Man’s Higher 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 Eight: Man’s Higher Faculties

Man’s higher faculties are those that belong to the human spiritual soul as their proper object. These faculties are two, the intellect and the will. The intellect is man’s higher cognitive or knowing faculty. The will is man’s higher appetitive faculty. And, since the will is appetition born of intellectual knowledge, and since intellectual knowledge is frequently knowledge of possible action that is not necessitated, the will is the faculty of free choice.

The intellect is the knowing-power or faculty rooted in the spiritual soul. Man alone, of all bodily creatures, possesses intellect.

The intellect is a power for knowing things in an abstract and universal way. It is the power for knowing essences. Further, it is the power of judging, and the power of thinking things out. It is also the power of retaining or remembering meanings (that is, essences, judgments, conclusions, processes of thinking); the power of being understandingly aware (either instantly or by process of thought) of such meanings, and of the human self; the power of recognizing the agreement or disagreement of human conduct with the rule of what such conduct ought to be. In all its services, the intellect is a faculty or power for essential knowing, that is for the understanding grasp of truth. Truth is the object of the faculty of intellect. It seeks truth as the eye seeks light. It is a power connaturally formed to reach after truth and attain it and possess it. Its object is, therefore, the truth of thought (the truth about things, not the truth of things); in a word, its object is logical truth (the agreement of the intellect with the thing).

The name intellect is a general name for this spiritual knowing-faculty; so is the name mind, although many modern writers use the word mind to indicate any form of conscious life, even sentient life; we make intellect and mind synonymous. in its various services, the intellect is variously named:

  • Inasmuch as the intellect instantly recognizes truths that are self-evident, it is called intelligence;
  • Inasmuch as the intellect can think out, by connected steps, many truths that are not self-evident, it is called reason;
  • Inasmuch as the intellect is an understanding awareness of the self and of the mental and bodily activities, and of the world of things knowable, it is called intellectual consciousness (which is essentially different from sentient consciousness, an inner sense);
  • Inasmuch as the intellect (or more precisely the intellect as reason) thinks out the moral implications of a situation and judges on a point of duty, it is called conscience;
  • Inasmuch as the intellect retains its knowledge, it is called intellectual memory.

The intellect is not an organic faculty, that is, it is not exercised by the use of a special bodily sensory or organ. It is a supra-organic faculty, a spiritual faculty. It is not a spiritual substance, for in itself the intellect, like very faculty, is a quality of the substance it marks and serves. It is called spiritual because it is the faculty of the spiritual called the human soul.

Since the intellect can exercise the activity of knowing in a manner wholly impossible to an organic faculty (for it can know in universal; it can grasp abstract essences; it can lay hold of things that are utterly beyond the power of senses to apprehend) we are forced to call it a supra-organic faculty. For “function follows upon essence”: as a thing is it acts, and, conversely, as a thing acts it is. The intellect has supra-organic activities; therefore, necessarily, the intellect is itself supra-organic or spiritual. Hence a man does not think, reason, judge, with his brain; he does these things with the supra-organic faculty of mind or intellect, a soul-faculty.

The brain is indeed the seat and center of sensation (that is, of sense-knowing). And in this life of union of soul and body, the soul-faculty of intellect cannot come directly at its object (the truth about things; the understood essences of things) but must find that object by working upon the findings of the senses. Hence, since we localize sensation essentially in the brain, we localize, by analogy, the activity of the intellect in the brain; but this is not literally true localization, and, above all, it is not the attributing to the bodily member called the brain the spiritual operations of the intellect. There is, in other words, an extrinsic dependence of intellect on brain in this life; but it is distinctly not an intrinsic dependence. If the brain is diseased, a man’s thinking usually goes wrong; the man is not sane; he cannot think and reason, judge and decide, as he could if his brain were healthy and normal. But this fact does not mean that the brain is the essential organ of thought, but only that it is extrinsically essential during man’s earthly life.

The object of the intellect is truth. It is truth about things. And, since, in this life, there is an extrinsic dependence of the intellect upon the senses (especially as these have their findings focussed in the inner-senses of the brain) we say that the proper object of the intellect in this life is the essences of material things, the essences of things that can be sensed. The adequate object of the intellect is truth about all knowable reality.

The operations of the intellect are apprehending, judging, reasoning. The intellect, inasmuch as it actively abstracts essences, and so renders things understandable, or graspable in universal, is called the agent intellect or the image interface. The intellect inasmuch as it understandingly reacts to the impression of abstracted essences and expresses these within itself as ideas or concepts, is called the actual understanding.

