[4.14.1] Henry of Ghent on Knowledge and Two Levels of Truth

Henry of Ghent (“Doctor Solemnis”, 1217?, d. 1293 AD) Summa Q2 treats the problem of the human knowledge and truth through a synthesis of Aristotle’ sense perception-based (see [1.3.6]) and Augustine’s illuminationalist model (see [2.6.1]):

  • Divine ideas (exemplar aeternum) are ideal forms of things (res) in God’s divine mind and serve as formal cause (see [1.3.4]) for their essences.
  • Human knowledge is possible and consists of a proper mental representation of the essence of the thing or object. The human mind can abstract the essence of the thing and its species from the perceived objects.
  • Divine ideas and mental representations this way are exemplars of the thing’s essences.
  • Truth is a conformity relation between the thing’s essence and the exemplar (the divine idea or mental representation).
  • The double relation of thing’s essence – divine idea and thing’s essence – mental representation produces two different truth levels: the sincera veritas, and the science’s truth.
  • Science’s truth is attainable through the Aristotlean process of sense perception and induction, deduction (see [1.3.8]), while sincera veritas through illumination. However, divine illumination “is neither a direct donation of intelligible contents, independent of the conditions of sensible knowledge, nor is it a simple purification, preparation or refinement of the mind in order to predispose it to intellectual knowledge. Rather, it is the certification of our created exemplar by the uncreated one; in other words, by divine art (ars).”

The following OntoUML diagram presents Henry of Ghent’s model of knowledge and truth:

Henry of Ghent on truth and knowledge
ClassDescriptionRelations
TruthThe double relation “(res-mens, res-exemplar aeternum) thereby produces a double truth, or two different levels of truth: on the one hand, the veritas of Aristotelian science, deriving from the purely natural faculties, through an abstracting process, and on the other, the sincera veritas, obtained only through divine illumination — in other words, by an act of God, not as obiectum cognitum (known object) but as ratio cognoscendi (cause or reason of knowledge).”generalizes SinceraVeritas and Science’sTruth
Exemplar“the exemplar is a double one”: the divine idea and the mental representation.
DivineMindDivine mind, the mind of God.
DivineIdea“Here it is important to distinguish further, since the exemplar is a double one. […] In the second place, the exemplar [exemplar aeternum] is the ideal form [divine idea] present in the divine mind that acts as the formal cause of creatural essences, and from this perspective the veritas of the res is its ontological conformity (Anselm’s rectitudo) to its eternal model. […]
essences correspond to divine ideas, which represent their eternal exemplars. This might seem to be the habitual scheme of Christian Platonism, though scholars (especially de Rijk 1991) have pointed out that, beginning with Henry, the term ‘idea’ loses its traditional meaning of ‘subsisting form’ and moves closer to its meaning in Descartes and Locke of ‘instrument’ or ‘term’ of knowledge. According to Henry an idea is in God for the fact that divine essence is in some ways imitable by creatural essences.”
subkind of Exemplar; exclusive part of DivineMind; certifies MentalRepresentation
(Species); causes Essence
Essence“For Henry (as for Avicenna) every res possesses its own ‘certitude’ (certitudo) that makes it what it is. Certitudo here means stability, consistency, and ontological self-identity: a triangle is a triangle and nothing else, white is white and nothing else. Certitudo thus expresses the objective content by which every thing is identical to itself and is distinguished from other things; in other words, certitudo expresses the essence or quidditas of a thing (“unaquaeque res habet certitudinem propriam quae est eius quidditas” — “every thing possesses its own certitude, which is its essence”). This content can be considered in itself, as independent from its physical or mental existence. In an absolute sense, every essence possesses a double indifference: with regard to actual existence or non-existence (essence in itself is simply possible), and with regard to universality and particularity. These last two aspects are really conjoined. Essence is particular in that it receives its subsistence in a given suppositum (concrete individual entity) from something-other-than-itself, while it is universal in that it is abstracted by the intellect from these singular supposita, in which it exists as one in many, in order to become predicable by many.” See also [3.3.1]shared part of Thing; in material relation with DivineIdea
SinceraVeritas“the exemplar is the ideal form present in the divine mind [divine idea] that acts as the formal cause of creatural essences, and from this perspective the [sincera] veritas of the res is its ontological conformity (Anselm’s rectitudo) to its eternal model.”
“the sincera veritas, obtained only through divine illumination — in other words, by an act of God, not as obiectum cognitum (known object) but as ratio cognoscendi (cause or reason of knowledge)”
relates DivineIdea with Essence
ThingAn external object, a thing (res).
HumanMindA human mind.
MentalRepresentation
(Species)
“the exemplar is the universal species of the object that the mind obtains by abstraction, on the basis of sensible data. […]
For Henry, divine illumination does not directly provide the mind with any content, but rather certifies definitively (with the typical Augustinian image of the seal) the [mental] representation of a thing present in the human intellect, as coinciding with the representation existing ab aeterno in the divine intellect. […]
The action of divine illumination is therefore neither a direct donation of intelligible contents, independent of the conditions of sensible knowledge, nor is it a simple purification, preparation or refinement of the mind in order to predispose it to intellectual knowledge. Rather, it is the certification of our created exemplar by the uncreated one; in other words, by divine art (ars).
subkind of Exemplar; eclusive part of HumanMind
VerbumMentis“intellect then forms complex judgments and produces its own species, or verbum [menits] (mental word), as a result of this activity. Even when Henry expounds the theory of the double exemplar, he always maintains that the divine exemplar acts on the verbum already formed by the intellect at the first level of knowledge, refining and transforming it into a second, more perfect, verbum that can represent the truth at the level of sincera veritas.”characterizes MentalRepresentation
Science’sTruth “As in Augustine’s Soliloquia, it is important to distinguish between what is true and truth itself. Sensation only grasps id quod verum est (“what is true,” and something is true in that it is a being on the basis of the simple conversion of transcendentals). […]
 In this case, the truth of the res [what is true] is the conformity between the really existing thing and its mental representation.
[…]
This double relation (res-mensres-exemplar aeternum) thereby produces a double truth, or two different levels of truth: on the one hand, the veritas of Aristotelian science [science’s truth], deriving from the purely natural faculties, through an abstracting process”
relates MentalRepresentation with Essence
Conformity“In this case, the truth of the res [what is true] is the conformity between the really existing thing and its mental representation; this conformity can only be grasped by the dividing and composing intellect, in the classic Aristotelian and Thomist formula, and not by the simplex intelligentia.” characterizes Truth

Sources

  • All citations from: Porro, Pasquale, “Henry of Ghent”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 4/3/2021

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