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British Journal for the History of Philosophy

ISSN: 0960-8788 (Print) 1469-3526 (Online) Journal homepage: https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rbjh20

Can we reflexively access the contents of our own


perceptions? Ockham on the reflexive cognition of
the contents of intuitions

Lydia Deni Gamboa

To cite this article: Lydia Deni Gamboa (2019) Can we reflexively access the contents of our own
perceptions? Ockham on the reflexive cognition of the contents of intuitions, British Journal for the
History of Philosophy, 27:5, 921-940, DOI: 10.1080/09608788.2018.1537255

To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.1080/09608788.2018.1537255

Published online: 03 Dec 2018.

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BRITISH JOURNAL FOR THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY
2019, VOL. 27, NO. 5, 921–940
https://doi.org/10.1080/09608788.2018.1537255

ARTICLE

Can we reflexively access the contents of our own


perceptions? Ockham on the reflexive cognition of
the contents of intuitions
Lydia Deni Gamboa
Instituto de Investigaciones Filosóficas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico

ABSTRACT
In the recent secondary literature on Ockham’s philosophy of mind, it has been
debated whether Ockham proposed an externalist or an internalist view of the
intentional contents of intuitive cognitions. It has also been debated whether
Ockham only attributes intentional content to intuitive cognitions, or rather
two different properties, i.e. a likeness and an intentional content. Intuitive
cognitions can be roughly understood as perceptions. In this article I
propose a different perspective for analysing both debates, that is, the
perspective that concerns Ockham’s theory of reflexivity. Ockham defended
the idea that one can reflexively cognize two different features of intuitive
cognitions; namely, their similarity or likeness, and their intentional content.
Ockham proposed different degrees and modes of reflexive cognition
regarding these features.

ARTICLE HISTORY Received 28 October 2017; Revised 31 March, 25 August and 12 October 2018;
Accepted 15 October 2018

KEYWORDS William of Ockham; reflexive cognition; intuitive cognitions; intentional content;


representational content

1. Introduction
In recent years, scholars have debated William of Ockham’s (ca. 1287–1347)
account of the contents of certain mental acts, especially the contents of intui-
tive cognitions.1 Two opposing readings are contending here. On the one
hand, a reading according to which the contents of intuitive cognitions are
partially fixed by causal factors, and on the other, a reading according to
which the contents of intuitive cognitions are entirely fixed by their internal

CONTACT Lydia Deni Gamboa denigalo@gmail.com


This article has been republished with minor changes. These changes do not impact the academic content
of the article.
1
An intuitive cognition can be roughly described as a perception, that is to say, as a mental act in virtue of
which an agent grasps a singular present thing. I will explain in more detail Ockham’s account of intui-
tive cognitions in § 1. There is some classic literature on this subject, e.g. Day, Intuitive Cognition: A Key to
the Significance of the Later Scholastics; McCord Adams, William Ockham, vol. 1, chap. 3. For some more
recent literature on Ockham’s account of intuitive cognitions, see e.g. Karger, ‘Ockham’s Misunderstood
Theory of Intuitive and Abstractive Cognition’; Panaccio, ‘Ockham: Intuition and Knowledge’.
© 2018 BSHP
922 L. D. GAMBOA

