IN THIS PAPER I WANT TO ADDRESS the metaphysical status of concepts in Thomas Aquinas. The need to do so is raised by contemporary criticism of Aristotelian reflections upon how language "hooks up with the world." Many contemporary philosophers, following upon the later Wittgenstein think that in the opening passages of the De interpretatione Aristotle provides a very bad "theory" of semantic relations, when he sketches how words are related to things via the mind. It is a bad "theory" inasmuch as it seems to involve "mental representationalism" as a constitutive element. Amidst all their disagreements, it is fair to say that the many authors anthologized in Richard Rorty's The Linguistic Turn come together in a common disdain for any hint of mental representationalism in philosophical discussions of the semantic of language.(1) This is not the place to rehearse in detail all the difficulties posed for mental representationalism within contemporary philosophy, in particular because they are very familiar. Yet it would be good to characterize briefly what I have in mind. Hilary Putnam, one of the most forceful critics, and with the De interpretatione text explicitly in mind, describes the relationship between meaning and mental representationalism in this way:
... the picture is that there is something in the mind that picks out the objects in the environment that we talk about. When such a something (call it a "concept") is associated with a sign, it becomes the meaning of the sign.(2)
If we use William Alston's distinctions between referential, ideational, and behavioral theories of meaning, Putnam appears to be attributing an ideational theory to Aristotle.(3) Broadly speaking, the mental representation or concept is conceived of as an internal mental object or thing directly related to or operated upon by the mind, a mental thing or object that has no intrinsic or individuating relation to the world. In this sense it is tertium quid, a third thing that stands within the mind of the language user and the world he would speak about. Because of the interposition of this mental representation, words are thought to be directly related to or directly to signify things in the world. The criticism that is leveled against this as an account of meaning is that language fails to "hook onto the world" because the mental representations that constitute the semantic content of language fail to "hook onto the world," despite any claims about the natural likeness of similitude of the mental representations to objects in the world. Michael Dummett, characterizing this tradition slightly differently, believes that in contemporary philosophy it is "dead without hope of a revival," mainly because of the attacks of Frege and Wittgenstein.(4)
St. Thomas comments at length on the passage from Aristotle in his commentary on the De interpretatione.(5) If we try to make the picture of language and mental representationalism correspond more explicitly to St. Thomas's understanding of Aristotle as he analyzes that text, then the third thing appears to be the concept in anima (in the soul). Moreover because words signify concepts without mediation, and mediately signify res extra animam, it is by knowing the concepts as primary objects of knowledge, holding them before the mind's conscious attention, that the language user knows what extra-mental objects are talked about. This application of the picture of mental representationalism to St. Thomas's analysis puts us in a position to ask whether his appropriation of Aristotle is subject to Putnam's criticism--does it cut at the joints of St. Thomas's appropriation of Aristotle. I will confine myself to the first presuppositions of the picture described above, the presupposition that takes the concept to be a third thing, a mental object or thing "in the mind" in some fashion. As a preliminary, I will clarify the use of the internal-external dichotomy as it is used in the discussion and in St. Thomas. I will then turn to an analysis that determins the sense in which concepts are things in anima according to St. Thomas, even as they are not the sort of "things in the mind" the critics take them to be.
The Internal-External Axis of the Discussion. The need to clarify the use of "internal" and "external" in this discussion is evident from one of Putnam's most recent discussions. In "Aristotle After Wittgenstein," he expresses an attitude toward Aristotelianism considerably more congenial than in many of his earlier works. In particular, he suggests that the Aristotelian's "metaphysical form," as opposed to the "logical form" of the Tractatus, may be sufficiently robust to succeed in accounting for how language "hooks up" with the world.(6) This seems to display a greater appreciation for how the notion of form plays a part in the Aristotelian account. However, Putnam finds the Aristotelian use of "in" unclear and at best metaphorical:
... the metaphor that Aristotle likes--that is, the metaphor according to which the form is "in" the object rather than "outside" it, or "apart" from it--is far from clear (which is why it is maddening when Aristotle's followers, up to the present day, simply repeat it as if it were self-explanatory.)(7)
Clearly, Putnam thinks that the Aristotelian has something very distinct in view when he uses such phrases as "in anima" and "res extra animam," something the "Aristotelian" thinks is self evident, but that he, Putnam, finds obscure.
When we look at Aristotle and St. Thomas, it is certainly the case that the Latin prepositions `in' (`[Epsilon]v' in Greek) and `extra' figure prominently in the discussion of the relation between the objects of knowledge and the mind or intellect. Is the use of these prepositions either "self-evident," or metaphorical? In the "received view" of mental representationalism, they, or their English equivalents, are overwhelmingly construed in spatial-sensual terms--thus Locke's dark room letting in some light from outside, and Hume's theater of perceptions. The mind is conceived of as a locus that is private and inaccessible, except for the person who possesses it. Events take place in it; appearances find their home inside. The dominant question becomes how does this inner space relate to the objects of outer space, the things outside the locus of the mind(8)--can it find its way around in outer space by an inner space map, or is it trapped inside, and lost in the cosmos so to speak.
