JOST on the presence of the temporal in eternity. Article 3, (selections)

4.) Nonetheless it must without doubt be said of that DT believes things not only have an objective presence as a thing known in the foreknowledge of eternity, but he also assumes a presence relative to eternity itself and the action of eternity inasmuch as they are measured by the immutable measure of the eternal, even when not measured by the successive measure belonging to the temporal domain.

Having set aside an objective presence in the manner of a thing foreknown and setting forth a present relative to eternity as a measure of duration… there remains no other present moment except one of co-existence and duration. This is not because things which do not yet exist in themselves co-exist with God in their proper domain of measured duration as effects, but because they are affected and elevated to the higher measure of eternity, in a manner to be explained below, and which was insinuated in the previous article. So the very duration and measure of time under which things arise and pass successively in their own proper and homogeneous domain exists as something contained in eternity,  not as a measure nor as exercising measure but as contained and measured under an immutable eternal modality.

5.) …That DT understands the presence of duration and real existence in eternity is proved as a consequence that DT often makes, sc. that God understands future contingents in themselves from the fact that they are present in eternity and not from the fact that they are sometimes present in time. This particular present in time is the future of another time not now present, and the two are joined only as objects of foreknowledge. So he is proving the presence of an object in foreknowledge from the presence of something else that is not objective, since otherwise he would be proving things to be present objectively because they were present objectively. If, as some authors say, the objective presence that times had in eternity is nothing but the presence they have in themselves and outside of their causes in time, [their objective presence] would be their objective presence in eternal foreknowledge, which would be a vacuous tautology.

13-14.) [Proof that STA bases his opinion on the Church Fathers]

15.) The reason for this opinion is the one shown in the previous article: that eternity is a real and true measure of created duration, at least when things exist in their own domain of measurement. If eternity neither measured it when it existed in its own domain nor before it existed in itself, it would not contain created duration in any way. Thus it would only contain concomitantly and co-exist per accidens with the duration of temporal things, in the way that the indivisible duration of the angels does. If, as we suppose, eternity sometimes measures created duration but cannot do this by either an intrinsic or even extrinsic succession, it is necessary that the flowing duration of time cannot coexist with eternity as sometimes existing and other times not, but it has to be always measured by it and therefore always co-exist with it.

16.) The whole problem consists in the proof of the minor premise, sc. that eternity, in measuring,  lacks any sort of succession, whether intrinsic or extrinsic. For the authors opposed to us have a very strong argument (faciunt vim) and think that we are laboring under an equivocation when we prove that, given the highest immutability and indivisibility of eternity, we prove that successive things eternally co-exist with it.

They say that eternity is immutable and indivisible in itself entitatively and intrinsically but the successive things that are extrinsic to it cannot co-exist indivisibly, not from an imperfection in eternity but from the successive things themselves. Thus they co-exist with eternity by themselves changing and not by any change in it, making eternity only changeable extrinsically but not intrinsically and manifold virtually but unified formally, as though some measure were fixed and we measured quantities by sending them across it, like a tree fixed by a river touching the waters passing by it – it would measure by something extrinsic to the tree and not by a change in the tree. In the same way a an immense magnitude co-exists with me without making me co-exist in every place the immense magnitude does.

(these last paragraphs were compressed and edited)

17a.) Sed contra: Eternity is not just indivisible entitatively and in itself but also in its measuring, whether intrinsically or extrinsically. This follows from the definition of eternity as a wholly simultaneous and perfect possession – and so whatever it measures or contains, even extrinsically, it also measures by possessing wholly and simultaneously and not by the application or replication of succession in its measuring. Eternity is not said to be “a way of possessing… except with respect to how it measures”, or by eternity itself standing fixed while measured things are successively applied to it… [if it were] it would not measure by possessing the thing all at once, but by touching others as they run across it. The tree by a river, even if it is fixed in place, nevertheless does not contain all the water at once when it touches it, and so does not measure by possession but by succession, not of itself, but of its act of measuring.

So any part being given in succession, whether on the part of the measured thing that is applied or on the part of the measuring, destroys the possession, just as I would be said not to possess something whether this happened from the thing not coming to me or because I do not possess it. So if eternity measures by extrinsic succession… it could not contain and measure in a perfect manner of possession but in an enumerated way, such that it would not extend to the whole duration of time in a unified and unchanging manner…

17b.)  The example brought forth about the immense magnitude also misses the point, for it does not co-exist by drawing things to itself or by measuring them in an immutable way, but only through exterior contact, by giving them a proper place, and so it measures just as changeably as the things that are put in contact with it. Eternity does not measure things by changing with them, for things that so measure co-exist with the things in their proper domain. [Were it to measure in this way] eternity would not co-exist with the things measured and contained by simultaneously and uniformly possessing all, but would itself stand materially and concomitantly to eternity. The things measured, in turn, would not formally be defined as measured and reduced to the uniformity of the simultaneous possession characteristic of eternity…


JOST on the physical presence of the temporal in the eternal (cont.) ¶ 6-9

6b.) There are both a priori and a posteriori reason for this.

