Sunday, August 31, 2008

Value of Environmental Impact Assessment

by Alan S. Cajes


In my experience as manager of environment training courses, it is no longer surprising to meet a considerable number of people – project proponents, project managers, technical staff of government agencies, corporations and non-governmental organizations – who hold strong opinions against the practice of environmental impact assessment (EIA) in the country. Some of reasons, which surfaced in the course of my discussions with these people, on why the practice of EIA still needs a lot of improvements are:

Lack of appreciation about the nature and purpose of EIA. EIA is treated merely as a legal requirement that proponents must satisfy before pursuing a project or undertaking that falls under the environmental impact statement (EIS) system. It is not treated as an element of the project planning process, thus, it has no added value to project proponents.

Lack of capability on the part of government to implement the EIS system uniformly and well. As a result, there are environmentally critical projects that are operating either without an environment compliance certificate (ECC) or violating the ECC conditionalities.

Lack of capability to do EIA. In the case of the Philippines, the problem is not merely a technical one, i.e. relating to the appropriateness of methods and tools, credibility in the analysis of systemic impacts, and linking of stakeholders to the technical assessment process. It is also a problem of lack of appreciation and expertise in the areas of environmental conflict management and management of the public participation process.

These problems, for sure, cannot be addressed overnight. There have been various initiatives to address these problems but we are still in the journey of improving our performance in implementing the EIS system. We still need to be systematic in our decision-making processes, for instance, in order to sustain and institutionalize certain initiatives aimed to strengthen the EIS system. Another possible area for improvement is enhancement of government’s credibility to implement the EIS system. This is important because in the Filipino psyche, there is a direct correlation between the credibility of a system and the credibility of the institution that implements such system.

This paper is a contribution to current initiatives to improve the EIS system. Its central objective is to answer the question: What is EIA and why is it important? Much of the ideas contained in this paper are taken from personal experience in implementing environmental projects and training courses of the Development Academy of the Philippines, discussions with EIA experts, and from recent literature on EIA.

The Meaning of EIA

EIA may be defined as a process of identifying, predicting, evaluating and preventing, mitigating or enhancing the biological, physical, social and health impacts of a proposed project or undertaking before making major decisions and commitments for its implementation. As a process, it begins with the conception and ends with the termination of a project. As an activity, EIA involves multidisciplinary experts and stakeholders. In relation to environmental management, EIA is used, basically, as a planning tool but can also become a monitoring tool through the EIS and a regulatory tool through the ECC conditions.

A good EIA promotes good planning. Good planning implies good management. And good management is good business. The reasons why a good EIA promotes sound business practice are:

The assessment of the project and its alternatives through EIA leads to a more effective and efficient project. An effective project is one that attains the maximum benefits, while an efficient project is that which operates with the least cost.

The process saves time and money in the long run. By integrating environmental factors in decision-making at the planning stage, the proponent avoids expensive and sometimes controversial remedial action afterwards.

The process facilitates investment. Conducting an EIA and securing an ECC first before implementing the project are now required by financial and other institutions that loan money or make investment decisions for major development projects. The EIA can also help long-term investments by determining how resources can best be managed over the long term.

EIA keeps business, government and the community in touch. Inputs generated through public participation can improve community relations and ensure that funds are well invested. As a good management practice, EIA can support future prosperity. Through decisions based on recommendations from the process, there can be more prudent use of resources and a reduction of environmental threats to human health and ecosystems.

EIA leads to responsible decisions. Responsible decisions in turn are good for investment, good for the health of the proponent’s organization, its employees and the community where it operates.

Goals of EIA

EIA aims to facilitate sound and integrated decision-making by incorporating environmental considerations in the over-all project balance sheet. Before implementing a project or undertaking, the decision-makers must explore the widest possible environmental impacts of the proposed project and determine, through extended cost-benefit analysis, whether the project is viable or not. This is done through an analysis of the value of the positive and negative impacts, as well as the corresponding prevention, mitigation and enhancement measures.
A substantive objective of EIA is to achieve or support the goals of environmental protection and sustainable development. EIA, therefore, should be undertaken within the framework of generally accepted principles of environmental protection such as the following:

Ecocycle Society Principle

This principle seeks to prevent, as much as possible and practicable, the production of stock wastes that cannot be assimilated by the environment or those which goes beyond the limits of sustainability. It applies the principle of “cyclic materials management” in order to reduce and close the flows of materials to the extent that:

  • The materials that society produce can be incorporated in the natural cycle without impairing the natural capacities and services;
  • There is a reduction in the use and extraction of nonrenewable resources, and
  • The natural capital meets fundamental human needs “without extraction exceeding growth in inflow.”

Critical Load

Critical load refers to the “highest load at which no harm is caused to the environment, even after long-term exposure.” This implies that any economic activity should ensure that its negative impacts to the environment remain at a level that is not significant. Thus, the carrying capacity of the environment is taken into due consideration in economic planning and project implementation.

Precautionary Principle

This principle is the philosophical expression of the self-preservation instinct. In practice, it means to “modify the manufacture, marketing or use of products or services to the conduct of activities, consistent with scientific and technical understanding to prevent serious or irreversible environmental degradation.” In essence, the principle means that prevention is always better than cure, thus, the exploitation of natural capital that causes significant damage to the ecological balance must be avoided. It can also be described as a principle that aims to achieve maximal reductions in pollution using the ‘best available technology.’

Substitution Principle

This principle states that substances and products that present a danger or threat to health and the environment are to be substituted by less or non-dangerous ones.

Best Available Technology (BAT) Principle

The BAT principle refers to the use of state of the art technologies that prevent or minimize the emission of pollution to the environment. The term “technology” includes the technology used, how it is designed, and its industrial feasibility, while the term “available” refers to existing technologies or procedures that can be applied at a reasonable cost.

