Passive Powers and the Acts of the Cogitative

A common confusion (well I, at least, used to be confused about this) among readers of Aristotle and Aquinas concerns the operations of passive powers.  If powers are passive in what sense can they be said to have their own activities or operations, and not just one operation, but an apparent range of operations. An important distinction needs to be observed here.  Just because a power is passive does not mean it does not have operations of its own.  In fact, if it is a power (actus primus), whether it is active or passive it most certainly does have some operations (actus secundus) of its own.  To be a power or faculty is to be a principle of operation.  A power is an actual principle of potentiality which is teleologically ordered towards some specific range of activities.  The operational terminus of a power is its end (cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics Θ 5-8).

There must first be a principle of the cogitative and the other internal senses.  This principle or sensible species is required to place these passive cognitive faculties into their initial act.  Without the per se sensible species (and the per accidens sensible species embedded there within) the inner senses would be incapable of acting as the passive powers they are.  The internal senses presuppose the operations of the external sensorium which then satisfy the condition of providing objects for the the activation of the internal sensorium (imagination, cogitative, and memory).  There is no agent sense in Aquinas like the agent intellect (though it is often suggested that there is in Averroes and some others).  The object of these faculties is sufficient to place them in first act (actus primus) and then moves them (or the will moves these powers) into operation (actus secundus) (cf. ST. 77.1; In de AnimaII.c. 5 lects. 11-12).

This brings us to the topic of the range of activities attributed to the cogitative power by Aquinas.  Like all cognitive faculties it is a passive power (For one of Aquinas’ brief treatments of the taxonomical differentia between active and passive powers see: In de Anima II. lt. 6 nn. 304-308).  But just because a power is passive this does not mean it is without its own proper activity or operation.  The possible intellect is clearly passive (cf. ST I. 79.2) but we also distinguish the three acts of the possible intellect, viz., apprehension, judgment, and reasoning (cf. 79.6-13 & 85. 1-8).  The important differentiating factor is the way the object acts or is acted upon the faculty (again, cf. In de Anima II. lt. 6 n. 304-308).  Even the will, an active power, is specified by (and so in some sense in potency to) the object of the intellect according to final causality (cf. ST I-II. 9.1).

In ST I. 78.4, Aquinas distinguishes between inner sense faculties which are receptive and those that are retentative.  This is a basic taxonomical distinction which can be found inchoate in Aristotle and is developed by Galen and Avicenna.  Aquinas uses it to further distinguish inner sense faculties which seem to be related to the same formal object.  The per se sensibles (formal object) are received by the gestalt sense (sensus communis) and they are retained by imagination.  The per accidens sensibles or per se particular intentions (not-sensed) are received by the cogitative power and they are retained by memory.

Formal Object

Receptive Power

Retentative Power

Per Se Sensible

Sensus Communis


Particular Intention

Cogitative Power


Aquinas does not seem committed to what this taxonomical division would, at least, prima facie entail , since he goes on to attribute to the imagination, cogitative, and memory acts of forming and preparing phantasms for abstraction (cf. ST I.84.7-8 & 85.7) as well as the evaluative actional judgments to the cogitative and the quasi-syllogistic acts of recollection to the memory.  But these are not simply operations of reception and retention, here we have more involved acts being attributed to faculties which were initially differentiated on the mark of their different formal objects and what seemed to be distinctive operations of reception and retention vis-à-vis their formal objects.  Aquinas seems to have broken out of his initial taxonomical mode.  The receptive-retentative schema will be challenged even more when Aquinas attributes habitus or at least acquired dispositions to all three of these inner senses (cf. ST I-II. 56.5).

Here, we are concerned with the question, how is it that the vis cogitativa, a sensitive faculty, which is not an immaterial faculty like the intellect, is able to have a range of activities and not simply one? It is important to read the distinctions of ST I.78.4 in the context of de Veritate 15. 2 (and also 15.1) to see how Aquinas, following, Avicenna adopts some further qualifications of Aristotle’s taxonomical principle of faculty differentiation (objects –> acts –> powers).  A passive power, even of the inner senses, can have more than one kind of operation so long as its formal object remains the same. In memory, this is the distinction between remembering and recollecting (cf. ST I. 78.4 and In de Mem. & Rec. ch. 1 &2).  The cogitative has the same object (particular intention or singular per accidens sensible) which initially brings it into act.  On the basis of this formal object the cogitative can be directed (by the will – which moves all our powers to their ends, cf. ST. I-II. 9.1 & 9.3) to form phantasms (or experience) for the sake of agent intellect abstraction, and then possible intellect understanding (SCG II. 73.16; 76. 8 & 14).

I will not deal with this problem at any length here but will merely suggest an answer.  I think this latter Aristotelian-Avicennian principle is sufficient to give us one formal object which specifies a variety of operations of a single faculty; the taxonomical principle between receptive and retentative faculties is not required, is inherently problematic if its justification is based on an obsolete physiology (which it might be).  Further, psychological taxonomical principles need to justified on the basis of psychological data, and not physiological data, even though the latter can be illustrative or provide suggestions.  Imaginables of imagination are sufficiently different from the per se sensibles of the sensus communis, just as particular intentions of the cogitative are sufficiently different from the formal object of pastness, proper to memory.

The notion of a cognitive faculty forming an object should be considered in terms parallel to Aquinas’ doctrine of the formation of conceptus, intentione intellecta, and verbum mentis (cf. ST. I. 85.2; de potentia 8.1; SCG I. 53; IV 11).  The phantasm is formed as the terminus of an inner sense faculties operation of imaging, cogitating, or remembering.  This is what the cogitative does inasmuch as it is in act.  It forms an inner imaginative word, as distinct from the outer word of voice, and the inner word of the intellect (cf. In Sent. I. d. 27.2.1).

