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  • Intentionality, Cognition, and Mental Representation in Medieval Philosophy ed. by Gyula Klima
  • Carl N. Still
Gyula Klima, editor. Intentionality, Cognition, and Mental Representation in Medieval Philosophy. New York: Fordham University Press, 2015. Pp. xi + 359. Cloth, $150.00.

The fifteen essays in this volume represent the state of the art when it comes to the contemporary study of medieval philosophy of mind. The contributors are well-established scholars in the field who build on their previous work, and most advance an original argument in these essays. The focus is on western Christian philosophers and theologians from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries and “the intricacies and varieties of the conceptual relationships among intentionality, cognition, and mental representation” (1) in their thought. As editor Gyula Klima points out, intentionality plays a role in non-cognitive as well as cognitive processes for the medievals. But when these thinkers attempted to explain the intentionality of thought, they typically posited representations of one sort or another (e.g. phantasms, intelligible species, concepts) to account for how thought attaches to its objects.

The essays appear to have been mostly written for various occasions and then compiled into this volume. Since the chapters are not organized into parts under specified themes, the book has a somewhat arbitrary structure. The ordering of the essays suggests a chronological sweep featuring major thinkers from Thomas Aquinas to Duns Scotus, to William of Ockham and John Buridan, with lesser-known philosophers (Henry of Ghent, Peter Auriol, Adam Wodeham, Walter Chatton, Nicholas of Autrecourt) included along the way. Ten of the essays deal with specific figures in depth, while the remaining five explore a theme across several figures. In addition to intentionality and representation, the issues canvassed here include the nature of concepts, mental language, judgment, singular thought, consciousness, and internalism versus externalism.

The picture that emerges is one of great diversity, in which a series of thinkers grappled with essentially the same issues yet none agreed on the details of cognition. The rejection by each successive thinker of his predecessors’ views in one respect or another gradually produced more refined accounts. Among the more synthetic treatments, Peter King identifies singular thought as the central issue in medieval debates about philosophical psychology and traces the trajectory from Aquinas’s neo-Aristotelian account (in which singulars are cognized indirectly) to Scotus’s positing of intuitive cognition of singulars, to Ockham’s direct realism. Aquinas is also the starting point for the treatment of mental language when Joshua Hochschild argues that Aquinas had a limited conception of mental language with semantic but no syntactic compositionality. Several essays later, Henrik Lagerlund begins with the zenith of mental language in Ockham and Buridan and traces its decline to Gabriel Biel, who deprives the language of thought of any syntax. Without compositionality, “mental language is simply not a language anymore” (140). In another wide-ranging essay, Stephan Meier-Oeser explores the problem of the intersubjective sameness of concepts rooted in Aristotle’s De Interpretatione from the late medieval Scholastics through Descartes and finds the whole question of such concepts “far from sufficiently settled” (322).

There are also conspicuous attempts to connect medieval themes with modern and contemporary philosophy. Several of the essays frame their topics in contemporary terms before pursuing a historical analysis; others engage modern or contemporary thinkers in the course of their exposition. One might expect to find Franz Brentano celebrated for recovering the medieval sense of intentionality; instead, he is taken to task by Jack Zupko for misinterpreting intentio as marking a sharp boundary between the mental and the physical. In a similar vein Christophe Grellard shows how Autrecourt inverts Brentano’s philosophical development by moving from direct realism to a kind of phenomenalism. Appeals to the present tend to be more constructive. Stephen Read appeals to Jerry Fodor’s theory of concepts to illustrate “how contemporary are the medievals’ concerns” (14); both, for example, regard mental representations as symbols, and thinking as computation. In making the case that Ockham is an externalist, Claude Panaccio frames his analysis through three contemporary types of externalism (linguistic, mental content, and epistemic) and [End Page 337] compares Ockham’s linguistic externalism to Hilary Putnam’s...


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