On the Cogitative Power and the Second Operation of the Intellect

What function does the cogitative power perform in the second operation of the intellect?

The answer to this question is intimately related to a host of interlocking problems within Aquinas’s philosophical anthropology and his approach to Aristotelian noetics. I want to point out its connection to the Aristotelian claim that the intellect only understands material things in their quidditative universality, and the general requirement for the intellect to turn to the phantasms in order to understand, judge, and reason about particulars.

Nearly every Thomistic explication of this doctrine ignores the cogitative power, and I really do mean practically every Thomistic interpretation you read makes no mention of the cogitative power’s function within this context.

Then there are the many Medieval and recent critics who say, quite rightly, “Thomists hold that the intellect does not know individuated material singulars, but we have intellectual thoughts and judgments about singulars all the time, hence the Thomistic view is false.”

Thomists will reply, “While it is true that the intellect does not understand material things in their singularity, it does know them by way of reflection and also through the intellects conversion to the phantasms. By turning to the phantasm the person forms pictures of singulars and that is how we intellectually know singulars.”

The proper retort is: “But that is not to think about singulars, that is to picture or imagine singulars which you are also thinking about universally. We want to know how the Thomist can account for the quotidian experience of thinking about individuals. How does the Thomist explain the fact that we do think about individuals?”

If the Thomist does not turn to the cogitative power (or memory) there is no answer to be given to this.  This quite similar to the point I addressed in a paper on linguistic apprehension in Aquinas.

But the turn to the cogitative power will not have the same exegetical force if we do not first make a distinction in Aquinas and other Aristotelians use of the term phantasm.  Phantasms as well as the power of phantasia is commonly used in a broad and strict sense. The broad sense refers to the three internal senses of imagination, cogitative, and memory, the strict sense refers to the power of imagination alone.  This usage is common to Avicenna, Averroes, Albert, Aquinas (cf. SCG II.73.n.14) and John of St. Thomas addresses it explicitly.

If we wish to answer this question—how do we think about individuals?—we must recognize that Aquinas often uses phantasia or imagination and phantasm in the broad sense. In short the phantasms Aquinas must have in mind here must be those formed by the cogitative power and NOT the phantasms of imagination. The two kinds of phantasms here are absolutely NOT the same.  They have formally different objections. Imagination retains the per se sensible forms of the external senses and sensus communis; the cogitative power apprehends particular intentions, which are per accidens sensibles when apprehended simultaneously with external sensation (cf. ST I.78.4; In de Anima II. lt. 13; SCG II.73.14).

Let us return to our question by starting with a more general question:

What function does the cogitative power perform in the operations of the intellect considered generally?

Aquinas provides a straight forward answer to this question in a number of passages. Here is one locus classicus on this question. “Can the mind know material thing in their singularity?”

DV 10.5 (the last section of the response and a few replies to objections)

… this conjunction is found in the movement from the soul to things, which begins from the mind and moves forward to the sensitive part in the mind’s control over the lower powers. Here, the mind has contact with singulars through the mediation of particular reason, a power of the sensitive part, which joins and divides individual intentional likenesses, which is also known as the cogitative power …. The mind’s universal judgment about things to be done cannot be applied to a particular act except through the mediation of some intermediate power which perceives the singular. In this way, there is framed a kind of syllogism whose major premise is universal, the decision of the mind, and whose minor premise is singular, a perception of the particular reason. The conclusion is the choice of the singular work, as is clear in The Soul

ad 2. The wise man arranges singulars; by the mind only through the mediation of the cogitative power whose function it is to know particular intentions, as is clear from what has been said.

ad 3. The intellect makes a proposition of a singular and a universal term since it knows the singular through a certain reflection, as was said.

ad 4. The intellect or reason knows universally the end to which it directs the act of the concupiscible power and the act of the irascible power when it commands them. It applies this universal knowledge to singulars through the mediation of the cogitative power, as has been said

Consider also In II de Anima 6, lt.13.