There are a number of operations which Aquinas attributes to the cogitative power which all fall within its formal object.

Mark Barker has identified six distinct operations of the cogitative. [1]


  1. Estimates intentions of harm or benefit[2]
  2. Perceives incidental sensibiles or individual intentions[3]


  1. Prepares phantasms for abstraction[4]
  2. Permits cognition of the singular by reflexion[5]


  1. “Forms the minor of the practical syllogism”[6]
  2. “Reasons from one thing to another”[7]

These distinct acts are not sufficient to cause a differentiation of a new faculty because they all deal with the same formal object, the per se particular intentions .  The cogitative also remains a passive faculty, which does not mean it has no proper acts, it simply means that it cannot initiate its proper operations without the simulation of its proper object, which activates the faculty itself.  The faculty, once activated, can then carry out its range of proper operations.


n.b. The question concerning passive and active faculties is treated at length in Quodlibet VIII. 2.1. (cf. In de Sensu 4. 438b21).

Utrum anima accipiat species quibus cognoscit a rebus quae sunt extra eam

Ad primum sic proceditur: videtur quod anima non accipiat species a rebus quae sunt extra eam.

[68404] Quodlibet VIII, q. 2 a. 1 arg. 1 Dicit enim Augustinus, XII super Genesim: imaginem corporis non corpus in spiritu, sed ipse spiritus in seipso facit celeritate mirabili. Non autem eam in seipso faceret, si a rebus exterioribus eam acciperet. Ergo anima non accipit a rebus species quibus cognoscit.

[68405] Quodlibet VIII, q. 2 a. 1 arg. 2 Praeterea, eius solius est dimensionem a re dimensionata abstrahere cuius est dimensionem corporibus dare, quod est solius creatoris. Sed ad hoc quod species a rebus accipiatur in anima, oportet quod ab ipsa specie dimensiones separentur, quia in rebus extra animam habent esse dimensionale, non autem in anima, maxime quantum ad intellectum. Ergo anima non potest accipere species a rebus sensibilibus.

[68406] Quodlibet VIII, q. 2 a. 1 s. c. In contrarium videtur esse tota philosophorum doctrina, quae sensus a sensibilibus, imaginationem a sensu, intellectum a phantasmatibus accipere fatetur.

[68407] Quodlibet VIII, q. 2 a. 1 co. Respondeo. Dicendum quod anima humana similitudines rerum quibus cognoscit, accipit a rebus illo modo accipiendi quo patiens accipit ab agente: quod non est intelligendum quasi agens influat in patiens eamdem numero speciem quam habet in seipso, sed generat sui similem educendo de potentia in actum. Et per hunc modum dicitur species coloris deferri a corpore colorato ad visum. Sed in agentibus et patientibus distinguendum est. Est enim quoddam agens quod de se sufficiens est ad inducendum formam suam in patiens, sicut ignis de se sufficit ad calefaciendum. Quoddam vero agens est quod non sufficit de se ad inducendum formam suam in patiens, nisi superveniat aliud agens; sicut calor ignis non sufficit ad complendum actionem nutritionis nisi per virtutem animae nutritivae: unde virtus animae nutritivae est principaliter agens, calor vero igneus instrumentaliter. Similiter etiam est diversitas ex parte patientium. Quoddam enim est patiens quod in nullo cooperatur agenti; sicut lapis cum sursum proiicitur, vel lignum cum ex eo fit scamnum. Quoddam vero patiens est quod cooperatur agenti; sicut lapis cum deorsum proiicitur, et corpus hominis cum sanatur per artem. Et secundum hoc, res quae sunt extra animam tripliciter se habent ad diversas animae potentias. Ad sensus enim exteriores se habent sicut agentia sufficientia, quibus patientia non cooperantur, sed recipiunt tantum. Quod autem color per se non possit movere visum nisi lux superveniat, non est contra hoc quod dictum est; quia tam color quam lux, inter ea quae sunt extra animam, computantur. Sensus autem exteriores suscipiunt tantum a rebus per modum patiendi, sine hoc quod aliquid cooperentur ad sui formationem; quamvis iam formati habeant propriam operationem, quae est iudicium de propriis obiectis. Sed ad imaginationem res quae sunt extra animam, comparantur ut agentia sufficientia. Actio enim rei sensibilis non sistit in sensu, sed ulterius pertingit usque ad phantasiam, sive imaginationem. Tamen imaginatio est patiens quod cooperatur agenti: ipsa enim imaginatio format sibi aliquarum rerum similitudines, quas nunquam sensu percepit, ex his tamen quae sensu recipiuntur, componendo ea et dividendo; sicut imaginamur montes aureos, quos nunquam vidimus, ex hoc quod vidimus aurum et montes. Sed ad intellectum possibilem comparantur res sicut agentia insufficientia. Actio enim ipsarum rerum sensibilium nec etiam in imaginatione sistit; sed phantasmata ulterius movent intellectum possibilem. Non autem ad hoc quod ex seipsis sufficiant, cum sint in potentia intelligibilia; intellectus autem non movetur nisi ab intelligibili in actu. Unde oportet quod superveniat actio intellectus agentis, cuius illustratione phantasmata fiunt intelligibilia in actu, sicut illustratione lucis corporalis fiunt colores visibiles actu. Et sic patet quod intellectus agens est principale agens, quod agit rerum similitudines in intellectu possibili. Phantasmata autem quae a rebus exterioribus accipiuntur, sunt quasi agentia instrumentalia: intellectus enim possibilis comparatur ad res quarum notitiam recipit, sicut patiens quod cooperatur agenti: multo enim magis potest intellectus formare quidditatem rei quae non cecidit sub sensu, quam imaginatio.

