Intellect's Proper Object

Unedited Notes—Woodbury on Our Intellect in this State (cont.) and in State of Separation (brief outline only)

Ch. 63 The Proper Formal Object of the Human Intellect—State of Union with Body (Cont.)

Article 2: Possibility of Metaphysics

n.936 The Problem

If one takes St. Thomas serious on these matters (and many don’t, often reading him more like a Scotist, I think), it can seem like Metaphysics is impossible.  Indeed, Scotus saw this as a problem.  The heart of the issue is that the intellect doesn’t seem to seem to be formally tuned to being as being but, instead, only to material being.  How can it know things that do not embrace the character of material being?


n.937 Answer

The formal object of metaphysics is not excluded from the proper object; however, it transcends its ambit.

The points made here are good but should be read in conjunction with what he says in Ontology and Criticism.  The point comes down to maintaining the threefold manner of abstraction; noting that the third degree of abstraction abstracts from all matter (his words); Notes that it is not limited to predicamental being but also to transcendental being;

-       By priority (quoad nos) in abstraction from sensibles (this would be the negative / neutral immateriality of wippel)

-       By posteriority (quoad nos) immaterial by nature


The former is within the scope of our proper object of intellection; however, the latter pertains to our common object.  The point is summarized (probably in a way better than the aforementioned outline he offers) in the closing words: “The ADEQUATE OBJECT OF METAPHYSICS…is attained immediately and in itself indeed, in that part which is about being abstracted from matter and those things which are common to material beings and immaterial beings.  But it is attained analogically in that part which is about those things which are proper to beings immaterial by nature; for these things neither belong to the common object nor are contained in it.”  However, I think he means proper object in the second half (esp. as regards the schema offered).  Alas, I think he is a little loose here on the role of analogy in metaphysics; need to see his other works.  On this point, Maritain’s chapter 5 of Degrees remains the best, I think.  I think that Fr. Woodbury provides some excellent points; but this text seems to underplay the role of analogy from the beginning of metaphysics – for even to speak of being insofar as it is common to the predicaments requires an analogy of proper proportionality; I am a little surprised at this section to be honest.  An incredibly insightful author, I can’t believe he seems to have missed the mark to a degree here.  I think that the overall position does need to be defended, though—and a careful study on the relations between natural philosophy and metaphysics can help.


Article 3: How Intellect (and Human Intellect) are to be Defined


n.939The Teaching of Rousselot

The background here is Rousselot; he reads Rousselot’s texts (convincingly, mind you, given Rousselot’s overstated words) as defining the intellect as being a faculty of God before it is a faculty of being.  He even is also fair enough to note that Rousselot does not take the Beatific Vision to be the proper object of the intellect; only an obediential potency.    It is best summarized in C: “In the conception of Rousselot, this obediential capcity for seeing God does not follow from the natural potency for knowing the quiddity of bodies, but rather the natural potency for knowing the quiddity of bodies follows from this obediential potency for seeing God.”

When he provides the foundation for this position, one sees the intriguing text of Rousselot as well [my comments in brackets]: “For, in order that the specification of the intellect may remain one [a kind of crypto univocation is at work, I suspect] and because we cannot see in the power of perceiving being in general, or predicamental being, [one needs to understand analogy well to understand these matters, I assert] the reason of the capacity to see god, the contrary relation must be acknowledged.”


n.940 Cannot define an intellect from its obediential potency

Definition must be taken from proper formal object – to which it is positively and primarily –essentially ordered.  From this must the definition be taken; if the obediential potency is the foundation for the natural potency, then the obediential potency is without foundation; only if we can determine the nature of our intellect can we affirm that intuitive vision of God is not repugnant to it.

