The Soul-Body Problem in Rosmini’s Psychology ?

The Soul-Body Problem in Rosmini’s Psychology ?

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1. Introduction.

Antonio Rosmini is one of the greatest Italian philosophers and theologians who lived in the nineteenth century (Rovereto 1797 – Stresa 1855). The integral concept of being and man reveals the continuity of the Rosminian philosophical system which is highly influenced by the Church Fathers especially St. Augustine and of the Scholastic Theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas. In the Modern era, he represents a metaphysically grounded alternative to Kantian transcendental philosophy of transcendence and the German Idealism, to sensism and the empiricism. Rosmini was a bridge between different epochs and cultures, supporter of an integral philosophico-theological perspective based on the observation of man, confidence in the progress of medical sciences, the harmony between human reason and Christian faith, against irrationalistic attempts and at the same time against the rationalism: two sides of the same coin.

He proposed to investigate the intimate and profound relationship among things, with the conviction that perennial truth resides in human intelligence. He was not just a mere repeater and scholar, but was above all a researcher of truth, witness of spiritual, moral and temporal charity. Notwithstanding the grave omission of Rosminian thought from the official culture, it seems to me that it may be impossible to understand modernity in its complexity without Rosminianism, unless we want to advance a half vision of great cultural, philosophical and theological processes in which the relationship between reason and faith, intelligent finite being and Subsistent Infinite Being (God), faith and culture, person and community, being and becoming are implicated. This historiographic and theoretical awareness is developed due to the notable contribution of Michele Federico Sciacca and his school. The course which Rosmini outlines in his voluminous works (about a hundred volumes) responds to the needs, the expectations, the questions of men of every time. Above all, it is worth noting that the ontologico-metaphysical vision is the foundation of anthropological perspective.1 In fact, the integral view of person is founded on the ontological synthesism of the three forms of being in man:

  1. the objective-ideal being (= lumen intellectus agentis), which is intuited naturally by the mind, the light of reason and intellect;
  2. the real being, which is given by fundamental corporeal feeling;
  3. the moral being, ontological synthesis and full accomplishment of the forms which one realizes in moral freedom.

His anthropological view is very interesting because he dialogues with the European culture of his time and develops a new systematic synthesis between tradition and modernity, philosophy and medicine, reason and faith. He has a global conception of being and person and refuses every reductionism. He recognizes one essence and three forms of being, that is ideal, real and moral. In this context, I would like to explain the essence of the soul as substantial feeling, to propose a metaphysical perspective in the mind-body problem and to expound the question of the immortality of the soul. The source of this reflection is constituted by real human experience, not by a mental abstraction. In particular, it will be good to clarify the terms of relationship between the soul and the brain, which is the unedited version of that specular mind-brain which is much discussed today. The first relationship allows us to distinguish a biological and a metaphysical dimension in the unity of the person. The mind-brain relationship instead remains tied to the naturalistic plane, even if functionalistic or neurobiological, supposing or paving the way to eliminativism. Conscious of the risks inherent in materialism, which conceives man as one dimensional- it suffices to think of the homme machine of Cabanis – Rosmini proposes to broaden the horizons of rationality and to assume human experience (sensible-empirical, spiritual and religious) in its totality.


2. The synthesism of human sciences.

Rosmini wanted to build a new encyclopaedia of sciences that would have been the mirror of complexity and unity of man. Analysis and synthesis, universality and totality are the principle characters of this systematic philosophy. The scientific synthesism is not so much a methodological indication which solicits the collection of different disciplines, but it is the essence of inter-disciplinary dialogue which is the reflection of the intrinsic order of being and man. The correspondence between the forms of being, the human faculties and philosophical knowledge, can be schematized in this way:


The correlation between being, person and sciences shapes the Rosminian perspective of integrity in which an equilibrium is constituted between the parts and the whole of an organism. The ontological dimension of real beings reverberates in the sciences and constitutes their respective methods. In this context, the relative autonomy of psychology to which Rosmini gave a notable contribution, should be understood. The psychology of Rosmini begins with the distinction between complete and incomplete sciences: the first have as their object the whole being (e.g. man) considered in his species and they are divided like the beings themselves are divided; the second have as objects special ways of seeing being, that is to say as many mental beings. The analysis necessarily implies a limitation in relation to mental beings or portions of an object on which investigation is carried out. However, the organism of knowledge is not founded on the limitation of the mind, but on the integral truth of being which is refracted in the prism of its multiple forms and manifestations. Therefore, it is necessary to consider incomplete (or partial) sciences as parts of complete (full) sciences and not to confuse whole being with mental being or the part with the whole. The synthesism of knowledge does not eliminate distinction, analysis, but rather it requires deepening, specialization of knowledge. In the Rosminian reflection, the integral vision of being and man enriches, builds and promotes authentically scientific human progress. Rosmini recognizes the importance and positivity of experimental science-it suffices to think of elements or features of the philosophy of medicine, which he develops in the last volume of psychology-, but predicting and indicating the reductionistic errors of scientific, positivistic and neo-positivistic ideology, which contrast with the integral truth of man. Ultimately, the need for synthesis and systemization of knowledge is linked with the analysis that brings to light clarity and distinction. On an encyclopaedic level, the systematic articulation of the system of truth, psychology is the metaphysical science of perception. If metaphysics is the doctrine of the ultimate truths of reality (finite and infinite), psychology is the science of real being that is the human psyche (human soul) united to the body.

The synthesism between ideological and psychological doctrines is achieved, whose principles are being and sentiments respectively. Since the theory of idea cannot be comprehended without the doctrine of the soul which is informed by being, so also the theory of the soul remains obscure and incomprehensible if it is not connected with the doctrine of being.

Furthermore, the synthesism between psychology and cosmology, both sciences of perception and observation are actualized. Psychology is a material part of philosophical cosmology: man is part of the created universe. But if we consider the source of these two disciplines, cosmology originates from psychology: true beings which form the universe are perceived by the feeling of the soul.

From the Rosminian lesson, the synthesism between psychology and neurophysiology (known today as neurosciences) is inferred, of which it is intended to establish the epistemological status on non reductionistic grounds. This outlook allows for broadening the horizons of rationality and overcoming a naturalistic and materialistic conception. Rosmini advocates for a unitary anthropological vision, that is to say psycho-physical unity of man, open to transcendence, irreducible to the physico-biological dimension, but incarnated in it and conditioned by it. The integration spoken of is not only a fruit of abstraction or a conception, the operation of scientific reason, but is metaphysically rooted in the capacity to tend to the good and to do it, integrating desire, instincts and passions in the ontological order constituted by moral freedom and, lastly, by adhesion to Revelation- Jesus Christ, the true Wisdom and authentic Good of man.

The purpose of Rosmini and his consequent critique of materialism is clearly declared in the first volume of Psychology:

«Modern scientists have divided the human being in two. Some have dealt with the spirit, some with the body. Each side, opposing and despising the other, thinks itself the sole possessor of the whole science. The factions are divided still further as contempt displaces reason. The result is two sciences instead of one; two sciences at loggerheads with one another, two contradictory, bitterly divided sciences. One, less guilty than the other, makes the human being wholly spiritual, a kind of angel miraculously moving a body; the other looks only to matter which, by a much greater miracle, is self-animating and thus capable of doing all that the spirit does. Surely such discord should cease? Science needs to reacquire the unity present in nature; science should be purified of these imperfect, fallacious methods of study which have led to two centuries of disagreement about man, and to inability to attain the knowledge for which we long. In fact, neither the human being proposed by doctors, nor that of certain psychologists, is truly a human being. As far as I can see, the aim of this present work needs no further explanation. My hope is that medical people will not take issue with such a good purpose but, in its light, excuse what is imperfect. They will realise, I hope, that my sole desire (I am not saying that it has been fulfilled) in touching upon their noble endeavours in science is to restore medicine to the dignity it has lacked for so long. We must see that the science of the soul depends on medical science, which forms a great part of psychology. In other words, psychologists who deal with physiology, and physiologists and doctors who deal with the soul, should no longer take one another to task for invading one another’s field. The human being is one; the two sciences are one. Reconciliation and union will prepare the way for a integral, genuine science about the human being»2.

Rosmini does not refuse a legitimacy of division of sciences, but he refuses the reduction of man to one dimension. He approves a distinction (not separation) between psychology and physiology, but also searches the ontological condition of the possibility for an interdisciplinary dialogue. Rosmini extends the traditional psychology, limited to the human mind (intellect) to include also the corporeal dimension of the human being, i.e. body and feeling. Rosmini linked medicine with psychology thus seeking to establish a unity.

Having said that, it cannot be overlooked that the psychology of Rosmini enjoys relative autonomy, despite its importance. A new entity in tradition, psychology for Rosmini is an autonomous science both in methods and in contents: «psychology as science must be asked the capacity to construct a system of cognitions demonstrated, dependent on only one principle, which is the very object of science»3. Rosmini can be considered rightly as the precursor of the contemporary psychological revolution, because many innovations were expressed by him without the exaggerations or restrictions which will later be manifested in some psychologistic tendencies. There is a profoundly unjust forgetfulness of Rosmini’s contribution within the circle of European philosophical knowledge, wanting to consider the studies from an historical character only. And still, the value of Rosminian reflection is deduced from the fact «be it for its speculative rigour or in its full obedience to experience, finds actualized in the reality of the human subject, and truly under the philosophical profile of that law of synthesism which in theosophy was revealing itself as the true law of all that is … Rosmini has opened the field of a psychology so organically integrated in the encyclopaedia of sciences to be anchored to ontology thanks to its rational and scientific basis, and to metaphysics thanks to its object, which is real being; while the channels of access are indicated and the method for its scientific inquiry, of which they are already experiencing effectively the applicability in the field of psychoanalytical therapy by some initiatives that dare to go against the current»4. Continuing the reflection of the New Essay concerning The Origin of Ideas and that of the Anthropology as an Aid to Moral Science, Psychology carries out a metaphysical reflection which will be completed, at least in intention, in Theosophy.

