It is supposed to be common knowledge about the history of ideas that one of the few medieval philosophical contributions preserved in modern philosophical thought is the idea that mental phenomena are distinguished from physical phenomena by their intentionality, their directedness toward some object. As is usually the case with such commonplaces about the history of ideas, this claim is not quite true. Medieval philosophers routinely described ordinary physical phenomena, such as reflections in mirrors or sounds in the air, as (...) exhibiting intentionality, while they described what modern philosophers would take to be typically mental phenomena, such as sensation and imagination, as ordinary physical processes. Still, it is true that medieval philosophers would regard all acts of cognition as characterized by intentionality, on account of which all these acts are some sort of representations of their intended objects. This course is going to provide a broad survey of the conceptual relationships between intentionality, cognition and mental representation as conceived by some of the greatest medieval philosophers, including Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham and Buridan, and some of their lesser known contemporaries. The clarification of these conceptual connections sheds some light not only on the intriguing historical relationships between medieval and modern thought on these issues, but also on some fundamental questions in the philosophy of mind as it is conceived today. (shrink)
This course covers paradigmatic accounts of human nature in ancient, medieval, and early modern philosophy, through a careful reading of selected primary texts and contemporary commentary. Major topics will include knowledge and opinion; body and soul; immortality, rationality, and freedom of the will; created being and goodness as emanations of divine perfection. The main focus of the discussions will be on the metaphysical foundations of moral value in the pre-modern tradition, and the conceptual changes shaking these metaphysical foundations with the (...) emergence of modern philosophy. (shrink)
Anthony Kenny's book is one of the best of its genre, exemplifying the kind of introduction into (some field of) Aquinas's thought that endeavors to make his ideas accessible to the philosophically interested contemporary reader in terms of such philosophical, scientific and everyday concepts with which the reader can safely be assumed to be familiar. Indeed, Kenny's book provides us with such a good example of this genre that it brings into sharp focus the problems of the genre itself. Therefore, (...) while duly acknowledging the book's virtues of clarity of presentation, and its highly readable, almost conversational style, let me concentrate in this brief review on this problematic aspect of Kenny's book, as someone who is just as much concerned with making Aquinas accessible to a contemporary audience as the author is. (shrink)
As is well-known, St. Thomas regarded the notion of one as a transcendental notion, convertible with the notion of being, and thus, as surpassing the boundaries of individual categories. On the other hand, the notion of one is also obviously a numerical notion, and so it should belong to the category of quantity, in particular, to the species of discrete quantity. This apparent conflict can easily be resolved by St. Thomas’s distinction between the notion of the one that is the (...) principle of number and the notion of the one that is convertible with being, provided that the distinction itself is clear enough. However, despite the fact that the notion of one in the context of performing simple arithmetical operations, such as adding one, subtracting one, multiplying or dividing by one, is clear, familiar, and absolutely unambiguous and precise, in a metaphysical context it becomes disturbingly vague, or, in any case, as Aquinas’s need to make this distinction shows, far from unambiguous. (shrink)
One often hears extravagant claims made for the Aristotelian doctrine that "what understands and what is understood are the same" De anima iii.4; 430a4). This identity between knower and what is known, or between percipient and what is perceived, is often said to offer a way out of the familiar skeptical arguments against the possibility of our having knowledge of the external world. Typically such claims are made by students of Thomas Aquinas, who in this way seek to render Aquinas's (...) theory of knowledge immune from the skeptical and idealist controversies of modern philosophy. In this paper I argue that Aquinas put this doctrine of identity to no such use, that in fact he explicitly rejects any such use of the doctrine, and that furthermore no plausible reading of the doctrine could conceivably produce such dramatic results. (shrink)
ex opposito, any methodological doctrine that separates theological dogma from philosophical inquiry increases the autonomy of philosophical inquiry. But the Latin Averroist methodological doctrine of veritas duplex (rather improperly, but not entirely unreasonably called so) separated theological dogma from philosophical inquiry. Therefore, the Latin Averroist methodological doctrine of veritas duplex increased the autonomy of philosophical inquiry.
