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ERC

RiP Report Summary

Project ID: 637747
Funded under: H2020-EU.1.1.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - RiP (Rationality in Perception: Transformations of Mind and Cognition 1250-1550)

Reporting period: 2015-04-01 to 2016-09-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

Central to the question of how we come to know the external world, objects and their properties, are the processes through which this information is acquired, interpreted, identified, stored. The ways to account for these different aspects have varied throughout the history of philosophy. Medieval authors shared the belief in human capability to perceive the world as it is both because they believed that we share with the world the same metaphysical structures – matter and form, substance and accident – and because we are naturally endowed with the necessary cognitive powers to grasp how things are. Perception is, in the context of the dominant Aristotelian philosophy of perception, understood as a particular case of a general theory of causation. But medieval thinkers were intrigued about the cognitive mechanisms that made it possible to be aware not just of isolated qualities but of objects endowed with certain specific properties. Although scholars have dwelt into medieval accounts of these mechanisms and the powers responsible for them, the precise nature of the relation between the senses and intellect remains to be thoroughly investigated. The present project investigates the roots of this question in late medieval theories of perception, especially in the period ca. 1250-1550.

The project is led by the research hypothesis of whether the development of a unified view of the mind is associated with an active account of perception in the Augustinian tradition. In order to do this, the project investigates the relation between the senses and intellect interact in perception-related functions, how are non-veridical perceptual experiences (hallucinations, sensory illusions) explained, what is the role (if any) of imagination and the cogitative power in actual in actual perception, whether judgment of any sort occurs with perception as in the perspectivist model of visual sensations, etc. The project has two main objectives:

(1) to offer the first systematic study of late medieval theories of perception, focusing on the relation between the senses and intellect

(2) to retrace the shift in late medieval philosophy of perception that led to the (a) progressive questioning of direct realism in cognition and (b) incremental reduction of all psychological functions to the mind.

With that purpose in mind, the research focuses on four main interconnected areas of inquiry:

A) The role of reason in perceptual experience, that is to say how human perception becomes increasingly intellectualized in late medieval theories of cognition. The project investigates the hypothesis that by the late medieval period a theory of the mind emerged according to which the borders between these different functions became blurred and how existing content and structures influence the way sensory information is acquired. This explains the puzzle in historical philosophical research of the constitution of a conception of psychological functions characterized by an all-encompassing rationality, namely the interference of higher cognitive resources at basic sensory level.
 
B) The nature of perceptual experience: this line of research will focus on medieval debates over the veridical versus illusory perception; this will be done in an original way, by approaching the issue from the viewpoint of the functional partition of the soul, that is to say the relation between the different capacities (powers or faculties in medieval parlance). This also includes the issue of self-awareness in the perceptual process.

C) The metaphysical issue of the compositional versus simple nature of the soul: this concerns the ontology of soul, i.e. the nature of the structures and operations of mental life that is relevant to understand what kind of entity the mind is and how it operates. It includes also the issue of the distinction between human and non-rational animals.

D) The active versus passive nature of perception: this will offer the first systematic mapping of the main strands of medieval theories of perception, preliminarily grouped into the two main philosophical traditions of Aristotelianism and Augustinianism.

The project assumes that investigating those answers will yield new understanding of medieval theories of cognition and mind for the period under consideration, thus providing a more detailed and systematic account of the models of cognition that developed in the period 1250-1550. Although the project will not be able to provide answers to all these questions, we hope to be able to advance new interpretations to the existing sources and new sources to map the developments of later medieval epistemology. The project aims at contributing to the contemporary understanding of the complexity of medieval theories of perception as well as substantially advance our knowledge of the interconnected areas that constitute the core of this project: role of reason in perceptual experience, ontological nature and functional unity of mind, activity in perception. The project will hopefully lead to a novel interpretation into the constitution of the modern conception of mind and rationality.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

The starting focus of the project was in the two chronological end terms: postdoc 1 (Dr. Vili Lähteenmäki) examined the debates on perception and the nature of the mind in the transition between the medieval and the early modern period, with special emphasis on the Cartesian picture of the mind and the phenomenon of consciousness. His research focused on the nature and role of the Cartesian concept of the mind against the background of the received view that conscientia is definitive of the mind, i.e., that the rationalization of all psychological functions could be explained by appealing to conscientia as that which collects both (rational) thoughts and sensations into the immaterial substance (written an article “Conscientia and Self-Knowledge in Descartes”). Within the same Cartesian theme, he wrote an article on the possibility of animal awareness, which examines the shift in the nature of sensation through the specific case of animal cognition. At the same time, the PI continued his research on thirteenth and early fourteenth century Augustinianism, as well as authors in the so-called second scholastic, some of which did play a formative role in regards to Descartes — thus bridging the gap between the two research endeavors. The result of this research will result in number of forthcoming publications.

The PhD student Anselm Oelze was hired to the project at a late stage of finishing his dissertation to the Faculty of Philosophy at Humboldt-Universität Berlin on Theories of Animal Rationality in the Later Middle Ages, which he has done. This PhD is on a key area of the project, medieval theories of animal rationality 1250-1350 and the question of the animal/human boundary, will lead to a monograph and an anthology on The Philosophy of Animal Minds in the Middle Ages (working title) that is going to cover three main areas, namely, animal cognition, animal emotions, and animal volitions. This latter work will present an array of primary sources in translation and commentary. 

