Notes on Aquinas and Intentionality

– In a very interesting paper , it’s argued that Aquinas held to a concept of intentionality which was non-reductive – that is, a concept where intentionality is posited as an unanalyzable primitve feature or property of whatever possesses it. This is posited over against more traditional interpretations of Aquinas which see intentionality as something analyzable in terms of something else, such as identity or relation or likeness.

– The general consensus is that Aquinas sees intentionality as possible because what makes my thought of any given object a thought of that object and not another object is that my thought is informed by the form of the object. In one way or another the mind is either possesses the same form as the object in either a (1) numerical, (2) formal, or (3) similar way. Briefly, this cash out to (1) the mind actually possessing the same exact form (in the relevant way) as the object, (2) the mind possesses the same form in a formal, and not numerical way:

‘…according to the formal-sameness theorist, for a subject to possess a concept of an object O is for there to be (at least) two distinct forms or tropes, F1 and F2, that stand in a special relationship (formal sameness) and are possessed in different ways by their subjects (intentionally by the mind and naturally by O.’

(3) is almost the same as (2), except that instead of formal sameness, the relation is mere similarity.

– The ‘non-reductive’ (NR) theory the authors put forward is as follows:

‘…unlike the other interpretations we’ve considered so far, ours is non-reductive in nature: it accounts for intentionality not by reducing it or explaining it in terms of something more basic, but rather by postulating it as an unanalyzable feature of its possessors.’

– Schematically this looks like this:

‘A form or property, F-ness,  is a concept (ie=.e., and intellgible species) of an object O if and only if F-ness is a form that is by its very nature (or essentially) about O and is possessed by an immaterial mind.’

– It’s fairly straightforward, and the authors argue that it avoids lots of textual and philosophical problems – for example, the problem of intentional inexistence is dissolved, since thinking about something that doesn’t exist, like a centaur, is simply a matter of the mind having a concept with the property of being about a centaur. There’s no question of likeness or similarity or sameness – to be a concept of X is simply to be about X.

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