Polluter Pays Principle (PPP)

The polluter pays principle, as the term implies, means that the polluter pays for the cost of pollution. The principle:

  • Covers the cost of environmental protection;
  • Covers pollution and control measures to promote the efficient use of limited material resources;
  • Covers the cost of pollution control and cleanup, and compensation to victims or to those who suffer damage from pollution;
  • Ensures the “effective distribution of the responsibility for cost and that it neither imposes demands nor excludes the possibility of reducing pollution to an optimum level,” and
  • Includes the “internationalization of environmental costs and the use of economic instruments.”

Extended Product Responsibility (EPR) Principle

The extended product responsibility uses the life-cycle approach to identify strategic opportunities for pollution prevention and resource conservation. Based on this principle, the manufacturers, suppliers, users, and disposers of products have the collective responsibility for the “environmental effects of products and wastes streams.”

As an environmental management tool, EIA aims to lend support to efforts that promote the sustainable use and management of the natural resources. Specifically, EIA can help ensure that:

  • The consumption of renewable resources does not exceed their capacity to regenerate;
  • The consumption of renewable resources does not degrade the biodiversity of the ecosystem;
  • The consumption of nonrenewable resources is minimal;
  • A portion of the nonrenewable resources is set aside for the manufacture of renewable substitutes and the development of such substitutes is given priority in resource consumption;
  • The consumption of nonrenewable resources is within minimum strategic levels;
  • The assimilative and regenerative capacities of the environment are not degraded;
  • The assimilative and regenerative capacities of the environment are not used for the dispersal of stock wastes or non-biodegradable substances;
  • The natural life-support systems are not destabilized, and
  • Environmental quality is not degraded.

Core Values, Guiding and Operating Principles of EIA

The practice of EIA in the Philippines and throughout the world has distilled some values, guiding and operating principles for the successful conduct of EIA. A study made by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) identifies the following as the core values, guiding and operating principles of EIA, which can serve as a guide to reviewers of EIS:

Core Values
  • Sustainability - the EIA process will result in international safeguards;
  • Integrity - the EIA process will conform to agreed standards, and
  • Utility - the EIA process will provide balanced and credible information for decision-making.

Guiding Principles
  • Participation - appropriate and timely access to the process for all interested parties;
  • Transparency - all assessment decisions, and their bases, should be open and accessible;
  • Certainty - the process and timing of assessment should be agreed in advance and observed by all participants;
  • Accountability - decision-makers are responsible to all parties for their actions and decisions under the assessment process;
  • Credibility - assessments are undertaken with professionalism and objectivity;
  • Cost-effectiveness - the assessment process and its outcomes will ensure environmental protection at the least cost to society;
  • Flexibility - the assessment process should be able to adapt to deal efficiently and effectively with any proposal or decision-making situation, and
  • Practicality - the information and outputs provided by the assessment process are readily usable in decision-making.

Operating Principles

EIA should be applied:
  • To all development project activities likely to cause potentially significant adverse impacts or add to actual or potentially foreseeable cumulative effects;
  • As a primary instrument for environmental management to ensure that impacts of development are minimized, avoided or rehabilitated;
  • So that the scope of review is consistent with the nature of the project or activity and commensurate with the likely issues and impacts, and
  • On the basis of well-defined roles, rules and responsibilities for key actors.

EIA should be undertaken:
  • Throughout the project cycle, beginning as early as possible in the concept design phase;
  • With clear reference to the requirements for project authorization and follow-up, including impact management;
  • Consistent with the application of “best practicable” science and mitigation technology;
  • In accordance with established procedures and project-specific terms of reference, including agreed timelines, and
  • To provide meaningful public consultation with communities, groups and parties directly affected by, or with an interest in, the project and/or its environmental impacts.

EIA should address, whenever necessary or appropriate:
  • All related and relevant factors, including social and health risks and impacts;
  • Cumulative and long-term, large-scale effects;
  • Design, location and technological alternatives to the proposal being assessed, and
  • Sustainability considerations including resource productivity, assimilative capacity and biological diversity.

EIA should result in:
  • Accurate and appropriate information as to the nature, likely magnitude and significance of potential effects, risks and consequences of a proposed undertaking and alternatives to it;
  • The preparation of an EIS that presents information in a clear, understandable and relevant form for decision-making, including reference to qualifications and confidence limits in the predictions made, and
  • Ongoing problem solving and conflict resolution to the extent possible during the application of the process.

EIA should provide basis for:
  • Environmentally sound decision-making in which terms and conditions are clearly specified and enforced;
  • The design, planning and construction of acceptable development projects that meet environmental standards and resource management objectives, and
  • An appropriate follow-up process with requirements for monitoring, management, audit and evaluation that are based on the significance of potential effects, the uncertainty associated with prediction and mitigation, and the opportunity for making future improvements in project design or process application.


In closing, it should be borne in mind that the EIS system consists of three major components: Conduct of EIA, implementation of the environmental management plan (EMP), and compliance monitoring. These three activities have equal importance. Thus, there is a failure of the EIS system when there is a failure in any of the three activities. For what good is the EIS if it is not translated into actual practice through the EMP? And how would project managers know if they are implementing the EMP properly when there is no monitoring or measurement of compliance and performance?

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Political Philosophy of Mabini and Recto

Claro M. R
Apolinario Mabini
by Alan S. Cajes


The political ideas of Apolinario Mabini and Claro M. Recto were largely shaped by the socio-economic and political conditions of the country during their respective eras. . In the case of Mabini, the following factors contributed to the development of his political philosophy:
  • Infusion of liberal ideas from Europe to the Philippines;[1]
  • Demand for the secularization of the clergy and the conflicts between the regular and secular priests which culminated in the execution of Fathers Gomez, Burgos and Zamora;[2]
  • Demand for the abolition of statute labor, which was perceived as a clear violation of the principle that all men are created equal;[3]
  • Advancement in material prosperity and cultural maturity of the Filipinos;[4]
  • Increased education and literacy of the Filipinos;[5]
  • Increased “weight of taxation on that segment of the population least able to bear it;[6]
  • Abuses committed by the Spanish authorities against the Filipinos;[7]
  • Activities and writings during the Propaganda movement;[8]
  • Two phases of the Philippine Revolution;[9]
  • Religious schism which resulted in the establishment of the Filipino National Church,[10] and
  • Mabini’s encounters with the other leaders of the revolution who wanted him out of power.
These factors, coupled with Mabini’s knowledge of Philosophy and Law, facilitated the development of his ideas.

