is a higher power than sense.  While sense cannot know intelligibles, intellect can know sensibles.  Otherwise God wouldn’t have knowledge of sensibles.

Objection 3: Intellect understands eternal and unchangeable things, while bodies are always changing

Reply: Every movement presupposes something immovable.    Changing form requires unchanging matter.  Changing matter requires unchanging form.  Socrates may not always be sitting, but it is always true that when he does sit he stays in one place.


On the contrary: natural science, with its studies of motion and matter, would be impossible if the intellect had no knowledge of changeable things.


One possible answer: Certain Presocratics (Heraclitus) thought everything was in a state of flux, so certain knowledge of anything was impossible.

Refutation: Heraclitus was only led to this conclusion because of their reductive materialism.


Another possible answer: Plato’s theory of forms



  1. If forms are immaterial and immovable, how can we have knowledge of matter and motion?
  2. Plato begs the question: How can we know bodies, if we only know them through separate substances which differ essentially from them?
  3. Plato assumed that the form must exist in the knower in the same mode as in the thing known.  This is not true.


Whiteness is in bodies in different modes of intensity

The senses receive whiteness without receiving matter

The intellect receives whiteness under conditions of immateriality and immobility


ST 1.84.2 Does the soul know bodies through its essence?

It would seem so.  Knowledge is by assimilation, where the intellect “becomes” whatever essence it is to know.  Thus, the intellect knows all things by the essence it has assimilated, which essence has become the intellect’s own essence.


But Augustine says we know things through our senses.


Presocratic view: the material intellect receives forms materially


  1. Matter is only form potentially, and knowledge is of actualized form
  2. Why doesn’t matter outside the soul possess knowledge?


Platonist view: The immaterial soul receives forms immaterially


Only God knows things through his own essence; humans and angels don’t


ST 1.84.3 Does the soul know through innate species?

Our knowledge is different from angelic knowledge.  Our knowledge must be brought into act, while angelic knowledge is always in act.  Moreover, the angelic intellect is completed by the angelic form and is not in potentiality with respect to anything.  The human intellect is in potentiality with respect to things it does not know.  Prime matter is in potentiality with respect to its substantial form.


ST 1.84.4 Are intelligible species derived by the soul from separate forms?

The objections proceed by analogy from sense, also noting that the intellect requires something actually intelligible in order to be brought into act.

But if we know by separate forms, there is no reason why our souls should be united to bodies.  Both Plato and Avicenna’s views are considered and deemed insufficient for explaining the existence of the body.


In replying to the objections, St. Thomas says there is no analogy between sense and intellect.  He concedes that divine ideas are the ultimate source of our knowledge, but we attain to this knowledge by the actualization of phantasms by agent intellect.


ST 1.84.5 Does the intellect know material things in the eternal types?

St. Thomas states that Augustine was “imbued with the doctrines of the Platonists.”


St. Thomas makes a distinction:

  1. Knowing the eternal types as objects.  The souls of the blessed know things in the eternal types in this way.
  2. Having the eternal types as a principle of knowledge.  Just as our senses see by the light of the sun, our intellect sees by the intellectual light which is in us, even as pilgrims.


The human intellect requires both intelligible species and intellectual light in order to know.


St. Thomas shows that Augustine was not as Platonist as he originally seemed.


ST 1.84.6 Is intellectual knowledge derived from sensible things?

Augustine’s argument that intellectual knowledge does not come from the senses

  1. Sensible things are always changing, but what is never the same cannot be perceived
  2. We cannot tell through the senses whether we are seeing a real image or whether we are seeing an imaginary image (dreaming), but the intellect is capable of perceiving truth
  3. What is lesser cannot act on what is greater, so the senses cannot produce knowledge in the intellect
  4. We know some immaterial things


Democritus thought all knowledge was by a discharge of atoms


Plato thought the soul forms within itself the species, after the sensible organ receives the sensible object.  The soul is roused by the species of the thing.

Augustine said the body was the messenger to the soul.

The senses rouse the intellect to the act of understanding.


Aristotle said sense is an act not of the soul alone, but of the “composite.”  The sensible is received in the sense by a discharge or some other operation.  Then agent intellect derives the phantasm and ultimately the intelligible species from the sensory input.


Sensible things are only the material cause of knowledge.  Agent intellect is also required.


ST 1.84.7 Can we understand without turning to phantasm?