A posteriori: eternity is a superior and more uniform duration with the rest of the durations depending on it, at least when the things actually exist in the proper domain where they are measured. Eternity is thus really and of itself the measure of created things, and whatever falls away from the duration of a created thing also ceases to be measured by eternity, though this does not occur from a defect in eternity but from the thing measured. To explain the antecedent: God exists first with created things when the created thing exists in itself, since God exists simultaneously with it by causing and conserving it, thus having existence and duration simultaneously with it. It is clear that this duration is superior, more uniform, and the cause of created duration since it is a duration both infinitely exceeding in loftiness, immutability and regularity and upon which the lower motions of the celestial heaven are derived and depend…

7.) The a priori reason is that the measure of uncreated duration measures the very action by which God produces created things in their esse and conserves them in their duration, and his action is simpler and more uniform than the duration of any of his effects while also containing that duration. And so we can reduce created duration to the measure that it has in eternal duration, from which it follows that eternity is a measure, both truly and properly speaking, of created things….

Still, you might object to this: how does eternity measure the effect of God when it measures his action? There are two options:

(a) We might consider creatures as interior to God so far as they are in the intellect and power of God or in the very divine substance containing all creatures within its perfection. But considering them in this way stops short of the divine action, so that the things will not be measured by eternal being according to their real created being but only as essences that are fit for creation of objectively possible or known things, which would not make them measured in their real duration.

(b) Or we might consider the creatures as already produced in being by a divine action. So taken, they are able either to exist or not and so are not measured by eternity that measures in an immobile way but by the measure allowed in their own mutable domain of measurability. The way this mode of being measured by by eternity is opposed to being measured by created duration because of its mutability.

9.) We respond: when we say that eternity is the measure of created things, we are not talking about creatures as within God, i.e. so far as they are God himself, nor are we only talking about how they are in the objective power or knowledge of God, but as they are things outside of divinity to which the divine action reaches (attinguntur). Two things can be considered in this action: (i) the changeable passive term which the divine action brings forth in time, although it is eternal in itself since all things are created in the beginning of time, or (ii) the relation to the very divine action that takes the created thing as a term from all eternity, and not just in its possible existence but as being made in fact, and supposing the divine decree about the production of creation.

If we consider the creature as changeable and passive in the divine production, this establishes the proper domain of created measure, even though the subject is caused from eternity. Considered in the second way, however, God’s action elevates the term by relating it to himself as measure. It is in this way that the action, inasmuch as it is a process and the causality or the development is the effect itself, measures the thing or term of action along with the motion of tendency and flux, for the very term of the action is nothing but the thing as tending and becoming. This action of God, moreover, causes without any motion, as wholly unchanging, even while producing a thing subject to motion in time.

It follows that created actions, due to their being in process, with a tendency, and in flux, have a less perfect existence than the terminus itself existing in fact, and the actions are ordered to this as to something more perfect. The divine action is more perfect in being than its terminus, and is so not ordered to that terminus, but more gives order to the terminus. So the terminus, considered precisely as conjoined with and relating back to the action as an eternal action, is elevated to its measure in that action, sc. eternity. On the other hand, so far as it is changed passively in itself and comes to exist in time, it is established in its own domain of created measure, which we will speak of more in the following article.

JOST on the physical presence of time in eternity

I’m convinced (a) that science, philosophy, and theology all look for a major conceptual breakthrough on the nature of time, and (b) that the incredibly complex and subtle teachings  that medieval theologians had to set out in understanding the relation between time and eternity have a role to play in that breakthrough. So I’ve been fascinated for years with JOST’s thesis that temporal things are present in eternity not merely in God’s mind (or, as we might put it, the mind of a scientist or Laplacian demon) but also really and physically. JOST is a both very organic and repetitious, and it’s not always clear where the first thread of the argument starts, but I’ll just dig around in Prima Pars Q. X disp. 9, a. 2 and 3. Numbers in what follows are paragraphs. 

3.) Eternity is properly and in fact a measure of created duration, even if it is not proportioned to it (inadaequatam) and far exceeds it. 

That it exceeds follows from two facts: (1) its extension contains all durations, without beginning or end, and without being restricted to only their genus and (2) in its modality of measurement, which measures according to an immutable modality, not through number but through the highest unity and indivisibility.

That this captures the mind of DT is commonly held by his disciples, Cajetan (in Prima Pars q. 14 a. 13), Banez, Navarrete, Zumel, Nazarius, Gonzalez, Ferrara (I contra. Gent. c. 66) Capreolus (I D. 36 q. 1 a. 2)…

4.) And that this in fact expresses the mind of DT can be gathered from many places. First of all from Contra Gentes c. 66 (ar. no. 6):

Eternity : whole duration of time :: the indivisible : continuum, and the “indivisibility” spoken of is not that of the terminus of the continuum, because this is not present to all the parts of the continuum. Rather its indivisibility, though outside the continuum, is still present to any part of the continuum as a point is designated in the continuum, for time does not exist outside motion while eternity does, and so is outside of time. Again, since the esse of eternity never ceases to be, it is present as the present time is present (presentaliter) to each time and moment of time.