In the case of Claro Recto, the following factors serve as a background in understanding his thoughts:
  • Virtual free trade between the United States and the Philippines which was viewed as “highly prejudicial to the economic interests” of the Filipinos;[11]
  • Poor economic performance of the country and the deplorable condition of the country’s poor population;[12]
  • Control by American citizens and corporations of the country’s economy through the parity clause of the Trade act;[13]
  • His vast and solid experience as a politician and leader of the nationalist movement of the country, and
  • His own education in law and readings of the literature on nationalist industrialization.
Mabini’s Political Philosophy

Apolinario Mabini stands out as one of the greatest, if not the foremost, political philosophers of the country. He is also one of the most comprehensive and consistent of all the Filipino philosophers.

Concept of Man and Society

According to Mabini, “all men have been given life by preserve and employ in terms of a preordained mission, which is to proclaim God’s glory in doing what is good and just.”[14] Men are by nature good and just and have the capacity to unfold his goodness and sense of justice to others. In this context, freedom can only be understood as doing what is good and just, meaning what is reasonable. He said: “True liberty is only for what is good and never for what is evil; it is always in accordance with Reason and the upright and honest conscience of the individual.”[15]

Since life is a gift from God, man has the freedom to acquire all the means to preserve life in a manner which does not constitute a violation of God’s will as implanted in nature.[16] This freedom is inalienable to man and “prior to all human law.”[17] Thus, anyone who leads a luxurious life at the expense of others is guilty of violating the natural law.

On Government

The importance of the government is based on the idea that men form a society for the purpose of mutual help so that each other “may enjoy the greatest possible well-being which would not be possible if men were isolated.”[18] There are those who belong to society who “desire to live at the expense of others.”[19] These people, according to Mabini, “are either the strongest or the most shrewd. Forgetting how they ought to act...they begin by either force or deceit to appropriate the means of the livelihood of others. In so doing, they mock the rights which others have by nature. These being reduced into slavery, are forced to labor for the increase of the personal interests of others.”[20] Because of this condition, it is imperative for society to have a leader, “who by superior force and intelligence, will prevent some individuals from usurping the rights of others, and who will allow everyone to work, in accordance with their respective specialization.”[21]

This leads to a basic question in Mabini’s philosophy: “Who shall be that power who will order others and to whom obedience is necessary...and who will mediate on the clash of interests -- that chronic disease of society?”[22] Now, since all virtues can hardly be found in one man, society has to elect him who is the most qualified. Thus, he, “although equal to all others, has the right to direct others, because his associates have conferred upon him this power.”[23]

It is important to stress the point that Mabini conceived political power as something that is derived from the consent of the governed. The political leader possesses power because his associates in society grant him such power. This power, however, is limited by the principle that the people are only permitted to obey him in all that is just. The moment the leader disgraces himself before his people, he ceases to possess the power granted to him.

Mabini considered the probability that a political leader can veer away from the objectives of his office. He said: “It is necessary that the members of society should nominate a group of men that will represent them before this authority, with the expressed purpose of determining the limitations of the power of this authority and the extent of how to fulfill his mission. This group of men should also see to it that the maintenance of this public power should be done with the greatest possible equality and in proportion to the individual capacity of each member of society. This is the only method by which the elected one will be prevented from abusing his powers.”[24]

What Mabini describes is the check and balance mechanism between two organs of the government, namely the executive and the legislative. The executive needs the guidelines from the legislative in order to perform his functions. Thus lawmaking, which is the function of the legislative body, shall be for the purpose of setting the terms of reference for the executive.

How is the legislative body checked? Mabini said: “The guarantee for the proper functioning of the legislative is its truly representative character and the public character of its sessions.”[25]

A third organ of the state is the judiciary, which is tasked to determine the “kind of punishment for evil in society”. The legislature checks the judiciary by seeing to it that the exercise of judicial power “should be done with the greatest possible equality and in proportion to the individual capacity of each member of society.”[26]

Function of Government

While Jose Rizal and Emilio Jacinto used the phrase “welfare of the people,” Mabini is more specific by saying that the function of the government is to “study the needs and interpret the desires of the people in order to fulfill the one and satisfy the other.”[27] This idea is consistent with his notion of governance as one which is based on the consent of the people. This consent is based on the principle that the leader governs in order to promote the people’s interests. The moment a political leader fails to perform this duty, the legitimacy of his government is in jeopardy.

Obedience to Law

State laws are derived from natural law as interpreted by Reason. Thus obedience to law simply means obedience to Reason. The collective Reason of the people constitutes what is called authority. Thus all authority belongs to the people by natural right.[28]

On Revolution

Mabini defines revolution as the “violent means utilized by the people in the employment of the right to sovereignty that properly belongs to them, to destroy a duly constituted government, substituting for it another that is more in consonance with Reason and justice.”[29] A revolution can be justified because the “tendency of betterment or progress is a necessity or law found in all creatures whether individually or collectively... As it is unnatural that a being should resign itself to its own death, the people must employ all… energies in order that a government that impedes its progressive development be destroyed.”[30]
A revolution can also be external and internal. External revolution means effecting changes in institutions that fail to respond to the needs and desires of the people. This type of revolution should be accompanied by an internal one which consists in changing “our ways of thinking and behaving”.[31]

Recto’s Political Thought

Claro Recto may be considered as the direct intellectual descendant of Mabini. But while Mabini focused on political philosophy, Recto concentrated on political economy, which is almost absent from Mabini’s philosophy. The reasons for this shift in field of concentration are the conditions that shape the minds of the two thinkers: Mabini lived during the time when the country was in political disarray; Recto lived at the time when the Philippines was in economic turmoil.