Summary: The aim of this paper is to explore the relationships between Buridan’s logic and the ontology of modes modi). Modes, not considered to be really distinct from absolute entities, could serve to reduce the ontological commitment of the theory of the categories, and thus they were to become ubiquitous in this role in late medieval and early modern philosophy. After a brief analysis of the most basic argument for the real distinction between entities of several categories (“the argument from (...) separability”), I point out that despite nominalist charges to the contrary, “older realists”—that is, authors working before and around Ockham’s time—were not committed to such real distinctions, and thus to an overpopulated ontology, by their.. (shrink)
Contemporary "essentialism", if we want to provide a succinct, yet sufficiently rigorous characterization, may be summarized in the thesis that some common terms are rigid designators.  By the quotation marks I intend to indicate that I regard this as a somewhat improper (though, of course, permitted) usage of the term (after all, nomina significant ad placitum ). In contrast to this, essentialism, properly so-called, is the Aristotelian doctrine summarizable in the thesis--as we shall see, no less rigorous in its (...) own theoretical context--that things have essences. (shrink)
“The expression ‘free logic’ is an abbreviation for the phrase ‘free of existence assumptions with respect to its terms, general and singular’.”1 Classical quantification theory is not a free logic in this sense, as its standard formulations commonly assume that every singular term in every model is assigned a referent, an element of the universe of discourse. Indeed, since singular terms include not only singular constants, but also variables2, standard quantification theory may be regarded as involving even the assumption of (...) the existence of the values of its variables, in accordance with Quine’s famous dictum: “to be is to be the value of a variable”. (shrink)
This paper examines the multiple semantic functions Aquinas attributes to the verb ‘est’, ranging from signifying the essence of God to acting as a copula of categorical propositions to expressing identity. A case will be made that all these apparently radically diverse functions are unified under Aquinas’s conception of the analogy of being, treating all predications as predications of being with or without some qualification (secundum quid or simpliciter). This understanding of the multiplicity of the semantic functions of this verb (...) as conceived by Aquinas will enable us to have a better understanding of the meaning of his metaphysical claims and arguments. In particular, with this understanding of Aquinas’ conception of being, we will be able to see how Aquinas’s famous “intellectus essentiae” argument for the thesis of the real distinction between essence and existence in creatures can work, despite Anthony Kenny’s arguments to the contrary in his recent book Aquinas on Being. (shrink)
Robert Pasnau’s paper presents a strong thesis, which it does not manage to substantiate. The thesis in question is that the Aristotelian doctrine of the identity of the knower and the known, as interpreted by St. Thomas, cannot possibly be used to fend off skepticism.
In his admirably clear, beautifully argued study, Claude Panaccio has provided an able defense of Ockham’s position in response to an argument I presented against Ockham in a discussion with Peter King eight years ago at a meeting in Pittsburgh.1 But after eight years, and even after Claude’s book, I still stand by that argument. So, in these comments I will attempt to explain why I think Ockham may still not be off the hook.
Is Aquinas a representationalist or a direct realist? Max Herrera’s (and, for that matter, Claude Panaccio’s) qualified answers to each alternative show that the real significance of the question is not that if we answer it, then we can finally learn under which classification Aquinas should fall, but rather that upon considering it we can learn something about the intricacies of the question itself. In these comments I will first argue that the Averroistic notion of “intentional transfer”, combined with the (...) Avicennean idea of the indifference of nature, yielding the Thomistic doctrine of the formal unity of the knower and the known renders the question moot with regard to Aquinas, indeed, with regard to the pre-modern epistemological tradition in general. These considerations will then lead to a number of further, both historical and philosophical questions, which I will offer in the end for further discussion. (shrink)
After Brentano, intentionality is often characterized as “the mark of the mental”. In Brentano‟s view, intentionality “is characteristic exclusively of mental phenomena. No physical phenomenon manifests anything like it”. 2 After Meinong, it is also generally believed that intentionality, as this characteristic mental phenomenon, concerns a specific type of objects, namely, intentional objects, having intentional inexistence, as opposed to ordinary physical objects, having real existence. Thus, intentional objects are supposed to constitute a mysterious ontological realm, the dwelling place of the (...) objects of dreams and fiction, and other “weird entities”, even inconsistent objects, such as round squares. Finally, it is also generally held that intentionality somehow defies logic, as the well-known phenomena of the breakdown of the substitutivity of identicals, the failure of existential generalization, and generally the strange behavior of quantification in intentional contexts testify. In this paper, I will refer to these positions as the psychological, ontological, and logical “myths of intentionality”, respectively. The reason is that although this important modern notion of intentionality and the positions involving it are supposed to have come from medieval philosophy, medieval philosophers would be starkly opposed to them. On the basis of the relevant doctrines of some medieval philosophers, especially, Aquinas and Buridan, this paper is going to argue that the three positions on intentionality described above are in fact just three modern myths. (shrink)
For philosophers who find both a dualistic and a purely materialistic account of the human soul unacceptable, the Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of the soul as the substantial form of the living body may appear to be an intriguing alternative. However, even if one is not afraid of the prospect of committing oneself to an apparently "obsolete" metaphysics, developing such a commitment may not look to be a wise move after all, since upon closer inspection the doctrine may seem to be frustratingly (...) obscure, if not directly self-contradictory. (shrink)
cannot, cover the broad topic indicated in the title. Rather, it will concern itself only with some preliminary ideas leading the way to a larger project, which, however, should eventually bear an even broader title. As a matter of fact, here I will consider at some length only two authors from the beginning of the period indicated in the title, namely, Aquinas and Siger of Brabant. (Or perhaps three authors, provided the anonymous author of the..