And so he concludes:

 So whatever exists at any point in time co-exists with eternity as present to it, even if it is past or future with respect to some other part of time.

He says the same in Quodlibet V, art. 7:

Because that which is by itself is the measure of that which exists by taking part in it, the first measure of the aevum is God’s own eternity.

Thus DT joins both the idea of a first or supreme measure and the idea of co-existing with all things measured, resulting in all that is required for something to contain another as its measure.

5.) This all agrees with DT’s proof that God intuitively sees all things done in time or in other created durations because they are present in eternity, and this requires the real and physical presence of the things measured in eternity, so eternity is truly and properly speaking a measure. The minor premise follows from the nature of intuitive vision, which regards the thing seen as really and physically present in itself. So if DT proves that things are really and intuitively seen by God,  not as they are present in their own domain of measurement but as present in eternity, and this sort of intuitively known presence requires the thing seen to be really and physically contained under some measure of duration, DT cannot believe that eternity is not a measure of created things in the manner required for the presence of a thing seen by intuition.

The major premise is manifestly taught by DT, as is clear from De veritate 2. art. 12 and q. 12 art. 6:

That God knows the future as certainly as he knows the present follows from this: it is measured by the eternity of his intuition, which is wholly simultaneous, and so all times and things done in them fall under his gaze.

There are other places too, that we will consider in the following article, where we we show that DT cannot be understood to have held that the presence of things in eternity was merely in the act of his knowledge, but is rather physical and real, under the supposition that the things are intuitively attained in eternity itself, and not just as they exist from their causes.


John of St. Thomas on Intelligible species

In the last disputation I posted, JOST referenced an argument he gave in Prima Pars Q. 12 D. XIII a. 1. on the nature and function of the species. Here is the relevant section:

…The nature of the species should not be seen relative to that which is entitative in connection with the subject but representative in connection to the object: for the principal and essential task of the species is to actualize a power in the place of the object, in that some co-operative action with the object (concursus objecti) is required for knowledge to be drawn forth from a subject.

If it is the case, as is usually supposed by theology and rational discourse, that knowledge arises from an object and a power, this is not because the object is merely the terminus of the power but because knowledge proceeds from the object, given that it arises from it. This requires that something stand in place of the object within the power, as semen stands in in place of the father to generate a child, since – as anyone can see from his own experience – the object itself cannot be [in the subject in its entitative being]. It’s not enough for the object to be an exterior thing since knowledge can still be had by understanding and memory when objects are absent and therefore cannot the cognitive being cannot be affected by the object as it is in itself but only by another that is acting in its place. This is what we call a species, which generates in the place of an object another taking its place in virtue of an objective co-operative action (concursus objective)  by which the object performs a co-operative action with a power. Knowledge, after all, arises by drawing things to oneself and conjoining them to oneself, so that in the measure that one more deeply penetrates those things and conjoins them to himself his knowledge will be more perfect, and this requires that something in the place of the object unite itself to the cognitive power which cannot enter entitatively into that power, and even if it could enter entitiatively such a union would not give rise to knowledge since this would have to arise immaterially and intentionally, as we will explain later (see previous post – ed.)

Given that knowledge arises from an object and a power it cannot arise from a division of their unique co-operation or from a separation of the two, since the bringing forth of knowledge is an action of life and so is interior to the living, while also proceeding from it in virtue of the totality of the specification that it has, and it has this as much from the object as it has vitality from the power, so that unless the object in its very objectivity flows into the power, no knowledge could spring forth from that power. Given that the object cannot be entitatively commingled, neither is the actuation and commingling material or entitative but immaterial and intentional, and so something must be put in the subject in place of the object, allowing for an objective co-operation of a representational being unifying itself to the power.

The thing whose nature and proper definition is to bring this about, so that this task might be undertaken and a co-operation with an object might happen in fact, is called species, which thus has more the nature of representational being relative to an object than something giving entitative form to some subject. The species that is either accident or subject is per accidens to the intentional or cognitive order, since the species it gets is sometimes accidental, as is the case from the senses and the intellect; sometimes it is substantial, as occurs in the knowledge proper to angels and the separated soul.

Tightening up Descartes’s Theistic Argument

Descartes’s theistic argument suffers from being written in Scholastic-ese and from being less tied to the doctrine of the Meditations than it could be. Here’s a simplified but tighter version:

1.) Causes cannot be less real than effects.

Take this as an axiom. One instance of the axiom would be that if an effect is real its cause is too, or that a real effect cannot have an unreal cause.* The word real would draw the attention, but I think Descartes can give a very good answer to what this is:

2.) The real is proportionate to its truth. 

