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THE SOURCES OF INTUITIVE COGNITION IN WILLIAM OF OCKHAM1 Intuitive cognition is a hallmark of fourteenth century philosophy. It becomes a central notion in Duns Scotus and undergoes rich, diverse development in thinkers such as Peter Auriol and William of Ockham. Historians have debated over Ockham's use of the notion and its effect on his philosophical views: some appeal to it to show that Ockham was a realist, others appeal to it to show that he was a sceptic. In this paper I would like to propose an interpretation of Ockham's notion of intuitive cognition which probably will offend people on both sides of the above debate. I do not, however, propose it in the spirit of perversity. The reason I have been led to it is that it provides me with the simplest way of reconciling the conflicting things which Ockham says in various texts on intuitive cognition. The interpretation I shall suggest has other positive features. It fits a picture of Ockham as a lively thinker at the forefront of his field, responding to recent views proposed by such masters as Scotus and Auriol. It fits a view that what is at issue in these discussions is of first-rate philosophical import, something that bothered some of the ancients and something which bothers contemporary philosophers today. It allows us to characterize the difference between fourteenth century philosophy and its predecessors in greater detail than by merely saying that fourteenth century philosophy was more sceptical. It naturally leads to a conjecture that fourteenth century philosophy was influenced by Hellenistic philosophy, a conjecture which I think opens the door for interesting historical research. Finally, my proposal makes it understandable how we could have competent historians of philosophy such as Gilson and Pegis saying that Ockham's notion of intuitive cognition leads to scepticism, while Fr. Boehner, a pioneer 1 My thanks to John Boler, who, although he disagrees with much of the paper, helped me greatly by his comments. 4l6R. R. WENGERT of modern Ockham studies, and Fr. Day give scholarly arguments which show that intuitive cognition in Ockham is the guard against scepticism.2 The Senses of Intuitive Cognition Before the fourteenth century there of course were medieval philosophers who discussed what we call "intuition" or "intuitive cognition." It was common to distinguish intuitive knowledge from discursive knowledge; this distinction was used especially to contrast the way in which God and the angels come to know from the way humans come to know. Human reason proceeds discursively, one step at a time, while God and the angels see all the various steps in one glance.3 This distinction focused on the mode of knowing. Duns Scotus made use of some of the same terminology, but he wished to make a different contrast. He distinguished abstractive and intuitive cognition: ...the first cognition I call 'abstractive.' It is a cognition of the very quiddity, but in so far as it abstracts from actual existence and non-existence. The second cognition, namely, that which is of the quiddity of the thing according to its actual existence (or which is a cognition of the present thing according to such existence), I call 'intuitive understanding'; not in the way 'intuitive' is distinguished from discursive (for in that way some 'abstractive' is intuitive), but simply 'intuitive,' in the way in which we are said to see a thing as it is in itself.4 2 For this debate see the accusations of scepticism. In E. Gilson, TAe Unity of Philosophical Experience, (New York, 1937), PP- 61-91; E. Gilson, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages (New York, 1955), p. 490 and pp. 784785 , nn. 7-9; A. C. Pegis, "Concerning William of Ockham," Traditio, 2 (1944), 465-480; A. C. Pegis, "Some Recent Interpretations of Ockham," Speculum, 23 (1948), 458-463. For the defense of Ockham, Ph. Boehner, "The Notitia Intuitiva of Non-Existents According to William of Ockham," Traditio, 1 (1943), 223-275; Ph. Boehner, "In propria causa: A Reply to Professor Pegis," Franciscan Studies, 5 (1945), 37-54; S. Day, Intuitive Cognition: A Key to the Significance of the Later Scholastics, (St. Bonaventure, N.Y., 1958). 8 For example...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 415-447
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
Archive Status
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