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Latin scholastic and early-modern texts

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A (very short) pre-history of intentionality: textual history of the mental world from Henry of Ghent to Descartes.

What is the esse obiectivum? This Latin expression refers to the mental content of a concept and is specifically related to the mental world, in opposition to the extra-mental one. If, to most of the scholars, such concept evokes the treatment it received by Réné Descartes (1595 – 1650) in the Meditationes de prima philosophia (1641), its history can be traced back to the medieval scholastic context. For philosophers of 13th century, like Henry of Ghent and John Duns Scotus, used it in their theories of cognition, which are traditionally – and, in the case of Henry, in a very precise way – opposed to the realist position of Thomas Aquinas. According to the Angelic Doctor, a concept is issued from a real process, originated in the sensible domain and progressively dematerialized by means of the intelligible forms and of the intellect as well. In the case of philosophers like Henry of Ghent, such process is differently viewed and described: actual cognition is nothing else but the presence (praesentialitas) of an object in the intellect. Such presence obeys to different rules than those regulating the extramental world- and forms; namely, concepts are other kind of forms than those belonging to the extra-mental world. What does this mean and how is such mental world characterized, are the questions we are going to focus on by reading parts of some of the texts, which have paved the way to Descartes’ theory of the ideas.

As most of medieval scholastic texts, Henry’s have never been translated into English; in order to reflect on the special way of existence of ideas and concepts, we will work on a short anthology of texts bringing on the contraposition between esse obiectivum and esse formalis. We will focus on the specific lexicon of the schools – which is the same one that Descartes will later use, as it has been proved, at the beginning of the last century, in the nowadays classical reference text by Étienne Gilson, the Index scolastico-cartésien (1913- reprinted 1979). We shall start with a few crucial loci in Henry of Ghent and John Duns Scotus, proceed to look at what Francisco Suárez has done with the material in his "Disputationes Metaphysicae", and finally arrive at the treatment it received in Descartes' "Meditatio III" and in his polemical exchange with Caterus in Obj. I et Resp. I.