Also, definition must be taken from something necessary; if taken from possibility of Beatific Vision, this necessarily connects it with the intellect’s nature; thus the gratuity of elevation seems difficult to save; and it’s not enough to admit that this possibility can only be fulfilled supernaturally; for then the Beatific Vision would be naturally possible; this can’t be held, as to be discussed in Ch.65


Must concede

-       Specification of intellect must be one

-       Natural capacity for apprehending predicamental being is not foundation of obediential potency to see God

Must Deny

-       That holding that the intellect is specified by quiddity of bodies involves that our intellect is not specified ad unum; (Instead, given that being as being can fall under our proper object, no being is excluded[—Though one must understand this matter carefully])

-       The power to perceive being in common does not extend itself beyond predicamental being; (in fact, it extends right to transcendental being; in this lies the foundation of the obediential potency in virtue of the actuation of which the intellect can know God intuitively) [Again, See Maritain, Degrees, c.5]

Thus, intellect can be defined as “Cognoscitive power whereof the formal object is being” = “The faculty of being”

The Human intellect is to be defined as “Cognoscitive power whereof the proper formal or specificative object is the quiddity or nature of material thing[s] as it is universal” = “The faculty of corporeal being”


Ch. 64 The Proper Formal Object of the Human Intellect—State of Separation

These matters are very important; however, I do not now have the time to outline them in detail (as also for ch.65, which has already received masterly treatment by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange through many important battles.) 

I also have reservations about the method employed, as it is primarily that of authority; this is partially necessitated by the fact that these matters are (as Fr. Woodbury notes) primarily metaphysics’s domain—and there, quite lofty.  However, I also think that these matters are haven’t been adequately treated in a philosophical manner in detail by the tradition (though one finds Thomists treating it here or there—Or, like several Thomists in a long discussion of texts).  Really, this alone should be a significant treatise in metaphysics—lofty and difficult like knowledge of God’s existence and attributes.  Even in outline, Fr. Woodbury has a lot of content (for a matter that is really not in the province of natural philosophy[!]).  It requires a careful understanding of the kind of knowledge that the angels have, of spiritual communication, etc.    Indeed, this treatise should be closely allied to a discussion of angels and their knowledge (again, something that one understands rightly as being often discussed theologically even though it is naturally knowable).


I will, however, present a summary of the schematic summary at the end of the chapter:

The intellect of the separated soul…

-       Has for its Proper formal object—The substance of the soul; but this is the secundum quid object of the soul (thus, not specificative); [here one must understand the preternatural state that is separation]

-       It has its manner of understanding

o   Without conversion to phantasms: Because it does not have sense powers, formally speaking; this is detrimental to the soul’s understanding

o   It has understanding through the very substance of its soul – knows in itself; knows other things after the manner of this substance; (also, see his discussion of how it knows the proper accidents)

o   And has understanding through intelligible species – acquired in this life and infused at separation

o   Knows purely intellectually – no composing / dividing; also not discursively

-       Has diverse knowledges….

o   Through substance of soul it knows

§  In recto the very substance of the soul and its proper accidents; which it knows

·      Through essence

·      Immediately (not through something else)

·      Directly(not by reflection)

·      Quidditatively (Not analogicaly; in itself)

·      Comprehensively (Not merely apprehensively; through its essence united to the intellect without exceeding the intellect as regards immaterially; substance of the separated soul is self-knowledge, though radically only—[The issue of expressing knowledge terminally needs more discussion here, for the substance is not the expressed species, nor is it the power, except radically; one should see here parallel issues in angelology in John of St. Thomas’s Cursus Theologicus; the comprehensivity of the knowledge is thus different from Divine comprehensivity, but it is real comprehensivity because the substance is radically the source of the self-knowledge])

·      Intuitively (As existing; again, here the issue of expressed species makes it a bit different from the case of intuitive knowledge without termination in an expressed species, [as in the case of our external sense knowledge] and Divine Self-Knowledge but this beyond our immediate concerns)

§  Connotatively

·      God – mediately, analogically, but more perfectly than our specular knowledge

·      The soul’s own body

·      Other separated souls – but according to their specific quiddity

o   Through acquired species

§  Universal quiddities – that it knew in this life; and whatever can be syllogized from them

§  Not singulars save by application of such universals to singulars known by another knowledge

o   Through infused species

§  All natural things – but in a certain commonness and confusion [See discussion regarding this in Garrigou’s treatment of De Deo Creatore]

§  And singulars to which the soul has some special relation or inclination (see text for details on this; it is very simple here; I suspect that it gets some detailed discussion somewhere among the commentators)

o   Through intellectual speech by some angel, demon, or other separated soul  [On this, one has only a bit from discussions near the end of ST I]

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