On The Primacy Of The Intellect -- By: Gordon H. Clark

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 005:2 (May 1943)
Article: On The Primacy Of The Intellect
Author: Gordon H. Clark

On The Primacy Of The Intellect

Gordon H. Clark

RELIGIOUS activity assumes many forms; in the service of God all the functions of consciousness are involved. The questions here raised are, whether any order may be found among such activities, and what is the principle that determines such order. In particular this discussion aims to emphasize the role of the intellect in the life of Christian devotion.

To this end some grouping of conscious acts is necessary. In the past the various mental functions or conscious states have been classified according to different schemes. For example, while St. Augustine made several divisions, he often spoke of memory, intellect, and will. A later Augustinian, St. Bonaventura, listed the faculties of the soul as vegetative, sensitive, and rational — the latter uniting both intellect and will. At the present time a more common division is emotion, will, and intellect. St. Bonaventura’s identification of intellect and will may eventually prove to be a better classification than either St. Augustine’s or the common division of the present day. But inasmuch as nearly all religious psychology since the time of Kant has assumed that volition and intellection are distinct, this discussion will be conducted within the limits of the modern classification.

Without in the least denying the necessity of some scheme of dividing conscious activity, it is also necessary, in order to avoid misunderstanding, explicitly to reject the so-called faculty psychology. A man is not a compound of three things, an intellect, a will, and an emotion. Each man is a single personality. Long ago Plato showed the sophistic, skeptical results of making man a wooden horse of Troy and destroying his unitary personality. Emotion, will, and intellect are not three things, each independent of the other, mysteriously and accidentally inhabiting one body. These three are simply

three activities of a single consciousness that sometimes thinks, sometimes feels, and sometimes wills. For this reason one must recognize that religion in general and Christianity in particular makes its appeal to the whole man. Strictly there is no such thing as a discrete part of man; other than conceptually it is often difficult if not impossible to separate these three functions. When a normal human being experiences an emotion, he may easily will an action; when he exercises his volition, he ought to have some knowledge of the situation; though to be sure he may employ his intellect and even his will without much emotion. Since these three, then, are actions of a person, the unity of personality must be regarded as basic throughout the whole discussion — it is the individual person who acts in several ways. Therefo...

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