Aquinas in Context Fall 2016: Aquinas on Human Knowledge and Soul

Detailed Syllabus


Aquinas on senses, dreams, and phantasies:

the embodied character of human thinking


   Aquinas’s writings focus on issues in the philosophy of mind which concern perception, both external (e.g., hearing a sound, seeing a colored object, sensing warm or cold) and internal (e.g., remembering a sound, imagining a colored object, dreaming of sensing warm or cold). Some of the most sophisticated development in Aquinas’s writings on such issues are found in his commentaries on some short texts of Aristotle grouped under the name of Parva naturalia as well as in his commentary on Aristotle’s De anima.

   This year course is focused on Aquinas and the tradition of the parva naturalia, their use in Aquinas’s theological analysis (as we find, for instance, in his Summa theologiae), the impact of the previous commentary tradition on his work and, in particular, Aquinas’s reception of thinkers like Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Averroes (Ibn Rushd).  During the seminar through the close reading of relevant sources and selected literature, the participants will come to understand Aquinas’s account of the senses and their perfections, his conceptions of imagination and memory, the nature of fringe phenomena like dreams and visions, and the key roles these play in knowledge formation. Moreover, towards the end of the semester, it will also be possible to appreciate how such elements of natural philosophy remain relevant even for Aquinas’s much broader theological system.

Office hours:

Prof. Robiglio: Wednesday 9-11 am Leuven

For MU students via Skype by email appointment


Prof. Taylor, via Skype (“misterteaatmac)”

Fridays 14h-16h Central Europe Time and by appointment

Note: before connecting, you must send a connection request via Skype.


Detailed Syllabus

The Primary Text for Intensive Study is:

Thomas Aquinas. Sentencia libri De senus et sensato

Commentary on Aristotle’s De Sensu et Sensato

tr. Kevin White

Catholic University of America Press, 2005

An online version is available at the website of

the Dominican House of Studies, Washington, DC


Some other works of Aquinas in Latin and Englishare also available at

The Opera Omnia of Aquinas online can be found at

Link to English translations of Aristotle, click HERE.

While Aristotle’s On Sense and the Sensible is of primary interest, other particularly relevant works include:

On the Soul

On Memory and Reminiscence

On Dreams

On Sleep

On Prophesying by Dreams

Thomas in Context – MA core-seminar

Academic Year 2016-2017 : First Semester

Detailed syllabus and general information available on-line at:

The students and participants should consult the web-page referred above on a regular basis during the semester.

Announcements which are specifically relevant for KU Leuven students will be posted on the e-platform Toledo

Course’s schedule

29.09.2016 – Introducing KU students to the course (structure, aim, and evaluation).

Required Reading: see the course webpage #5 (29Sept16).

Bibliography: B. McGinn, Thomas Aquinas’s ‘Summa Theologiae’: A Biography, Princeton-Oxford: Princeton UP, 2014, Chapters 1-3 (pp. 7-116);

in addition to the bibliography referred to as ‘secondary sources’ on the web-page.

06.10.2016 16h-17h: MU & KUL : Human Knowledge, continued. A Close Look at Albert the Great in preparation for study of his student Thomas Aquinas in relation to the Arabic tradition.


While Aquinas studied for years with Albert at Paris and then at Cologne, it has often been difficult to determine what teachings of Aquinas are to be traced substantially to the influence of Albert. Recent investigations have revealed that the basic epistemology of Aquinas deployed in his early Commentary on the Sentences and retained by him for his career (though with modifications) is in fact spelled out by Albert in his De homine written ca. 1240, just before Aquinas began his studies with Albert. Albert’s epistemology in the De homine is explicitly derived from his study of Avicenna and Averroes whom he cites repeatedly. However, Albert’s epistemology is also founded on his systematic but critical use of those thinkers and his own explicit misinterpretation of Averroes’s doctrine on human intellectual understanding.