[68408] Quodlibet VIII, q. 2 a. 1 ad 1 Ad primum ergo dicendum, quod si verbum Augustini referatur ad intellectum, sic planum est quod res non faciunt sui similitudinem in intellectu possibili principaliter, sed intellectus agens. Si autem referatur ad imaginationem, faciunt quidem, sed non solum; quia ipsa imaginatio cooperatur, ut dictum est. In sensu autem facit corpus sui similitudinem sufficienter et solum; sed de hoc non loquitur Augustinus, quia sensum contra spiritum dividit, sive corporalem visionem contra spiritualem.

[68409] Quodlibet VIII, q. 2 a. 1 ad 2 Ad secundum dicendum, quod ratio illa procedit ac si illa eadem species numero quae est in rebus vel in imaginatione, postmodum fieret in intellectu: sic enim oportet quod auferrentur ab ea dimensiones; et hoc patet esse falsum.

[1]  Mark Barker, The Cogitative Power: Objects and Terminology. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation; Houston, TX: University of ST. Thomas Center for Thomistic Studies, 2007), p. 105. (Italics indicate mutually cogitative and estimative functions).

[2] In De Anima II. Lt. 13. ST. I. 78. 4.; 81. 3.

[3] In De Anima II. Lt. 13.

[4] SCG 2. 73, n. 28 and 2. 76. n. 9

[5] DV 10. 5c, ad 2, ad. 4

[6] “format minorem syllogismi practici.” Sent. ad 3 in contr.

[7] “…discurrit ab uno in aliud.” In EN 6.9, n. 1249.


Introduction to the Cogitative Power in Thomas Aquinas: Part I.

This introduction to the cogitative power in Thomas Aquinas is divided into two parts.  In Part I. we will briefly trace the historical background of the cogitative power from Aristotle to Aquinas.  Part II. will outline the general doctrine of the cogitative power as it is developed by Thomas Aquinas.  For the sake of parsimony, I will not repeat in Part II. most of the fundamental doctrinal issues which are taken up in Part I.  The second part will only elaborate how Aquinas developed the doctrine of the cogitative power and the diverse ways in which it is integrated into his accounts of incidental sensation, memory, experience, preparation of the phantasms, abstraction from the phantasms, conversion to the phantasms, cognition and scientific knowledge of the singular, practical reasoning, the virtue of prudence, the proper object of the passions, and the unity of the virtues through prudence.[1] In the future I hope to provide individual posts which discuss each of these points length, whereas here they will simply be introduced along with a few key loci classici.

A Brief History of the Vis Cogitativa: From Aristotle to Aquinas[2]

§ 1. Aristotle’s Threefold Division of Sensibles

The doctrine of the vis cogitativa has its origins in the philosophical psychology of Aristotle (384–322 BC), although this does not exclude Platonic correlations.  After defining the soul as the first actuality of an organic body,[3] Aristotle moves beyond his general treatment of the subject of the science to take up vegetative and sensitive animation.  By the time we get to de Anima II. 6, we are ready to distinguish the objects of sensory cognition.  Aristotle distinguishes sensible reality according to his categorical distinction between the essential (per se) and the accidental (per accidens).  The essential sensibles are those objects of reality which directly and through themselves, i.e., per se, act on the sense organs and are thereby cognized through our external sense faculties. The accidental or incidental sensibles are not cognized in and through our external sense faculties but are cognizable objects or features of reality which are apprehended by our higher cognitive powers, albeit, in as much as they are somehow present in the essential sensibles.

§ 2. Essential Sensibles: Proper and Common

Essential sensibles are of two different kinds, proper sensibles and common sensibles.  Proper sensibles are essential sensibles which are uniquely apprehended by a single sense faculty, like color to vision, sound to audition, odor to olfaction, flavor to gustation, and tactibilia to tactility.  Neither color is heard, nor sound tasted and so these objects are unique or proper essential sensibles.  These proper sensibles differentiate the five sensory modalities we are familiar with.  There are, however, a number of sensibles which, even though they are essentially sensed, they are themselves not unique to any one external sense faculty but are commonly sensed by at least a few of the five external senses.  For instance, motion is visually seen and audibly heard, just as dimension and shape is cognized by both tactility and vision.  Common sensibles like motion, dimension, magnitude, and shape are then essentially sensed by a number of different external sense powers in virtue of their proper objects.  The phenomenal unity or sensible gestalt is apprehended as a given whole by the faculty Aquinas calls the sensus communis.[4]  The proper object of the sensus communis or gestalt sense is simply the per se sensible, which is the essentially sensible phenomenal unity or formally sensible whole (gestalt).  It should be noted that Aristotle’s common sense (κοινή αίσθησις) receives a variety of other interpretations throughout the commentary tradition.

