Human Knowledge

Martin Pickavé

in The Oxford Handbook of Aquinas

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780195326093
Published online May 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Human Knowledge

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  • Philosophy
  • History of Western Philosophy
  • Epistemology


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The article provides an overview on Aquinas's cognitive psychology and his views about how the things can be cognized. Aquinas's account of cognition and the acquisition of knowledge are focused on two fundamental principles: sensory perception is the starting point of human cognition and there is a significant difference between sensory powers and intellect of human beings. Aquinas mentioned that human beings are equipped with a variety of sensory powers, which can be divided into two groups, the external senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch) and the internal senses (the common sense, imagination, the estimative power, memory). Aquinas concluded that human beings have a cognitive power, the intellect, which transcends the sensory powers. Aquinas described the intellect's reliance on sensation in general and the images provided by the imagination in particular with the talk of ‘connaturality’ (connaturalitas) between the intellect and the input provided by the sensory powers. Aquinas argued that cognitive acts require the reception of representational devices or ‘species’ (species). Aquinas argued that there is theological knowledge, which is a nonparadigmatic form of knowledge (scientia). The most important distinction between theological knowledge and naturally acquired knowledge is that the principles of naturally acquired knowledge are self-evident for the knowing subject, whereas the principles of theological knowledge, the articles of faith, are accepted on the basis of the light of faith, which is a gift of divine grace.

Keywords: Aquinas's cognitive psychology; external senses; internal senses; connaturalitas; sensory powers; cognitive powers; naturally acquired knowledge

Article.  8853 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Epistemology

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