Nature of the Human Intellect



By Fr. Raymond Taouk


With the interior life, we enter properly the spiritual domain, because if sensation is immaterial, it is not spiritual since sensation is the activity of an organ, sentire est coniuncti.  The intior life transcends the sensible.



I. remarks


1.    The int. needs the body.  Studying the proper object of the Int., we showed that the body is ncssly linked to its exercise and why.  This is bec. it is originally in potency, and becomes in act only if an object is presented to it.  But the only object which is proportionate to the int. is a material thing given by the senses and represented by the imagination which depend intrinsically on the body.  Hence the exercise of the int. depends also on the body.

2.    The int. as such is independent from the body.  It depends on it extrinsically or objectively, but we can show that it is independent from the body intrinsically or subjectively, i.e. according to its esse.

3.    The proof

·      the principle of causality : operari sequitur esse : the nature of a being is revealed from its acts.  If therefore, the int. has acts which exclude the direct participation of an organ, we shall legitimately conclude that it is in itself inorganic. 

·      The starting point of such proof is, not an act of the sense memory, but any int. act, concept, judgement or reasonning, or the act of reflection, or the fact that the int. can know all bodies.  This last argument is the one used by ST (yet more delicate), 1 and 4 are the simplest.



ii. proofs


1.    By the concept, the int. grasps as its object an abstract and universal quiddity.  But an abstract quiddity cannot be a body, always singular, hoc, hic, nunc.  Hence the act apprehending the quiddity is spiritual and the principle of such an act is spiritual.[1]  Likewise in the case of the judgement : the int. posits and seizes a relation, which is not physical or sensible since it is between abstract concepts.  In reasonning, the mind grasps the bond of necessary dependency betw. the judgements, and such a logical necessity is abstract.

2.    Through reflection, the int. grasps its own act and itself.  But an organ cannot come back upon itself since it has extended parts and 2 physical parts cannot coincide due to the impenetrability of matter.  Hence the act of reflection is spiritual and the int. which exercises it is also spiritual.[2]

3.    The int. can know all bodies, which suffices to prove that it is not a body.[3] 

·      This is bec. a) a faculty cannot know a object if it has within itself the nature of this object : intus existens prohibet extraneum; b) it can know all bodies ‘quodammodo fit omnia’, but a body has a determinate nature and cannot become another without ceasing to be what it is.[4]

·      ‘intus existens prohibet extraneum’ is the principle which may present some difficulty.  Yet it is self evident : if a fac. of know. has within itself and by nature such a form, it will not be able to receive it nor any other form of the same species.  It will know this forms as his, but not as of another.

·      This argument is in fact the most metaphysical of all.  It explains why :

·      matter does not think, since a body is enclosed in a completely determined nature.  And although the int. has also a determinate nature, it is somewhat open to all forms.

·      the int. is superior to the senses, since it is open to all bodies, whereas each of the senses are open only to one given sensible qualities.



iii. corollaries


1.    We must admit 2 theses which look like a typical kantian antinomy.  Th. ‘the intl. depends on the body’; ‘antith. ‘the int. does not depend on the body’.  Ans/  the body is a necessary condition for the exercise of intellection, bec. int. needs an object to pass from potency to act.  But this act as such is not material, nor is its faculty.  “Corpus requiritur ad actionem intellectus, non sicut organum quo talis actus exerceatur, sed ratione objecti”.[5]

2.    “The brain is the organ of thought”?

·      If we mean by ‘thought’ the entire work which terminates in the idea, it is true that the brain, and more broadly, the entire nervous system and the whole body is the organ of thought.  It is more properly said the organ of all the sense operations which are the condition of thought. 

·      If by ‘thought’, we mean the intellectual acts strictly speaking, it does not act through organs.

·      the extrinsic or objective dependence of the int. on the body renders perfect account of why brain lesions provoke mental sicknesses and why certain chemical subst. contradictorily called ‘serum of truth’, provoke uncontrolled thoughts and words.

3.    Re. the relation between the brain weight and the int., the same solution must be given.  For the animal intl., we can admit a direct relation, but that is because strictly speaking there is no int.  For man, the relation is only indirect, extrinsic, and only in the measure in which the brain conditions our thought.

4.    How do we explain that the int. work is accompanied with physical fatigue, esp. brain fatigue?  This is bec. the int. works requires always the concourse of the imagination, which is connected to an organ.  It is also usually accompanied with other activities, reading or writing and a general bodily position (sitting, enclosed) which are physical attitudes.[6]



iv.  conclusion


1.    To deny the physical conditions of the spiritual life is an exagereated and false spiritualism, derived from Descartes and made the official teaching by Cousin (XIX c.).  A sound spiritualism accepts all the facts and is not afraid of any given experience.

2.    There is in ST a recurring humorous phrase: “Molles carne bene aptos mente vidimus[7].  He spoke by experience since he was very fat, thus his text could be translated “it’s a fact that fat people are intelligent”. In fact, he attributes the nobility of the soul and the perspicacity of the mind to the more delicate sense of touch : “ad bonam complexionem corporis sequitur nobilitas animae, quia omnis forma est proportionata suae materiae.  Unde sequitur quod qui sunt boni tactus, sunt nobilioris animae et perspicacioris mentis”.[8]


3.    Hence the basis of a sound humanism, which does not separate mind from body ‘mens sana in corpore sano’.  This does not mean that the bodily health begets ex sese the mental health nor esp. its culture, but that it offers a favorable basis for it.  Juvenal, in his verse, has no philosophical pretention, but put in it a religious note which all neglect citing “orandum est ut sit mensa sana in corpore sano”.[9]



[1]C.G. II 50.

[2]C.G. II 49, and 66.  We speak of the proper reflection, by which a being returns upon itself and knows itself.  Physically, the reflection of a light ray on a mirror is a remote analogy of the real reflection.  Re. sensible knowledge, we said that a sense cannot reflect : the eye sees colour but not its own vision; to touch one’s touch, it would ne needed, not only that one hand touches the other, but that the finger enters within itself like an empty glove finger.   On the int. level, reflection means not that one thinks of stg (cogitatio) but that one thinks of himself, which is the reditio completa.  Thus the reflection is the most direct way to the spiritual and quasi experimental.

[3]I 75,2.

[4]De Anima III 7, # 680-681.  “Omne quod est in potentia ad aliquid et receptivum eius, caret eo ad quod est in potentia et cuius eset receptivum; sicut pupilla, quae est in potentia ad colores, et est receptiva ipsorum, est carens omni colore.  Sed int. noster sic intelligit intelligibilia..., ergo caret omnibus illis rebus quas natus est intelligere, q. sunt res sensibiles et corporales, et ncss est quod careat omnia natura corporali.  Sicut lingua febricitantis, quae habet aliquem humorem amarum, non potest recipere dulcem saporem.  ‘Intus apparens prohibebit cognoscere extraneum et obstruet’,, i.e. impediet intellectum, et quodammodo velabit et concludet ab inspectione aliorum.” 

[5]I 75,2 ad 3.

[6]75,3 ad 2.  Si vero in intelligendo, fatigetur corpus, hoc est per accidens, inqt int. indiget operatione virium sensitivarum, per quas ei phantasmata praeparantur.

[7]I 76, 5.

[8]De Anima II 19; #485.

[9]Satires, X 356.