Volume 97, Issue 3, Summer 2023
Mitigating the Magic
The Role of Memory, the Vis Cogitativa, and Experience in Aquinas’s Abstractionist Epistemology
Aquinas famously argues that there exists a purely active intellective power—i.e., the agent intellect—in each human agent that is capable of “abstracting” universals, including natures, from sensible phantasms. Robert Pasnau has worried, however, that Aquinas’s thin account of how the agent intellect performs abstraction makes abstraction appear to be little short of “magic.” In this paper I reply to Pasnau’s objection by arguing for the necessity of expanding the standard account of Aquinas’s theory to include the oft-neglected role of the so-called “interior sense powers,” in particular memory and the cogitative power, in his epistemology. I argue that for Aquinas memory and the cogitative power, operating in close cooperation with intellect, are responsible for bridging the ontological and epistemological divide between sensation of the singular and intellection of the universal by producing the pre-intellective, quasi-knowledge of experience (experimentum), which is propaedeutic to abstraction.