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Monday, December 15, 2008

0049: Commentary on “The Apprehension of the Act of Being in Aquinas”

Entry 0049: Commentary on “The Apprehension of the Act of Being in Aquinas”

Reference: Orestes J. Gonzalez, “The Apprehension of the Act of Being in Aquinas,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 1994, Vol. 68, pp. 475-500

This article is a professionally written contribution based on a large number of texts from a wide range of Saint Thomas’ works. The author is clearly familiar with Saint Thomas. The texts are cited, often rather extensively, in the original Latin and reflect faithfully the English paraphrase of their meaning given in the main body of the article. There can be no question that the author is a serious and responsible scholar.

The aim of the article is to present and defend an original, in-depth interpretation of Saint Thomas’ own account of the human mind’s grasp of being and of the first principles. No mention is made of the diverse and often incompatible accounts of that process which have been previously given by well known commentators like Gilson and Lonergan. The author, on the contrary, works out his own exposition of Saint Thomas through a painstaking, step by step argument, each stage of which is supported by a copious array of textual citations.

In his exposition of Saint Thomas the author describes carefully the diverse roles assigned by Saint Thomas to the intellectus principiorum, as a natural habit of the passive intellect, the passive intellect itself, the phantasm, and the act of being of the corporeal object first grasped by sense. The intelligibility of that act of being is transmitted to the passive intellect by the species abstracted from the phantasm illuminated by the active intellect. That species, however, appears in company with the mind’s awareness of its own weakened intellectual light, a finite participation in its Creator’s intellectual light. Somewhat like Lonergan, the author points to the role of the intellectus principiorum as a pre-conceptual grasp of the intelligibility of the first principles prior to their explicit verbalization. The author is no Lonerganian, however, since it is the intelligibility of the sensible singular’s act of being, transmitted to the passive intellect by the species, measured against the mind’s grasp of its own weakened intellectual light—the norm of truth inscribed in the intellectus principiorum, the intellectual habit of the first principles—which would ground Saint Thomas’ metaphysics. The author is parting company here with Lonergan and with the Transcendental Thomists.

The article does not make easy reading. Its argument is worked out with exacting care and, to appreciate its full force, the reader must check the Latin footnotes against the argument being presented in the main body of the article itself. That, however, is not a disadvantage in a scholarly article destined for serious readers. The author concludes his presentation with a careful systematic summary.