You are on page 1of 16

The Significance for Cognitive Realism of the Thought of John Poinsot

by Douglas B. Rasmussen

To the question "Whether the formal rationale constitutive of a sign as such consists, primarily and essentially, in an ontological or in a transcendental relation," we have only two systematically conceived answers. One, published by a professor at Alcala, in Iberia, in the year 1632, according to which concepts (being natural signs formal in type) as they function in cognition are ontologically relative, and so sustain the convertibility of being with truth: this is Poinsot's Treatise on Signs. The other, published by a professor at Konigsberg, Germany, in 1781, according to which concepts even as functioning in actual cognition remain primarily transcendental in their relative being, and so compromise the transcendental character of truth (that is, the character of truth as mind-independently founded) and its convertibility with being.— John Deely, "Editorial AfterWord," Tractatus de Signis, 508-09. It seems very hard to defend cognitive realism in this day and age. To some contemporary philosophers the very idea of making reference to realities that exist and are what they are apart from some conceptual/linguistic scheme is unintelligible. For them such realism is nothing more than a relic from the classical and mediaeval past. To others, it is the central metaphysical and epistemological truth upon which all wisdom is based. To many, realism is but a part of an endless debate in which philosophers engage without too much evidence of progress. I plan to continue the debate, but I do nonetheless hope to provide some evidence of progress. I argued recently, in response to Hilary Putnam's assertion that

Douglas B. Rasmussen, "Realism, Intentionality, and the Nature of Logical

Copyright 1994, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. LXVIII, No. 3

1959). Intentionality. we can note that there is an overall character that all logical relations have that first intended objects do not have. to relate it to reality. We may note that what is formed by this act of conceptualization is the concept of a horse. how can concepts have their relational character in virtue of themselves? Does not their power to refer or signify depend on our mental acts and thus how we choose to relate them to realities? If this is so. 3 "Realism. Putnam failed to see the import of concepts as formal signs for the realisi/anti-realist debate. because they are simply that in which first intendings carry out their acts of cognition. and arguments. Just as the mental acts which Relations. this does not mean that the relational nature of concepts is determined by how we choose to relate them. nonetheless. 28-29. propositions. such as genus to species. however. such as predicability. requires further explanation." I am referring to concepts. As a result. it should be noted that there is a significant. The first intending. in considering logical relations or second intentions as formal signs. for they are that in and through which first intendings intend their objects. 2 . In the penultimate paragraph of my critique of Putnam. which are relations of reason because they never exist apart from psychological operations but are. of course be used to describe the psychological acts of cognition as well as the logical instruments of cognition. and how these features may be related. logical relations or second intentions are formal signs or intentional in nature. when I speak of logical relations. linguistic or otherwise. Logic as a Human Instrument (New York and Evanston: Harper & Row Publishers. while it is true that concepts do not exist apart from our mental activities. for example. that Putnam had failed to consider Poinsot's claim that a concept or intention2 is a formal sign which as such does not stand in need of some scheme. 'Concept' or 'intention' can. This. and it has features that its object. We can note the concept's features. Parker and Henry B. and this does not depend on us. We may say. the relational or intentional character of concepts flows from the fact that they are essentially relative: their being consists in relating. Finally. Also. Thus.3 I considered the following objection: "Concepts do not exist apart from mental acts. To begin with. the concept of a horse becomes the second intended. ambiguity in the word 'intention. On the contrary. the first intended." 274. but if this is so. as an organon or tool for knowledge. This is intentionality. I shall be using these terms primarily in the latter sense. that the object intended is a horse and that the operation of intending is one of conceptualization. can become the object of a second intending.410 AMERICAN CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY reference to transtheoretical/translinguistic reality is impossible. Thus. does not have. that a horse is the first intended of a first intending. distinct from and not reducible to them. I am using 'logical' here in an Aristotelian sense. that is. though confusing.' It may be used to indicate the operation of intendi/ig or the object which is intended. Veatch in their book. then. Suppose." Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 65 (1992): 267-77. are we not back with Putnam in holding that all reference and signification depend on our conceptual choices?" My response was that. Moreover. Thus an intention involves an object intended in an intending. I am following the practice of Francis H. however. a horse.

