[4.14.3] Henry of Ghent on Concept Formation and Verbum Mentis

Henry of Ghent (“Doctor Solemnis”, 1217?, d. 1293 AD) Quodlibet Quodlibet IV, q. 8 examines concept formation and the mental word’s role (verbum mentis).

  • Henry, inspired by Augustine (see [2.6.3]), sustains, “that the human mind, as imago Dei, has a fundamentally trinitarian structure; it comprises understanding, will and memoria, the most basic cognitive capacity.”
  • Henry, based on Aristotle, thinks that the human intellect or understanding is both passive-receptive and active-constructive.
  • The first step towards concept formation is the sense impression by an external object, which is processed further by the universal sense.
  • Understanding in a first step is the formation of a simple, undifferentiated concept in the intellect. At this level, the intellect grasps, e.g., that a circle is a plane geometrical figure.
  • In a second step, intellect, through an active, discursive process, grasps the concept’s essence, using some prior concepts stored in the memory. This way forms a precise and accurate definition represented in mind by mental word (verbum mentis). E.g., the mathematical definition of the circle.
  • The will, as a self-mover, directs the intellect (see also [4.14.2])to invest the necessary effort to create the verbum mentis.

The  UML Use Case diagram below presents Henry of Ghent’s model of the concept formation:

Henry of Ghent on concept formation and verbum mentis (mental word)

Use cases:

FACULTY/FunctionUse CaseRelations
5 senses5 senses impressed by the Object (UC1)
5 senses are:  touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste.
Universal senseUniversal sense combines particular sense-impressions of one object (UC2): “Henry applies this principle to our cognitive capacities, as instances of a patient’s undergoing change naturally, from the five external senses and the so-called universal sense, which combines particular sense-impressions of one object”includes UC1
INTELLECTFirst operation: (INTELLECT) understands the object by forming a simple concept of it (UC3): “Human intellect’s first operation is a change brought about by an object (a universal in representational content) that is understood, or thought about, by the intellect. The act of understanding is constituted by both the intellect (as the subject) and something intelligible (the object). The result of this first operation is a simple, as yet undifferentiated concept of the object of cognition. Such an initial, simple concept is representative of some thing (notitia de re) and a manifestation of it, although in a cognitively and conceptually imperfect manner: ‘This concept of the thing is, as it were, some confused and indefinitemanifestation of it since through it a thing is cognized as something confused and indistinct that is definable, like a circle, which is not completely cognized by the intellect until [the intellect] forms in itself the definition of the circle, by cognizing about it that it is a plane (geometrical) figure etc.’ […]
In other words, the thing’s essential characteristics are not yet conceptually distinct; no complete definitional account can yet be given of what the object is. A circle that is expressed in such an ‘indefinite manifestation’ may appear indistinct froman ellipsis or other figures, and hence it is not (yet) completely cognized as what it is.”
includes UC2, UC4
Imaginative powerUse imaginative power (UC4): “At times he even hazarded to call such cognition a “fantastical understanding” (intellectus phantasticus) in obvious reference to the inner-sense power, imagination or ‘phantasia.'”
INTELLECTSecond operation: (INTELLECT) produces mental word (UC5): “For Henry the intellect’s activity of understanding is not completed until (donec) it comes to rest in a mental word [verbum mentis], which provides the desired definitional account of a given object, through which it cognizes the object’s essence. Moreover, the intellect is set up to achieve not merely a nominal definition but a real definition of a thing’s essence. This is, ideally, the result of the second operation, the active, discursive function of the intellect“.
E.g. at this level the content of the mental word circle looks like: circle is the set of all points in the plane that are a fixed distance (the radius) from a fixed point (the centre).
includes UC3, UC6
MEMORYStore prior concepts and mental words (in the intellectual MEMORY) (UC6): “For Henry a mental word requires forming a concept or account on the basis of some other, prior concept, which is accessible in intellectual memory.While Augustine in De trinitate explains that a mental word is primarily a conscious actualization of cognitive content accessible via the memoria, Henry interprets Augustine differently because Henry thinks that a mental word is a newly formed, numerically distinct concept based on some prior concept in intellectual memory.”
WILLWILL directs INTELLECT to Object (UC7): “For when the receptive intellect has been informed with a simple, confused concept of what a thing is, for instance of a man or horse, or white or black, the will that delights in the cognized thing (though incompletely since it has not been cognized completely) is excited to come to know through the intellect what is left [to be cognized], so that it might completely delight in something completely cognized, according to what Augustine says in De trinitate, Book X, chapter I: ‘That something is known, but not fully known, is the reason the mind desires to know what is left [to be known about it].’ For this reason the will through its command moves the intellect so that it may attend to what is already cognized in a confused manner and cognize it to a greater extent. The intellect that is moved by the command of the will and by its own active power, fixes its gaze on the thing that is cognized more strongly and sharply and strives to penetrate [to] the interior features of what is cognized in a confused way, so that it may cognize clearly what it is in the parts that make up its essence.'”includes UC5

Actors:

ActorsDescriptionsRelations
ObjectAn object in the external worlduses UC7; UC5
User of the mindA Person

Sources

  • All citations from: Goehring, Bernd, “Henry of Ghent on the Verbum Mentis”, A Companion to Henry of Ghent, Brill, 2011, Gordon A.Wilson (ed)
  • Porro, Pasquale, “Henry of Ghent”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

First published: 18/3/2021
Updated: 30/5/2021

[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