Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-nmvwc Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-06-21T10:50:36.515Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Species, Intentional

from ENTRIES

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 January 2016

Dennis L. Sepper
Affiliation:
University of Dallas
Lawrence Nolan
Affiliation:
California State University, Long Beach
Get access

Summary

In the Dioptrics, Descartes remarks that his theory of the instantaneous mechanical transmission of light will deliver “your spirit from all those tiny images flitting through the air, called intentional species, that so much exercise the imagination of philosophers (AT VI 85, CSM I 153–54). In this and other passages where he uses “intentional species,” the tone is invariably ironic, even disdainful, and mentioning them serves as foil to his own conception of how the things of the world communicate their presence to the senses.

Intentional species was a topos in Western medieval Scholasticism that produced a family of theories and interpretations operating within a complex of empirical and theoretical concerns. How, within the limits of Aristotelian metaphysics, physics, and psychology, does the sensation of material things and their properties occur, and how does sensation prepare the intellectual apprehension of them? The paradigm example was visual, the perception of color. For Aristotle color is the proper object, the proper sensible, of the visual sense; it is accessible in principle to any animals with eyes. How does this quality of real-world things come to be in sensation? Aristotle, in common with most though not all ancient theorists, thought that the effect proceeded from the thing to a more or less passively receptive eye. His physics of actuality and potentiality conceived four conditions needing to be fulfilled so that vision might occur: (1) a potentially visible material thing; (2) an eye (in a living, awake animal) with the potential for seeing; (3) a transparent medium between thing and eye; and (4) light. Light, rather than reflecting off the object and traveling to the eye, activates the medium's transparency so that it allows the active color quality in the physical thing to be communicated through the medium to the eye; in the eye, the communicated quality produces the same activity that exists in the physical object, though without that object's matter. This activation is seeing proper.

The spareness of Aristotle's explanation led Western Scholastic thinkers, beginning in the thirteenth century and extending into the seventeenth, to explicate the process further, with assistance from theories and concepts worked out by Islamic Aristotelianism.

Type
Chapter
Information
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

References

Hatfield, Gary. 1998. “The Cognitive Faculties,” in The Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Philosophy, 2 vols., ed. Garber, D. and Ayers, M.. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2:953–1002.Google Scholar
Simmons, Alison. 1994. “Explaining Sense Perception: A Scholastic Challenge,” Philosophical Studies 73: 257–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Smith, A. Mark. 1987. “Descartes's Theory of Light and Refraction: A Discourse on Method,” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society 77: 1–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

  • Species, Intentional
  • Edited by Lawrence Nolan, California State University, Long Beach
  • Book: The Cambridge Descartes Lexicon
  • Online publication: 05 January 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511894695.236
Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

  • Species, Intentional
  • Edited by Lawrence Nolan, California State University, Long Beach
  • Book: The Cambridge Descartes Lexicon
  • Online publication: 05 January 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511894695.236
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Species, Intentional
  • Edited by Lawrence Nolan, California State University, Long Beach
  • Book: The Cambridge Descartes Lexicon
  • Online publication: 05 January 2016
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9780511894695.236
Available formats
×