§ 3. Accidental Sensibles

Aristotle thinks that there is more involved in sensory cognitive experience than simply the apprehension of bare essential sensibles; we cognize more than what we see as white objects in motion.  Concomitant to such sensations we also perceive objects like the son of Diares, which is accidental to these essential sensibles of white and motion.[5]  To cognize this man, is to apprehend neither a sensible, nor a universal definition, but the instantiation of the essence in the sensible substance as here and now, i.e., a primary substance. It is through incidental sensibles that animals are able to learn through sounds; not sounds as such, but incidentally, inasmuch as some sounds are meaningful or significant.[6] Brute animals which can apprehend significant sounds and other sensibles seem to partake of opinion and prudence, that is, their higher faculties and operations resemble that of man’s lower more practical intellectual and rational capacities.[7]

§ 4. Greek and Arabic Commentators

The Greek and Arabic commentary tradition developed further articulations of the sense faculties, especially after the numerous insights of the Greek physician Galen (129–199 AD).  However, despite such developments on the inner senses, the numerous disputes about the nature of the intellect became central.  Aristotle’s cryptic account of the acting intellect and the intellect which is passive like matter, became the subject of contentious debates that continue to bewilder contemporary Aristotelian scholars (cf. de Anima III. 4-5).  The various descriptions Aristotle gives of these intellects in the de Anima, Posterior Analytics Metaphysics, Nicomachean Ethics, and elsewhere seem to conflict with each other.  In order to resolve such difficulties many Aristotelians were led to positing further intellectual powers, the passive and corruptible intellect of de Anima III.5 is contrasted with the intellect that is impassible and yet is able to receive all things from de Anima III. 4.[8] Many commentators identified this passible intellect with the phantasia, i.e., the sensorial power to form phantasms.  This interpretation not only seems to accord with Aristotle’s account of prudence (phronesis) in Nicomachean Ethics VI, but also seems to provide a further articulation of Aristotle’s insistence that the operations of the intellect must always turn to these phantasms.[9]

Further questions concerned how these phantasms are able to act on the intellect which is receptive of all things; what role does the acting intellect play in making these phantasms actually intelligible?  The answers given to these problems are almost as diverse as the many Greek, Arabic, and Latin commentators who took up these disputes.  Some interpretations understood the operations of material intellect to arise out of the bodily faculties; this view is sort of like a proto-epiphenomenalism.  On this account, the material intellect is but a disposition of the sensorial phantasms that becomes an epiphenomenon by virtue of the separate immaterial agent intellect’s acting on the phantasms.

On the other extreme we have the infamous final position of Averroes (c. 1126–1198), who held that both the agent and material intellect were separate substances which were common to all individual human beings who achieve intellectual cognition through their union with these two separate intellects.  Despite such diverse interpretations on the immanent or transcendent character of the possible or material intellect, most commentators held that that the agent intellect is in some way separate from man.

Nevertheless there were those who found both extremes unacceptable for the two intellects.  In the middle we have doctrines which contend that both the possible and agent intellect immanent powers of the human being.  This was the position of Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274), which it must be noted was an unusual interpretation of Aristotle with respect to the consensus of most commentators on the de Anima.

Aside from these central issues on the nature of the intellect, there are further problems concerning the proper division of the internal sense powers. The common sense (sensus communis) is clearly different from phantasia or imagination, because the former causes the image to be imprinted on the latter. But is phantasia, the power to form phantasms, the same as memory or different? In Aristotle’s On Memory and Reminiscence they are at least coordinated and belong to the same part of the soul.[10] But the Parva Naturalia is not entirely clear, and only seems to add further difficulties by introducing an additional distinction between memory, reminiscence and the opinionative faculty.[11]  In other places, Aristotle also speaks of the ability to form experience (empeiria) as distinct from memory and sensation in Posterior Analytics II. 19 and Metaphysics I.1.  How all these diverse powers and operations fit together were just a few of the numerous loose ends which were left to Aristotle’s commentators.  This is the beginning of the historical context that led to the development of the cogitative power in medieval philosophical psychology.

§ 5. Avicenna: Intentions and the Estimative Power

The Islamic philosophical polymath Avicenna (980-1037) is credited with codifying further taxonomical principles and for his insights into the distinctive objects of the higher inner senses.[12] Avicenna further clarified Aristotle’s notion of accidental or incidental sensibles by articulating what these objects are essentially in themselves.  Avicenna calls these objections intentions (ma‘nā, intentio).  He notes that a sheep is not afraid of a wolf simply because of its color or motion, but because it is a predator and something to be avoided.  The object apprehended here as a predator to be avoided is not an object that is reducible to any essential sensibles; rather, to be avoided is an intention which the sheep apprehends as incidental to the per se sensibles of the wolf’s color, shape, smell, and so forth.  Avicenna calls the inner sense faculty which apprehends such individual intentions the estimative (wham) faculty or the opinionative faculty (al-mutawahhimah wa-al-ẓānnah).

Avicenna also distinguishes between receptive and retentative powers.  For this he develops the distinctions made in Aristotle’s On Memory and Reminiscence 1,[13] where it is noted that that among material objects some are able to receive well but lack the capacity to retain, whereas others are proficient at retaining forms but not with receiving them.  Avicenna uses this physiological basis to ground his taxonomical distinction between psychological powers which receive and those which retain.  The sensus communis receives essential sensibles and the estimative receives intentions, i.e., incidental sensibles.  The formative power of imagination is posited as a power which retains the essential sensibles of the sensus communis, and memory is coordinated to be the retentative power of the estimative’s intentions.  Avicenna posits a fifth inner sense power which is a sort of active or compositive imagination. This is the power whereby we are able to draw upon the retained essential sensibles of the imagination and compose and divide them in novel and creative ways, such as to conjure up the image of an emerald mountain. A novel feature of this power is its ability to mediate between sensory operations and rational operations. The composite imagination is able to act simply for sensory ends, but it is also able to be brought under the direction of reason. When the compositive imagination is ordered by reason it is more properly called the cogitative power (mufakkirah) and not simply the compositive imagination.[14]  It is in Avicenna that we find for the first time an elaborate and articulated account of the taxonomy of inner senses including their operations, and their proper objects.  He gives us five inner sense faculties along with a clear delineation of how they differ from each other.