What is amazing is the extraordinary analytical capacity combined with a integral vision of the finite human spirit which is situated in the extensive and intensive horizon of the whole being. This naturally implies the integration of psychology with a system of encyclopaedic sciences.

3. The object and Method of Psychology.

The object of psychology is the real entity, the living reality of man and, in particular, of the human soul. In relation to the fundamental distinction between incomplete or partial and complete or whole sciences, it is necessary to find the place thus psychology, the science of soul, occupies in the encyclopaedia of philosophical sciences, what its content, may be the method employed by it. The soul is not the whole man if man is understood as human nature or if the soul is considered to be divided from the body. In this case, psychology is an incomplete or partial science. Because the soul is part of man, Rosmini in some occasion affirms that psychology is part of anthropology. Man as a whole is in the soul united to the body (integral anthropology). As we shall see, the corporeal material extension is the term and the matter of the feeling of the soul. It is impossible to speak about the soul, the principle of feeling, without speaking about the contextually of man as a whole. What is entirely external to the soul, does not belong to man, it is outside of man: «the body pertains to the human being only in so far as it is in the soul»5. Psychology, the science of perception and observation, is integrated within the scheme of metaphysical sciences. Its object of study is the real intelligent finite being, that is the human soul united to the body, its activities and faculty, the laws which regulate its activities. There emerges a continuity with the philosophical psychology of modernity, intended to overcome the dualistic fracture of Cartesian style between psychicity and corporeity, while on the other hand, its epistemological status made it such that it becomes an intersection between theosophical disciplines and those of the medical scientific field, in particular neurology and neurosciences.

The rosminian example is of extreme vigour if one thinks of the attempt to grasp the unity of human being, in the scientific synthesis between psychology and medicine, psychology and theosophy, philosophical psychology and scientific psychology and, lastly, in ontological synthesis from which the psychosomatic one derives. Compared to the empiricistic psychologies of the first half of the eighteenth century which came into being as a result of the process of deconstruction of metaphysical subjectivity – began with the fracture operated by Descartes and culminated in Hume and Kant -, the Rosminian’s constitutes a significant exception in respect to the consolidated tradition of metaphysical or rational psychology of Wolff or Leibniz. The method of Rosminian psychology is synthetico-analytical. The analysis presupposes a primordial ontological synthesis which precedes the operations of the mind and makes its expression possible. If there were no thinking and reflecting subject, there would not be a psychological speculation and a relative objectification of conscience in the light of being, primum cognitum, condition of the possibility of the intelligible world, of acquired ideas and also of the operations of the mind. The phenomenological reduction of Husserl and of contemporary Phenomenology was already practised by Rosmini, as can be observed in psychology and moral anthropology. The use of a method which we could define phenomenological happens always in the ontological and metaphysical context of human existence which characterizes the validity and limits and indicates the ultimate finalities of the method used. From a methodological point of view, the ontological and psychological research on human soul proceeds from the phenomenon of SELF-consciousness to the foundation of the substantial unique subject, from the evidence of self knowledge of the I (self) to the essence of the soul, through a reduction to the essential, an epochÈ on the sensible forms. All that is left outside of the interior observation is not eliminated, but rather fully accepted and recognized as constitutive of our corporeity. Through this way one has access to the total primary feeling, well beyond any analytical distinction of the spirit and body.

In the outline of the philosophy of medicine which Rosmini draws in the last volume of psychology, the Hippocratic method, which is founded on the principles of beneficence and non maleficence, there is a connection to the experimental one. From this point of view, Rosminian interests acquire particular relevance for neurophysiology, which in the last decades has developed extraordinarily, herald of promising applications in the medical and scientific field. What is of interest to underline is the Rosminian anthropological vision which proposes unity and totality. The development of neurosciences assumes an exemplary relevance in this context, but certainly does not exhaust the point of reference which is man in his totality and unity of body-brain and soul. Also, the discussion on the soul and the necessary science of the soul, unfortunately abandoned today to the detriment of man, does not remove the validity of the discoveries and the neuro-scientific approaches which decode the physiological structures and the electro-chemical processes of the nervous system. Man is an incarnate and situated existence, but transcends mere biological functionalities, as is inferred by his intelligence and reason opened to being, which philosophical reason and Christian Revelation teach us, but also attested by our interior restlessness, the beautiful works of arts, poets, narration, the capacity to do good without interest and to love the other, to feel his interior movements or attitudes, sentiments and passions.

The law of synthesism pertains not only to the distribution of philosophical sciences, but also to the method of psychology. The method of Psychology is interior observation, meditation about ourselves and our consciousness, but it does not exclude experimental research on the brain and the nervous system. With regard to such, it is worth pointing out that the position of Rosmini coincides neither with vitalism nor animism of the eighteenth century nor with Brown’s excitabilism. That notwithstanding with, he affirms the existence of a vital principle, a feeling of organic excitation. In psychology Rosmini shows he knows in depth the physiology of the nervous system and the physiological researches of the first half of the eighteenth century, the period of great medical scientific ferment. However, the authentic meaning of Rosminian affirmations emerges within the ontological and metaphysical context.

The essential point of the question is that of broadening the horizons of rationality with the aim of overcoming the difficulties in which naturalism, materialism and functionalism lead. In fact, human experience can be understood only in fidelity to the truth of man as a whole, which justifies the overcoming of the dictatorship of one form of knowledge on the other or of one dimension of man to the detriment of the other.

4. Ontological synthesism in man.

Rosmini elaborates an integral human psychology which is based on ontological synthesism of soul-body. The science of human beings, considered in the total unity of his psychic life, embraces spiritual tendencies to being, the basis of the mind, and studies also the phenomena of the body associated with the life of the mind. Introspection and behaviour, if taken in the anthropological context, show their interpretative and psychotherapeutic fruitfulness which is inevitably reverberated in psychological assistance and accompaniment. Rosmini had no therapeutic ambitions, but interpretative, and not even descriptive aims, because his attention was geared towards epistemological foundations of the whole science of man and, in particular, to the ontological presuppositions of anthropology. That does not remove the fact that this integral perspective can be developed to realize the humanization of psychology of which the demand is noticed. Rosmini recognizes in man three forms of being that characterize also the abstract and universal theory of man: real being, ideal being and moral being. Subsistent subjectivity falls within the category of reality. To the category of real being belongs not only the body which characterizes our incarnate existence, but also the soul which is the truth (substance) of man. The act of intelligence is a subjective act and therefore real. Ideal being is the objective interiority, the interior otherness which does not correspond with the subject, being completely different from the last. Although it really distinguishes itself from human mind, the objective being is the form of human intelligence and the universal means of knowledge. In other words, the universal being is the light of reason, the truth known to man by nature of which St. Thomas and St. Augustine speak. Being in universal is a divine element which is in the intellective soul of man, but it is not subsistent God. The moral form of being never constitutes an ontological necessity in man, since moral being is a fulfilment of being which man can attain by free choice and assent to the objective good. From it derives the responsibility of man called to do good in history.

The criticism of materialistic monism, idealistic (spiritualistic) monism and anthropological dualism is accompanied with the proposal of ontological synthesism. a. Materialistic monism against which Rosmini displays critical insight is emblematically represented by Cabanis, Julien Offray La Mettrie (1709-1751), Claude-Adrien Helvetius (1715-1771), Paul Heinrich Dietrich, baron of Holbach (1723-1789) and in general by the idÈologique reductionism of the seventeenth century. The pars destruens of rosminian Psychology would not be comprehensible without the constructive contribution which he shows capable of grasping through a global perspective in which the instances of physiology are directed towards. The horizon of human experience as configured is shown to be conscious of the challenge of the complexity tinged to the ontological synthesism of the forms of being in the finite intelligent being.

In contemporary epochs, the monist and reductionist solution of materialist style is proposed again in various forms: from essential to functionalism, from computational theories to that of artificial intelligence. With this, one does not intend to deny the validity of a necessary methodological process or procedure for the advancement of empirical sciences, but one wants simply to indicate the error of ontological eliminativism. The challenge of complexity demands a philosophy of wholeness: the person is “corpus at anima unus”. This is an integral and not reductionist interpretation of human experience. In relation to the ontological constitution of man, the soul and body are two incomplete substances or, better, two principles of the one substance: a spiritual dimension and a corporeal dimension. The only complete substance is anthropological synolon, the living synthesis. With philosophical reflection, it is possible to distinguish ((gr. analuein) without separation. On this dynamic of existence the dialectic of thinking is interwoven, reason for which the point of arrival of the speculation about man represents an enrichment of the understanding which nothing intentionally creates or nothing destroys, not even understands in an exhaustive manner, being present always in the consciousness of the philosopher the irreducibility of human being to dialectical and dianoetical categorization of thought.

