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Phantasm and the Vis Cogitativa

A principal goal of this treatise is to offer an analysis of the role of phantasm in the vis cogitativa. In the Posterior Analytics, when considering concept formation with his famous ‘army in retreat’ metaphor, Aristotle suggests that out of aisthesis (sense perception) comes memoria-mneme (repeated sense perception), and from the latter comes emperia (experience—the ‘experience’ of a veteran when compared to a rookie). The vis cogitativa is the faculty by which human perceivers are aware of individuals as individuals of a natural kind; this awareness is then stored in the sense memory (vis memorativa). The intellectus agens next ‘abstracts’ the species intelligibilis from the phantasms found in the sense memory. The argument developed in this book is that a reconstructed account of the vis cogitativa sheds great light on the abstractive process as dependent on memory, which Aristotle suggests with the illusive analogy of the army in retreat. Aquinas himself considers these same issues in his Commentary on the Posterior Analytics. The results of the arguments in this book on inner sense connect nicely with the previous work of Kenny and Geach on intellectual abstraction.

This monograph provides a contemporary explicatio textus discussing the ‘logic’ of the texts central to Aquinas’s account of perception. In addition to the principal arguments, following most chapters, the book includes appendices and at the end a well-developed subject and name index. The book itself contains an important cache of Aquinas texts, probably one of the better collections available in print today. Most of the translations from Aquinas’s writings that appear in this study are modifications of existing English translations or passages specially translated by the author for this book. The commonly used translation of Aquinas’s Commentary on Aristotle’s On the Soul, by Foster and Humphries, appeared over fifty years ago; it was republished under the auspices of the late Ralph Mclnerny at the University of Notre Dame through his Dumb Ox imprint. However, this earlier translation was not from the critical Leonine text, but was based on the 1925 Pirotta edition. The Leonine edition of the Commentary on the Soul, edited by the French Dominican R.-A. Gauthier, appeared in 1984, nearly a century after the Leonine translation venture was undertaken. The 1984 Leonine edition used a different editorial format dividing the texts. Mclnerny’s Dumb Ox edition contains a very useful concordance on the Pirotta and Leonine editions.[1] A new English translation of this Leonine Latin edition prepared and arranged by Robert Pasnau was published in 1999.[2] [3] Pasnau argues that the texts in the Prima Pars of the Summa Theologiae are more approachable source materials in Aquinas for understanding perception theory than texts in the Commentary on Aristotle’s On the Soul. The thrust of the argument in this book disputes that judgement. Pasnau seems less concerned about inner sense than the author of this study. Pasnau is also less interested in the physiological aspects of Aristotle‘s theory and the comments of Aquinas, which he claims dominate the texts in the Commentary.14 In this present book, however, the argument will be articulated and the case defended proposing that the Commentary offers the stronger argument for a complete theory of perception, considering both external and inner sense faculties, than what we find in the more limited analysis of perception issues in the Summa Theologiae. The texts in the Summa Theologiae, moreover, will be augmented by substantive textual references to the Summa Contra

Gentiles, De Veritate, and Quaestiones Disputatae de Anima, among other writings of Aquinas.[4] [5] [6]

In addition to Kenny and Haldane, in the general area of Aquinas studies with special reference to the philosophy of mind, the late Norman Kretzmann, along with his former student Pasnau, started several critical projects translating and writing commentary on medieval texts that are slowly finding their way into mainstream philosophical academia. Kretzmann and another former student, Eleonore Stump, edited the Cambridge Companion to Aquinas,16 which exhibits a largely analytic perspective in its essays on Aquinas. Pasnau’s Thomas Aquinas on Human Nature17 adds a fresh while not always widely accepted perspective to analytic studies in Thomas’s philosophy of mind.[7] [8] Stump’s Aquinas,19 published in the Routledge ‘Arguments of the Philosophers’ series, adds substantive analyses on Aquinas’s theory of mind. Kenny’s recent essay ‘Cognitive Scientism’ continues his discussion of contemporary issues in the philosophy of mind that are connected with the medieval tradition.[9] The recent festschrift for Kenny[10] contains, among other important philosophy essays, Haldane’s recent account of Kenny’s interpretations of Aquinas on mind.[11] Fergus Kerr wrote that Kenny’s Aquinas on Mind has become ‘the classical interpretation in the Anglophone academy of [Aquinas’s] philosophical psychology’.[12] In her Aquinas, Stump disagrees with the analysis put forward by Kenny.[13]