`Realism', `conceptualism' and `nominalism' are terms that one is most likely to come across in history of philosophy textbooks, presented as ones labeling three major ontological alternatives provided by mediaeval philosophy. The general inadequacy of these labels is perhaps best shown by the desperate efforts to provide further, modified labels , the well-known `moderate' and `extreme' or `exaggerated' versions of the above, in hopes of implying at least a lesser amount of falsehood in hanging..
In order to make this point, in the next section I will present a very simple, intuitive reconstruction of Anselm’s argument. Then, in the third section, I will show that since the argument thus reconstructed is obviously valid, and it would be foolish to challenge any other of its premises except the assumption that God does not exist in reality, it is a sound proof of God’s existence. Nevertheless, in the fourth section, I will argue further that despite its soundness, (...) this proof can rationally be rejected by anyone who refuses to think.. (shrink)
It is a commonplace in the historiography of medieval philosophy that theology represents philosophy's culmination in the later Middle Ages, and specifically, that it is in the work of theologians and theologically-trained Arts Masters that we find philosophy in its purest and most advanced form. By comparison, the philosophy produced by thinkers who worked exclusively or primarily in the Faculty of Arts is seen as inferior -- by which is usually meant that it is shallow, unsophisticated, immature, and driven by (...) disparate curricular and pedagogical concerns rather than by the more single-minded commitment to rationally articulate that sacred doctrine which, as Aquinas says, "extends [by virtue of its oneness] to things which belong to different philosophical sciences.". (shrink)
This paper provides a comparison of three fundamentally different approaches to the issue of ontological commitment. It argues that despite superficial similarities on either side, Buridan’s approach provides an intriguing third alternative to the two commonly recognized modern approaches. Keywords: ontological commitment, existence, meaning, reference..
"This question, and others, asking about the number of predicates, or of the predicables, or of the categories, or of natural principles, or the elements, etc. are rather difficult and tedious, especially for youngsters, for whom one should explain the logical and sophistic cavils which the more advanced students [need] no longer care about. Therefore, for the sake of freshmen, I posit some easy and [somewhat] facetious conclusions". (p. 183, ll. 2203-2209.).
Saint Anselm’s proof for God’s existence in his Proslogion, as the label “ontological” retrospectively hung on it indicates, is usually treated as involving some sophisticated problem of, or a much less sophisticated tampering with, the concept of existence. In this paper I intend to approach Saint Anselm’s reasoning from a somewhat different angle.
In these comments I am going to argue that Yiwei Zheng's paper, by postulating an imaginary mental language in a proposed new interpretation of Ockham's conception of mental language, provides us with an imaginary solution to what turns out to be an imaginary problem. Having said this, however, I hasten to add that the paper has undeniable merits in pointing us in the right direction for revealing the imaginary character of the problem.
Of those that exist, some are said of a subject, but are in no subject: as man is said of some subject, namely of some man, but is in no subject. Others, however, are in a subject, but are said of no subject. And I say that to be in a subject which, while it is in something not as a part, cannot exist apart from the thing in which it is. For example, some particular literacy is in a subject, (...) namely in the soul, but is not said of any subject, and this whiteness is in a body as in its subject, for any color is in a body. Others both are said of and are in a subject. For example, knowledge is in the soul, and is said of a subject, say, of literacy. Still others neither are in a subject, nor are said of a subject, for example, some particular man, or some particular horse: for none of these is either in or is said of a subject. In general, individuals, and what are numerically one are said of no subject, but nothing prevents them from being in a subject, for some particular literacy is in a subject. (shrink)
Is there a grammar of the name ‘God’? In an obvious and trivial sense there certainly is. This term, being a part of the English language, has to obey the grammatical rules of that language. So, for example, by consulting the relevant textbooks and dictionaries we can establish that ‘God’ is a noun, so it can function as the subject or predicate of simple categorical sentences, but it cannot, for example, function as a verb or a preposition.
Thomas of Sutton was one of the earliest, and by all measures one of the most astute defenders of St. Thomas Aquinas’ characteristic theological and philosophical doctrines. As usual with medieval thinkers, we have little information regarding Sutton’s life..
"What can a scholastic do in the 20 th century?" - asks Katalin Vidrányi in the title of her article written in 1970.  If her characteristically systematic and pithy analysis can be summarized in a single sentence, the author's answer is this: many things, but not too much.
