Volume 88, 2014
Dispositions, Habits, and Virtues
Timothy B. Noone
Habitual Intellectual Knowledge in Medieval Philosophy
A Complex Theme
This lecture treats the theme of habitual cognition in both its commonplace and unusual senses in the tradition of ancient and medieval philosophy. Beginning with Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and its teaching on habits, it traces how the ancient and medieval Peripatetic tradition received and developed the idea of habitual knowledge. The lecture then turns to three case-studies in which the notion of habitual knowledge is used in unusual senses: Aquinas’s treatment of self-knowledge; Scotus’s account of human awareness of the concept of being; and Peter Auriol’s observations regarding memory and subconscious awareness in ordinary reptitive acts. Aquinas and Scotus seem to identify habitual knowledge in its unusual sense with the presence of an intelligible in the mind prior to actual cognition of that object. Auriol extends habitual knowledge to cover the cognitive state of someone performing an act without any conscious attention. The uses by both Aquinas and Scotus seem somewhat parallel to the use of habit or pre-conscious knowledge in Hume and Kant.