Unedited Notes—Woodbury on the Proper Formal Object of the Human Intellect in State of Union

Ch. 63 The Proper Formal Object of the Human Intellect—State of Union


This chapter takes up something that I have often thought about in light of the scholarly literature on these matters.  The so-called River Forest Thomists are closest to the matter.  However, their position would be better explained if they were more explicit on this very point (especially as discussed in article 2 in part; I suspect more is found in Ostensive and Defensive Metaphysics).  Also, it would bring into view things that Thomists have felt for centuries.  Fr. Phillip Neri Reese, OP has noted to me facts regarding Dominic of Flanders’s treatment of the way that analogy is deployed in metaphysics (though I am almost certain that the points are the same as in Woodbury; indeed, I’m surprised at something that Woodbury says, as we’ll see; however, I need to consult his works more fully to be sure). In any case, one should also consult Maritain’s fifth chapter of Degrees of Knowledge.  Here, as in many places, one senses that, as Jack Cahalan has said, Maritain was right, and we need to catch UP.  The next post will contain Article 2 on the possibility of metaphysics.


Article 1: Which is this Proper Object

Dissertation 1: Diverse Opinions of Philosophers

n. 912-918 Woodbury lists six chief doctrines proposed by realists

1.     Plato: Universals exists outside singular things in themselves

a.     Beginning of knowledge not in sensible knowledge

b.     Instead, reminiscence

2.     Ontologists—He cites Malebranche and Casimir Ubaghs (from Louvain in the 19th century)

a.     First object is God, not in Himself, but in his Ideas

b.     Occasionalism led Malebranche to this- ideas do not arise from bodies or minds

c.     Not infused

d.     Nor are our ideas exemplary causes of things (like God’s)

e.     So, we see the divine ideas as imitable outside of God

f.      To be rejected because…

                                               i.     Occasionalism is false

                                             ii.     Asserts contradictorily that our mind sees Divine Ideas in God—which is an activity

                                            iii.     Result-This also means that we naturally see the Divine Essence, which is not distinct really from the Divine Ideas; Reduces the supernatural order to the natural order

3.     Cartesianism: He discusses this in terms of innate ideas actuated on occasion of experience; reads Descartes in an angelistic way

4.     Scotist Doctrine: Being is not only the adequate but also the FIRST object of the human intellect

a.     This hits at an important point in scholastic worries; for it would seem that metaphysics would be impossible; see Ord. 1 d.3 q.3 n.1

b.     Thus, the first / proper object = adequate object

c.     Cites similarly contemporary Scotists

                                               i.     Deodat Marie—adds “adequate” in transcribing scotus

                                             ii.     Ephraem Longpre—“The formal and adequate object of the intellect in whatever manner it be considered is not sensible quiddity”

d.     Notes that Scotus does hold that in this state we know only things whereof species appear in a phantasm; but he also notes the very puzzling passages wherein Scotus is rather perplexed by this de facto state of affairs.

e.     Woodbury holds the fundamental issue to be that he holds that of one power there can be only one object—univocally one, not analogically one; cites Quaestiones in Meta. Lib.4 q.1 n.5; also, Ord. 1 d.3 q.3 n.5

5.     Thomistic Doctrine

a.     Here, he cites the standard Thomistic treatment—in this state, proper object is the quiddity existing in corporeal matter; not singular but abstractly; cites ST I q.85 a.1 ad 3; q.86 a.1; De Veritate q.2 a.6

b.     Can be either substantial or accidental quiddity of material thing

c.     “… In other words, human intellect, in the state of union, cannot exercise its act of knowing something in its intellective manner (to wit, according to quiddity and as universal) save dependently on this, that imagination know that thing in its sensible manner (to wit, according to sensible appearance and as singular)”; he notes that imagination is used in a broad sense—any of the three higher internal senses (i.e. imagination, memory, estimative / cogitative power); the point is that these are senses that form phantasms

d.     He is careful to note that this does not mean that we quidditatively know a material quiddity according to its specific predicate and ultimate difference

e.     In state of union, other objects pertain to its common / mediate object

6.     Suarezian Doctrine

a.     Agrees that the proper formal object is quiddity of material thing

b.     But (!)—As singular!

c.     He notes that he will discuss this below at n.925

As always, an excellent schematic at the end


Dissertation 2: Solution of the problem

Topic 1 – That proper object of human intellect in this state is material quiddity of thing represented in imagination

n.921: First proof = ‘A posteriori’ from experience

He cites examples of how brain function is clearly necessary; perturbing of imagination due to alterations of environment

Notes also that we always must form some image or symbol for something; schemes and diagrams; appeals to teaching in this regard; cf. ST I q.84 a.7


He gives examples of how we have mediate knowledge of…

-       Of a sense that we might be born without

-       Knowledge of spiritual beings (Starting with precisively immaterial concepts such as being, substance, cause, then positive excluding whatever belongs only to bodies)

-       Also too for our soul and its spiritual accidents; we do not attain it positively in itself; cf. ST I q.84 a.7c and ad 3; [also Garrigou-Lagrange’s article Utrum mens…]

Also takes examples from names that bear materiality in their etymologies; his examples are taken from Latin.  [There is a danger in this, of course.]

