Unedited Notes—Fr. Woodbury on the Intellect's Adequate Object

Ch. 62: The Adequate Formal Object of the Human Intellect

Article 1: The Meaning of this Question

n.901 General issues at play

The issue here discussed is the ambit of our knowledge; the issue of the proper formal object (i.e. the object that extrinsically specifies its nature) will be considered in the next chapter.


n.902 Distinction of Proper, Common, and Adequate Objects

However, it’s helpful to note the difference between the proper and adequate object of a power:

·      Proper formal object of a knowing power

o   = That of the material object which is immediately manifested (ratio obiecti ut res) to the power by the formal reason whereunder (ratio obiecti ut obiectum) the power respects its object.

o   This is the specificative object (extrinsically specifies the power)

o   = THE OBJECT TO WHICH THE POWER IS ESSENTIALLY AND PRIMARILY ORDERED (He considers this much earlier in n.519-522 where discussions of the specification of powers by acts and acts by objects is taken up)

·      Common object of a knowing power

o   Common to this power and to other powers;

o   = That of the material object that is mediately (i.e. by medium of the proper object) manifested to the power by its formal reason whereunder, or towards which the power is not repugnant by virtue of its order towards its proper object (i.e. by virtue of its nature)

o   Example: Shape and movement, which pertain to common object of sight

§  Are common to sight and other senses

§  Mediately manifested by the medium of color (=object which) to sight by light (= object whereunder)

o   Two kinds of common object

§  Common object of the material object that is mediately (by medium of the proper object) manifested to the power by its formal reason whereunder—THIS IS THE MEDIATE OBJECT OF THE POWER

§  Beyond these, objects TOWARDS WHICH THE POWER IS NOT REPUGNANT BY ITS NATURE = Extensive object of the power

·      Adequate Object

o   All that can be known in any manner whatsoever

o   That object from nothing of which the power from its very nature would be precluded



Thus, Fr. Woodbury presents an excellent schema of the notions of THING and OBJECT.  Summarized, it is:

An object of a knowing power can be considered…

·      Material Object: Purely and simply as a thing

·      Formal Object (AS IT IS AN OBJECTED THING)         {All of this is ADEQUATE OBJECT}

o   AS OBJECTED = Formal reason whereunder (formal object quo)

o   AS A THING = WHAT IS MANIFESTED BY THE F.O.quo (formal object quod)

§  (PROPORTIONATE OBJECT) PROPER OBJECT: Immediately manifested by quo = Proper, specificative, immediate

§  Common Object: Not immediately manifested =




n.903 Object of this chapter = adequate / total object


Article 2: Which is the Adequate Formal Object of Our Intellect

n.904: This is at least being

Being and whatsoever other being according as it has analogical community therewith.  He refers back (as we will note below) to earlier discussions.

The reason for this: Understanding the essences of things gives a formal object quo that has the character of being (n.895C), as being is nothing other than essence having existence (whether actually or potentially).  Thus, note the assertion on which this all hangs: Because the intellect apprehends the essences of things, we will be able to note step by step what must be its adequate (or, extensive) object.

How do we know that the intellect apprehends essences?  It receives forms AS FORMS.  (Thus, see the discussion at the opening of sense knowledge.)  And does so AS DETERMINATIVE OF THE QUIDDITY OF A THING (not only by exterior manifestation).  Refers to n.648; n.889Ad2b.  Likely, the discussion moves quickly.

The point he wants to drive at, therefore: Anything having the notion of being (even if it is only mediate manifested by the formal object quo of our intellect) can be known.

Citing back to n.653-656, The formal object quo of our intellect is “that degree of immateriality which is immateriality through abstraction from individual matter”; that is, the first degree of abstraction – entity of material things; will be discussed more in the next chapter on the proper object of the intellect; everything else hangs on being mediately manifested by way of analogical community.

So, our intellect is a knowing power tuned to material being and whatever has a notion that is at least analogically common with material being.


905. Therefore, the adequate object of our intellect is being according to its full latitude

Here, we adumbrate to a problem that particularly gets pressed into service for a Christian.  By revelation, we know that the adequate object of our intellect includes God known quidditatively.  (Otherwise, what would grace and the light of glory mean for the constitution of our intellect?  Grace would no longer perfect nature but would be something wholly separate from it.)  But this topic involves some subtleties.

He cites Garrigou-Lagrange, De deo uno.  One could also consult De revelatione, Le sens du mystère, Le principe de finalité (likely others too)

This cannot be DISPROVEN—For it is not evident that a power that knows things under the formal character of being would be precluded from quidditative knowledge of any object whatsoever (having the character of being).