structure.2 This debate is still alive, but on the face of it, now it seems relevant
that Ockham defended the idea that intuitive cognitions can be described in
two different ways; namely, both as mental acts or states that are similar to the
things they are suitably causally related to, and as mental acts in virtue of
which we can think about the present singular things that they are suitably
causally related to.3 I will call the singular thing an agent thinks about in
virtue of an intuitive cognition the ‘intentional content of an intuition’ – here-
after the ICI. I will call the similarity of an intuitive cognition, regarding the
thing it is causally related to, the ‘likeness of an intuition’ – hereafter the LI.
The externalism/internalism debate concerning Ockham’s philosophy of
mind deals only with the ICI, and not with the LI.
With this distinction in mind, in this article, I propose to consider another
aspect of the internalism/externalism debate regarding Ockham’s account
of the intentional contents of intuitive cognitions; namely the aspect that con-
cerns Ockham’s theory of reflexivity – i.e. his theory of the intellect’s capacity
to cognize its own mental acts, an angle that has not been considered before
in the secondary literature. I propose the reading that Ockham’s theory of
reflexive cognition explains how one can reflexively cognize both the LI and
the ICI. Thus, according to my reconstruction, an intuitive cognition can be
described as both an act with intentional content and an act which is
similar to the thing it is causally related to. Furthermore, in this article I
propose the reading that for Ockham, one cannot have immediate epistemic
access to the ICI, but one can have inferential access to that feature – i.e.
mediated epistemic access. In contrast, for Ockham, one can have immediate
epistemic access to the LI, as from a first-person perspective, an intuitive cog-
nition looks like a vague mental image of the thing it is suitably causally
related to. Thus, Ockham’s account of the reflexive cognition of the ICI
coincides with the contemporary idea that if the content of a mental act is
determined by external factors, then one would not be able to access that
content through mere reflexivity.4 Since the ICI seems to be determined by
external factors, Ockham develops the idea that one cannot access the ICI
through mere reflexivity. In contrast, since the LI seems to be an internal
feature, for Ockham, this property can be accessed through mere reflexivity.

2
Claude Panaccio defends the externalist interpretation in his ‘Intuition and Causality’ and ‘Ockham’s
Externalism’. Susan Brower-Toland presents some clever arguments against this reading in her ‘Intuition,
Externalism, and Direct Reference in Ockham’ and ‘Causation and Mental Content’. For the correspond-
ing debate in contemporary philosophy, see e.g. Butler, ‘Externalism, Internalism, and Knowledge of
Content’; McLaughlin and Cohen, Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Mind; Wright, ‘McKinsey
One More Time’.
3
The distinction between these two different features of intuitive cognitions has been clearly explained in
Choi, ‘Ockham’s Weak Externalism’. Susan Brower-Toland seems to doubt that this distinction can apply
to intuitive cognitions in her ‘Causation and Mental Content’.
4
On this subject, see e.g. McKinsey, ‘Externalism and Privileged Access Are Inconsistent’; Wright, ‘McKinsey
One More Time’.
BRITISH JOURNAL FOR THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 923

The distinction between the LI and the ICI has been pointed out in the context
of the internalism/externalism debate concerning Ockham’s account of the
intentional contents of intuitive cognitions, because this distinction appears in
some of the textual evidence for the externalist reading. For example, according
to Claude Panaccio (‘Intuition and Causality’, 243), the leading proponent of this
interpretation, in Quod. I q. 13 (OTh 9: 76.89–98), Ockham argues for the view
that an intuition is proper to a singular thing not because of its likeness, but
because it is caused by one thing rather than another.5
A different example is found in Rep. II q. 16 (OTh 5: 378.17–379.4), where
Ockham proposes a famous thought experiment which runs as follows.
Suppose that Clea is at the same distance from two similar black cats, yet
she intuitively apprehends only one of them. Suppose, in addition, that an
angel can see what Clea has in mind when she intuits one of those black
cats. According to Ockham, even if that angel can see something in Clea’s
mind, he cannot see what her intuition is about. An angel can only see
Clea’s intuition, that is to say, a general representation of both cats, as we
will see. This likeness or similitudo does not reveal the singular object of
Clea’s intuition. Thus, in order to cognize the singular object of Clea’s intuition,
the angel needs to know which of the two black cats actually causes Clea’s
present intuitive cognition. According to this example, and the previous
one, an intuitive cognition can be described as a mental act with an inten-
tional content, and as a likeness. In addition, this example, like the previous
one, seems to show that the ICI is fixed by causality.
Ockham’s Reportatio is one of his early writings, whereas the Quodlibeta
Septem is one of his mature writings. Ockham developed his theory of reflex-
ivity throughout his career, and it seems that he did not change it profoundly.
In other words, his description of the way one reflexively accesses one’s own
mental acts is much the same in his early and mature writings. Nevertheless,
he certainly discusses the ways one reflexively accesses the ICI and the LI, in
the Quodlibeta Septem; but not in the Reportatio or in any other of his early
writings. It seems, though, that since his early writings he had in mind, as
we will see, that there are different ways to access the ICI as opposed to
the LI; namely, an epistemically immediate way of accessing the LI and an
epistemically mediated way of accessing the ICI.
I will present my reconstruction as follows. First, I will briefly explain the role
that intuitions play in the process of cognizing a present singular thing
according to Ockham. Second, I will briefly explain Ockham’s theory of reflex-
ivity, that is to say, his theory of the intellect’s capacity to cognize its own