Again, parallelism between bodily development and intellectual development.  [At this point, you notice that he’s taking for granted what will come later.  As a philosophical methodology, this is really only appropriate to someone who has done adequate dialectics through the problem.]

Finally, regarding sleep and the intellect being impeded.

Cites at length a passage from Roland Dalbiez on St. John of the Cross but written as a psychologist; from Vie Spirituelle, Oct.-Dec., 1928, 27-28)


n.922 Second Proof – ‘a priori’ from benefit of body to soul

Major: Union of soul and body is natural

Minor: Natural union of higher with lower must be for the sake of the higher

Therefore, the body is onaccount of the good of the soul; cf. ST I q.55 a.2; q.89 a.1; Qq. disp. De anima, a.2; cf. n.873Ba1c)

Soul would not be benefitted this way unless it primarily understands quiddity of sensible thing represented in imagination; He defends this by noting that the body must benefit with regard to OPERATION not BEING (but here, he openly presupposes the spiritual subsistence of the soul).

He then goes further yet.  The operations proper to the human soul are spiritual and not exercised through an organ (cites some std. texts); this, again, is presupposed to be “shown below”;  Thus the phantasm provides NOT SUBJECTIVELY (as an organ) but OBJECTIVELY; he then summarizes the meaning of this, quite evident.

Thus, he comes to the conclusion; cites numerous texts


n.923Third Proof – ‘a priori’ Regarding correspondence regarding immateriality of human intellect and quiddity of sensible thing

Here, he refers back to the detailed discussions regarding immateriality and knowability (from senses upward)

He then discusses again the fact that even with a given proper object, there can be mediate knowledge of common objects (objects having a character in common with the proper object); this explains both how mediately can know things higher than such a quiddity and things that are lower than such a quiddity (i.e. singular material things)

Time is passing as I make these notes, so I will only mention what he says in B quickly; he argues here that the abstracted quiddity shares in the same immateriality of the knower with whose intellect it shares a common [intentional] existence; one should read his comments on the immateriality of knowledge as such, no matter its degree; see n.653-657)


n.924 Foundation of these proofs: Substantial Union of Body and Soul

Those who deny the substantial union can’t hold to St. Thomas’s view

However, he notes in particular points on Scotus, who does admit of this substantial union.  Indeed this is interesting and will need further investigation.  He cites Ord. 1 dist.3 q.3 n.4 that object and power do not need to be assimilated in their mode of be [existence?]; they are related as potency and act and thus have diverse manners of be [existence?]; thus, a proportion is not required between them.  He holds (following Maquart it seems) that this flows from univocity of being; in this case, act and potency are diverse modes of being because Scotistic univocity doesn’t extend to modes of being (apparently on texts read by Maquart act and potency would have diverse modes of being); however, at least according to Woodbury (and Maquart?) analogy of being hold that object and power (related according to potency and act) have an analogical unity of mode of being.

[I will admit, I need to read the relevant texts; one wonders what it would look like with the critical editions today; but in any case, the reference point here is F.-X. Maquart, “Faut-il reviser les jugements des thomistes concernant la doctrine de Scot” Revue de philosophie sept.-dec. 1934: 400-435; there was a response—S. Belmond, “A propos d'une critique néo-thomiste du scotisme,” Revue de philosophie 1936: 57-67]


Topic 2: This Proper Object of the Human Intellect in state of union is universal material quiddity not singular

n.925 Suarez’s Denial

He holds that it is indeed the quiddity of a material thing BUT as singular!

This seems to come from his push in the direction of defending the realism of knowledge;

Woodbury holds that this is due to his doctrine of analogy, which holds that being is simpliciter one; this leads him to conceive of the universal in a more conceptualist manner.  His metaphysical notion of being requires him to hold that singular beings are simply diverse, while abstract being is simply one.  This opposition leads to the perishing of the realism o fthe universal.  The point also follows on his denial of the real distinction of essence and existence; real essence necessarily implies being, which supposes individuation.  (Recall what Maritain says about realism and the real distinction.)

If one buys Suarez’s theory of knowledge, this thesis can be accepted; he discusses (referring back to n.682) that Suarez retained only subjective union in knowledge; the expressed species becomes the medium whereby the intellect apprehends the thing immediately; it is only metaphorically assimilated to the thing, though.

n.926 St. Thomas Saving the Realism of the Universal

This is based on the distinction between the entitative and intentional roles of the expressed species—it is the very object as known; a formal sign of the object whatever it may be.  Entitatively, it is a prerequired condition; intentionally, it is a formal sign wherein the thing is known

n.927 Proof of Above Conclusion

That the proper object is universal and not singular is already discussed above in n.923, n.645-648, n.653-657).  He then basically summarizes the point based on what was said earlier.  This is schematically represented on p.776.  The proof is from correspondence as regards the manner of be [existence?] or degree of immateriality.


