DE&E: Chapter 4:9

We come to the last paragraph of Chapter 4, and it’s time to stretch!

The term “possible intellect” pops up again in this paragraph, so I went and did a Google search. What I discover is this: the intellect has two faculties: the agent intellect, and the possible intellect. When I apprehend a concept, it becomes act in the agent intellect. And the collection of concepts I know and can bring into act is stored in the possible intellect. It would appear that the possible intellect is to concepts as the memory is to sense images.

OK, with that out of the way (garbled though it likely is), let’s move on:

This scale comes to an end with the human soul, which holds the lowest place among intellectual substances.

I’m still trying to figure how the soul is a substance all on its own, when I know that Catholic doctrine says that man is a body and soul together, the soul being the form of the body.

The soul’s possible intellect is related to intelligible forms just as prime matter (which holds the lowest place in sensible existence) is related to sensible forms, as the Commentator says in De Anima III, com. 5.

Gosh, I’m glad I looked up “possible intellect”, because now the above actually makes sense.

Material things are composed of sensible forms and matter. Formless matter, called “prime matter”, doesn’t really exist; it’s more of a conceptual convenience, like the number zero. Prime matter is pure potency with no admixture of act, and is thus at the other end of the scale from God, who is pure act with no potency. When a material substance is generated, you could think of it as a form sucking up prime matter and giving it form.

The possible intellect is the equivalent of prime matter. When the agent intellect apprehends a form, it gives the form act; it’s as though the form is sucking up possible intellect to make a genuine concept.

I’m probably mangling the terminology, here, and stepping on fine distinctions.

The Philosopher thus compares, III De Anima cap. 4 (430a1), the soul to a tablet on which nothing has been written.

That kind of makes sense. The agent intellect can give act to forms; but without forms, it’s blank.

Since, among intellectual substances, the soul has the most potency, it is so close to material things that a material thing is brought to participate in its existence: that is, from the soul and the body there results one existence in one composite thing, although this existence, as the existence of the soul, is not dependent on the body.

Thomas has already established that there is a ranking among intellectual substances, from the greater with more act and less potency to the lesser with less act and more potency. And the human soul is the least of these; it has the most potency of any. And in fact, it has just enough potency to (in computer terms) “interface” well with matter. The soul is combined with a material thing, the body, and the two are one thing.

I’m intrigued by Thomas’ statement that although the soul and body are one composite thing, the existence of the soul doesn’t depend on the body. OK; but how does that work?

Therefore, beyond this form that is the soul, there are other forms having more potency and being closer to matter, and so much so that they have no existence without matter. Among these forms there is an order and gradation down to the primary forms of the elements, which are closest to matter; and so these have no operation except as required by the active and passive qualities and other such qualities by which matter is disposed by form.

So the soul is the lowest form that can exist without matter.

Comments are closed.