[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

[4.14.2] Henry of Ghent on Will and Intellect

Henry of Ghent (“Doctor Solemnis”, 1217?, d. 1293 AD) Quodlibet I. q 14, 15; IV. q 22; IX. q 5 writes about the freedom of the will and the relation between will and intellect. According to his voluntarist model, will is a higher power than truth:

  • The will and the intellect are faculties of the human mind.
  • The will (contrary to Aristotle’s theory of movement [1.3.13]) is a self-mover, while the intellect not. Will moves and commands intellect through the act of will.
  • The faculties have stable dispositions to act in a certain way, i.e., habits.
  • The habit of the will is love, with good as the object. Intellect has knowledge as habit, with truth as the object.
  • Love is superior to knowledge, and good is superior to truth.

The following OntoUML diagram presents Henry of Ghent’s model of will and intellect:

Henry of Ghent on will and intellect
ClassDescriptionRelations
HumanMindA human mind
FacultyA faculty is a mental ability or power.exclusive part of HumanMind; has Habit
Will“Henry claims that the will [voluntas] is a higher power than the intellect because ‘the habit, act, and object of the will are utterly superior to the act, habit, and object of the intellect.’ The characteristic habit of the will, namely, love, is superior to any habit of wisdom and knowledge, as Augustine and Paul testify. Henry has two arguments for the superiority of the act of the will over the act of the intellect.
The act of the will is superior, first of all, because ‘the will commands reason to consider, reason, and deliberate when it wills and about what it wills, and it likewise commands it to stop. The intellect does not command or move the will in any such way . . .’
The act of the will is, secondly, ‘much more perfect and higher than that of the intellect to the extent that love and longing for God is better than knowledge of God.’
The object of the will is superior to the object of the intellect ‘because the object of the will, which is the good without qualification, has the character of an end without qualification and of the ultimate end. The object of the intellect, however, which is the true, has the character of the good of something, for example of the intellect.’
In his conclusion, Henry invokes the metaphor of the will as king over the other powers of the soul and concludes that ‘the will is the higher power in the whole kingdom of the soul and thus higher than the intellect.’ […]
One of the most striking features of his defense of freedom of the will is his claim that the will moves itself by itself to the act of willing, and the concomitant claim that the Aristotelian principle that whatever is moved is moved by something else does not apply to the will.”
subkind of Faculty
Intellect“Henry explains that the intellect [ratio] is a passive power without qualification because it does not act unless it has been previously acted upon, but it is an active power in a certain respect, because, once an intelligible object has come to be in the intellect, the intellect becomes active and produces a concept or mental word, as the articles by Marrone and Goehring in this volume indicate.”subkind of Faculty
ActOfWill“The act of the will is superior, first of all, because ‘the will commands reason to consider, reason, and deliberate when it wills and about what it wills, and it likewise commands it to stop. The intellect does not command or move the will in any such way.'”commands Reason
HabitHabit (habitus) are stable dispositions of faculties the to act in a certain way.generalizes Love and Knowledge
Love“The characteristic habit of the will, namely, love, is superior to any habit of wisdom and knowledge, as Augustine and Paul testify”relates Will with Good
Knowledge“The characteristic habit of the will, namely, love, is superior to any habit of wisdom and knowledge, as Augustine and Paul testify”relates Intellect with Knowledge
ObjectAn object of a habit.generalizes Good and Truth
Good“the object of the will, which is the good without qualification, has the character of an end without qualification and of the ultimate end.”characterizes Thing
Truth“The object of the intellect, however, which is the true [truth], has the character of the good of something, for example of the intellect.”characterizes Thing
ThingAn external existent, a thing (res), a particular.
GodChristian God, the ultimate Good and Truth, the main object to which the human mind aspires. Subkind of Thing

Sources

  • All citations from: Teske, Roland J., SJ, “Henry of Ghent on Freedom of the Human Will”, 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: 11/3/2021