Volume 97, Issue 2, Spring 2023
The Philosophy of John Buridan
Peter John Hartman
Mirecourt, Mental Modes, and Mental Motions
What is an occurrent mental state? According to a common scholastic answer such a state is at least in part a quality of the mind. When I newly think about a machiatto, say, my mind acquires a new quality. However, according to a view discussed by John Buridan (who rejects it) and John of Mirecourt (who is condemned in 1347 for considering it “plausible”), an occurrent mental state is not even in part a quality. After sketching some of the history of this position, I will present two common arguments against it—the argument from change and the argument from agency. I will then turn to Mirecourt’s own position on the matter. Mirecourt, I show, in fact offers us two different theories about occurrent mental states. The first, which I call the conservation theory, accepts that mental states are in part qualities. However, a mental state is a quality together with an action on the side of the mind, namely, its conservation of a quality within itself. The second position, which I will call the pure-action theory, holds that an occurrent mental state is not even in part a quality; instead, it is an action the mind performs which is neither the production nor the conservation of a quality within itself. Mirecourt characterizes such pure actions as “modes” of the mind, and it is this position which is condemned in 1347. In the final section, I turn to an objection that both Buridan and Mirecourt raise against the pure-action theory: if accidental states of the mind are mere modes of the mind, then why not suppose that all accidents are mere modes of the subjects which they qualify?