Anthony J. Lisska

title.none: Pasnau, ed. and trans., Thomas Aquinas: A Commentary on Aristotle's De Anima (Lisska)

identifier.other: baj9928.0005.001 00.05.01

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Anthony J. Lisska, Denison University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Pasnau, Robert. Thomas Aquinas: A Commentary on Aristotle's De Anima. Yale Library of Medieval Philosophy. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999. Pp. xlviii, 450. $50.00. ISBN: 0-300-07420-4.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.05.01

Pasnau, Robert. Thomas Aquinas: A Commentary on Aristotle's De Anima. Yale Library of Medieval Philosophy. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1999. Pp. xlviii, 450. $50.00. ISBN: 0-300-07420-4.

Reviewed by:

Anthony J. Lisska
Denison University

This translation by Robert Pasnau of Thomas Aquinas's important but often neglected treatment of issues, especially in epistemology and the philosophy of mind, is the latest contribution to the newly developed Yale Library of Medieval Philosophy, whose general editors are Eleonore Stump, John F. Wippel and the late Norman Kretzmann. Aquinas's Sententia libri "De anima," which is his first of several extended and thorough commentaries on Aristotle's texts, was begun probably in late 1267 while Aquinas was living in Rome before he began his second and last assignment at the University of Paris in the autumn of 1268. Pasnau's translation utilizes the Leonine edition of Aquinas's commentary [Paris: Vrin, 1984], which was edited by the prominent French Dominican textual scholar, Rene-Antoine Gauthier. This new translation signals the passing of an earlier generation of scholars and translators of Aquinas, especially with the arrival of the Leonine editions of Aquinas's Aristotelian commentaries. Pasnau's work supercedes the earlier translation, now half a century old, of Aristotle's De Anima in the Version of William of Moerbeke and the Commentary of St. Thomas Aquinas, admirably undertaken by the English Dominicans Kenelm Foster and Silvester Humphries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1951); this 1951 edition was recently reprinted by Ralph McInerny's Dumb Ox Books (Notre Dame, Ind., 1994). In his introduction, Pasnau argues persuasively concerning places where he judges that the older translation is not foursquare with the manuscript text of Aquinas.

Of course, Pasnau depends heavily on the Gauthier edition of the Sententia and on the copious notes provided in the Leonine version Gauthier edited. For the most part, Pasnau agrees with Gauthier's rendition of the manuscript. He does disagree substantively, however, with where the division ought to be between Books Two and Three of Aristotle's De anima. Readers familiar with the older translation will not need to worry because Foster/Humphries, like most Aristotelian commentators, divide the text in the same place. One hopes that eventually an English translation of Gauthier's complete work on the De anima will be undertaken for English readers. Gauthier has spent a lifetime unpacking the Aquinas texts, and readers non-conversant in French are at a distinct loss in coming to terms with Gauthier's prodigious scholarship. In addition, one hopes that soon a fresh translation of Aquinas's Sententia libri "Ethicorum", also edited by Gauthier (Rome: Commissio Leonina, 1969) will appear, superceding the now nearly thirty-year-old translation undertaken by the American Dominican Charles I. Litzinger, but not based on the critical Leonine edition of Aquinas's Sententia. For a critical account of some of Gauthier's interpretations of Aquinas, the interested reader might consult Ralph McInerny's essay, "Aristotle and Aquinas: Pere Gauthier," which appears in McInerny's Aquinas on Human Action (Washington, D.C., 1992, pp. 161-177).