Dissertation Three: Certain Corollaries

1.     All our knowledge has its beginning from sense

a.     Cites the other adage, not literally from Thomas: Nihil est in intellectu…

b.     Not that we are limited to what the senses know; but that we draw our objects there; Cites De Veritate q.10 a.6 ad 2

c.     These are unsensed intentions in the thing apprehended by the sense powers; notice the comparison to how memory and estimation do the same; the intellect detects and inspects BEING of what it is; cf. 895C, 904A

d.     The senses convey BEING unwittingly to the intellect

e.     Example: Dock workers carrying wedges that are actually golden bars, though they don’t know them to be anything other than wedges.

f.      Then, on p.779, there is a marvelous diagram that shows how Aquinas accounts for both sensism and subjectivism, though reconciling the matter from on high (as peak between the extremes of intellect ADDING intentions that were in no way in sense data [=Kant] and there being NO unsensed intentions at all; intellect only grasps what is formally in sense knowledge [=Sensists])

2.     Objective or Extrinsic Dependence of human intellect on sense powers and, accordingly, on the body

a.     Cites a number of texts

b.     Notes that this does not render the intellect to be organic.  There are diverse kinds of dependencies:

                                               i.     Regarding being = Subjective dependence – as regards being as upon subject of inhesion

                                             ii.     Regarding action

1.     Subjective – psychosomatic limitation of act, which depends directly upon the organ in question

2.     Objective dependence – in order that the power may be presented with its object (Here, one should turn to a lengthy discussion of objective extrinsic causality)

c.     All such dependencies are found in organic or psychosomatic powers.  This is an important point to remember (for though Woodbury still is a bit too synthetic in his style, he does work up through the kinds of objective union in sense powers such that he prepares well for the much more difficult and deep metaphysical treatment of said matters)

d.     The intellect in state of union requires (objectively) the three internal senses IMMEDIATELY and MEDIATELY requires the externals senses

3.     Human understanding proceeds from sensibles according as “it is connatural to man that he arrive through sensibles at knowledge of understandables” (ST III q.60 a.4)

a.     Thus, sensible examples are of great value in learning and teaching; also schematizations esp. as they manifest the formal element; though it can be inadequate

b.     One must therefore pay attention to what is understood and to our manner of understanding it

4.     Extreme intellectualism and sensism are both half-truths mixed with error

a.     Extreme intellectualism affirms the transcendence of the intellect over sensitive powers but denies all dependence of our intellect on sense powers; also denies all resolution of our intellective knowledge on sense knowledge

b.     Sensism affirms dependence on body for knowledge; also (even total and formal) resolution of intellectual knowledge into sense knowledge;  Denies transcendence of intellect over sense order

c.     St. Thomas affirms – transcendence of intellect over sense order; also objective dependence on sense knowledge and material resolution of our intellectual knowledge into sense knowledge

d.     There is an excellent diagram on p 783; it arranges the various thinkers in ascending order on the sides of a triangle between the two extremes mentioned above

5.     Concerning the perfection of intellectual life in the state of union with the body

a.     Temperamentally tranquil and energetic; a fervid temperament would prevent sustained attention; lethargic will lead to the intellect be defectively fed from senses and imagination

b.     Something of the condition of

6.     Sensible things that draw the most attention weigh down the mind most

a.     One might be scandalized reading the numerous selections, but unchastity can really tear apart our internal life (if we admit from our own experience how it can take us “out of our minds”, a felicitous expression, actually)

7.     There is a correspondence between the intellect and the senses (especially the internal senses and touch

a.     In the order of operation: more objects with less perturbation

b.     In the order of entity (and of intellectivity): This is a profound point; also discussed in Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, Le principe de finalité, 344-346.  It is related to Maritain’s reflections on the individuation of souls and sexuality.  To understand the point in summary, see Fr. Woodbury’s remarks: “[There is a certain correspondence between the human intellect and the senses] in the order of entity (and of intellectivity), for, since the intellective soul, as will be shown hereunder, is created, not only IN the body, but also ACCORDING TO the body, there results to the intellective soul and to its intellect a more perfect entity and a more perfect intellective vigour from a more perfectly disposed organism, especially according as the organs of the internal senses, seated in the cortex, are the more perfectly disposed for the functions of sensitive lie.  Wherefore: not only is the intellect the better furnished with the objects of its knowledge, but also the intellect is of greater intellective vigour and penetrativeness IN ITSELF.

c.     On this, he cites a wonderful passage from Maritain’s Preface to Metaphysics

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)