Reiser (Turin: Marietti. There are beings which exist. 406 note 15). Tractatus de Signis.5 Poinsot's views seem to be the best hope for the realist claim that knowledge of transtheoretical/translinguistic reality is possible. 8 I shall confine myself in this essay to discussing the importance of Poinsot's thought for cognitive realism. 1. Henceforward I will often abbreviate this work to TDS. eds. Reiser's edition of Poinsot's philosophical work is standardly referred to by volume. MD: University Press of America. column. I will use some of the central insights that Poinsot develops in his Tractatus de Signis. also it is with concepts: they do not have to be objects of some awareness in order to exist or to have their relational nature." Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 57 (1983): 152-62. see Yves Simon. be remiss of me not to note that Poinsot indicates that the term "relatio rationis" has a wider extension than See the critical bilingual edition of John Poinsot. Powell (Berkeley: University of California Press. and "Rorty. 1930-1937). Rasmussen "Deely. Wittgenstein. I propose to provide additional explanation now.COGNITIVE REALISM 411 produce concepts do not have to be thought of to exist and have the nature they have. The first is ontological in nature and the second is epistemological: 1. Though sufficient for casting doubt on Putnam's views. thought is actualized in language and is not something private and internally present only to the knower). see the "Editorial AfterWord" to TDS. John Deely and Jonathan Evans (Lanham. His insights have implications for both the philosophy of mind (for example. 6 This is not to say that Poinsot's thought is only important for the issue of cognitive realism. 457ff." The New Scholasticism 54 (Winter 1980): 60-67. however. see Douglas B. and Donald Hollenhorst's translation." in Semiotics 1982. page. The Simon translation includes much material from Poinsot's work outside the scope of the Deely edition of the Tractatus de Signis (for particulars. and the Nature of Intentionality. and are what they are. "Wittgenstein and the Search for Meanings. Thomas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 577-90. so. Tractatus de Signis. I shall understand "realism" to consist of two claims. mental states cannot be reduced without remainder to physical states). John Glanville. . which is Volume I of the three-volume Cursus Philosophicus of Poinsot in the edition of B.4 In this way I also plan to show the importance of Poinsot's thought for cognitive realism. 4 These two major English translations of Poinsot's philosophical work are both based on the Ars Logica. and line numbers. although Deely brings in much material from the other volumes in notes to the Tractatus text. Also. and Mental Events. which is the principal classical locus for discussions in this area. John Deely in consultation with Ralph A. Difficulties peculiar to translating Poinsot's Latin are discussed at length by Deely. Wittgenstein. my claim that concepts as formal signs are essentially relative requires further explanation. ed. It would. 1955). 1987). For a discussion of these claims. and language (for example. 1985). The Material Logic of John of St.

Sometimes a physical being is also just logical relations or second intentions. and cultural beings—in principle. Its existence and nature is not dependent upon the fact that it may be an object of awareness. Further. are not simply beings in rerum natura. So. then.8 be it physical or psychological. 58-64. There are. being cognized. 8 The consequences of such a terminological shift are developed at length by John Deely. there is a history that is involved with some of them. that mental or psychological activities. anyone's cognition of them. more to this issue than I can discuss here.) This term also refers to fictional. Note carefully. not to deny that there are beings in rerum natura that exist and are what they are. first in his Basics of Semiotics (Bloomington: Indiana University Press. since they do not have to be objectified or known in order to exist or be what they are. 1994). First Preamble. but beings that are the result of much artifice. 7 For purposes of this discussion we will ignore the issue of how these distinctions would be modified if we assume the existence of a Deity. Indeed. however. often with great difficulty. however. to all the various forms of human thought and expression. MD: Rowman & Littlefield. These beings can be known more or less adequately. contrary to what is common in English usage. or more exactly. A being of reason is in principle distinct from a real being— regardless of whether it be physical or psychological—for a being of reason only exists in relation to some knower. be termed a "subjective" being. nor is it to say that there is not an important difference between the concept "horse" and a horse. mathematical. It is for that reason an objective being. but still known as they really are. many other distinctions that must be made if this account of realism is to be properly understood: (a) A real being is a being whose existence and nature is independent of its being thought about or. This is. to identify a being of reason with the psychological activities sufficient for its existence. which is a kind of extended essay on the point. but especially in his more recent The Human Use of Signs (Lanham. custom. of course. and convention. they are a subset of real beings. are not mind-dependent in the sense contrasted with real beings. a thoroughbred horse like Secretariat. it will have to suffice for me to observe that I do not think any of the foregoing observations are inconsistent with realism as I have defined it here. (Tractates de Signis. It does not require a subject to which to be related. it is the case that many things which are first intentions. It would be wrong.412 AMERICAN CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY independent and apart from. an object-of-awareness. On the contrary. There is. It could. It is an object-of-thought. . for example. Yet it is to say that many of our first intentions do involve relations resulting from the activities of speculative or practical reason. 1990). in general. however. (c) A physical being is a being whose existence is independent of mental or psychological activities. 2. article 2. therefore. A real being does not exist only in relation to some knower. (b) A being of reason is a being whose existence and nature is dependent on its being thought about.