5
All references to Ockham’s writings are to his Opera Philosophica (Abbrev.: OPh) and Opera Theologica
(Abbrev.: OTh). The Ordinatio (Abbrev.: Ord.) and Reportatio (Abbrev.: Rep.) are part of the Opera
Theologica.
924 L. D. GAMBOA

mental acts. Third, I will describe Ockham’s account of how we cognize the LI,
and the ICI.

2. Ockham’s accounts of intuitive cognitions


Ockham initially describes intuitive cognitions in the Prologue to his Commen-
tary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, the first book of which is known as his
Ordinatio and the other three books as his Reportatio. In that Prologue (OTh 1:
31.10–12), Ockham describes an intuitive cognition as a simple intellective
apprehension in virtue of which one can evidently judge whether or not
something exists. In other words, an intuitive cognition is a mental act in
virtue of which the intellect grasps an object x and genuinely knows ‘x
exists’. Further, in that same Prologue (OTh 1: 31.17–23), Ockham holds that
in virtue of an intuitive cognition one evidently judges or cognizes that an
object has some inherent properties, or that it is in a certain place.6 Thus,
for Ockham, in virtue of an intuitive cognition, the intellect grasps an object
x and genuinely knows, for example, ‘x is white’ or ‘x is far away from me’.
These propositions are known as ‘contingent propositions’, since they
express whatever is neither impossible nor necessary. Thus, they are prop-
ositions that can be either true or false (Espositio in librum Perihermenias Aris-
totelis II c. 5; OPh 2: 466.187–9). Hence, in virtue of an intuitive cognition an
agent judges true contingent propositions about present things such as ‘x
exists’ or ‘x is white’.7
Ockham sometimes calls intuitive cognitions ‘visions’, because a mental act
of this sort is normally caused through one of the five senses. Accordingly, an
intuitive cognition can be understood as a perceptual state, which naturally
needs the presence of its object to be caused, and in virtue of which one
can genuinely know that such an object exists or that it has certain properties.
Suppose, for example, that Clea is in front of her cat, which is at an appropriate
distance from her and adequately illuminated. In virtue of an intuitive cogni-
tion – Ockham constantly uses the example of sight – she will genuinely know
‘This cat exists’ or ‘Here is Felix’. Moreover, according to Ockham, in these true
contingent propositions the terms ‘this cat’ and ‘Felix’ would stand for the
singular thing that has been grasped by Clea’s intuitive cognition.8 The
6
According to these descriptions, an intuitive cognition is causally related to an evident judgment, specifi-
cally, to an evident assent. An act of judgment can be an assent, a dissent or a doubt regarding a mental
proposition. On this subject see e.g. Brower-Toland, ‘Ockham on Judgment, Concepts, and the Problem
of Intentionality’; Panaccio, ‘Le jugement comme acte mental selon Guillaume d’Ockham’.
7
For further analysis of the epistemic role of intuitive cognitions see e.g. McCord Adams, ‘Intuitive Cogni-
tion, Certainty, and Scepticism in William Ockham’; Perini-Santos, La théorie ockhamienne de la connais-
sance évidente; Brower-Toland, ‘Ockham on Judgment, Concepts, and the Problem of Intentionality’;
Panaccio, ‘Ockham: Intuition and Knowledge’.
8
For further analysis of Ockham’s theory of supposition see e.g. Boehner, ‘Ockham’s Theory of Supposition
and the Notion of Truth’; Panaccio, ‘Guillaume d’Ockham, signification et supposition’; Yrjönsuuri, ‘Sup-
position and Truth in Ockham’s Mental Language’.
BRITISH JOURNAL FOR THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 925

