JMC : On Universals / by Matteo Liberatore, S.J.

Chapter III.



10. In the second chapter of the book that we are examining, Monsignor F*** compares Universals with finite real things. In registering the former he enumerates, besides Universal Being (L'essere universalissimo) and genera and species, another sort of thing, which Rosmini calls "the full species" (specie plena,) as containing all the determinations found in the individual, except subsistence. But if so, it is not a species, it is the individual itself, as possible. The species, according to St. Thomas, prescinds from the determinations proper to individuals, and only represents the essential characteristics, in which the individuals agree.

We must bear in mind however, that according to the Rosminian doctrine, followed by Monsignor F***, singulars as possible belong to the class of universals; so that Socrates, as possible, would be a universal, and therefore could be multiplied as real indefinitely. We might have many revived Socrateses. But those who are acquainted with the scholastic doctrine know very well how different this is; to say nothing about the absurdity that it contains. As a real individual is one, so is a possible individual one. The specific nature is multiplied, not the individual nature.


Monsignor F*** lays down that finite real things are created by God in the likeness of the Universals that are in His mind, and therefore that the former are to the latter as a copy is to its model. Very well. But does he not see that if this is true of Universals, the human mind, in virtue of the intellectual Light communicated to it by God, can easily abstract them from real things? That would be a legitimate consequence of the principle laid down. By looking at a work of art we can very well form a conception that corresponds to the artist's idea. If you look at one of Raphael's pictures, your mind becomes informed mediately of an ideal representation, which accords with the idea that was in the immortal painter's mind.

Monsignor F***, on the contrary, deduces two opposite corollaries, i.e. that universals are quite independent of finite real things, and that the existence of the latter depends on the existence of the former. This we grant willingly of universals existing in the Divine Mind but not as he understands it, not also of universals existing in our minds. To acquire ideas, the human mind is turned, as St. Thomas teaches and reason shows, not to the Divine archetypes, but to things real and sensible, fashioned after those Divine models. And therefore those real things are to the Divine Mind in the relation of the measured thing to the measure, while to our minds they are in the relation of the measure to the measured. Now the measure does not depend on the measured, but the measured on the measure.

12. A DISTORTION OF TWO PASSAGES FROM THE HOLY DOCTOR. Proofs from St. Thomas have no effect at all on Monsignor F***, for he puts them all to his own account. Of this we have two examples before us. He quotes a passage in which St. Thomas says, Differt compositio intellectus a compositione rei. Nam ea quae componuntur in re sunt diversa compositio autem intellectus est signum identitatis eorum quae componuntur. . . . Et secundum hanc identitatis rationem intellectus noster unum componet alteri, praedicando.{1} From this it follows that when the intellect predicates humanity of the real Peter, saying Petrus est homo, this predication is a sign of identity between Peter and man, inasmuch as Peter is no other than a human individual, i.e. universal man individualized in him. But Monsignor F*** brings forward this passage to confirm the opposite Rosminian theory, which be expresses thus: -- "As soon," he says, "as we have applied the predicate of existence, or of any other common quality, to a finite real thing, we know it as existing and as furnished with other qualities that we have attributed to it. Thus, in our minds, the conception of finite real things results from two elements, i.e. from that of the singular and concrete reality, and from that of existence and of other qualities common to the same reality, and adjudged by us. These two elements are not confounded or identified, but united by an intimate synthesis, through which they constitute one object only of our minds."{2} St. Thomas says that the composition which the intellect makes, when predicating of a subject a common quality est signum identitatis eorum quae componuntur. The Rosminian doctrine says, on the contrary, that the two elements, one of which is affirmed of the other, are not confounded or identified; yet Monsignor F*** opines that the first of these two doctrines agrees with the second. Courteous reader, what do you think?

Monsignor F*** , after Rosmini, likewise rules that abstraction is impracticable otherwise than on an intellectual compositum, formed anteriorly by the intellect through a union of the real with the idea of Being, and, in order to prove that this doctrine agrees with that of St. Thomas, he brings out the passage in which the holy Doctor says that phantasmata et illuminantur ab intellectu agente, et iterum ab eis per virtutem intellectus agentis species intelligibiles abstrahuntur. On this passage he reasons thus "What is this illumination of phantasmas, except seeing them in the light of truth, forming of them with the universal predicate one only object?"{3} One can hardly believe that he could fail to see how, in the text fully quoted by himself, St. Thomas explains what this illumination consists in, adding after the words just referred to: -- Illuminantur quidem (phantasmata), quia sicut pars sensitiva ex conjunctione ad intellectum efficitur virtuosior, ita phantasmata ex virtute intellectus agentis redduntur habilia ut ab eis intentiones intelligibiles abstrahantur.{4} Here it is expressly stated that the illumination of the phantasmas is based on the aptitude they possess for having the species intelligibilis abstracted from them, through the influence, to which they are subject, of the intellectus agens, just as the sensitive part in man is more perfectly operative through its conjunction with the intellective part. Is there anything here about seeing in the light of Truth -- about the composition of the phantasmas with the universal predicate into one object? This is how Monsignor F*** proves Rosminianism out of St. Thomas. He either quotes passages that have nothing to do with the question, or twists the holy Doctor's words into a meaning that is not in them. But we had better give our attention for a while to the intellectus agens.

