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Concluding Propositions: The Mental Act

of the Vis Cogitativa

Given the propositions articulated above, the following list of conclusions can be enumerated:

The vis cogitativa, in opposition to Frede’s claim, is not an embarrassment.

The awareness of the mental act of the vis cogitativa is a structured, Gestalt-like awareness.

The awareness is not a judgement or proto-judgement.

This mental act distinguishes sensation from perception in Aquinas’s philosophy of mind.

This act of awareness of the individual of a natural kind, in a modified Gestalt fashion, is neither magic nor an instance of divine illumination.

The act of the vis cogitativa is more than a reduction to the structure of the vis aestimativa, which many philosophers, in both the scholastic and the analytic traditions, have suggested.[1]

This analysis of the vis cogitativa proposes an account of a structured mental act of perception, which better explains the account of ‘abstraction’ by means of the intellec- tus agens. Both the perceptual and the conceptual realms, therefore, have higher-level structured mental acts, which when conjoined enable Aquinas to offer an account of human knowledge of the primary substances of the external world. This is an example of what in the late twentieth century became known as ‘cognitive psychology’.

With his discussion of the vis cogitativa and its mental act, Aquinas accepts in principle Wisdom’s noteworthy distinction between ‘sense statements’ and ‘thing statements’, and is concerned about the same set of issues. Through his analysis of the vis cogitativa, Aquinas undercuts the sense data theories of early twentieth-century epistemology found in the writings of Russell, Moore, Price, and Ayer, and also the representational empiricism of Locke, Berkeley, and Hume. Aquinas accomplishes this by suggesting, in effect, that our experience is of things rather than of sense data. In addition, by using a metaphilosophical methodology entailing a cognitive faculty psychology, Aquinas provides the philosophy-of-mind machinery necessary to explain the possibility of an act of awareness of an object beyond the immediate data of the proper and the common sensibles. There is a similarity to Strawson, who once claimed that ‘particulars’ serve as the basic elements of a human perceiver’s conceptual scheme. Accordingly, Aquinas, like Strawson, Chisholm, Putnam, McDowell, and Ross, suggests that it is an elementary philosophical mistake to assert that human perceivers are primarily and fundamentally aware of bundles of sense data. To the contrary, human perceivers have a direct awareness of ‘thing consciousness’ or ‘individual consciousness’. Furthermore, this ‘consciousness’ and ‘intentional awareness’ are rudimentary for human perceivers.

The intentionality of mind is geared towards perceiving and understanding a world of primary substances. It is this goal that leads Aquinas to develop the structured positions that he articulates in his sophisticated philosophy of mind.

  • [1] See e.g. Klubertanz, Kneale, Mahoney, and Kemp, Medieval Psychology.
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