On Nationalism

Recto defines nationalism as “devotion to and advocacy of Filipino interests and Filipino unity and independence, zealous adherence to our own Filipino nation and its principles, in brief, Filipino patriotism.[32] A more concrete explanation of the term is contained in his speech on the eve of the elections in 1957 when he ran as presidential candidate of the Nationalist Citizens’ Party. Recto declared: “Our national salvation lies first in asserting the nationalistic ideals of our heroes in their fight for emancipation and second in changing the course of our economic efforts by giving emphasis to nationalist industrialization.”[33]
Recto considered the advocacy of the national interests as non-negotiable. The interest of the people should not be sacrificed in any deal with other countries. He defended his position by saying that “there are litigations of such nature as not to allow a concession without sacrifice of the fundamental principles and spiritual interests, and that liberty, supreme aspiration of all peoples and the quintessence of the rights of the Creator, cannot be subject of transactions, promises and barters.”[34]

On Political Economy

The key to the country’s prosperity is industry. Industry, however, has to be placed in the control of the Filipinos themselves. He said: “As long as foreigners dominate our production, our manufacture, and our distribution of the essentials of civilized life, we will remain benighted natives, the dupes of profiteers and carpet baggers. We will remain outcasts in the family of nations, unable to deal with other countries on an equal footing and our internal policies influenced, if not determined, by powerful interests acting through their Filipino friends in power and authority.”[35]

For Recto, the economic condition of a nation is determined by those who control the country’s purse. If the economic machinery is controlled by foreigners, then the nation’s economic condition will be favorable not to the natives but to the foreigners. Under such condition, the natives will depend on the benevolence of the economic managers for their survival. Thus, it is likely that the natives will merely serve as the workers of the capitalists. And since the foreigners would require the assistance of some Filipinos to effectively control the economy, few Filipinos will prosper materially in order for them to extend utmost cooperation in maintaining the status quo. This will then create a situation that will enable the “foreign vested interests and a small privileged class among our people to live in ostentation and luxury, while the great masses of Filipinos exist in penury, ill health and ignorance.[36]

In the final analysis, it is the people themselves who are responsible for the economic condition of the country. Recto explains: “A nation’s political, economic and cultural life is of its own people’s making. Of course there are what we call forces of history, but it is for the channel them toward the realization of national objectives. We must accept, therefore full responsibility for the backward condition of our economy, our political immaturity, our predilection for dramatizing minor issues to the neglect of long-rage basic questions, and for our confusions and indecisions that have delayed for decades the progress of the nation.”[37]

[1] Horacio de la Costa, Readings in Philippine History (Philippines: Bookmark, 1965), 215.
[2] Teodoro Agoncillo, History of the Filipino People (Philippines: 1990), 122-126.
[3] de la Costa, 183.
[4] Ibid., 216.
[5] Ibid., 220.
[6] Ibid., 224.
[7] Ibid., 224-225.
[8] Cesar A. Majul, The Political and Constitutional Ideas of the Philippine Revolution (Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1957), 33-34.
[9] Agoncillo, 171-174.
[10] Ibid., 235.
[11] de la Costa, 262-264.
[12] Ibid., 266.
[13] Ibid., 282.
[14] Apolinario Mabini, La Revolucion Filipina (con otros documentos de la Epocha). Documentos de la Biblioteca National. Manila: Bureau of Printing, 1931 (vol. 2), 22.
[15] Mabini, vol.1, 104.
[16] Majul, 34.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Mabini, vol. 1, 104.
[19] Mabini, vol. 2, 2:23
[20] Ibid.
[21] Ibid.
[22] Ibid.
[23] Ibid.
[24] Ibid., 24
[25] Ibid., 69.
[26] Ibid., 24.
[27] Ibid., 129.
[28] Ibid., 270.
[29] Mabini, vol. 1, 108.
[30] Mabini, vol. 2, 275-276.
[31] Mabini, vol. 1, 105.
[32] Renato Constantino (ed.), Vintage Recto Memorable Speeches and Writings. (Quezon City: Foundation for Nationalist Studies, Inc., 1986), 140.
[33] Ibid., xvi.
[34] Ibid., 16.
[35] Ibid., xv.
[36] Ibid., xiv.
[37] Ibid., 224-225.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Whether the soul when separated from the body is capable of understanding?

by Alan S. Cajes

Note: This paper was written in 1995 as a requirement for the Course "Disputed Questions of St. Thomas Aquinas". It demonstrates how Aquinas analyzes and discusses a philosophical or theological question. Aquinas proceeds by clarifying the issue, stating the objections, and demolishing the arguments of the objections. The picture is from

Statement of the Problem

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, man's knowledge, taking its start from the senses, proceeds in this order: first, it begins in the senses; second, it is completed in the intellect. Hence, nothing is in the intellect which is not first in the senses. Now, when the soul is separated from the body, can it understand anything?


It seems that the soul, when separated from the body, is incapable of understanding for the following reasons:

1) No activity common to the soul and body can remain in the soul after death. But understanding is an activity common to the soul and the body. As Aristotle said, to say that the soul understands is like saying that it weaves or builds.

2) Aristotle said that understanding does not take place without a phantasm. But phantasms exist in the sense organs. Therefore, phantasms cannot exist in the separated soul.

3) Aristotle further said that understanding is related to phantasm as the senses are to sensible things. But sense can have sensation only when sensible things are presented to it. Hence, the soul (as stated in the second objection) cannot understand anything unless phantasms are presented to it. But phantasms are not presented to the soul after death after death because they are presented only to a bodily organ. Hence, the soul cannot understand after death.

4) Aristotle further said that the intellect is related to phantasms as sight is to colors. But sight cannot see without colors. Therefore, the intellect does not understand without the body.

5) The object of a power is determined by the nature of the power itself. But the nature of the intellectual soul is the same before and after death. Therefore if the intellective soul has an ordination to phantasms as objects before death, it seems that it will likewise have it after death. Now, this is not tenable considering that the phantasms cannot exist in the separated soul, as shown above.