13. MONSIGNOR F***'s PERVERSION OF ST. THOMAS' DOCTRINE ABOUT THE INTELLECTUS AGENS. The intellectus agens, as everyone knows who has any knowledge of Thomistic doctrine, is according to St. Thomas an active faculty of the mind, intended to abstract the species intelligibiles from sensible representations (from phantasmas) by causing to shine in them before the intellectus possibilis the quiddity alone of the object, without the individual characteristics that circumscribe it in individuals. Hence the intellectus agens is called a light, because it does for the mind what corporeal light does for the sense of sight. As the virtue that is in corporeal light makes the colours of bodies visible, so does the virtue that is in the intellectus agens make intelligible in phantasmas the quiddities or essences. Monsignor F***, like a true Rosminian, turns this theory upside down. The intellectus agens, from being a purely active virtue, operating by efficiency, is by him turned into a perceptive virtue, operating by cognition. He attributes to it intuition of truth -- of truth as apprehended through (the intuition of) most abstract Being. He will have its first operation to be a synthesis that unites a real thing to a universal.{5} All these things clash with the characteristics of St. Thomas' intellectus agens; and the intellectus possibilis, established by the holy Doctor as a faculty to which the cognoscitive act formally belongs -- a faculty really distinct from the intellectus agens, would be rendered useless. More remarkable still is it that, in order to make St. Thomas appear as consenting to this theory, he brings forward a passage from the question De Magistro, omitting the words in which the holy Doctor expressly contradicts it. St. Thomas affirms that the ratio or quiddity of Ens (i.e., esse) is apprehended by us in virtue of a species intelligibilis abstracted from phantasmas. Let us refer to the omitted passage. Similiter dicendum est de scientiae acquisitione, quod praeexistunt in nobis quaedam scientiarum semina, scilicet primae conceptiones intellectus, quae statim lumine intellectus agentis cognoscuntur per species a sensibilibus abstractas, sive sint complexa ut dignitates, sive incomplexa sicut ratio entis, et unias et hujusmodi, quae statim intellectus apprehendit. Ex istis autem principiis universalibus omnia principia sequuntur, sicut ex quibusdam rationibus seminalibus. Quando ergo ex istis universalibus cognitionibus mens educitur ut actu cognoscat particularia, quae prius in potentia, et quasi in universali, cognoscebantur, tunc aliquis dicitur scientiam acquirere.{6}

It would be impossible to say anything more clearly and profoundly in as few words. "In the acquisition of science (that is, of knowledge had in virtue of demonstration) we find that seeds of it pre-exist in our minds; and these are the first conceptions of the intellect, which we form at once in the light of the intellectus agens, by means of the species that we abstract from sensible things, whether such conceptions are complex, i.e., axioms, or incomplex, i.e. simple notions, as the ratio of Being, of one, and such like. From these universal principles all the others are developed, as plants from the seed. When therefore, from these universal conceptions, the mind proceeds, by the way of discourse, to know particulars, which were first contained in them in potentia and as particulars in the universal, then it is said to acquire knowledge."

How then can Monsignor F*** and his Rosminians maintain, that, according to St. Thomas. the light of the intellectus agens is Universal Being, when the holy Doctor says plainly that Being ens in general, ratio entis, is known in the light of the intellectus agens, lumine intellectus agentis, in virtue of species abstracted from sensible things, per species a sensibilibus abstractas? To shield himself from the force of this argument, Monsignor F*** puts forward, at page 258 of his second volume, the interpretation given of it by Rosmini, saying that it is one thing to have the conception of Being (Ratio entis), and another to have Being simply present, without anything more. "The former," he says, "implies that we apprehend Being, not merely anyhow, but comprehending the force and fecundity of it; and this is done on the occasion of sensations. That," he says, "is how the passage from St. Thomas has to be explained." But any one can see the futility of such an expedient. The holy Doctor is speaking of the first conceptions that spring up at once in the mind -- primae conceptiones, which statim intellectus apprehendit, and which are as the seeds of knowledge, scientiarum semina, among which he principally mentions the ratio entis, which, he says, is known in virtue of species abstracted by the operation of the intellectus agens. The Rosminian interpretation therefore is altogether arbitrary, beside the question and forced: but of that we shall have to speak at length further on.