For the ontological law of synthesis, there is no principle without term and there is no term without principle in the human condition. It is noteworthy that this does not in any way compromise the discussion about the immortality of the soul: the death of man and the destruction of our mortal body does not involve the destruction of the soul and it implies that it is immortal and is put in relationship with a transfigured body in the resurrection of the flesh, as we will see later. There is no trace of dualism in the Rosminian conception, for which man is an ontological synthesis, which is given in the dual unity of the soul and body. To this may be added the difference clearly indicated by Rosmini between animated beings and inanimate beings. The substantial subjects are sensitive or intellective beings, while the latter are not subjects, but to them is due the name of substance in as much as our mind conceives them with an act of subsisting which is theirs. In the anthropological synthesis there is a subjective and intellectual act of intuition which is opened to the objective being and there’s the fundamental feeling of the body with the vital and sensual instincts. The fundamental feeling and the being are two constitutive elements of the ego. The person, for Rosmini, is a substantial individual inasmuch as he contains an active principle, supreme and incommunicable. He is an intellective subject inasmuch as he contains an active supreme and intelligent principle. Every person is essentially one, a unity, an irreducible and unrepeatable singularity.

The unity of the soul with the body can be observed in the three fundamental acts of the soul: the act with which the soul feels the sensible body; the act with which it perceives being in universal; the act with which it perceives its own body as a being, seeing it in universal being.

5. From Consciousness to the discovery of the Unconscious.

The point of departure of psychological investigations is constituted by self-knowledge or self-consciousness. Myself is an active principle in a given nature in so far as this principle is conscious of itself and enunciates its own act. The pure notion of the soul can only be attained from myself. It is in consciousness of our own soul that we can discover what the soul is in general; consciousness of ourselves provides information about the feeling of the soul, which is one of the first rudiments of our cognitions. The consciousness of ourselves is the principle of the science of the soul or psychology. In the Rosmini’s Psychology, the word consciousness is taken up with the meaning of self-consciousness or knowledge of self. Substantial feeling indicates, instead, the essence of the human soul. In other words, the phenomenological and psychological analysis is deepened in the metaphysical direction. Today, the question of consciousness is being proposed again as a hard problem to use the words of Chalmers. Nevertheless, it is not at all a new question in philosophical reflection, but it finds its root in modernity and here it finds the most appropriate theoretical context for the metaphysical solution of which the contemporary epoch is deprived of, avoiding reductionism, as in Chalmers and Nagel, but remaining essentially aporetical and therefore difficult to solve. Daniel Dennett proposes «to consider only that which the mind observes, assuming impersonal and materialistic perspective of contemporary science»6. The point of departure of materialistic formulations is represented by an objective, materialistic and impersonal world of physical sciences. The explanation of consciousness is not given by observable or verifiable phenomenon rather than in the foundation of which there is a need to take into consideration the metaphysical reflection. Nagel, instead, in the volume The view from nowhere, in contrast to Dennett, sustains that «there are things regarding the world and life and ourselves which cannot adequately be comprehended from an absolutely objective (material) point of view… A lot is essentially connected to a particular subjective point of view (personal views of the subject)». The perspective assumed by Nagel refers back to the first person of the acting subject, yet it is not sufficient since the subjectivity has to be integrated in the ideal objectivity of being, the natural moral law which dwells in the consciousness, the foundation and basis of the principle- person, as Rosmini teaches. Nagel has no force to propose a solution to the problem of conscience/consciousness, remaining as such closed in a psychological type of impasse, which can lead to pure subjectivism.

The introspective method which Rosmini proposes implies meditation on the I.How does one move from indubitable certainty of self-consciousness to the pure notion of the soul? The pure notion of the soul is achieved at through a regressive process, a reduction to essential, a regression which is a progress. Starting from the knowledge of self, that is from the I, through a process of investigation into the substantial essence, all that does not pertain immediately to the pure essence of the soul is excluded. In addition, there is a need to free oneself from all substances and qualities that are not found in the perception of our soul and which, therefore, is not licit to arbitrarily addition. Materialism is excluded from this. Besides, an ulterior effort is required to free oneself from actual relationships with reflection, for example self knowledge which is the work of reflection. Thus, the errors of subjectivists are excluded. The I (self consciousness) does not coincide with the pure essence of the soul. The point of arrival is the ontological truth of the subject, his substantial reality, preceding consciousness and reflection. Not something, but the real existence of someone, in his act of being (actus essendi) precedes reasoning, precedes the very knowledge of existing. One must not therefore imagine, but observe the original content of consciousness, that is the principle-person. Finally there is need to free oneself from sensitive acts which depend on the action of external bodies, and also from the act of intellective perception of self (the perception of self is not the soul, but the act of the soul with which the spirit first acquires information about itself). Eliminating all this from the concept of the soul, the first and fundamental feeling which constitutes the substance of the soul and is the object of the subsequent perception of Self remains. At the bottom of the I lies the fundamental feeling, which is originally unconscious. The merit of Rosmini was that of evolving a psychological and metaphysical theory of the unconscious, in relation to the substantial feeling of the soul, the fundamental corporeal feeling and, the first perception of the fundamental corporeal feeling. In regards to the essence of the human soul, the sentient and intelligent principle, Rosmini notices through interior observation that the essence of the soul lies in the substantial feeling that is originally unconscious:

«The soul is expressed by the word myself. If, however, we are to know its primal, essential state, it is necessary to remember that the word expresses, in addition to the concept of the essence of the soul, different relationships with which the mind itself clothes this state through the operations it carries out on it. Having removed the veils of these relationships, we have found in the depth of myself a feeling which, anterior to consciousness, constitutes properly speaking the pure substance of the soul. We now have to meditate on this feeling, defend its existence and describe its nature»7.

As such, we observe that Francesco Bonatelli, a psychologist of the second half of the eighteenth century, in his work, La coscienza e il meccanismo interiore8,puts the psychological question in unequivocal terms, when he affirms that it is essential to grasp the intimate substantial unity of the spiritual subject. However, to his psychological analysis is superimposed a hermeneutics of Rosminianism which is inadequate, because it is contrary to what he sustains. Galluppi and then Rosmini theorized the unconscious, that is the intelligible substratum which precedes and transcends phenomenical collective unity. The feeling of ME and the primitive and immanent perception of Myself precedes self consciousness in as much as it constitutes the foundation and the condition of possibility. The unconscious, well before Freud, has no reductivistic connotation in Rosmini, but is rooted in being in the act or the act of real being of the subject, that is, its substantial feeling. Before the distinction between the soul and the body, the unity of man is in the primary and total feeling, that is in the immediate experience, in the feeling lived in first person with the original feeling, and unconscious, with the immediacy of the subject to himself. It is the fundamental feeling, the fundamental way of feeling existing that is dealt with and not particular feelings:

«My own position is that intellective operations are sensible of their essence. I believe that the essence itself of a human being consists in feeling, as I said. If the actualised human essence were not sensible, it would not be a human being, nor could a human being perceive himself»9.

Sciacca recognizes the metaphysical relevance of the fundamental discovery of the unconscious, as understood by Rosmini, «the unconscious not only as the explanation of pathological or abnormal life, but as its own life in the sense of direct life»10. This complex and unitary feeling incorporates the fundamental corporeal feeling and the intellective feeling. The first is derived from the substantial relationship of the soul with its own body of which every man has immediate experience, and the second springs from the immediate contact of the human mind with the ideal objective being, intuited through nature by man. The rudiments of anthropology and of all human knowledge are therefore the ideal objective being and the fundamental corporeal feeling. The two postulates are original data of human nature, belonging to direct and immediate life. They are put in us simultaneously by virtue of ontological synthesism. Furthermore, being and feeling are unconscious inasmuch as they precede consciousness, that is they are elements which are deduced from human nature and not from speculation. Judgement is made about them, which is nothing but the application of ideal being to feeling, and reflection is applied and exercised on them.

