DE&E: Chapter 4:2

In Chapter 4:1, Thomas asserts (in different words) that matter impedes intelligibility: that is, that what is intelligible, i.e., apprehended by the intellect, must be immaterial, abstracted from matter…and hence that the soul, angels, and God, all known for their intelligence, must also be immaterial. (I’d be interested in seeing more on this latter point.) Now, Thomas asks whether there might be some other kind of matter than the usual that doesn’t impede intelligibility, and might therefore (I presume) be part of one of the separated substances. The answer, of course, is no:

Nor can someone say that only corporeal matter, and not some other kind of matter, impedes intelligibility. For, if it were only corporeal matter that impedes intelligibility, then since matter is called corporeal only insofar as it exists under a corporeal form, matter’s impeding intelligibility would come from the corporeal form; and this is impossible, for the corporeal form is actually intelligible just like any other form, insofar as it is abstracted from matter.

Let’s suppose, just as an experiment, that in addition to the corporeal matter we are familiar with, matter found in bodies, that there’s some other kind of matter that is directly intelligible. Let’s call it “ooblick”. This immediately raises the question, what is it that makes corporeal matter corporeal? For this, whatever it is, will be the real reason that corporeal matter impedes intelligibility. What does corporeal matter have that “ooblick” doesn’t?

Well, we know that a body is a composition of form and matter. No form, no matter; “prime” matter doesn’t really exist. So it must be the body’s form that gives body to matter, that makes it corporeal; and hence it must the form that prevents the matter from being intelligible. This is, of course, absurd, as it’s the form that is intelligible to begin with. Consequently, there’s no such thing as “ooblick”.

Hence, in no way is there a composition of matter and form in either the soul or the intelligences, such that an essence is received in these as in corporeal substances.

Aha! I begin to see what Thomas is getting at. An essence exists in the intellect analogously to how it exists in reality: it forms the intellect as it forms the real body. But in the intellect it doesn’t give form matter in any sense. When I think of a dog, nothing in my soul physically takes the shape and proportions of dog. There is no corporeal dog in my head. And, since there’s no “ooblick”, there’s no other kind of matter involved either.

Nevertheless, in separate substances there is a composition of form and existence, and so in the Liber de Causis, prop. 9, com., it is said that the intelligences have form and existence, and in this place form is taken in the sense of a simple quiddity or nature.

So the angels have form and existence, and the form is an essence. Since matter is the principle of individuation, every angel must have a distinct essence.

So what about souls? One the one hand, per Catholic doctrine, souls can be sundered from their bodies and exist separately. Thomas himself refers to the soul as a separated substance. On the other hand, all humans share the same nature, the same essence. There’s a problem here: how can souls be separate from matter and yet distinct?

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