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84. Man's Knowledge of Bodily Reality

1. Man's spiritual soul is the life-principle and thesubstantial form of the human living being. It is theroot-principle of all vital activities in man. Its own properfaculties are the intellect and the will. But the soul is thesubstantial form of a body, and even its spiritual faculty ofintellect must attain knowledge through the body and its senses.Therefore, in this present life, the proper object of thehuman intellect is the essence of material things whichthe senses lay hold of. The process by which the intellect gets itsknowledge may be thus illustrated: A boy looks at five pictures ofa triangle, drawn in different colors and in various sizes. Thesense of sight takes in the pictures; the inner sense ofimagination or phantasy expresses within itself these sight-images,and they are now called phantasms. The active intellect (theintellectus agens) focuses on the phantasms and,disregarding differences of size and color and location of thepictures themselves, reveals what it is that they represent; thisaction of the active intellect is called abstraction. Byabstraction, then, the active intellect, throwing its light onphantasms, de-materializes them, de-individualizes them, andrenders them intelligible. It does not matter, therefore, thatthere are five or fifty pictures of triangle, or that they aredrawn here or drawn there, that they are in this color or that; byits operation of abstraction, the active intellect disregards allthese individualizing things and thus shows up the essence oftriangle itself, triangle as such. This abstracted essence iscalled the intelligible species (that is, theunderstandable essence) of triangle. Thus sense-findings areprepared for the grasp of the spiritual power of the intellectproper (the intellectus possibilis). The active intellectimpresses the abstracted essence or species upon the intellectproper, and the intellect proper reacts to the impression byexpressing the essence within itself as a concept or idea.The intellect now knows in idea what triangle is; it knows inuniversal, for it can now define triangle as such, and not merelythis or that individual triangle. Thus does man rise from theindividual findings of the senses to intellectual concepts andideas which represent things in universal, or by definition ofessence.

2. The intellect of man does not know things by its ownessence, but must acquire its natural knowledge by its operation asjust explained. Only God knows things by his own essence.

3. Nor has the human soul any knowledge born in it, orimparted to it with its nature as is the case with angels. Allman's natural intellectual knowledge begins with the action ofthe senses. From sense-findings, intellectual knowledge is derivedby abstraction. And theintellect may rise from concepts orideas, by a further abstraction, to higher concepts or ideas. Butno ideas are naturally inborn in man; there are no innate ideas.All man's natural knowledge is acquired.

4. And, as we have seen, all ideas are, in last analysis,acquired by abstraction from phantasms, that is, imagination-imagesof sense-findings. Even ideas acquired from other ideas have to betraced back to the action of senses to start with. No ideas areimpressed on man's mind from outside by "forms" thatsubsist, as Plato taught. No other process than that describedabove accounts for man's natural intellectual knowledge.

5. Man's intellect may be described as a kind of lightgiven man by the Creator, a sort of participation of the divineunderstanding. Therefore it may be said that the human intellecthas, in its imperfect creatural way, ideas that are in Godeternally as archetypes and exemplars.

6. Sense-knowledge supplies what may be called thematerial from which the active intellect draws out or abstractsunderstandable forms. Hence, by metaphor, sense-knowledge may becalled the material cause of intellectual knowledge.

7. Just as the intellect acquires ideas from phantasms, soit turns to phantasms when it uses knowledge alreadyacquired. We know that this is so, for sometimes a bodily injury ordisease may prevent a man from understanding what he previouslyunderstood. And when we wish to think a thing out, we use examplesto help ourselves understand, and such examples are phantasms; wealso explain things to others by use of examples. While theintellect is a spiritual power and understands in universal, it isnever, in this earthly life, wholly divorced from material thingsand individual sense-grasp. The intellect of bodily man acquiresknowledge through phantasms, and uses acquired knowledge byrecurring to phantasms.

8. Therefore when the senses are impaired, the judgment ofthe mind or intellect is hampered. This does not mean that theintellect depends essentially on the senses, but that, in thisearthly life, there is an extrinsic dependence ofintellect on sense.

"God has no need of men."
St Philip Neri

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"To do God's will -- this was the goal upon which the saints constantly fixed their gaze. They were fully persuaded that in this consists the entire perfection of the soul. "
St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"God gives us some things, as the beginning of faith, even when we do not pray. Other things, such as perseverance, he has only provided for those who pray."
St Augustine

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