396. But, speaking precisely, this is not in the fullest sense an incidental sense-object; it is incidental to the sense of sight, but it is essentially sensible. Now what is not perceived by any special sense is known by the intellect, if it be a universal; yet not anything knowable by intellect in sensible matter should be called a sense-object incidentally, but only what is at once intellectually apprehended as soon as a sense-experience occurs. Thus, as soon as I see anyone talking or moving himself my intellect tells me that he is alive; and I can say that I see him live. But if this apprehension is of something individual, as when, seeing this particular coloured thing, I perceive this particular man or beast, then the cogitative faculty (in the case of man at least) is at work, the power which is also called the ‘particular reason’ because it correlates individualised notions, just as the ‘universal reason’ correlates universal ideas. …

398. Note, however, that the cogitative faculty differs from natural instinct. The former apprehends the individual thing as existing in a common nature, and this because it is united to intellect in one and the same subject. Hence it is aware of a man as this man, and this tree as this tree; whereas instinct is not aware of an individual thing as in a common nature, but only in so far as this individual thing is the term or principle of some action or passion. …

Another nice passage is found in ST II-II.2.1.

I answer that, “To think” can be taken in three ways. First, in a general way for any kind of actual consideration of the intellect  …. Secondly, “to think” is more strictly taken for that consideration of the intellect, which is accompanied by some kind of inquiry, and which precedes the intellect’s arrival at the stage of perfection that comes with the certitude of sight. … In this way thought is, properly speaking, the movement of the mind while yet deliberating, and not yet perfected by the clear sight of truth. Since, however, such a movement of the mind may be one of deliberation either about universal notions, which belongs to the intellectual faculty, or about particular matters, which belongs to the sensitive part, hence it is that “to think” is taken secondly for an act of the deliberating intellect, and thirdly for an act of the cogitative power.

In brief, the cogitative power provides the particular and circumstantial intentions, i.e., aspectual, actional, and affectional intentions, required for specifying or placing the universal quiddity of the intellect within the particularized context of the here and now. These are the phantasms needed by the possible intellect, and they are principally, though by no means exclusively, formed by the cogitative power, not imagination in the strict sense.

Now we can ask:

What function does the cogitative power perform in the second operation of the possible intellect?

First by judgment we should distinguish between the simple composition or division of concepts which is found in acts of supposing, from acts of judgment that assert and verify such is the case by way of composition and division of conceptions (cf. ST I.85.5).  Our question asks us to consider both kinds of judgments inasmuch as they bear upon the application of universal intelligbilities to their particular instances (cf. ST I.86.1; DV 10.5; In II de Anima II. lt. 13).

In addition to the general functions just mentioned, the cogitative power provides the individual context of any intellectual judgment of attribution or existence.  I affirm that “Socrates is a man” or that “Socrates is” or “Socrates exists.” Both are judgments involving aspectual intentions of the cogitative power, “Socrates” and the first uses the universal quiddity of the possible intellect “man.”  The possible intellect understands “horse” and “stone” the possible intellect with the cogitative power can understand (well the person can understand by both) “this horse” and “this stone” and can form the judgment “this is a horse” and “this is a stone.” The “this” is particular content—an aspectual intention—from the cogitative power, “horse” qua common nature is from the possible  intellect, and the “is” is the synthesis achieved by the second operation that is properly to the possible intellect but is achieved by the human person who deploys both their possible intellect and cogitative power in one confluent operation. (cf. Etienne Gilson, Thomist Realism and the Critique of Knowledge, ch. 7, 183-193).