Required Videos: In order to understand the teachings of Albert and his student Thomas, students need to have a basic understanding of the theory of human knowledge. Both thinkers drew heavily on the thought of Ibn Sinda / Avicenna and Ibn Rushd / Averroes. Here are four short required videos outlining the basics of their teachings to which both Albert and Thomas refer:

Avicenna, 2 videos of 25 and 22 minutes:


Averroes 2 videos of 18 and 26 minutes: &

For our class this video on Albert is required:

video 6b: Albert the Great in his De homine. 32 minutes: Click

But if you would like more on the context for Albert and Thomas, watch this video 32 minute video first:

Not Required: video 6a: First and Second Averroism, 34 minutes: Click

First and Second Averroism and Albert in the De homine.   

((Two typographical errors occur in video 6a. On the page discussing “Ambiguous doctrinal expressions.” The Arabic following ṣurah la-nā should be صورة . The Greek in the last line about Aristotle, DA 3.5 should be ἐν τῇ ψθχῇ.))

Required Readings:

R. Taylor, “The Key Roles of Avicenna and Averroes in the Development of the Natural Epistemology of Albertus Magnus”  Click HERE.

MU student team presentation (#1 Jacob, Jared & Matthew) of 10 min.: draft of presentation with outline distributed Tuesday 4 October for 6 October discussion 9-10 am: Arabic tradition, Albert’s De Homine.

Some Remarks on Avicenna and Averroes

    Avicenna drew much from al-Farabi but his theory of human soul intellect is very distinctively under the influence of the late Greek tradition at Alexandria and other sources. For Avicenna the human being is first and foremost an imperishable rational soul using a body. Further, while he speaks of abstraction, intellectual knowledge of intelligibles comes about by a conjoining with or by the receiving of an emanation from the Agent Intellect where the intelligibles in act primarily exist. Abstractive consideration of sensory experiences only prepares the rational soul for conjoining with or receiving emanation from the Agent Intellect. That is, the content of intellectual understanding is not derived from the world but from the connection with the Agent Intellect. Aquinas took much from Avicenna but remolded it to fit his own understanding of soul and intellect.

    Averroes held at least three or perhaps even four distinct doctrines on the nature of human intellect. But Aquinas was only familiar with his mature position in the Long Commentary on the De Anima. There he held that the human soul is, as Aristotle says in De Anima 2, the first actuality of a naturally organized body. And when Aristotle raises the question of whether intellect is a different sort of soul, Averroes seizes upon this view. So the human soul is perishable entity that shares in rationality through connection with two separate intellects, the Material (i.e., receptive) Intellect and the Agent Intellect which are eternal. Averroes posed the most difficult challenges to the teachings of Aquinas. Aquinas refuted Averroes’s teaching on separate intellect repeatedly but he also repeatedly found himself grappling with Averroes’s interpretation of Aristotle’s teachings. While clearly novel in the tradition, Averroes’s interpretation is perhaps closer to what we find in Aristotle himself than is the interpretation of Aquinas.

KUL only 17-18h:

             Aquinas Commentary on Aristotle’s De Sensu et Sensato.

             Required Reading : Aristotle’s text & Thomas’s commentary :

              Prologue and Chapters 1-2.

              Available via this link


             R-Reading of Aquinas’s In 2 Sent d.17, Q.2, A.1

available on Toledo - section “Course Documents” and item

“A. Y. 2016-2017”.


13.10.2016 MU & KUL 16h-17h: Human Knowledge:  Aquinas in the Commentary on the Sentences: In 2 Sent. D.17, Q.2, A.1

Readings: The translation of In 2 Sent. D.17, Q.2, A.1 (pp. 279-296 ) in

Richard C. Taylor,  “Aquinas and ‘the Arabs’: Aquinas’s First Critical encounter with the Doctrines of Avicenna and Averroes on the Intellect, In 2 Sent. D.17, Q.2, A.1”, Philosophical Psychology in Arabic Thought and the Aristotelianism of the 13th Century, L.X. López-Farjeat & J. Tellkamp, ed. (Paris: Vrin, 2014), 142-183 & 279-296, and also the article by Taylor.

