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AN external object, coming to be an object of our understanding, does not thereby exist in our understanding in its own proper nature: but the impression (species) of it must be in our understanding, and by that impression our understanding is actualised, or comes actually to understand. The understanding, actualised and ‘informed’ by such an impression, understands the ‘thing in itself.’ The act of understanding is immanent in the mind, and at the same time in relation with the thing understood, inasmuch as the aforesaid ‘impression,’ which is the starting-point of the intellectual activity, is a likeness of the thing understood. Thus informed by the impression (species) of the thing, the understanding in act goes on to form in itself what we may call an ‘intellectual expression’ (intentio) of the thing. This expression is the idea (ratio, λόγος) of the thing, 38and so is denoted by the definition. So it must be, for the understanding understands alike the thing absent and the thing present; in which respect imagination and understanding agree.104104The ‘impression’ (species) can come only from the thing being present: but the expression (intentio ratio, λόγος, verbum mentale) of the thing endures in the understanding when the thing is away. So too does the corresponding phantasma, or sense-picture in the imagination, endure in the absence of the object. See Father Maher’s Psychology, Stonyhurst Series, Longmans, ed. 4, pp. 51-53, 310. But the understanding has this advantage over the imagination, that it understands the thing apart from the individualising conditions without which the thing exists not in rerum natura. This could not be except for the understanding forming to itself the aforesaid ‘expression.’ This ‘expression’ (intentio) in the understanding, being, we may say, the term of the intellectual activity, is different from the ‘intellectual impression’ (species intelligibilis), which actualises the understanding and which must be considered the starting-point of intellectual activity; and yet both the one and the other, both the ‘impression’ (species) and the ‘expression’ (intentio), are likenesses of the ‘thing in itself,’ which is the object of the understanding. From the fact of the intellectual impression, which is the form of the intellect and the starting-point of intellectual knowledge, being a likeness of the external thing, it follows that the expression, or idea, formed by the understanding, is also like the thing: for as an agent is, so are its activities. And again, from the fact of the expression, or idea, in the understanding being like to its object, it follows that the understanding in the act of forming such an idea understands the said object.
But the divine mind understands by virtue of no impression other than its own
essence (Chap. XLVI). At the same time the divine essence is the likeness of all things. It
follows therefore that the concept of the divine understanding itself, which is
the Divine Word, is at once a likeness of God Himself understood, and also a likeness
of all things whereof the divine essence is a likeness. Thus then by one intelligible
impression (species intelligibilis), which the divine essence, and by one
intellectual recognition (intentio intellecta), which is the Divine Word,
many several objects may be understood by God.105105 Few modern readers, I fear, will read this explanation with the same zest which
St Thomas evidently felt in writing it. Kantian idealism on the one hand, and physical
science on the other, have averted the modern mind — is it for ever? — from
species intelligibilis and intentio intellecta, or verbum mentale.
Accidents, scientifically considered, as colour, odour, shape, are not to us what
they were to the mediaeval schoolman. We busy ourselves with the sensation of colour,
the effect on retina and brain and inner consciousness, and further with the vibrations
from without that are apt to set up such a sensation in a creature organised as
man is. And at the back of colour we discern with the mind’s eye, what the bodily
eye is insensible to, a colourless, invisible molecular structure, and a complication
of interacting forces all but infinite in multitude, all but infinitesimal in power.
Whoever would rehabilitate Thomist philosophy to the requirements of modern science,
has before him work for a lifetime, no old man’s labour. One thing however I will
say about the ‘likeness’ (similitudo) here said to obtain between the thing
in itself and our impression or idea of the thing. There can be no question here
of any such likeness as obtains between a portrait, or photograph, and the person
who sits for it. What can be maintained on behalf of Realistic Dualism is this,
that between the impression or idea in consciousness and the thing in itself there
is a certain correlation or proportion, inasmuch as the thing in itself, striking
our senses and thereby our understanding, is apt to induce in us certain sensations
and consequent ideas. These aptitudes, or potentialities, relative to man, are the
objective properties, or accidents, of the thing in itself as cognizable by man.
This doctrine is simply an extension to all substance of a conclusion generally
received in respect to those interesting substances whom we call our friends and
acquaintances. We have impressions and ideas of them, gathered from their conversation
and their dealings with us. We trust that our friends are at heart such as their
conversation represents them. If they are not, they are false and deceitful, or
at least unknowable and unlovable persons; and there is an end of friendship. But
assuming that our fellow-men, or some of them, as things in themselves, answer to
our impressions and ideas of them, what of horses and dogs, and the lower sentient
creation generally? What again of plants, of minerals and gases? Are they not all
so many potential energies, to some extent impressing us, but in great measure beyond
us, and even when away from us still real? And in the ascending scale, what of angels
and of God? These are interesting questions to all except the solipsist. Abandon
solipsism, and any extreme form of idealism becomes impossible; nay, it may be found
necessary to come to terms with Realistic Dualism. Does not monism spell solipsism?
I have translated similitudo ‘likeness,’ but the intelligent reader will take it to mean no more than ‘proportion,’ or ‘correspondence,’ of the impression or idea in the mind with the thing in itself. ‘Things in themselves’ are knowable in point of their aptitudes in our regard, aptitudes which remain potential, and do not drop to zero, when not exercised. If any one will venture on the fatal denial of potentiality, and assume that, as in God, so also in the creatures of God, nothing is but what is actualised, no logic can save him from the last excesses of pantheism.
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