Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Intentionality, Cognition and Mental Representation in Medieval Philosophy

PHGA7074 Intentionality, Cognition and Mental Representation in Medieval Philosophy

Professor Gyula Klima
Friday 2:00-4:00 pm

It is supposed to be common knowledge about the history of ideas that one of the few medieval philosophical contributions preserved in modern philosophical thought is the idea that mental phenomena are distinguished from physical phenomena by their intentionality, their directedness toward some object. As is usually the case with such commonplaces about the history of ideas, this claim is not quite true. Medieval philosophers routinely described ordinary physical phenomena, such as reflections in mirrors or sounds in the air, as exhibiting intentionality, while they described what modern philosophers would take to be typically mental phenomena, such as sensation and imagination, as ordinary physical processes. Still, it is true that medieval philosophers would regard all acts of cognition as characterized by intentionality, on account of which all these acts are some sort of representations of their intended objects.

This course is going to provide a broad survey of the conceptual relationships between intentionality, cognition and mental representation as conceived by some of the greatest medieval philosophers, including Aquinas, Scotus, Ockham and Buridan, and some of their lesser known contemporaries. The clarification of these conceptual connections sheds some light not only on the intriguing historical relationships between medieval and modern thought on these issues, but also on some fundamental questions in the philosophy of mind as it is conceived today.

Topics to be discussed will involve: the “demarcation” of mental and physical phenomena, intentionality and representation in non-cognitive subjects, the intentionality of cognitive representation, sensory vs. intellectual cognition, the idea of a mental language, the ontological status of “mental objects”, the materiality or immateriality of mental acts, the nature of the human intellect, and non-human (animal, angelic, divine) forms of cognition.


Kenny, A. Aquinas on Mind, Routledge, 1993.
Klima, G. (ed.) Intentionality, Cognition and Mental Representation in Medieval Philosophy, Fordham University Press, 2008.
Klima, G. (et al. eds.) Medieval Philosophy: Essential Readings with Commentary, Blackwell, 2007.
Klima, G. John Buridan, Oxford, 2008
Lagerlund, H. (ed.) Representation and Objects of Thought in Medieval Philosophy, Ashgate, 2007
Panaccio, C. Ockham on Concepts, Ashgate, 2004

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