It is crucial to realize at the start that it is the very nature or form of a real being that makes it potentially sensible and intelligible and not the knower. however. 33-62. as Aristotle notes (DeAnima. This identity is a formal identity in that the form of the object becomes present to the knower. (d) A mental or psychological being is an activity of a particular mind or consciousness. This is. not to say the mental or psychological can be reduced without remainder to the physical. is independent of any particular knower. 1972): 232-33. 1992). but not vice-versa. not independent of every particular knower. The nature of the cognitive relation is such that what one knows is not some tertium quid—be it a copy or image or idea—but reality itself. such as neurological conditions of the brain. Cognition: An Epistemological Inquiry (Houston. one knows it. 466al5). Introduction to Realistic Philosophy (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers. 407-12 and 441-68 for an excellent account of the formal identity between knower and known. See Joseph Owens. there is an identification by the knower of the object. An identity between knower and known results. Thus if one knows something. 1948). a being of reason. for example. . mental or psychological activities do not exist apart from physical states. realism claims that we can know both the existence and nature of reality. It is the knower. "The Ontological Status of Intentionality. note 24. Though what can sound and what can hear are different things. the concept of hydrogen or the character Hamlet. The process by which an identity between knower and known is achieved—specifically the role of logical relations in this process—will be discussed shortly. In other words. cannot exist apart from a particular knower.COGNITIVE REALISM 413 called a "real" being in order to indicate the dependency of the psychological on the physical. an act of perceiving or of conceiving. tout court. who makes a real being actually sensible and intelligible. the actual sounding of the sound and the actual hearing are one actuality. of course.9 2. for example. TX: The Center for Thomistic Studies." The New Scholasticism 2 (Spring. however. When one knows something. not something else. 9 10 See the summary discussion in John Deely. It is. As said. but physical states can exist apart from mental or psychological activities. It is important to note that while a mental or psychological being. The knower does not'create the sensibility and intelligibility of a real being. and John Wild.

because therein mind is conjoined with its object. see David Kelley. They cannot be used to explain the character of intentions or formal signs. q." "father of. Accordingly. the cognitive relation is real because the formal identity between knower and known does not need to be an object of cognition in order to exist. However. Questions 1-3. but only one actuality." "equal to. as said. That relation. Henry B. there are no intermediate entities that are known. 8): "Knower and known are one principle of activity inasmuch as one reality results from them both. Yet such a relation cannot exist without the requisite psychological or mental activities and the logical relations they create. Their whole nature does not consist in being merely of or about something else. the passive and active dimensions of human knowledge gives rise to the distinction between the real cognitive relation of identity and the logical relations which make it possible. Yet such relations as "north of. namely the mind in act. TDS Book II. Though the knower receives the form of the object and thus is metaphysically passive. Intentional Logic." So. Knower and known are really identified. but simply in virtue of being of or about that other thing. but a discussion of this role will have to be left for another time. As said. they are intentions or formal signs.12 These logical relations do not represent or signify something in virtue of being like or similar to that other thing. but rather that it is simply an intentional form. 1986). 12 Obviously.414 AMERICAN CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY and as Aquinas claims (De Veritate. follows Poinsot in arguing that logical relations are fundamentally intentional relations of identity: There is a type of structure or relation of which it may be said not just that it can serve as an intentional form. Evidence of the Senses: A Realist Theory of Perception (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University Press. sense perception plays a crucial role in the acquisition of knowledge. I say that one reality is the result. Veatch in his classic work. the knower must be epistemologically active for cognition to occur. The actualization of objects of sense and thought is the actualization of sense and thought faculties. for they necessarily involve an ordination or respect to something else. but what is the nature of these intentions or formal signs? They are essentially relative. They have a character of their own. what sort of relation could serve to explain the nature of intentions or formal signs? 3. So. . "See Poinsot. I believe. Thus." and even "similar to" do not capture the character of intentions or formal signs.

