Aquinas and the Theory of Comparative Intelligence

0. (This post is the tenth in a series dedicated to a sustained reading of and commentary upon Thomas Aquinas’s Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics.*)

I devoted my post of September 19, 2017, “Aquinas’s Arguments for the Thesis That the Science of the Most Intelligible Objects Is Wisdom,” to a review of the primary argument of the second paragraph of the prologue to his commentary. That paragraph reads:

We can discover which science this is and the sort of things with which it is concerned by carefully examining the qualities of a good ruler; for just as men of superior intelligence are naturally the rulers and masters of others, whereas those of great physical strength and little intelligence are naturally slaves, as the Philosopher says in the aforementioned book, in a similar way that science which is intellectual in the highest degree should be naturally the ruler of the others. This science is the one which treats of the most intelligible objects.

I took note of two things in the passage that “immediately command our attention,” the one Aquinas’s seeming acceptance of slavery and the other “the comparatively straightforward statement of the paragraph’s argument” in its closing lines. First, then, those lines again, and that argument:

[T]hat science which is intellectual in the highest degree should be naturally the ruler of the others. This science is the one which treats of the most intelligible objects.

I went on to review the argument, first offering the following formulation of it

The science which is intellectual in the highest degree is the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences.
The science which treats of the most intelligible objects is the science which is intellectual in the highest degree.
Therefore, the science which treats of the most intelligible objects is the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences.

and then offering an assessment of it as, on the one hand, obviously valid but, on the other, not evidently sound. (Judging that it is not evidently sound is, of course, not the same thing as judging that it is evidently not sound.)

1. The matter of slavery I left for the succeeding post in the series. That post, however, is this post, and I am not yet ready to spell out even a relatively complete argument, let alone a sound or a demonstrative argument, on behalf of the thesis that “those of great physical strength and little intelligence are naturally slaves,” that I would think myself justified in attributing to Aquinas.

One difficulty, of course, in spelling out such an argument, is that so little is presented in the paragraph that could serve as a basis for it. One would, for example, need to know which, if any, of the following propositions express, for Aquinas, the or a necessary condition for a person being by nature a slave:

All persons who are by nature slaves are persons both having great physical strength and having little intelligence.

All persons who are by nature slaves are persons having great physical strength but not having little intelligence.

All persons who are by nature slaves are persons not having great physical strength but having little intelligence.

All persons who are by nature slaves are persons not having great physical strength and not having little intelligence.

Etc.

I don’t have confidence that Aquinas would say, after due reflection, that the first of the options, the one he most nearly gives expression to, really identifies the or a necessary condition for a person being by nature a slave. Having or not having inferior physical strength is not, after all, identified as a necessary condition of being a ruler.

2. But there is at least that context provided in the passage, one in which “men [sic] of superior intelligence are naturally the rulers and masters of others.” Whatever else pertains specifically to the relationship of slave-master, I presume, and slave, the slave-master stands to the slave as ruler to ruled. And the person who is by nature the ruler of another stands to the ruled as the person who is the more intelligent to the person who is the less intelligent.

That, of course, suggests convincingly that, in parallel with the argument spelled out above, concluding that “the science which treats of the most intelligible objects is the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences,” Aquinas is committed to the following argument:

The person who is intelligent in the highest degree is the person who is by nature the ruler of the other persons.
The person who is capable of understanding the most intelligible objects is the person who is intelligent in the highest degree.
Therefore, the person who is capable of understanding the most intelligible objects is the person who is by nature the ruler of the other persons.

With his introduction of the notion of superior intelligence and inferior intelligence, etc., Aquinas is committed to a theory of comparative intelligence. It is the task of the present post to spell out some of the basics of that theory of comparative intelligence. Then, in the next post, I intend to weigh the argument just spelled out and concluding that “the person who is capable of understanding the most intelligible objects is the person which is by nature the ruler of the other persons.” And, just perhaps, I may be ready to offer a pronouncement on Aquinas’s apparent acceptance of slavery.

3. To begin, I will assume the following theses to be evident:

It is the case, for any intelligent being, x, and any intelligent being, y, that x is equal in intelligence to y or x is not equal in intelligence to y.

It is the case, for any intelligent being, x, and any intelligent being, y, that, if x is not equal in intelligence to y, then x is greater in intelligence than y or y is greater in intelligence than x.

It is the case, for any intelligent being, x, and any intelligent being, y, that, if x is greater in intelligence than y, then y is lesser in intelligence than x. (Yes, I share your concern about “lesser.” I thought I needed “lesser in intelligence” to preserve parallelism of expression.)

4. Then, there are three fundamental theses bearing on equality of intelligence.

The Thesis of the Reflexivity of Equality in Intelligence: It is the case, for any intelligent being, x, that x is equal in intelligence to x.

The Thesis of the Symmetry of Equality in Intelligence: It is the case, for any intelligent being, x, and any intelligent being, y, that, if x is equal in intelligence to y, then y is equal in intelligence to x.

The Thesis of the Transitivity of Equality in Intelligence: It is the case, for any intelligent being, x, any intelligent being, y, and any intelligent being, z, that, if x is equal in intelligence to y and y is equal in intelligence to z, then x is equal in intelligence to z.

5. There are three fundamental theses bearing on superiority in intelligence:

The Thesis of the Irreflexivity of Superiority in Intelligence: It is not the case, for any intelligent being, x, that x is superior in intelligence to x.

The Thesis of the Asymmetry of Superiority in Intelligence: It is the case, for any intelligent being, x, and any intelligent being, y, that, if x is superior in intelligence to y, then y is not superior in intelligence to x.

The Thesis of the Transitivity of Equality in Intelligence: It is the case, for any intelligent being, x, any intelligent being, y, and any intelligent being, z, that, if x is superior in intelligence to y and y is superior in intelligence to z, then x is superior in intelligence to z.

6. There are two theses bearing on what I’ll dub “the utmost in intelligence”: the one is the Thesis of the De Facto Utmost in Intelligence and the other is the Thesis of the De Jure Utmost in Intelligence.

The Thesis of the De Facto Utmost in Intelligence: For any intelligent being, x, x is the most intelligent being if and only if, for any intelligent being, y, if y is not identical with x, then x is superior in intelligence to y.

The Thesis of the De Jure Utmost in Intelligence: For any intelligent being, x, x is the most intelligent being if and only if it is necessary that, for any intelligent being, y, if y is not identical with x, x is superior in intelligence to y.

7. There are, of course, the theses bearing on inferiority in intelligence analogous to those bearing on superiority in intelligence, including, with a plea for your understanding, those of the De Facto Leastmost in Intelligence and the De Jure Leastmost in Intelligence. I’ll leave the working out of their expression to you.

8. The theory of comparative intelligence is but one application of a broad theory of the comparative. Just to take note of the comparisons that Aquinas’s text has thus far called out for, there are the theories of comparative intellectuality, of comparative intelligibility, and of comparative wisdom. I’ll leave the working out of the expression of these theories too to you.

Until next time.

Richard

* Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle. Translated and introduced by John P. Rowan (Revised edition; Notre Dame, Indiana: Dumb Ox Books, 1995 [1961])

This edition of Aquinas’s text is serving as the text at hand in the present series of readings and comments. It is available online, with occasional minor differences, at:

http://dhspriory.org/thomas/Metaphysics.htm

If you prefer to do your reading in hard copy, you may easily purchase a copy of the work through Amazon.com., by simply clicking on the following:

About Rchard E. Hennessey

See above, "About the Author/Editor."
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