[4.15.10] John Duns Scotus on Intuitive and Abstractive Cognition

John Duns Scotus (the “Subtle Doctor,” 1265/66–1308 AD), in “Quodlibetum,” “Ordinatio” and “Quaestiones super libros de anima” outlines the process of human cognition:

  • Cognition is based on sense perception of the material world, with corporeal organs as substrate. Objects in the external world generate sensible species in the sense-organs.
  • Sensible species are further processed and stored in the internal senses (common sense, sense memory, and imagination). Phantasms are generated by the imagination based on sensible species.
  • In abstractive cognition, the agent intellect abstracts common natures, universals from the phantasms, while intuitive cognition cognizes present singular objects.
  • The possible intellect understands universals and present singular objects and generates discursive knowledge.

The following UML Use Case diagram presents Scotus’s model of the human cognition:

Scotus on intuitive and abstractive cognition

Use cases:

POWERUSE CASERELATIONS
5 EXTRERNAL SENSEs(5 EXTERNAL SENSES) apprehend the sensible quality [sensible species] of an external object (UC1): “The simplest form of sensation, sensation per se, occurs when one of the five external senses apprehends the sensible quality that is its proper object: when sight sees color, for instance, or hearing hears sounds. Speaking more broadly, one sees darkness, or sees a human being. This is sensation per accidens.” (Normore, 2003)
External senses are:  touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste
Common sense(Common sense) distinguishes sensations and perceives what we sense [sensible species], and also time and magnitude (UC2): “the common sense is responsible for distinguishing different sorts of sensations from each other (sounds from sights, for example), and that it is responsible for perceiving that we sense. […] Scotus is happy to affirm, with Aristotle, that the common sense perceives time and magnitude—the common sensibles.” (Cross, 2014)includes UC1
Imagination(Imagination) stores and recalls sense images, sensible species in the absence of their objects; creates phantasms (UC3): “The imagination stores sense images in the absence of their objects, and is the faculty that recalls such images. […] As he sees it, the imagination conjures up things irrespective of their being past […]
[…] So there is a kind of sense cognition that is non-perceptual, and the phantasm is the relevant habit or species that allows for this kind of cognition. There is nothing surprising about this, since no one holds that imagination requires the presence of its objects, or that it is perceptual. The imagination is such that it can have acts whose contents are fixed by the phantasms:
The phantasm … represents with its whole power the object as singular to the imagination (virtuti phantasticae), for there is then an actual imagination of that object in the singular.” (Cross, 2014)
includes UC2, UC4
Sense memorySense memory stores sensible species (UC4): “sense memory has the pastness of its objects attached to it in some way. […] the sense memory is responsible for remembering past sensations, and the objects of those sensations, as past. Scotus maintains that in this kind of recall the cognizer has the past act as her immediate object and the (sensory) object of that act as her remote object. So we have memory of the past as past by having memory of past acts of sensation. Scotus holds that there must be a species impressed by the past sensory act (to make the act relevantly, but of course not really, present to the subject). […]
So the mechanisms of perception require sensible species. But Scotus holds that we have a number of sense operations that are not in fact perceptual: particularly, memory and imagination; and we have some dysfunctional sense operations too, such as hallucination. And, Scotus maintains, all of these require species. First of all, he holds that we need sensible species in order to account for sense memory: not in this case our memory specifically of past sensations, but our memory of the objects of such sensations. […]
As we have seen, Scotus holds that there is a kind of sense memory—memory of past events as past—that requires that the past sensation is the immediate object of recollection” (Cross, 2014)
Agent IntellectAbstractive cognition: (agent intellect) abstracts intelligible species, common natures, universals from phantasms (UC5): “Scotus holds, in good Aristotelian fashion, that there is an agent intellect, and that it is the faculty that (partially) causes intelligible species. […] the agent intellect is as a power for abstracting intelligible species from phantasms […]