6) A form is not united to matter for the sake of the matter but for the sake of the form; for the form is the is the end and the perfection of matter. Now form is united to matter for the sake of fulfilling its own proper operation. Hence, a form requires that specific type of matter by which its own operation can be carried to completion. Now, the soul is the form of the body. Consequently, the soul is united to that specific type of body which is adapted to carrying out the soul's proper operation. Now, the soul's proper operation consists in understanding. Therefore, if the soul can understand without the body, then the soul is united to the body in vain.

7) If the separated soul is capable of understanding, then, it understands in a more excellent manner when apart from the body than when united to it. For beings which have no need of phantasms in order to understand do so in a more excellent way than we, who understand through the medium of phantasms. Now, the good of the soul lies in its act of understanding; for the perfection of every substance consists in its own proper operation. Therefore, if the soul is capable of understanding without the aid of phantasms when separated from the body, then it would be harmful to the soul to be united to a body, and hence, would not be natural to it.

8) Power is diversified by their objects. But the objects of the intellective soul are phantasms. Hence, if the intellective soul when separated from the body understands without phantasms, it must have powers other than those which it possesses when united to the body. But that is impossible, since the soul's powers are natural to it and inhere in it inseparably.

9) If the separated soul understands, it must understand by means of some power. Now there are only two powers of the soul: The agent intellect and the possible intellect. But it seems that the separated soul does not understand by means of either of these powers. For the operation of each of them bears on phantasms. The agent intellect renders phantasms actually intelligible, whereas the possible intellect receives the intelligible species abstracted from phantasms.

10) There is but one proper operation for one thing, just as there is only one perfection for one perfectible thing. Therefore, if the operation of the soul consists in understanding by receiving intelligible species from phantasms, it seems that understanding without phantasms cannot be the operation of the soul. Hence, it does not understand when separated from the body.

11) If the separated soul understands, it must understand by means of something, because understanding takes place when the likeness of the thing understood exists in the one understanding. It cannot be said, however, that the separated soul understands by its own essence. This is only true to God; for His essence being infinite, possesses in itself from eternity every perfection, and thus is the likeness of things. Nor it can be said that the separated soul understands through the essence of the thing understood, because in that case it would understand only those things which are in the soul by virtue of its essence alone. Moreover, it seems that the separated soul cannot understand through any species whether innate or concreated, for this would apparently be a reversion to Plato's theory that we are naturally endowed with all knowledge.

12) Species of this sort seem to be needlessly implanted in the soul because, so long as it remains in the body, the soul cannot understand through them. However, intelligible species seem to have no other purpose than this, that the soul may understand them.

13) It may be argued that, considered in itself, the soul is able to understand through innate species but that, as a matter of fact, it is hindered by the body from understanding through them. On the contrary, the more perfect a thing is in its nature, the more perfect it is in its operation. Now the soul is more perfect in its nature when united to the body than when it is separated from the body, just as every part of the whole is more perfect when it exists in that whole than when separated from it. Therefore, if the soul existing in separation from the body is able to understand through innate species, it is even more capable of understanding through them when united to the body.

14) None of the natural properties of a thing are totally impeded by anything which explains to the nature itself. Now it pertains to the very nature of the soul to be united to the body, because the soul is the form of the body. Hence, if intelligible species are naturally implanted in the soul, the soul would not be prevented from understanding through them because of its union with the body. But experience shows that the contrary is true.

15) Though it seems to be the case, it cannot be said that the separated soul understands through species acquired previously, when united to the body. For many human souls will remain separated from their bodies and will never acquire intelligible species of things, as is evident in the case of the souls of children, and especially of infants who are still-born. Therefore, if the separated soul can understand only through species previously acquired, it would follow that not all separated souls would have understanding.

16) If the separated soul understands only through species previously acquired, it seems to follow that it could understand only those things which it understood in this life while united to the body. This seems to be untrue, however, for the separated soul knows many things concerning punishments and rewards which it does not know in this life. Hence, the separated soul does not understand solely through species acquired before its separation from the body.

17) The intellect is rendered intelligent in act by the intelligible species existing in it. But the intellect existing in act is understanding in act. Therefore, the intellect in act understands all those things whose intelligible species are not retained in the intellect after it ceases to actually understand, and that those species through which it is capable of understanding do not remain in the soul after its separation from the body.

18) Acquired habits give rise to acts similar to those acts by which the habits were acquired. But the intellect acquires intelligible species by turning to phantasms. Hence, it can understand through phantasms only by turning to them. Therefore, when the soul is separated from the body it cannot understand through acquired species as seems to be the case.

19) It cannot be said that the intellect understands through species infused by some higher substance. For every receptive entity has its own proper agent by which it is naturally disposed to receive that which it receives. Now the human intellect is naturally disposed to receive its species from the senses.

20) In the case of those things which are naturally disposed to be caused by inferior agents, the action of a superior agent alone does not suffice to cause them. Now the human soul by its very nature is disposed to receive species from sensible things. The influx of higher substances, therefore, does not alone suffice to account for its reception of intelligible species.

21) An agent should be proportioned to a patient, and an inflowing power to a recipient. But the intelligence of a superior substance is not proportioned to the human intellect, since the former has knowledge which is more universal than ours and which is incomprehensible to us. Therefore, the separated soul cannot understand through species infused by superior substances as seems to be the case. Consequently, there is no way in which the separated soul can understand anything.

22) The higher aspect of the soul is that according to which it turn to the things of God. However, to understand something by reason of divine revelation depends on the body because man must understand through conversion to phantasms which are in a bodily organ. As Dionysius said, it is impossible for the divine radiance to shine on us unless it is shrouded with a variety of sacred veils. Now, veils are the bodily forms under which spiritual things are revealed. Hence, the act of understanding which belongs to the soul according to its higher aspect depends on the body.

23) In Ecclesiastes 9:5, it is stated that "for the living know that they shall die, but the dead know nothing more". The Gloss reads "For they make no more progress"., Taking more in a temporal sense, it seems that after death the soul either knows nothing or at least it can understand anything it did not understand before. Otherwise, the soul would make more progress, which is contrary to the Gloss.

