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Immateriality, Thinking and the Self in the Long Middle Ages



Baltuta, Elena: Three Accounts of Form and Matter in the Thirteenth Century: Aquinas, Kilwardby and Olivi

My talk will focus on the 13th century debate between the proponents of classical Aristotelian hylomorphism and universal hylomorphism, by taking into account the views of three authors, Aquinas, Kilwardby and Olivi. The central point of disagreement between these two camps is, as I shall try to prove, the metaphysical makeup of spiritual or immaterial substances such as angels and human rational souls. While for a proponent of classical hylomorphism (Aquinas) such substances lack matter, for a proponent of universal hylomorphism (Kilwardby, Olivi) all created substances, therefore spiritual ones as well, are composed of form and matter. In order to spell out the difference between these two camps I shall try to advance an analysis of their metaphysical building blocks, with a special emphasis on prima materia. This special emphasis is a consequence of my main assumption that it is prima materia that lies at the heart of and shapes the dispute between classical and universal hylomorphism.


De Haan, Daniel: Under the Conditions of Matter: Thomas Aquinas on the Quasi-Immateriality of Cogitative Thinking

In this paper I explore Thomas Aquinas account of the quasi-immaterial character of objects and of the highest internal sense called the cogitative power (vis cogitativa), which is responsible for allowing the human person to perceive, think, and reason about individuals things, events, and actions. Thomas maintains that the cogitative power—along with imagination and memory—are able to form phantasms that have an intentional state of existence, but which remain individual insofar as these phantasms remain under the conditions of matter. This is because, like all internal senses, the cogitative power is the formal act of some material organic substrate in the brain. I aim to investigate what sense can be made of Thomas’s contention that such sensible beings—especially those particular intentions apprehended by the cogitative power—occupy a halfway state of being between matter and immaterial forms (In II De anima, lt. 5, n. 377).


French, Craig: The Argument from Illusion and Immateriality

In much 20th century philosophy of perception, consideration of perceptual illusions lead some to accept revisionary conclusions about the objects of perception. On the one hand there is what Snowdon calls a negative revision: we are not really perceptually aware of ordinary material objects. But we also find what Snowdon calls a positive revision: what we are really perceptually aware of are immaterial objects. I'll critically consider arguments from illusion which purport to establish these claims, and I'll link these considerations to historical discussions in the philosophy of the Long Middle Ages.


Heal, Jane:  Metaphysical Atomism and the Attraction of Materialism

(1) Much metaphysics in the western tradition either explicitly argues for, or takes for granted, metaphysical atomism, that is the view (captured in a particularly gripping way by the Wittgenstein of the Tractatus) that what exists comes intrinsically structured into molecular fact-shaped items, built out of metaphysically fundamental and irreducible fact-constituting atoms. On this picture the business of true sentences is to capture isomorphically  the structure of some fact or facts . 

(2) Such a metaphysics brings with it strong pressures to reductivism, in the sense that any alleged fact must be built out of metaphysical atoms in good standing, assembled into facts. Hence it is impossible to acknowledge the real existence of anything with a holistic nature in such a metaphysics, because (by definition) the holistic cannot be reductively unpacked into molecules and atoms. 

(3) Arguably agency and value are holistic notions. Correlatively the view about what the metaphysical atoms and molecules are,  nearly always comes up with accounts which are mind and value free - e.g. physicalism.  

(4) But metaphysical atomism is not an obligatory metaphysical view. There are alternatives of a transcendental idealist or pragmatist  nature, on which reality is not best pictured as intrinsically structured, but rather as inviting us (who are part of it) to apply to it our constantly improving and enriching concepts of it and ourselves. 

(5) If debates about 'immaterialism' are debates about the status of agency and value (the 'materialist' wanting to downgrade or debunk and the 'immaterialist' to defend), then the 'immaterialist' would do well to avoid metaphysical atomism and to work in a different framework.  The attempt to give serious status to agency and value, against the background of implicit commitment to metaphysical atomism, is (probably) an incoherent enterprise, resulting in the postulation of strange stuff (for example, what Cartesian egos are supposedly made of) which will, on inspection, turn out not to underpin what we hoped it would.


Kaukua, Jari: Immateriality and Self-Awareness in and after Avicenna

Although Avicenna (d. 1037 CE) did not consider our self-awareness as providing a decisive argument for substance dualism, he repeatedly relied on the phenomenon in corroborating the claim that the human soul is an immaterial substance. He was certainly not the first philosopher to perceive a potent connection between self-awareness and immateriality, but the detailed attention he paid to this feature of our experience is quite unprecedented in the material he had available. Moreover, it was his concept of self-awareness that subsequent Islamic philosophers would take as a starting point in their attempts at reworking that connection. In this paper, I will first attempt to reconstruct the Avicennian concept of self-awareness. I will then assess its relation to the ancient idea according to which intellectuality and immateriality are reciprocally implicative. Finally, I will briefly consider some of the ways in which later thinkers, such as Shihāb al-Dīn al-Suhrawardī (d. 1191 CE) or Mullā Ṣadrā (d. 1635/6), applied the Avicennian concept.