we must intellectually separate what something is from itself and reidentify it. Thomas. Logic as a Human Instrument (New York: Harper & Row. propositions.COGNITIVE REALISM 415 is none other than a relation of identity. whether something is (existence). 1952.13 He claims that concepts. see Francis H. "On the Universal Considered in Itself. Question 3. relations of identity must be relations of reason." art. reprinted 1970 by Archon Books). "Whether universality consists essentially in a relation. Veatch. The context for this examination will be the "problem of universals. and why something is (cause).14 They are. that an intentional form is a relation of identity is as follows: since to know anything. It its only through an act of judgment that something is actually predicated and thus identified with itself." Reiser ed. because no such being is ever separate from itself. I 333a28-342b48). It is only through an act of abstraction that the intelligible features of things can be universalized and become predicable. of The Material Logic of John of St. Veatch states in the preface. Accordingly. 3 "De Universal! Secundum Se. CT: Yale University Press. as already noted. 5 "An consistat essentialiter universalitas in relatione. They respectively allow the knower to identify what something is (essence). Thomas. Parker and Henry B. If our concepts are to provide knowledge of what something is. To see more clearly just what an intentional relation of identity is we shall examine the particular case of concepts. without distinguishing it from the things with which it is conjoined but which 13 i Henry B. however. 23. Veatch." 123-30 (= Artis Logicae Secunda Pars. but especially article 5. much less related back to itself. this means that we have to know it in terms of what it is. it must be accomplished by abstraction. It is impossible to recognize anything. The basic idea behind the claim. but they each constitute a relation of identity. Thus. a relation of identity cannot be like a relation among physical things. what a horse is. This is precisely what a relation of intentional identity is." See Poinsot. Intentional Logic: A Logic Based On Philosophical Realism (New Haven. 14 For a thorough discussion of this claim. regardless of what it may be. much involved in the claim that an intentional form is a relation of identity. for example. A relation of identity can only hold between a thing and itself. There is. not something else. the relations through which the real cognitive relation comes about. "I have relied heavily on the very rich but sadly neglected Ars Logica of John of St. requires that we know what it is. it must in some sense or other be separated from itself." The problem of universals as it will be discussed here is based on epistemological considerations." Part II. and it is only through an act of reasoning that something is demonstrated or explained and thus identified as the cause of something else. q. and arguments have different functions. Thus. 1959) in addition to Veatch's Intentional Logic. . but in order to be identified with itself.

however. To meet the challenge presented by Platonic realism and nominalism it should first be determined just what it is to say that the essence of something is really distinct from something else. Neither is the other nor anything else. This is. for example. In such a context. is. however. does not necessarily mean that they exist apart from one another—as do. If the foregoing. then it would seem that we do not know the nature or essence of any individual horse but rather some universal nature or essence of horse. of course. the challenge of Platonic extreme realism. is true. . So. Essences would not really be particularized but would instead be universal. a conceptual consideration is needed. it means that everything is what it is and not something else. it seems nonetheless that the problem of universals remains. without regard to any of its individuating features. because it is to consider any horse. size. a horse's color. apart from its color. that is. To say that some essence is really distinct from another essence. A substance is a substance. then we are very limited in our ability to differentiate and discriminate. or horse in general. as such. Most generally put. say. We would have no real knowledge of what even a horse. Rasmussen. we must have universal concepts. the very claim that there is a nature or essence that makes a horse what it is would indeed be most dubious. for a discussion of this issue. "Quine and Aristotelian Essentialism. if to avoid the threat of extreme realism we deny that we have universal concepts and confine our concepts to what the senses explicitly recognize for themselves. of course. if what a horse is is really distinct from its color. size. the challenge of nominalism. For example. we do not know particular things. Yet to consider just what a horse is. and a quality is a quality. Our ability to separate an essence from other essences through abstraction.416 AMERICAN CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY are really different from it. Essences as they exist 16 See Douglas B. for example. two substances. even though a substance has a quality (a horse has a color). but only universal natures. Essences need only be abstract and universal when considered by the mind. and shape is to have a universal concept of horse." The New Scholasticism 58 (Summer 1984): 316-35. and shape. This distinction is a real distinction.15 This is. and shape and if through abstraction we consider horse just as such in itself. does not mean that it really exists apart from other essences or in any manner other than as particularized. it seems that if we are to have knowledge. It holds in reality. apart from what anyone says or knows. The senses alone cannot provide such recognition. but if we have such concepts. a substance is not its quality (a horse is not its color). Be this as it may. because the intellectual activity of abstraction which makes essences universal would seem to distort reality. to consider it universally apart from its individuating conditions. On the other hand. the horses Secretariat and Seattle Slew. size.