The object of abstractive cognition is (standardly) the common nature, but abstraction precludes existence and presence, and in so doing (it seems) basically excludes the individuating feature. Abstraction enables us to grasp the common features of a kind. […]
The content of an abstractive cognition is a universal, a definition: it is a conceptualization of a common nature, sufficient to give some kind of account of such natures, and sufficient to ground the various general predications that we might want to make about kinds of thing.” (Cross, 2014)
includes UC3
Agent Intellect Intuitive cognition: (agent intellect) cognizes present singular objects (UC6): “There is another act of cognizing, which, although we do not experience so evidently in ourselves, is possible. It is precisely of a present object, as present, and of an existent object, as existent. […]
Given that existence is a necessary condition for real presence, it follows that intuitive cognition necessarily has the existent as its object. […]
But a further distinction, between intuitive and abstractive cognition, follows from this, and we need to keep it in mind if we are to understand everything that Scotus says on the matter. I noted that the object of both kinds of cognition is the common nature; and I take it that Scotus would allow too the singular in the case of intuitive cognition, albeit falling short of de re cognition of the singular . But—crucially—the contents of each kind of act are different from each other. Intuitive intellectual cognition acquaints the cognizer with the object, though in such a way that the content of such a cognition can figure in syntactic complexes (to use Scotus’s example, ‘Peter is sitting down’). […] He holds that all propositional knowledge is intellectual, and he seems to suppose that the intellect’s forming contingent propositions about singulars (not, I take it, propositions about singulars de re) requires that all the relevant mental contents inhere in the intellect, not the senses Elsewhere, Scotus gives an example of the kind of thing he has in mind: the intellect can know that Peter is sitting down (sessio Petri), on the basis of which, presumably, it can form the contingent proposition ‘Peter is sitting down’: where the point of the discussion is that the intellect can form (tensed) propositions about ‘the present’, propositions whose contents are simply current perceptual experiences.‘” (Cross, 2014)
inludes UC2
Possible intellect(Possible intellect) knows/understands intelligible species and present objects (UC7): “the possible intellect is the ‘intelligence’ the power for occurently cognizing, for ‘receiving the act of undestanding’. […]
Since, according to Aristotle, again as interpreted by Scotus, the faculty that actually thinks, and that stores intelligible species, is the possible intellect, the possible intellect must include both memory and intelligence.” (Cross, 2014)
includes UC5, UC6, UC8, UC9
Intellectual MemoryIntellectual memory stores intelligible species and past intellective acts (UC8): “Scotus refers to the faculty responsible for storing intelligible species as the ‘memory’ (memoria), and he holds too that the memory is the relevant causal power that produces occurrent cognitions. […]
The idea is that memory—the storehouse for intelligible species in humans causes, jointly with these species, occurrent cognitions. […]
And the possible intellect is the ‘memory’ too, the storehouse for intelligible species and cognitive dispositions. Evidence for this comes from Augustine: scientia is stored in the memory, and the term here is used to refer to habitual cognitions— intelligible species. The point is that the presence of scientia brings it about that the intellect can occurrently cognize without any further change—it is in accidental potency rather than essential potency.” (Cross, 2014)
Intelligence(Intelligence) thinks (UC9): “Following Augustine, at least as interpreted by Scotus, occurrent cognitions inhere in the intelligence, which is thus the power that actually thinks, or that has the relevant operation (or rather, the activity is the soul’s, and the memory grounds the activity […]).
Scotus makes the point as follows, using Augustine’s terminology of the mental word to refer to an occurrent cognition: Therefore, the word can be described as follows: the word is an act of the intelligence, produced by perfect memory, existing only with an actual act of intellection. […] And from these things it is clear that the word pertains neither to the will nor to the memory (because it is the second part of the image, not the first or the third), and consequently it is not an intelligible species or habit, or anything that pertains to the memory. Therefore it is somethingthat pertains to the intelligence.” (Cross, 2014)

Actors:

ActorDescriptionRelations
ObjectA material object in the external world.generates sensible species in the sense organs.
User of the soulA human person.uses UC7

