Faculties of the Soul

views updated


The faculties of the soul are often called its potencies. potency, generally speaking, is basically of two sorts, each understood in relation to its corresponding actuality. There is a potency for the actuality that is being, and a potency for the actuality that is making or doing. For example, marble is said to have a potency for being a statue; water in its liquid state has not. Marble has a certain consistencyfound also in materials like bronze, wood, and clayby which it can acquire and maintain the shape of statue. But marble does not make itself into a statue. It is the sculptor who does this. Now, if the sculptor "does" this, he "can do" it; that is, the sculptor has a potency for making the statue. Thus, just as "is" entails "can be," so too "does" entails "can do." "Can be" is said to be a passive potency; "can do," an active potency, and hence, also a power. The potencies of the soul, like the potency of the sculptor, are active potencies, or powers for doing; they are potencies for the performance of life activities. Because of this they are often called powers of the soul.

How Defined. The powers of the soul are closely related to the soul's definition. The common definition of soul states nothing distinctive of the existent types of soul. To define each type, one must become acquainted with the activities attributed to each; for one comes to know what a thing is by observing what it does. And if it "does," it "can do." One can thus describe the types of soul in terms of their potencies. For example, the vegetative soul is the soul with potencies for nourishing, growing, and reproducing. Yet this has little meaning unless one knows what the activities of nourishing, etc., are. One can get at the nature of these activities by considering the objects on which they bear; for all activities bear on some object. Thus, one can move from object to activity to faculty to type of soul. This does not mean that there are four separate analyses, one each for object, activity, faculty, and type of soul. There is actually only one analysis, that of the object (and of what is implied by it; e.g., an analysis of the sort of natural organized body that this requires); for the activity is defined in terms of the object, the faculty in terms of the activity, and the type of soul in terms of its faculties. To have analyzed the object is to have analyzed the activity and the faculty, hence to have said something about the type of soul and natural organized body.

Vegetative Faculty. The generic object of the vegetative faculty is said to be two different things: (1) food (see Aristotle, Anim. 415a 23416b 30), and (2) the body of which the soul is the first actuality (see St. thomas aquinas, ST 1a, 78.1). One might wonder about the fact that two different objects are assigned; but the wonder is dispelled if one considers that vegetative activities terminate in this body, but only after having acted upon and affected food. Now, food can be considered in three ways: (1) as nutriment, and so considered it conserves the living body in existence; this is the specific object that defines the activity of nourishing; (2) as augment, and so considered it brings the living body to its quantitative maturity; this is the specific object that defines the activity of growing; and (3) as overflow, and so considered it prepares the living body for producing another like itself; this is the specific object that defines the activity of reproducing.

Although the vegetative faculties use food, they also use the vegetative bodily organs, such as stomach and liver; they also use the natural activities of certain elements and compounds, such as HCl. In spite of such a thorough dependence, there is a degree of transcendence of vegetative activities over the activities of matter in its nonliving states. By its vegetative activities, in which it employs activities that are found also in matter in its nonliving states, a living thing destroys another (food), and by this destruction maintains itself in existence.

Sensitive and Intellectual Faculties. The generic object of the sensitive faculty is whatever is sensible. For sight, it is the visible; for hearing, the audible, etc. The object of the intellectual faculty is whatever is intelligible. This is to say that things in the real world are the objects of sense and intellect; as sensible, they are the objects of senses; as intelligible, the objects of intellect. The sense and the thing as sensible cooperate, as agent and instrument, respectively, in the production within the sense of a form, called the sensible species, by means of which the sense functions, e.g., by means of which sight sees. The intellect and the thing as intelligible (things in the physical world are only potentially intelligible, whereas they are actually sensible) cooperatively produce, as agent and instrument respectively, a form within the intellect, called the intelligible species, by means of which the intellect understands what these things are. This form, unlike the sensible species that is individualized by the bodily matter of the organ of sense, is an absolute form (see species, intentional; soul, human, 4).

Although the activities of the sense faculties depend on certain bodily organs (e.g., eye, ear, and nose) and on certain natural activities of elements and compounds (e.g., the photochemical changes in the retina of the eye), these activities nonetheless transcend the activities of matter in its nonliving states. Unlike what happens in the case of changes in the realm of the nonliving and in that of the vegetative, in the case of the change that occurs in a sense when it is actually sensing, a sensible form is produced by, and is present in, a substance that is not the ordinary physical subject of that sensible form. Thus, when the eye sees a tree, there is present in the substance that is the eye a visual form whose ordinary physical subject is the substance that is a tree.

The transcendence of the intellectual faculty is complete, because the form produced by it, and present in it, is an absolute form.

Faculty in General. In addition to questionsWhat is the faculty of sight, and how does it differ from the faculty of understanding?raised with a view to making more complete one's account of what soul is, philosophers ask more general questions about the soul's facultiesWhat is a faculty? And how are the faculties related to the soul? Is the soul constituted out of its faculties as a whole out of parts? Are the faculties substances or accidents?

The faculties of the soul are power parts, as opposed to quantitative parts (see soul). They are accidents, for the actualities to which they are related, namely, life activities, are accidents, and things related as potency to actuality must be in the same genus. The soul cannot be composed of its faculties as a whole out of parts; for the soul is in the genus of substance, and nothing substantial can be intrinsically constituted of accidents. Although the soul has a plurality of faculties distinct from itself as accidents from something substantial, these are nonetheless united in the soul itself, for in each one living thing there can be but one soul, since the soul is a substantial form. The soul is the one source of all its diverse activities and faculties. Most properly speaking, the living thing, the total living thing, performs life activities; and this it does primarily by means of the soul and its power parts, and secondarily by means of the natural organized body and its bodily parts. The faculties of a living thing are the many accidents of one living substance.

Because of the undesirable connotations of the term faculty, some prefer to use in its stead words like power, potency, capacity, or ability. For in the last two centuries faculty has come, unfortunately and quite in distortion of the Aristotelian-Thomistic notion, to designate tiny independent entities, substancelike, as sources of diverse life activities. More recent psychology, rightly rejecting the faculties of the faculty psychologists, has at the same time returned to a recognition of the fundamental idea of active potencies or powers. Psychological testing has revealed that human activities are of essentially diverse sorts, and that each sort derives from some tendency or inclination to act in that sort of way. These inclinations appear to be innate, but open to development and differentiation in the individual by means of his experience with the world. It is clear not only that the Aristotelian-Thomistic concept of active potencies is compatible with the concept of innate tendencies or inclinations or capacities, but also that the two concepts are in fact the same, though differently verbalized. Another difference lies in the methodology employed. The Aristotelian-Thomistic concept was arrived at by means at the disposal of the ordinary man, viz, ordinary sense observation and introspection. The contemporary concept, on the other hand, was arrived at by scientific means, through the factor analysis of investigators like C. Spearman (18631945), J. McK. Cattell (18601944), and L. Thurstone (18871955)an interesting and important scientific confirmation of an age-old philosophical concept.

See Also: intellect; will; senses; appetite.

Bibliography: j. e. royce, Man and His Nature (New York 1961), extensive bibliog. f. gaetani, Enciclopedia filosofica, 4 v. (Venice-Rome 1957) 2:25052. r. allers, "Functions, Factors and Faculties," The Thomist 7 (1944) 32362.

[j. bobik]