St. Thomas repeatedly says that the species intelligibilis non est id quod intelligitur, but id QUO intelligitur. Monsignor F*** cannot deny his saying so, and therefore has recourse to the expedient of dividing it into two classes. To one of these, he says, the aforementioned quality (of being id quo intelligitur) properly belongs; while the other is not the medium but the object of knowledge, and therefore is identical with universals. Hence he concludes by saying: -- "It is manifest that while St. Thomas distinguished the subjective species intelligibiles from the objective species intelligibiles, and affirmed of the former only, not of the latter, that they are not the object understood, but the medium of understanding, Father Matteo [Liberatore] pretends that all the species intelligibiles in general are subjective, even qualifying as such the direct universals. Thus, without being aware of it, he alters intrinsically the doctrine of the angelic Doctor, and takes away the only solid basis of human cognition,"{7} Here we have a great confusion. In the first place, St. Thomas, as every novice in Thomistic science knows, never taught that there are two sorts of species, some of which are id QUO intelligitur and others id QUOD intelligitur. To him the species are always the principium quo cognitionis, inasmuch as, by informing the knowing faculty (facoltà conoscitrice), they render it capable of putting forth the act of knowing, but are not and cannot be the object of the act itself in the direct order of cognition. The fact is that Monsignor F***, like every Rosminian, always confuses the representative species of the object with the object represented; and therefore he assumes that I said what I never dreamt of saying. He assumes that I qualify as subjective the direct Universals, whereas to me, as to St. Thomas, they are the intelligible things, and not the species that represent them.{8} In short Monsignor F*** confuses the objective with the object. Objective is that which refers to the object, but is not the object: so that species intelligibiles though subjective as being forms and actuations of the subject, i.e. of the mind, are nevertheless objective also, as representing the object and as directly leading the intellect to the perception of the same.

15. A CONFUSION ABOUT THE MENTAL WORD [verbum mentis]. There is nothing more obvious in St. Thomas' doctrine than his distinguishing a twofold operation of the intellect as such -- that is to say, simple apprehension, to which he attributes the definition; and judgment, which he makes to consist in composition or division of the conceptions, and which he often designates by the name of enunciation. Both the one and the other are direct acts. From the one and from the other a mental word is formed. Now Monsignor F*** quotes the words of the holy Doctor in which this is clearly expressed: -- Illud proprie dicitur verbum, quod intelligens intelligendo format. Intellectus autem duo format, secundum duas ejus operationes. Nam secundum operationem suam, quae dicitur indivisibilium intelligentia, format definitionem; secundum vero operationem, qua componit et dividit, format enunciationem vel aliquid tale.{9} But what does he infer from these words? That according to St. Thomas the mental word consists in the judgment, by which the intellect defines, composes and divides. These are his words: "That reflection, if not absolutely always, certainly almost always, enters into the production of the mental word, can be gathered from the testimony of St. Thomas himself, who makes the mental word consist in the judgment by which the intellect defines, composes and divides; which judgment unmistakably requires reflection."{10} But does he not perceive that if the definition were a judgment, it would be a composition, and therefore that St. Thomas would in vain have contradistinguished the one from the other? A definition, as we have seen in the passage quoted, is formed, according to St. Thomas, by that operation of the mind which is called indivisibilium intelligentia; and this is a simple apprehension, not a judgment. Perhaps Monsignor F*** fell into this error from seeing that when we define a thing -- for example, Man -- saying, Homo est animal rationale, we pronounce a judgment. But he ought to have considered the fact that in this judgment the second member, i.e., animal rationale, is the definition, and that the first, i.e. Homo, is the thing defined. When we attribute the definition to the thing defined we pronounce a judgment. The definition, as we are taught in logic, is that which we answer when anyone wants to know quid sit res. If I ask you what "man" is, you answer "animal rationale" Here we have the definition of man. The definition of man expresses the quiddity of the thing, and the quiddity is conceived by simple apprehension. And since by simple apprehension aliquid actu intelligitur, by it, and not by judgment alone, formatur verbum.

Monsignor F*** does not show himself to be very learned in the language of St. Thomas and this perhaps is not the least among the reasons why he so often fails to interpret his doctrine. Moreover it is not true that, according to St. Thomas, a judgment "unmistakably" requires reflection. The judgment may be reflex when the apprehension which it follows is reflex; but if the apprehension which it follows is direct, the judgment cannot be otherwise than direct also.

Monsignor F*** says that I have spoilt logic by not putting ideology before it.{11} Be it so. But by having begun with logic I have at least gained one advantage -- that of not falling into such mistakes as these.

{1} Summa, p. 1, Q. lxxxv., a. 5 ad 3.

{2} Vol. 1, p. 108.

{3} Vol. 1, p. 115.

{4} Summa, p. 1, Q. lxxxv. a. 1 ad 4.

{5} Vol. 1, p. 134.

{6} Qq. Disp. De magistro, a. 1.

{7} Vol. 1. p. 144.

{8} See my work, Della Conoscenza Intellettuale. Vol. 2, c. 2.

{9} Opus. De differentia divini verbi et humani.

{10} Vol. 1, p. 153.

{11} Father Matteo Liberatore quite spoilt his treatise on Logic by putting it before ideology. Vol. 3, p. 823.

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