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Whether our intellect can achieve knowledge [cognitio] of the first cause.

One inquires further whether our intellect can achieve knowledge of the first cause.

1. And it seems not. Because nothing is in the intellect that was not first in sense. But the first cause does not fall under sense, and therefore, etc.

2. In addition, "just as the eye of the night owl is to the light of the sun or of the day, so is our intellect to those things which are the most evident in nature," according to the Philosopher in the second book of the Metaphysics.[1] But it is not possible for

3. Moreover, the infinite is not intelligible by our intellect. The first cause is infinite, and therefore, etc.

The Philosopher says the opposite in the text and argues according to this reasoning: Nature does nothing frivolously or in vain. Since, then, the first cause is the first intelligible, if it is unintelligible to us its intelligibility will be in vain, just as a visible which cannot be seen will be made in vain.

Moreover, in the third book of On the Soul he says that the soul is all thingssense is the sensibles and intellect is the in-telligibles. Since, then, the first cause is intelligible, therefore, etc.

To this, one must reply that our intellect cannot achieve knowledge of the first cause with respect to its essence. And the reason for this is that the object is proportioned to the cognitive power and the cognitive power is threefold. One exists in matter and uses an organ. Another does not exist in matter and does not use an organ. And the third exists in matter but does not use an organ. The first is the sensitive power, the second is a separate intellect, just as of the first cause or separate substance, and the third is the human intellect, which is in matter (the human body) but does not use an organ. But there is a proportionality between these three and their objects. The material object corresponds to the first, in that it exists in matter. An object that is absolutely separated from matter corresponds to the second. And an object that exists in matter corresponds to the third, but not in that it exists in matter. Therefore, properly speaking, the object of our intellect is the quiddity of the substance or a macrow" (corvus marinus) but that it is not the same as a bubo, and later in the same passage he tells us that the noctua was rendered as glaucus in the Septuagint. Hugh of St. Victor 1.43 equates noctua and nycticorax. Cf. Vine. 16.111. George and Yapp (1991, 148-50) discuss at length the nicticorax/noctua problem. On the nyktikorax cf. GB (207-9) and the additional work of Oliphan thing, because it is in matter. But because it does not use an organ, it does not apprehend this quiddity materially; rather, it apprehends immaterially that which is in matter and it apprehends universally that which is in the individual.

Nevertheless, it must be understood that some things can be known in many ways. For some are known through their essences, and thus the first cause understands itself per se and, by knowing itself, it intuits all other things just as if in a mirror that depicts all things to itself. For it is itself a mirror bearing all things in itself. Other things are known through their species. And this is how we know and how intelligences know, but we know through acquired species, and intelligences do so through innate species. And still others are known by their effects, and this is how we know the separate substances, because we infer [concludo] the nature of the intelligences through motion, which is a common sensible. Something is known in a fourth way, by privation, and this is how we know a point and indivisibles. Thus we can achieve knowledge of the first cause in the last two modes, namely, by privation, that is, by understanding that it is incorporeal, immaterial, impassible, incapable of being generated, without fixed magnitude, and in the same way for things found to be akin to it.

The first [cause], Godthe most true, most sweet, most powerful from eternity forever and ever and reigning through boundless agescan be known in another way, that is, through his effects. And the Philosopher says this in the premise. For he says that it should not be difficult for us to inquire into the natures of vile animals because knowledge of them and investigation into them present such admirable pleasures to us, just as (as he says later) in children who are beginning to learn. This is because the artifice of the first creator is reflected in them just as the handiwork [opus] of the sculptor [statuifex] is reflected in his statue and that of the blacksmith in a knife and that of the physician in preserving health and curing the sick. Therefore, from the knowledge of these vile animals we can ascend to the knowledge of the first cause just as we ascend from effect to cause. But this is the knowledge "that it is" [quia est] and not a knowledge of "what it is" [quid est], which is more knowable and is prior absolutely and with respect to itself [secundum se] but not with respect to us, but the first [is], namely, "that it is," etc.

1. On to the arguments. To the first argument one must reply that although the first cause does not fall under sense as far as its own essence is concerned, nevertheless it does fall under sense as far as its effects are concerned, and nothing is understood if it does not fall under sense in some way, either in itself or in another.

2. To the second argument one must reply that just as the night owl's or the bat's eye cannot endure the light of day, so neither can our intellect gaze at the essence of the first cause in itself, although it can gaze at its effects, etc. Nevertheless, it will be different for one stripped [of the body] after death, because then he will be able to do this, etc.

3. To the third argument one must reply that the infinite is of two types. One is infinite with respect to matter, and the Philosopher has enough to say about this type of infinite in the third book of the Physics. This one is intelligible only through a privation of finitude. Another is infinite with respect to form and is said to be infinite because it cannot be bounded by form, and one like this is intelligible per se, etc.

To the first argument one must reply to the objection [ad op positum] that although the first cause is not known by us through its essence, it is nevertheless not unknowable on account of this. So too, the sun is not visible in vain just because the night owl does not see it. Thus, even though we do not know the first cause through its essence, we nevertheless know it well enough through its effect, etc.

  • [1] Ar., Metaph. 2.1 (993b9f.). Cf. A., Metaph. 2.2. The night owl, nocticorax, is not the same as an owl (noctua) for A. Cf. DA 23.130(84) (SZ 2: 1639-40). Complicating matters is the confusion of two names. Isid., Orig. 12.7.40-41, uses noctua more generally and says he specifically equates the two (nicticorax ipsa est noctua), a statement repeated by ThC 5.92.2 (nocticorax is A.'s spelling). Rabanus Maurus, De universo 8.6, clearly states that some call the noctua a "sea the night owl's eye to sustain and perceive the light of the sun or of the day without being injured or corrupted, and therefore, etc.
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