Is the soul’s awareness or apprehension of its own self by its essence or its act? I hope to elaborate in detail on this issue soon but for now, dear readers, content yourselves with these two arguments, one for each side of this disputed question.

For the affirmative side, here is the Shaykh al-Ra’is in Al-Ta‘līqāt (ed. A.R. Badawi. Cairo, 1973, p. 161, tr. D. Black):

My apprehension of myself is something which […] does not arise in me from the consideration of something else. For if I say: “I did this,” I express my apprehension of myself even if I am heedless of my awareness of it. But from where could I know that I did this, unless I had first considered my self? Therefore I first considered my self, not its activity, nor did I consider anything by which I apprehended myself.

For the negative side, here is the Angelic Doctor in the Summa, I.q.87.a.1 (tr. Fathers of EDP):

Everything is knowable so far as it is in act, and not, so far as it is in potentiality. […]. Now the human intellect is only a potentiality in the genus of intelligible beings, […]. Therefore, in its essence the human mind is potentially understanding. Hence it has in itself the power to understand, but not to be understood, except as it is made actual. […]. But as in this life our intellect has material and sensible things for its proper natural object, […], it understands itself according as it is made actual by the species abstracted from sensible things, through the light of the active intellect, which not only actuates the intelligible things themselves, but also, by their instrumentality, actuates the passive intellect. Therefore the intellect knows itself not by its essence, but by its act.

So, which side do you find yourself? Discuss.


2 thoughts on “A disputed question on the soul

  1. Salam

    [Now the human intellect is only a potentiality in the genus of intelligible beings, …].

    In my opinion this statement of St. Thomas needs further clarification. Does he man that the human intellect is in potentiality in the recognition or awareness of the genus of the intelligibles? If that is what he wants to prove by this point, then he is saying that when man knows he actually wants to know whether he knows, not that whether he knows or not.
    In other words, knowledge of intelligibles by the intellect is different from knowledge of the self whether it knows the intelligibles. The latter is the potency to know whether one knows, but the former is not a potency, at least according to Plato, because the intellect knows everything (intelligible) qua itself.

    By this line of reasoning, difference in humans can be conceptualized: those who realize that they know or they fo not know x become wise, but those who do not know that they know or not know x are potentially wise because they are rational, and with utility of their intellect they can reflect to know whether they know. This I think is reasoning in humans.

    Therefore, I agree with sheikh sina that we know essentially

    1. But this knowledge of the self is essential knowledge of the intelligibles, and essential knowledge of the self cannot be known through the act of the intellect because a regress would loom: to know it one would have to know that it knows it, and to know that one knows that one knows it one would need to know that one knows that it knows it, … Ad infinitum. So essentially intellect knows itself, by itself and through itself.

      Hope I understood the line of thought and the main point of the argument.


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