We said that the principle of psychology is what we know of our soul in the perception of ourselves. The perception, like we will see, can be immediate and reflex. The ego is the perception of consciousness which the soul has of itself. On the other hand it is self-consciousness. The soul enunciating myself is a real soul, it does not express simply the concept, but also the perception of the soul. That word adds perceived reality to the noun soul (that is, to the idea, the essence of the soul). Myself is not the perception of any soul whatsoever, but of my own soul. Rosmini specifies that we must not confuse the soul with its consciousness, the soul with the act by which the soul says: myself. Reflection by the soul is not to be confused with the soul itself. Consciousness, enunciation of myself and reflection are all accidents and modifications of the soul. The human soul is a substantial feeling which expresses itself through the word myself. The concept of soul must be sought free from everything that the operations of the mind may have added when composing it. Myself does not express the pure concept of the soul. The pure notion of the soul can only be attained from myself by stripping myself of all that is foreign to this notion. The essence of the soul is in the fundamental feeling in so far as this feeling is substance and subject. It’s necessary to proceed from consciousness of Self to substantial feeling or soul. The intelligent principle is constituted by the idea of being intuited of human mind the sentient principle is constituted by a primary feeling, which Rosmini calls the fundamental feeling upon which the secondary feelings depend on. There’s a fundamental feeling of Soul from which we have consciousness after reflection. This feeling is originally unconsciousness. Freud isn’t the first to speak about the unconsciousness11. He finds within the depth of the self a feeling which, anterior to conscience, constitutes properly speaking the pure substance of the soul. The properties of the soul according to Rosmini are simplicity, unity, spirituality and immortality. Proof of these properties are found in consciousness. No one denies that the soul at its origin and through its nature has the faculty of feeling. Not everyone will grant, however, that it also possesses the act of feeling. They say that the act is one thing, the faculty another. It is, of course, true that a particular act is very different from the faculty that produces all the acts. But what we need here is a clear idea of ‘faculty’. This is how I understand it. Certain conditions are necessary if a faculty is to operate. Given these conditions, the faculty operates, that is, it becomes a particular act (a faculty, in so far as it is an act, ceases to be a faculty). Thus the faculty of sight needs light, that of hearing needs undulations from aeriform fluid, that of taste some tasty substance, and so on. Given these conditions, any faculty whatsoever activates itself. I also note that such action depends upon the faculty as a true efficient cause; other conditions influence the actions only as occasions, stimuli and so on. For example, although the balcony window must be open if the sun is to illuminate a room, it is not the balcony window but the rays of the sun which illuminate the room. There is a great difference, therefore, between the merely necessary condition and the cause. Equally, although a movement of air is necessary for me to hear some sound, it is my organ, my faculty of hearing, that hears, not the air. Let us grant, therefore, that the occasion of sensation is altogether different from the cause, and that this cause is the subject or faculty which feels. If the cause of feeling is the faculty, and this operates necessarily, granted certain conditions, the faculty carries out its act in virtue of its own activity, not in virtue of external things. It must, therefore, of itself always be in a certain act. If it did not possess a first act of its own, there would be no way of understanding how it could pass from potency to act. There would be no sufficient reason for such a passage. No action of the body on the soul has the power to draw the soul from acting; the body can only offer an occasion for the soul’s activity. The correct idea of faculty, therefore, is that which makes it consist in a universal act preceding all particular acts. This universal act is then particularised and specified when some individual matter is provided to which the faculty can apply and restrict its activity. Thus, different objects placed successively under an enormous mass of iron are crushed one by one, not because the mass begins to be activated each time, but because it operates, that is, weighs heavily, even if it is not crushing any particular object. If, therefore, the universal faculty of feeling present in the soul is already in act independently of external, particular impulses, the soul feels itself. This proposition is equivalent to saying that, after analysing the ideas we have of the soul, we declare it to be a sentient ens.

The soul, rational sentient intelligent principle, has perception of being and feeling of its body. Ideal being intuited by human mind and the individual subjective experience of the fundamental corporeal feeling are the two postulates of anthropology. The objective being is the form of every intelligence, the light of reason, the first cognition or formal part of knowledge. It is the common determinable minimum which is always present to the mind. Thus Rosmini affirms that the idea of being or ideal being is an indemonstrable postulate which cannot be inferred from the prior cognition, being the only object given to the human subject. Besides perception of being, anthropological reflection demands that the experience of the feeling is given, the pre-rational element, which becomes the material of knowledge when the mind turns its attention to it. The synthesis between intuited being and feeling is revealed in the first intellective perception which the subject has of itself as inseparable unity of soul and body: man sees the feeling of his body in idea, conceives his feeling in the light of being. Also the first act of reason is unconscious and natural.

In summary, important considerations on man are derived from Rosminian philosophical and psychological research. Rosmini examines particularly the substance of the soul, its essence which precedes self consciousness and resides in the fundamental feeling originally unconscious. Man from the first moment of his existence has a fundamental corporeal feeling and the idea of an indeterminate and universal being. The subject, however, does not have its own knowledge. The two elements of human nature are the foundation for the intellectual, physical and moral development: particular and determinate feelings are nothing but the modifications of that first feeling; analogically, acquired ideas are the same feelings in relationship with the idea of being, or relationship of relationships. Lastly, the fact that there is feeling in the soul or any idea does not correspond with the awareness of that feeling or idea by the subject which has its direct and immediate experience. There are feelings and ideas in the soul which man doesn’t notice of for long time. Thanks to the reflection and memory of the past and present, man is given to himself and becomes a conscious subject and therefore responsible for his action, also the author of his future, that is his destiny.

6. Soul and its Faculties.

Rosmini evolves a true and proper science of the soul, which is not placed in opposition to a scientific and experimental method, but it assumes its validity, refuting the ontological reductionism and showing the possibility of setting up a humanistic medicine and psychology in which soul-body ontological synthesism or bond is affirmed. From this comes the criticism of the division introduced by Wolff between empirical psychology, which contains doctrines demonstrated with experience, and rational psychology. If it is true that observation and reasoning are two distinct modes of knowledge, it is also true that there is no empirical observation and experience which may not imply the operation of reason. Of the rest, a collection of sensations is not sufficient for knowledge to which one has access through the intellective perception of sensation, the operation of reason. The conclusion of Rosmini is this:


«No specific difference of method is present, therefore, between empirical and rational psychology. The difference is solely one of degree. What we have to demonstrate in empirical psychology is the fruit of shorter reasoning; what we have to demonstrate in rational psychology is again the fruit of reasoning, but of prolonged reasoning which allows deduction of new truths from preceding truths. This difference of degree does not give rise to two sciences, just as Euclid’s division of his geometry into different books does not give rise to different geometries. His books are certainly not different sciences, but degrees of the same science»12.

Rosmini does not simply intend to write a metaphysical or rational psychology, but to propose an integral anthropology which makes use of the dialectic progression of reasoning and which does not cut off the significant contribution of experimental sciences. This is a characteristic of the Psychology of Rosmini, whose demand of unity and totality in man is more noticeable today than yesterday. The division which we have mentioned, will still be stressed more in the XX century, up to becoming a definitive separation, with the consequent refusal of philosophy and metaphysics considered useless sciences. What is strangely taking place, is also the implicit refusal of psychology which seems to have lost its own autonomy, always relative, and its specificity. Considering the experimental method the only valid one in the psychological sphere, most orientations of the nineteenth century have assumed a reductive vision of man (neurobiological, behaviourism or cognitivism). Rather than recognizing the diversity of levels, of approaches and the necessity of a reciprocal integration, justified by the complex unity of the living human being, psychology has ended up devaluing itself, to the point that today some people hold it to be of no use, beat by neurosciences; others base psychology in the measurements and experiments carried out in laboratories, with hominids, similar to some extent, but profoundly different from men. A great part of contemporary psychology is based on the neo-positivist reduction of psychological dimension to the physiological one. That notwithstanding, the tendencies and aspirations of the spirit are and remain unsuppressed, the reason for which it is desirable to set up an encyclopaedia of sciences that reflects human reality whose complexity cannot be ignored. The soul takes nothing away from the specificity of sciences and neurosciences, or of psychology, because it cannot be an object of experimental investigation, but it constitutes the foundation of human phenomenon, always measurable and noticeable by external observation. It is an object of an interior experience of man, the principle of life which animates the body of which is the form.

The word soul is derived from Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language of the tenth century (10th) B.C. which belongs to the big family of Indo-European language: ·niti= he breathes. In the Greek language, which comes from Sanskrit, we find the word anemos, that is wind. Also the word ψυχή, which for the Greeks meant the vital principle, and therefore the immortal soul separate from the body (Omero, Odissea, XXIV), means breath, just like butterfly. Greek artists depicted psyche with the wings of butterfly to express this concept which contains the whole thought of immortality, just as Dante, the poet, has mentioned. In Latin the words animus and anima, although they are distinct in their meaning, had often been used also haphazardly by the classicists. Giovenale says that the common Creator has given the beasts «Tantum animas, nobis animum quoque» (Sat. 15). Seneca asks: «Animantia quemadmodum divido? Ut dicam, quaedam animum habent, quaedam tantum animam” (Ep. 58). In Hebrew, the word Ruhag, which is translated soul, means wind, breath in the natural sense:

«The word anima [soul] was taken from the word for air (Greek άνεμος) which appears to move of its own accord, and was applied to the sense-principle as the principle of spontaneous movement. Why should we suppose the existence of a soul in bodies if everything happened within them as a result of external, violent movements which are sufficiently explained by physical and chemical forces or by any forces in physical nature? The name `anima’ [soul] must have been chosen in order to indicate something quite different from the possibilities of activity inherent in material forces. What it indicates is sensation, the only phenomenon of nature so different from physical movement as to bear no likeness or proximity to it, although sensation has another kind of relationship with movement, which we shall touch upon later»13.

The soul feels itself because by its essence it is feeling. It is feeling that is felt by itself. The bodies are felt instead by the soul. Therefore, the soul is the principle of feeling intrinsic in feeling. The human soul does not only feel, but perceives intellectively whether the felt bodies or itself. Human soul is at the same time a unique sensitive and intellective principle. The human soul is an intellective and sensitive subject or principle, which by nature has perception of being and a feeling whose end is extended, and certain consequent operations of intelligence and sensitivity. The human soul is an essence resulting from the intellective and supreme principle and from the sensitive-animal principle; where the intellective principle is the principal constituent entity, the subject. The sensitive principle is a divisible entity and can stand on its own, as we see in beasts. But the sensitive principle in man and in brute animals is not identical because although considered as substance in beasts, in man it receives another substantial form from its union with the intellective principle. It is not the substance it once was, therefore, but part of another substance.

The soul is the principle of an active substantial feeling which has for its term space and a body. First and fundamental feeling constitutes the substance of the soul. The human soul is a substantial subject which expresses itself with the monosyllable I. The soul is a subject, a real and subsistent subject. Pure substance of the soul, perceptible to the soul itself, consists of the first and fundamental feeling which is the object of subsequent perception. The soul is the principle of feeling and understanding. The human soul is an original and stable feeling, principle and one subject of all other feelings and all human activities. The human soul is a spiritual substance or spirit: the human soul is a spirit. The soul is a unique substantial subject, that is sentient intelligent principle. Rosmini uses two different words to distinguish two operative principles for the aim of avoiding misunderstanding:

  1. Subject = principle of feeling and acting which is substance
  2. Subject = principle of special feeling or acting which is a simple faculty.