The real is the true and certain, and things are less true and certain to the extent they can be doubted. Given Mediation I and II, this gives us an order of reality with the sensible at the bottom, the mathematical one step up, the self a step above this. Taken formally, the grades of reality are:

a.) Things that cannot think themselves (the physical or sensible or res extensa)

b.) Things that cannot think themselves, but exist by being thought (mathematical things)**

c.) Things that can think themselves, but are contingently thinking themselves (my self, human res cogitans)

d.) Things that can think themselves, and necessarily think themselves eternally (an Aristotelian thought-thinking itself, or divinity, or what Descartes just calls an eternal being.)

It is important that these grades of reality belongs to things both in the order of knowledge and reality, since they are more and less true both as ideas and as things (if they exist)

3.) Ideas are effects. 

One can take this either as an axiom or as a corollary to the cogito in Med. II. Since the cognate shows this is true of ideas as such, the axiom is equivalent to “Ideas are (ultimately) effects of something not merely an idea”.

4.) I have an idea of God, an absolute being greater than myself. 

The first part is probably given by anyone. Descartes needs our idea of God to be not sheerly negative, but an analogous grasp of God could do the trick since analogous names are explicitly opposed to simply negative ones. That said, one’s theory of analogy or extrapolation or abstraction of traits would be a significant point of contention in the argument Descartes is giving.

5.) Therefore, God exists.

If not, a (d) grade effect arises from a sub-(d) cause.

*Notice that by making the opening move about causes it is difficult to characterize the argument as an ontological argument.

**While this is not Descartes’s theory of mathematical reality but the Thomistic one, it helps to explain the role that the mathematical plays in his philosophy.

The Cartesian Argument, simplified further

The dream argument suggests that mathematical things are more known than particular sensible things, and the piece of wax argument is that all intelligibles – the self or math – are so also. Starting with methodological doubt, Meditations I-III can be read as arguing that, rightly understood, the order of knowing is the order of being. If he’s right, then that God exists does not even need to be proven, but is the most evident of all claims.



-STA’s account of knowledge differs from the Cartesian one by starting with the object. Given that object X is not Y, X perfections exclude Y perfections. Knowledge overcomes this exclusion, so that X and Y become components of one world. When you walk though the woods there are only distant and tenuous causal connections between footfalls and birdsongs, brown dirt and red robins, smells here and smells there, or any of the objects of one sense to another, but in knowledge they are vividly and immediately given as one world. 

-Having discovered the one world though cognitive and not causal connections we cannot turn around and say that it is only subjectively there. To the extent that the subject constitutes the world it isn’t known. Claiming that things are only red or smelly to us is the same as to say they aren’t red or smelly, and what isn’t red can’t be known to be red. 

-The standard “the world isn’t red” argument would appeal to how red is not a universal feature of all ocular experience. Where I see a hunter in an orange suit, the deer sees a vast field of leaf-colored objects. But it doesn’t follow that the orange isn’t there any more than if an idea doesn’t exist if it can be expressed in one language and not another. As objects, things communicate themselves as though by a multiple languages, and whatever one says or does not say he really does say or not say. Likewise, one and the same word can be encouraging to one person and repulsive to another. If it’s announced that Joe and not Moe wins a close boxing match we don’t have to assume the announcement isn’t really disappointing and exciting in different respects. It’s the same way when one and the same object communicates itself to dung beetles and to us.

-Things form one world to ticks and another to cows, but these worlds are emanating whether there are ticks or cows to hear them. Cognition is a sort of awareness and not a sort of mental paint that one hurls into a void, whatever that would mean. Even if we assumed that we constituted a world, the assumption could not explain how we knew it. If I stamp the form “red” on all fire trucks, how do I then detect it? 

-What Plato and Aristotle called form or actuality is a single reality that both gives being and communicates itself in multiple languages, irrespective of whether anyone is listening. As giving being the form exists entitatively, as communicating it exists representationally. In its entitative existence it is in principle restricted to one and only one thing, as communicated it is in principle common to many, but the difference between these two is the difference between the stairs up and the stairs down or the convex and concave. 

Still, one has to refine the last point since the form can both exist without being known and be known without existing. Art is only possible where forms are known before existing. Nature likewise does the same sort of thing as art whenever it brings form about, and any natural change or kinesis involves doing so.

-Epistemology and ontology are different points of departure from the one reality of form. 

-Sensible and intelligible forms differ in that whatever detects with a finite structure cannot detect being as such, but only one modality of its appearance. One could use a lens to detect colors but not scents as scents. What detects being in its opposition to the possible has no finite structure, and anything whose judgments are ranged under the principle of contradiction detects being as being. The finite structure of sentience shares in the contingency of what it detects, so the nose is as contingent as any class of scents it smells. But being as such is and cannot not be. 

-The contingency of sentience is temporal, and the finite structure it has arises out of previous non-sentient finite structures. Noses get built in embryogenesis from parts that were not once noses. Intellection about the sensible world will share in this sort of contingency though intellection even as a particular act of intellection in opposition to others does not arise in history from previous non-intellective reality. Aristotle’s attempt to make intellection arise in this way is the one permanent blight on his system, and the one point of ineliminable value that he should have preserved from Plato.  Ideas are conserved realities even more than matter or energy are. 

