We have established up to this point that all finality in this universe must ultimately be reducible to some intelligence as its source since only intelligence is capable of being the originating source of conscious and self-determined finality. The basic reason for this conclusion was the necessary immateriality of the self-determined agent acting for an end. The necessary transcendence of time, the intelligibility of the possible as such and the intelligibility of relations (now-future, actual-possible, means-end, etc.) are within the capacity of an intrinsically immaterial intelligent agent alone.
We recall that the end must be present in an immaterial fashion in the agent since it is not yet physically existing according to its own nature. This immaterial existence is a form of ideal existence: the end is present in the intelligent agent as an idea. This very presence of the end in an ideal fashion St. Thomas calls intentional presence. Thus intentionality spells an order of immateriality and intelligibility.
Let us consider the fact that an external thing understood by us does not exist in our intellect according to its own nature; rather, it is necessary that its species be in our intellect, and through this species the intellect comes to be in act. Once in act through this species as through its own form, the intellect knows the thing itself. This is not to be understood in the sense that the act of understanding itself is an action proceeding to the thing understood as heating proceeds to the heated thing. Understanding remains in the one understanding because the above mentioned species which is a principle of intellectual operation as a form, is the likeness of the thing understood.
We must further consider that the intellect having been informed by the species of the thing, by an act of understanding forms within itself a certain intention of the thing understood, that is to say, its notion which the definition signifies. This is a necessary point because the intellect understands a present and an absent thing indifferently. In this the imagination agrees with the intellect. But the intellect has the characteristic in addition, namely, that it understands a thing as separated from material conditions, without which a thing does not exist in reality. But this could not take place unless the intellect formed the above-mentioned intention for itself. Now since this understood intention is, as it were, a terminus of intelligible operation, it is distinct from the intelligible species that actualizes the intellect and that we must consider the principle of intellectual operation, though both are a likeness of the thing understood. For, by the fact that the intelligible species, which is the form of the intellect and the principle of understanding, is the likeness of the external thing it follows that the intellect forms an intention like that thing since as a thing is, such are its works. And because the understood intention is like something, it follows that the intellect, by forming such an intention, knows that thing.65
Finality presupposes necessarily the intentional order without which there simply would not be any finality at all, since we already established that the order of the ideal or intentional is an indispensable condition for self -determined origination of finality by some intelligence, which must be the cause of all finality. Now since this finality belongs to all beings (every agent acts for an end), it follows, that through finality all being somehow participates in the intentional and thus in the ideal. Finality pervades all reality since every agent acts for an end. We also recall that finality admits gradation in different beings; it is realized in different degrees. In the most proper sense it is the domain of intelligence which is its self-determined and conscious originating source. The lower form of finality, the infra-intelligent cognitive finality of the animal and the finality of the non-cognitive order of being must also be derived from the same originating source: the intentionality of an intelligent agent of some sort, and, as determined finally, participate somehow in the intentional order although in an analogical and derivative mode, i.e., conscious or unconscious although not self-determined. There exists an obvious gradation here and thus participation in the order of the intentional.
This is quite clear to one who observes the nature of things. He will find, in fact, if he makes a careful consideration, that the diversity of things is accomplished by means of gradations. Indeed he will find plants above inanimate bodies and above plants irrational animals and above them intellectual substances. And among individuals he will find a diversity based on the fact that some are more perfect than others, inasmuch as the highest members of a lower genus seem quite close to the next higher genus.66
This gradation which is determined by the diversity of forms is based on a different relationship of those forms to matter in different beings. And since forms determine the mode of action the operations of each being depend on this relationship. St. Thomas points this out very often, e.g.