This new literal translation is, without a doubt, an important contribution to contemporary studies in the history of philosophy dealing with issues in epistemology and the philosophy of mind. In my judgment, one needs to read carefully Aquinas's exposition and commentary on Aristotle's De anima in order to witness Aquinas wrestling with issues in sensation, perception and concept formation. The account of Aquinas's philosophy of mind normally referred to in contemporary discussions is the short analysis in the Prima Pars of the Summa Theologiae, Questions 78-79 and 84-89, plus occasional references to the somewhat whimsical discussions in the Summa contra Gentiles. While the account of intellectual knowledge found in the Prima Pars of the Summa Theologiae is moderately developed, nonetheless Aquinas treats the important issues of sense knowledge in but two articles of Question Seventy-Eight: Article Three for the external senses and Article Four for the internal senses. Given the interest in philosophy of mind issues revolving around sensation and perception in both modern and contemporary philosophy, one needs to see where Aquinas considers these issues in more detail. And it is to the Sententia libri "De anima" that one turns, especially the exposition and commentary from Chapter/ Lectio Ten of Book Two forward and in major sections of Book Three. This corresponds to Book Two, Chapter Five and following in Aristotle. The account of a realist theory of sensation and perception is, in my judgment, more fully developed in this Aristotelian Sententia than in any other place found in the Aquinian corpus. Given the importance of these issues in contemporary philosophical discussions, Pasnau's new lively and "reader friendly" translation will be a godsend to philosophers interested in coming to terms with the critical edition of Aquinas's work on issues in the philosophy of mind but whose Latin skills are modest. In addition, Pasnau's translation of the Moerbeke Latin, which he refers to as "doubly opaque texts," is quite readable; this is a major accomplishment, as any reader who ever attempted to render Moerbeke's Latin into English will readily attest.

In order to help the reader better understand the architectonic Aquinas utilizes in his Sententia, Pasnau has provided an elaborate structural outline of Aquinas's commentary. This will be good news to readers familiar with the earlier but uncritical Marietti edition of the text but omitted in the Foster/Humphries translation. Within the translation itself, Pasnau has adopted the convenient and helpful convention of using boldface type when the texts of Aristotle are printed, either in the translation of Moerbeke or when interspersed within Aquinas's own commentary. This helps the reader comprehend more readily where Aquinas is going in his exposition, an exposition whose format may be generally unfamiliar to English readers. The numerical references to paragraphs found in Foster/Humphries and based on the Marietti edition are contained in Pasnau's translation, but these numbered paragraphs are not the principal means of division in the text. Readers familiar with Foster/Humphries or Marietti will need to adjust to this different editing format, which is based on Gauthier.

The footnotes Pasnau provides are a veritable gold mine of scholarly and interpretative information. So that one might gain but a glimpse of the immense philosophical usefulness of this new translation of Aquinas, several of these footnotes with their content will be noted: the differences between substance, accident and propria (8); a discussion of that terribly illusive Aquinas and Aristotle term, phantasia (9); the different uses of passio (13); a discussion of the basic elements (earth, air, fire and water) in Aquinas's theory of physics (37); an account of quia and propter quid demonstrations (134); the differences between perfect (perfectum) and complete (154); the role of what I would call a second intention in Aquinas's account of universals (201); the differences between intentio and immutatio (206); the important differences in Avicenna between 'form' and 'intention' (208); how Aquinas understands lux and lumen (218); a reference to the work of David Lindberg on medieval optical theory and Aquinas's place in these discussions (225); on the different senses of ratio (284); a discussion of some confusions with Greek epistemological terms (318); an account of the importance of Albertus Magnus in this work (329-330); Gauthier's analysis of phaos, which Aquinas translated as 'light' although this is not the Greek meaning but nonetheless was a meaning common to thirteenth century Aristotelian commentators (340); the use of habitus in different contexts (352; 365); an important reference to Brentano's work on intentionality as found in Nussbaum and Rorty (367); a discussion of the range of meanings of principium (395); and the significant differences between 'irrational' and 'non-rational' (397). This extended account of footnote references is provided in order to suggest how this book indeed will be an invaluable and useful aid when reading Aquinas's account of Aristotle's De anima, especially for readers generally unfamiliar with Aquinas's Aristotelian commentaries. Pasnau, himself a student of the late Professor Kretzmann, indicates throughout his general familiarity with recent work in analytic philosophy related to Aristotle and Aquinas, a scholarly trait one comes to expect from Kretzmann's students.