The human soul is that first principle of feeling and understanding which, without ceasing to be one and to have a radical activity, is constituted by an extended feeling and by an understanding which is an indeterminate being. In fact, the postulates of anthropology, the data of nature on which every philosophical reflection is built are the ideal objective being, lumen intellectus, and the experience of the fundamental corporeal feeling. The soul is substance, a first principle of operating in a given order of activity (that is relative to human activity, so that it is not confused with God who is the first universal principle. In this way, Rosmini refutes pantheism). The word substance referred to the first feeling, has to be taken in relation to the principle and not to the term, in relation to the first act since the act which makes feeling to subsist is its principle. The word substance in itself indicates the first act through which all being subsists and therefore embraces all that which he make to subsists, embraces feeling, principle and term.

But then why does Rosmini say that the first feeling is substance only referring itself to the principle? Because in this context Rosmini wants to underline the constitutive character of human subjectivity, that is to say its specific difference in respect to animals. Animals have only the principle of corporeal feeling, but there is no intellective activity in them. According to Rosmini, the name of substantial principles or substance can not be denied these principles or first activities. Rosmini recognizes the existence of psychic and sensible life in animals, of which instinctive behaviour, associative capacity, the organizative one are expressions, for example bees and beavers. The sensitive vital principle is totally different from the rational principle of man. With this, the overcoming of the iatromecchanical conception of Cartesian formulation (according to which animals would be nothing but deterministic machines devoid of sensibility) is carried out and, at the same time, the specific difference between human beings and animals is indicated. It is deduced from the intimate constitution of human soul that it is a unique and simple, sentient and intelligent principle. Such principle is an activity in which virtually all second acts, sensations and intellections are contained. What determines the sphere of this activity is the first feeling and the first known, that is that feeling and knowledge by which nature adheres to the active principle: all sensations which come immediately are virtually understood in the fundamental feeling and the objects of all particular cognitions which can be acquired are understood in the first cognition of initial and virtual being. Human soul has its essence in a first rational principle which is sentient intelligent. The soul is that first principle of feeling and understanding which, without ceasing to be one and to have a unique radical activity, is constituted by extended and corporeal feeling and by an understanding which is an indeterminate being. In other words, the feeling of man incorporates not only the fundamental corporeal feeling, but also the intellective and substantial one. Therefore, it can be said that the human subject has the feeling of himself. Such complex feeling embraces the feeling body and the sentient and intuitive soul being, and also the sentient and intelligent principle in the rational principle which constitutes the subject proper. It is called first principle because the soul is a principle superior to the sensitive principle, a principle that contains virtually within its core the sensitive principle, of such that the actual existence of this principle belongs to the nature of man, and not to the essence of the soul to which it is sufficient that the principle of animal feeling may virtually be contained in it. In Rosminian terms, the soul is spiritual, spirit, immaterial, and real.

In the Rosminian metaphysical perspectives, the soul is the substantial form of the body, but it is not act, production or modification of the body. According to Aristotle, the essence of the soul consists in a «first substantial act of an organic body which has life in potential»14. Rosmini points out or notices that the soul is not an act of the organic body, but «the principle which produces this act. The soul, in a word, produces animation, but is not itself animation»15. If the soul were an act of the body, it would not be distinct from the body. The body is the principle which stimulates and provokes sensations; the soul is the principle which feels and has in itself the sensation (sentient principle), the first principle of life which confers a new act to organic body. The act of the living body is animation and not the soul. Animation which is the life of the body, the act through which the body is alive must not be confused with the soul which is its efficient and formal cause: «Aristotle confused the life of the body with the soul which produces it and gave this latter a definition which does not belong to it but to that one, calling it an act of organic body»16. The body, inasmuch as it is the object of our external observation, is an anatomic body. Animation confers vitality to anatomic body. Acertain act (animation) belongs to animate body of which inanimate body is devoid of. The soul is the substantial form of the body, that is the first active virtue which is found in man, by which he is that being and not another. For Rosmini, therefore, the soul is a first and universal act, which precedes all particular acts, it is a sentient principle, substantial feeling which, simply because it is always in act, feels itself. In the Aristotelian definition of the soul as an act of the body, an act would seem to be a production or a simple modification of the body. As Rosmini observes, although St. Thomas accepted the Aristotelian definition, he did not admit the error which resulted as its consequence. Asking how this may be an act of the body, the intellect, St. Thomas responds:

«human soul is the act of the organic body inasmuch as the body serves it the organ. Nevertheless, it is not necessary that the body is her organ compared to each of her power and virtue, the soul exceeds the proportion of the body»17.

St. Thomas follows the Aristotelian principle of the total operative separation of intelligence from every corporeal dimension, but clearly state a precision that it is not a secundum esse separation that is dealt with. With this he wants to underline the transcendence of the intellective act intent and opened to the truth of being and, at the same time the diversity of substance of the intellective soul compared to the material body. The intellective act is substantially spiritual. The cogitative activities are connected to the operation and structure of the brain, they manifest an excess compared to material structures. The question which we now ask can be expressed in these words: what relationship does the brain have with our rational and spiritual activity? We can say that in relation to the spiritual activities, the brain places itself in the line or direction of material causality, being itself the material condition, but not the first efficient cause which resides in the sentient intelligent principle, which, as Rosmini says, is a first act which always informs the human body. At this point, Rosmini comments like this:

«A part of the soul and the principal, is not act of the body; the Aristotelian definition does not therefore express all its essence if the essence of human soul were nothing but an act of the body, the intellect would not be soul, would not belong to the essence of the soul, not making use of any corporal or body organ; the invincible objection, which does not escape the shrewdness of S. Thomas, where he does not resolve it, but was content to save the most important truth responding simply like this: “possible intellect pursues the concept of human soul in as much as this rises beyond the corporal matter. … possible intellect … does not exceed entirely the essence of the soul, but is what has of supreme in it” (S. TOMMASO, Quaestio de anima, a. II, ad 4).With the abandonment of the Aristotelian definition, «I consider to follow the doctrine of Aquinas … considering that intelligence is not merely a power of human soul, but it is a part of its essence and a substantial and specific part»18.

Having said that, we see that in a passage of psychology Rosmini declares to accept that sensitive soul is the act of the body, as affirms St. Thomas, on condition that the word act is meant principle of the body, which is respectively the limit, that in which the action of the principle ends. According to Rosmini’s view, Aristotle considered only the phenomena of extrasubjective body which do not form the essence of the body, but are mere signs from which we can infer material activity of the body. He did not get to grasp the subjective body, which is given to us by the subjective feeling in which the essence of the body is consisted. That Aristotle stopped at considering only the external phenomena which the body produces on our organs is demonstrated by the fact that he also gave souls to the plants. The vegetative soul of Aristotle devoid of any feeling is nothing but a supposed principle for explaining the extrasubjective phenomena of plants: nutrition, growth, generation and germination. From the essence of human soul come faculties, of which Rosmini deals with in the second part of Psychology. The following synoptic table synthesizes the articulation:


The actual primitive power are sense and the intellect. In the physico-biological order, there is a need to distinguish active potency and passive potency: the fundamental corporeal feeling and the instincts. Also the intellect has a receptive function, that is the perception of being, and an active function, the universal volition of being. The first intellective, immanent and essential operation to every intelligence is the intellectual perception of being. The mind does nothing but receive in itself the object, the virtual and initial being, which generates in the mind an intellective-spiritual feeling. The active potency of the intellect is followed by the activity of the will whose specific act consists in the act of recognition that is in deliberate and conscious assent, adhering to the intrinsic order of being known and loved. The synthesis of the power of the sense and intellect gives origin to the resulting power of reason constituted by the fundamental perception of the feeling of the body. In this case, there is also a need to distinguish between two functions: theoretical reason, mixture of receptivity and activity, and practical reason, active function. From these last come the virtual powers: reflection belongs to theoretical reason and moral power, constituted by moral spontaneity and moral freedom, whose root is practical reason.

7. The human person: creation of the human soul and the generation of man.

The human being is «an intellective and volitive animal subject»19. To be more precise, «the human being is an animal subject endowed with the intuition of indeterminate-ideal being and with the perception of its own corporeal fundamental feeling, and operating in accordance with animality and intelligence»20. The rudiments necessary for every discussion and every reason are being and sentiment.

Rosmini reveals an ontological and moral perspective of the person, who is «a substantial, intelligent individual in so far as the individual contains a supreme, active and incommunicable principle»21. A person is neither merely a substance nor an individual, but a substantial relationship between soul and body, between spiritual principle and his biological nature. The first principle, which unites what has been felt and understood and, at the same time, comprehends the inferior activities, source of reason and will, is called person «in so far as virtually it contains one supreme activity ruling all other activities»22. Ontologically and metaphysically based personalism is the necessary support for medicine and science. The extraordinary development of neuroscience helps us to understand the physiological and psychological aspects involved in the psychosomatic unity of man, defended by Rosmini. However, the latter is not sufficient, if one does not also appreciate the value and ontological dignity of the person. Man is not only his biological nature, but is someone.

The question of the human soul’s origins is addressed in Rosminian terminology in the context of the metaphysics of creation. In considering his works Psychology (1846-1848), Anthropology as an aid to moral science(1838), Theosophy and finally, Theological Anthropology, we can state that Rosmini regards union between body and soul as occurring at the moment of conception, that is to say, at the moment of fertilisation. In the first instant of our existence, the soul created by God, is united to the body, so that man is made up of two parts – a rational soul and a living body. Therefore, belated animation does not exist but rather a human being who possesses corporeal and spiritual vitality in the substantial unity of his being and action, which transcends functionality and orientates his development in correspondence with his essence, directed and orientated towards an end.