However, from natural reason alone, it can be recommended by a persuasive argument (though not apodictically:

·      Cites ST I q.12 a.4 ad 3; ST I-II q.113 a.10

·      He formulates an argument by John of St. Thomas (Cursus Philosophicus, vol.3 De Anima, q.10 a.3, “What is the adequate and specificative object of the possible intellect?) :

o   “Intellective power is based upon immateriality excluding all matter and corporeity in itself, because it must be a merely spiritual power.”

o   “However, through this, that it has immateriality thus segregated from all matter, it has capacity for whatsoever intelligible, BECAUSE THE MANNER OF INFORMING… INTELLECTIVE POWER ON THE PART OF THE PART OF THE INTELLIGIBLE OBJECT, HOWSOEVER PERFECT AN INTELLIGIBLE IT BE, IS NOT OTHER THAN THE SPIRITUAL AND IMMATERIAL MANNER.”

o   …

o   He then considers the aptness of immaterial natures for receiving forms in a representative manner (i.e. as other); though under different lights (i.e. operative virtues, as separate from receptive proportion / capacity of the power)

o   …

o   “Therefore, through this, that some power is immaterial (i.e. spiritual) it has capacity for whatsoever intelligible, because it is capable of being actuated in a spiritual manner… [From which he deduces suasively, not apodically that the adequate object is every intelligible]

o   The argument is not apodictic because operative virtue and passive capacity are distinct

o   [Were we able to deduce its possibility, we would be able to deduce the operative virtue, i.e. the light of glory, which would also mean that we could deduce the whole supernatural order of grace from this.]


n.906 Therefore, it is not repugnant to the intellect’s nature to know (EVEN QUIDDITATIVELY) any object whatsoever

The words not repugnant are very important here.  Our intellect has a passive obediential potency for such knowledge.

Can know being…

·      Real or mental

·      Actual or possible

·      Material or spiritual

·      Finite or infinite

·      Natural or, if no reason other than the very nature of our intellect intervene to exclude this, supernatural being[Note his qualification, which is important; more on this later]


n.907 Certain Corollaries


First Corollary: No “a priori” (modern use) reason for rejecting knowability of supernatural truth by our intellect.  (contra philosophical positions of positivism, empiricism, modernists, rationalists, idealists).  He then outlines how schools do this by exaggerating either the activity or the passivity of our intellect; notes also the close link to the denial of knowledge of essences of things.

Second Corollary: The human intellect is not divided like the senses; All of the diverse ways of considering being do so under the character of being (all of the speculative acts of the intellect, the practical intellect, etc., etc.)  Cf. ST I q.79 a.7-13

Third Corollary: No sense knows the proper object of other senses (e.g. sight does not mediately know smell; only knows the common sensibles mediately given to both); however, every intellect knows the being that is the proper object of every other intellect, though through the medium of its own proper object—as when we know something of angelic knowledge of Divine Knowledge by the medium of our proper object; he makes room from elevation from a lower order to a higher though (e.g. Beatific Vision)

Fourth Corollary:

Our intellect is not from its very nature (i.e. not per se) excluded from knowing (even quidditatively) God directly;  A sense power is thus excluded because of its organicity, which ties it to sensible objects; he cites ST I q.12 a.3 ad3; SCG III c.53-54; n.531, n.609-613; n.646; n.649)  He also notes briefly why one sense cannot be elevated to know the proper object of another color (cf. n.524Eb2b1);

Fr. Woodbury is doing this so he can explain from SCG 3.54: “The divine substance is not thus outside the faculty of created intellect, as if it were something utterly foreign from it, as is sound from sight, or immaterial substance from sense.”  Hence, he sees these latter two points as arguing against (1) Postivism / Empiricism and (2) Rationalism.


Article 3: Diverse Manners of Attaining Contents of This Adequate Object

n.908 The contents are not attained in the same manner

Some objects are more proportionate to our intellect and specify it; others more proportionate to a separated created intellect and specify it; others to the Divine Intellect.  Outside of our proper object, there is the common object that we know by means of the proper object.


Thus, the proper objet is the object towards which the power is essentially and primarily ordered; attained immediately in itself by that power.  The common object is the object towards which the power is not primarily and essentially ordered, though it can be attained by the power—either as…

·      Mediate object: Secondarily ordered to this; To attain by medium of proper object an be either (1) IN THE PROPER OBJECT (e.g. reflexive knowledge of material singular) or (2) THROUGH RELATION TO THE PROPER OBJECT—i.e. ANALOGICALLY [NB: The relative nature of analogical knowledge]: “FOR ANALOGICAL KNOWLEDGE IS KNOWLEDGE IN WHICH THE OBJECT IS ATTAINED NOT IN ITSELF DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY BUT THROUGH RELATION OR REFERENCE TO ANOTHER”  [CF. Simon above all; also, John of St. Thomas; also, be sure to consult Woodbury’s treatment of proper proportionality, which likely solves many of the childish disputes among Thomists today]

·      Extensive object: Not repugnant (and it is here that we say that God in Himself falls under the scope of the intellect—as being non-repugnant to the receptive scope of our intellect)

Thus, in sum:

·      Proper object = Most proportionate to our intellect (according to the intellect’s essential and primary order)

·      Mediate object (Less proportionate)—according to an essential but secondary positive order of the intellect

·      Extensive object—LEAST PROPORTIONATE (= proportion of non-repugnance)