The Interaction of Experience and the Intellect

1 Leave a comment on Absatz 1 0 For Andreas, the intellect on its own (propria virtute) is capable of assenting to the connection of terms in a principle because of its natural light (lumen naturale). He bases this claim on the authority of the Philosopher himself who states that principles are known through their terms (cf. An. Post. I.3, 72b24 f: ἀρχὴν ἐπιστήμης εἶναί τινά φαμεν, ἧι τοὺς ὅρους γνωρίζομεν: […]).

2 Leave a comment on Absatz 2 0 ad habendam de principiis noticiam complexam non est necessaria simpliciter cognitio sensitiva seu experimentalis. […] nam ipse intellectus conceptis modo preexposito terminis simplicibus potest virtute propria ipsos componere vel dividere. ita quod conceptus tales complexi si sint principiorum primorum cognoscuntur esse veri lumine naturali intellectus. quia principia cognoscimus inquantum terminos cognoscimus. primo poste. et ideo cognitio sensitiva vel experimentalis non est simpliciter necessaria per tali complexa cognitione de principiis habenda. (Andreas, fol. 12 r)

3 Leave a comment on Absatz 3 0 In order to have a complex awareness of principles sensual or experiential cognition is not necessary per se. […] For the intellect itself can compose or divide concepts on its own, after it has conceived them. Complex concepts [sc. propositions] can be known to be true, if they are a first principle due to the natural light of the intellect, because we know principles insofar as we know [sc. their] terms. Therefore, sensitive or experiential cognition is not per se necessary in order to acquire such complex cognition of principles.

4 Leave a comment on Absatz 4 0 The natural light is the ability to determine the truth of a given proposition that should serve as a principle based only on the content of the concepts involved. According to the Thomist Cajetan, this is unacceptable. Concepts can be joined in different combinations, we may e. g. assert or deny a connection between terms of a principle. Unless experiential input is available, there is no reason to presume that one of these combinations is preferable to the others:

5 Leave a comment on Absatz 5 0 Et confirmatur, quoniam cum ex eisdem terminis varie possint fieri compositiones, ut manifestum est: nisi cognitio experimentalis determinet intellectum ad hanc compositionem, non erit maior ratio, quare intellectus acquirat hanc cognitionem complexam (quam vocamus principium) ex illis terminis magis, quam aliam, etc.(Cajetan, In Praedicabilia Porphyrii, Praedicamenta, Postpraedicamenta, & libros posteriorum analyticorum Aristotelis … commentaria (Lugduni 1578), p. 667)

6 Leave a comment on Absatz 6 0 This is confirmed: it is evident that identical terms can be composed in different ways. There will be no decisive reason why the intellect grasps one complex cognition (which is called a principle) of these terms rather than another, unless experiential cognition determines the intellect accordingly.

7 Leave a comment on Absatz 7 0 So for Thomists, the Scotist doctrine of ’natural light‘ is vacuous, because it does not explain or justify the truth of the principles we accept. In this, Javellus agrees with his teacher Cajetan. The Scotist Andreas must presume that the intellect is a potentia absoluta: It is entirely free in its decision to give or withhold assent to a given propositional content. Such a potentia absoluta is not bound by any general rules of operation (then it would be a potentia ordinata). But even a potentia absoluta still has to be a potentia determinata:

8 Leave a comment on Absatz 8 0 […] nego, quod intellectus sua propria virtute conceptis terminis simplicibus ad componendum, vel dividendum hoc vel illud determinatum complexum, licet non sit verum, quod potentiae absolutae componere, vel dividere, non tamen determinatae hoc, ita quod constet sibi de veritate eius, nisi fuerit adiutus, et determinatus cognitione sensitiva complexa frequentata, quae dicitur experimentum, […] (Javellus, fol. 15 v)

9 Leave a comment on Absatz 9 0 […] I negate that the intellect, having grasped the content of simple terms, is capable on its own to assert or deny a given determinate complex [sc. i. e. a proposition]: It is not true that potencies are free to choose whether to assert or to deny [sc. a determinate complex], if they have not been determined in such a way that truth is evident for them – i. e. [sc. the intellect] is assisted and determined by repeated complex sensual cognition that is called experience.