  1. Sensus communis – receptive faculty of per se sensibles
  2. Imagination – retentative faculty of per se sensibles
  3. Estimative – receptive faculty of intentions, i.e., per accidens sensibles
  4. Memory – retentative faculty of intentions
  5. Compositive Imagination – conjuring power of per se sensibles
    1. Cogitative Power – when the compositive imagination is under the direction of reason

Avicenna also has some very interesting comments in his own introduction to natural philosophy.  In the first book of the natural philosophy part of his Book of the Healing, Avicenna follows the general order of Aristotle’s Physics.  He seems to introduce here the notion of the vague individual as a further articulation of his doctrine of intentions.  It is also offered as a clarification of Aristotle’s own analogy about our knowledge in a science as it is similar to the vague knowledge of child which still lacks the proper differentiation between fathers and men.  Deborah Black has a forthcoming article which addresses this notion of the vague individual in Avicenna.

§ 6. Averroes and Albert the Great


[1] There is a growing body of secondary literature on many of the topics addressed here.  I will not be discussing any of the finer points of these historical doctrines, or the disputes found in contemporary debates.  Most of the doctrines introduced here have been derived from my own research as well from the research of Mark Barker, Deborah Black, Cornelio Fabro, Anthony Lisska, George Klubertanz S.J., Richard Taylor, and Harry Wolfson.

[2] For more detailed historical accounts see, Deborah Black, “Imagination and Estimation: Arabic Paradigms and Latin Transformations,” Topoi 19 (2000): 59-75; Harry Austryn Wolfson, “The Internal Senses in Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew Philosophical texts.” Harvard Theological Review, (1935): 69-133.

[3] Cf. Aristotle, de Anima II. 1-2.

[4] N.b. Aquinas explicitly rejects the position that the proper object of the sensus communis is the common sensibles.  Aquinas refers to its proper object as the sensible, simpliciter.

[5] “We speak of an incidental object of sense where e.g. the white object which we see is the son of Diares; here because being the son of Diares is incidental to the white which is perceived, we speak of the son of Diares as being incidentally perceived. That is why it in no way as such affects the senses. Of the things perceptible in themselves, the special objects are properly called perceptible and it is to them that in the nature of things the structure of each several sense is adapted.” Aristotle, de Anima II. 6 418a20-25. (trans. J.A. Smith) in The Complete Works of Aristotle, (The Revised Oxford Translation) Jonathan Barnes, ed. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984).

[6] Cf. De Sensu 1, 437a4-16 and Metaphysics I.1.

[7] In addition to the paradigmatic treatment in Aristotle, de Anima II. 6, 418a8-a25 see also the following implicit and explicit references to this doctrine: Peri Hermeneias 1, 16a2-9; 2, 16a19-30. Prior Analytics I 27, 43a25-36. Posterior Analytics II. 19, 100a15-b5ff. de Anima II. 8, 420b5-23; III 1,425a14 ff.; 3, 428b18-26; 6, 430b26-30; 7, 431b2-10. De Sensu 1, 437a4-16. On Dreams 1, 458b3-16; Metaphysics I 1, 980a22-b15. Nicomachean Ethics, II 9, 1109b20-23; VI 8, 1142a23-30; VII 3, 1147a24-b5. Cf. Paolo C. Biondi, Aristotle Posterior Analytics II. 19: Introduction, Greek Text, Translation and Commentary: Accompanied by a Critical Analysis (Saint-Nicolas Québec: Les Presses de l’ Université Laval, 2004). Stanford Cashdollar, “Aristotle’s Account of Incidental Perception,” Phronesis 18 (1973): 156-175. Joseph Owens, “Aristotle on Common Sensibles and Incidental Perception” Phoenix, Vol. 36, No. 3 (1982): 215-236.

[8] This intellect was later referred to as the material and possible intellect in contrast to the passive intellect. Cf. Alexander of Aphrodisias, de Anima, 81.

[9] Cf. Aristotle, de Anima, III.7, 431a15-16.

[10] Cf. On Memory 1, 450a20-25.

[11] “If, then, the exercise of the faculty of sight is seeing, that of the auditory faculty, hearing, and, in general that of the faculty of sense-perception, perceiving; and if there are some perceptions common to the senses, such as figure, magnitude, motion, &c., while there are others, as colour, sound, taste, which are special; and further, if all creatures, when the eyes are closed in sleep, are unable to see, and the analogous statement is true of the other senses, it is clear that we perceive nothing when asleep; we may conclude that it is not by sense-perception we perceive a dream.  But neither is it by opinion that we do so. For we not only assert, e.g., that some object approaching is a man or a horse, but that the object is white or beautiful, points on which opinion without sense-perception would say nothing either truly or falsely. It is, however, a fact that the soul makes such assertions in sleep. We seem to see equally well that the approaching figure is a man, and that it is white.” Aristotle, On Dreams I 458b3-14. Cf. de Anima III. 2-3; de Memoria I-II; & Nicomachean Ethics VI.

[12] Cf. Avicenna, Treatise on the Soul, ch. 6 (L358.17-361.3/A168-9).

[13] Cf. Aristotle, de Memoria 1, 450a26-b10.

[14] Cf. Avicenna, Shifā’: de Anima, 6.1.2: 1.5, 4.1.

