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 Post subject: Mind takes on the form of the thing known
PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 6:56 am 
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Any idea how to explain this to high schoolers? I think I mostly understand it myself, but not enough to digest it down into high school suitable form.

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 Post subject: Re: Mind takes on the form of the thing known
PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 6:58 am 
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I don't even know how to explain it to myself....what does it mean?

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 Post subject: Re: Mind takes on the form of the thing known
PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 7:03 am 
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Why are you explaining it to high schoolers?

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 Post subject: Re: Mind takes on the form of the thing known
PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 7:13 am 
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Is this something phenomenogical? (I've taken an introductory Philosophy subject this semester so I'm going to be a nightmare here from hereon in.)


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 Post subject: Re: Mind takes on the form of the thing known
PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 7:17 am 
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To actually answer the question: no, I don't have a good way to try to explain this. The principle that's at stake is the claim that 'like knows like.' Which is to say, there has to be a kind of isomorphism between the knower and the thing known, if that knower really knows the thing known at all. St. Thomas talks about this principle when he discusses Plato's epistemological errors in I, 84, 1.

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Now it seems that Plato strayed from the truth because, having observed that all knowledge takes place through some kind of similitude, he thought that the form of the thing known must of necessity be in the knower in the same manner as in the thing known. Then he observed that the form of the thing understood is in the intellect under conditions of universality, immateriality, and immobility: which is apparent from the very operation of the intellect, whose act of understanding has a universal extension, and is subject to a certain amount of necessity: for the mode of action corresponds to the mode of the agent's form. Wherefore he concluded that the things which we understand must have in themselves an existence under the same conditions of immateriality and immobility.

But there is no necessity for this. For even in sensible things it is to be observed that the form is otherwise in one sensible than in another: for instance, whiteness may be of great intensity in one, and of a less intensity in another: in one we find whiteness with sweetness, in another without sweetness. In the same way the sensible form is conditioned differently in the thing which is external to the soul, and in the senses which receive the forms of sensible things without receiving matter, such as the color of gold without receiving gold. So also the intellect, according to its own mode, receives under conditions of immateriality and immobility, the species of material and mobile bodies: for the received is in the receiver according to the mode of the receiver. We must conclude, therefore, that through the intellect the soul knows bodies by a knowledge which is immaterial, universal, and necessary.


And this kind of intellectual knowledge is distinguished from sensation by way of that immateriality. He talk about sensation in I, 78,3.

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Now, immutation is of two kinds, one natural, the other spiritual. Natural immutation takes place by the form of the immuter being received according to its natural existence, into the thing immuted, as heat is received into the thing heated. Whereas spiritual immutation takes place by the form of the immuter being received, according to a spiritual mode of existence, into the thing immuted, as the form of color is received into the pupil which does not thereby become colored. Now, for the operation of the senses, a spiritual immutation is required, whereby an intention of the sensible form is effected in the sensile organ. Otherwise, if a natural immutation alone sufficed for the sense's action, all natural bodies would feel when they undergo alteration.

But in some senses we find spiritual immutation only, as in "sight" while in others we find not only spiritual but also a natural immutation; either on the part of the object only, or likewise on the part of the organ. On the part of the object we find natural immutation, as to place, in sound which is the object of "hearing"; for sound is caused by percussion and commotion of air: and we find natural immutation by alteration, in odor which is the object of "smelling"; for in order to exhale an odor, a body must be in a measure affected by heat. On the part of an organ, natural immutation takes place in "touch" and "taste"; for the hand that touches something hot becomes hot, while the tongue is moistened by the humidity of the flavored morsel. But the organs of smelling and hearing are not affected in their respective operations by any natural immutation unless indirectly.

Now, the sight, which is without natural immutation either in its organ or in its object, is the most spiritual, the most perfect, and the most universal of all the senses. After this comes the hearing and then the smell, which require a natural immutation on the part of the object; while local motion is more perfect than, and naturally prior to, the motion of alteration, as the Philosopher proves (Phys. viii, 7). Touch and taste are the most material of all: of the distinction of which we shall speak later on (ad 3,4). Hence it is that the three other senses are not exercised through a medium united to them, to obviate any natural immutation in their organ; as happens as regards these two senses.


There are different ways of receiving form (immutation). You might receive the form naturally--the metal becomes hot, say--or you might receive them spiritually--the person holding the metal becomes aware of the heat. If just receiving a form naturally were sufficient for sensation, then the metal would feel the heat. So, roughly put, this second way of receiving form is what distinguishes simply becoming F from becoming aware of F. And there's a kind of continuum in the way becoming aware of F happens. With some senses, there must be a natural immutation in us, preceding the spiritual immutation. In other senses (viz. sight) there is no natural immutation. But you can see from the way St. Thomas talks about these ways of receiving form that he's got a kind of analogous notion in mind. And when it comes to intellectual awareness--what he's talking about in the passage above--it's still another sort of reception. The wholly immaterial, universal, kind of reception.

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 Post subject: Re: Mind takes on the form of the thing known
PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 7:33 am 
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I didn't read what gherkin said (as a matter of principle, of course ... not because I'm lazy or anything like that...), however I like to think about it this way:

When my hand "knows" something it takes on the "form" of that something: for instance, when I hold an apple (i.e. when my hand "knows" the apple) it takes on the roundness of the apple (because shape and texture are the things that the hand "knows")

Similarly, when my mind knows something it takes on the form of that something, and what the mind knows is essence, so the mind takes on the essence of that thing (although the form of the thing in the mind exists in a different mode than the form of the thing in the thing itself - just as the roundness of the hand exists in a different manner, in fact in the reverse manner, to the roundness of the apple).

