Theory of Knowledge 2: Imagination, cogitative, and the intellect
By Orlando Fedeli - The theory of knowledge in Saint Thomas Aquinas, part 2 of 3
Note from the translator: Here is Chapter 1 of the 4th Part of the book “In Wonderland: the burlesque Gnosis of the TFP and the Heralds of the Gospel”, where Orlando Fedeli explain the theory of knowledge according to Saint Thomas Aquinas, before exposing how Plinio thought knowledge happened in men. In this series of posts, we are only interested in Fedeli’s interpretation of Aquinas. I am taking the freedom to break it in 3 posts
Imagination, cogitative, and the intellect
The irrationalist error in knowledge (coming soon)
Imagination, or fantasy, has a more elastic and somewhat varied meaning in St. Thomas. It would be the ability to receive and build images of real things, or even things [that were] never seen [before], through associations of what, somehow, was already known. It can only work perfectly in those [individuals] with the five exterior senses. The lack of a sense makes it impossible to form images related to that sense. So a blind man is incapable of imagining a blue object.
Sensitive stimuli affect the five external senses producing sensations. These are sent to common sense, which integrates and unifies them and marks their image in fantasy. Imagination conserves this received image and can make it reappear, as imagination has the power to evoke images received or already constructed by it.
Imagination, in relation to the external senses, is complete, synthetic, and concrete. Concerning man’s higher senses, the imagination is dispositional, analytical, and abstractive.
Memory is the ability to store images and data of external sensations, received and unified by common sense, and also the ability to recognize the past.
These three internal senses serve the cogitative, which is the sense closest to the intellective capacity of the human soul.
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As we only aim to make the Thomist theory of knowledge understood, for brevity, we will only deal with what is essential for the understanding of this theme.
Hence, without considering secondary details, we will now deal with the cogitative, man’s internal sense, which in animals is called estimative.
For Saint Thomas, the proper object of animal estimative are the insensate intentions (Note from translator: “insensate”, that is, which lacks the input from external senses): value discriminations, concrete utilities, perceived particular relations of objects related to the subject’s instinctual needs, or primary psychomotor activities. These intentions oppose purely phenomenal, apparent, exterior contents or aspects captured by the external senses and whose marks are kept by fantasy.
The cogitative, in some way, is already in contact with intelligence and has as its object something that is singular but already perceived as part of a common nature. In animals, estimation apprehends an object as a term or a principle of an action or passion, only as an individual and not understood as comprehended in a common nature. For example, the sheep sees the lamb as something to be fed and the grass as food. Everything happens between concrete beings.
Just as an animal being, within the limits of its order, approaches the human at its highest level and the vegetable at its lowest level, so too does an internal sense such as the cogitative approaches to intelligence in a certain way, for it is the highest internal sense, rudimentary participating in the modes proper to the higher functions, which are the intellectual ones. The cogitative participates in some way in human rationality.
The cogitative has a speculative function, not because of its inferior contact with sensations, but in so far as it has contact with intelligence. It is the action of the agent-intellect that acts on the cogitative, elevating it to a sensible power above itself in forming what Saint Thomas calls phantasmata.
The cogitative is ordered to coordinate with intelligence and participates in some way in its rationality.