Weinberg and Stump on Aquinas and Phantasia

A second textual issue concerns whether the phantasia is a single internal sense faculty distinct from the faculty of the imagination. While some contemporary historians of medieval philosophy, namely Stump and Weinberg, argue for the existence of two separate faculties, the phantasia and the imagination, there appears to be no textual evidence that Aquinas held that the phantasia itself is a separate, unique, internal sense faculty distinct from the imagination. In other words, he does not adopt the position that phantasia is a distinct internal sense faculty or power along with the other three faculties of inner sense—the imagination, the vis cogitativa, and the sense memory. Weinberg, however, denied this claim when he argued that the phantasia is a separate faculty distinct from the other three. Stump writes: ‘Phantasia proper, as distinct from imagination.’[1] Moreover, Weinberg articulates five separate faculties of internal sense for Aquinas: ‘[T]he sensitive [powers] include the functions of the five exterior senses [sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch] as well as the functions of the interior senses of the common sense, the phantasy, the imagination, the aestimative [or cogitative] capacity, and memory.’[2] Clearly Weinberg has the phantasia listed as a separate faculty of inner sense. In defending this account concerning the number of internal sense faculties in Aquinas’s philosophy of mind, Weinberg fails to provide a convincing argument.[3] In the Summa Contra Gentiles, there appears to be no direct reference to the phantasia as a separate faculty of inner sense distinct from the imagination. When Aquinas refers to the imagination in the Summa Contra Gentiles, he frequently uses ‘vis imaginativa’ or ‘imaginatio’ rather than ‘phantasia’. In addition, Stump writes: ‘Besides the external senses, Aquinas recognizes a number of internal senses: the common sense, phantasia, and imagination, the estimative power and the memorative power.’6 Weinberg, in contrast to Stump, does include the vis cogitativa in his listing. Yet for Weinberg, like Stump, the phantasia is neither identical to nor coextensive with the inner sense faculty known as the imagination.7 Stump appears to arrive at her interpretation of Aquinas on distinguishing phantasia from imagination because she adopts the position that for Aquinas, the phantasia operates when a perceiver is ‘concurrently sensing something’.8 The imagination as an internal sense faculty, however, does not operate concurrently with the external senses.

In opposition to Weinberg’s and Stump’s interpretation of these two faculties of internal sense, textural references abound arguing that Aquinas never held that the phantasia is a faculty of the internal senses distinct and separate from the other faculties delimited in Weinberg’s and Stump’s accounts. Aquinas refers to the phantasia either as another term for the imagination (in Summa Theologiae) or as a generic concept referring to the faculties of inner sense that require phantasms in order to have mental acts (in the Commentary). There are passages in which the imagination itself is discussed as a distinct and unique sense faculty of the internal sensorium. ‘In imagina- tione non solum sunt formae rerum sensibilium secundum quod accipiuntur a sensu, sed transmutatur diversimode’ (Summa Theologiae, I-II q. 173 a. 2.); ‘Vis enim imaginativa est apprehensiva similitudinum corporalium, etiam rebus absentibus quarum similtu- dines’ (q. 15 a. 1).

In order to have the cognitive faculty road map clear for the internal senses, in his frequently cited account of sense knowledge found in the Prima Pars of the Summa Theologiae (q. 78 a. 3 and a. 4), Aquinas identifies the phantasia with the imagination: ‘But for the retention and preservation of these forms [i.e. those acquired through the external senses and conjoined by means of the sensus communis], the phantasia or imagination, which are the same, is appointed’ (Summa Theologiae, I q. 78 a. 4; emphasis added). In the remainder of Article 4, Aquinas discusses the other two faculties of inner sense which require phantasms: the aestimative faculty (which he claims in this text corresponds to the vis cogitativa in humans) and the sense memory: however, cannot justify Weinberg’s interpretation either; it is a discussion entitled ‘That in Human Beings there are not Three Souls: Nutritive, Sensitive and Intellective’; there is no explicit reference to faculties of the internal senses.

  • 6 Eleonore Stump, Aquinas (London: Routledge, 2003), 248. It is interesting to note that Stump makes no mention of the vis cogitativa, which Aquinas mentions in four major works: the Summa Theologiae, the Summa Contra Gentiles, the Sentencia Libri de Anima, and the Quaestiones Disputatae de Veritate.
  • 7 In discussions regarding Weinberg’s account, James B. South wondered how Weinberg got Aquinas’s position so muddled.
  • 8 Stump, Aquinas, 258.

Furthermore, for the apprehension of intentions, which are not received through the external senses, the estimative power is appointed; and for their preservation, the memorative power, which is a storehouse of such intentions. We know this is the case from the fact that the principle of memory in animals is found in some such intention, for instance, that something is harmful or otherwise. And the very character of something as past, which memory observes, is to be reckoned among these intentions.

Moreover, we must keep in mind that in receiving sensible forms, there is no difference between human perceivers and other animals. For they are similarly immuted by external sensible objects. But there is a difference in regard to the intentions mentioned above. For animals other than human perceivers are aware of these intentions only by some sort of natural instinct, while human knowers perceive them by means of a certain comparison. Therefore, this cognitive power, which in other animals is called the natural aestimative [instinct], in humans, is called the cogitative, which by some sort of comparison discovers these intentions [i.e. those not received through the external senses] [. . .] (Summa Theologiae, I q. 78 a. 4)

Aquinas next introduces the positions on the faculties of inner senses held by Avicenna and Averroes:

Avicenna, however, assigns between the aestimative and the imaginative a fifth power, which combines and divides imaginary forms; for instance, when from the imaginary form of gold and the imaginary form of a mountain, we fabricate the one composite imaginary form of a golden mountain, which we have never seen. But this operation is not to be found in animals other than humans; however, in human knowers, the imaginative power suffices for this purpose [i.e. of fabricating images of things not perceived directly]. Furthermore, Averroes attributes this action to the imagination, in his book De Sensu et Sensibilibus. Therefore, it is evident that there is no need to assign more than four interior powers to the sensitive part, namely, the sensus communis, the imagination, the estimative [or cogitative] power, and the memory. (q. 78 a. 4; emphasis added)

In these passages from the Summa Theologiae, three points relevant to Weinberg and Stump’s interpretation of Aquinas must be considered:

  • (a) There is categorically no assertion in the texts of Aquinas that the phantasia is a faculty distinct from the imagination.
  • (b) The phantasia as an internal sense faculty is identified explicitly with the imagination.
  • (c) There is an unequivocally clear proposition that there are only four internal sense faculties.

The Summa Theologiae texts provide sufficient evidence running counter to the interpretive position articulated by Weinberg and Stump. Such confusion on these matters is found often in discussions of the internal sense faculties articulated by Thomas.[4]

  • [1] Eleonore Stump, Aquinas (London: Routledge, 2003), 258.
  • [2] J. R. Weinberg, A Short History of Medieval Philosophy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press,1964), 201.
  • [3] Weinberg refers the reader to the Summa Contra Gentiles, bk IV, ch. 58. However, Weinberg’s referencejustifying a five-faculty set for inner sense is either a misprint or a mistake. Ch. 58 is ‘On the Number ofSacraments of the New Law’; this specific set of texts contains no reference to the faculties of the internalsenses, let alone affirming the proposition that the phantasia is a distinct faculty of inner sense. It is inSumma Contra Gentiles, bk II that Aquinas discusses the faculties of the internal senses. Ch. 58 of bk II,
  • [4] Appendix 1 discusses various interpretations put forward by historians of philosophy in developingtheir respective accounts of inner sense faculties rooted in Aristotle’s De Anima.
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