In order to clarify Rosmini’s school of thought, one needs to consider all of his psychological, anthropological and metaphysical texts.

Between the specific perfection of the animal organism and the vision of being, there is no time lapse. At the precise moment that the human animal is formed in nature, it is made intelligent because admitted to the vision of being through a law of nature established by the Creator at the beginning23.

According to Rosmini, generation of humans cannot be explained without reference to the intervention of God Himself, who creates the intellective soul: Rosmini does not explicitly deny that the intellective soul communicates itself ex traduce, inasmuch as a person cannot be multiplied nor is he or she reproducible in a serial manner. On the basis of the incommunicability of the person, Rosmini maintains a Creationist position and confutes the Traducianism of Tertullian, according to which the soul comes from the parents. In short, “God creates an intellective soul every time that man generates an individual”24. Such philosophical reflections are in harmony with the theological dogma of original sin; a moral stain of the soul caused by the free will of the first man, regarding lapsed human nature (and not corrupt). Moreover, original sin is proper to the subject25 who receives it, because the will, in its first natural, initial, spontaneous act (not being free), adheres to the fallen and wounded nature received by the parents.

In spite of limited biological knowledge available on the subject of human generation in the first half of the nineteenth century, it is interesting to note that in Rosmini’s opinion, the intellective principle is created immediately by God in the act of human fertilisation, that is to say, when the male and female seeds constitute a new individual: “In human generation, we say that formation of the animal, with separation and fusion of the parts that make up the embryo, and formation of the intelligent principle, together with the same being given the property of being, is a simultaneous occurrence; such a property is already granted to human nature from the beginning, on the one condition that the latter becomes formed in its organic part; and therefore, it is given to all descendants of the first man in the same act in which it was given to the first man”26. Even more explicitly, he refutes the hypothesis of belated animation of Aristotelian origin – a theory also accepted by St. Thomas to confute Traducianism, while affirming, however, respect of the human being in all circumstances -, Rosmini states:

«Progress of observations on the development of the human foetus gives one to believe that it is improbable that it become animated with a human soul only after many days after conception, as Aristotle supposes, but rather that it has a soul from the beginning of conception»27.

In regards to the question of a person’s origins, the current relevance of Rosmini is evident. The ethics of human life, in the perspective of Rosmini’s personalism of a metaphysical basis, can undoubtedly find philosophical reasons that are significantly relevant to the matter of respect for the human person, who is an end in himself/herself and never a means to be used or eliminated.

8. One’s own subjective and extra-subjective body.

The body is a substance equipped with extension, which we perceive inasmuch as it exercises an action or energy in us. The corporeal entity is the subject of sensitive qualities which produce sensations and therefore, it is the near cause of external sensations. Furthermore, two species of body exist: our body and external bodies: the former exerts a constant and uniform action in our spirit, which gives rise to the fundamental sentiment of life in us; the other bodies modify the material of the fundamental sentiment and thus produce partial and transitory sentiments. What is interesting to emphasise here is the ontological and phenomenological constitution of our body. On this matter, Rosmini distinguishes between two modalities of perception which everyone has of their own body:

  1. our subjective body;
  2. our extra-subjective (anatomical) body.

Similarly, the German philosophy of the twentieth century made a distinction between Kˆrper and Leib. Kˆrper is the material reality which presents itself through the senses. Rosmini refers to such perception of our body as being extra-subjective. Leib is the corporeal condition, the comprehensive and unitary experience of one’s own corporeity, the body which belongs to the person himself. Such a distinction we already find in Rosmini who, in order to indicate the body’s belonging to human nature, uses the term consoggetto (“con-subject”). A century before Husserl, Antonio Rosmini elaborated the doctrine of the “fundamental corporeal sentiment”, which manifests not only the use of a method that we could define phenomenological, but also an eminently ontological perspective. The fundamental sentiment precedes consciousness, insofar as it is the unequivocal sign of human nature, and of the unity between soul and body. Contemporary phenomenology of Husserl in particular, but also that of Merleau Ponty, Ricoeur and Marion, has demonstrated the anthropological relevance of the concept of life lived by the person himself, and of the corporeity and intentional character of the conscience, as discovered by Brentano. By integrating phenomenological and ontological perspectives, the objective character of cognitive intentionality becomes apparent, which is founded on the intuition of an intelligible, ideal or objective being. Moreover, in the context of metaphysical subjectivity, the body is incorporated in its relationship and link with the self. Accordingly, one refers to a subjective body, intended as being consentient and a con-subject. The Cartesian assumption of the existence of a representative self-consciousness of the self as a thinking substance is surpassed by the total adherence of the person to his being real, a substantial unity and a complex of body and soul.

Subjective experience is based on the fundamental corporeal sentiment, which is the action of our body in the soul. The fundamental sentiment of one’s body is a synthesis or dual unity of the sentient principle and the extent of that which has been felt: the sensitive principle feels all parts of the body in which a sentiment is diffused. It concerns a limited sentiment which is not represented, that is to say, in such a sentiment, one has neither the perception of external limits nor of shapes. Bodily sentiments or sensations are modifications of the fundamental sentiment. Phenomena that are related to anatomy and physiology belong to the extra-subjective experience of the body that is made possible by sensations, and can be noted by external observation. The fundamental sentiment, on the other hand, is a different, original and primitive way of feeling the extension of the body. However, as regards the fundamental feeling, Rosmini distinguishes between the sensitive soul and animated body – which form an ontological synthesism – without separating the principle of feeling from the term “felt”. The sentient principle or sensitive soul is an extremely simple active principle to which the explanation of animal phenomena can be traced. Rosmini observes that the activity of the sentient principle on the body manifests itself as the vital instinct or sensuous instinct. On the basis of the distinction mentioned, the soul is immaterial, spiritual and immortal; the body is material, extended and mortal. Therefore, it is not possible to attribute the properties of one to the other, unless one falls into the error of materialism, which claims to explain phenomena of the body solely with laws of matter, or commits the error of animalism, which attributes all phenomena to the rational soul.

9. Soul-body unity: the fundamental corporeal feeling and intellective perception.

According to Rosmini’s terminology, human nature is composed of a soul and body united in a personal manner. The only supreme principle which includes virtually all inferior activities is the substance of the soul. As the active principle is the substance of the human soul – the principle which embraces virtually all other activities in man – it can be considered the form of man. Moreover, «the word form was taken, right back from ancient times, as being the first virtue that can be found in a given being, which means that it is this or that entity rather than (being) another»28. Rosminian psychology represents significant progress from the metaphysical point of view of the hylo-morphic Aristotelian and Thomistic solution. In man, there is only one soul that is the substantial form of the body. Both sensitive and intellectual life come together in the same rational principle, although the substantial sentiment of man is a simple principle which has an extended term and an object that is understood. Rosmini criticises two philosophical systems, sensism, which addresses the question of union between soul and body by reducing everything to the sensitive soul, and rationalism of a Platonic kind29 which concentrates its attention exclusively on the rational principle, considering the body to be a mere instrument that one is to use, a prison of the soul.

The sensitive soul is united to the body by means of feeling. This feeling contains the simple principle (the sentient) and the extended term (the felt). These two elements form one and the same feeling. Soul and body are joined together by way of sentiment. As reality resides in sentiment, there exists a real connection between soul and body. Obviously, one is dealing with two beings which have a different nature, each of which acts and bears upon the other in a different way. What demonstrates the union between soul and body is clearly sentiment, from which are excluded all mechanical laws that explain the reaction of bodies. Therefore, such a union and reciprocal action of soul-body is a relationship of sensitivity30. On the basis of these presumptions, Rosmini confutes both the doctrine of pre-established harmony of Leibniz and that of the occasional causes of Malebranche. The body’s true essence – that consists in being the term of the soul’s sentiment – escapes such philosophical theories. In other words, the relationship of union with the soul is essential to the notion of body. These two elements form one and the same feeling, an ontological and anthropological synthesis. They do not exist without one another: the body, term of the sentiment, is neither isolated nor separated from the soul. This is possible by means of an ontological synthesis. There is only one feeling represented so as to be sentient, from one aspect, and felt, from another aspect. One can be divided from the other by means of an analytical and temporary operation of our speculative intelligence. The immediate principle of corporeal feeling is the sensitive principle which causes feeling to exist, inasmuch as the latter constitutes it together with its term. As long as corporeal feeling exists, it can be perceived by the intellective principle.

