Man’s Lower Faculties—Jonathan Dolhenty

philosopherThe Philosophy of Man
A brief introduction to rational psychology
Adapted from various sources and edited
by Jonathan Dolhenty, Ph.D.


Part Seven: Man’s Lower Faculties


A faculty is a capacity or power for vital operation. We have already learned that man is in possession of all the faculties of living bodies. Man has nutrition, growth, and vital generation, like the plants. He has sensation, appetition, and locomotion, like the non-human animals. And he has understanding and will. Because man has all these faculties, in addition to the bodily character of his being which he holds in common with nonliving bodies, he has been called “a macrocosm” or “a world in little.”

Man’s vegetal and sentient faculties are called his lower faculties. His understanding (that is, his mind, intellect, intelligence, reason) and his will are his higher faculties.

Faculties are powers or capacities, distinct from the substance which possesses and uses them, for the immediate exercise of vital operations.

Faculties are said to inhere in a subject. That which has faculties is the subject of these faculties. Man is, of course, the subject of all his faculties. But man is a composite being, and his faculties are to be more precisely assigned than they are in a general ascribing of them to man as a whole. Some of his faculties belong to the living body, some belong to the soul. In other words, some of man’s faculties are proper to the composite of body-and-soul, while some are proper to the soul alone. We discern this fact even as we declare that man in his whole being is the possessor and use of faculties, and that man’s soul (that is, his substantial form) is the root-principle of all his activities. The lower faculties have their proper subject in the composite of man’s body-and-soul; the higher faculties have their proper subject in man’s soul.

We need not pause upon man’s vegetal faculties, for we have considered these in our study of vegetal life in general. It is manifest that man has the faculties of nutrition, growth, and generation. Man has, in a word, true plant-life.

Man has also the sentient faculties, first of which is “sensation.” This word is used here in the meaning of sensing-power and sensing-activity. In the common speech of every day, the word sensation suggests something startling or exciting; it has not that meaning in our present use of it. Here it means the power to know things by use of special faculties called senses, and it is sometimes employed to indicate the activity of actually exercising this power.

Things sensed (or known by sensation) are said to be perceived. Each item sensed is a percept, and a man’s sense-knowledge of anything is often a collection of percepts, as, for example, his sense-knowledge of a rose may be a combination of percepts gathered by sight, smell, and touch.

Each sense has its own proper object. The proper object of a sense is that which can be perceived by this sense alone. Objects that can be directly perceived by two or more senses are called common objects. Objects that are not directly sensed, but are known by experience to be associated with what is sensed, are called accidental objects. Thus, a man sees an apple; as a colored object, it is perceived by sight alone; as a round object, it can be known by sight and by touch; as an object of sweet flavor it can be known directly by the sense of taste alone, but the man who knows apples can see that it is a sweet apple, for he knows by experience that apples of that type are sweet; this “seeing” that the apple is sweet is accidental perception.

The system of bodily parts or organs by which man exercises sentiency is the cerebrospinal system, which consists of the brain and the spinal cord, the cerebrospinal nerves, and the external (or peripheral) sense-organs. The external senses (sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch) have their organs in the outer body, but their findings are conveyed to the brain by nerves. The internal senses (sentient consciousness, imagination, sentient memory, and estimation) have their organs in the brain itself. External sensation is normally, and during man’s waking hours, immediately recorded in imagination and consciousness. Imagination also retains and, under stimulus, evokes the recorded images of external sensations. Sentient memory has the single task of recognizing an evoked imagination-image as something experienced in the past. Estimation is an awareness of usefulness or harmfulness (of desirability or undesirability) in a sensed object.

The second sentient operation is appetition or appetency. This operation is the tendency, the striving, towards what is sensed as desirable and away from what is sensed as undesirable or harmful. The tendency of any body (living or lifeless) to an activity is called natural appetency; such, for instance, is the tendency of a body to fall towards the center of the earth, or the tendency of a tree to grow to maturity and fruitfulness. The tendency born of sense-knowledge which inclines the sentient creature towards or away from an object, is called sentient appetency. We shall presently learn that the tendency born of intellectual knowledge of the desirability or undesirability of an object is called intellectual appetency or the will.

Since a sentient creature rather undergoes than elicits the tendency called appetition, the several classes of appetitive strivings towards or away from an object are called passions. Passion in this present use means any manifestation of the sentient appetency. There are two main types of passions, the appetites of simple tendency (formally called the concupiscible appetites or passions) and the appetites of tendency in the face of some obstacle (formally called the irascible appetites or passions).

The first class includes these appetites or passions:

  • Love – Hatred,
  • Desire – Aversion,
  • Joy – Sadness.

The second class comprises these passions:

  • Hope – Despair,
  • Courage – Fear,
  • Anger.

The passions are all tendencies, positively or negatively, towards good, and they are all, in some sense, variants of love. The passions are good in themselves, although in man (because of man’s natural weakness) they tend to be inordinate and thus productive of both physical and moral evil in a person who is not alert and decisive in holding them, at least in their effects, under the control of a well-disposed will.

The sentient faculty of “locomotion” is the power of spontaneous movement from place to place. It is a power exercised in the light of sentient knowledge. Certain plants, like the tumbleweed, move about, but these have no faculty of locomotion, for their movements are not the result of knowledge. Locomotion is a faculty which, in many cases, makes possible the attaining of the object of appetition. Man’s organ of locomotion (like that of all animals possessing this faculty) is the organism or living body, especially in its elements of muscles and the skeletal framework.


The late Dr. Jonathan Dolhenty was the Founder and President of The Center for Applied Philosophy and the Radical Academy, and is Honorary Philosophy Editor at The Moral Liberal. The Moral Liberal has adopted these projects beginning with a republishing and preserving of all of Dr. Dolhenty’s work.

Copyright ©1992 -2011 The Radical Academy. Copyright renewed in 2011 -2013 © The Radical Academy (a project of The Moral Liberal).


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