Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Thomas Aquinas, Esse Intentionale, and the Cognitive as Such

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Thomas Aquinas, Esse Intentionale, and the Cognitive as Such

Article excerpt

IT IS POPULAR AMONG AQUINAS SCHOLARS to present esse intentionale as the mode of being that distinguishes cognizant from noncognizant beings. St. Thomas says something is cognizant just in case it is able to possess, in addition to its own form, the form of some other thing. (1) When I am actually knowing, I possess the form of the thing known. The form of the thing known has a mode of "being in the knower"--which mode of being is the distinguishing mark of the cognitive as such--and many scholars say this distinguishing mode of being is esse intentionale. In this paper, I argue against this reading of this part of Aquinas's doctrine of knowledge. Thomas does not feature esse intentionale as the mark of the cognitive, but rather assigns it more of a subordinate status. The view that esse intentionale is the definitive mark of the cognitive does not properly highlight the way it features for Thomas as something of a junior partner to the more fundamental esse immateriale.

Here I wish to question a popular line of reasoning for reading Aquinas as saying that esse intentionale is the mark of the cognitive. In what follows, I take John Haldane's work as offering a view representative of this sort of reasoning. I raise some problems for maintaining that Thomas held this view, both from within Haldane's approach specifically and from Thomas' texts more generally. In the first section of the paper, I show why Thomas might be thought to present esse intentionale as the defining mark of knowledge as such. In the second section, I raise a problem specifically for Haldane's reading of the texts, but also, I think, a more general problem for any view that takes Aquinas as saying esse intentionale is uniquely mental. In the third section I highlight an often overlooked distinction Aquinas makes between modes of intentional being. This distinction shows that Thomas is concerned with allowing esse intentionale to exist extramentally as such in an "imperfect" being. In section four, I sketch a picture of cognition that includes such extramental being, although this sketch goes only part of the way toward achieving a plausible and perspicuous description of Thomas's metaphysics of cognition. In the concluding section, I describe why and how the present reading best fits with the largely acknowledged, broader reading of Thomas as being thoroughly unconcerned with a Cartesian problematic.

I

Thomas says something is cognizant just in case it is able to possess, in addition to its own form, the form of some other thing. (2) The form of the thing known has a mode of "being in the knower," a representational mode which is the distinguishing mark of the cognitive as such. John Haldane stands with many scholars who say this distinguishing mode of being is esse intentionale. (3) In this section I present what I take to be the strongest case for their reading.

Throughout Haldane's various presentations, it is always clear why he thinks Thomas holds that esse intentionale is the mark of the cognitive. The primary reason is that esse intentionale is the bearer of the feature of representation or intentionality: a cognitive being represents, or is "about," some other thing, while a noncognitive being cannot represent or be about anything else. This feature of "aboutness" is what Thomas means by the knower's possessing the form "of another thing": the form possessed is itself "of another." (4) It is intrinsically representative of something other than itself.

For Haldane, the cognitive mode of being, the mode that is "intrinsically representational," is esse intentionale: (5) species in esse intentionali represents an extramental form in esse naturali, and as such, esse intentionale is the representational mode of being proper to cognizance. (6) On this view, the distinction between the cognizant and the noncognizant is the same as the distinction between the representational esse intentionale and the nonrepresentational esse naturale. …

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