24) If it be said that the soul understands through infused species, the answer is that such species were infused either by God or by an angel. This cannot be done by an angel, because, if they were, these species would have to be created in the soul by the angel. Similarly, they are not infused by God, because it is not probable that God would infuse His gifts into souls existing in hell. Hence, it would follow that the souls in hell would not understand.

On the Contrary

1) According to Damascene, no substance is deprived of its proper activity. Now, the proper activity of the soul is to understand. Therefore, the soul understands after death.

2) In the same way that something becomes passive when united with a material body, something also becomes actives when separated from the same body. In this context, the soul becomes completely active by its separation from the body. It should be noted that it is due to the passivity of the powers of the soul that the soul cannot know itself without exterior objects as Aristotle said of the senses. Thus, the soul can understand itself without reception from any objects when it is separated from the body.

3) According to Augustine, just as the mind itself obtains knowledge of bodily things through the senses of the body, so it obtains knowledge of incorporeal things through itself. Hence, it will be able to understand at least of incorporeal things after death.

4) The soul knows corporeal things in so far as it fashions likenesses of these things and draws them within itself. But the soul can do this more friendly after its separation from the body, especially since Augustine said it does so by itself as quoted above. Thus, the soul can understand better after death.

5) In Spirit and Soul, it is stated that the soul takes its powers along with it when it is separated from the body. Now the soul is called cognoscitive because of its powers. Thus, it will be able to know after death.

6) Understanding is the highest and proper operation of the soul. So, if it does not belong to the separated soul, then, none of the other operations of the soul would belong to the soul. Now, if some operations do not belong to the separated soul, then, it is not possible for the soul to exist without the body. But the soul exists when separated from the body. Hence, it should understand after death.

7) Those whom the scripture records as having been brought back to life, possessed the same knowledge after this event that they had possessed before. Thus, the knowledge of those things which a man possesses in this life is not taken away from him after death. Consequently, the separated soul can understand through species acquired before death.

8) The likeness of inferior beings is found in superior ones. Now, the soul is superior in nature to all corporeal things. Thus, the soul by its very nature, is capable of understanding all corporeal things, even when it will exist in separation from the body.


What makes it difficult to solve the problem is the fact that our soul, in its condition in this life, understands through sensible things. This problem, however, would not be difficult to solve if the Platonists' theory of knowledge is tenable in every respect.

For the Platonists, the soul does not need the senses essentially (per se) but only accidentally in order to understand because the soul is stirred only by the senses to recollect, to remember things which it knew in a previous existence, i.e., before its embodiment. Plato, himself, held that the ideas of things subsist apart from them and are actually intelligible entities. The soul can know and understand these ideas by participating in them and by some kind of infusion. Prior to its union with the body, the soul was able to know these ideas, but as a result of the union, it forgets the things it has previously known. Thus, by some kind of stimulation by the senses, the soul can turn back upon itself and recollect those ideas it had previously known.

Under this theory, it is hard to explain the soul's union with the body because this union is not for the sake of the soul in the sense that an embodied soul can still exercise its proper operation, although it is impeded by its being impeded. Similarly, it cannot be argued that the union of the soul and the body is for the sake of the soul since the soul does not exist for the sake of the body but rather the body exists for the sake of the soul, the soul being nobler than the body. It would also follow from this theory that the embodiment of the soul is not natural for whatever is natural to a thing does not impede the operation proper to that thing. Hence, if union with a body impedes the soul's understanding, the union would be contrary to the nature of the soul to be embodied. It is, however, absurd to say that man, who is constituted of a soul united to a body, is not a natural being.

The Platonist's theory of knowledge seems to be contrary to experience because human knowledge is not the result of participation in separated substances, but is acquired from sensible things. In fact, those who lack one sense lack knowledge of sensible things apprehended by that sense. A person who is born blind cannot have knowledge of colors.

Another theory, one which was maintained by Avicenna, stated that the human soul needs the senses essentially not to acquire knowledge from sense-objects but because the senses dispose the soul to acquire knowledge from some other source. This theory holds that the intelligible species through which man understands flows into the intellect from a separate substance called Agent Intelligence. Through the operation of the sense organs, the intellect is prepared for orienting itself toward the Agent Intellect and for receiving the influx of intelligible species from it. In other words, all substantial forms flow from the Agent Intellect and that the natural agents only dispose the matter for receiving phantasms from the Agent Intellect.

It would follow from this view that man immediately acquires all knowledge, both of things he perceives through the senses and of other things.
On the contrary, however, we need the sentient powers in order to understand, not only to acquire knowledge but to utilize the knowledge already acquired. It is a fact that we cannot reflect upon the things we know without turning to phantasms. This is the reason why, even in reflecting upon things which it knows, the soul is impeded in its operation by injuries to the organs of the sentient powers whereby the phantasms are retained and apprehended. Moreover, Dionysius said that the divine light cannot shine upon us unless it is screened through the influence of superior substances. Hence, it is also evident that in things divinely revealed to us through the influence of superior substances, we have need of certain phantasms.

On the other hand, Aristotle said that phantasms are to the intellect what sensible things are to sense. Through the phantasms rendered actually intelligible by the agent intellect, the agent intellect produces knowledge in the possible intellect. This theory of knowledge can be explained further through the activities of beings.

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, the rational soul receives its being in a mode midway between separated forms and material forms. On one hand, the immaterial forms or angels receive from God a being which does not depend on matter and is not in any matter; on the other hand, the material forms receive from God a being which is in matter and depends on matter since they cannot be observed without matter. 
The soul, however, receives from God a being which is in matter, for it exists in matter as the form of the body, and through this it is its being to be embodied, but it is not dependent on matter in the sense that the being of the soul can be maintained without the body.