The idea or the concept which is the first fruit of the intellect’s first operation called apprehending, is drawn by the intellect from the findings of the senses as these are recorded in conscious imagination. Hence, the origin of ideas is to be found in the abstractive power of the intellect working on the findings of the senses. Ideas are not born in us, as innatism teaches. Ideas are not mere collections of sensations, as sensism teaches. Ideas are not revealed elements of knowledge handed down from generation to generation among men, as traditionalism teaches. Ideas are the legitimate fruitage of the abstractive activity of the intellect working upon the findings of the senses (a radical empiricism). And once possessed of ideas, the intellect is equipped for judging and reasoning, that is, for exercising all of its operations in its connatural drive or tendency to possess truth.

The intellect is the knowing-power of the human soul. The will is the appetitive power or faculty of the human soul. It is the power of intellectual appetition. It is the faculty for going after, or away from, what the intellect presents as desirable (or good) or undesirable (or bad). Will therefore is rightly described by Aquinas as rational appetency.

The will, like the intellect, is a supra-organic faculty. It is not intrinsically dependent upon any bodily member or organ, or upon the whole body itself. It is a spiritual faculty, for it is a faculty which inheres in the spiritual soul.

The will is a faculty for appetizing understood good. Thus, the object of the will is good. By the same token, it is a faculty for tending away from understood evil. Good is that which is appetizable, desirable. Evil is that which is unappetizable, undesirable, for it is a negative thing, and consists in the absence of good. Evil cannot be appetized for its own sake, but only under the aspect of good, that is, under the appearance of what is desirable.

The intellect is capable of objective judgments which are morally indifferent. That is, the mind or intellect can let its light shine upon anything thinkable, and can discern in it elements of positive being which is always good, and elements of defect or absence of being which are bad. No matter what the mind lights upon may be seen in the aspect of what is factually there, or what fails to be there. The intellect can therefore judge as desirable what is truly not so, because it clothes, so to speak, the lack or absence of being with the appearance of being. And the intellect can judge as undesirable or evil what is actually good, because it can focus upon some point or detail of the good as deficient. Thus a murderer can envision the death of an enemy as good, as desirable, as satisfying, although it is really not so. Hence, the intellect may set before the will (its appetency) an object which is evil, but only by clothing that object in the attractive features of good, that is, of what satisfies. This makes the choice of evil a possibility. For the will, be it repeated, cannot choose evil as such, but only when it appears as or is masked as good.

It would appear, then, at first sight, that the intellect (by its capacity for “objectively indifferent judgments”) is the source of choice and the root of responsibility in man. But while the will always and inevitably follows upon the ultimate practical judgment of the intellect, it is nevertheless the will which allows the intellect to dwell upon an object and reach ultimate judgment on its desirability or undesirability, its good or evil. The intellect is like a spotlight which illumines an object, and may show up in that object points desirable and points unattractive, and may swell on either, or may transfer, so to speak, the mask of desirability to what is unattractive in the object. The intellect is like such a spotlight. But the will is like the hand which controls the direction of the spotlight.

An illustration: A motorist driving his car at night, inevitably follows the headlights. But we do not say that the headlights choose the road for him. It is the motorist who chooses to turn the headlights on this road or that road. The intellect is like the headlights; the will is like the motorist. So, upon consideration, we discern the truth that though will follows intellect (as the motorist the headlights) it is the will that is the master-faculty in any deliberate choice of man. It is the will that is the root of responsible action.

The will is indeed influenced by the intellect, for a man cannot will what he does not in some measure know. So we may say that the headlights of a car influence the motorist by suddenly revealing a fine stretch of smooth pavement leading off to left or right. Thus the intellect, acting in the manner of a final cause, attracts or invites the will. But the will influences and moves the intellect after the manner of an effecting cause, just as the motorist moves the headlights to illuminate the attractiveness which comes of the fact that a rough road is the right road, and away from the suddenly revealed and illuminated attractiveness of the smooth side-road which will not carry him to his destination.

The will is free by the freedom of choice of means. Man, made for happiness in the possession of supreme good, is not free to change that ultimate goal. Saint or sinner, a man goes after, inevitably, what he regards, rightly or perversely, as ultimately fully satisfying. Man is made for the supreme good. And whether he goes north, south, east, or west, he is striving towards that good. Even when his efforts are carrying him away from it, it is that good which he is after. So, even in the perverse (and not merely mistaken) conduct of the evildoer there is manifest the tendency which man is not free to change or to reject — the tendency towards what will completely and permanently satisfy.