-All metaphysics takes its point of departure from physics, and all metaphysics bootstraps to the spiritual world though the different orders of material reality. In the Aristotelian world these different orders were the sublunar and superlunar, but we’ve since replaced them with the macroscopically immediately given world of contingent substances and the would of fundamental realities like energy, light, fundamental particles. To be honest, these serve as better analogues for the spiritual (in some ways they have always been better analogues: think of light). 

-The advance of science has shown the different ways in which the world of immediately given reality (the updated sublunar realm) must rely on the fundamental conserved quantities like energy, light, fundamental particles. Light structures space and time while itself having no value within this domain, particles are in immediate contact with an implicate order where unity is physical while occurring in a way that does not need the local restrictions of physical causality, and energy is a unified source of action for which the activity of the observable is only one manifestation. All this analogizes to the spiritual realm of intellection. The Medieval controversies over the unity of the intellect are failures to understand how the material world analogizes to the spiritual one. 

-As weird as the physical world gets, it will never be as weird as intellection and the intellect. The weirdness of the world and the various incompatible models we use to understand it are only the faint analogue to what has been long known about intellection. 



John of St. Thomas: Responses to objections ¶ 4-7a.

Response to objections in ¶ 4

14.) In response to the first difficulty, we say that DT neither begs the question nor assumes something false, but that he simply teaches that cognitive beings have the form of another, that is, a form with representative existence drawn into themselves in virtue of its intentional existence in spite of being entitatively in another, since there is no representative existence except in cognitive beings. For even if one puts an image on a blackboard or the intentional species travels through the air, nothing is represented to a subject even if a form is given to one. Moreover, DT proves this from the fact that the known species in in the knower, rather than fallaciously supposing it. DT takes this as self evident from the nature of an intentional species (as we previously explained in the thirteenth disputation on article 1) since the species, taken formally and essentially, does not so much grant form by inhering in something, but more represents the object, making cognitive beings be informed by objects just as much as non-cognitive things are [given being] by their forms… So DT does not beg the question but proves from the very nature and innermost essence of the cognitive being, as is explained more thoroughly in the citation from De veritate given above.

15.) This is the solution to the examples we brought forth in the objections above, for though all those subjects took on a different or exterior form they took it in by an inherence that made it their own, giving them form entitatively and not the form of another that would make them cognitive beings, these latter which receive form according to an intentional or representational modality, where it exists not just in itself but also so that it might represent to another. When air receives sensible species it does so as an entitative accident inherent in it, but nothing  represented to the air so as to bestow an object on it.

Response to ¶ 5. 

16.) To the objection against the consequence, we respond that DT is not inferring the greater amplitude and lack of limitation in the nature from the fact that it receives more forms, but from the fact that it receives or is informed by them in a different way, sc. not by receiving them entitatively or by inherence but as objects with representational existence, which is an entirely different modality of granting form or of reception. This modality is not mysterious, nor does DT skip over explaining it, for he says that the species of the known is in the knower, and thus the species not only informs the being that is of that species but [also the cognitive being] by the object represented intentionally and objectively, as he explains more broadly in De veritate a. 2. Because this modality of representational and objective existence is higher than the general modality of receiving the form entitatively and materially, it is called immaterial or intentional, and one does well to infer a broader nature that is less restricted, having as it does less of the common modality of reception that arises from material causality, making the thing more to belong to a spiritual nature. Even thought it is true that there is among corporeal beings an immaterial or intentional mode of getting form, it is still a higher mode of getting a form than matter itself is capable of getting a form.

DT does not beg the question by assuming there is a representational mode of having a form in addition to an entitative one since this is manifest from the nature of cognitive beings. For an object is required together with a power in order that knowledge might arise, and the object can’t be material or entitatively in the power. A stone isn’t physically in the eye, and so it needs to be in another separately from its materiality, which is called intentional or immaterial, i.e. representational.

17.) But suppose one objects further that it has not been proven that the union of a power and an object is required, but that it would suffice for the object for an object to terminate the operation and be exterior, and that the knower tend toward it.

But this claim would be contrary to the place of intelligible species, which every rational discourse  (tota philosophia) sets down as arising from an object and a power. If it arises in this way it has [the object] as not just a terminus but a principle, and if it arises within the power the object needs to be within the power, not entitatively and therefore representationally. DT takes these species as given simply from rational discourse (philosophia) as we explained above (disp. 13 of a. 1 and in lib. de anima q. 5)

18.) (further objection, here omitted- ed.)

