Adler On


This word is used as an abbreviation of what more accurately should be designated our human sensitive powers.

The comprehensive enumeration of our sensitive powers, or what may also be called our powers of perceptual thought, include sensations itself, both externally and peripherally. It also includes our sensitive memory and our imagination.

Since we also have the power of conceptual thought, it may be asked whether these two sets of powers cooperate or function independently of each other. Our intellectual powers are dependent on our imagination. What in the Middle Ages was called a phantasm is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of conceptual thought. That dependence is a causal dependance.

Purely intellectual activity cannot occur without some action by our sensitive powers, but the content of conceptual thought is not affected by it. We can think conceptually of that which is not sensible at all, and not imaginable.

The dependence of our sensitive powers upon our intellects is of a different order. The content of perceptual thought is always affected by the action of our intellects simultaneously. Persons who are conceptually blind in one or the other of their peripheral sense organs can exercise the conceptually blind sense organ without knowing what it is they are sensing. They can, for example, smell a rose that is put under their nose, but not know that it is a rose they are smelling.

What is sometimes called the intellectual imagination represents the simultaneous activity of both sensitive and intellectual powers. It is impossible for us to experience the world around us as brute animals experience it, with only sensitive powers and no intellects. For us it is a meaningful world; for them, it is meaningless

Is Our Intellect Unique?
Intellect: Mind Over Matter (1990,1993), Chapter 3
Recommended Readings on
Liberal Education and the Great Books

Adapted from
Adler's Philosophical Dictionary (1995)
Great Ideas from the Great Books (1963)
by Mortimer J. Adler

Revised 4 November 2000