Knowing individuals

Aristotle argues that a particular substance is only given to sensation per accidensand that all that is known to intellect is universal. So what knows the particular substance as such?

St. Thomas usually appeals to some sort of “reflection on the phantasm” to explain this, but it’s unclear how this is supposed to work. How does this retorsive action give a power to see something that neither sense nor intellect as such can see?

To appeal to an instinct here is to change the question. All instinct would mean is that some power or another is naturally moved to see individuals. But what power are we talking about?

Josiah Royce raises this problem in his Lecture on the Conception of Immortality.

[O]ur human type of knowledge never shows us existent individuals as being truly individual. Sense, taken by itself, shows us merely sense qualities, — colors, sounds, odors, tastes. These are general characters.
Abstract thinking defines for us types. A discriminating comparison of many present objects of experience, such as autumn leaves, or human faces, or handwritings, shows us manifold differences, but always along with and subject to the presence of likenesses, so that we never find what common sense assumes to exist, namely, such a difference between any individual and all the rest of the world as lies deeper than every resemblance. And even if by comparisons and discriminations we had found how one being appears to differ from all other now existent beings, we should not yet have seen what it is that distinguishes each individual being from all possible beings. Yet such a difference from all possible beings is presupposed when you talk, for instance, of your own individuality.

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1 Comment

  1. March 24, 2015 at 8:13 pm

    I find Thomas Aquinas’s recognition of a particular reason [ratio particularis] in addition to the universal reason [ratio universalis] quite interesting in relation to the matter at hand. We can see him comparing the one with the other in his Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle (Book I, Lesson 1, Comment 15), where he says:

    Now, as is stated below (18), in men the next thing above memory is experience, which some animals have only to a small degree. For an experience arises from the association of many singular [intentions] received in memory. And this kind of association is proper to man, and pertains to the cogitative power (also called particular reason), which associates particular intentions just as universal reason associates universal ones. Now since animals are accustomed to pursue or avoid certain things as a result of many sensations and memory, for this reason they seem to share something of experience, even though it be slight. But above experience, which belongs to particular reason, men have as their chief power a universal reason by means of which they live. (http://dhspriory.org/thomas/Metaphysics1.htm#1)


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