Monday, January 24, 2011
Species Intelligibilis By Leen Spruit
29 Pico della Mirandola regarded the issue of the intelligible species of such importance that he devoted to it his first conclusion "secundum Albertum":"Species intelligibiles non sunt necessariae, [and] eas ponere, non est bonis Peripateticis consentaneus." Referring to Albert, Pico wanted to discuss the problem in a pre-Thomistic context. In Albert's work... the notion of intelligible species was still a relatively innocent device, lacking the heavy connotation it was charged with later. Until Thomas formulated his doctrine of species, and ensuing controversies developed, most authors who endorsed the notion of intelligible species used it as a philosophically neutral term.
Pico returned to the species in conclusions based on other authors. His own position is foreshadowed in a discussion of the notion of species attributed by him to Simplicius:
Sicut lumen colores non facit colores, sed praeexistentes colores potentia visibiles, facit actu visibiles, ita intellectus agens non facit species cum non essent prius, sed actu praeexistentes species potentia cognoscibiles, facit actu cognoscibiles. (pseven2)
A similar innatist doctrine Pico attributed to Adelardus. His own position with regard to the role of species in intellectual knowledge, Pico set forth only in his "Conclusiones... secundum opiniones proprias."
Having established a philosophical concordance between Aristotle and Plato, and between Thomas and Scotus, Pico formulated as his first thesis, "Potest a specie in sensu exteriori existente immediate abstrahi species universalis." Although he took a generally Platonic outlook on knowledge acquisition, Pico did not want his position to be totally at odds with Peripatetic cognitive psychology. He apparently envisaged, in a somewhat peculiar way, a kind of immediate abstraction, as opposed to a series of hierarchically ordered steps. At least, this strikes me as the only feasible interpretation of his attempt to reject the phantasms as the basis for the abstraction of the intelligible species. These prima facie incompatible tenets suggest that Pico rejected the traditional theory of abstraction, but that he did not want to exclude the impact of sensible reality in the production of human knowledge. That Pico did not unconditionally support a radically intra-mental theory of cognition, is also testified by the fact that he mentioned it as one of the "conclusiones paradoxicae."30
31 Pico's views on knowledge acquisition drew on a general theory of the participation of being and knowledge, as is clear from a central passage in Heptaplus where the intellect's light is discussed. "Intellectus oculi sunt, intelligibilis veritas lumen est, et intellectus ipse intelligibilis cum sit intimae aliquid lucis habet, qua se ipsum potest videre, sed non potest et relique. Verum indiget formis ideisque rerum quibus, uti radiis quibusdam invisibilis lucis, intelligibilis veritatis indubie cernitur.
The human intellect in endowed with a kind of light by virtue of which it is able to see itself, but not the things in the world. The mind's self-knowledge is thus not a sufficient basis for actual knowledge of the world. In spite of Pico's emphasis on the Platonic features of this doctrine, it is obviously similar to Thomas' vie of the a priori in human knowledge. (n.61) According to Pico, the inner lighe is not sufficient for arriving at actual knowledge of things. The intellect must open itself to the formal structures of sensible reality, which are conceived of as beams springing from an invisible light. Elsewhere in Heptaplus, the light is identified with "species intelligibiles." Pico suggested that this angelic light illuminates and pervades material reality. (63) The intellect is able to immediately grasp the light's effects; hence, a step-wise abstraction via the phantasms is not required.
Pico's theory of the intelligible species was essentially syncretistic. He had strong reservations about the traditional doctrine of species, as is clear from his denial of the need for species in the
32 Albertist propositions. At the same time, however, Pico suggested that the intelligible species is not necessarily a representation abstracted from sensory images. It can also be understood as an intrinsically formal item. More to the point, the species' extra-mental origin can be reconsidered in the framework of Neoplatonic participation theory. In that context it can be understood as the specific feature of sensible reality that, by virtue of its transcendent origin, is able to touch and to inform the human mind.
32 The importance of the Thomistic tradition for Ficino was highlighted in his polemics against Averroes in the fifteenth book of the Theologia Platonica.
46 Pico and Ficino, though strongly fascinated by the idea of a philosophical "concordia", were exponents of a quite different attitude.
[Spruit contrasts Pico's take on the intelligible species with Ficino's]
90 "New" Platonics, for example, such as Ficino and Pico, tried to accomodate the notion of intelligible species within the framework of Neoplatonic metaphysics. In Ficino, this meant that the role of the intelligible species collapses onto that of idea or innate "formula". Pico, by contrast, hesitated in his Conclusiones between a straightforward rejection of the intelligible species and an innatistic appropriation. His attempt in the Heptaplus to somehow save the extramental origin of the intelligible species by integrating it in the circular movement of reality (grounded in a metaphysics of light) was to reappear in Giordano Bruno.
255 After the rediscovery and translation of Neoplatonic works bearing on the species debate, the first signs of their influence on the issue can be traced to the work of Pico della Mirandola and Ficino, main exponents of the Florentine Academy. They attempted a reconciliation between the Platonic view of mind and the Scholastic conception of mental representation. This led them to reconsider a central tenet of Aristotelian cognitive psychology, namely, the sense-dependency of intellectual knowledge. Pico and Ficino regarded the human soul as "nexus mundi" rather than as "forma corporis". They believed that cognitive activity is not principally dependent on the stream of information from the senses. Knowledge acquisition is grounded in the affinity between the soul and the ideal structure of reality and its source. Pico fostered fundamental doubts about the need for species, arguing that the soul has direct access to the objects of cognition, while Ficino presumed the latter to be latently present in the soul. Sensory representations no longer serve as a basis for mental content; rather, they are only the imperfect traces of ideal patterns. In this context, the intelligible species are assimilated to the contents of cognition, and intellectual abstraction is substituted by a reception of the products of a cosmic metabolism.
259 Pico suggested that the intelligible species stands for the eternal structure of reality to which the mind has direct access, while Ficino assimilated the species to innate formulae
262 The Renaissance debate on intelligible species witnessed important changes in the overall view of the cognitive process. Various tendencies that had already been present in the psychology of some medieval authors, now came to the fore in a more pronounced manner. In the first place, the distinction between mental act, representation, and content tended to be blurred. Secondly, the knowledge of individuals, insofar as it is based on species, tended to be seen as prior to the knowledge of universals.
As we have seen, Renaissance authors only rarely regarded the intelligible species as an unconscious representation, distinct from cognitive act and mental content; rather, they tended to stress the essential coherence of the various aspects of the act of knowledge. In general, the illumination of phantasms was supposed to take over the role of intellectual abstraction. The agent intellect processes sensory images in such a way that the possible intellect may directly acquire mental contents.
263 A number of medieval authors of Audustinian inspiration had objected against the species doctrine that empirical knowledge requires the conscious attention of the mind for all information delivered by the senses.
264 Also, many authors, such as Pico... identified the possible and the agent intellect.