Responses to ¶ 6

19.) To the second objection we say that DT does give a proper and sufficient (adequatio) account of knowledge from immateriality. To the question whether immateriality in this argument is taken as purely negative or for something positive we say that it is taken as something positive that grounds the negation of material and material conditions, sc. for that which can receive something else, not just as its own form but as the form of another. This belongs paradigmatically (principialius) when they are more spiritual, since spirituality makes a nature more able to receive a perfection without the imperfect conditions of matter. Spirituality does not consist in just the negation of corporeal matter but in something positive explained by that negation: spiritual perfection is not just real but more real than corporeality. Even if the negation and exclusion of corporeal matter is true of all spiritual beings both absolutely and in fact, and taken in this sense it does not allow of more and less, nevertheless there are diverse degrees and extents to which the conditions of material reception are excluded, all these being, as they are, potentiality. To the degree that some nature more perfectly excludes these degrees, so also it more participates in that pure actuality which is totally contrary to potentiality, and as a consequence it grounds a more perfect power to know from the greater immateriality that it has.

Responses to ¶ 7

20.) So when it was said that immateriality was not a sufficient (adequatio) account of knowledge because sensation is material but not cognitive, we say that although sensation is corporeal, nevertheless it rises above material conditions and the modality of receiving materially and entitatively to the extent that it can receive the form of another, i.e. another thing in its representational existence and not just in its proper entitative existence. Still, they do this imperfectly and in dependence on a material organ so that their immateriality – and consequently their cognitive power – is imperfect.

21.) If you ask how sentience is dependent and unified to matter while still not being immersed in it but to some extent rises above the conditions of matter, we respond that something can be unified to matter either by communicating rational life to it or, as is the case with sentient life, by also being dependent on it,  but in either case the operation of the things is elevated above matter in the sense that its operation does not depend only on the qualities that are material dispositions for substantial form, even if they depend on these for their inherence. DT explains this with great clarity in II Contra Gent. c. 68 where he teaches that the lower forms are entirely immersed in matter, which are only unified to matter so as to have being in it, but with no operation that can go beyond qualities that are dispositions of matter like hot cold, etc. These are the forms of the elements. Beyond these are the forms of mixed bodies, which sometimes act in higher ways than the cold and the hot, like those that can attract iron by some power of the heavenly bodies – the magnets. Still beyond this is plant life which, though largely subject to elemental qualities, still have the power of life that rises above this. Beyond this still is sentient life whose power of hearing or vision are not simply subject to heating and cooling, as is the case among vegetative life, even if the organs of sense in which these powers act have their dispositions from those sorts of qualities. These sentient life forms can know and have immateriality, though one that is material in its being though elevated above the dispositive qualities of matter in its operation….

22.) As to the part of the argument that claims that there are some immaterial beings that are not cognitive, we respond that although they are not cognitive formally and primarily they are nevertheless cognitive radically and by connection (radicaliter et consecutive) because they are so rooted in, or connected to, or ordered to knowledge. Even if the will and charity are not cognitive forms they are nevertheless inclinations connected to understanding. Grace is also a form that elevates one to supernatural knowledge. DT need not be taken as giving an argument for knowledge by any sort of immateriality but from that which is primary and principle (prima et radicalem) and not what is secondary or connected to it, as, for example, is the way the will relates to  intellect. There is no reason to argue over whether some spiritual nature might be non-cognitive. Whatever might be the case, for us it is enough that there is no imaginable nature that is capable of of receiving the form of another that is not also cognitive.

John of St. Thomas: The respondeo

10.) For all that, DT’s argument is tremendously profound and effective at getting to the basis of the nature of knowledge. He treats the argument more broadly in De veritate a. 2, and we will explain what he says here in light of that. In the context of the argument DT understands immateriality not just as the elimination of matter as being the negation or absence of it, but as the elevation above the way in which matter receives things other than itself. Matter receives forms when it is really and entitatively composed with them, either when this results in a substantial or accidental composite. This kind of reception isn’t just found in material things but also in spiritual ones, which is clear from the substance of the soul having powers and the powers receiving habits, both of which are in the same genus of receptive or material causality typical of corporeal things receiving accidents or forms. A cognitive being – whether corporeally sentient or spiritually intelligent – is elevated beyond this kind of reception, being endowed with another kind of receptivity by which it can unify and join to itself even things that are exterior to itself while still remaining entitatively outside of them in itself. This cannot happen in virtue of the entitative or material existence that those things have in themselves but in a formal existence that is representative or intentional, and is called immaterial so as to distinguish it from the entitative existence that the things have in themselves. Immateriality is called the source of cognition because a cognitive being needs to have this peculiar kind of receptivity, making it be other things outside of itself. It is elevated above the common mode of receptivity in which a subject or material receives forms, which is to have the requisite condition for being cognitive. This is comparable to proving that if something is living it needs not just to have a power of moving things other than itself but also of moving itself, for something that has the power of receiving not just forms in itself but forms outside of itself (which do not just give it form but also represent things to it, thereby making that those others inform it intentionally or representationally) is constituted into a cognitive being.