Sources

  • Normore, Calvin G., “Duns Scotus’s Modal Theory”, The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus, Cambridge University Press 2003, ed. Thomas Williams
  • Cross, Richard, “Duns Scotus’s Theory of Cognition”, Oxford University Press, 2014
  • Williams, Thomas, “John Duns Scotus“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 10/6/2021

[4.15.9] John Duns Scotus on Logical Possibility and Possible Worlds

John Duns Scotus (the “Subtle Doctor,” 1265/66–1308 AD), in “Ordinatio” writes about modal theory, logical possibility, and how these concepts influence the state of affairs in the world. According to his ideas:

  • God’s divine intellect includes all the simple notae, which are necessary and true propositions, like logical, mathematical, metaphysical truths.
  • Logical possibility is a non-repugnant or non-contradictory relation between two (or more) simple notae. E.g., the simple notae “animality” and “rationality” are non-repugnant since together define “man”.
  • The simple notae related by logical possibility are combined in the divine intellect in contingent divine ideas. E.g., “man”
  • Some divine ideas are necessary and true by definition; these are the necessary propositions. E.g., a priori truths, like “A triangle has three angles.” Others are contingent, with undefined truth value; these are contingent propositions.
  • The divine intellect presents the contingent propositions to the divine will, which decides for some of them by making them true, and with the same act creating them in the world. These are the true propositions. It is noteworthy that the freedom of the divine will is limited to the realm of the contingent propositions.
  • The maximal consistent collection of all the true propositions describes possible worlds, from which one is our real world.

The following OntoUML diagram presents Duns Scotus’s theory of logical possibility and possible worlds:

Duns Scotus’s theory of logical possibility and possible worlds

ClassDescriptionRelations
DivineIntellectGod’s intellect
DivineWill “The divine intellect presents these contingent propositions to the divine will as not yet having a truth value, and the divine will then (in a second instant of nature) contingently determines each to be true or be false.” (Normore, 2003)

“Since God’s [divine] will is the only root of contingency, it follows that ideas necessarily have their content and cannot ground a representation of contingent states of affairs. Conversely, suppose that God’s knowledge of future contingents were based on ideas, then he would not be omniscient, for he would know that Socrates could be either sitting or standing up at T, not that he is sitting at T. Finally, there would be no more difference between God’s knowledge of what is actual and of what is simply possible.” (Anfray 2014)
presents contingent propositions to DivineWill
SimpleNotae“The first stage is God’s natural knowledge of all necessary propositions. These are logically simples and are sometimes called by Scotus [simple] notae. Such notae are related to others according to repugnance or compossibility, independently of any power to bring them about. However, they are not self-subsistent entities, but are the products of God’s intellectual activity, which thus endows them with an ontological status, as intelligible beings. But the logical and modal properties of these entities are not constituted by God’s intellectual activity. Scotus summarizes this by claiming that the possibilia are formally such from themselves (formaliter ex se), but “principially” from God (principiative ab eo). All logical, mathematical, and metaphysical truths, in general all necessary truths, are known at precisely the instant when God produces, thinks things, and produces them in an esse intelligibile. Moreover, since the relations of compossibility [non-repugnance] and repugnance are independent from God’s intellectual activity, any modal truth is necessarily so. This entails that anything possible is necessarily possible.” (Anfray 2014) shared part of DivineIntelect Possibility and DivineIdea
LogicalPossiblityFor Scotus logical possibility is a fundamentally relational idea: “We can intelligibly speak of it only when we are dealing with several notae. Similarly, we can only ask whether notae are consistent when we are dealing with more than one. Thus, in the typical cases the question of whether some possible is possible of itself reduces to the question of the status of a relation among its metaphysical constituents: Are they related of themselves, and in what sense does that relation presuppose its relata?”
Simple notae are true and necessary.
relates between SimpleNotae; defines DivineIdea
Non-repugnance“Scotus articulated a notion of logical possibility as the nonrepugnance of terms and claimed that there is a real power corresponding to every logical possibility.” (Normore, 2003)