No, because:

  1. When imagination is hindered by frenzy or lethargy, all intellectual operation is also hindered.
  2. We all understand by forming phantasms to serve as examples
  3. It belongs to a nature to exist in an individual.  This cannot happen apart from corporeal matter.  Since we apprehend the individual through phantasm, we need phantasm in order to see the universal nature existing in the individual.


Interesting facts:

When knowledge is not actualized, intelligible species dwell in the passive intellect.

The intelligible species is NOT the likeness of the individual thing.

Our intellect’s proper and proportionate object is the nature of a sensible thing (?)


ST 1.85.1: Does our intellect understand corporeal and material things by abstaction from phantasm?

3 grades of cognitive powers:

  1. Sense organ: object is form existing in individual matter
  2. Human intellect: object is form existing in individual matter, but not AS existing in this particular matter
  3. Angelic intellect: object is form existing apart from matter

2 types of abstractions

  1. Composition or division, i. e. Judgement of truth or falsehood
  2. Simple or absolute consideration: consider something and prescind from its principles of individuation

3 types of matter:

  1. Individual (“this flesh and these bones”)
  2. Common/signate (“flesh and bones”)
  3. Common intelligible matter (quantity, number, dimension, figure)

(things like “being,” “unity,” “power,” “act” abstracted from all matter)


The phantasms are made more fit for the abstraction therefrom by intelligible intentions.”


ST 1.85.2: Are intelligible species the object of our intellection?

No, intelligible species are the species qua, not species quae intelligitur.

Otherwise, science would be about words, not things.


Also, we would have no way of judging the truth or falsity of our ideas.


Intelligible species is a likeness of the thing understood, as heat in the heater is a likeness of the thing heated


Abstract universal exists in the mind, but the universal which is understood exists in its instantiations.


2 operations of the sensitive part:

  1. Impression (totally passive)
  2. Formation (imagination, active)

2 operations of the intellect

  1. Impression (passive intellect receives intelligible species)
  2. Formation (active intellect forms definition or judgement)

ST 1.85.3 Whether knowledge of the most universal species is prior?

Sense knowledge is prior to intellectual knowledge.  Therefore in some manner we know the particular first.

However, in the intellect we know what animals are, albeit indistinctly, before we can distinguish rational animals from non-rational animals.


In the senses, we know something is a body before it gets close enough to be known as an animal.  A child calls all men father before he learns to distinguish his father.  Therefore, universal sense knowledge is prior.


Something’s genus is derived from its common matter; the species comes from the form.  Nature ultimately intends the species, not the genus.


ST 1.85.4 Whether we can understand multiple things at once?

No, just as an object cannot have multiple colors at once, an intellect cannot have multiple intelligible species at once


We can, however, understand multiple things in a single species


ST 1.85.5 Whether our intellect understands by composition and division?

Yes, because our intellects achieve perfection by degrees.  We must make a judgement (i. E. a composition or division) about the state of our knowledge in order to attain more perfect knowledge.


Intellectual operations are in time insofar as we have to turn to phantasms


2 types of composition in a material thing

  1. Form with individual matter: Man is an animal (form with common matter); Socrates is a man (individual matter with form)
  2. Substance with accident: Socrates is white (Socrates as a man possessing whiteness)


2 types of composition in the intellect

  1. The whole with the part (form/species with common matter/genus)
  2. Subject predicated of accident (identification of Socrates with whiteness)


ST 1.86.6 Can the intellect be false?

The intellectual light cannot err, because the proper object of intellect is the quiddity of the thing.  Provided we are abstracting quiddities from phantasm or deriving first principles from the operation of the intellect itself, the intellect cannot be false.


In composition or division, the intellect can err.


ST 1.86.7 Can one man understand better than another?

  1. No, in the sense that all men understand through the same intelligible species.  Either you have the intelligible species or you don’t.
  2. Yes, in the sense that one man may perceive the intelligible species with greater keenness than another, as a man with 20-20 vision will see visible objects better than another.
  3. Yes, in the sense that intellect’s operation depends on the sensitive and imaginative faculties.  Someone with a better memory, for instance, can understand things better.


ST 1.86.8 Is the indivisible known before the divisible?

  1. Yes, in the sense that we know a quiddity indistinctly as a unity before we know it distinctly by understanding its parts.
  2. Yes, in the sense that we know simple quiddities of things before we engage in complex composition or division.
  3. No, in the sense that abstractions like “point” or “unity” are known only by privation.  A point is “something which has no parts.”  We know things with parts before we can consider something without parts.  This is because these concepts are opposed to natural, corporeal reality.