For later medieval philosophers, writing under the influence of Aristotle’s natural philosophy and metaphysics, the human soul plays two quite different roles, serving as both a substantial form and a mind. To ask the natural question of why we need a soul at all – why we might not instead simply be a body, a material thing – therefore requires considering two very different sets of issues. The first set of issues is metaphysical, and revolves around the central question of (...) why a human being needs a substantial form. The second set of issues is psychological, and turns on the question of why we should suppose that our mind is aptly characterized as a soul. This chapter takes up these two questions in turn, and then turns to whether we should suppose that one and the same thing – a soul – is both substantial form and mind. This dual-function thesis is the most distinctive feature of later medieval psychology, and is one reason that work from this era remains well-worth reading today. Whereas modern thought furnishes many sophisticated discussions of the immateriality of mind, and the metaphysics of body, philosophers since Descartes have rarely considered that it might be one thing, the soul, that accounts for both thought and substantial unity. (shrink)
It is important to distinguish between two ways in which God might be timelessly eternal: eternality as being wholly outside of time, versus the sort of timelessness that consists in lacking temporal parts, and so existing “all at once.” A prominent but neglected historical tradition, most clearly evident in Anselm, advocates putting God in time, but in an all-at-once sort of way that makes God immune to temporal change. This is an intrinsically plausible conception of divine eternality, which also sheds (...) light on the modern dispute over the endurance or perdurance of material objects. (shrink)
A theory of human nature must consider from the start whether it sees human beings in fundamentally biological terms, as animals like other animals, or else in fundamentally supernatural terms, as creatures of God who are like God in some special way, and so importantly unlike other animals. Many of the perennial philosophical disputes have proved so intractable in part because their adherents divide along these lines. The friends of materialism, seeing human beings as just a particularly complex example of (...) the sort of complex organic structure found everywhere on Earth, suppose that we are ultimately constituted out of just the same material from which squirrels and rabbits are made. The friends of dualism, instead, think that such a story can hardly do justice to what is special about human nature. Likewise, the friends of a libertarian, robustly non-deterministic conception of free will see something special in human spontaneity and moral responsibility. To their opponents, human beings operate on the same principles, albeit more complex, as do squid and plankton. These and other such disputes need not divide along religious lines. One may oppose naturalism without embracing a supernatural theistic perspective; one might, for instance, think it simply a matter of fact that human beings are fundamentally unlike other biological organisms, but yet not suppose we are made that way by any higher power. Conversely, the theist may think it part of the divine plan to have made human beings as nothing more than the most complex of biological organisms, constituted out of the same stuff and constrained by the same laws. So although the choice I have described between two perspectives –. (shrink)
The first unquestionably big idea in the history of philosophy was the idea of form. The idea of course belonged to Plato, and was then domesticated at the hands of Aristotle, who paired form with matter as the two chief principles of his metaphysics and natural philosophy. In the medieval period, it was Aristotle’s conception of form and matter that generally dominated. This was true for both the Islamic and the Christian tradition, once the entire Aristotelian corpus became available. For (...) this reason, although there is much to say about the fate of Platonic Forms in medieval thought, the present chapter will focus on the Aristotelian tradition.1 Aristotelian commentators have been puzzled by form and matter for as long as there have been Aristotelian commentators. Indeed, it would not be too much to say that these are topics about which Aristotelians have never formed a very clear conception, and that their failure to do so was the principal reason why Aristotelianism ceased to be a flourishing research program from the seventeenth century onward. For those who aspire to a modern revival of Aristotelianism, the concepts of form and matter can easily take on the aspect of a kind of Holy Grail, such that if only we could get these ideas clearly in focus, we could see our way forward on any number of philosophical fronts, such as the union of mind and body, the coherence and endurance of substances, the nature of causality, and so on. The historical record, however, suggests that this hope is a snare and delusion, insofar as there has never been any such thing as the theory of form and matter. Although medieval philosophers of all kinds used this terminology incessantly, it had no more of a fixed meaning than does the ubiquitous contemporary philosophical talk of “properties.” Hence, the most a general survey of the topic can do is consider some of the more important areas of agreement and disagreement. (shrink)
Medieval epistemology begins as ideal theory: when is one ideally situated with regard to one's grasp of the way things are? Taking as their starting point Aristotle's Posterior Analytics, scholastic authors conceive of the goal of cognitive inquiry as the achievement of scientia, a systematic body of beliefs, grasped as certain, and grounded in demonstrative reasons that show the reason why things are so. Obviously, however, there is not much we know in this way. The very strictness of this ideal (...) in fact gives rise to a body of literature on how Aristotle's framework might be relaxed in various ways, for certain specific purposes. In asking such questions, scholastic authors are in effect pursuing the project of social epistemology, by trying to adapt their ideal theory to the circumstances of everyday life. (shrink)
When objects are illuminated, the light they reflect does not simply bounce off their surface. Rather, that light is entirely reabsorbed and then reemitted, as the result of a complex microphysical event near the surface of the object. If we are to be physicalists regarding color, then we should analyze colors in terms of that event, just as we analyze heat in terms of molecular motion, and sound in terms of vibrations. On this account, colors are not standing properties of (...) objects, but events, or (more cautiously) properties associated with events. Accordingly, objects in the dark are no more colored than a turned-off stove is hot. Such an account requires rejecting some of what folk ordinarily say about color, but this is the most coherent version of color physicalism. (shrink)
Democritus is generally understood to have anticipated the seventeenthcentury distinction between primary and secondary qualities. I argue that this is not the case, and that instead for Democritus all sensible qualities are conventional.
