The cogitative power (or sense) is a power of knowledge that acts in a roundabout, discursive way. The name is borrowed from the Latin vis cogitativa, which in turn refers to cogitatio —rational, or discursive, thought in contrast to intuition, certitude, and immediate knowledge. This power is also less commonly called the discursive power. It plays a role in human knowledge similar to that of the estimative power in brute animals.
History of the Notion. The first distinctive use of the term was that proposed by avicenna. He developed a notion of distinct powers of knowledge that are distinguished from one another by their formal objects. On this basis, he distinguished the following "internal senses," common sense, phantasy, imagination or cogitative power, memory, and reminiscence (Liber canonis 220.127.116.11; De anima 1.5; 2.1; 4.1, 3). The cogitative power was distinguished from the other powers by its manner of acting in the composition and separation of images.
A different theory was evolved by averroËs. He regarded Avicenna's theory as not founded on the Aristotelian text, and thus he referred the knowledge of good and evil to nature and imagination (Destructio Destructionum, disp. 2). He held that intellect and sense are distinguished completely, but also that the internal senses approach intellect to some extent. The external senses grasp the object according to external accidents as presented here and now. The imagination grasps the same object, according to its permanent qualities, as abstracted from the here and now. The cogitative grasps the object as a particular substance, abstracting from the accidents. Finally, the intellect grasps the universal substance, abstracting from all particularity (Collegit, 2.20; In 3 anim. comm. 6, 7, 20, 33, 57).
Since Avicenna's De anima was the first work to make these notions known to the Latin West, his version of the internal senses was first adopted by such authors as alexander of hales, john of la rochelle, and St. bonaventure. However, St. albert the great also made use of Averroës.
St. thomas aquinas adopted most of the basic ideas of Avicenna concerning the internal senses, but he also considered the explanations and criticisms of Averroës. Notable are St. Thomas's refusal to accept the real distinction between the phantasy and imagination, and his transfer of the term cogitative to the human estimative; in both of these considerations he seems to have been influenced by Averroës. Basically, his reason for asserting that man possesses this cogitative power is that he learns concrete good and evil by a kind of comparison of many individual instances (Summa Theologiae 1a, 78.4). St. Thomas himself made only brief references to the evidence for this. Contemporary thinkers, such as Rudolf Allers, adduce material both from the slow and uncertain way in which an individual learns, and from the relativity of human opinions about good and evil, as shown, for example, by anthropologists.
Existence and Nature. Some philosophers have professed to find the notion of the cogitative difficult if not contradictory. Knowledge of good, it is said, is knowledge of a relation, and only intellect can know a relation. A first and immediate answer is accepted by all Thomists. For "to know good" is quite different from knowing goodness. The cogitative knows a concrete good; it cannot know goodness and relation as abstract and universal (John of St. Thomas, Curs. phil. 3:260–65).
For this reason, the knowledge or judgment of the cogitative cannot be called free except by denomination, in the sense of "free in its cause, not in itself." For, as is commonly held by Thomists, only a power that can grasp its formal object as such in abstraction is able to reflect on its own act and on itself.
Exclusively in Man. First, then, the cogitative power can be found only in man. Secondly, its special mode of operation is due to the fact that it is a sense power of a rational nature, that is, under some influence from reason (Summa Theologiae 1a, 78.4). In general, all Thomists accept this position.
Moreover, an influence implies some kind of causality. There is the order of formal causality, and in this way, the quiddity of the cogitative power is ordered to the quiddity of the intellect. Then, too, there is the order of final causality, according to which the cogitative power subserves the purposes of intellect and will. So much is agreed on by all Thomists. It is in the order of efficient causality that differences arise. Most Thomists, and E. Hugon would here be typical, hold that there is a permanent influence of intellect upon the cogitative as power, prior to activity. Others regard this proffered explanation as obscure. They hold that an efficient influence can be found only in the act of the cogitative.
Impressed Species. Another question often raised, also from a systematic viewpoint, is the way that the cogitative is put into act. According to the general Thomistic theory of cognitive powers, such a power cannot be put into act except through an intrinsic inherent determination, called the "impressed species" (see species, intentional). Apart from minor variations, Thomists generally explain the impressed species of the cogitative thus: An external sensation (or an act of the imagination) is joined with the act of consciousnes to impress a particular determination upon the cogitative. By the external sense (or imagination) an object is made present; by the central sense, the knowing subject is cognitively present. The simultaneous impression of these two acts upon the cogitative provides the concrete relation, which is judged good or evil partly by the very nature of the power, partly by reason and experience.