Klein, Martin: Aquinas on Self-Knowledge and the Immaterial Nature of the Human Intellect

Thomas Aquinas tried to prove that the human intellect is immaterial because of its peculiar operations of thinking about the natures of all bodies, universals, and eventually itself. The latter inference from quidditative self-knowledge to the immaterial nature of the intellect is particularly interesting. For, Aquinas combines Aristotelian, Neoplatonic and Arabic approaches by making reference to a special kind of intellectual operation: In reflecting upon itself the intellect acquires knowledge of its essence. However, as I will show in my paper, it is doubtful whether Aquinas's proof is successful. On the one hand, in some versions of his proof Aquinas does not seem to proof but merely presuppose the immaterial nature of the human intellect. On the other hand, even if the proof is valid, it is questionable whether it is sound. For, the cognitive process by my means of which the intellect turns to itself is obscure. Hence, for good reasons some 14th century thinkers, among them John Buridan, did not accept Aquinas's proof.


Li Qilin: Safety and the Lottery Puzzle: a case study for the distinction between epistemic safety and probability

In this paper it is argued that the safety condition of knowledge can provide a satisfactory solution to the lottery puzzle without appealing to too sophisticated theory of conditional probability. With a proper interpretation of the lottery puzzle, the standard possible-world analysis suffices for the need in question. The solution to the lottery puzzle in this paper also illustrates the crucial distinction between the concepts of epistemic safety and objective probability; more specifically, the general theoretical framework embodied in the suggested solution in this paper implies a two-dimensional structure of the possible worlds. In order to establish the above conclusions, the paper is divided into three parts. The first and preliminary part of this paper introduces the safety condition, the lottery puzzle and seeming difficulty in the safety solution to the lottery puzzle. It is then argued that the objective distribution of the probability for each lottery to win plays a significant role only in the metaphysical dimension of the set-up of the possible worlds in question, which does not reflect the genuine degree of the safety of the epistemic belief in question. By contrast, the epistemic strength and the degree of the safety of the belief is explicitly measured the distance between a possible world and the centered actual world, which counts as the second dimension of the set-up of the possible worlds. In the third and last part of the paper, a more general theoretical lesson is drawn from the previous arguments, which may in turn shed some light on the significance of the distinction between epistemic modality and metaphysical modality.


Liu Zhe: Merleau-Ponty’s Structuralist Naturalism: a radical form of Cartesianism

Merleau-Ponty develops a very nuanced interpretation of Descartes all throughout his philosophical development. In particular, he stresses the problem of the mind and body union (which Descartes introduces as the “third primitive notion” in his correspondence with the princess Elisabeth in 1643) as a radical challenge both to the Cartesian metaphysics and physics at once. In the Structure of Behavior, he rejects the pseudo-Cartesianism as physical reductionism and genuine Cartesianism as transcendental intellectualism in order to resolve the Cartesian union problem through a sort of structualist naturalism. On the basis of his idiosyncratic form of naturalism, Merleau-Ponty is eventually able to renew our conception of human subject as “subject-object” or in contemporary parlance embodied subject.


Meyns, Chris: Extended Souls

Soul acts throughout the whole of the body it animates. Substances are located where they act. Therefore, soul is located throughout the whole of the body it animates. Tis simple piece of reasoning leads a number of authors to the controversial doctrine that immaterial substances—including souls—are extended. Others, however, strongly resist the conclusion. What is behind this fundamental divergence? In this paper I confront part of this debate as it played out in the seventeenth century, drawing on the work of Descartes, Marin Cureau de la Chambre, and Henry More, among others. Covering considerations about division, penetration, and the possibility of action at a distance, I argue that the main point of divergence between the parties lies not so much in the conception of what it is to be immaterial. Rather, I suggest that what drives this dispute is a divergence in the account of extension and, ultimately, that of space.


Oelze, Anselm: Material Souls, Material Thoughts? Some medieval views on rational operations in non-rational animals 

Although medieval authors, by and large, denied the cognition of universals to nonhuman (hence non-rational) animals, they still thought to find the capacities of judging and reasoning in other than just human animals. This is striking, insofar as these rational operations were usually taken to depend on the immateriality of the intellect. Thus, if one ascribes such cognitive capacities to non-rational animals, an explanation needs to be given of how there can be thoughts outside immaterial minds. This paper will present an overview of various accounts of nonhuman animal thinking from the early to the later Middle Ages and explore how authors accounted for immaterial processes in absence of immateriality.


Wu Tianyue: Aquinas on the Individuation of Thinking

To Aquinas’s mind, there is a very serious defect in the so-called doctrine of monopsychism, which believes that all human beings share a single separate intellect, and that is that it cannot offer a satisfactory explanation for the obvious fact that this particular human being thinks (hic homo intelligit). However, it also poses great challenges to Aquinas himself to attribute the immaterial operation of thinking to a material being such as Socrates. This is especially so when Aquinas insists that the human soul has the intellectual operation per se that the body does not share in. It seems to follow that Socrates as a corporeal being contributes nothing substantial to his intellectual activities. Even worse, Aquinas also explicitly claims that the matter is the principle of individuation. Therefore, it seems rather difficult to integrate all these claims together to show how Socrates’ act of thinking is different from Plato’s. In this light, this paper will examine Aquinas’s efforts to tackle this problem to see if we can reconstruct from them a coherent account for the individuation of human thinking, which hopefully will shed some new lights on our own understanding of the thinking self as well.