A digression. We should recall that the unity of this confluent operation is not inferred; it was given long before we differentiated the formal objects and operation of the two powers.  That is, long before we began to philosophically reflect on the nature of understanding particulars we were understanding particulars in a unified operation that synthesized the particular and universal intentions of the two powers before we ever heard of or considered the notion that there is a formal difference between particular intentions and universal intentions. Philosophy begins with the quoad nos, and it is not the business of philosophical precision to get into tangles about the quoad nos while dealing with the quoad se. Further we should avoid the temptation to reject wholesale the quoad nos for the sake of some proposition we take to be more known in itself. Such temptations lead to sawing off the very branch we are sitting on. The confluent operation of the two powers was a point of departure from the more known to us, we have simply returned to it again at the end of our analysis of the quoad se to re-affirm this initial truth with the conceptual refinement that has been gained through philosophical contemplation. Yet these insight would not have been acquired if the more known to us had not set us on the right initial path.  With a nod to Maritain, we should say that we only distinguish in order to unite once again.

Such unified confluent operations of the cogitative power and possible intellect also occur in reasoning—the third act of the intellect—and in particular, in practical reasoning.

ST II-II.49.2ad1
Reply to Objection 1. The reasoning of prudence terminates, as in a conclusion, in the particular matter of action, to which, as stated above (47, A3,6), it applies the knowledge of some universal principle. Now a singular conclusion is argued from a universal and a singular proposition. Wherefore the reasoning of prudence must proceed from a twofold understanding. The one is cognizant of universals, and this belongs to the understanding which is an intellectual virtue, whereby we know naturally not only speculative principles, but also practical universal principles, such as “One should do evil to no man,” as shown above (Question 47, Article 6). The other understanding, as stated in Ethic. vi, 11, is cognizant of an extreme, i.e. of some primary singular and contingent practical matter, viz. the minor premiss, which must needs be singular in the syllogism of prudence, as stated above (47, 3,6). Now this primary singular is some singular end, as stated in the same place. Wherefore the understanding which is a part of prudence is a right estimate of some particular end.

This right estimate of some particular end is carried out by the estimative, i.e., the cogitative power.

ST II-II.49.2ad3
Reply to Objection 3. The right estimate about a particular end is called both “understanding,” in so far as its object is a principle, and “sense,” in so far as its object is a particular. This is what the Philosopher means when he says (Ethic. v, 11): “Of such things we need to have the sense, and this is understanding.” But this is to be understood as referring, not to the particular sense whereby we know proper sensibles, but to the interior sense, whereby we judge of a particular.

AND this is the cogitative power.  Se also the parallel passages in the commentary on Nico. Ethics, VI. lt. 7 and 9, they are way more explicit than this.

We think about individuals of a material nature by way of our particular reason (i.e, the cogitative power) and universal reason (i.e., possible intellect).  This is not to think universally about individual pictures, it is think, form, and affirm or deny propositions about individual material things through the cogitative power and the intellect. The cogitative forms the individual intentions containing thinkable content inaccessible to the operations of the intellect, this content is synthesized with the universal quiddities formed by the possible intellect within the second operation of the intellect of a unified and integrated human person.

In a doctrine in which man, in a way, conceives the singular and perceives the universal because in their constant and instantaneous exchanges thought and sensation collaborate in the unity of the same act, intellectual knowledge is just the opposite of the empty, abstract thought of which Aristotelianism has been accused. Far from being reduced to a pure logical form, in Aristotelianism the concept is always conceived in and by means of the concrete.  (Etienne Gilson, Thomist Realism and the Critique of Knowledge, ch. 7, 192)

More could be said, but I’ll leave it at that.


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.

Index of Texts on the Vis Cogitativa

The following is a fairly extensive collection of references to the cogitative power and similar notion in Thomas Aquinas.  I have slightly altered and added to the following list given by Klubertanz.  What follows is taken from his book on the topic.

The Discursive Power: sources and doctrine of the vis cogitativa according to St. Thomas Aquinas
By George P. Klubertanz
Part II. Chapter 5

Introduction to Thomistic Texts

In St. Thomas, the “key” texts are very brief, but there is a very large number of shorter references to the same problem.
Almost all the modern authors who have touched on this problem in St. Thomas agree that the main texts are five:

  1. Commentary on the Sentences, bk. 3, d. 26, q. 1, a.2;
  2. Contra Gentiles, bk. 2, 60, 73,76;
  3. Commentary on the De Anima, bk. 2, lect. 13;
  4. Summa Theologiae I. 78. 4, 81. 3;
  5. Quaestio Disputata de Anima, a. 13.

