Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association

Volume 95, 2021

The Diakonia of Truth

John Skalko
Pages 195-211

Aquinas on Animal Cognitive Action in Light of the Texts of Aristotle

Aquinas famously held that only intellectual beings can grasp the natures or essences of things and cognize universals per se. Below these intellectual beings, however, were the non-human animals who shared many of the interior sense faculties in common with man; such animals’ highest sense was merely what is called the estimative power. Aquinas’s account of animal cognition has largely been ignored in contemporary biological research, although hopes for a resurgence have been emerging in the Thomistic world. In this paper I seek to explicate Aquinas’s account of animal cognitive activities, particularly by explicating a more detailed account of animal cognitive action as found in the biological works of Aristotle known by Aquinas. I then turn to various contemporary biological findings to show that many purported modern discoveries (like dolphins rescuing a man or recognition of social hierarchies) shouldn’t be so surprising after all. Many such cognitive acts were already there in the texts of Aristotle read by Aquinas.