10 Leave a comment on Absatz 10 0 Javellus concedes that the intellect may not be bound by general rules and therefore really be a potentia absoluta. But even then there must be a factor determining its activity in particular cases in order to refute the objection of arbitrariness. Therefore, we are bound to assume that principles of a science are known by the cognitive capabilities of the intellect (the natural light) and experiential input.

11 Leave a comment on Absatz 11 0 Fonseca goes one step further. Cajetan’s and Javellus’s implicit assumption that the intellect on its own may proceed arbitrarily is made explicit in his Commentariorvm Petri Fonsecae Lvsitani, Doctoris Theologi Societatis Iesv, In Libros Metaphysicorum Aristotelis Stagiritae (Francofurti 1599) . For Fonseca, the intellect on its own is generally prone to error:

12 Leave a comment on Absatz 12 0 […] ratio est, quia certitudo cognitionis abstractivae, qualis est cognitio universalium, indiget examine intuitivae, quae in hac vita sine sensu haberi non potest.(Fonseca, col. 95)

13 Leave a comment on Absatz 13 0 The […] reason is that for the certainty of abstractive cognition such as the cognition of universals an examination based on intuitions is required – and such an examination can in this life only be had through the senses.

14 Leave a comment on Absatz 14 0 It should be noted that this rather sweeping statement seems to concern all cognition of universals, insofar as it aspires to certainty. This is remarkable, since at the same time Fonseca explicitly denies Cajetan’s assumption that experience is a requirement for the cognition of principles:

15 Leave a comment on Absatz 15 0 […] si Caietani 2. Post. ad c. 18 sententia probanda esset, dicendum foret, experimentum esse necessarium ad iungendos apte terminos. […] Dicendum est […], Veram et propriam caussam habituum principiorum, esse lumen intellectus, quo cernimus praedicata esse immediata subiectis: neque experimentum esse necessarium, ut veram et per se causam illorum: […](Fonseca, col. 99)

16 Leave a comment on Absatz 16 0 […] if Cajetan’s statement in 2. Post. ad c. 18 were provable, we would have to say that experience is necessary for the correct connection of terms. […] It should [sc. rather] be said that the true and essential cause for habits of [sc. knowing] principles is the light of the intellect. By this light we realise that the predicate belongs immediately to the subject and that experience is not required as a true and essential cause of these [sc. habits].

17 Leave a comment on Absatz 17 0 So how does this fit together? For Fonseca, the intellect on its own is capable of finding true relations between terms. But this does not imply that this intellectual intuition is infallible. In other words, Fonseca seems to make an implicit distinction between the causal story of the knowledge of principles and their justification. Even though knowledge of principles does not depend causally on experience, it does so for its justification:

18 Leave a comment on Absatz 18 0 Dicendum est […] idcirco [sc. experimentum] esse necessarium, quia […] nemo absque erroris periculo principiis assentitur, nisi illa [sic] expertus sit in aliquibus singularibus nullamque reperiat instantiam. (Fonseca, col. 99)

19 Leave a comment on Absatz 19 0 It must be stated that experience is necessary, because nobody assents to principles without risking error, unless he has made some experiences of particulars and has found some constancy [sc. in them].

20 Leave a comment on Absatz 20 0 The conclusion drawn from these reflections is almost Kantian in spirit: Neither the intellect on its own nor experience can justify our beliefs. Both ’sources of knowledge‘ must cooperate in order to attain the maximum degree of certainty that is accessible to us:

21 Leave a comment on Absatz 21 0 Occurendum est, et experimentum per se aliquando fallere, et intellectum nonnunquam in ea re hallucinari. Verum cum ambo conveniunt, tunc habent omnem certitudinem quae naturaliter haberi potest. (Fonseca, col. 100)

22 Leave a comment on Absatz 22 0 It must be answered that experience fails at times, when it is on its own and the intellect sometimes deceives itself. If both of them agree, they have the highest degree of certainty that is available to us by nature.