These five texts are very brief; almost astonishingly so in comparison with the discussions of St. Albert. The one extended discussion, that in the Contra Gentiles, really contains very little positive doctrine, as we shall see; it is almost entirely concerned with the refutation of a particular Averroes’s theory.

  It is obvious that some of these references will overlap, since these terms naturally combine and contract among themselves. It should also be stated that this list does not pretend to be exhaustive, except in the sense that all the important passages are considered.

  Another point to be noted is that some very important texts do not explicitly refer to any of these terms. For example, the long and very important discussion on prudence in Summa Theologiae II-II, qq. 47 and 49, is shown to concern our problem only by means of St. Thomas’s own reference to the sixth book of Aristotle’s Ethics, and by means of St. Thomas’s own development of the Aristotelian doctrine.

  The chapter divisions on this part follow almost naturally from the chronology of the works. A glance at the “key” texts shows a division into three groups: the first comprising of Commentary on the Sentences, the De Veritate, and the Contra Gentiles, which precede most if not all of the commentaries on Aristotle; the second group will take in the passages occurring in commentaries on Aristotelian works; the third including the Summa Theologiae and the Quaestio Disputata de Anima.


Again, the main vis cogitativa texts are five: Commentary on the Sentences, bk. 3, d. 26, q. 1, a.2; Contra Gentiles, bk. 2, 60, 73,76; Commentary on the De Anima, bk. 2, lect. 13; Summa Theologiae I. 78. 4, 81. 3; Quaestio Disputata de  Anima, a. 13.

Additional direct references to the vis cogitativa occur in the Commentary on the Sentences,[1] De Veritate,[2] Contra Gentiles,[3] Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics,[4] Summa Theologiae,[5] Quaestio Disputata de Anima,[6] and in the doubtful work De Principio Individuationis.[7]

Ratio particularis is spoken of in Commentary on the Sentences,[8] De Veritate,[9] Contra Gentiles,[10] Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics,[11] Commentary on the De Anima,[12] De Principio Individuationis, and Summa Theologiae.[13]

Vis aestimativa is discussed in Commentary on the Sentences,[14]  De Veritate,[15] Contra Gentiles,[16] Commentary on the Ethics,[17] Commentary on De Sensu et Sensato,[18] and Commentary on De Memoria et Reminiscentia,[19] and in Summa Theologiae.[20]

Instinctus is mentioned with reference to the actions of animals in Commentary on the Sentences,[21] Contra Gentiles,[22] Commentary on the Metaphysics,[23] Commentary on De Memoria et Reminiscentia,[24]  Summa Theologiae,[25] and Quaestio Disputata de Anima.[26]

Vis apprehensiva[27] is often used as a generic term to signify any one or many cognitive faculties, but in a few place Aquinas specifically is referring to the cogitative Commentary on the Sentences, Commentary on Ephesians.

[1] Loci in the Commentary on the Sentences: III d. 23, q. 2, a. 2, q. 1 ad 3; IV d. 7 q. 3, a. 3, q. 2, obj. 1 and ad 1; III d. 26, q. 1, a. 2; IV d. 23, q. 2, a. 2, q. 1 ad 3; d. 49, q. 22, a. 2, sol.; d. 50, q. 1, a.1 ad 3; a. 3 ad 3 in contrar.

[2] De Veritate: I. 11, X. 5, XV. 1 ad 9, XV. 1, XVIII. 7 ad 5.

[3] Contra Gentiles: II. 60, 73, 76, 80, 81; III. 84.

[4] Commentary on the Ethics: VI, lect. 1, 7, 9.

