Intellect and sense

It’s easy enough to imagine forming a generic image of a mosquito after we have seen several of them- but if this is what a universal is, then the exact same process forms the generic image “animal” after we have seen mosquitoes, clams, and dolphins. But what in the world does that image look like? As our concepts become more general, any images of them become more and more incoherent. According to St. Thomas, therefore, as our concepts become more and more intelligible to us, any supposed image of them becomes less and less intelligible. Unless we make an essential distinction between sensation and intellect we are forced to say that sensation becomes better to the extent that it becomes worse.


  1. Eric said,

    February 25, 2009 at 1:11 pm

    Isn’t there an argument from the fact of the intellect’s ability to grasp universals to the conclusion that therefore the intellect itself cannot be accounted for if physicalism obtains, and that therefore physicalism is false?

  2. February 25, 2009 at 11:11 pm

    Physicalism is not a coherent or agreed upon doctrine in its own right, but I cannot see how physicalism of any description (say “all states follow physical states”) could explain even the life of a plant. I mean this literally. The chemicals that make up a rose are alive, and each rose actively works on them. The study of chemicals is only the study of an essential instrument and passive principle of something else in a living thing. I’d leave the refutation of physicalism to plants, because there is always the danger in thinking that because you have refuted physicalism/naturalism/ materialism that you’ve attained to human dignity (almost all contemporary theist philosophers fall in this trap.)

    This proof can be used to show far more. But since we know our own life better than the life of plants, we can start here.

    Note that there is a real immateriality even to sense. Sense receives something else, and is perfected by it without turning into it. This is against the very idea of matter- like say a lump of clay or a sheet of paper.

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