So the will is free to choose means to the ultimate end, and it may choose blindly, perversely, ruinously; but the will is not free to choose the ultimate end itself; towards that, all creation is inevitably set. If man does not choose the right means to the ultimate end, he will miss the ultimate end. The point we make is that it is the ultimate end he is necessarily after, whether he goes towards it or directly away from it. In the ultimate end, therefore, of human conduct, there is no choice, no freedom. Freedom is in the choice of means to the ultimate end. The human will is truly free by this freedom of choice, or more accurately, by this freedom of the choice of means.

Man does not exercise freedom, and indeed he cannot exercise it, except in deliberate acts, that is, in acts of which he is fully aware, and over which he has control. That there are acts that man can know and over which he can exercise control is proved by daily experience. Many of our acts are more or less mechanical, even during our hours of full consciousness; perhaps most of our acts are of this type. But there is seldom a day when most of us have not some decision or other to make which calls upon some deliberation, some thought, before we “make up our minds.” Often during life, at least, we have all had the experience of determining upon a course of action. Before we acted, we thought the matter over; perhaps we asked advice; perhaps we prayed for guidance. All the while we were clearly aware that the decision was “up to us,” in our hands, so to speak, and dependent upon our own choice. Then, having decided, we took up the action in the full knowledge that it was our doing, and that we might act otherwise. Finally, after acting, we were satisfied or regretful, because we realized that the action was wholly of our choice. Thus, before, during, and after many of our will-choices, we have had the experience of a full conviction of our freedom in the matter. If this self-evident and universal human experience be deceiving, then what can we know for certain? And if we question all certitude, we are in the insanely impossible position of the skeptic.

The whole world recognizes human freedom of choice. It is factually recognized by the determinists who deny it in theory; by the fatalists who make our choice dependent upon some non-human thing like a star or a position of the planets at the time of our birth, or upon dreams, or upon a coincidence of numbers. Even the determinist and the fatalist recognize the need of government and laws. Now government and laws are controls suitable only to beings of free choice. We do not solemnly legislate for grass or cows. We do not set up senates for stones, or build prisons for offending weeds. A human (that is, in this case, a civil) law is an admission that a man requires direction, that he might choose amiss without it, that he may choose amiss even with it, and therefore penalties are enacted. In every case, law is a recognition of the fact of human choice, that is of human free will.

Indeed, every circumstance of life is an open profession of the inevitable doctrine of free will. Even the determinists, seeking converts to their doctrine that free will is a myth, are eager to offer argument, are anxious to have people freely decide to listen to these arguments. The advertising man in the newspaper or on radio or on television begs the housewife to exercise her free choice, and to buy only the super-superlative brand of soap. The politician seeking votes is keenly aware that his constituency is free to vote for the other candidate. The sergeant drilling his awkward squad is more annoyed when they appear stubbornly perverse than when they appear naturally clumsy. The waitress handing a menu to a customer, awaits his free decision as he lets his eye wander through the columns of choices.

Freedom of the human will is a fact so obvious that not even the most determined determinist can evade it. One supposes that the determinist or the fatalist would not be serenely philosophic if a thief took all his property; he would have the law on the thief; he would recognize the fact that the thief is responsible, or, in other words, free.

Those who say that man’s choice is only apparent, that what he thinks he chooses is merely the result of chance, are in conflict with experience and with reason. They stand condemned with the determinist on the score of experience. And they are in conflict with reason in assigning chance as a cause. For chance means what is unpredictable in an effect. Chance cannot be assigned as a cause. If the chance theorists answer that they merely contend that all human choice if a chance effect, we inquire what is the cause of this effect? Is it some blind drive? Is it a star? Is it a constellation under which the human agent was born? All this throws us back to the position of the determinist which we have already discussed and disproved.

We conclude: The human will is endowed with true freedom of the choice of means to its ultimate end. The human will exercises its freedom of choice in every perfectly deliberate human act. The denial of human freedom of choice is a flat contradiction of reason, of all experience, of the exigencies of daily existence, and, if logically followed, it would turn the mind to the insanity of skepticism, and human society into a chaos of lawless disorder.

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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 Self-Educated American. Self-Educated American 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 Self-Educated American).