Archive for April, 2009

CT 85: Unity of the Possible Intellect (Part II)

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Some, Thomas tells us, would conclude from the immaterial nature of the possible intellect that all men must share a single intellect, and hence a single soul. As he says,

An objector may say: the intellect is indeed incorruptible, but there is only one intellect in all men; and so what remains after the corruption of all men is but one. That there is only one intellect for all men, the objector may continue, can be established on many grounds.

So much we said yesterday.

First, on the part of the intelligible species. If I have one intellect and you have another, there will have to be one intelligible species in me and another in you, and consequently there will be one object that I understand and another that you understand. Hence the intelligible species will be multiplied according to the number of individuals, and so it will not be universal but individual. The conclusion would then seem to follow that it is understood not in act, but only in potency; for individual species are intelligible in potency, not in act.

When I apprehend an object, what I have in my possible intellect is its intelligible species. And indeed, this intelligible species will be multiplied by the number of individuals. So how can the intelligible species be a universal? (The answer, as we will see, is that it isn’t, and that’s OK.) The meaning of the italicized sentence eludes me tonight.

Moreover, since the intellect, as we have seen, is a substance subsisting in its own being, and since intellectual substances that are numerically many do not belong to one species, as we have also seen, it follows that if I have one intellect and you have another that is numerically different, the two must differ specifically. And so you and I would not belong to the same species.

I talked about this yesterday. To be numerically many, the object says, two beings must either be of different species, as angels are, or of the same species and distinguished by having different matter, as animals are. Thomas is going to choose a third option.

Furthermore, since all individuals share in one specific nature, there must be something besides specific nature whereby individuals may be distinguished from one another. Accordingly, if there is one specific intellect in all men, but many intellects that are numerically distinct, something must be found that will make one intellect differ numerically from another. This cannot be anything pertaining to the substance of the intellect, since the intellect is not composed of matter and form. Consequently any difference that might be admitted, on the part of the substance of the intellect, would be a formal difference that would cause diversity in the species. The only possibility left is that the intellect of one man cannot differ numerically from the intellect of another man except by reason of the diversity of their bodies. Therefore, when the various bodies corrupt, it seems that only one intellect, and not a plurality of intellects, would remain.

Something distinguishes one man from another, and it appears to be the possession of a body. For my intellect to be distinct from yours, while being immaterial, would seem to make us be of two different species, which is not the case. Thus, when I die and you die, there’s nothing to distinguish the intellect that remains. I take it that this is another way of saying the previous point.

The absurdity of this whole position is easily perceived….

But that’s another post.

CT 85: Unity of the Possible Intellect (Part I)

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

Uncle Screwtape describes human beings as an amphibious combination of matter and spirit, of animal and angel. Thomas’ topic in this chapter is the precise nature of this amphibious combination. He clearly thinks it is of the first importance: this is the first chapter I’ve run into in the Compendium Theologiae that reads like an article from its big brother, the Summa Theologiae, complete with objections, a sed contra, and answers to the objections.

Here’s some background. Animals have a nature, an essence, a species, that serves them as their substantial form. It is a purely material form: it gives form to their matter, and has no immaterial aspect. And, within that species, all individuals have the same species, the same substantial form. There is one species, Dog, and there are many individual dogs. What makes them individuals—in Thomas’ lingo, what makes them “numerically distinct”—is their matter. This dog’s matter is distinct from that dog’s.

Angels are different. Angels are pure spirit with no admixture of matter. Each angel has its immaterial form, which is, indeed, its species. So how do you get multiple individuals within a single species, when there’s no matter to individuate them? The answer is, you don’t. Each angel is alone in its species.

And then you’ve got humans, who are individuated by matter, as animals are, but have an intellectual (and hence immaterial) soul, as angels do. All humans manifestly are of the same species: they share a single essence, a single nature, which gives them their form. And we say that the soul is the form of the body. Since apparently you only get one intellectual substance per species (as with angels) and one essence, one species, for all individuals within that species, this led some thinkers to suggest that human beings share a single soul, a single intellect. We appear to be many, but in our inmost selves, we are all one.

Thomas stoutly disagrees: as we have immortal souls, our souls, shorn of our bodies, must remain individuals. (Uncle Screwtape was right: human beings are weird.)

In my next post, I’ll begin working through the objections.

CT 84: Incorruptibility of the Human Soul

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

In the previous section, Thomas discussed the nature of the human intellect, and its division into the possible intellect, a kind of storehouse of things we’ve understood in the past, and the agent intellect, our capacity to actively bring these things to mind. Now he’s moving on from this to the incorruptibility of the human soul. He says,

A necessary consequence of the foregoing doctrine is that the intellect whereby man understands is incorruptible.

By “incorruptible,” Thomas means that the intellect cannot pass away, cannot die. Natural things are generated, they come to be, and they are corrupted, they pass away. They are born, and they die. The intellect does not. Thomas goes on to show this in several ways.

Every being acts in a way that is conformable to its existence. The intellect has an activity which it does not share with the body, as we have proved. This shows that it can act by itself. Hence it is a substance subsisting in its own being. But, as was pointed out above, intellectual substances are incorruptible. Accordingly the intellect whereby man understands is incorruptible.

As shown previously, the action of the intellect is immaterial; and since every being’s action is conformable with its existence, the intellect’s existence must be immaterial as well—it “subsists in its own being.” That is, it’s an intellectual substance, and such cannot die.

Again, the proper subject of generation and corruption is matter. Hence a thing is immune to corruption to the extent that it is free from matter. Things composed of matter and form are per se corruptible; material forms are corruptible indirectly (per accidens), though not per se. Immaterial forms, which are above material conditions, are wholly incorruptible. The intellect by its very nature is elevated completely beyond matter, as its activity shows: we do not understand anything unless we separate it from matter. Consequently the intellect is by nature incorruptible.

Looked at another way, to be corruptible is to be material. A material object is composed of matter and form; the form gives form to the matter. An oak tree is matter with the form of an oak tree. Oak trees can die; and thus, indirectly, the tree’s form can die as well. Oak trees have no intellect, and no immaterial activity, and so the form must pass away with the matter.

But the intellect is an immaterial form, as it deals with forms as separated from matter and must be immaterial to do so.

Moreover, corruption cannot take place without contrariety; for nothing is corrupted except by its contrary. This is why the heavenly bodies, which do not admit of contrariety, are incorruptible. But all contrariety is far removed from the nature of the intellect, so much so that things which are contraries in themselves, are not contraries in the intellect. The intelligible aspect of contraries is one, inasmuch as one thing is understood in terms of another. Thus it is impossible for the intellect to be corruptible.

This last bit I had to think about for a while. “…nothing is corrupted except by its contrary.” What on earth does that mean?

Two propositions, A and B, are contraries if they cannot both be true. An oak tree exists; it dies; it no longer exists. There is no longer an oak tree. Those two statements are certainly contrary: there is an oak tree here, there is not an oak tree here. But I still think there’s something I’m missing about contraries and corruption.

But the point that Thomas is making about contraries is that although the propositions A and B cannot both be true in reality, and cannot coexist in fact, they can coexist perfectly well in my intellect. I am quite capable of holding both propositions in my mind at once—in fact, I must do so just to note that they are contraries. Thus, “contrariety is far removed from the nature of the intellect.” And since corruption requires contrariety, the intellect cannot be corruptible.