The lectures presented here are the by-product of my teaching in Yale's Directed Studies program from 1991 through 1993 (hence the title, for want of a better). In fact, being what they are, lecture notes for an introductory philosophy course, they present rather elementary material. Yet, I flatter myself, they do not lack certain originality in the treatment of some of the basic questions of traditional metaphysics and epistemology. In any case, over the past couple of years they proved to (...) be quite useful in teaching my several other courses, especially in medieval philosophy. Thus, being too elementary for transforming them into scholarly papers, on the one hand, yet, containing what I think to be both philosophically interesting and pedagogically useful ideas, on the other, I decided to publish them here, in the Net's formally less stringent medium. Here they can easily be accessed by people who think what they need is a clear and simple discussion of the intriguing philosophical points themselves, rather than the meticulous and sometimes cumbersome scholarly discussions of the texts that raised them (a description which fits, at least, the majority of my students). Given these considerations (as well as the author's lack of time), the lectures are presented here basically unedited, in the form as they were actually delivered, without any notes or references (disregarding the occasionally inserted page numbers, serving as reminders for myself, referring to the texts we used in class). However, anyone who is interested in the more detailed scholarly discussion of some of the topics touched upon here may wish to check some of the papers listed on my.. (shrink)
This paper argues that Aquinas's conception of the human soul and intellect offers a consistent alternative to the dilemma of materialism and post-Cartesian dualism. It also argues that in their own theoretical context, Aquinas' arguments for the materiality of the human soul and immateriality of the intellect provide a strong justification of his position. However, that theoretical context is rather "alien" to ours in contemporary philosophy. The conclusion of the paper will point in the direction of what can be done (...) to render Aquinas's position more palatable to contemporary philosophers. (shrink)
Buridan's life, works, and influence -- Buridan's logic and the medieval logical tradition -- The primacy of mental language -- The various kinds of concepts and the idea of a mental language -- Natural language and the idea of a formal syntax in Buridan -- Existential import and the square of opposition -- Ontological commitment -- The properties of terms (proprietates terminorum) -- The semantics of propositions -- Logical validity in a token-based, semantically closed logic -- The possibility of scientific (...) knowledge -- Buridan's anti-skepticism -- Buridan's essentialist nominalism. (shrink)
“The problem of universals” in general is a historically variable bundle of several closely related, yet in different conceptual frameworks rather differently articulated metaphysical, logical, and epistemological questions, ultimately all connected to the issue of how universal cognition of singular things is possible. How do we know, for example, that the Pythagorean theorem holds universally, for all possible right triangles? Indeed, how can we have any awareness of a potential infinity of all possible right triangles, given that we could only (...) see a finite number of actual ones? How can we universally indicate all possible right triangles with the phrase ‘right triangle’? Is there something common to them all signified by this phrase? If so, what is it, and how is it related to the particular right triangles? The medieval problem of universals is a logical, and historical, continuation of the ancient problem generated by Plato's (428-348 B.C.) theory answering such a bundle of questions, namely, his theory of Ideas or Forms. (shrink)
This collection of readings with extensive editorial commentary brings together key texts of the most influential philosophers of the medieval era to provide a comprehensive introduction for students of philosophy. Features the writings of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Boethius, John Duns Scotus and other leading medieval thinkers Features several new translations of key thinkers of the medieval era, including John Buridan and Averroes Readings are accompanied by expert commentary from the editors, who are leading scholars in the field.
To many contemporary philosophers, the phrase “essentialist nominalism” may appear to be an oxymoron. After all, essentialism is the doctrine that things come in natural kinds characterized by their essential properties, on account of some common nature or essence they share. But nominalism is precisely the denial of the existence, indeed, the very possibility of such shared essences. Nevertheless, despite the intuitions of such contemporary philosophers,2 John Buridan was not only a thoroughgoing nominalist, as is well-known, but also a staunch (...) defender of a strong essentialist doctrine against certain skeptics of his time. But then the question inevitably arises: could he consistently maintain such a doctrine? (shrink)
This paper argues for two principal conclusions about natural language semantics based on John Buridan's considerations concerning the notion of formal consequence, that is, formally valid inference. (1) Natural languages are essentially semantically closed, yet they do not have to be on that account inconsistent. (2) Natural language semantics has to be token based, as a matter of principle. The paper investigates the Buridanian considerations leading to these conclusions, and considers some obviously emerging objections to the Buridanian approach.
Let me begin my reply to Professor Roark’s objections in good old scholastic fashion, by a distinction. Philosophical objections can be good in two senses. In the first, trivial sense, a good objection is one that convincingly shows the presence of a genuine error in a position or reasoning. Such objections are useful, but uninspiring. In the second, non-trivial sense, a good philosophical objection broadens and deepens our understanding of the problems at issue, whether or not they manage to refute (...) the opponent’s position. In this reply I am going to argue that even if Roark’s objections may not be necessarily good in the first, trivial sense, they are.. (shrink)