We can understand the concept of non-repugnance as the contratry of repugnence: the concept of ‘chimera’ is internally incoherent in the sense that the metaphysical constituents out of which the common nature of chimera would be composed (the notae) simply cannot be combined, and that is why there is a further repugnance between ‘chimera’ and ‘being something’. But this repugnance presupposes that ‘chimera’ is itself a complex term in which several notae are combined.Achimera is perhaps an animal with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a serpent. These notae are themselves complex and could be analyzed in the same way. On Scotus’s view, we eventually reach simple notae. Suppose we ask then whether all simple notae are possible – and further, whether they are possible of themselves.” (Normore, 2003)
characterizes LogicalPossibility
DivineIdea“According to Scotus, all combinations of compatible [non-repugnant] notae are objects of God’s knowledge, which he calls also [divine] ideas. Scotus is less explicit on the content of ideas than on their ontological status, but it is likely that an idea is an intellectual representation of any object, either of an individual like ‘Socrates’ or of a common nature like ‘man’ and that it contains everything that can be grasped by God through his intellect alone. An idea would be something like the deductive closure of all necessary truths concerning a given object. For instance, God’s intellect produces the notae of animality and rationality and these, being intrinsically nonrepugnant, can be combined in a single subject, man. And man can be combined with an individual differentia to produce a possible individual, say ‘Socrates.’ The idea of Socrates contains all the properties grounding necessary truths concerning him: that he is a man, that he is a rational animal, and that it is possible that he is sitting at T, and so on. However, it does not include the property of sitting at T, because it is a contingent truth. This leads Scotus to reject theories that ground God’s knowledge of future contingents on his ideas. First, they can ground only analytical, thus necessary truths. Moreover, ideas are intellectual representations, excluding any volitional element. They are therefore purely natural occurrences in God’s mind.” (Anfray 2014)
Necessary Proposition“Scotus has as a basic notion in his modal picture that of a nonepugnant collection of notae. Second, he claims that having thought the notae, the divine intellect naturally and in a single instant of nature considers all nonrepugnant combinations of them. Some of these combinations are such that it would be repugnant for their elements not to be so combined. These correspond to necessary propositions.” (Normore, 2003)
Necessary propositions are true and necessary.
subkind of DivineIdea; shared part of DescriptionOfPossibleWorld
ContingentProposition“Scotus has as a basic notion in his modal picture that of a nonepugnant collection of notae. Second, he claims that having thought the notae, the divine intellect naturally and in a single instant of nature considers all nonrepugnant combinations of them. […] Others are such that it is not repugnant for their elements either to be so combined or not. These correspond to contingent propositions.” (Normore, 2003)
Contingent propositions are contingent and have undifined truth value.
subkind of DivineIdea; shared part of DescriptionOfPossibleWorld
TrueProposition“The divine intellect presents these contingent propositions to the divine will as not yet having a truth value, and the divine will then (in a second instant of nature) contingently determines each to be true or be false. The divine will thus contingently determines a maximal consistent collection of contingent propositions to be true. Such a maximal consistent collection of [true] propositions is a description of (or, on some views, is) what both Leibniz and twentieth-century modal theorists would call a possible world.” (Normore, 2003)
True propositions contingent and true.
subkind of ContingentProposition; shared part of DescriptionOfPossibleWorld; defines and creates Thing
ThingAn object, a substance, a state of affairs in a possible world.exclusive part of PossibleWorld
DescriptionOfPossibleWorld “The divine will thus contingently determines a maximal consistent collection of contingent propositions to be true. Such a maximal consistent collection of [true] propositions is a description of (or, on some views, is) what both Leibniz and twentieth-century modal theorists would call a possible world.” (Normore, 2003) defines PossibleWorld
PossibleWorldA possible world, our world is an instance of that.

Sources

  • Normore, Calvin G., “Duns Scotus’s Modal Theory”, The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus, Cambridge University Press 2003, ed. Thomas Williams
  • Anfray, Jean-Pascal Anfray, “Molina and John Duns Scotus”, A Companion to Luis de Molina, Brill, 2014
  • Williams, Thomas, “John Duns Scotus“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2019 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 27/5/2021