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Question

Dear Father Angelo,

I have a question to ask you: we deduce the immateriality of the human soul from the nature of the operations of the intellect (abstracting, thinking, reflecting, etc.) and from the immateriality of the same object known by the intellect (being intelligible). We know that animals, that is beasts, especially the more complex ones, “share” with us humans the external senses and sensitive faculties such as the imaginative, the estimative and the memory. But in what sense can we say that the sensitive soul of animals is not immaterial like ours?


Answer

Dearest, 

1. The sensitive soul of animals is not immaterial like ours precisely because animals do not show signs of transcending matter.

The imaginative, the estimative (instinctuality) and the memory in themselves are still linked to the senses. They do not transcend them.

2. It is true that knowledge is defined as the immaterial taking possession of another reality in the sense that if – for example – I look at a house, that house enters my visual capacity inside me.

It enters in an immaterial way because with its materiality the house is elsewhere, that is, where it is.

It is in me only in its image. And the image is still something sensitive, material, circumscribed by space and time. Each image is circumscribed.

3. Therefore, when we say that knowledge is immaterial possession, we therefore mean that the known reality is elsewhere with its quantity, while in the subject who knows it, it is present only in a figurative, representative way.

4. Our intelligence, which is a spiritual faculty of the soul, does not know material realities directly, but only through the image that they deposit in our sensitive faculties, in the external senses first of all, and then in memory and in the imagination.

Our intelligence knows what is outside of us through a certain reflection on the image, distinguishing the particular notes that characterize that particular object and its universal concept, that is, its essence. 

5. At the same time, this intellectual activity is accompanied by self-awareness for which man not only knows, but knows he knows and is so master of his own act that he can put an end to it as he wishes. Or while fixing his gaze on one reality at the same time he thinks of another.

It is this operation proper to man that manifests the transcendence of his cognitive faculty, his power over matter because of which he studies it, knows it, recombines it.

These are activities that are lacking in animals which are tied to their senses and instincts.

6. The immateriality of intellectual knowledge is therefore superior to the immateriality of knowledge linked to the senses. This is in fact immaterial because the known object is present in the knower without its quantity, but not without its image.

Intellectual knowledge, on the other hand, captures the concept, the essence, and as such is not only devoid of quantity, but also of the image, even if it is inevitably accompanied by it as long as we are united with the body.

7. As you can see, it is necessary to distinguish between immateriality and immateriality.

The immaterial knowledge of animals takes possession of the known object without the quantity (its matter) but not without its image.

The rational knowledge of man is also stripped of this, although it is accompanied by the image which, however, is always and exclusively found in the internal senses.

I wish you well, I entrust you to God and I bless you.

Father Angelo