Available on ARES Reserves at Marquette and on Toledo at KULeuven.

MU student team presentation (#2 Mark, Esther, Tyson) of 10 min.: draft of presentation with outline distributed Tuesday 11 October for 13 October discussion 9-10 am Milwaukee / 16h-15h Leuven.

Note: After the presentation by the Marquette team, we will take a quick look at the teaching of the mature Aquinas in his Summa theologiae, prima pars, Q.79, article 6, where he spells out his position on the nature of memory against that of Avicenna. Here we will see that the distinction of two kinds of memory spelled out by Albert in his 1240 De homine is still literally retained by Aquinas some 15-17 years later in his theological opus magnus, the Summa theologiae. For the text, click HERE.

KUL only: 17h-18h: De Sensu et Sensato/ the five senses and their sensible objects/ sight and colors

        R-Reading : Thomas’s commentary : Chapters 3-7.

Available via this link


Bibliography : P.T. Struck, Divination and Human Nature. A Cognitive History of Intuition in Classical Antiquity, Princeton-Oxford, Princeton UP, 2016, Ch. 2 (pp. 91-170).

20.10.2016 – MU & KUL 16h-17h

KUL student team presentation (#1) of 10 min.: draft of presentation with outline (5 pp. maximum) distributed Tuesday 18 October for 20 October discussion.

De Sensu et Sensato/ the five senses and their sensible objects/olfaction and flavors

        R-Reading : Thomas’s commentary : Chapters 8-13

        Available via this link


27.10.2016 (No class: the missed hours will be resumed in November, TBA)

      – De Sensu et Sensato/ the five senses and their sensible objects/


         R-Reading: Thomas’s commentary : Chapters 14-18

                Available via this link


03.11.2016 (No class: the missed hours will be resumed in November, TBA)

      – Perception in the Age of Innocence

         R-Reading: Thomas Aquinas, De Veritate, q. 18, a. 6

available at:

**Do not be deceived by the typographical error in the English

version that indicates this is q.17; it is in fact q.18.**

10.11.2016 – KUL student team presentation (#2) of 10 min.: draft of presentation with outline (5 pp. maximum) distributed Tuesday 8 November for 10 November discussion.

           De memoria et reminiscentia/ the structure of memory

      Reading: Aquinas’s Commentary on ‘On memory and reminiscence’:  Lessons 1-2. available at:

17.11.2016 KUL student team presentation (#3) of 10 min.: draft of presentation with outline (5 pp. maximum) distributed Tuesday 8 November for 10 November discussion.

               De memoria et reminiscentia/ the processor of remembering

        R-Reading: Aquinas’s Commentary: Lessons 3-5

available at:

24.11.2016 (Thanksgiving Day: no meeting with the Marquette students)

   – De memoria et reminiscentia/ learning, remembering, calling to


       R-Reading: Aquinas’s Commentary: Lessons 6-8

available at:

01.12.2016 – Aquinas and Aristotle’s Parva Naturalia: first evaluation

      R-Reading: Aquinas’s commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima:

        Bk III, lessons 3-4

available at:

Bibliography: C. Fabro, Knowledge and Perception in the Aristotelic-Thomistic Psychology, «The New   Scholasticism», XII, 4, 1938, pp. 337-365.

08.12.2016 – On sense and perception in the ‘Analytic Tradition’

        R-Reading: J.L.Austin, Sense and Sensibilia

available at:

        Aquinas’s Sententia libri de anima, Bk II, lesson 13

available at:

                    Bibliography: M.G.F. Martin, The Transparency of Experience,  Mind and Language 17 (2002), pp. 376-425.

09.12.2016– Students present their paper’s research topic.

15.12.2016 – Students present their paper’s research topic.

16.12.2016 – Students present their paper’s research topic.

22.12.2016 – Students present their paper’s research topic.