singular thing Clea thinks about is what I call the ‘intentional content of an
intuition’ – i.e. the ICI.
With this in mind, the externalism/internalism debate can be explained
through the following question: Is it the causal relation between a singular
thing and an intuitive cognition that determines one’s thinking about one
thing rather than another? A proponent of the externalist reading would
respond to this question in the affirmative. The LI does not play any role in
this process. But why, then, does an intuition have this property? It seems
that the idea that an intuitive cognition can be considered as a likeness is a
legacy of Aristotle’s claim, presented in De interpretatione, that spoken
sounds are symbols of affections in the soul, and these affections are like
actual things (16a4–16a9). In medieval philosophy, those affections or acci-
dental properties that are present in the mind were called similitudines.9
Even if Ockham did not believe that spoken sounds are signs of intuitions –
but rather that some of them are subordinated to intuitions – he considered
intuitions as signs and, for this reason, as mental acts which are like the singu-
lar things they are suitably causally related to (Panaccio, ‘Intuition and Caus-
ality’, 243). Moreover, it seems that the LI is a property that Ockham
considers useful for explaining how one recognizes a given singular thing
as a member of a class or set (Panaccio, ‘Concepts as Similitudes in William
of Ockham’s Nominalism’, 22).
Intuitive cognitions are related to other relevant mental acts, apart from
evident judgments. On the one hand, intuitive cognitions are also causally
related to contingent mental propositions, which are in turn related to
complex apprehensions, notably to a sort of mental act in virtue of which
one consciously thinks or grasps mental propositions (complexa).10 In other
words, when complex apprehensions are related to intuitive cognitions, they
grasp true contingent propositions, which in turn will be evidently judged, as
we saw before. On the other hand, intuitive cognitions are causally related to
a sort of abstractive cognition, namely with those mental acts in virtue of
which one remembers something that one has perceived before. Ockham’s
description of intuitive cognitions constantly stands in contrast with his

9
Lagerlund, ‘The Terminological and Conceptual Roots of Representation in the Soul in Late Ancient and
Medieval Philosophy’, 11–12; King, ‘Rethinking Representation in the Middle Ages’, 88–94.
10
Ockham stresses that the ability to form a mental proposition immediately follows an intuitive cognition:
Rep. II q. 12–13; OTh 5: 256.14–16. In addition, he normally describes complex apprehensions in relation
to judgments, i.e. assents, dissents and doubts. See e.g. Prol. Ord. q. 1; OTh 1: 57.20–58.4 and Prol. Ord.
q. 1; OTh 1: 16.6–14. Ockham distinguishes two different sorts of complex apprehensions in Quod. V q. 6;
OTh 9: 501.20–3. In virtue of one of these complex apprehensions an intellect produces a mental prop-
osition, and in virtue of the other, an intellect consciously thinks or grasps that mental proposition.
Ockham developed this idea in his early writings. See, for example, Prol. Ord. q. 1; OTh 1: 59.10–23.
For Ockham, as we will see, a higher-order act or reflexive act can only be an intuitive cognition or
an AC1, since in virtue of this act an intellect is able to form mental propositions concerning mental
acts, a complex apprehension is not a reflexive act since it does not cause a thought or mental prop-
osition about the mental proposition it grasps.
926 L. D. GAMBOA

description of this sort of abstractive cognition – hereafter AC1. Therefore,


Ockham describes AC1s as mental acts in virtue of which we do not genuinely
know whether or not something presently exists (Prol. Ord. q. 1; OTh 1: 32.4–9).
In virtue of an AC1, an intellect can rather genuinely know that something
existed in the past. Thus, an act of this sort can be understood as a mental
act in virtue of which Clea remembers the cat she saw before. For example,
due to an AC1 Clea would think ‘A cat was here yesterday’ or ‘Felix was here
yesterday’.
According to Ockham, the term ‘abstractive cognition’ can be understood
in two different ways, namely, as standing for an abstraction of certain contin-
gent conditions acquired by or predicated of a singular thing, or alternatively,
as standing for an abstraction of many singular things (Prol. Ord. q. 1; OTh 1:
30.12–31.6). In the first sense, an abstractive cognition is a cognition AC1 cau-
sally related to a habitus. In the second sense, an abstractive cognition is a
general concept in itself – hereafter AC2 – or a mental act causally related
to a mental concept or fictum.11 An AC2 is a general concept according to
Ockham’s mature writings, or a mental act in virtue of which one forges
( fingit) a general concept according to Ockham’s early writings.12
To sum up, the normal process of cognizing something that is present in
the world runs as follows (Figure 1). If that thing is at an appropriate distance
from the viewpoint of an agent and there is no obstacle between them, it will
cause an intuition. In virtue of this act an intellect grasps a present singular
thing. In turn, this intuitive cognition will be able to cause two different
abstractive cognitions. First, it will cause an AC1, which in turn will cause a
habitus, which will be able to produce a similar abstractive act in the future.
Second, this intuitive cognition will cause an AC2, which in turn will cause a
general concept or fictum and a habitus, according to Ockham’s early writings,
or only a habitus, according to his mature writings. Finally, such an intuition
will cause a true contingent mental proposition which could be grasped by

