2.25.2011

The Infinity of God

Act is limited by potency. All potencies are ordered to some act, and to be ordered is to be determined to one as opposed to another. A member of a species, for instance, with reproductive capability is ordered to the procreation of another member of the same species and not a member of another. We have been speaking of act in a qualified manner, though. Act is not necessarily limited by potency. That act which, of itself, has no admixture of potency is not limited by potency and is not received by any potency. This act is not a form that informs matter, nor is it anything that inheres in some body. As such, this act is both unlimited and infinite.

2.14.2011

From Ought to Is

The is/ought problem: How can you derive what ought to be from what is?

To think that this problem is a serious one is to overlook the activity of human understanding. When a man understands what a dog is, for instance, being four-legged will usually make its way into the definition. Our experiences with dogs show that dogs have four legs. When we see a three or two-legged dog, we immediately know that, through either a birth defect, disease, external accident, malicious human action, or animal attack, this dog somehow became defective. Implicit in this assumption is that nature acts for an end (final causality). We know that nature does not intend to produce three or two-legged dogs even if we happen to encounter them. In other words, we know that a dog ought to have four legs because that is what-it-is-to-be a dog.

Put another way, the human intellect possess actual knowledge through the act of form, that which makes substances intelligible. Intelligibility is achieved through separation from matter, so our knowledge of form remains even when matter fails to become fully actual in the case of a particular instantiation. This is how we judge two-legged dogs to be imperfect or defective in some way. We do this with everything, this is how human knowing operates.
 

2.13.2011

Intellect II

There used to be a saying of philosophers: "Anima est quodammodo omnia."

We can see the truth of this by considering what St. Thomas calls the two types of perfection. In things, perfection may be had according to the act of existence. Inasmuch as a thing is what it is in virtue of its species, it possess a sort of existential perfection. This type of perfection, though, is not absolute since it may be found in many things. The perfection that follows from the act of existence in a created thing is always distinct from the perfection in another. In this way, even the perfection of individual things is imperfect since individual things, through their perfection, are only parts of the perfection of the universe. We can see, then, that creation is both perfected by being what it is and imperfect by being limited to itself and not found in another.

This is overcome by the second type of perfection. This perfection is not found within the act of existence but is somehow found in another. Just as something has perfection by having the act of existence, this perfection is achieved through the possession of some act, albeit not the act of existence. Through this type of perfection, then, there is a way in which the perfection of the entire universe can be found within an individual thing.

The thing's name? Man.

That by which he possesses all perfections? Knowledge.

"The soul is, in a way, all things."

2.09.2011

Intellect I

When discussing the human intellect or, more specifically, the inferiority of man's act of understanding, Aquinas offers an interesting illustration that supplements his argument for the intellect's immateriality. While proving that the species of the known object cannot possibly exist in the intellect in a material way, Aquinas says that bodily organs have a harmony with their formal objects of sensation. An intense sensation, loud noises or bright lights, shatters this harmony and therefore weakens or destroys our sense faculty. Intellectual reception, though, does not work in this way. It is perfected in proportion to the object which it understands, he who understands higher objects is able to understand lower things more perfectly and not less perfectly. If the intellect were a type of sensation, it would have a harmony capable of being shattered, perhaps by too much understanding or some other activity.