trans. still it is not necessary that the mode of the thing known be the same as the mode of its cognition. The very same essence. "This type of consideration is called an "absolute consideration. For example. Nor is it either particular or universal. how can that which is a universal ever be identified with that which is particular? Concepts cannot tell us what things really are and thus are anything but relations of identity. C. for example." that exists as individuated in many horses can also exist as one when conceived intellectually. cuts off differentiating traits as.19 not some universal essence or part. It is the neutrality of essences in themselves to their manner of existence that allows Aquinas to make the following observation (Summa Contra Gentiles. One thus never encounters an essence absolutely considered in reality or cognition. 37-44. II. differentiating traits of an essence or nature. . or shape the essence "horse" takes. In non-precisive abstraction differentiating traits are implicit. Thus. however.. which are the formal objects. It thus includes the differentiating traits in the sense that it allows them to be different in each instance when they are made explicit. 19 Particular things are the material objects which we know through their intelligible aspects (natures). So." "Horse" is truly predicable of Secretariat. "horseness. for example. or shape of the essence "horse"—it can be any within a certain range—it does require that there be some determinate color. when one abstracts a form as a part.COGNITIVE REALISM 417 in reality are particular and conjoined with other essences. An essence considered in itself. for example.B. 1. be 16 Aquinas. Armand Maurer. abstraction which merely does not express. The solution to this problem has two parts. It does not pertain to the essence itself. and does not require that an essence in reality. Being and Essence." Abstraction with precision." Being a universal pertains to the mode of existence of an essence as an object of cognition. It is not merely of some "part. say. because the manner of existence of an essence does not pertain to the essence itself. Logic as a Human Instrument. for the essence is freed from all modes of existence. though the non-precisive abstraction of the essence "horse" does not specify the particular color. n. (Toronto: The Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies. 47." where one abstracts from every way of existing but prescinds from none (see following note). 18 Technically. rev. as opposed to excludes. however. when we abstract the essence "horse. we can through abstraction conceive the whole essence or nature of a particular thing. size.75): "Although it is necessary for the truth of cognition that the cognition answer to the thing known. The material objects are what we know and the formal objects are what we know about them. 2nd ed." This is not an abstraction of a whole. apart from its manner of existence and solely in terms of its intelligible content. apart from cognition. See Parker and Veatch. is neither existent nor non-existent. capable of existing in either manner. 2. What this type of abstraction considers is the whole individual viewed in a distinctive way as. size. this is abstraction without precision—that is. Yet it is an essence so considered that makes conceptual knowledge possible. "horse. 1968). "Horseness" is not truly predicable of Secretariat.17 It is. The first part comes from Aquinas.S.

and an extension that extends over an indefinite number of individuals. I 294a3-300b48." 116-34." some Porphyrian "part" existing in particular things (in rebus) or some "idea" which one mentally inspects before knowing anything else. 24 Arelation of reason can be of two types: either with no foundation in real beings or with a foundation in real beings. for example. not the universal. then. "Whether a Concept is a Formal Sign. and Book II. Book I. . One should be careful not to confuse the mode of existence of the essence "horse" when intellectually conceived as one—the second intention— with its mode of existence as it exists in many—the first intention. which is not limited to what is only explicitly considered. "Quid Sit Distinctio et Unitas Rationis Ratiocinatae et Ratiocinantis. A concept's signification is.) 26 A concept's signification involves both comprehension. As a universal. The universal is a relation of one nature or essence to many particulars in which it is found. see Douglas B.22 The foundation for this relation is the essence or nature as such that has been abstracted."is the old scholastic adage). to think that Secretariat had no color. 3. question 1. "Logical Possibility: An Aristotelian Essentialist Critique." Reiser ed. Rasmussen. 21 Tractates de Signis.418 AMERICAN CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY anything other20 than always individualized. or shape. 17 "De Ente Rationis Logico. but what is predicated is the essence as such. It is not some tertium quid. that is both one and many. 23 Aristotle (De Anima. q. Rather.4429bl6-17) describes this relationship as being like the relationship that a bent line has to itself when pulled out straight." art. the essence considered in itself. 3. It is. On this very point. It is a relation of identity because it is the same essence." The Thomist 47 (October 1983): 423-40. a nature or essence is capable of being predicated of many. ^Poinsot makes clear in the Tractates de Signis that the concept understood as "a specifying form expressed by the understanding" is "most properly a formal sign" (24fyl3-15). The second part of the solution to the charge that conceptualization distorts reality comes from Poinsot. or shape involves no falsehood. of course. To abstract is not the same as to judge falsely ("abstractio non est mendacium. size. Conceptualization need not distort reality.21 The universal is not something existing by itself—whether it be a Platonic "form. and that the being proper to a sign is that of "a relation according to the way a relation has being" (119/10-15). "Whether a sign is in the order of relation. (See Poinsot. question 2. it is a relation. size. to predicate "horse" of Secretariat does not pertain the essence "horse" itself.23 This relation is a relation of reason in that it is the result of an intellectual process of abstraction and comparison. not something that is determined by an inspectio mentis procedure. Artis Logicae Secunda Pars. but the universal itself is the expression of this nature as a whole (or unit) which bears upon its many instances. without thinking of his color." 240-53. To think things to be other than they are is to think falsely—for example. The mode of existence which makes it possible. being argued that we are here dealing with the latter type. however. To think of Secretariat.

