Aquinas on Perceiving, Thinking, Understanding, and Cognizing Individuals
DE HAAN, DANIEL
Medieval Perceptual Puzzles: Theories of Sense-Perception in the 13th and 14th Centuries
Among Thomas Aquinas’s 13th and 14th century critics, some of them targeted his Aristotelian view that the human intellect does not cognize individuals of a material nature. To many of his readers, Aquinas’s stance on this point seems to be indefensible for it is an obvious fact that we think about individuals. In this essay, I argue Aquinas’s view has been misunderstood, both by his critics and by many Thomists that have come to his defense. I distinguish two important aspects of Aquinas’s approach to this problem. First, I highlight the co-operative function different cognitive powers perform with respect to the unified cognitive operations of the human being. Second, I examine in detail Aquinas’s account of human sensing, perceiving, understanding, reasoning, thinking, and cognizing individuals by the co-operative cognition of their external senses, the cogitative power (vis cogitativa), and the possible intellect—among other powers. I show that a proper understanding of the coordinated operations of the possible intellect and cogitative power reveals that Aquinas in fact has a complex and coherent account of how the human being—but not the possible intellect—perceives, thinks, understands, and reasons about individuals.
Medieval philosophy, Thomas Aquinas, philosophy of perception