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86. What the Intellect Knows in Material Things

1. In this fife in which man's soul and body aresubstantially united, the object of the human intellect is theessences of material things. The intellect knows such essencesin universal by acquiring ideas or concepts in the manneralready described. By a second act which is a kind of reflex act orreflection, the intellect knows material things inindividual. The intellect inquires, in this bodily world,"What kind of thing is that?" When it knows thekind or essence, it can advert to the individual things and say,"Yes, these are things of that kind." Primarily anddirectly, the intellect knows universals; secondarily and reflexly,the intellect knows singulars, that is, individual materialthings.

2. The human intellect is a created and finite power.Therefore it cannot perfectly know the infinite. The intellect canknow potential infinity, which means unlimitedpossibility. The intellect itself has potential infinity inasmuchas it is never filled up, but can always know something more. Butthe intellect cannot know perfectly actual infinity.

3. Contingent things (that is, changeable things; thingsthat have not in themselves a necessity for existing) are thedirect object of sense-knowledge. The intellect, by itssecondary and reflex act, can know singulars; hence theintellect can know contingent things. The intellect also knows thenecessary and universal principles that are back of contingentthings, such, for instance, as the truth that movement alwaysrequires a mover.

4. The human intellect cannot know the future except incause. To know a thing in cause is to foresee the effects whichwill come from existing and necessitating causes. Thus astronomersknow, even centuries before the event, the exact time at which aneclipse of the sun is to occur. To know the future, not merely incause, but in itself, is beyond creatural power; suchknowledge belongs to God alone. The human intellect has anabundance of conjectural knowledge of the future; such knowledge isa reasonable guess or supposition; it is usually founded uponexperience of what has happened in the past.

"What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. "
Thomas á Kempis

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"God commands not impossibilities, but by commanding he suggests to you to do what you can, to ask for what is beyond your strength; and he helps you, that you may be able."
St Augustine

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"The one thing necessary which Jesus spoke of to Martha and Mary consists in hearing the word of God and living by it."
R. Garrigou-Lagrange, OP

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