11.)  DT gives an exemplary articulation of this argument concerning the difference between the cognitive and the non-cognitive in De veritate Q. 2 a. 2:

Things are perfect in two ways:

(1) When the perfections of the being belong to it by its proper species. That said, because the peculiar being is distinct from that of another, the perfection had by created things falls away from perfection simply speaking in the measure that they exist in their own peculiar being. As a remedy to this sort of imperfection, there is another kind of perfection:

(2) When the perfection had by one thing is found in another. This is the perfection of the knower as knower, because something is known by a knower because the very thing known is with the knower, which is why De anima III says that the soul is in a way all things because it knows all things, by which it is possible for the whole perfection of the universe to be in one thing….

And later

The perfection of one thing cannot be in another by the determinate being that it has in that other, and so that which by nature can be in another needs to be taken without that which makes it determinate. Because matter determines forms and perfections, knowable things are separate from matter. So what has perfection in this way must be immaterial – if it were material the received perfection would be in it in the way it is in matter, i.e. according to its determinate being.

12.) This discourse proves that cognitive things are elevated above the non-cognitive in their special way of receiving things other than themselves. This is a way of receiving immaterially or of representing to oneself and not just being given a form. The Holy Doctor makes this clear at the close of the quotation in saying that something is “in another insofar as it is knowable, as the perfection of one thing is by nature existing in another.” By the common sort of reception forms exist entitatively in some subject, whether spiritual or material, and in this way they exist only in that thing into which they are received. So far as they are received so as to make entitative being, they are limited to that subject or material, which DT says is to have the determinate being of just being a limited receiving subject, and to receive in this way is a restriction of the form which is possessed. But it is peculiar to knowers as knowers that a thing or perfection be existing in a thing outside of itself, which can’t happen by receiving the thing by a material or entitative modality of reception, but must be in the more elevated manner of intentional or representational existence.

Note that in our initial text DT doesn’t say that cognitive beings are elevated above non-cognitive things by receiving another form, but by having the form of another thing. Having another form is different from having the form of another, for “another form” is the same as a form coming to the thing from the outside. This sort of form informs the thing entitatively by joining to the subject and being possessed by it as its own form. The form of another thing, by contrast, is the very form in the other thing, maintaining its distinctiveness while being drawn to and joined with the cognitive being. This cannot happen entitatively, since this would either destroy or change the other thing, but must happen though intentional or representational existence. This is the same as to say that a thing will be cognitive which is capable of representing another to itself. It is certainly true that no non-cognitive being can have the representational existence of another thing, even though forms can come to it that give it entitative existence.

Further, DT is also quite right that when something is represented to another, and comes to have a representational existence for it a kind of immateriality is required, meaning an elevation above the way of receiving only materially or entitatively, for cognitive beings do not become something outside of themselves entitatively or materially when things are given representational existence to them. “Matter” is not taken as restricted to simply corporeal matter, but is any mode of entitative reception in the line of material causality in either corporeal or spiritual beings, whenever there is a principle restricting and limiting form. It doesn’t matter if one speaks of specific or individual limitation (which is not relevant to the argument here) but of any determination or making a being incommunicable outside of itself entitatively and incapable of informing another subject. One restricts or limits form simply by making it and not allowing it to be in something other than itself. This separation from and elevation over any sort of materiality is called immaterial, and it empowers the form that exists in one thing by entitative existence to exist in another by representational existence. This is what is peculiar to cognitive beings.

From immateriality understood in this way is the best way of showing what it is to be cognitive. Even if this is the case both for corporeal and spiritual things, spiritual things are nevertheless more capable of receiving intentional or representational existence to the degree that they are spiritual and lack corporeal matter. It is not precisely because they lack matter, but because it is fitting to them to lack matter that the measure of their spirituality is the measure in which they distance themselves from only being entitative and material and are made more capable of receiving intentional existence, and forms existing in other beings become their own not entitatively but by representational existence.


John of St Thomas on ST 14 a. 1

John of St. Thomas writes what amounts to an extended disputed question on the following text:

[I]ntelligent beings are distinguished from non-intelligent beings in that the latter possess only their own form; whereas the intelligent being is naturally adapted to have also the form of some other thing; for the idea of the thing known is in the knower. Hence it is manifest that the nature of a non-intelligent being is more contracted and limited; whereas the nature of intelligent beings has a greater amplitude and extension; therefore the Philosopher says (De Anima iii) that “the soul is in a sense all things.” Now the contraction of the form comes from the matter. Hence, as we have said above (I:7:1) forms according as they are the more immaterial, approach more nearly to a kind of infinity. Therefore it is clear that the immateriality of a thing is the reason why it is cognitive; and according to the mode of immateriality is the mode of knowledge.

ST. I.14.1 co.

What follows are JOST’s OBJECTIONS from Cursus Theologicus in Questionem XIV disp. 1 ¶ 4-9. His respondeo and responses to the objections will be posted after I’m done with them. Translation is dynamic, though JOST habitually calls Thomas “The divine Thomas (divus)” which, though typical for his era,  is still too remarkable not to render literally. 

