Summary Against Modern Thought: Intellectual Substances & Subsistent Forms

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

Very brief chapter this week!

Chapter 51 That the Intellectual substances is not a material form (alternate translation)

1 FROM the same premisses it may be shown that intellectual natures are subsistent forms, and do not exist in matter as though their being depended on matter.

Notes Angels, for instance, are immaterial subsistent forms.

2 Because forms dependent on matter as regards their being properly speaking have not being themselves, but the composites through them. Hence if intellectual substances were forms of this kind, it would follow that they have material being, just as they would if they were composed of matter and form.

Notes Think of this as the reverse of the proof that intellects are not a body. Since intellects are not bodies, yet they exist, they must be something else, and the name given is subsistent forms, i.e. forms which do not require material to exist and which are therefore incorruptible.

3 Again. Forms that subsist not of themselves cannot act of themselves, but the composites act through them. If therefore intellectual natures were forms of this kind, it would follow that they do not themselves understand, but the things composed of them and matter. Consequently an intelligent being would be composed of matter and form. And this has been proved to be impossible.

Notes The form of the knife doesn’t cut, but the material wedded to the form, i.e. the composite, does cut. Forms which require matter to exist in a composite cannot act, as is probably obvious. But the intellect is a different kind of thing entirely.

4 Moreover. If the intellect were a form in matter and not self-subsistent, it would follow that what is received into the intellect is received into matter: because such forms as have their being tied to matter, do not receive anything without its being received into matter. Since, then, the reception of forms into the intellect is not a reception of forms into matter, it is impossible that the intellect be a material form.

Notes This and the next follows directly from the previous two weeks, which proved the intellect is not a body.

5 Further. To say that the intellect is a non-subsistent form and buried in matter, is the same in reality as to say that the intellect is composed of matter and form, and the difference is merely nominal: for in the former case the intellect will be indicated as the form of the composite, while in the latter, the intellect denotes the composite itself. Wherefore if it is false that the intellect be composed of matter and form, it will be false that it is a non-subsistent and material form.


  1. Oldavid

    I will go further and repeat my assertion that the mind (which is not just an intellect) is a metaphysical “thing” or “stuff” or “substance” that is connected to the physical World by the physical organ we call the brain and its associated bits.

    Mere physics and chemistry do not spontaneously produce organic life. Physics and chemistry pre-require the principle of “life” to order the physical and chemical processes of organic life… the difference between a dead organism and a live one. A freshly dead organism contains all the chemicals of a live one; just not the immaterial, or metaphysical, “thing” or “stuff” that makes it work.

    Intellect (and will) do not spontaneously arise from physics and chemistry, but in an organic being they are intimately connected… the mind is fed through the senses and it acts through the body.

  2. DAV

    A freshly dead organism contains all the chemicals of a live one; just not the immaterial, or metaphysical, “thing” or “stuff” that makes it work.

    Or it no longer is interconnected as it was when alive and is beginning to decay. The process may have started when the organism was alive. Necessary functions begin to fail and death follows. A car engine which has ceased to work has all the same chemicals as a working one yet it no longer runs. Therefore, using your logic, the operation of the engine is not brought about by its material but by some mysterious metaphysical property it possesses and it stops when this property departs.

  3. Mactoul.

    Your assertion has a problem. For brain is itself a part of the physical world,
    the assertion is basically that the mind is connected to the physical world.
    But the problem of how an immaterial thing acts on the physical world and does it mean that the phyisical world is not closed (the swerve of the atomists and “miracle of thinking “in CS Lewis Miracles.)-this problem remains.

  4. Mactoul.

    Animals act for their own good. Cars don’t.

  5. DAV

    Animals act for their own good. Cars don’t.

    OK, so what? Acting for their own good is an explanation for why they are alive? I don’t see your point.

  6. Joy

    Cars do not have a soul
    and if the analogy is worked through to it’s conclusion, then parts can be replaced and the car will start again. Nothing essential about the cars ability to function will have changed. There’s no such thing as a dead car other than in an anthropomorphic metaphor. If a thing isn’t living obviously it cannot be described as dead.

    The analogy is wrong because it contains the hidden assumption that a car is like a human in this respect.

    Its the same error of using something invented by a human and which has ability to move and demonstrates powers that it has something which can be described as aliveness. It is the car which has the illusion, not the minds which created it.

  7. DAV

    Cars do not have a soul

    How do you know? For that matter, how do you know people do and “soul” is not just a synonym for “life”? Since we don’t know what exactly makes something alive it’s obvious that fixing a dead animal is not possible — yet anyway.

    I was merely pointing out that having the apparent same material when alive/dead proves nothing about a “soul”. All that’s necessary to explain death is the organism’s functions needed to sustain life are broken just like with a broken car. No soul required.

  8. Joy

    We both agree that cars don’t have souls. Although I’ve cried when they were taken away before now. Felt guilty when one was parked on the fourcourt as the next was collected and driven away. Really felt bad.

    Maybe souls don’t exist.

  9. Gary

    Cars may not have souls, but my old 1967 Rambler seemed to have a will of its own. At least the carburetor did.

  10. Joy

    That would be the biofuels.
    Especially if it stood still for any time at all greater than about a week or two at a time.
    Run the fuel empty or agitate the fuel regularly.
    (not verbally, actually)
    Or buy expensive fuel without the white stuff.
    Just a suggestion!

  11. Oldavid

    There are fascinating concepts in the “spirits” or ethos of things like cultures, nations, communities, regions, societies, clubs even families. But such things would be entirely beyond comprehension for any kind of Materialist.

    The metaphysical “stuff” we call life is quite different to the kind of “life” we associate with a mechanical gadget like a motor car. The real metaphysical “stuff” of life is not the result of a physical process (as in a gadget) but rather the cause of the organisation of physical processes that make a live organism. Life can exist without all the physical parts of a mature organism (eg. live sperm, live egg, live zygote don’t have all the physicals of the live, mature, mathemagician) but they’re alive nonetheless.

    Then there is other life that is not so intimately connected with material (or physical) things… like Angels… pure Act… they are what they do.

    Heh heh! That should provoke a spasm of scoffing fits in the coven of Materialists.

  12. DAV

    The real metaphysical “stuff” of life is not the result of a physical process (as in a gadget) but rather the cause of the organisation of physical processes that make a live organism.

    What we can observe is whether the organism operates (is alive) or no longer operates (is dead). Organization appears to be the key. Lose it and death occurs. Why would this be if life is separate from the organization?

    The major and perhaps the one thing that separate living from non-living is the local reversal of entropy. There is really no reason to claim (vs. hypothesize) some metaphysical property to account for this merely because we lack understanding. You have mo way of knowing that it is not a physical process. That death follows destroying the physical organization of an organism suggests that life is a result of physical makeup.

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