23 Leave a comment on Absatz 23 0 In his Disputationes Metaphysicae (Salmanticae 1597), Suárez reargues the Scotist position against Fonseca. Experience is only required in order to know the exact content of concepts employed in truly first and immediate principles. Moreover, Suárez agrees with Andreas that our grasp of the connection between the simple terms of a principle is based on intellectual intuition. Experience may at times be helpful in this process, but our cognitive access to the connection of terms expressed in a principle is fully and exclusively intellectual:

24 Leave a comment on Absatz 24 0 Relinquitur ergo experientiam solum requiri ad scientiam ut intellectus noster manu ducatur per eam ad intelligandas exacte rationes terminorum simplicium, quibus intellectis ipse naturali lumine suo videt clare immediatam connexionem eorum inter se, quae est prima et unica ratio assentiendi illis. (Suárez, V.1.25, p. 45)

25 Leave a comment on Absatz 25 0 So the only remaining function for experience in the generation of knowledge is this: It instructs our intellect, so that it understands precisely the reasons (rationes) of the simple terms. If these reasons have been understood correctly, the intellect sees clearly due to its natural light the immediate connection between these terms. This in turn is the first and only reason to assent to them [sc. the principles].

26 Leave a comment on Absatz 26 0 So true principles are known to be true regardless of experiential data. Suárez uses the principle of non-contradiction as an example:

27 Leave a comment on Absatz 27 0 Est namque in primis unum et alterum generalissimum et notissimum, scilicet, Quodlibet est, vel non est. Impossibile est idem simul esse et non esse: […](Suárez V.1.26, p. 46)

28 Leave a comment on Absatz 28 0 Among the first [sc. principles] there is one that is very general and very familiar: Whatever is, or is not, cannot be and not be at the same time: […]

29 Leave a comment on Absatz 29 0 In order to know this principle, experience is not merely superfluous. Confirmation of the principle of non-contradiction through experience is barely possible. We cannot have an experience of an absence of non-esse simultaneously with the experience of esse. Our knowledge of this principle rests exclusively on our understanding of the terms involved.

30 Leave a comment on Absatz 30 0 […] et ad haec cognoscenda nulla requiritur experientia, sed sola terminorum apprehensio, intelligentia seu explicatio: imo vix possunt illa principia ad positivam experientiam reduci: nam licet de quocumque singulari possimus experiri quod sit: tamen quod tunc non careat existentia, non possumus positive experiri distincto experimento ab eo quo videtur illud esse, sed sola intelligentia id percipitur explicatis terminis. Et hoc videtur adeo per se notum, ut alia probatione non indigeat (Suárez V.1.26, p. 46).

31 Leave a comment on Absatz 31 0 In order to know this, experience is not required. The only thing [sc. we need] is apprehension of the terms used in it, [i. e.] understanding or explication of them. We cannot even justify any appeal of such principles to a given experience. We may experience that some particular exists. But we cannot have an experience of non-existence that is distinct from the experience that this particular exists. As soon as the terms used have been explained, this [sc. principle] is based on our understanding [sc. of them]. And this is known so clearly that it does not require any further proof.

32 Leave a comment on Absatz 32 0 So we may conclude that for Andreas, the Scotist, the intellect is capable on its own to assent to the connection of simple terms in a principle. Cajetan and Javellus disagree, because Andreas’s model does not really give a valid reason for the truth of intellectual intuitions and runs the risk of arbitrariness. For Thomists, there must be a determinate reason, why the intellect prefers one combination of terms over the other. Fonseca generalises this insight: All cognition of universals is fallible. He seems to attempt to distinguish the causal history of a given mental state from its mode of justification: Even though the state of knowing a principle may come about only due to the intellect, it can only be regarded as justified, if it is confirmed by experience. Suárez reargues Andreas’s position: It is a conceptual truth that at least some principles cannot be confirmed by experience. The principle of non-contradiction cannot draw on experiential insights in order to be known as true: Non-being cannot be experienced.

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