4.) The first proposition that the holy doctor assumes seems to have a serious problem, or even to beg the question. When he says that non-cognitive entities only have their own form while a cognitive entity has the form of another he is either talking about a way of “having one’s own form and that of another” in a general sense that also belongs to the way beings have forms entitatively, or in a more restricted sense said only of intentional and cognitive reception. If said in the first sense, the claim is false since non-cognitive entities receive many forms other than their own. A stone becomes cold, dry, colored, etc. For that matter, even intentions species themselves are in the air, though the air is non-cognitive. If said in the second sense, Thomas clearly begs the question, because he would only be saying that cognitive beings are higher than non-cogitative ones because they receive the form of another not only entitatively and in reality but intentionally and cognitively, which is exactly the matter under dispute, sc. what it means to receive a form in a cognitive manner. He would simply be positing the difference between the cognitive and the non-cognitive in the fact that the cognitive receives forms cognitively, and so that knowers differ from non-knowers in being cognitive.

5.) The consequence that The divine Thomas (DT) draws, namely that the nature of a cognitive being is less restricted than a non-cognitive being has the same problem. From the fact that one form has only its own while another has its own form and the form of another, all that follows is that the latter receives more forms than the former, from which the only consequence is that the one is more receptive than the other, which argues for its greater potentiality. If DT is talking about a way of having form other than by reception, not much remains to explain such something so peculiar and unknown as having a form while not receiving it. He also begs the question since the problem at hand is whether there is a way of having a form that is not by means of reception.

6.) The second problem in DT’s argument is that he takes immateriality as the source (radix) of knowledge, since the argument gives neither an adequate or proper source of knowledge. First of all, immateriality in the present case can’t mean just the negation of matter or of material and elemental accidents which confer an elevated nature on the cognitive nature since this belongs just as much to God and the angels and any other spiritual nature, all of which lack matter and material conditions, though they are all cognitive in different ways and by different sorts of perfections even though one does not more completely exclude corporeal matter or accidents, given that all of them lack this by lacking them their very being (in facto esse) and none more than the other as DT says in I-II q. 73 a. 2. But if “immateriality” is understood in some  way other than the denial of matter and material conditions, one could scarcely understand what was meant, and if he could explain the matter, it would not be by something distinct from and prior to simply understanding and knowing.

7.) Still, one could not give either an adequate or proper account of knowledge even if he were to explain immateriality by something positive and not just the negation of matter. No adequate cause would be given because there are many material beings that are cognitive, like sentient being that rely on corporeal organs. There are also many non-cognitive immaterial beings like the will, grace, charity, and other spiritual qualities. By implication it’s not very clear, nor is it easy to assign a reason why a spiritual substance might be produced that lacked intelligence.

This also can’t be a proper account of knowledge because God’s intellectuality is what first constitutes his nature and is the source of all his attributes, as we will explain in the following article, and so intellectuality can’t have a source that is prior to it, since this would constitute the nature and intellectuality would follow (esset passio) from it. Whatever might be the case with God, the following line of reasoning seems to apply to creatures: either immateriality is something prior to intellectuality as a higher genus, or as something proper and equal to it. If the first, intellectuality can’t be inferred from immateriality any more than anything can be inferred from what is more general, e.g. rationality from being alive. If the second, it would follow that intellectuality would not be a degree constituted by the nature but only a consequence (passio) Immateriality would be by definition a prior degree of the same sort of thing (prior in ipsa ratione graduali et in eadem linea) as intellectuality, so immateriality and not intellectuality would constitute the nature. Neither could it be said that intellectuality and immateriality concurrently and equally constitute the intellectual nature, because then intellectuality could no more be inferred from immateriality than the reverse, so DT’s proof, showing as it does intellectuality from immateriality, would not be very strong.

8.) There is also an argument against DT proving that because immateriality is the source of intellectuality, because immateriality is the cause of greater amplitude, just as matter is the cause of restriction and limitation of form. Even allowing that matter is the cause of limitation of form, it does not follow that the negation of matter would be the negation of all limitation. It has not been proven that matter is the sufficient cause (causa adaequata) of the limitation of form and that another cause might be given in addition, and so the negation of all limitation does not follow from the negation of the limitation of matter. Thomists, for example, don’t take the limitation of species from matter, but only the limitation of the individual, as Sylvester notes in Contra Gentes 1. c.44. So from the negation of matter all that follows is the greater lack of limitation of an individual, and not a greater lack of limitation absolutely and simply, which would destroy an inference to any foundation of cognition, since this requires the reception of other specific forms and not just of other individuals.

9.) A confirmation of this is that many material things receive intentional form without becoming cognitive beings. The air, for example receives the the species that are carried to the senses. One cannot object that the air receives these forms only in esse and not in intentionale because to receive something in intentionale is to receive something capable of producing a sensation, and to receive something in esse is to receive in a way that does not have this power, and so the definition of sentience or understanding can’t be taken either from material or immaterial reception but from the power of producing a sensation, and so the immateriality of receiving something in intentione is not something prior and distinct, or forming a foundation for understanding. For the species gives a form to the air with the whole of its power no less than it informs the sense, so there is no distinction between the air and the sense in the mode of reception but only from the fact that sense has a cognitive power that the air does not.


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