Within the confines of this study, a considerable number of Aquinas scholars, both within and beyond the analytic tradition, who have offered substantive accounts of Aquinas on mind are subject to critical analysis and substantive commentary. The argument proposed here is that none of this select group of philosophers has quite got it right in providing an explicatio textus of inner sense in Thomas. To offer a substantive yet critical analysis of Aquinas’s significant account of inner sense under the general rubric of sensation and perception is the teleological principle on which this study has been undertaken. For example, in his Medieval Philosophy, Kenny is perplexed by the vis cogitativa: ‘Aquinas does not succeed in making clear what he regards as the equivalent human capacity.’[14] The goal of this inquiry is to exhibit intellectual sympathy along with a determination to render as lucid as possible an account of Aquinas on perception, with special emphasis on inner sense. Where possible, the author adopts a willingness to ascertain and explain the philosophical relevance of Aquinas’s integrative work on mind without ‘cheerleading’ or ‘score-keeping’. The result of this analysis offers a coherent yet complex and a sophisticated yet not obscure narrative that is philosophically significant for contemporary issues in the philosophy of mind. This book offers an explicatio textus of the numerous aspects of Aquinas’s view, and traces the intricate relations between those aspects. In the end, this analysis is, as noted above, one of whole cloth and not an isolated set of scattered texts and disconnected commentary.

The analysis put forward in this book should be of interest to historians of philosophy, persons working in the general area of Aristotelian and Aquinian studies in the philosophy of mind, philosophers concerned about the nature of intentionality theory, and persons familiar with the history of psychology. In addition, this book might serve as educational material for those philosophers committed to teaching the history of philosophy from the vantage point of analytic philosophy. If one is to teach the history of philosophy, one must teach it well. And to teach it well demands that it be understood correctly. This book attempts to provide background material, textual reference, conceptual elucidation, and connections with contemporary philosophy in sufficiently robust detail. Hence, this study should assist those philosophers interested in medieval philosophy but trained in analytic philosophy to make better conceptual sense of Aquinas on matters pertaining to sensation and perception. O Quam Spes!

  • [1] Cf. Ralph Mclnerny, Praeambula Fidei: Thomism and the God of the Philosophers (Washington, DC:Catholic University of America Press, 2006), 251-70.
  • [2] Robert Pasnau (translator), Thomas Aquinas: A Commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima (New Haven,Conn.: Yale University Press, 1999). I reviewed Professor Pasnau’s translation in The Medieval Review(Apr. 2000).
  • [3] Pasnau, Thomas Aquinas: Commentary, 10-13.
  • [4] Many of the texts from the Commentary are based on the Foster-Humphries translation. Likewise,many of the Summa Theologiae and Summa Contra Gentiles texts are modifications of the early 20th-c.Shapecoat translations. In many cases, I have modified or retranslated these texts.
  • [5] Norman Kretzmann and Eleonore Stump (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1993).
  • [6] Pasnau, Thomas Aquinas on Human Nature (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002). Theauthor, as a member of the 2003 Program Committee for the Central Division of the AmericanPhilosophical Association, set up a successful ‘Author Meets the Critics’ panel, with Anthony Kenny andMary Sirridge serving as analytic critics of Pasnau’s book.
  • [7] Pasnau is the editor of the Aquinas Project, under the auspices of the Hackett Publishing Company.He also translated and edited a monograph on Aquinas’s philosophy of mind dealing with these issuesin the Summa Theologiae—Thomas Aquinas: Treatise on Human Nature (Summa Theologiae 1a 75-89)(Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002); see also his Theories of Cognition in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge:Cambridge University Press, 1987). In this latter work, Pasnau appears to question the direct realismclaims in Thomas that will be articulated later in this present study.
  • [8] Eleonore Stump, Aquinas (London: Routledge, 2003, 2005).
  • [9] Anthony Kenny, ‘Cognitive Scientism, in Kenny (ed.), From Empedocles to Wittgenstein: HistoricalEssays in Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2008), 149-62.
  • [10] John Cottingham and Peter Hacker (eds), Mind, Method, and Morality: Essays in Honour of AnthonyKenny (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010).
  • [11] John Haldane, ‘Kenny and Aquinas on the Metaphysics of Mind’, in Cottingham and Hacker, Mind,Method, and Morality, 119-39.
  • [12] Fergus Kerr, OP, ‘Thomistica III, New Blackfriars 85(1000) (2004), 628.
  • [13] Stump, Aquinas, 531, n. 107.
  • [14] Anthony Kenny, Medieval Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2007), 235.
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