Intentionality, Cognition, and Mental Representation in Medieval Philosophy

Intentionality, Cognition, and Mental Representation in Medieval Philosophy

Intentionality, Cognition, and Mental Representation in Medieval Philosophy

Intentionality, Cognition, and Mental Representation in Medieval Philosophy

Synopsis

It is commonly supposed that certain elements of medieval philosophy are uncharacteristically preserved in modern philosophical thought through the idea that mental phenomena are distinguished from physical phenomena by their intentionality, their intrinsic directedness toward some object. Themany exceptions to this presumption, however, threaten its viability.This volume explores the intricacies and varieties of the conceptual relationships medieval thinkers developed among intentionality, cognition, and mental representation. Ranging from Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham, and Buridan through less-familiar writers, the collection sheds new light on the variousstrands that run between medieval and modern thought and bring us to a number of fundamental questions in the philosophy of mind as it is conceived today.

Excerpt

It is supposed to be common knowledge in the history of ideas that one of the few medieval philosophical contributions preserved in modern philosophical thought is the idea that mental phenomena are distinguished from physical phenomena by their intentionality, their intrinsic directedness toward some object. As is usually the case with such commonplaces about the history of ideas, especially those concerning medieval ideas, this claim is not quite true. Medieval philosophers routinely described ordinary physical phenomena, such as reflections in mirrors or sounds in the air, as exhibiting intentionality, while they described what modern philosophers would take to be typically mental phenomena, such as sensation and imagination, as ordinary physical processes. still, it is true that medieval philosophers would regard all acts of cognition as characterized by intentionality, on account of which all these acts are some sort of representations of their intended objects.

The essays in this volume explore the intricacies and varieties of the conceptual relationships among intentionality, cognition, and mental representation as conceived by some of the greatest medieval philosophers, including Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham, and Buridan, and some of their lesser-known but in their own time just as influential contemporaries. the clarification of these conceptual connections sheds new light not only on the intriguing historical relationships between medieval and modern thought on these issues, but also on some fundamental questions in the philosophy of mind as it is conceived today.

The first essay, by Stephen Read, provides the ideal introduction to the exploration of these historical and conceptual connections by surveying the relationships between the psychology and logic of mental representations comparing some medieval doctrines with that of the recently very influential approach of Jerry Fodor. Fodor identifies five nonnegotiable constraints on any theory of concepts. These theses were all shared by the standard medieval theories of concepts.

1. For more on the differences between medieval and modern accounts of intentionality, see G. Klima, “Three Myths of Intentionality vs. Some Medieval Philosophers,” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 21 (2013): 359–376.

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