[5] Summa Theologiae, I. 85.7, 111.2 ad 2, 115.3, 79.2; I-II. 50.3 ad 3, 51.3, 30.3 ad 3, 74.3 ad 1; II-II. 2.1 ad 2; III. 72 11, arg. 3 and ad 3.

[6] Quaestio Disputata de Anima: XX ad 1 in contrar.

[7] De Principio Individuationis: a medio.

[8] Commentary on the Sentences: II d. 24, q. 2, a. 1 ad 3; IV d. 50, q. 1, a. 1 ad 3; a. 3 ad 3 in contrar.

[9] De Veritate: II. 6, X. 5, XIV. 1 ad 9, XV. 1.

[10] Contra Gentiles: II. 60.

[11] Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics: VI, lect. 1, 7, 9.

[12] Commentary on the De Anima: II, lect. 16.

[13] Summa Theologiae: I. 20, 1 ad 1, ?19. 2 ad 2?; 80. 2 ad 3; I-II. 51. 3, 30. 3 ad 3.

[14] Commentary on the Sentences: II. d. 20, q. 2, a. 2 ad 5; II d. 24, q. 2, a. 1 and ad 2; d. 25, q. 1, a. 1 ad 7; III d. 17, q. 1, a. 1, q. 3 ad 2; d. 15, q. 2, a. 2, q. 3 ad 3; d. 35, q. 1, a 2, q. 2 ad 1; IV d. 49, q. 2, a. 2.

[15] De Veritate: 1. 11; 15. 1; 18. 7 and ad 7; 24. 2; 25. 2.

[16] Contra Gentiles: II. 47, 48, 60.

[17] Commentary on the Ethics: VI, lect. 7, 9.

[18] Commentary on De Sensu et Sensato: lect. 1.

[19] Commentary on De Memoria et Reminiscentia: lect. 2.

[20] Summa Theologiae: I. 81.2 ad 2; I-II. 6.2, 77.1

[21] Commentary on the Sentences: II d. 20, q. 2, a. 2 ad 5.

[22] Contra Gentiles: II. 47; III. 131.

[23] Commentary on Metaphysics: I. Lect. 1.

[24] Commentary on De Memoria et Reminiscentia: lect. 1, 8.

[25] Summa Theologiae: I. 18. 3, 83.1; I-II. 3. 6, 9. 1 ad 2, 11. 2, 12. 5 and ad 3, 15. 2, 17. 2

ad 3, 40. 3 and ad 1, 46. 4 ad 2, 50. 3 and ad 2.

[26] Quaestio Disputata de Anima: XIII.

[27] In Eph., c. 4 lt. 6: “Sed vita gentilium non est talis, imo deficit in praedictis tribus; quia, primo, deficit a ratione iudicante, quia ambulant in vanitate sensus sui. Sensus autem est vis apprehensiva, per quam iudicamus singularia. Unde aliquis homo rectus dicitur quando bene iudicat de agendis.”  I must thank Eric Mabry for pointing out this reference for me.  Mr. Mabry discovered this reference by virtue of a footnote in Matthew Lamb’s translation of Aquinas’ commentary on Ephesians.

General Outline of the Project

The aim of this blog is to provide in one location answers and responses to the numerous questions and requests I get for information on the vis cogitativa according to Thomas Aquinas.

In the future I also hope to organize this material into more accessible and brief answers. The following is a draft of questions and articles which will be considered.  I hope the material on this blog is helpful to others interested in Thomas Aquinas’ philosophical anthropology.

1. On Sensiblia
2. On the Internal Sensorium
3. On the Estimative
4. On the Cogitative as a Faculty
5. On the Proper Object of the Cogitative
6. On the Operations of the Cogitative Generally considered
7. On the Operations of the Cogitative as Oriented to Sensation
8. On the Operations of the Cogitative as Oriented to Intellection
9. On the Cogitative and Linguistic Expression
10. On the Operations of the Cogitative as Oriented to Reason
11. On the Operations of the Cogitative as Oriented to Practical Reason
12. On the Cogitative and Prudence