In Rosmini’s Psychology, the unity of man is made evident by a primitive, natural perception of feeling. The rational principle is united to the body, which is felt through immanent and natural perception of animal feeling. Intellective perception is the synthesis of being and feeling, an experimental cognition which presupposes, therefore, a global sentiment of the reality which we are, that is, «the pure sensitivity of ourselves to ourselves»31, which is equivalent to saying the existence of every human individual. We have in our soul a first, fundamental perception of our body. This consists in the union of the intellective soul with the body, which gives rise to the human composite. This perception is the first act by which reason exists. With the first perception, the rational principle constantly perceives its own animal-fundamental feeling. The unity of the human being consists in a single feeling proper to the rational principle, a feeling which includes both animal and rational feeling in such a way that the latter contains the former, as the greater contains the less. Hence the human being, in his first state, does not have two feelings, that is, an animal and a rational feeling, but a single, extremely simple feeling which has both a principle and a term. He has a principle, the rational principle and he has a term, the idea of being. In this being, he sees the animal feeling which he experiences. A single ens, object of the single rational principle, is formed, by means of perception, from the subsistent felt thing and from being. This primal, fundamental perception of all that is felt (principle and term) is the marriage-bed where what is real (corporeal-spiritual feeling) together with the essence intuited in the idea form a single thing. This single thing is the human being. We note that feeling includes the whole human being and constitutes his unity. Rational perception extends to corporeal feeling. In the substantial union between the rational principle and animal (corporeal) feeling, the feeling of the body comes to knowledge under the condition of ente (being). Therefore, in rational perception, union is more intimate and perfect than that which occurs in sensorial perception, which is a synthesis of the sentient principle and matter. The sentient principle is the immediate agent in the body; therefore, the rational soul dominates the body, exercising its dominion over the sentient principle, united to itself through perception:

«The rational principle … is the only substantial form constituting man that, by its own virtue, contains the other forms. However, the sensitive principle as such belongs to the matter of man and not to the form. Whereas the form of man is the rational principle, the matter which is informed is not the dead body, but the living animal body, that is to say, the animal feeling, which is informed by way of perception, being elevated by the same to the condition of ente (being), object of the rational soul, and modified in various ways by the soul»32.

One can identify two principles in the primal and fundamental perception to which Rosmini refers – the sensitive and intellective – which preside over life of the body and that of the spirit, respectively. The principle which emerges from the two principles identified is the rational soul united to the body. It should not be supposed that by merely realising such a perception, the soul unites itself to the body, as if there were a “before” and “after” that could be empirically measured, but rather the act of being of man – a contingent and finite being – occurs simultaneously with the same perception of self as a living and organic whole. Perception joins both terms of the human subject, that is, animal feeling and intellective being, preventing intellective virtue from separating itself from sensitive virtue.

The perceiving principle can perceive itself only later, through reflection, when the need to distinguish itself from everything else in its feeling arises on the occasion of external sensations. In the human being therefore, in his natural state at the first moment of life, there is a single, constant fundamental animal and spiritual feeling; and an immanent, rational perception of the animal feeling. In order to explain the union of soul and body, the rational soul has a primal, natural and continuous perception of the animal-fundamental feeling. As the soul is rational, it can be joined to this feeling only by a rational act. The first of all rational acts, the act which communicates directly with the reality of an ens, is perception. Rational perception is an intellective act which specifically characterises the essence of man, who is a rational subject. What we perceive then comes to our knowledge. Therefore, the rational soul knows animal feeling, yet in order to know it, the rational soul must also take part in it; otherwise it would not perceive it. As we have seen, there exists a feeling in its condition of ente (being), not a mere raw feeling. The rational principle perceives being at all levels and also at the level of animal-feeling. Soul-body union is a physical influence, a relationship that is physical, substantial and ontological, so that ex percipiente et percepto fit unum. From the physical union of the one who perceives to what is perceived, the result is the composition of only one substance. The components of the one substance, which is the human being, are truly distinct but not separate, just as the one who perceives is not that which is perceived and vice versa.

We must now investigate whether, in fundamental perception, the soul expresses an affirmation explicitly. The reader may presume that this is my opinion because I have consistently kept the concepts of affirmation and perception together. However, this was done only for particular, transient perceptions to which an explicit assent of the spirit is always, or nearly always, united. However, perception in general can be shown to have three degrees: firstly, apprehension, which is an implicit, habitual affirmation; secondly, explicit affirmation; thirdly, persuasion. At this point, Rosmini asks himself: could the first degree, apprehension or habitual affirmation, exist without actual affirmation? This is precisely what happens in the first perception through which the rational principle has a continuous union with corporeal feeling:

«Animal feeling, because it is one, and without distinguishable boundaries (the distinct boundaries of our body pertain to extrasubjective experience) is indistinguishable from other feelings, which do not yet exist. Moreover, it cannot attract attention because it is uniform, natural and, so far, the only thing perceived (the human being has not yet rationally perceived himself) (cf. 267). Again, the soul does not need to say anything to itself – it would not even know what to say. Nevertheless, despite all this, a kind of implicit, habitual assent, an indistinct affirmation of what comes later, is not excluded from apprehension»33.

This is a description of rational assent or primitive perception. The value of Rosminian theory is thus not only epistemological, but also psychological and ontological.

10. Inobjectivation: Other in the Self, and Self in the Other.

The psychological and ontological relationship of man with another man takes place in the mutual relationship of sentient-intelligent soul and felt body. It is possible due to inobjectivation, an act of the intelligence that reaches perfection when it also involves the inferior powers of sensitivity. Thus the distinction between the phenomenon of empathy, studied particularly by Edith Stein, and Rosminian inobjectivation of a metaphysical nature, becomes evident. This does not mean that one is incompatible with the other; on the contrary, both are connected in the unity and totality of man. However, the ontological and metaphysical perspective is rather the basis of the phenomenological presentation, which is the condition for its capacity to present itself.

11. The death of a human person.

To conclude, I shall seek to justify, from Antonio Rosmini’s point of view, as well as that of Christian tradition, the immortality of rational soul, which never loses its individuality, and ultimately, to justify the resurrection of the body (flesh). Firstly, it is important to observe that man dies; an animal perishes and loses everything. Death is intimately linked to the meaning of life, and is an event, a process that dwells in the heart of subjective individual experience, which is unique, unrepeatable and incommunicable. The perspectives, or contexts of meaning, in which one examines the question of the death of man are varied. We can look at the question: Why does a man die? from a metaphysical, biological and clinical, or religious perspective. In the context of Christian anthropology, these levels do not exclude one another, but rather become integrated. From a metaphysical viewpoint, death of man is the separation of the soul from his own body, that is to say, it implicates detachment of the principle that is the source of vital activity. Awareness of this fact had already been acquired in ancient times. According to the hylo-morphic theory, the definitive break occurs when there is no longer interaction and integration between the vital principle and the biological organism. Therefore, the substantial incarnate soul-animated body relationship is marked by the contingency and precariousness of the human condition, immersed in time which passes:

«The word death means none other than the ceasing of the body in its acts of life and animation: therefore, the word death refers only to the body, and it would be absurd to attribute it to that which is not body. Spirit means a substance which is not body: therefore, the spirit does not succumb to death. But the soul is spirit. Therefore, the soul is immortal»34.

Rosmini adds: «Death is the dissolution of the bodily organism and thus the dissipation of corporeal and organic feeling»35. With death, the intellective soul perceives its own body no longer, but does not cease to intuit the universal being which renders it intellective. Only the organism perishes, with its related bodily sentiment, but death of the intellective soul, which has a feeling of its own immortality, does not correspond to death of the body:

«Man continuously manifests this feeling of his own immortality, in lasting actions and undertakings (that go) beyond the present life, in love of future glory, in disdain of death, in suicide itself, of which only man, and not a beast, is capable; likewise in that strength of mind and heart which a dying man often shows»36.

The biological definition considers the nature of death as a vital phenomenon. For example, today the neurological criterion is commonly accepted as confirmation of death. Finally, the clinical definition depends on the possibilities of diagnosis and prognosis. On a level that is merely biological and physical, Rosmini observes that death does not coincide with the absence of every vital activity; as confirmation of the latter, he cites the phenomena of irritability or counter-stretching of muscles, observed after the death of an animal. Indeed, after death it is possible to verify isolated muscular contractions, and even respiratory movements or heartbeats. Nevertheless, one cannot ignore the fact that such occurrences are isolated phenomena, no longer being regulated by and integrated into the life of a living organism. With the development of intensive therapy, respiration and circulation can even be prolonged artificially.

Therefore, dying is not only an event but also a process. If this is true, cessation of life requires termination of the activities of an organism (respiration, nutrition, state of wakefulness, etc.), a definitive and irreversible termination. The clinical definition, which is a fruit of medical practice of the twentieth century, goes beyond the mere theoretical question, as a result of the ethical problems that arose in application of techniques involved in the care and health of the person. However, while being aware of this new and decisive aspect, one cannot ignore the importance of an objective, metaphysical and anthropological reference, capable of inspiring practice and actions, the therapeutic doctor-patient relationship. At such a level, one does not need to verify in an empirical manner the detachment of the soul from the body, but rather the absence of signs of organised life. Therefore, it is important to have a correct and precise diagnosis of death by establishing reliable and unmistakable signs. The soul’s immortality and the resurrection of the body are matters which Rosmini discusses thoroughly in Antropologia soprannaturale, a posthumous work. Nonetheless, there are also references to the same in Psychology. The soul’s immortality is proven immediately by the knowledge according to which the essence of the soul consists in feeling: all intellective operations are accompanied by sensitivity, which is extremely different from animal feeling. Rosmini infers from this observation that the human soul, separated from the body, conserves its essence, that is to say, its own spiritual feeling which derives from being that is intuited by nature and always connected to the intellective principle; such an incorporeal feeling has nothing to do with animal and represented feelings. Rosmini is inspired by St. Augustine, who confuted the errors of materialistic philosophers who speculated about the nature of the spirit. Instead, according to Rosmini, as well as to Augustine, the soul is incorporeal insofar as it is that which gives life to the body and is immortal insofar as it is a vital spiritual sentiment which has no bodily element37.

