ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

375. Psychology. -- The originality of Ockamism is best seen in the domain of psychology. In accordance with William's simplifying tendencies, all the psychical faculties are regarded as identical with one another and with the substance of the soul.

Three new theories characterize his psychology: the theory of the sign; terminism; and his criticism of the species intentionales. Every cognitive representation is essentially a sign (signum), which, as such, holds the place (supponere) of the object signified. This sign, also called a term (terminus), is natural,{1} in opposition to artificial signs (secundum institutionem voluntariam) such as language and writing. There are three distinct cognitions or natural signs of things: (intuitive) sense cognition, intuitive intellectual cognition and abstract intellectual cognition. Here we find the dual division -- into sense and intellect -- fundamental in all scholastic ideology. But between sensation, which has for object the sensible qualities of things, and the abstract concept which signifies some note or attribute referable to an indefinite multitude of the things of sense, or else seizes on some determination irrespective of its existence or non-existence,{2} Ockam inserts an intermediate cognition, the intuitive concept, which grasps the concrete existence or non-existence of singular things and serves as basis for the knowledge of contingent truths.{3} And he adds: "Notitia abstractiva praesupponit intuitivam".{4}

We have next to consider terminism as an answer to the question: What relation is there between the signs and the things signified, between those various cognitions and the objective reality? Here we must distinguish. Every intuitive cognition, whether by sense or by intellect, attains to the real thing, as it exists outside us.{5} Let us note this admission: it will protect William of Ockam against the undue suspicion of subjectivism. But have our abstract concepts the same real objectivity? No. They have no value, William teaches, outside us; for the abstract and universal, to which they lead us, has no existence in the world of reality (373). The universal concept (intentio secunda) has for its direct term mere mental, internal representations, fabricated entirely by the understanding; and we have no right to transport into the real world of Nature the laws which regulate the ideal world of the phenomena of Mind. But if so, what use are Universals, or why does the mind have recourse to such artificial forms? Here is Ockam's answer: The universal holds the place (supponit), in the mind, of the multitude of things to which the mind attributes it.{6} By the universal, we conceive realities as if they were common to many things; and the products of those universal conceptions serve as predicates in our judgments.

This body of doctrine constitutes what we have already described as conceptualism (137); and it certainly does violence to the thought of Ockam to represent him as a nominalist. He himself protested in advance against the absurd theory that would deny to the understanding the power of abstracting and thus identify sensation with intellectual thought. If the abstract concept has no real value, it cannot be denied at least an ideal value:{7} in our understanding there are objects that are common, general, universal. The universal, therefore, is not a mere word (vox, nomen) devoid of thought-content, an empty sound (flatus vocis{8}), a verbal label, but a conceived object (intentio, terminus), a mental substitute (suppositio{9}) for a greater or less number of individual realities, according to the degree of its universality. We therefore reject the common classification which places Ockam's philosophy among nominalist systems; and, adopting his own terminology, we will apply to the conceptualism inaugurated by him the title of terminism or intentionalism.

As might be anticipated, the objection was raised against Ockam's system, that it made all science an illusion, since science is concerned with the universal, that is to say, with a figment, a non-entity! Yes, he replied, science is about the universal, in this sense, however, that the object of science is not a chimerical universal reality, but rather the universal term (or intentio) in the mind. But this mental term is referred to a greater or less number of individual real beings, independent of one another; it has therefore extrinsic relations with the outer world, and so science keeps its hold on reality.{10}

Thirdly, we have to note in connection with the terminist theory of the genesis of our knowledge William's bitter criticism of the scholastic teaching about "species intentionales". Cognition is not the intussusception of an image (species) resembling the thing known, but an immanent act (actus intelligendi) which becomes the sign of the thing. Hence the species intentionalis, whether sensible or intellectual, is a useless fiction which should be banished from psychology. Frustra fit per plura, quod potest fieri per pauciora. And since the function of abstracting such species is illusory, so also is the intellectus agens to which that function is attributed.

