Friday, August 14, 2009

On the Intelligibility of Matter

Back to our regular programming. Here is a passage from the Parisian Reportatio on the intelligibility of matter. The context (since I care about such matters) is a series of arguments against Aquinas' position in the Summa that higher degrees of immateriality include higher degrees of intellectuality. Perhaps one could also put it by saying that intellectuality is rooted in immateriality. Scotus makes some interesting arguments against the Thomistic view that the human soul is the lowest type of knower, that it stands midway on the continuum from material things to God in its intellective capabilities. And finally the passage about matter:

Reportatio IA d.35 q.1 a.1 n. 22 (ed. Wolter-Bychkov 356-7):

Contra hoc quod dicitur quod ratio intelligibilis in actu est immaterialitas, arguo sic: si ens in quantum ens et secundum se acceptum sit per se intelligibile et primum obiectum intellectus, impossibile est quod sit aliqua condicio entis per se, quin habens illam sit secundum illam per se intelligibile quantum est ex se. Materialitas autem est una per se condicio ipsius entis, aliter ens materiale non esset per se ens. Ergo ens materiale in quantum materiale est ens per se intelligibile quantum est ex se et per se cognoscibile. Unde materialia et singularia sensibilia ab intellectu omnia intelligente secundum gradum suae entitatis ita perfecte cognoscuntur sicut immaterialia quantum est de perfectione actus, sed non ab intellectu nostro nisi per abstractionem a phantamatibus et singularibus. Sed hoc non est ex incognoscibilitate eorum, sed ex imperfectione intellectus nostri qui nec suprema nec infima cognoscit secundum modum cognosiciblitatis eorum.

Translation by the same:

Against the statement that the nature of the intelligible in its actualized state is immateriality I argue as follows: if one accepts that being qua being is of itself intelligible and the first object of the intellect, it is impossible that there be some condition of being qua being, which, if it were present, would prevent it from being intelligible of itself. Now materiality is one of such very own conditions of being itself: otherwise material being would not of itself be being. Therefore, material being, [even] insofar as it is material, is being that is of itself intelligible and knowable, [precisely] by its own very nature. Whence material things and singular sensibles are as perfectly known by an intellect that understands all things according to the degree of their entity as are immaterial things, if one speaks of a perfect act [of understanding]. However, [they are] not [understood] by the human intellect except by abstraction from the images in the imagination and from singular things. This is however, not because they cannot be known, but bccause of the imperfection of our intellect, which is able to cognize neither highest nor lowest realities according to their mode of intelligibility.


CrimsonCatholic said...

Another good quote from Garrigou-Lagrange on the Thomist side (I know he's not the greatest expositor of Scotus, but this seems right for Thomas):
"The great commentators often note that the definition of potency determines the Thomistic synthesis. When potency is conceived as really distinct from all act, even the least imperfect, then we have the Thomistic position. If, on the other hand, potency is conceived as an imperfect act, then we have the position of some Scholastics, in particular of Suarez, and especially of Leibnitz, for whom potency is a force, a virtual act, merely impeded in its activity, as, for example, in the restrained force of a spring.

This conceptual difference in the primordial division of created being into potency and act has far-reaching consequences, which it is our task to pursue.

Many authors of manuals of philosophy ignore this divergence and give hardly more than nominal definitions of potency and act. They offer us the accepted axioms, but they do not make clear why it is necessary to admit potency as a reality between absolute nothing and actually existing being. Nor do they show how and wherein real potency is distinguished, on the one hand, from privation and simple possibility, and on the other from even the most imperfect act."

I think this actually lines up pretty well with Scotus's impression that matter is knowable in a sense, but not in the way that God knows it or in the way that we know an act.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Lee (my name is Lee as well, actually). I'm a doctoral student in philosophy (full disclosure: I'm writing on St. Thomas), and, while perusing your blog, this post captured my interest. For the time being, I'll avoid worrying about how Thomas and Scotus might conceive of being or materiality differently, and simply say that I don't understand how this passage is supposed to be a refutation, or even a critique, of Thomas' position. If I'm reading Scotus correctly, the conclusion that he reaches ("This is however, not because they cannot be known, but because of the imperfection of our intellect, which is able to cognize neither highest nor lowest realities according to their mode of intelligibility.") is perfectly in keeping with Thomas' own thought. Assuming Scotus has some metaphysical model that accommodates gradations of being--which "according to the degree of their entity" seems to suggest--I'm failing to see the point of dispute. Can you be of any assistance in clarifying some difference that I'm not seeing?
(I'm going to avoid commenting on the Garrigou-Lagrange exposition, which I find helpful for what it's worth, but hardly adequate for bringing sort of closure to the metaphysical status of potency and its distinction from act.)

Lee Faber said...

The argument that Scotus quotes at the beginning that this seems to be directed at is "eadem est ratio intelligibilis in actu et intellectus in actu; sed ratio intelligibilis in actu est immaterialitas, quia sensibilia non cognoscuntur a nobis nisi in quantum abstracta a materia et a condicionibus materiae; ergo similiter ratio intellectualitatis in actu est immaterialitas'

The editors give as a reference ST I q.14 a.1 resp.

the argument is then against the notion that intellectuality/iintelligibility=immateriality, and by showing that matter or materiality is intelligible he thinks he is severing the link.

Hope this helps. I am not quite sure what is causing the difficulty. I didn't post this as a knock-down refutation of Aquinas but for the bit in the middle about material being.