The theory of the intentional in the instrumental cause. Whatever may have been the hesitations in the very words of St. Thomas, the notion of the intentional plays a fundamental role. An efficient cause subordinated to a principal cause that always dominates it, and which communicates to it an effect that goes beyond what is of the [second] cause, can only act as such by means of the actual influence of the principal cause acting on it and through it. What makes it an instrument is the intentional presence in it of the principal cause.
Light and sensible knowledge. It is not difficult to ridicule the theory of species as “spiritualized”, which, after being received in the exterior sense, are thereafter capable of exercising a spiritual action. Suarez and other Scholastics have believed that they could renounce this theory and the difficulties that it involves, but it seems that this abandonment compromised the objectivity of sensible knowledge and the direct knowledge of the exterior world as a consequence.
St. Thomas would not have accepted this. The “spiritualization” of the species through the medium that separates the sensible object from the organ is given a strong and plausible explanation. Light [on this account] plays a necessary role in all sensations and is what spiritualizes the intentional species. It is capable of exercising this action because it is nothing other than the participation of the medium in the nature of the celestial bodies, which in turn participate in the pure spirituality of the separated substances. The intentional presence of the separated substances to the celestial bodies with which they are in contact, and the intentional presence of the celestial bodies to the medium that they illumine is the explanation that S.t Thomas gives of the intentional species in the medium.
This explanation is coherent, though it is evident that the physics of today cannot allow for it. Perhaps a more powerful and systematic study of the intentional will suggest a means to replacing his theory without being unfaithful to St. Thomas.
The hierarchy of sensible faculties. The intentional theory that we have been examining, which plays an indispensible role in sensation properly speaking, is also necessary to understand the activity of a knowing subject.
One encounters an incoherence and a seeming contradiction in the Thomistic formulas of sensation, which is the proper operation of external sense. Some attribute to external sensation a true knowledge, judgment, and the beginnings of reflection. Others refuse it this privilege and nevertheless hold to exterior sense for the same of the power of knowledge. The difficulty is dissolved by a distinction: of itself, the external sense is incapable of reflection, judgment, and so of knowledge, though it is capable of the intentional presence of the internal sense within it. The hierarchy of sensible faculties which touch each other and are rooted in one another, is only explained by the intentional presence of the superior within the inferior faculties.
We ascend through the successive levels from the common sense to the imagination until finally attaining to the border of the intelligence with the cogitative sense and the sense of memory. The point of junction is particularly important and particularly delicate, and the theory of the intentional plays a decisive role: the cogitative is the sensibility that is in contact with the intelligence which is next to it and which the intelligence subordinates it: this cogitative sense is constituted by the intentional presence of human intelligence to sensibility.
On the level of the intelligence. Here again, the theory of the intentional plays an essential role. The objectivity of knowledge is explained by a double presence: the intentional presence of the thing to the mind; and the intentional presence of the mind to the things. We will show this in a brief manner.
We begin by distinguishing with St. Thomas the intention of the mind and the intention of the thing, which is, generally speaking, the act of attention and the concept (or mental word) produced by this act of attention. This need not lead us to the error of separating the intention of the mind, and its inclination from the intention of a thing no longer existing, for we do not define knowledge by its formal conditions alone, but by the conditions adjoined to its exercise.
There is a double intentional character to the intention of the thing. A distinction allows us to oppose it to the ratio of the thing, an opposition that is quite clear, despite its subtlety. The ratio of the thing is the very intelligible object itself, as opposed to the one contained in knowledge that is corresponding to the object. But this is the object so far as it is relative to my intelligence. The ratio of the thing is in the mind, but it comes from the thing. The intention of the thing, on the contrary, is contained in my act of knowledge, it is in the mind and comes from the mind, though it corresponds to the object. It is the objective contents of the subjective act that constitutes the conception of the thing. When you compare the intention of the thing and the ratio of the thing, you see that both are immanent to the mind and that the two correspond to the object. But the first comes from the mind and the second from the object; the second gives my knowledge an objective being; the first gives it the being of a knower.
Is it necessary to admit a metaphysical sense in this series of concepts? What is this correspondence that we are speaking of? What is the objective and subjective origin of the ratio and the intention of the thing?
The theory of the intentional clarifies a more delicate and apparently more obscure point in the Thomistic noetic: the intention of the thing is the common act or rather it immanently produces an act common to the object and the subject; and this communion of the subject and the exterior object in the unity of the same act is possible thanks to the action that the intelligible object exercises on the subject by the mediation of sensibility and thanks to the reaction that, by this same intermediary, the subject exercises on the object in making it intelligible in act. This is to say that objective knowledge is exercised by a double intentional presence of the intelligible object upon the subject, and the intelligent subject on the object.
Such, it seems to us, is the profound thought of St. Thomas. The reader no doubt will find it obscure. It will only be meaningful in a systematic exposition which we have only given a sketch of at the moment.
Transition. If we were to object that (except for the case of an instrumental cause and perhaps for light) the theory of intention is only used by St. Thomas to explain the objectivity of sensible and intellectual knowledge, it would no doubt suffice to quote back to us our own words at the head of this section (where it was said intentional had many meanings –ed.)
And yet there are still other responses to this objection. We could, for example, invoke the intentionality of the operative powers emanating from the substance and specified by their formal object, which is to say by their relation to an object that in turn specifies a correlative relation to such and such a power.
One could also certainly bring up the Thomistic doctrine of the creative presence of God to the world. There are passages where St. Thomas clearly underlines that the constitutive character of this presence to the world which would be unintelligible if we refused to allow the intentionality of finite being that is constituted in its proper reality by this creative presence. One of the more striking illustrations of this doctrine is the comparison (which St. Thomas did not discover) between God and the sun. God is the sun of spirits and of the world, since both spirits and the world depend in a very intimate and actual manner on his creative presence, just as the light of the atmosphere depends on the light of the sun. Place a screen between the sun and the earth immediately it is plunged into shadows. Suspend the presence of God to the world for an instant, and immediately it will fall back into nothing. The reality of the world is constituted by the intentional presence of its creator. Thus we see, it is without fear of infidelity to the thought of St. Thomas how we could organize a metaphysics of the intentionality of being.