Acts of the Cogitative. It is clear that in the very beginning of human life, one cannot act from prior experience. Thus, if there are any evaluative judgments at this level, they must be of a purely sensory nature. In this sense man has an estimative power. But as a child gains some experiences, he can begin to relate and compare. In the beginning he cannot do this actively, but he can only accept those instances of good and evil that occur in his environment. Because a baby's environment is mostly a human one, the learning of sensory good and evil is rational—that is, at first with the rationality of the family and the culture, and only considerably later with the person's own rationality.
Experience gradually leads to complex memories. Memory depends on attention, and at this early stage this can be only what appeals to appetite. Thus the cogitative power is actively involved with the construction of elaborated phantasms from which the intellect in time draws its concepts and forms its judgments and reasonings (see knowledge, process of). In this account, the cogitative power is associated with the formation of phantasms according to its nature as evaluative.
Some Thomists, among whom A. da Castronovo would be typical, offer a different account of the functioning of the cogitative power, basing this on St. Thomas's commentary on Aristotle's De anima. There St. Thomas follows Averroës in stating that the cogitative power knows "an individual as standing under a common nature" (In 2 de anim. 13, 398). Many interpret this text, possibly in the light of a tradition stemming from the dubious De principio individuationis, to mean that the cogitative power comes to know individuals, and to recognize that they have a common nature. Thus it prepares for the intellect a phantasm of a number of individuals from which the intellect can legitimately abstract a common nature because it is already known to be there. This knowledge is possible because of the previously mentioned influence of the intellect upon the cogitative power as power.
Cogitative as Particular Reason. From one point of view, all human action is a doing (agere ) and as such falls under the virtue of prudence. One of the tasks of prudence is to judge about an action insofar as that action has a relation to the agent himself and his interior attitudes. In this connection judgments are made about what is suitable and reasonable. This "particular reason" is just what the cogitative power grasps, and so the power itself is sometimes called "particular reason." The intellect directs the cogitative power to make such concrete evaluations as here and now, for this man, express a general value judgment. Since the operations of principal and instrumental causality are one action (though the causes are two), the action of intellect and cogitative power in the particular evaluation are also one action of judging (In 6 eth. 4, 7, 9; Summa Theologiae 2a2ae, 47.3 and ad 3).
From still another point of view, the universal knowledge and the particular sense cognition are comparable as form and matter-form composite. In other words, the principle must be particularized and embodied in a concrete judgment of good and evil.
These considerations point out a way in which we can understand how the judgment of the cogitative is what it is—a discursive judgment of human good or evil—by its union with the intellect of man. For the matter form unity of two acts into one composite activity explains why that single activity shows aspects of reason on the one hand (discursiveness, direct relation to the universal, some transcendence of the order of mere sense pleasure and even utility), and on the other shows aspects of sense (particularity, concreteness, contingence).
See Also: senses; sensation; estimative power; faculties of the soul.
Bibliography: m. a. gaffney, Psychology of the Interior Senses (St. Louis 1942). g. p. klubertanz, The Discursive Power: Sources and Doctrine of the Vis Cogitativa According to St. Thomas Aquinas (St. Louis 1952). j. peghaire, "A Forgotten Sense, the Cogitative, According to St. Thomas Aquinas," Modern Schoolman 20 (1943) 123–140, 210–229. r. allers, "The Vis Cogitativa and Evaluation," New Scholasticism 15 (1941) 195–221. a. de castronovo, "La cogitativa in S. Tommaso," Doctor Communis 12 (1959) 99–244. c. fabro, "Knowledge and Perception in Aristotelic-Thomistic Psychology," New Scholasticism 12 (1938) 337–365. r. hain, "De vi cogitativa et de instinctu hominis," Revue de l'Université d'Ottawa 3.2 (1933) 41–62. t. v. moore, "The Scholastic Theory of Perception," New Scholasticism 7(1933) 222–238. h. a. wolfson, "The Internal Senses in Latin, Arabic, and Hebrew Philosophic Texts," Harvard Theological Review 28 (1935) 69–133.
[g. p. klubertanz]
"Cogitative Power." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cogitative-power
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