The soul is lowest in the order of intellectual substances. As such, it participates in intellectual light or intellectual nature in the lowest and weakest nature. Hence, it has the most imperfect kind of knowledge, i.e., it knows in the "universal and distinctly". That is why the soul must acquire knowledge of truth from singular things so that its knowledge may be perfect in its kind and bear directly on the singulars. Now, the light of the agent intellect is necessary in order that things may be received in the soul and may exist there in a higher mode than that in which they exists naturally. Therefore, it was necessary that the soul be embodied for the perfection of its intellectual operation.

It should be noted, however, that under this condition of union of the soul and the body, nothing is in the intellect which is not first in the senses. And for this reason, also, God does not make any revelations to the soul except under the species of phantasms, nor is it able to understand separated substances, inasmuch as these cannot be sufficiently known through the species of sensible things.

But, when the soul is separated from the body, then it will be able to receive the influx of intellectual knowledge in the way in which the angels receive it, without any ordination to the body. Thus, it will receive species of things from God himself and will be able to see separated substances, such as angels and demons, with natural knowledge, although it will not be able to see God in this way, for without grace this is not given to any creature. In other words, when the soul is completely separated from the body, it will be able to receive infused knowledge from superior substances more fully because it will be able to understand without a phantasm.

Knowledge under this condition, however, is not as perfect and as directly related to singulars as the knowledge we acquire through the senses. Nevertheless, the separated soul will have a determinate knowledge of singular things which they had previously known here below, and whose intelligible species they retain in themselves.
From the foregoing, it may be concluded that the separated soul understands in three ways: it understands through species which it received from things while it was in the body; through species which God infuses in it at the time of its separation from the body; and by seeing separated substances and looking at the species of things which are in them. This last mode does not lie within their free choice but within that of the separated substance, which opens its intelligence when it speaks and closes it when it is silent.

Answers to Objections

1) The activity of understanding common to soul and body is an activity of the soul in its relation with the body. After death, the soul will have an activity which will not take place through a bodily organ and will have no ordination to the body.

2) Aristotle spoke of the intellectual operation of the soul as embodied, under which condition, the soul does not understand without a phantasm.

3) Aristotle is speaking here only of the understanding united to the body, not of the separated soul.

4) The answer is clear from the preceding answers.

5) Although the nature of the soul is specifically the same before and after death, its mode of being is not the same. Consequently, its mode of activity is not the same.

6) The soul is united to the body by virtue of the operations of the soul which is understanding, not because it could in no way understand without a body, but because in the natural order it could not understand perfectly without the body.

7) Thus, the answer to the seventh objection is evident.

8) Phantasms are objects of the intellect only in so far as they are rendered actually intelligible by the light of the agent intellect. Consequently, actually intelligible species which are received in the intellect, wherever they may come, will have no formal objects; and it is by their formal objects that the powers of the soul are differentiated.

9) The operations of the agent and possible intellects bear on phantasms as long as the soul is embodied. But when the soul is separated from the body, it will receive through its possible intellect the species that flow in it from superior substances, and it will have the power of understanding through its agent intellect.

10) The proper operation of the soul is to understand things that are actually intelligible. Moreover, intellectual operation is not diversified specifically because actual intelligibles are received from phantasms elsewhere.

11) The separated soul does not understand things through its own essence, nor through the essences of the things understood but through species flowing into it from superior substances nor does it understand things from the very beginning of existence.

12) The reply to the twelfth objection is evident.

13) If the soul, when united to the body, possessed innate species, it would be able to understand through them, just as it understands through acquired species. Now, although it is more perfect in its nature (as embodied), nevertheless, on account of bodily movements and sense activities, the soul is held in check, so that it cannot be united to superior substances in order to receive infused knowledge from them, as it does when it is separated from the body.

14) To understand through infused species is not natural to the soul as embodied, but only after it has left the body.

15) Separated souls will indeed be able to understand through species acquired previously while they existed in the body, but not through them alone. They will also understand through infused species.

16) The reply to objection sixteenth is evident.

17) Intelligible species sometimes exist in the possible intellect only potentially; and when that is the case man knows only potentially, and thus, needs to be made actually knowing either by teaching or by discovery. However, sometimes intelligible species exist in the possible intellect in a complete actual way, in which it knows actually. Sometimes, however, they exist in it in a mode midway between potency and act, i.e., as a habit, in which case the intellect can understand actually whenever it wishes. However, due to this mode of existing, acquired intelligible species exist in the possible intellect even when it is not performing acts of understanding.

18) An intellectual operation, whose actually understood object is received from phantasms, does nor differ specifically from an intellectual operation whose object is derived from some other source. For the operation of a power is distinguished and specified by the formal nature of the object, not by its matter. Hence, if the separated soul understands through intelligible species which are retained in the intellect, and which were previously acquired from phantasms, and not by actually turning itself to phantasms, the operation which results from the species so acquired, and the operation by which those species are acquired, will not be specifically different.

19) The possible intellect is disposed by nature to receive species from phantasms only so far as the phantasms are actually by the light of the agent intellect, which is a kind of participation of the light of superior substances. Consequently, the intellect is not prevented from being able to receive species from superior substances.

20) As embodied, the soul is disposed by nature to acquire knowledge from phantasms, and in this state its knowledge cannot be caused by superior agents alone. But this will be possible when the soul is separated from the body.

21) From the fact that the knowledge of separate substances is not proportioned to the soul, it does not follow that the soul is incapable of grasping any knowledge from the influx of those substances, but only that it cannot grasp a perfect and distinct knowledge.

22) The solution to the problem is clear from the first response.

23) The citation is speaking of progress in merit, as it is clear from another gloss which says that some assert that merit increases and decreases after death, so that it be understood that there is no further advance in knowledge, which means that they have more merit or reward, or that they may deserve clearer knowledge, but it does not mean that they will not then know anything which was previously unknown. It is clear, for example, that they will know the punishments of hell, which they do not know now.

24) The infusion of the gifts of grace does not reach those who are in hell, but these souls are deprived of the things which belong to the state of nature. As Dionysius said, nothing is completely deprived of a share in the good. But the infusion of species which is given when the soul is separated from the body, belongs to the natural state of separated substances. Thus, the souls of the damned are not deprived of this infusion.