(3) Therefore. Yet how are we to understand a universal's status as a relation? If relations of identity are to be formal signs.COGNITIVE REALISM 419 ignore this point is to commit a fallacy. or signifying is determined by how we attempt to explain things? Or. As a consequence of these dual failures. Though it is doubtful that there ever has been anyone who has seriously and explicitly accepted a syllogism of this sort. or because of how they are understood? Do they really allow the knower to overcome the limits of his or her subjectivity. For a discussion of the importance of not conflating these two senses of the term. at best. in rebus. 27 1 use 'referring' in a semantic sense and not solely to indicate existential denotation.27 meaning. (2) Horse is a universal. such a consequence seems avoidable. If Aquinas and Poinsot are right. Has the charge that concepts cannot tell us what things really are been entirely met? As universals." 320. or is it ultimately the case that all referring. 4. Instead. "Quine and Aristotelian Essentialism. do our concepts conform to the objects or do the objects conform to our concepts? It would seem that if cognitive realism is to be possible. then. Yet do they have a respect or ordination to something because of themselves. at worst. 10. the relational structure that we recognize our logical instruments to have cannot qua relation be something that results from their being an object of cognition. to express the issue as Kant saw it. something entirely arbitrary. see Douglas B. It must be something real. They need to have the character of a relation. . Secretariat is a universal. it is the very same reasoning that lies behind the epistemological form of the problem of universals. something they have by their very nature. It is here. their relational structure must be independent of cognition. and both fail to see that a universal's essential character is that of a relation. concepts are a relation of identity between an abstracted essence and the possible particulars in which that essence exists. however. Poinsot argues that the relation that is proper to a 26 The failure to see that a universal is a relation is also found in those so-called "moderate realists" who hold that there are universal natures existing in particular things. In either case our concepts cannot know the essence or nature of individual things. a universal is treated as if it were either the primary object of cognition or simply groupings of individuals whose basis is. some vague resemblance or. they have to have the ability to refer or signify in virtue of themselves. n. This is illustrated by the following syllogism: (1) Secretariat is a horse. Both extreme realists and nominalists fail to see that essences in themselves are neutral with respect to their manner of existence. that we come to the central insight of Poinsot's Tractatus de Signis. Rasmussen.

This distinction is between a relation secundum esse (RSE) and a relation secundum did (RSD). and by reason of this there are in fact mind-dependent relations. The requirement to refer to something else results from what is necessary to grasp the intelligible character of something. "Sent iotica 69. substance to accident. We should be careful not to impose any other meaning on this term that might lead us to assume that it refers only to relations that exist apart from cognitive activities. The distinction pertains to that which is by its very nature a relation and that which is not. according to the way relation has being. Something is a RSE when both its definition and explanation require a reference to something else. it is also a "transcendental relation. 1988]: 31-127) pertains to every category. and so relation may be most properly called 'ontological' when it is understood that the positive content in question is indifferent to realization according to its proper being in the opposed orders of what is mind-independent and what is mind-dependent.1/2 [April. just as are categorial relations. it is not a categorial relation. not relation alone. "a relation according to the way it has being" (see the "Editorial AfterWord" to TDS. is a transcendental relation not essentially relative. for if one is to understand what something is. 'Esse' does not mean here existence but essence. as well as in the Editorial AfterWord. Something is a RSD when it can be defined without reference to another. but also the very relation conceived on the part of the respect toward. then. but cannot be explained or accounted for except by reference to something else.29 This distinction focuses on the way that relations have being 28 Deely coins the term "ontological relation" in order to replace the cumbersome expression. in "The Two Approaches to Language: Philosophical and Historical Reflections on the Point of Departure of John Poinsot's Semiotic. explains the point as follows: "Like each of the other categories relation is a rationale of being. there must be a reference to something else—namely. and so that which is formed in being." Deely. not only is there some non-being conceived on the pattern of relation. relation as an ontological rationale embraces in its positive content both the mind-dependent and mind-independent orders of being. an 'ontological' rationale. 463-65). its principles and causes.420 AMERICAN CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY formal sign is that of a relation considered just as such. Not that mental relations belong to the category of relation—which would be a contradiction in terms—but that mental relations are relative according to the way they have being. the relation of potency to act. and not only that after whose pattern it is formed. for the following reason. a rationale expressive of the possibilities of existence." and in his subsequent discussion.28 To better understand this claim. indeed. and supposit . while it does not exist in the mind-independent order." Not only. is a relation. is conceived or formed on the pattern of a mind-independent relation. that is. but not mind-dependent substances. they are merged: for example." The Thomist 37 (October 1974): 869-70." 29 Relativity in this sense (as Deely pointed out in his controversial note 16 to TDS 86/22. be it substance or accident. Moreover. it differs from categorial relation in that there is not a distinction between the relation and its subject or foundation. that is. we need to avail ourselves of the following distinction. "The Semiotic of John Poinsot: Yesterday and Tomorrow. 472ff. esp. which goes to the heart of Poinsot's doctrine of signs (TDS 96/28-36): "in the case of relatives. But unlike the other categories. however. section on "the fundamental architecture of the Treatise on Signs. Since relativity in this sense is not restricted to any one category.