11
Ockham changed his mind about the nature of concepts and propositions. In his early writings, he holds
that every general concept and every mental proposition is a fictum – that is to say, an objective being
the existence of which depends on an AC2 or a complex apprehension, respectively – that is to say, on an
act in virtue of which that concept or proposition is produced: Ord. d. 2 q. 8; OTh 2: 273.16–274.2. On
Ockham’s account of ficta, in general, see e.g. Read, ‘The Objective Being of Ockham’s Ficta’; McCord
Adams, William Ockham, vol. 1, chaps. 3–4.
12
An AC1 and an AC2 could be one and the same act having two different functions in Ockham’s early
writings, namely, either producing a habitus which can be considered as a memory of a singular
thing or producing a mental concept or fictum. In the first case, a habitus will be able to produce in
the future an AC1 in virtue of which Clea will think, for example, ‘This cat was here yesterday’. For
this reason, Ockham says that an intuition and an AC1 are cognitions of the same thing, completely
and under the same ratione, which I understand as under the same singular aspect or angle; see
Prol. Ord. q. 1; OTh 1: 31.6–9. In the second case, an AC2 will also produce a habitus, apart from a
general concept or fictum – see e.g. Ord. d. 13 q. unica; OTh 3: 418.25–419.15. A habitus that has
been produced by an AC2 will in the future be able to produce an AC2 attached to the same fictum
as before. Ockham talks about habitus in relation with ficta in Ord. d. 2 q. 8; OTh 2: 281.10–18. In his
mature writings Ockham posits the same process but without ficta. In any case, an abstractive cognition
is caused by an intuitive cognition or a habitus: Prol. Ord. q. 1; OTh 1: 61.9–12.
BRITISH JOURNAL FOR THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 927

Figure 1. Cognitive process involving an intuition in Ockham’s early writings.

a complex apprehension and then by an act of judgment, which would be an


evident assent to that true proposition. Since complex apprehensions and
acts of judgment are about mental propositions, I will assume the latter to
be the contents of those acts (Panaccio, ‘Le jugement comme acte mental
selon Guillaume d’Ockham’, 127–29).

3. Ockham’s theory of reflexive intuitions


In the Prologue to the Ordinatio (OTh 1: 39.18–41.3), one of Ockham’s early
writings, he argues that we can intuitively cognize our own mental acts;
that is to say, an intuition can be a reflexive act, having as its object
another mental act. In short, according to Ockham’s argument, since we
have evident judgments about true contingent propositions concerning
our own mental acts – for example, ‘I think’ (Ego intelligo), or ‘My vision
exists’ – and we can only evidently judge such propositions through intui-
tive cognitions, it follows that we can intuitively grasp our own mental acts
(Brower-Toland, ‘Medieval Approaches to Consciousness: Ockham and
Chatton’, 6–7).
Ockham calls a higher-order intuition an ‘intuitive reflexive act’. In contrast,
he calls a first-order mental act or cognition concerning an object extra
animam a ‘direct act’. Such a first-order act might be a first-order intuition,
or a complex apprehension in virtue of which an agent consciously thinks or
grasps a mental proposition that has been formed through a first-order intui-
tion.13 A higher-order intuition can be causally related to many other sorts of
first-order mental acts, such as judgments, complex apprehensions, or AC1s.
For example (Figure 2), in virtue of a higher-order intuition related to a first-
order intuitive cognition [Ex. 1], on the one hand, an intellect can form a
13
See note 10.
928 L. D. GAMBOA

