Thursday, August 1, 1996

The intellectus principiorum

19 August 1996

The actus essendi of the extramental subsisting things of nature plays a fundamental role in the formation of the intellectus principiorum, the habit of first principles. This habit can be initially described as a ‘natural’ inclination towards the perfection of the actus essendi.

All men and women are born with this ‘natural’ inclination. In the possible intellect of children, however, the ‘natural’ inclination towards first principles is an incomplete habit. Children, because of their age, are incapable of intellectual activity. Therefore, the inclination towards the perfection of the actus essendi exists in their possible intellect only as an ‘unexercised natural inclination.’ The complete ‘natural’ habit is the result of the coming together of two indispensable elements: the actus essendi of the exterior subsisting things of nature and the interior unexercised ‘natural’ inclination of the possible intellect.

What exactly does the actus essendi cause in the possible intellect? The answer to this question is difficult to articulate. I have used several expressions. I said, for example, that the actus essendi of the subsisting things of nature causes: (1) “a habitual internal standard of truth,” (2) “that, whereby the human intellect judges correctly about all things,” (3) “the disposition by means of which the assent that carries the weight of a principle is elicited,” (4) “an implied, non-explicit, intellectual habit needed to begin and ground the process of reasoning.” With these expressions I have designated the intelligible content that the actus essendi of the subsisting things of nature impresses on the possible intellect.

In a subsisting thing of nature we find a substantial ‘form,’ many accidental ‘forms,’ and the actus essendi. The ‘forms’ are inseparable from the actus essendi. In fact, as coming from a particular extramental subsisting thing, the ‘forms’ and the actus essendi relate to one another for the faculty of the intellect as colors and light relate to one another for the sensible faculty of sight. The intellectual grasping of a ‘form’, either substantial or accidental, is inseparable from the grasping of an actus essendi since one cannot apprehend one without apprehending the other, just as one does not apprehend color without apprehending light. Thus, actus essendi and ‘form’ make their way to the intellect simultaneously, but they inform the possible intellect differently.

Before interacting with the actus essendi, the unexercised ‘natural’ inclination of the possible intellect amounts to nothing in the order of knowledge. This unexercised natural habit is not innate knowledge; it cannot furnish knowledge by itself; and it does not by itself become a complete habit.

New Rochelle, New York