60 n." The Domain of Logic According to Saint Thomas Aquinas..COGNITIVE REALISM 421 apart from the cause or foundation of their existence.. does not mean that it exists in any other manner than that of an accident. 1976). Though he enthusiastically endorses Poinsot's treatise on signs in his book. Article 1. To say that something is an RSE. 138. 172. an accident). as double and half. If Poinsot is correct. to something. it is not clear whether Adler really has to deny the existence of relations as such. 12): "we must be wary of picturing relations to ourselves . however. or any other way—the relation exists entitatively as an accident in each of the relata. but their nature as a respect or ordination to another is still irreducible to the natures of other accidents. Some Questions About Language (La Salle. when two entities are related—whether as knower and known. Yet the fundamental question that concerns us is whether a logical relation is simply a transcendental relation or also an "ontological relation. There is in short no inter-subjective mode of being. Yet Robert W. To say that there is such a thing as an RSE is to say that there is something whose entire character (ratio) is nothing more than a respect. they would be better imagined as a kind of field or zone consequent upon interactions and resulting formal structures.. and (2) a relation as such can base its to essence. Adler denies the existence of relations as such because he believes that commits him to rejecting the fundamental division of being into substance and accident. Aquinas. for what he seems to be insisting is that everything must exist as either a substance or an accident. in TDS. as father and son." Despite his words. e. more properly it is of something. Relations exist only as accidents (and are only founded in other accidents). This is consistent with his earlier position in "Sense Cognition: Aristotle vs. ^This seems to be contrary to what Mortimer J. Yet it is to say two very important things: (1) a relation as such is not reducible to merely those accidents that provide its foundation. Adler holds. notes that "though we some times speak of a relation between two things. IL: Open Court. 80-87. 1966)." The New Scholasticism 53 (Autumn 1968): 582: "That which is a non-entity is a non-existent. for everything that exists exists either as a subject (that is. they do not constitute a mode of being. S J. 378-89. it is to say that a relation is a real being in the sense that its distinctive character as a respect or ordination to another is not formally caused by its being cognized. Deely expressly addressed this misbegotten image comparatively early in his work on Poinsot ("Semiotic' as the Doctrine of Signs. Schmidt. an ordination. as if they were lines or 'metaphysical tightropes' between subjects. to something else and that this is so apart from whether it is cognized or apprehended." a RSE. quantity. (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. not inhering in either of them. So. It does not exist as something in between them. one should be careful not to let an image of a relation as a kind of metaphysical cord or string between a subject and a term dominate or replace one's intellectual apprehension of a relation's character as a respect or ordination of something to something.30 Nor does it suppose that a relation can exist without some foundation in a substance such as quality. . Thus. a substance) or in a subject (i." Ars Semeiotica 1/3 [1977]. relations as such exist." See. Yet to claim that relations as such exist does not require running afoul of the claim that everything is either a substance or an accident. In other words. and Appendix C. Relations do not exist as such. the Second Preamble. or activity..