Outline. Aquinas On Aristotle’s Demonstration of the Soul’s Definition

διὸ ψθχή ἐστιν ἐντελέχεια ἠ πρώτη σώματος φυσικοῦ δυνάμει ζωὴν ἔχοντος

Αριστοτελους, ΠΕΡΙ ΨΥΧΗΣ, Β 1, 412a28-29

The soul is the first actuality of a natural body with the potentiality of having life

Aristotle, de Anima II. 1, 412a28-29

 Demonstration of the definition of the soul from Aristotle, de Anima II, 2 according to Thomas Aquinas, In de Anima II, lt. 2-4.

Major: The principle of life is the first actuality and substantial form of the living thing

Minor: The soul is the principle of life

Conclusion: The soul is the first actuality and substantial form of the living thing

The middle is the definition of the principle of life.

Defense of the major: The living composite material substance is composed of two substantial principles, the matter and the form.  The matter is in potentiality and the form is in actuality, and so takes priority over the material principle (you know this from the Physics I. 7-9; II. 1; Metaphysics Θ 8; Λ 6-7).  The matter cannot be the principle of life’s first actuality, because matter is a principle of potentiality, whereas form is a principle of actuality (cf. Metaphysics Z 3, 17; Θ 6-9).  Hence, the form as the first actuality is the principle of life.

Defense of the minor: As is clear from induction not all bodies are living, and so it is due to a principle other than corporeality that some bodies are living.  This principle is called soul, i.e., animation, which is the principle of nutrition, sensation, movement, and intellection.  The soul is the primary principle of these, for even they all (except for the intellect) clearly exist through the body, i.e., it is in and through the body that we have health and sensation, we are primarily said to have health and sensation on account of the soul. We do not live on account of the body, but because of the soul.  Hence, the soul is called the principle of life, nutrition, sensation, and so on.

Bibliography: Cogitative and Related Topics

The following is a bibliography of secondary literature on the cogitative power and related topics.  I will be periodically updating this post when I have the time or find new articles. 

Please alert my attention to any lacunae.