The fundamental proof of the human soul’s immortality resides in the law of ontological synthesism: the nature of a substantial subject is determined by its active principle and by its term. Now, the principle continues to exist as long as its natural and immanent term lasts. The natural term of the mind is an ideal, objective, universal, impassive, simple, unchangeable being. As the intellective soul has its own reality which renders it individual, it cannot cease to exist in its individuality. According to Rosmini, the principle of individuation is reality (material or spiritual), and not simply matter38. In summary, the intellective soul is immortal.

Another proof of the soul’s immortality comes from morality. Although one can establish a moral obligation before coming to know the immortality of the soul, morality inevitably leads to dealing with the soul’s immortality, as a necessary consequence. Basically, ethics is founded on the objectivity of being, and requires a spiritual activity which is naturally always incarnated. On the basis of such premises, Rosmini criticises the distinction of Wollf that places empirical psychology as the foundation of moral and political truths. In doing so, he does not intend to deny the importance of neurological and brain research, both empirical and experimental, designed to identify the neurobiological processes involved in decision-making and freedom of man. However, the fundamental question is that of embracing the dynamics of freedom, responsibility and decision-making in the context of an integrated anthropology, as the human being is an incarnated spirit and an animated body. Such integration escapes all reductionist and materialistic points of view. The objectivity of being, which transcends the mere biological functioning of the brain, is the principle of morality. It is the ontological principle of justice. Ecclesiastical writers and Greek philosophers, such as Origen, Lattanzio, and Leonzio, proclaim the unchanging and eternal nature of justice and are certain of its triumph in eternity. The moral virtues lead the person to perfection and make him noble. They achieve man’s happiness, as opposed to what happens with vices. Eternal life reveals itself as an ontological act of merciful justice which involves the being and actions of man, who is free and responsible for his present contribution to history and of his destiny in eternity.

The theological truth of the Resurrection and thus, of the transfigured body of man, belongs to the discussion which concerns the final destination of human souls: the natural perspective completes and perfects itself in the supernatural perspective.

In other words, we are dealing with addition or changing of the primitive feeling and with addition of what is understood, which can only happen through the grace of God: the radical change which concerns the primitive feeling of the human soul brings about a new modality of being as regards the reality that has been felt. Following St. Thomas, Rosmini confirms that the soul’s separation from the body retains a true inclination, a true natural appetite, and a tendency to be united once again to the body39. The addition of intuited being is none other than the realisation of being, an essential object of the mind, through which one makes a passage from the natural or supernatural order:

«Essential being, besides being the light of the mind, therefore also becomes felt. Now, as real being in this case is identical to ideal being, than the principle which first intuited ideal being, still remains identical, although it feels the reality of being. The soul, the substantial subject, does not lose its identity, but acquires a new infinite dignity; and it is the same intellect which intuits the latter and perceives this at the same time»40.

Rosmini shows the plausibility of that which we could define, from a merely philosophical viewpoint, a reasonable hope, in harmony with the postulates of human nature and the essence of man. Facing the questions which he seemed to encounter in his environment, philosophy can say something, at least by means of probable, that is, reasonable, conjectures. Thus Rosmini recognises the distinction of levels, philosophical and theological, but also includes reciprocal integration and consequently, the harmony between natural reason and Christian faith. Death of a person does not coincide with the absolute end, for integrity of human life transcends the contingency of time. Eternal life is beyond space and time; it is not the simple continuation of a present which has been lived, but it differs from time. Being cannot be reduced to chronological and serial time, as would Heidegger’s existentialism, of which weak thought is a derivative. In Christian Revelation, eternal life is God himself, revealed in the face of Christ, through which the intelligent finite being and all Creation participate in eternal life.



1 I wish to refer to my book: S. SPIRI, Essere e sentimento. La persona nella filosofia di A. Rosmini, Citt‡ Nuova, Roma 2004.

2 a . rosmini, Psychology/3: Laws of animality, translated by Denis Cleary and Terence Watson, Rosmini house, Durham 1999, par. 2228; Psicologia, a cura di V. Sala, Citt‡ Nuova, vol. 10/A dell’ Edizione Nazionale Critica, Roma 1989, par. 2228.

3 m.a. raschini, Sintesismo e scienze psicologiche, in id., Rosmini oggi e domani, Marsilio, Venezia 1999, p. 214.

4 id., p. 217.

5 a. rosmini, Psychology/1: Essence of the human soul, translated by Denis Cleary and Terence Watson, Rosmini House, Durham 1999, par. 10; Psicologia, a cura di V. Sala, vol. 9 dell’ Edizione Nazionale Critica, Citt‡ Nuova, Roma 1988, par. 10.

6 d. dennett, The Intentional Stance, MIT Press/A Bradford Book, 1987; it. L’atteggiamento intenzionale, Il Mulino, Bologna 1993, p. 19.

7 a. rosmini, Psychology/1: Essence of the human soul, par. 81.

8 f. bonatelli, La coscienza e il meccanismo interiore. Studi psicologici di F. Bonatelli, Premiata Tipografia e Stereotipia alla Minerva, Padova 1872.

9 a. rosmini, Psychology/1: Essence of the human soul, par. 136.

10 m.f. sciacca, L’uomo questo squilibrato, Marzorati, Milano 1968, p. 98.

11 d. sartori, Discovering Rosmini as a Psychologist, in p.p. ottonello(a cura di), Rosmini e l’enciclopedia delle scienze, Atti del Congresso internazionale diretto da M.A. Raschini, Napoli 22-25 ottobre 1997, Firenze 1998, pp. 315-319.

12 a. rosmini, Psychology/1: Essence of the human soul, par. 33.

13 a. rosmini, Anthropology as an aid to moral science, translated by Denis Cleary and Terence Watson, Rosmini House, Durham 1991, par. 55; Antropologia in servizio della scienza morale, a cura di F. Evain, vol. 24 dell’Edizione Nazionale, Citt‡ Nuova, Roma 1981, par. 55.

14 De Anima, L. II, c. I e II, 412 b 6-7; 424 a 17-24.

15 a. rosmini, Psychology/1: Essence of the human soul, par. 223.

16 id., Anthropology as an aid to moral science,par. 65.

17 S. TOMMASO, De anima. Quaestio unica, a. II, ad 2m; cit. in ROSMINI, Psychology/1: Essence of the human soul, par. 223, note 32.

18 ROSMINI, Psychology/1: Essence of the human soul, par. 223, note 32.

19 a. rosmini, Anthropology as an aid to moral science,par. 22.

20 id., par. 23.

21 id.,par. 832.

22 id., Psychology/1: Essence of the human soul, par. 199.

23 id., par. 654.

24 C. riva, Origine del principio intellettivo in A. Rosmini, in “Teoresi”, Anno X (1955), fasc. 3-4, p. 288.

25A. Rosmini, Antropologia soprannaturale, edited by U. Muratore, vol. 39 dell’Edizione Nazionale Critica, Citt‡ Nuova, Rome 1983, pp. 383f.

26 id., p. 443.

27 id., p. 456. Furthermore, Rosmini states that «in man there is one soul, which is both sensitive and intellective … in the act of conception God creates all that a man has that is intellective and sensitive and therefore the relatives administrate only pure raw and inanimate material» (ID., p. 461); cf. also p. 215; Anthropology as an aid to moral science, par. 812, par. 816, par. 830; Psychology,/1: Essence of the human soul, par. 654.

28 a. rosmini, Psychology/1: Essence of the human soul, par. 206.

29 id., par. 708, note 25; also, par. 714.

30 Cf. a. rosmini, Anthropology as an aid to moral science, par. 23.; a. rosmini, Psychology/1: Essence of the human soul, par. 250.

31 m.f. sciacca, Il pensiero italiano nell’et‡ del Risorgimento, Marzorati, Milan, p. 288.

32 a. rosmini, Psychology/1: Essence of the human soul, p. 343. In the specific case of man, the distinction between the sensitive and intellective principles is justified in an analytical context, but not in the ontological synthesis from which the analysis arises, as an intrinsic requirement of the being and operation of man, and towards which it must tend. The human being has only one rational soul, a substantial subject of two different activities (feeling and understanding), which presume the existence of necessary and indispensable physical and biological functions and structures, but which are not sufficient to bring to being the integrity of man, a synthesis of animality and spirituality. A distinction is also made for activities of the soul, so as not to confuse them, while being aware of the single root of human subjectivity. A separation or division does not derive from the distinction of the two principles, sensitive and intellective (cf. Psychology/1: Essence of the human soul, par. 689). Indeed, Rosmini wishes to indicate both activities or fundamental faculties of the soul, describing also the ontological difference between an animal («feeling that exists by itself, inasmuch as it is considered as the sentient principle» a. rosmini, Anthropology as an aid to moral science, par. 348-349) and man (a rational, animal-intellective subject); (the ontological difference) between simple feeling, which is an act of the animal, and the coming to knowledge of one’s own body as a being in intellective perception, a specific act of the rational subject. Once more, the irreducibility of man to pure materiality or to empiric sensibility becomes evident.

33 rosmini, Psychology/1: Essence of the human soul, par . 270.

34 id., par. 135.

35 id., par. 726.

36 Ibidem.

37 sant’agostino, De Trinitate, X, 9; in a. rosmini, Psychology/1: Essence of the human soul, par. 139.

38 About the principle of individuation:a. rosmini, Psychology/1: Essence of the human soul, par. 419; par. 679; par. 706-707.

39 a. rosmini, Psychology/1: Essence of the human soul, par. 701; cfr. san tommaso, Summa theologica, XXVI, I, ad 6.

40 id., par. 199.