Would that make sense to a high schooler?

(Of course, I'm presuming my analogy works - if it doesn't, I'd be delighted to learn that as well ...)

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 Post subject: Re: Mind takes on the form of the thing known
PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 7:48 am 
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gherkin wrote:
Why are you explaining it to high schoolers?

Because every single Thomistic presentation of Man uses it.

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 Post subject: Re: Mind takes on the form of the thing known
PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 11:33 am 
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ellietrish wrote:
Is this something phenomenogical? (I've taken an introductory Philosophy subject this semester so I'm going to be a nightmare here from hereon in.)

No. Phenomenology, taken as a complete system of thought, has severe errors (and as John Paul II stated, is not compatible with Catholicism! taken that way)

Whether you are talking about most phenomenologists (idealists, following the later Husserl) or the only popular among Catholics "realists" (following an earlier Husserl), the notion of the eidetic in phenomenology is not the same. Heck the very notion of truth is different.

Here we are speaking about the intellect itself and its apprehension of the essence of a thing. This is beyond the scope of phenomenology, though there are some superficial semblances with the eidetic reduction (which may, as a method, not a statement of reality, be helpful in analysing certain things and therefore coming to a clearer understanding). For that matter, this is in the context of a philosophy not infected by the problems raised by Descartes and Kant, which is what phenomemnology is trying to get around in a modern way.

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 Post subject: Re: Mind takes on the form of the thing known
PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 11:38 am 
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As for a simple (relatively) explanation, I am at a loss right now. Everything that pops into my head presumes understanding of other things that are unlikely. And it doesn't help that my mind, right now, jumps to intentional being which is a difficult concept itself.


I think gherkin is on the right track. There is a similarity in the reception of sensible forms and that of the intellectual forms, and the sensible one is easier to grasp I think

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 Post subject: Re: Mind takes on the form of the thing known
PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 4:57 pm 
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I'd be less concerned about their age group ("highschoolers") than the context you're teaching. For instance, if you are teaching a course in strict Thomism where all the various nuances are important for future discussions, then regardless of their age, if that is the course, they need to get into all the nuances gherkin talked about. Obviously, that isn't easy, but . . . okay. Fine. If you decide to teach it that way, record the lecture and post it. Maybe I'd learn something, too!

On the other hand, when I'm just introducing the subject, the context is usually not in teaching strict Thomism, but I'm showing some of the errors people make when they get away from classical thinking. That is, it gets brought up in the context of the question "How do we know anything," and that given the Cartesian theater. So I usually start by explaining the bad news--that if you hold to a representative epistemology, you can't know anything. That's usually pretty easy to explain. It's intuitive, too, because then my poor students are at a loss. They don't know classical thinking well enough to answer the objection themselves, but now I can point out that the problem is getting the thing itself in the mind to be known, and not just the thing known. I just remind them of the form/matter distinction and bring up Aristotle's signet ring. I tell them if they want to know more, see me afterwards, and if anyone ever does (few do), then I walk them through the notions of intentional being/impressed species, etc--standard moderate-realist epistemology.

I know that doesn't answer your question. It's basically justifying why you don't have to answer it! But I'm not in your class, so I don't know exactly what the subject matter is you are addressing. I mean, there are some smart HS students out there . . . but do any of them really need to be doing that level of Thomistic studies? Maybe so! I don't know . . .

fdit: I'm sure you've seen this clip before, but I've used it to help give the context of "the bad news" if we are silly enough to adopt a Cartesian epistemology! :)

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 Post subject: Re: Mind takes on the form of the thing known
PostPosted: Thu Apr 12, 2012 10:31 pm 
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Malleus Haereticorum wrote:
ellietrish wrote:
Is this something phenomenogical? (I've taken an introductory Philosophy subject this semester so I'm going to be a nightmare here from hereon in.)

No. Phenomenology, taken as a complete system of thought, has severe errors (and as John Paul II stated, is not compatible with Catholicism! taken that way)

Whether you are talking about most phenomenologists (idealists, following the later Husserl) or the only popular among Catholics "realists" (following an earlier Husserl), the notion of the eidetic in phenomenology is not the same. Heck the very notion of truth is different.

Here we are speaking about the intellect itself and its apprehension of the essence of a thing. This is beyond the scope of phenomenology, though there are some superficial semblances with the eidetic reduction (which may, as i method, not a statement of reality, be helpful in analysing certain things and therefore coming to a clearer understanding). For that matter, this is in the context of a philosophy not infected by the problems raised by Descartes and Kant, which is what phenomemnology is trying to get around in a modern way.


From curiousity... do you give any credit to an approach of 'phenomenol realism' to the question of perception and the 'real' world ? I've chosen to do my first research essay on this topic but I've been wondering whether it's a house of paper like the idea of intelligent design is to science ?


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 Post subject: Re: Mind takes on the form of the thing known
PostPosted: Sat Apr 14, 2012 5:17 am 
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Aristotle uses the example of wax taking the impression of a seal. Or am I answering a different question?

When we sense objects we do not sense them materially. We don't know what matter feels like. We only know what matter as expressed by this form feels like. So, it is the form that is communicated through sensation to my mind. And it makes an imprint. When the iron seal presses against the hot wax, it is not "iron" that is left behind, but the figure of the seal.

This must be so, because all things are materially the same. And yet, when I sense different things I get impressions of fundamentally different things. So, it must be the form and not the matter that is communicated to my mind through sensation.

I am sure there are errors in this that PED or gherkin will point out, but that is how I understand the issue. I rarely had to go to this level with high school. I suppose it was only if we were dealing with skepticism.

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