the universal itself is just the relation of the essence expressed as one to many particulars. indeed. that is. 15V9-15. question 3 "Whether the Relation of Sign to Signified Is the Same as the Relation of Sign to Cognitive Power. Thus. because of their character as relations and because that character is both independent of cognition and indifferent to being realized inside and outside cognition. that which is cognized cannot exist as an object without being cognized. but as formal signs they are nothing more than a respect or ordination to an object superordinate to that modification. Returning to our discussion of universal concepts from the previous section. according to Poinsot. They remain incapable of being identified without presenting what they are of. the concept "horse. abstractly and universally. is not dependent on its being cognized. even though.422 AMERICAN CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY existence on something physical or something mental. These last two points are crucial to understanding how logical relations. Concepts as psychological states are modifications of a knower." question 2 "Whether the Sign Relation in the Case of Natural Signs is Mind-Independent or Mind-Dependent." Yet. but as such it is indifferent to the cause or foundation of its existence. Obviously. which are. Now a universal's status as a relation. it cannot exist without the mental or psychological activities which make abstraction possible and even though it is only the universal as a relation in which something is apprehended that is independent of being cognized. as a respect or ordination to another. Book I "Concerning the Sign in Its Proper Being. It is nothing more." 261/12-36. relations of reason." esp. we can recall that a mental process of abstraction is necessary for the essence of a particular thing to be apprehended and that the nature or essence as such provides the foundation for the universal. and see also Book II. of course. for example. the signifying character of formal signs is not determined by the knower even though the foundation for the relation is caused to exist by a process of abstraction. question 3 "Whether an Impressed Specification Is a Formal Sign. Further. It was Poinsot's genius to see that formal signs. the relation in and through which this being of reason is formed—that is. though founded in the subjective means of knowing. Poinsot's view remains the syste- 31 Tractatus de Signis. and even though the essence as such (the foundation of the relation of signification) exists according to its manner of existence in cognition— that is. are nonetheless able to present objects other than themselves without first having to be identified as objects. . can nonetheless have the very character of a relation (and thus the intrinsic capacity to refer or signify) which does not result from their being cognized. Book I." 163/12-36. of course. the very "of-ness" or "aboutness" that characterizes concepts as intentions or formal signs—is an RSE.

" it was nonetheless assumed that knowledge began first with ideas which were private and internal. there is in principle no problem as to our ability to have knowledge of real beings. whatever the character of postmodernism may ultimately be. In Poinsot's hands these insights can aid us in transcending the dichotomies that have resulted from both premodern and modern philosophy. that the modern "way of ideas" is bankrupt. Thus. as Descartes seems to have supposed. Poinsot defends. Yet what is becoming clearer and clearer is that much of philosophy or. it is one that is informed by an historical perspective. ultimately has its source in a view that treats "ideas" not as essentially relative. is dead or dying. and. which is the basic argument of Deely's latest book33 subtitled "early modern philosophy and postmodern thought.COGNITIVE REALISM 423 matic alternative to both Kantian and neo-Kantian views of cognition. philosophy that has its origins in modernity. It attempts to defend. of course. Much of contemporary philosophy operates in a neo-Kantian context. Yet. Kant took the logic of modernity's epistemological starting point to its inexorable conclusion: the realization that we cannot know the truth about real beings. for he provides a gateway through which we can discover the insights of premodern thought. It is here that the importance of Poinsot's thought enters. without much success. ^New Beginnings (Toronto: University of Toronto Press. with the notable exception of Thomas Reid. Radical Realism (Ithaca. shared the assumption that "ideas" are the direct objects of cognition. This record reveals. but the final integration of its meaning and scope. the view that "ideas" are essentially relative. however. culture and reality. the possibility of truth and knowledge against versions of ontological and epistemological relativism—versions which grow more extreme and virulent with each new incarnation. Nearly every major thinker of this period. NY: Cornell University Press. "Postmodernism" has yet to be given a positive characterization. the 32 See Edward Pols. The only thing that is sure about its meaning is that it refers to that which comes after modernity. if he is correct. . We need to make a new start. Even Kant's grand synthesis was not an overcoming of this assumption. since thought is not caught up within some Cartesian ego but expressed in human action in various ways. Be they Cartesian "clear and distinct ideas" or Humean "impressions. 1994). but we cannot. ignore the history of philosophy. thought and language." The set of oppositions between thought and things.32 5. at least. and discourse and being. 1992) for a discussion of the Kantian spirit of contemporary antirealism. In epistemology this means that postmodernism cannot ignore the record of modern thought.

34 We seem to have reached a point where the insights of John Poinsot can no longer be ignored. St. .424 AMERICAN CATHOLIC PHILOSOPHICAL QUARTERLY world we inhabit is much richer and complex than either the premoderns or the moderns ever imagined. New York 34 See note 6 above. John's University Jamaica.