The Problem as Discussed in Summa Theologica

Article 1: Whether the separated soul can understand anything.

Objection 1. The understanding is corrupted together with its interior principles. The human interior principles are corrupted in death. Hence, the soul understands nothing after death.

Objection 2. The human soul is hindered from understanding when the senses are bound, and by a disordered imagination. Death destroys the senses and imagination. Hence, the soul cannot understand anything after death.

Objection 3. If the separated soul can understand, this must be through some senses. This is not possible however, because it is like a tablet on which nothing is written. Nor through species abstracted from things for it won't have organs of sense and imagination. Nor through species formerly abstracted and retained, otherwise, a child's soul would not know anything after death. Nor through divinely infused intelligible species for such knowledge is not natural but an effect of grace. Hence, the soul understands nothing after death.

On the Contrary --

If the soul had no proper operation, it could not be separated from the body. But the soul is separated from the body. Hence, it has a proper operation that includes understanding. Consequently, the soul understands when apart from the body.

Reply --

Nothing acts except so far as it is actual since the mode of action of every agent follows from its mode of being. Now, the soul has one mode of existing when joined to the body, and another when separated from it, although its nature always remains the same. It is in this context that the soul's union with the body is not accidental but by reason of its nature. The reason for this is that the embodied soul has a mode of understanding by turning to corporeal phantasms, which are in corporeal organs. It is natural for the embodied soul to understand through phantasms so that it may have an existence and an operation suitable to its nature. On the other hand, when it is separated from the body, its mode of understanding is by turning to absolutely intelligible objects, as is proper to other separate substances.

Here, however, arises a difficulty. Since a thing is always directed at what is best, and since it is better to understand by turning to phantasms, God should have created the soul's nature in a way that the nobler way of understanding would have been natural to it so that it would not need the body for such purpose. This difficulty, however, can be answered in the following manner: Although it is nobler in itself to understand by turning to something higher than to phantasm, nevertheless, such mode of understanding would not be so perfect as regards what is possible to the soul since every intellectual substance possesses the power of understanding by the influx of the Divine light, which is one and simple in its first principle, and the farther off intellectual creatures are from the first principle, the more is the light divided and diversified, as is the case with lines radiating from the center of a circle. It is God alone by His own essence understands all things.

The superior intellectual substances, because of the efficaciousness of the intellectual power of their nature, understand by means of many forms, which are, nevertheless, fewer and more universal and bestow a deeper comprehension of things. The inferior intellectual natures, on the other hand, possess a greater number of forms which are less universal, and bestow a lower degree of comprehension in proportion of their nature. Knowledge of inferior intellectual substances would be imperfect and of general and confused nature if they received forms in the same degree of universality as the superior substances that are very strong in understanding. This is evident in the case of men since those who are of weaker intellect fail to acquire perfect knowledge through the universal conceptions than those who have a better understanding unless things are explained to them singly and in detail.

It becomes clear, then, that in the natural order, the human souls hold the lowest place among intellectual substances. This is so because the perfection of the universe required various degrees of being.
So, in order for the souls to possess perfect and proper knowledge, they have a nature which required them to be embodied so as to receive a proper knowledge of sensible things from the sensible things themselves. Hence, it was for the soul's good to be united to a body and to understand by turning to phantasms although it is possible for it to exists apart from the body and to understand in another way.

Reply to Objections

1. The statement means that understanding is a movement of body and soul as united, just as sensation is for he had not yet explained the difference between intellect and sense. It could also mean that he refers to the way of understanding by turning to phantasms. This is also the meaning of the second objection.

2. The separated soul does not understand by 1) way of innate species; 2) species abstracted in that state; and 3) retained species. This has been proven by the objection itself. But the soul, as separated, understands by means of participated species arising from the influx of the Divine Lights, shared by the soul as by other separate substances, though in a lesser degree. Hence, as soon as the souls is separated, it turns at once to the superior things and ceases to act but turning to the body. This way of knowing, however, is not unnatural for God authors both the influx of the light of grace and of the light of nature.

The Problem as Discussed in Summa Contra Gentiles

Objection: Aristotle said that after death we do not remember what we know in life. Evidently, then, no operation of the soul can remain after death.

Reply: The proposition advanced that no operation can remain in the soul is false in view of the fact that those operations which are not exercised through an organ, such as understanding and willing, do remain. What will not remain are those operations that are carried out by means of bodily organs such as nutritive and sensitive powers.

It should be noted that understanding of the soul differs in manner when separated from the body and when united to it, since a thing acts according as it is. As embodied, the soul understands through phantasms despite the fact that this operation does not depend on the body as though it is effected through the instrumentality of a bodily organ. In this mode of knowing, understanding as well as remembering perishes with the death of the body.
As separated, however, the soul exists by itself, apart form the body. Hence, its operation , which is understanding, will not be fulfilled in relation to those objects existing in bodily organs, which the phantasms are. On the contrary, the soul will understand through itself, in a manner of separated substances. From those separated substances, as from things above it, the separated soul will be able to receive a more abundant influx, productive of a more perfect understanding on its own part. For the more the soul is freed from the preoccupations with its body, the more fit does it become to understand higher things. This is so because human soul is situated on the boundary line between corporeal and incorporeal substances, as though it existed on the horizon of eternity and time, it approaches to the highest by withdrawing from the lowest.

Thus, when the soul is separated from the body, it will be perfectly likened to separate substances in its mode of understanding, and will receive their influx abundantly. Therefore, although the mode of understanding vouchsafed to us in the present life ceases upon the death of the body, nevertheless another and higher mode of understanding will take place. In the case of recollection, being an act performed through a bodily organ, it cannot remain in the soul after death, unless recollection is taken equivocally for the understanding of things one knew before. Since the intelligible species are received into the possible intellect inexpugnably, there must be present in the separated soul even the things that it knew in this life.