When considering Aquinas's commentaries on Aristotle, questions always abound about the significance of and importance of these works within the overall context of Aquinas's philosophy and theology. In his excellent introductory notes to the translation, Pasnau treats this set of issues in the way I think most appropriate: one reads Aquinas's Aristotelian commentaries expecting to find Aquinas's own thoughtful analysis of serious philosophical issues. And, as noted above, this is especially true regarding issues in sensation and perception. Moreover, given the recent renewed interest in general Aristotelian studies, both in moral theory and in the philosophy of mind, it is important to see how a major medieval Aristotelian commentator wrestled with the texts of the Stagirite on mind issues. Writing on the tradition of Aristotelian commentaries on De Anima, Martha Nussbaum once suggested the following about Aquinas's comments on and interpretations of Aristotle's work in psychology: "Also produced in the thirteenth century is one of the very greatest commentaries on the work, by Thomas Aquinas. . . . Aquinas' commentary itself is very insightful." (Essays on Aristotle'sDe Anima [Oxford, 1995], p. 3). Christopher Martin, whose analytic commentaries on Aquinas are some of the best available, once suggested that "St. Thomas is an Aristotelian" and that Aquinas's "concepts and categories are those of Aristotle, and when they are developed beyond the point at which Aristotle left them, they are developed in an Aristotelian manner." (The Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas [London, 1988], p. 4]. In this Sententia, Aquinas is doing serious philosophy, and one should read him with that intention in mind. Historical work now suggests that Aquinas wrote the Prima Pars section on human cognition during the time he was working on this commentary; likewise, a bit later, he developed his theory of human action in the Prima Secundae while writing his commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics.

Pasnau, referring to Gauthier, notes that much of the early parts of the Sententia depends on the edited Aristotelian texts of Themistius and Albertus Magnus. Near the end of Book One, Aquinas appears to utilize the transliterated Greek text provided by William of Moerbeke. Pasnau notes that William's texts were not always readily available to Thomas, and that these two Dominican confreres were not in the sophisticated scholarly working relationship that earlier historians of ideas suspected.

Let's take one issue where Aquinas's commentary on Aristotle's treatment of inner sense goes beyond what Aristotle himself argues. Pasnau mentions this in his introduction, but I suggest that the analysis might go farther. In the Summa Theologiae, Prima Pars, Question Seventy-Eight, Article Four, Aquinas identifies the phantasia with the vis imaginativa. He also mentions two other faculties of inner sense, the vis cogitativa (vis aestimativa in animals) and the sense memory. This is a development of Aristotle's account, where the Stagirite mentions only the phantasia and appears to give this faculty a multitude of mental work to undertake. Later commentators, especially the Arabians, pushed this analysis with vigor. Nonetheless, in his Sententia, Aquinas appears to use the concept of phantasia as an 'umbrella' concept under which are placed the vis imaginativa, the vis cogitativa and the sense memory. This is, I suggest, what Aristotle was up to in his account in De anima, but that point need not be argued here. What is important is, I suggest, that Aquinas gives the vis cogitativa an important role to play in the process of sense perception. In the text, Pasnau translates the account of the vis aestimativa as 'an individual intention' (205), which I think is on the right track. Next, his translation reads that "the cogitative power apprehends an individual as existing under a common nature." (ibid.) This too, I suggest, is an individual intention. I would prefer translating this as the 'incidental object of sense' rather than 'sensible per accidens', which gets at better the notion of an individual as the object of perception. Hence, the incidental object of sense, as that which is perceived by the vis cogitativa, is an individual intention. Aquinas argues, I submit, that it is through the vis cogitativa that the human perceiver is aware of an individual as an individual and not as a mere bundle of sensations. This is a very important development in the history of perception theory, because it is in this commentary that Aquinas is explicit about how his--and a fortioriAristotle's--theory of perception can transcend the limits of what became the standard paradigm in British empiricism, notably elucidated in the writings of Berkeley, Hume, Russell, Moore and Ayer. Aquinas is an empiricist, to be sure, but one with an important faculty of inner sense, the vis cogitativa, which permits Aquinas to go beyond the limits of classical British empiricism. This is, in my judgment, an important contribution to historical studies in the philosophy of mind, and it is in this Aristotelian Sententia where Aquinas spells this out in more detail than any other text.

This translation is an important research tool for all philosophers interested in Aquinas's philosophy of mind and epistemology. The Sententia is an important locus classicus for Aquinas's best treatment of many of these issues so central to contemporary work in the philosophy of mind. To have Gauthier's Leonine text now available together with Pasnau's fresh translation into English and his substantive introduction and informative footnotes bode well for continuing good work in Aquinas studies in the philosophy of mind. Every library of both undergraduate and graduate philosophy programs needs this work, and all of us interested in the history of medieval philosophy of mind should have this new translation on our desks. Highly recommended.