But William of Ockam understood the species in an incorrect sense, to which we have already called attention (299, 300); and of course he demolished the crude conception of the cognitive process involved in that erroneous view. But his criticisms leave intact the true notion of the species intentionalis; in fact his own conception of the genesis of our ideas differs in no way from that of St. Thomas, since he admits with the Angelic Doctor an action of the outer reality on the intelligence: for both masters alike, the terms passive and active intellect denote the passive and active states of the mind in reference to the known object.{11}

Following Scotus, William of Ockam professes the most absolute voluntarism. The will intervenes even in the discursive operations of the understanding -- with which, in any case, it is identical, according to the general theory of the psychical faculties. William also teaches the most entire self-determination of volition; confounding merely spontaneous, with deliberately free, action. He remarks, moreover, that since will is identical with the essence of the soul, and the essence of a thing is incompatible with increase or diminution, there can be no such thing as variation in the degree of liberty. Another corollary from the same principle is that the question of the primacy of volition over cognition is idle and meaningless. Applied to the Deity, this absolute autonomy of volition makes the Free Will of God the sovereign arbiter of moral good and evil. But if nothing is of itself morally good or evil, the study of nature can teach us nothing about morality: intelligence is powerless to i-tstruct us on the requirements of the Divine Law. Thus, by arother new breach, Ockam exposes psychology to the assaults of "scepticism".

On the main questions regarding the nature of the soul Scotus is closely followed. Besides the intellectual soul, man possesses a forma corporeitatis (334) and a sentient soul. And of the intellectual soul, human reason left to its own unaided powers, can establish neither the spirituality nor the immortality.

{1} "Signum accipitur pro illo quod aliquid facit in cognitionem venire et natum est pro ipsum supponere" (Log., L. i., c. 1). "Intentio est quoddam in anima quod est signum naturaliter significans aliquid, pro quo potest supponere" (ibid., c. 12).

{2} " Notitia abstractiva potest accipi dupliciter: uno modo quod sit respectu alicujus abstracti a multis singularibus . . . aliter . . . secundum quod abstrahit ab existentia et non-existentia" (Sent., Prol., q. 1).

{3} " Notitia intuitiva est tails notitia virtute cujus potest sciri utrum res sit vel non sit . . . . Similiter notitia intuitiva est talis qua, cum aliqua cognoscuntur quorum unum inhaeret alteri, vel unum distat ab altero loco . . . statim virtute illius notitiae incomplexae illarum rerum sciret, si res inhaereat vel non inhaereat, distet vel non distet, et sic de aliis veritatibus contingentibus" (Quadl., vi., q. 6). "Propositio contingens potest cognosci evidenter ab intellectu, puta hec albedo est, et non per cognitionem abstractivam, quia illa abstrahis ab existentia per intuitivam. Ergo realiter differunt" (Quodl., v., q. 5). Quodl., i., q. 14.

{5} "Singulare . . . est primo cognitum . . . quia res extra animam quae non est signum tali cognitione primo intelligitur" (Quodl., i., q. 3). "Notitia intuitiva est talis, quod . . . si Socrates in rei veritate sit albus . . . potest evidenter cognosci quod Socrates est albus" (Sent., Prol., q. 1).

{6} "Et ideo genus non est commune pluribus per identitatem in eis, sed per quamdam communitatem signi, quomodo idem signum est commune ad plura signata" (Expos. Aurea, Praedicab. de Genere).

{7} On this distinction, see 137.

{8} "Quarta posset esse opinio quod nihil est universale ex natura sua, sed tantum ex institutione, illo modo quo vox est universalis . . . sed haec opinio non videtur vera" (In L. Sent. I., dist. ii.. q. 8).

{9} "Quodlibet universale est intentio animae, quae secundum unam probabilem opinionem ab actu intelligendi non distinguitur; unde dicunt quad intentio qua intelligo homines est signum naturale significans hominem, ita naturale, sicut gemitus est signum infirmitatis vel doloris; et est tale signum quod potest stare pro hominibus in propositionibus mentalibus" (Summa Tot. Log., L. i., c. 15). Similarly: "intentio animae dicitur universalis quia est signum praedicabile de multis" (ibid., L. i., c. 14). And again: "Illud quod praedicatur de pluribus differentibus specie, non est aliqua res quae sit de esse illorum de quibus praedicatur, sed est una intentio in anima naturaliter significans omnes illas res de quibus praedicatur" (Expos. Aurea, Praedicab. de Genere, quoted by PRANTL, iii., n., p. 789).

{10} STÖCKL, op. cit., p. 964.

{11} "Intellectus agens et possibilis sunt omnino idem re ac ratione. Tamen ista nomina vel conceptus connotant diversa; quia intellectus agens significat animam, connotando intellectionem procedentem ab anima active; possibilis autem significat eamdem animam, connotando intellectionem receptam in anima: sed idem omnino est efficiens et recipiens" (In L. Sent. II. q. 25).

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