The Image Account: Position B

The second version of an ‘image’ position for a phantasm, which shall be called ‘Position-B’, argues that a phantasm is an image. However, the image is only found within and employed by the internal sensorium. In contrast to Position-A, the phantasm [1] [2] [3] [4]

is not a constituent component of the process of direct sensation. Many commentators in the scholastic tradition have argued for this position. The following definition is found in the glossary of volume 12 of the Blackfriars English translation of the Summa Theologiae: ‘Sense images [phantasmata], material likenesses of material things [ . . . ] the products of the three internal senses, often the result of a synthesizing process.’33 In considering phantasms, Copleston once offered the following ‘image’ account: ‘The phantasm, or image, which arises in the imagination and which represents the particular material object perceived by the senses, is itself particular [. . . and . . .] the interior images or phantasms of men or trees are always particular.’34 Furthermore, the neo-scholastic manual author Gredt defined a phantasm simply as an ‘imago rei in phantasia existens’,35 In ‘Phantasia in the Philosophy of Aristotle, Philippe adopted a position similar to that of Gredt: ‘The imagination produces an image, a phantasm. This image exists only for and in this act; it does not exist previously.’36 Peifer seems to concur with this interpretation: ‘With the exception of the sensus communis, the rest of the internal senses have not only impressed species, but they also produce an expressed species or image, called by the general name of “phantasm”. ’37 In his analysis of Aquinas’s epistemology, Preller also identified the phantasm with an image: ‘I shall use the terms “mental image” and “phantasm” interchangeably.’38 Martin writes: ‘we are able to make up out of the diverse information coming from the senses a sense image (phantasma) of what is sensed.’39 Pasnau writes:

Phantasms, for Aquinas, are the images or representations produced by phantasia (imagination). Phantasia is a sensory power that uses a corporeal organ (the brain); consequently, phantasms represent particular remembered or imagined sensory experiences. Such phantasms, as Aquinas indicates here, are the basis for intellective cognition.[5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12]

Pasnau, like many commentators on Aquinas’s philosophy of mind, neglects the fact that Aquinas appears to have two uses of phantasia: (a) the position in the Summa Theologiae that identifies the phantasia with the imagination; (b) the alternative position in the Commentary on the Soul in which he appears to use phantasia as a general umbrella category covering all three faculties of the internal sensorium.

Position-B does not claim, it must be emphasized, that a phantasm is an intentional component of direct sensation. Thus, Position-B is not an affirmation of Cartesian indirect realism, representationalism, or any other tertium quid interpretation. Position-B does not entail internalism. Rather, a phantasm is a mental image, which is the product of the internal senses of the internal sensorium. Part of the Position-B interpretation, it should be noted, will be accepted as a correct analysis of phantasm. A phantasm, however, is not necessarily a ‘sense image’. In other words, it is a sufficient condition that a phantasm is a sense image, but it is not a necessary condition for a phantasm’s existence that it be a sense image. Hence, a phantasm is neither coextensive nor identical with a sense image.

In considering the phantasm as an image, therefore, there are two philosophy-of-mind interpretations. Of these two positions, one is acceptable in part while the other should be rejected completely. Position-A destroys the direct realism of Aquinas’s epistemology. It asserts that a phantasm is some type of image within which a per- ceiver is aware during his mental acts of the external senses. Position-B asserts that the phantasm is an image in which a perceiver undertakes either of the two following kinds of mental acts:

  • (a) A perceiver reflects on some object of past experience—as when I think about my deceased Aunt Milly and her wonderful sense of humour.
  • (b) A perceiver constructs a complex image of something never perceived per se— as when I think about Hume’s ‘golden mountain’ or a ‘beer garden’ in Westerville.[13]

Position-A and Position-B, therefore, are neither identical nor coextensive. Moreover, neither is reducible to the other. Although Position-A entails Position-B, Position-B can stand alone and is not dependent upon Position-A. In other words, a direct realist can claim that there is a creative ability and a memorative ability to inner sense without being a representationalist in direct sensation. On the other hand, if one is a representative realist in direct sensation, then any functioning of the internal senses necessarily follows from that representationalism function. If an image is a necessary condition for direct sensation, it follows that it will be a necessary condition for the proper functioning of the imagination and memory. Obviously, representationalism blurs fundamentally the distinction between the external and the internal senses. This is apparent from several passages from early modern philosophers. In such a theory, the problem of connecting the image of direct perception with the physical object is critical.[14]

However, if one were to elucidate a phantasm in terms of Position-A, in order to substantiate this interpretation, tremendous textual difficulties would arise immediately.

Position-A is untenable as an adequate elucidation of a phantasm for the following two reasons:

  • (a) As noted earlier, Aquinas provides an account of representationalism and rejects it.
  • (b) Position-A must be considered in view of the passages in which Aquinas denies explicitly that a phantasm is connected with direct sensation.

However, it has already been established that:

  • (a) Aquinas does not drive an ontological wedge between the mental act of sensation and its physical object.
  • (b) The phantasm is not a part of the process utilizing the external sensorium.

  • [1] E. Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas (St Louis, Mo.: Herder, 1939), 217.
  • [2] Robert Pasnau, Thomas Aquinas: The Treatise on Human Nature: Summa Theologiae 1a 75-89(Indianapolis: Hackett, 2003), 281.
  • [3] Kenny, Metaphysics of Mind, 90. 30 Kenny, Aquinas on Mind, 38. 31 Ibid., 93.
  • [4] 32 Kenny, ‘Intentionality: Aquinas and Wittgenstein, in The Legacy of Wittgenstein.
  • [5] ‘Human Intelligence’, Summa Theologiae vol. 12 (I qq. 84-9), trans. Paul Durbin (London: Eyre &Spottiswoode; New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968), 145; Durbin’s appendices are excellent.
  • [6] Frederick C. Copleston, SJ, History of Philosophy, vol. 2, pt 2 (Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1962), 109.
  • [7] Josephus Gredt, Elementa Philosophiae Aristelico-Thomisticae (Barcelona: Herder, 1961), 418, para. 497.
  • [8] M.-D. Philippe, ‘Phantasia in the Philosophy of Aristotle’, The Thomist 35(1) ( 1971), 24.
  • [9] J. F. Peifer, The Mystery of Knowledge (Albany, NY: Magi Books, 1964), 107.
  • [10] Victor Preller, Divine Science and the Science of God: A Reformulation of Thomas Aquinas (Princeton,NJ: Princeton University Press, 1967), 40.
  • [11] Christopher Martin, The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas: Introductory Readings (London: Routledge,1988), 118. Moreover, nearly every definition of phantasm as rendered by a commentator on Aquinas’sepistemology found in the Intelex Past Masters CD-ROM of the Omnia Opera of Thomas suggests that aphantasm is an image.
  • [12] Robert Pasnau, Thomas Aquinas: A Commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima (New Haven, Conn.: YaleUniversity Press, 1999), 14.
  • [13] Bear in mind that Westerville, Ohio, was what American midwesterners called a ‘dry town5. Anotherexample of this intentional process is a recent advertisement for a well-known brand of Scotch suggestingthat ‘Imagination cannot be confined’!
  • [14] Reading Descartes’s Sixth Meditation or the last section of Moore’s ‘A Defence of Common Sense’indicates that such attempts can be futile. Furthermore, in contemporary discussions, Putnam, Ross, andMcDowell have criticized this tertium quid account of perception.
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