It would be unjust to hold Locke and Hume unyieldingly to a literal rendering of the spatial characteristics of their metaphors. When Hume writes that the table before him is nothing but a perception, that all its properties are nothing but the properties of a perception, and that perceptions are in the mind, does he really want to hold that something in his mind is five feet long and three feet wide, with a deep shade of mahogany? Perhaps, but perhaps not. However, it is the spatial metaphors that set the context for construing the modality of representation along pictorial and imagistic lines. Furthermore the criticisms directed against this position by Wittgenstein and later Putnam, among others, often trade on the spatial sensual metaphors.(9)
Some contemporary philosophers, on the other hand, do appear at times to stress a literal rendering:
Some form of internalism must be right because there isn't anything else to do the job. The brain is all we have for the purpose of representing the world to ourselves and everything we can use must be inside the brain. Each of our beliefs must be possible for a being who is a brain in a vat because each of us is precisely a brain in a vat; the vat is a skull and the `messages' coming in are coming in by way of impacts on the nervous system.(10)
If we change "skull" to "dark room," and "impacts on the nervous system" to "light streaming through the window," the parallel with Locke does not seem too far fetched. In this spatial rendering there is the world inside the brain(11) and the world outside the brain, and the question how these two worlds are connected--an inner space and an outer space. For David Braine these dual worlds prevent even materialistic philosophers of mind from avoiding the traditional and fundamental problems that they themselves associate with mind-body dualism.(12) The dualist principles are no longer the Cartesian "thinking immaterial thing-extended material thing" pair, but rather "thinking brain-everything else." My point, however, is not to pin anyone down to a spatial rendering of these presuppositions. Perhaps when pressed, the metaphors will give way to the sense they have in Aristotle and St. Thomas. My point is to make clear what the senses of "in" and "extra" are for the latter.
Aristotle and St. Thomas on "in" and "extra." Is it appropriate to construe Aristotle and St. Thomas as similarly making use of a spatial sense, whether literal or metaphorical in the use of "in anima" and "extra animam"? Is the sense "serf-evident" for the Aristotelian, but in fact unclear, as Putnam claims? No. Aristotle himself provides us with the initial key for understanding the sense of "[Epsilon]v" Early in the Categories he distinguishes two senses of being "present in a subject" [GREEK NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--first present as a part in a whole, and second present "not ... as parts are in a whole, but being incapable of existence apart from the said subject."(13) He uses knowledge as an example of something that can be "in a subject" in the latter sense, not in the sense of "parts in a whole."
At Physics 210a14-24, discussing place in general, Aristotle expands the list from these two senses of "in" to eight, including among them "as the finger is in the hand, and in general, as a part is in the whole," and "in the most important sense of all, as a thing is in a vessel, and in general, in a place," contrasting these spatial senses with "as health is in the hot and the cold, and in general, as the form is in the matter."(14) St. Thomas, commenting on these different senses points out that "form" in the latter sense can be taken as "substantial or accidental" and "matter" as "matter or subject."(15) Parts do not inform wholes as subjects, nor do things in-form their containers. The simple fact that Aristotle enunciates so many uses of "in," and that the sense of interest to us is not "the most important," should be enough to put aside the criticism that its use is supposed to be either "self-evident," or "metaphorical."
"Extra" counterposed to "in" will have corresponding spatial and non-spatial senses. Spatially it would be construed either as a thing is not apart of a whole, or as a thing is not in a vessel, or as a thing is not in a place. The last is ambiguous. It should be construed as a thing is not in this place, rather than "as a thing is not in any place." The sense correlative to the sense of "in" in the Categories, as well as the sense of "form in subject" of the Physics will be capable of existence apart from the subject of which it is said to be "extra," and not in-forming that subject.
As used by St. Thomas, we have ample evidence that the ways in which the in-formed concept is said to be "in anima," and the res, of which the concept is a natural likeness, is said to be "extra animam," are to be understood not in the spatial senses but in the formal-subject sense--"in it just as a form, as it were, in matter."(16) In the intellect it is the formal principle of intellectual operation.(17) In the intellect the intelligible species is an accident of intellect, existing in it;(18) the intelligible character that in-forms the intellect as a subject, resulting in a concept, is a principle of knowing.(19) The thing known usually(20) exists independently of the knower,(21) and remains the same whether known or not.(22) A principle of being extra animam can be a principle of knowing in anima, but not every principle of knowing is a principle of being of the thing known.(23)
Here again the central importance of St. Thomas's discussion in the De ente et essentia of, on the one hand, natures considered "absolutely, and on the other hand, considered according to the mode of existence they may have in res extra animam or in anima, is clear. The fault line between what is in anima and what is in singularibus, which …