CT 81: Reception of Intelligible Forms in the Possible Intellect

In Chapter 81, Thomas says,

As was stated above, the higher an intellectual substance is in perfection, the more universal are the intelligible forms it possesses. Of all the intellectual substances, consequently, the human intellect, which we have called possible, has forms of the least universality. This is the reason it receives its intelligible forms from sensible things.

When an intellect understands something, it understands by possessing the essence–the form–of that thing. That’s what Thomas means by “intelligible form”–the kind of form that can be apprehended by the intellect. The human intellect, being the least possible kind of intellect, has the most particular, least universal forms, which as he says are received from sensible things. I look at a dog, and apprehend Dog.

This can be made clear from another point of view. A form must have some proportion to the potency which receives it. Therefore, since of all intellectual substances man’s possible intellect is found to be the closest to corporeal matter, its intelligible forms must, likewise, be most closely allied to material things.

When I apprehend Dog, I am apprehending the essence–the form–of the dog. Now, it is precisely this form that makes the dog a Dog. It is this form that turns the matter of which the dog is made into that which we call a Dog. And consequently this form, Dog, is proportional to matter, that is, it’s a form that is suitable for bringing the potency of matter to that kind of act we call a Dog.

However, it’s also a form that is intelligible to the human intellect. It’s suitable for forming matter into a dog, and for forming my intellect into the concept Dog. This makes sense, because we’ve already determined that all of intellectual substances, the human intellect is closest to matter.

Good grief, I think I’m actually beginning to understand this stuff.

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