Man sees the cosmos naturally. We open up our eyes and there it is. Our nature is such that it corresponds to the cosmos and is proportionate to it. Our nature is to be the cosmos by an immanent act. We are therefore a part of the whole by a perfect correspondence to the whole. 

What would the cosmos look like without man? It wouldn’t look like anything. The angels do not need to sense it to know it, and the mere animals do not know it when sensing it. An eagle doesn’t need to relate to the things he sees as “cosmos”- that is superfluous to him. It suffices that he see nest parts, mates and fishes- and he need not see these as any unity. The universality of intellect continually forces us to pull in more and more of the cosmos by physical perception. We have a physical awareness of a physical thing; the universality of the object of our mind (what material things are) perfectly corresponds to the cosmos (we rise above this object not by seein the immaterial, but by a judgment about the material).

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7 Comments

  1. July 29, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    How do universals exist, if at all, in your view, thomist?

  2. a thomist said,

    July 30, 2008 at 5:32 am

    Simple answer, no. Universals are tools that the mind uses to understand things. They consist in relations which are real on the part of the mind to things, but not real on the part of things to the mind.

    But there is a side of this simple “no” worth developing: there is a homogeneity between the knower and the thing known. Knowledge consists in becoming another as other, as opposed to eating, which incorporates another into us only by destroying it (Aristotle insisted on understanding knowledge only after one understood nutrition). To the extent that the universal is a manifestation of the other as other, it might make sense to speak of it as “real”.

    And at any rate, it is real in that it is an objective part of our mind, even more so than a femur is a part of our leg. We are truly godlike beings for being able to make such a being as our mind produces almost with no effort. If we only could get a clear view of our soul as the maker of universals, it would make all of creation seem as nothing. Its immortality and sublimity would be obvious. Catherine of Sienna saw the soul once and remarked that it was one of the most beautiful realities she had ever seen (and the universal is a dominant revelation of mans soul) and I believe that much of natural religion (Buddhism, for example) takes its power by leading man to an intuitive knowledge of his own soul.

  3. July 30, 2008 at 11:32 am

    So, manipulation of universals is the most distinctive feature of human minds? Can we generalize this to abstract reasoning?

    The mind then says: “X instantiates the property or universal of redness.” But X cannot say that and instead proclaims: “I am red.” Is that why the (universal-in-mind)-to-thing relation is real, and the thing-to-universal relation is not? The mind abstracts universals from things, but things themselves couldn’t care less.

    The mind is in a manner of speaking all things, but things are not minds. Right?

  4. a thomist said,

    July 30, 2008 at 12:10 pm

    Allow me a long-winded answer, first showing how I think the known and knower are like, and then distinguished.

    I’d be more likely to put it like this: mind and the things can both say “this is red” in reference to what they possess. It’s the same thing that perfects the thing and the mind, but it perfects the potency of the thing primarily, and the potency of a mind only given that there is a mind.

    “Red” or even “redness” is a middle between two potencies: it perfects the potency of surface on the one hand, and mind on the other. So there is a double relation of any perfection: on the one hand to real potency, and on the other hand to rational potency. The relation of the perfect to a real potency is spoken of simply, but the relation to mind is spoken of with the qualification.

    I would be more comfortable distinguishing them like so: the known has the perfection as of itself, the knower has the perfection as of another. Or; knowns have a perfection subjectively that knowers have objectively. The universal potential mode of containment proper to a universal is a peculiarity of the human mind. The angels need no such potencies, the animals do not attain to them.

    The big difference between your way of wanting to distinguish the question and mine, I think, is the idea of perfection or completion. As I read St. Thomas and Aristotle, it is impossible to understand knowledge apart from act/ being, and impossible to understand act apart from completion or perfection. This mode of analysis, however, is an absolute scandal to the modern and contemporary mind.

  5. July 30, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    >The angels need no such potencies, the animals do not attain to them.

    Odd. About God Aquinas writes that “God knows not only universal, but also singular things.” (ST, I, 14, 11, ad 1) About angels he writes that “Thus the higher the angel is, by so much the fewer species will he be able to apprehend the whole mass of intelligible objects. Therefore his forms must be more universal; each one of them, as it were, extending to more things. … It is accidental to the universal to be abstracted from particulars, in so far as the intellect knowing it derives its knowledge from things. But if there be an intellect which does not derive its knowledge from things, the universal which it knows will not be abstracted from things, but in a measure will be pre-existing to them… in the order of nature, as the universal ideas of things are in the angelic mind.” (ST, I, 55, 3; ad 1) Is there a contradiction? Or do you mean that the angels need no such potencies because they in act with respect to the universals?

    I agree, however, that we know beings through their acts. And I agree that an act is a perfection of power (perhaps through habits which stand midway).

  6. a thomist said,

    July 30, 2008 at 4:58 pm

    Not at all. I’m away from my books now so I can’t give you the citations, but the universals of the angels and of God are not potential, but actual.

    Universal simply means what exists in many and is present to them. But things extend to many either by being indefinite, or by having wider causal power. The universals that are proper to our mind are of the former kind; the universals of the angelic and divine mind are of the latter kind. The difference is that even the highest angel needs some multiplicity of concepts, while God sees all in his Word.

  7. July 30, 2008 at 6:26 pm

    Thanks, thomist, for the explanations. If I say that the sun causes (1) grass to grow; (2) warmth on Earth; (3) tan on human beings, am I perceiving a universal? Can you give an example of a universal that an angel knows but humans do not? (OK, that may not have made much sense.) When you speak of causal power of universals, do you mean that angels have power in addition to intellect and will? Aquinas does not mention power at all in his treatment of angels. In fact, the blessed humans don’t seem to have any power either; they get their kicks solely from intellectual contemplation of God. Or is it that angels just know that X causes Y and that’s all?

    Can you define “intelligible species” for me? Is it basically mental representation, between the knower and the known?


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