Postdoc 1 left the project earlier due to acquisition of personal funding but a replacement (Dr. Paolo Rubini) has been immediately found. This replacement will be with the project for one year and focus on another key issue, the pervading rationality in perception in two central medieval authors, John of Jandun and Thomas Aquinas. More specifically he is working on the question of how the phenomenon of “accidental perception” was explained in late medieval Aristotelianism. According to Aristotle (De anima II 6), in “accidental perception” a bundle of sensible properties is perceived as immediately connected with other properties that per se are not objects of sense perception (for instance, a white shape is perceived as a particular person). Thus, in spite of its denomination, “accidental perception” is sense perception in its full-fledged form. To explain this phenomenon within the framework of the Aristotelian theory of perception, however, is not trivial. One mode of explanation is that by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) who suggests that, in the end, the human rational faculty (the immaterial intellect) is responsible for the non-sensible contents involved in “accidental perception”. This contribution of the intellect is considered by Aquinas to be rather indirect: the rational faculty permeates the internal sense power of “cogitation” which, in human beings, immediately delivers the non-sensible contents grasped in acts of “accidental perception”. Jandun chooses a different strategy. He describes the activity of the internal senses that are responsible for “accidental perception” – in the first place, the power of cogitation – in terms of on automatic mechanism of association. The non-sensible contents grasped in acts of “accidental perception” appear to be the result of such a mechanism of association. A couple of major articles are in preparation and the sources, in the case of Jandun existing in early printed editions format, have been transcribed and translated, and will be made available at the project’s website. In the second part of his research activity within the project, Dr. Rubini will focus on the topic of causality in late medieval authors supporting the Augustinian view that, in acts of sense perception, the human soul is spontaneously active and not purely passive. The starting sources are the De anima commentary by Alfonso Vargas (d. 1366), preserved in few early modern editions and in one manuscript copy from the 15th century (Cremona, Biblioteca Statale, Ms. 113); and the De anima commentary and the Summa rerum naturalium by Paul of Venice (1369–1429).

Postdoc 2 (Dr. Annemieke Verboon) has started to work for the project in April 2016 and will be with us for 36 months. Her focus is on late medieval theories of the mind both from the point of view of textual and visual diagrams of localization of mental functions. She is and will be examining different traditions on lectures on De anima during the 15th century, produced in “German” universities, which have come to us in several textual forms: the so-called “textus” (the base text of Aristotle), manuals (such as the best-seller Parvulus philosophiae naturalis), explanations (expositiones), commentaries, question-series, student lecture notes, diagrams. The focus of research has been on the universities of Leipzig, Erfurt and Cracow, as these universities present each a different “schools” of thought. The aim is to compare the reception of these different theories about how the internal senses were represented and the connection between these representations and active models of cognition. The researcher works almost exclusively with manuscript sources and the results will be article publications (such as “La perception sensorielle et la physiologie du savoir. Manuel du fin XVe siècle – MS Würzburg, UB, M. Ch. F. 118”, Archives des Sciences Sociales des religions, forthcoming in 2017) as well as transcriptions of key texts (such as a hitherto unknown text called Tractatus de modo intelligendi hominis interioris et exterioris) for traditional publications or to be made available on the project’s website.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

The research conducted during the first 18 months of the project allowed for the group to elaborate on the starting hypotheses and identify limitations in the existing literature. This is the case with the existing accounts of the role of reason in perceptual experience, the active nature of perception, the notion of rationality on which the human-animal is build, and the simplification in the relation between localised brain functions and cognitive operations. The work done until now, which will be lead to a number of important publications, has the potential to substantially contribute to a re-evaluation of these topics in the literature of the field.

Moreover, the emphasis during the first 18 months of the project was to establish the project (namely, hiring the researchers, build the website, start its activities) and to achieve visibility in national and international academic communities and networks. The project has established cooperation with international institutions (e.g. Italian and Swedish research centers) as well as nationally. That is visible in the number of invited papers of team members especially the PI and the number of events we will be organizing: the II Finnish workshop in medieval philosophy with the other ERC project on medieval philosophy in Finland (November 2016, http://blogs.helsinki.fi/rationality-in-perception/), the Nordic Network for the History of Philosophy (https://nhpnordic.wordpress.com) which will be hosted in Helsinki in 2017, and the joint Conference with the Representation and Reality research group (http://representationandreality.gu.se), that will take place in Helsinki in June (9-11) 2017, with some of the most important scholars working on the history of philosophy. 

The project has also contributed to the dynamism of the field within the university of Helsinki, via its own activities such as the permanent reading group on perception open to everybody as well as the activities of the PI, giving talks and organizing two seminars — one in the history of philosophy (https://helsinkihistoryofphilosophy.wordpress.com) and the other in theoretical philosophy (http://www.helsinki.fi/teoreettinenfilosofia/tutkimus/research_seminar.html). These activities are important to bring visibility to the project and to potentiate its social and academic impact. 
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