Home Economics Aquinas’s theory of perception: an analytic reconstruction
Aquinas on Intentionality
Historical and Contemporary Antecedents
Before a detailed analysis of Aquinas’s theory of perception, several general features about his epistemology and philosophy of mind require discussion. The next two chapters provide a concise conceptual elucidation of the principles central to Aquinas’s theory of knowledge and philosophy of mind, together with an explication of what appears to be Aquinas’s rather obscure metaphysical language. This chapter undertakes an analysis of five aspects of intentionality theory and cognitive awareness in Aquinas:
In his explanatory theory of knowledge and the workings of the mind, Aquinas has four distinct classes of mental acts and their corresponding intentional objects:
accomplish the awareness of essential or sortal properties that determine a natural kind. These are first intentions.
(d) The awareness of universals. These are the intentional categories of genus, species, differentia, proprium, and accidens. These logical categories, often called the ‘predicables’, result from the reflective capacity of the intellectus possibilis. These are second intentions. In De Ente et Essentia, Aquinas suggests this distinction between essence and universal.
In developing his philosophy of mind, Aquinas should be read as a philosopher following the advice of the mid-twentieth-century positivist turned metaphysician Gustav Bergmann: ‘epistemology is merely the ontology of the knowing situation.’ This ‘ontological assay, a metaphilosophical principle used by Bergmann, as appropriated by Aquinas, is more elaborate, intricate, and more interesting philosophically than many students of philosophy have been wont to admit. This inquiry provides a lucid analysis of what Bergmann would have called ‘Aquinas’s ontological assay of the awareness situation, with special emphasis on sensation and perception. Kenny wrote, Aquinas’s doctrine of the intentional existence of forms remains one the most interesting contributions ever made to the philosophical problem of the nature of thought.’ In another context, he wrote: ‘[Aquinas’s] map of the mind is a complicated one but it is superior to that offered by many another philosopher.’ Haldane addresses the roots of intentionality found in the texts of Thomas: ‘[G]iven the present day interest in the “aboutness” of thought, it is worth nothing that [...] Aquinas [offers] a turn upon the nature of intentionality and its difference from physical relations. (Indeed, the very term and concept originate in the medieval notion of esse intentionale, the ‘intentional being’ of thoughts.)’
Nonetheless, in ‘Brentano’s Problem,’ Haldane suggests correctly that there are two senses of ‘Aboutness, which need to be distinguished when considering the intentionality theory of Aquinas. ‘Aboutness-1’ refers to the content of any given mental act, either of perception or understanding. ‘Aboutness-2’ refers to the real relation that holds between a mental act and the external world. Haldane argues that Aquinas appropriates this first sense of ‘Aboutness’. The second sense too easily deflates into a real relation requiring objects for nonexistents—a problem with which Brentano wrestled much of his philosophical life. This distinction will be expanded upon as this narrative develops.
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