Objective reality of ideas in Descartes, caterus, and suárez

Journal of the History of Philosophy 28 (1):33-61 (1990)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Objective Reality of Ideas in Descartes, Caterus, and Su irez NORMAN j. WELLS IT HAS LONG BEEN ACKNOWLEDGEDthat Francisco Sufirez's distinction between a formal and an objective concept exercised some influence upon Descartes's teaching on 'idea'.' It would appear, however, that not enough attention has been given to that distinction of Sufirez (and especially to another to be mentioned shordy) to aid in dispelling what I take to be a widespread confusion and misunderstanding with regard to 'idea' in Descartes, especially with respect to 'idea' taken 'objectively'. Much, if not all, of the confusion in question has to do with Descartes's admittedly equivocal use of the term 'idea'. For he had allowed that 'idea' could be taken 'materially' (materialiter), on the one hand, for the knowing activity of the intellect. On the other hand, it could be taken 'objectively' (objective) for the thing (res) represented by that knowing activity.' At this point, the contemporary reader can only be brought up short, See E. Gilson, Index scolastico-cart~sien (New York: Burt Franklin Reprint, 1912), 48-49; Discours de la m~thode: Texte et commentazre (Paris: J. Vrin, 1947), 321; G. Rodis-Lewisin her edition of Meditationes de Prima PhRosoph.m (Paris: J. Vrin, 1953), 41 n. 1; L'oeuure de Descartes (Paris: J. Vrin, 1971), 53~ n. 8; J. Collins, Modern European Philosophy (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1954), 165;T.J. Cronin, S.J., Objecttve Being m Descartes and SuArez (Rome: Gregorian University Press, 1966); "Objective Reality of Ideas in Human Thought: Descartes and Su~rez," Wisdom in Depth: Essays in Honor of Henri Renard, SJ., eds. V. F. Daues, S.J., M. R. Holloway, S.J., L. Sweeney, S.J. (Milwaukee : Bruce, 1966), 68-79; L. Gilen, S.J., "Uber die Beziehungen Descartes zur zeitgenossischen Scholastik," Scholastik 32 (1957): 41-66; R. Dalbiez, "Les sources scolastiques de la th~orie cart6sienne de l'&re objectif," Revue d'histoire de la philosophic 3 (1929): 464-72;J. Owens, C.S.S.R., in The Cambridge HtstoU of Later Medu,val Philosophy, eds. N. Kretzmann, A. Kenny, J. Pinborg (Cambridge University Press, 1982), 459; G. Nuchelmans,Judgment and Propositwnfrom Descartesto Kant (Amsterdam: North Holland Publishing Co., 1983), 36-54. " Oeuvres de Descartes, ed. C. Adam et P. Tannery, 11 vols. (Paris: J. Vrin, 1897-19o9; hereafter cited according to volume, page and line), Praefatio ad Lectorem, 7: 8. 19-251 "Sed respondeo hic subesse aequivocationem in voce ideae: sumi enim potest vel materialiter, pro operatione intellectus, quo sensu me perfectior dici nequit, vel objective, pro re per istam operationem repraesentata, quae res, etsi non supponatur extra intellectum existere, potest tamen me esse perfectior ratione suae essentiae." It is clear that two realities are to be causally accounted for. The [33] 34 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 28"1 JANUARY 1990 conditioned as we are by an appreciation of 'objectivity' altogether extramental! It makes for a considerable wrench of perspective to do justice to Descartes's acknowledged doctrine of intramental objectivity and an intramental 'thing represented' (resrepraesentata). 'Idea', then, in traditional Cartesian fashion, designates the act of representing as well as the 'thing represented '. S Yet, for all this, and despite repeated expressions of the same doctrine, there is a persistent tendency in the history of Cartesianism and its scholarship to interpret 'idea' taken 'objectively' as in some way representative. Contrary to what I take to be Descartes's constant position, such a rendering unwittingly transfers that function which is proper to the cognitive activity, mind is the efficient cause of its cognitive activity. With respect to ideas taken 'objectively', such as the ideas of God and the triangle on the levels of metaphysical and mathematical intelligibility, an efficient cause, extrinsic to the mind, is certainly at issue. For here we are in the presence of what is independent of the mind, however intramental it may be. On the triangle, see Medit. 5; 7: 64. ]4s7 : "...est tamen profecto determinata quaedam ejus natura, sire essentia, sive forma, immutabUis et aeterna, quae a me non efficta est, nec a mente mea dependet." For the idea of God, see Medit. 5; 7: 68. l o-12: "Nam sane multis modis inteUigo illam [ideam...



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