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American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 76, Issue 3, Summer 2002

John P. O’Callaghan
Pages 451-482

Aquinas, Cognitive Theory, and Analogy
A Propos of Robert Pasnau’s Theories of Cognition in the Later Middle Ages

Is it the case that God, human beings, and air all share the same capacity for cognition, differing only in the degree to which they engage in cognitive acts? Robert Pasnau has recently argued that according to St. Thomas Aquinas they do, a conclusion that for Pasnau follows straightforwardly from Aquinas’s discussion of God’s cognition in the first part of the Summa theologiae. Further, Pasnau holds that Aquinas’s relation to contemporary cognitive theory should be understood in light of the discussion of God. This essay argues that Pasnau’s analysis is mistaken. It begins by explaining Pasnau’s position. It then considers the problems this reading introduces into Aquinas’s discussion of God’s cognition, as well as those it faces when addressed to air and other cognitive media. Finally, it shows the role that Aquinas’s doctrine of analogy plays in understanding how “cognition” is said of human beings, how it is said of God, and how it is not said in the case of air and other cognitive media. It concludes by suggesting that the logic of analogy is Aquinas’s most crucial contribution to contemporary discussions of mind and cognition.