Principles to divide intellect and sense

While it is helpful to divide sense from intellect by pointing to the universality of the latter, the division does not attain to intellect as such but to an imperfection of it. Another division might be more helpful, namely the one between the acquisition of observer-relative information and information about the object as it is in itself. All living things can receive signals and adapt their behavior to them, and in this sense there is intelligence wherever there is a unified, single, adaptive being. But to receive behavior-modifying information means to receive information that serves as a principle of action – what the Scholastics called “practical reason”. Speculative reason – or the interest in the object as it is in itself – is utterly different since it treats knowledge as the goal and not as the means. Seen from the point of view of the object, speculative reason marks that moment when the object full comes into its own and is loved for its own sake.

If we allow that knowledge is the attainment of an object, then speculative knowledge counts as the fullest sort of knowledge since it attains to the object simply speaking and not so far as it is useful to modify behavior. Practical knowledge is knowledge secundum quid, though we can make a strong case that it is possessed by any living organism, and perhaps by everything that can preserve itself in response to some sort of signal. As knowledge becomes more perfect, it does not become universal so much as it becomes more informed by object itself and less self/subject informed. At the higher levels, intelligence considers objects as such – IOW, it is scientific.

More importantly, sensible knowledge is never of the object as such, but of a mixture of the object and its activity on the organ. What you taste is not exactly the thing, but a mix of the thing and the disposition of your body, and how it acts on you. The two things mingle together to form a single object that is neither purely objective nor subjective. This is what intellection overcomes, and what sets it apart.

On this account human knowledge is higher than sensitive knowledge – at least as we find knowledge in non-human animals – but it is not knowledge in the fullest possible sense. Though not everything we know is ordered to modifying behavior, nor is it the physical mix of object and organ,  it is nevertheless grounded on processes that are (which is exactly why our intellection is universal). A more perfect sort of intellection would not attain to sensible things in this way, but would intellectually attain to their particularity. But it is extraordinarily difficult to articulate exactly what this would mean.

1 Comment

  1. Lucretius said,

    July 31, 2016 at 11:20 pm

    I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.


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