  • Allers (1941). Rudolph Allers. “The vis cogitativa and evaluation” The New Scholasticism 15 (1941): 195-221
  • Allers (1941). “The Intellectual Cognition of Particulars,” The Thomist, 3:1 (1941): 95-163.
  • Ashley (2000). Ashley, Benedict M. O.P. “Aristotle’s De Sensu Et Sensato And De Memoria Et Reminiscentia As Thomistic Sources” Thomistic Institute: Summer 2000, The University of Notre Dame Thomistic Institute July 14-21, 2000.
  • Barker (2007). Mark Barker, The Cogitative Power: Objects and Terminology. Unpublished doctoral dissertation; Houston, TX: University of ST. Thomas Center for Thomistic Studies, 2007.
  • Black (2000). Deborah Black, “Imagination and Estimation: Arabic Paradigms and Latin Transformations,” Topoi 19 (2000): 59-75.
  • Black (1993). Black, Deborah L. “Estimation (wham) in Avicenna: The Logical and Psychological Dimensions.” Dialogue 32 (1993): 219-258.
  • Black (1996). Black, Deborah L. “Memory, Time and Individuals in Averroes’s Psychology.” Medieval Theology and Philosophy 5 (1996): 161–187.
  • Boulter (2006). Stephen Boulter, “Aquinas and Searle on Singular Thoughts” in Analytical Thomism: Traditions in Dialogue ed. Craig Paterson and Matthew S. Pugh. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006. Chapter 4: 59-78.
  • Brennan (1949). Brennan, Robert O.P..Thomistic Psychology: A Philosophical Analysis of the Nature of Man (New York: Macmillian, 1949).
  • Braine (1992). David Braine, The Human Person: Animal and Spirit. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992.
  • Butera (2010). Giuseppe Butera, “Thomas Aquinas and Cognitive Therapy: An Exploration of the Promise of the Thomistic Psychology” and “Second Harvest: Further Reflections on the Promise of the Thomistic Psychology” in Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology 17, 4 (2010): 347-366 and 377-383.
  • Cates (2009). Cates, Diana Fritz. Aquinas on the Emotions: A Religious-Ethical Inquiry (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2009).
  • de Koninck (1957). Charles de Koninck, “Abstraction from Matter”, Laval Theologique et Philosophique XIII (1957), 133-96; XVI (1960), 53-69, 169-88.
  • Deely (1971). John Deely, “Animal Intelligence and Concept-Formation,The Thomist 35: 1 (1971), 43-93.
  • De Haan (2011). Daniel D. De Haan, “Linguistic Apprehension as Incidental Sensation in Thomas Aquinas” American Catholic Philosophical Association, Proceedings of the ACPA, Vol. 84 (2011): 179-196.
  • Di Martino (2007). Carla Di Martino, “Memory And Recollection In Ibn Sînâ’s And Ibn Rushd’s Philosophical Texts Translated Into Latin In The Twelfth And Thirteenth Centuries: A Perspective On The Doctrine Of The Internal Senses In Arabic Psychological Science” in H. Lagerlund (ed.), Forming the Mind. Essays on the Internal Senses and the Mind/Body Problem from Avicenna to the Medical Enlightenment, (Netherlands: Springer, 2007) ch.2, 17–26.
  • Fabro (1938). Cornelio Fabro, “Knowledge and Perception in Aristotelico-Thomistic Psychology” New Scholasticism 12 (1938): 337-365.
  • Fabro (1942). Cornelio Fabro. Percezione e Pensiero (Milano, 1942;  2nd ed., Brescia, 1962).
  • Flynn (1953). Thomas V. Flynn, “The Cogitative Power,” The Thomist26 (1953): 542-563.
  • Frede (2001). Frede, Dorothea. “Aquinas on Phantasia” in D. Perler, ed., Ancient and Medieval Theories of Intentionality. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 2001.
  • Gilson (1986). Etienne Gilson. Thomist Realism and the Critique of Knowledge (trans. Mark A. Wauck) San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986.
  • Goris (1996). Harm Goris, Free Creatures of an Eternal God: Thomas Aquinas on God’s Infallible Foreknowledge and Irresistible Will, (Thomas Instituut Utrecht, 4) Leuven: Peeters Publishers, 1996.
  • Henle (1982). Robert Henle, “The Basis of Philosophical Realism Re-Examined” New Scholasticism 56:1 (1982): 1-29.
  • Kemp (1993). Simon Kemp, “The medieval theory of the inner senses” American Journal of Psychology 106, 4 (1993): 559-576.
  • Kenny (1993). Anthony Kenny, Aquinas on Mind. Routledge: New York, 1993.
  • Kenny (1992). Anthony Kenny, The Metaphysics of Mind. Oxford University Press: New York and Oxford, 1992.
  • Kenny (1997). Anthony Kenny, “Intellect and Imagination in Aquinas” in Aquinas: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Anthony Kenny. Originally Printed, London and Melbourne: Macmillan, 1969. Reprinted, Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1976. 274-296.
  • Kenny (2002). Anthony Kenny, “Intentionality: Aquinas and Wittgenstein” in Thomas Aquinas: Contemporary Philosophical Perspectives ed. Brain Davies. Oxford University Press: New York and Oxford, 2002. pp 243-256.
  • King (1999). King, Peter. “Aquinas on the Passions” in Aquinas’s Moral Theory, MacDonald, Stump eds. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999): 101-132.
  • Klima (1996). Gylua Klima, “The Semantic Principles underlying Saint Thomas Aquinas’s Metaphysics of Being” Medieval Philosophy and Theology 5 (1996): 87-141.
  • Klubertanz (1952). George P. Klubertanz, The Discursive Power: Sources and Doctrine of the Vis Cogitativa According to St. Thomas Aquinas St. Louis, MO: Modern Schoolman, 1952.
  • Klubertanz (1952). George P. Klubertanz, “St. Thomas and the Knowledge of the Singular,” New Scholasticism, 26 (1952): 135-166.
  • Klubertanz (1941). Klubertanz, George P.  “The Internal Senses in the Process of Cognition.” The Modern Schoolman, 18 (1941): 27-31.
  • Klubertanz (1950). Klubertanz, George P. “The Unity of Human Activity,” The Modern Schoolman, XXVII (1950), 75-103.
  • Kretzmann (1991). Kretzmann, Norman. “Infallibility, Error, and Ignorance.” in Richard Bosley and Martin Tweedale, (eds.) Aristotle and His Medieval Interpreters(Canadian Journal of Philosophy, supp. vol. 17 (1991): 159-194).
  • Lennon. (1960). Lennon, Joseph, O.P. “The Notion of Experience,” The Thomist, XXIII (1960), 315-344
  • Lisska (2001). Anthony Lisska, “Thomas Aquinas on Phantasia: Rooted in But Transcending Aristotle’s De Anima” in Aquinas’ Sources, Timothy Smith, ed. South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine Press, 2001.
  • Lisska (2006). Anthony Lisska, “A Look at Inner Sense in Aquinas: A Long-Neglected Faculty Psychology” Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, 80 (2006): 1-19.
  • Lisska (1973). Anthony Lisska,”Deely and Geach on Abstractionism in Thomistic Epistemology,” The Thomist, Vol. 37, No. 3 (July, 1973): 548-568.
  • Lisska (1976). Anthony Lisska,“A Note: Aquinas’s Use of Phantasia,” The Thomist 40 (1976): 294-302.
