The Ways to Wisdom
The Ways to Wisdom
Aquinas Day By Day

18

Aquinas’s topic: different ways ideas are founded on reality

Scripture: “In all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3: 6

Aquinas’s text: Scriptum in Sententiis, Bk. 1, d. 2, 1.3c, written 1252-6

Here Br. Thomas clarifies the subject of logic by distinguishing three different kinds of concepts in the mind. The “sciences” primarily make use of the first of these three kinds of concepts in order to understand different kinds of real things, but logic primarily makes use of the second kind of concepts, in organizing and making logical our thought processes.

A conception within the intellect is related to a thing that exists outside the soul in three ways.

Sometimes that which the intellect conceives is a likeness of the thing standing outside the soul; for example, what we conceive by the term “human being (homo).” This kind of conception within the intellect has a foundation in reality that is immediate, in so far as the thing itself, out of its conformity to the intellect, makes the intellect true, and the term signifying that understanding is properly said of the thing.

At other times that which the term signifies is not a likeness of the thing standing outside the soul, but is something that follows on the mode of understanding the thing that is outside the soul. Now these sorts of things are intentions that our intellect devises. For example, what is signified by the term “genus” is not a likeness of some thing standing outside the soul, but from the intellect understanding animal as it is in many species it attributes to it the intention “genus.” Now for an intention of this sort, although its proximate foundation exists not in reality but in the intellect, nevertheless its remote foundation is the thing itself. Therefore, the intellect that has devised these intentions is not false. Now something similar is true for all other things that follow on the mode of understanding, for example, abstraction of mathematical objects and things like that.

And at other times what is signified by a term has no foundation in reality, neither a proximate foundation nor a remote foundation; for example, the concept of “chimera.” For this is not the likeness of some thing outside the soul nor does it follow from the mode of understanding some natural thing. Therefore, this conception is false.

Ipsa conceptio intellectus tripliciter se habet ad rem quae est extra animam.

Aliquando enim hoc quod intellectus concipit, est similitudo rei existentis extra animam, sicut hoc quod concipitur de hoc nomine homo; et talis conceptio intellectus habet fundamentum in re immediate, inquantum res ipsa, ex sua conformitate ad intellectum, facit quod intellectus sit verus, et quod nomen significans illum intellectum, proprie de re dicatur.

Aliquando autem hoc quod significat nomen non est similitudo rei existentis extra animam, sed est aliquid quod consequitur ex modo intelligendi rem quae est extra animam: et hujusmodi sunt intentiones quas intellectus noster adinvenit; sicut significatum hujus nominis genus non est similitudo alicujus rei extra animam existentis; sed ex hoc quod intellectus intelligit animal ut in pluribus speciebus, attribuit ei intentionem generis; et hujusmodi intentionis licet proximum fundamentum non sit in re sed in intellectu, tamen remotum fundamentum est res ipsa. Unde intellectus non est falsus, qui has intentiones adinvenit. Et simile est de omnibus aliis qui consequuntur ex modo intelligendi, sicut est abstractio mathematicorum et hujusmodi.

Aliquando vero id quod significatur per nomen, non habet fundamentum in re, neque proximum neque remotum, sicut conceptio Chimerae: quia neque est similitudo alicujus rei extra animam, neque consequitur ex modo intelligendi rem aliquam naturae: et ideo ista conceptio est falsa.

[Introductions and translations © R.E. Houser]

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The Center for Thomistic Studies at the University of St. Thomas is the only graduate philosophy program uniquely focused on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas in the United States. The Center is founded on the Church’s insistence of the perennial value of the thought of Aquinas as the new millennium proceeds.
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