From the diversity of forms there also follows a diverse relationship of matter to things. In fact, since forms differ because some are more perfect than others, there are some of them so perfect that they are self-subsistent and self-complete, requiring no substructure of matter. But other forms cannot perfectly subsist by themselves, and do require matter as a foundation. So that what does subsist is not simply form, nor yet merely matter, but a thing composed of both.67
And somewhat later he continues: “Moreover as a result of the diversified relationship to matter, there follows a diversity of agents and patients…those things whose forms are more perfect and less material must act on those that are more material and whose forms are more imperfect.”68 “The immateriality of a thing is the reason why it can know, and the mode of its non-materiality sets the measure of its knowledge. Plants are unable to know because they are so earthbound, but sense is cognitive because it receives non-material impressions, while the mind is freer still and less involved in matter.”69Immaterial, intelligible, intentional mean ideal. To the degree something participates in the intentional order it “takes part,” “has a part,” in an idea. Thus an idea is present to all beings since all beings have some part in it, but in an analogical derivative way when we talk of sense-cognition and non-cognitive beings. Thus inanimate and non-cognitive beings are the “lowest” in that respect. This presence of the idea in non-cognitive beings we may call an unconscious, inanimate, incarnate mode of the idea's presence. Then in the realm of life would come theplants and animals. Here the idea is more perfectly present in the plant (life) and still more perfectly in sense-awareness and activity of the animal, where it is consciously present although in a sense-mode intrinsically dependent on conditions of materiality in an essentially instinctual, not self-determined fashion. Sense-powers participate in the idea in a deficient way since, as has been shown, sense-powers are not a sufficient ground for self-determined and conscious finality. Thus the immateriality of the animal soul is, as intrinsically dependent on matter, sufficient neither for the comprehension of intelligibles nor for transcending time as such, nor for establishing ends for itself since it is incapable of intellectually grasping relations. Nevertheless there is a higher participation in intentionality here.
With the self-determined finality of an intelligence the idea is consciously and properly in an intrinsically immaterial mode present to the mind, whose product it is, as shown in Chapter IV of this work. All other modes the idea takes, are deficient, improper, analogical modes of its presence. Because of that they are derived from intelligence since whatever perfection indicates a gradation, a participation, does not derive from itself. The being which possesses such perfection has it as taking part in it, as a partaking, and consequently there must be some other which possesses it on its own, which is the source of that perfection and consequently its origin. (St. Thomas says in Summa theologica, Ia, q. 14, 2: “The intelligible form is the divine mind itself, understanding itself by and through itself.”)
Finality, as participation in the order of the ideal or the intentional, indicates that all reality is pervaded according to degrees by the presence of idea, which in turn points to the presence of some mind. St. Thomas explains:
It must be then, that the species of things caused and intended by the intellectual agent exist beforehand in his intellect, as the forms of artifacts exist in the intellect of the artist and are projected from there into their products. So, all the forms that are in the lower substances and all their motions are derived from the intellectual forms which are in the intellect of some substance or substances. Consequently, Boethius says in his book The Trinity that “forms which are in matter have come from forms which are without matter. And on this point Plato’s statement is verified that forms separated from matter are the principles of forms that are in it. Although Plato claimed that they subsist in themselves and immediately cause the sensible things, we assert that they exist in the intellect and cause lower form.”70
“So, then, it is not difficult to see how natural bodies, devoid of knowledge are moved and perform actions for an end. They tend to that end as things directed to it by an intellectual substance.”71
All finality presupposes the intentional presence of an idea and thus since all reality is finally determined it participates in idea. The modes of this participation in idea are (1) most proper and perfect: self-determined and conscious mode of participation (originating finality); (2) derivative analogous mode which again may be subdivided into conscious but not self-determined (animals endowed with sense-powers) and neither conscious nor self-determined participation in idea in the non-cognitive beings. Finality proves that the idea can be present in a deficient incarnate mode of presence in the lower forms of intentionality. It is a graded participated mode of existence of the idea outside the mind. As O'Mahoney so well expresses it:
The world is saturated with idea, with spirit, with law: it is idea crystallized, thought materialized, law realized. The Mind reflects back this inherent intelligibility of things. It answers to the dynamism of reality. It is the term of the evolution of things…Matter, that is, “materia prima,” is as such purely indeterminate, the merest limit and negation. But the moment it has idea towards which it tends insofar as that is possible, it has the germ of activity and prophetically the guarantee of its intelligibility… Mind is the truth of nature.72