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CHAPTER LXThat Man is not a Member the Human Species by possession of Passive Intellect, but by possession of Potential Intellect

AVERROES endeavours to meet these arguments and to maintain the position aforesaid. He says accordingly that man differs from dumb animals by what Aristotle calls the ‘passive intellect,’ which is that ‘cogitative power’ (vis cogitativa) proper to man, in place whereof other animals have a certain ‘estimative power’ (aestimativa).336336The text reads vis cognoscitiva. But as it is called hujus cogitativae virtutis in the very next line, I opine that vis cogitativa should be the reading. The ‘estimative power’ is that by which a dog knows its master as a particular object. The function of this ‘cogitative power’ is to distinguish individual ideas and compare them with one another, as the intellect, which is separate and unmixed, compares and distinguishes between universal ideas. And because by this cogitative power, along with imagination and memory, phantasms, or impressions of phantasy, are prepared to receive the action of the ‘active intellect,’ whereby they are made actual terms of understanding, therefore the aforesaid cogitative power is called by the names of ‘intellect’ and ‘reason.’337337It is called, as we have seen, ‘passive intellect’ and ‘particular reason.’ Doctors say that it has its seat in the middle cell of the brain. According to the disposition of this power one man differs from another in genius, and in other points of intelligence; and by the use and exercise of this power man acquires the habit of knowledge. Hence the passive intellect is the subject of the various habits of knowledge. And this passive intellect is in a child from the beginning; and by virtue of it he is a member of the human species before he actually understands anything. So far Averroes. The falsity and perverseness of his statements evidently appears.338338Upon careful study of this chapter, it appears that there is little in the above statement which St Thomas really disagrees with. He makes his own all the description of the ‘passive intellect.’ Only the conclusion he finds fault with; and to mark what he holds objectionable, I have printed it in italics. Habits of knowledge he would place in the ‘potential intellect.’ The passive intellect is and must be exercised in the acquirement of knowledge to prepare the materials: but it can do no more than prepare: the intellectual assimilation of those materials belongs to a higher power, to intellect proper.


1. Vital activities stand to the soul as second actualities to the first.339339In the Aristotelian terminology, the ‘first actuality’ is the being in readiness to act, the ‘second actuality’ is the being in action. A locomotive with steam up is in the ‘first actuality ‘: a locomotive on its way is in the ‘second actuality.’ We must secure the ‘first actuality’ of science and skill, before we can exercise the ‘second actuality ’ of a skilful scientific investigation. St Thomas quotes Aristotle, De anima, II, i: “This actuality is understood in two senses: the first is represented by habitual knowledge, the second by the actual use of the understanding to mark a truth. Wherefore soul is defined, ‘the first actuality of living body.’” Now the first actuality is prior in time to the second in the same subject, as knowledge is prior in time to learned speculation. In whatever being therefore there is found any vital activity, there must be some portion of soul standing to that activity as the first actuality to the second. But man has one activity proper to him above all other animals, namely that of understanding and reasoning. Therefore we must posit in man some proper specific principle, which shall be to the act of understanding as the first actuality to the second. This principle cannot be the aforesaid ‘passive intellect’: for the principle of the aforesaid activity must be “impassible and nowise implicated with the body,” as the Philosopher proves,340340De anima, III, iv, 2, 4. whereas evidently quite the contrary is the case with the passive intellect. Therefore that cognitive faculty called the ‘passive intellect’ cannot possibly be the speciality that differentiates the human species from other animals.

2. An incident of the sensitive part cannot constitute a being in a higher kind of life than that of the sensitive part, as an incident of the vegetative soul does not place a being in a higher kind of life than the vegetative life. But it is certain that phantasy and the faculties consequent thereon, as memory and the like, are incidents of the sensitive part.341341The reference is to Aristotle, Of memory and recollection, I, 9 “It is clear to which of the several portions of soul memory belongs, that it belongs where phantasy belongs; and the ordinary objects of memory are the objects of phantasy, while objects of intellect, which cannot be without phantasy, are incidental objects of memory.” — The vis cogitativa, or passive intellect, St Thomas refers to the same class as phantasy and memory. Therefore by the aforesaid faculties, or by any one of them, an animal cannot be placed in any higher rank of life than that which goes with the sentient soul. But man is in a higher rank of life than that. Therefore the man does not live the life that is proper to him by virtue of the aforesaid ‘cogitative faculty,’ or ‘passive intellect.’

4. The ‘potential intellect’ is proved not to be the actualisation of any corporeal organ342342As sight is the actualisation, ἐντελέχεια, of the eye. e.g. ‘brightness’ simply, and not merely ‘this brightness.’ from this consideration, that the said intellect takes cognisance of all sensible forms under a universal aspect.343343e.g. ‘brightness’ simply, and not merely ‘this brightness.’ Therefore no faculty, the activity of which can reach to the universal aspects of all corporeal forms, can be the actualisation of any corporeal organ. But such a faculty is the will: for of all of the things that we understand we can have a will, at least of knowing them.344344e.g. the chemical components of the fixed stars. And we also find acts of the will in the general: thus, as Aristotle says (Rhet. II, 4), we hate in general the whole race of robbers. The will then cannot be the actualisation of any bodily organ. But every portion of the soul is the actualisation of some bodily organ, except only the intellect properly so called. The will therefore belongs to the intellectual part, as Aristotle says.345345De anima, III, ix, 5. Now the will of man is not extrinsic to man, planted as it were in some separately subsisting intelligence, but is in the man himself: otherwise he would not be master of his own acts, but would be worked by the will of a spirit other than himself: those appetitive, or conative, faculties 127alone would remain in him, the activity whereof is conjoined with passion, to wit the irascible and concupiscible346346Plato’s θυμός and ἐπιθυμία. Plato, curiously enough, makes no provision for the will, a neglect connected with his determinism. “Plato, following Socrates, is from first to last a thorough determinist: he always assumes that to know good is to do it: he never contemplates the case of a man looking away from the good that he knows, or failing to regard it steadily” (Political and Moral Essays, 249, 250). in the sentient part of his being, as in other animals, which are rather acted upon than act. But this is impossible: it would be the undoing of all moral philosophy and all social and political science.347347Destructivum totius humanae philosophiae et politicae considerationis. In St Thomas, considerare, consideratio, answers to Aristotle’s θεωρεῖν, θεωρία. — The next two arguments are directed against Averroes’s saying, above quoted, that “the passive intellect is the subject of the various habits of knowledge.” Therefore there must be in us a potential intellect to differentiate us from dumb animals: the passive intellect is not enough.

6. A habit and the act proper to that habit both reside in the same faculty. But to view a thing intellectually, which is the act proper to the habit of knowledge, cannot be an exercise of the faculty called ‘passive intellect,’ but must properly belong to the potential intellect: for the condition of any faculty exercising intelligence is that it should not be an actualisation of any corporeal organ. Therefore the habit of knowledge is not in the passive intellect, but in the potential intellect.

8. Habitual understanding, as our opponent acknowledges, is an effect of the ‘active intellect.’ But the effects of the active intellect are actual representations in understanding, the proper recipient of which is the potential intellect, to which the active intellect stands related, as Aristotle says, “as art to material.”348348De anima, III, v, I. Therefore the habitual understanding, which is the habit of knowledge, must be in the potential intellect, not in the passive.

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