No philosophical intuition has a longer history than that which divides sensible qualities into two kinds, primary and secondary. Something like it appears in Democritus, nearly 2500 years ago, and has been continuously maintained in some form or another ever since then. Philosophers today largely continue to think that there is something right about the distinction, even while it remains notoriously difficult to find agreement on just where its ultimate basis lies. As Mark Johnston (1992) puts it, the primary–secondary distinction (...) has “the dubious distinction of being better understood in extension rather than intension. Most of us can generate two lists under the two headings, but the principles by which the lists are generated are controversial, even obscure” (229). I hope to shed some light on this obscure question. My thesis, in brief, is that the secondary qualities are those qualities of objects that bear a certain relation to our sensory powers: roughly, they are those qualities that we can readily detect only through a certain distinctive phenomenal experience. Contrary to what is sometimes supposed, there is nothing about the world itself (independent of our minds) that determines the distinction between primary and secondary qualities. Instead, a theory of the secondary qualities must be grounded in facts about how we conceive of these qualities, and ultimately in facts about human perception. (shrink)
In a recent book, I attempt to use the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas to defend a moderate view regarding abortion: that an abortion at any time during a pregnancy should be considered a grave loss, but that it should be considered murder only after roughly the middle of the second trimester. John Haldane and Patrick Lee contend that I have misunderstood the implications of Aquinas's view, and that in fact his metaphysics supports the conclusion that a human being comes into (...) existence at the moment of conception. In this paper, I make a brief reply. (shrink)
The third volume of The Cambridge Translations of Medieval Philosophical Texts will allow scholars and students access, for the first time in English, to major texts that form the debate over mind and knowledge at the center of medieval philosophy. Beginning with thirteenth-century attempts to classify the soul's powers and to explain the mind's place within the soul, the volume proceeds systematically to consider the scope of human knowledge and the role of divine illumination, intentionality and mental representation, and attempts (...) to identify the object of human knowledge in terms of concepts and propositions. The authors included are Henry of Ghent, Peter John Olivi, William Alnwick, Peter Aureol, William Ockham, William Crathorn, Robert Holcot, Adam Wodeham as well as two anonymous Parisian masters of arts. This volume will be an important resource for scholars and students of medieval philosophy, history, theology and literature. (shrink)
This is a major new study of Thomas Aquinas, the most influential philosopher of the Middle Ages. The book offers a clear and accessible guide to the central project of Aquinas' philosophy: the understanding of human nature. Robert Pasnau sets the philosophy in the context of ancient and modern thought, and argues for some groundbreaking proposals for understanding some of the most difficult areas of Aquinas' thought: the relationship of soul to body, the workings of sense and intellect, the will (...) and the passions, and personal identity. Structured around a close reading of the treatise on human nature from the Summa theologiae and deeply informed by a wide knowledge of the history of philosophy and contemporary philosophy, this study will offer specialists a series of novel and provocative interpretations, while providing students with a reference commentary on one of Aquinas' core texts. (shrink)
In an earlier work, I proposed understanding Aquinas’s theory of cognition in terms of the possession of information about the world. This proposal has seemed problematic in various ways. It has been said to include too much, and too little, and to be the wrong sort of account altogether. Nevertheless, I continue to think of it as the most plausible interpretation of Aquinas’s theory.
This book is a major contribution to the history of philosophy in the later medieval period (1250-1350). It focuses on cognitive theory, a subject of intense investigation during these years. In fact many of the issues that dominate philosophy of mind and epistemology today - intentionality, mental representation, scepticism, realism - were hotly debated in the later medieval period. The book offers a careful analysis of these debates, primarily through the work of Thomas Aquinas, John Olivi, and William Ockham. Each (...) of these figures attempts to reconceptualise cognition along direct realist lines, criticising in the process the standard Aristotelian account. Though of primary interest to medieval philosophers, the book presupposes no background knowledge of the medieval period, and will therefore interest a broader community of philosophers concerned with the origins of contemporary cognitive theory. (shrink)