  • Lisska (2006). Anthony Lisska, “Medieval Theories of Intentionality: from Aquinas to Brentano and Beyond” in Analytical Thomism: Traditions in Dialogue ed. Craig Paterson and Matthew S. Pugh. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2006. Chapter 8: 147-170.
  • Lisska (2010). Anthony Lisska, “Deely, Aquinas, and Poinsot: How the intentionality of inner sense transcends the limits of empiricism,” Semiotica 178–1/4 (2010), 135–167.
  • Lonergan (1967). Bernard Lonergan, Verbum: Word and Idea in Aquinas. ed. David Burrell. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1967.
  • MacDonald (2007). Paul MacDonald Jr., “Direct Realism and Aquinas’s Account of Sensory Cognition,” The Thomist, 71 (2007): 348-378.
  • MacIntyre (2001). Alasdair MacIntyre, Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues (The Paul Carus Lectures) Chicago: Open Court Publishing, 2001.
  • Mahoney (1982). Mahoney, Edward P. “Sense, Intellect, and Imagination in Albert, Thomas, and Siger.” In The Cambridge History of Later Medieval Philosophy: From the Rediscovery of Aristotle to the Disintegration of Scholasticism 1100-1600, edited by Norman Kretzmann, Anthony Kenny, and Jan Pinborg, pp. 602-22. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1982.
  • Mailloux (1942). Mailloux, N. “The Problem of Perception” The Thomist 4 (1942): 261-285.
  • Maritain (1997). Jacques Maritain. “On the Philosophy of Nature (II): Concerning Animal Instinct” in Untrammeled Approaches (trans. Bernard Doering) Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997. 132-150.
  • Mascall (1963). Mascall, E.L. “Perception and Sensation” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 64 (1963-1964): 259-272.
  • Michon (2001). Cyrille Michon, “Intentionality and Proto-Thoughts” in Dominik. Perler, ed., Ancient and Medieval Theories of Intentionality. Leiden, (Netherlands: Brill, 2001) 325-342.
  •  Miner (2009). Miner, Robert. Thomas Aquinas on the Passions. (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
  • Moore (1933). Moore, Thomas Vernor. “The Scholastic Theory of Perception.”  New Scholasticism 7 (1933):  222-238
  • Moore (1933). Moore, Thomas Vernor. “Gestalt Psychology and Scholastic Philosophy,” The New Scholasticism, 7, 4 (1933): 298-326.
  • Muller-Thym (1940). Muller-Thym, Bernard J. “The Common Sense, Perfection of the Order of Pure Sensibility” The Thomist 2 (1940) 315-343.
  • Naus (1959). Naus, John E. The Nature of the Practical Intellect according to St. Thomas Aquinas (Analecta Gregoriana, v. 108; Rome, 1959).
  • Normore (2007). Calvin G. Normore, “The Invention of Singular Thought” in Forming the Mind: Essays on the Internal Senses and the Mind/Body Problem from Avicenna to the Medical Enlightenment ed. Henrik Lagerlund. (Studies in the History of Philosophy of Mind, Vol. 5) Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer, 2007. Chapter 6: 109-128.
  • Owens (1982). Joseph Owens “Aristotle on Common Sensibles and Incidental Perception.” Phoenix, 36 (1982): 215-236.
  • Pasnau (1997). Robert Pasnau, “Aquinas on Thought’s Linguistic Nature” The Monist: Analytical Thomism 80:4 (1997): 558-557.
  • Pasnau (2002). Robert Pasnau, Thomas Aquinas on Human Nature A Philosophical Study of Summa Theologiae, 1a 75-89. Cambridge, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Peccorini (1974). Francisco L. Peccorini, “Knowledge of the Singular: Aquinas, Suárez and Recent Interpreters,” The Thomist 38 (1974): 606-655.
  • Peghaire (1943a). Julien Peghaire. “A Forgotten Sense, The Cogitative According to St. Thomas Aquinas (part I)” The Modern Schoolman 20 (1943): 123-140.
  • Peghaire (1943b) Julien Peghaire, “A Forgotten Sense, The Cogitative According to St. Thomas Aquinas (part II)” The Modern Schoolman 20, (1943):210-229.
  • Peifer (1952). John F. Peifer. The Concept of Thomism. New York: The Bookman Associates, 1952. Reprinted as The Mystery of Knowledge (New York: Magi Books, 1964) Also, reprinted in Modern Writings on Thomism, John Haldane, ed. Bristol: Thoemmes, 2003.
  • Schmidt (1983). Robert Schmidt S.J. “Unifying Sense, Which?” The New Scholasticism 57:1 (1983): 1-21.
  • Simon. (1960). Yves Simon, “An Essay on Sensation” in Philosophy of Knowledge: Selected Readings, ed. Roland Houde and Joseph P. Mullally, J.B. Chicago, Philadelphia, New York: Lippincott Company, 1960: 55-95.
  • Stock (1958). Michael Stock, O.P. “Sense Consciousness According to St. Thomas” The Thomist 21 (1958): 415-486.
  • Stromberg (1967). James A. Stromberg.  “An Essay on Experimentum (Part I).” Laval, Theologique et philosophique 23 (1967): 76-115.
  • Stromberg (1968). James A. Stromberg.  “An Essay on Experimentum (Part II).”  Laval, Theologique et philosophique 24 (1968): 99-138.
  • Taylor (1999). Richard Taylor. “Remarks on Cogitatio in Averroes’ Commentarium Magnum in Aristotelis De anima Libros,” in G. Endress and J.A. Aertsen, eds., Averroes and the Aristotelian Tradition (Leiden, Brill, 1999): 217-255.
  • Tellkamp (2006). Jörg Alejandro Tellkamp. “The sensibilia per accidens According to Thomas Aquinas” in M. C. Pacheco; J. F. Meirinhos (eds.), Intellect et imagination dans la Philosophie Médiévale. Actes de XIème Congrès International de Philosophie Médiévale, Porto, 26 au 30 août 2002 organisé par la Société Internationale pour l’Étude de la Philosophie Médiévale, t. 3 (Rencontres de Philosophie Médiévale, 11: Brepols, Turnhout, 2006) 1351-1362.
  • Tellkamp (2006). Jörg Alejandro Tellkamp. “Thomas Aquinas’ Theory of Perception: Sources and Doctrine”. Universitas Philosophica 13/25-26 (1995-1996): 45-67.
  • Uffenheimer-Lippens (2003). Uffenheimer-Lippens, Elisabeth. “Rationalized Passion and Passionate Rationality: Thomas Aquinas on the Relation between Reason and the Passions” The Review of Metaphysics, Vol. 56, No. 3 (2003): 525-558.
  • White (1997). Leo A. White, The Experience of Individual Objects in Aquinas Diss. CUA, 1997. Ann Arbor: UMI Microforms, 1997.
  • White (2002). Leo A. White, “Instinct and Custom” The Thomist 66 (2002): 577-605.
  • White (2005). Leo A. White, “The Picture Theory of the Phantasm” Tópicos: revista de Filosofía, 29 (2005) (Ejemplar dedicado a: Los comentadores árabes y latinos de Aristóteles) 131-156.
  • White (2005). Leo A. White, “Why the Cogitative Power?” ACPA Proceedings 72 (1998): 213-227.
  • Wolfson, Harry Austryn.  “The Internal Senses in Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew Philosophical texts.” Harvard Theological Review, (1935): 69-133.