Figure 2. Direct acts and reflexive acts.

proposition like ‘My vision exists’. In virtue of a higher-order intuition related


to a complex apprehension [Ex. 2], on the other hand, an intellect can form a
proposition like ‘I think that p’ where the term ‘think’ stands for that complex
apprehension whose content is p.14
With this in mind, we can clarify the relation between reflexivity and the
externalist reading of Ockham’s account of intuitive cognitions as follows: if
the ICI is fixed by external factors, how can one possibly access that
content through a higher-order intuition? Ockham concedes that one
cannot have immediate epistemic access to the ICI, since that feature
depends on external factors. Thus, one can only access that content
through an inference. However, one can have immediate epistemic access
to the LI, since this feature depends on the internal structure of an intuition
and, in this sense, that feature seems to be what an intuition looks like
from a first-person perspective.

4. Ockham’s theory of the reflexive cognition of the LI


For Ockham, one can reflexively cognize the LI in two different degrees,15
which he presents in Quod. I q. 14:
14
See for example the following argument, where Ockham assumes, on the one hand, that one can grasp a
complex apprehension through a higher-order intuition and, on the other hand, that in virtue of that
higher-order intuition one can genuinely know that one has an opinion or thought. The argument in
question runs as follows. Suppose that Clea thinks that p – i.e. she has a direct opinion about p –
and suppose that Clea judges ‘I think that p’. This latter proposition would be formed in virtue of a
higher-order intuition related to Clea’s first-order thought about p. The judgment about the proposition
‘I think that p’ is a higher-order act in the sense that it has been produced in virtue of a higher-order
intuition related to a thought about p. If a direct opinion and a higher-order act of judgment were
the same act, then Clea’s opinion about p would be a judgment or act of knowledge about ‘I think
p’, which is absurd. Direct acts and reflexive acts are not the same thing. Rep. II q. 17; OTh 5: 385.17–20.
15
The reading that Ockham proposes two different degrees of cognizing the LIC – rather than two
different ways – was suggested by one of the referees of this article. I appreciate this suggestion
very much.
BRITISH JOURNAL FOR THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 929

… . [i] it is by virtue of the vision of the rock and also by virtue of the vision of the
first vision that I am certain that I am cognizing a rock – and perhaps [ii] it is
sometimes by virtue of these two visions and also by virtue of some proposition
that is known habitually.

An example: [i] I am certain that I am having an experiential cognition because I


see the vision of a rock. But [ii] it is by an inference (discursum) from effect to
cause that I am certain that I am cognizing a rock – in the way that I cognize
a fire through its smoke by virtue of the fact that at other times I have seen
smoke caused in the presence of a fire. In the same way, by virtue of the fact
that when a rock is present to my intellect, I experience that a similar vision is
caused in me, I reason as follows: These effects are of the same species; there-
fore, they are produced by causes of the same species. And this is how the
point concerning the speech of angels was explained earlier. The proposition
that is known habitually is this one: ‘All such effects of the same species have
causes of the same species’.16
(Quod. I q. 14; OTh 9: 81.76–82.91)

Thus, in this passage, Ockham is talking about intuitions – both higher-order


and first-order intuitions – because he discusses visions and, as we saw before,
he normally uses the term ‘vision’ as a synonym of ‘intuitive cognition’. In
addition, Ockham is here talking about the way one reflexively cognizes the
LI, because at one point he claims that one can experience that a vision is
similar to other visions, and by transitivity, one can know that such a vision
is similar to some things that caused those other visions before.
Ockham presents an analogical argument in Quod. I q. 14. According to this
argument, an agent concludes that there is a fire through his cognition of
smoke, because according to his past experiences, a fire normally causes or
produces smoke. By analogy, an agent concludes that there is a rock
through the higher-order intuition of his vision, because according to his
past experiences, a rock normally causes or produces similar visions. The
analogy relies on the similarities of two different inferences but, additionally,
on the idea that smoke represents a fire, and that the smoke an agent per-
ceives at one time is similar to the smoke he has perceived before. In other
words, this argument also relies on transitivity. Thus, whenever there is
smoke y, it represents fire x. Any fire x is similar to any other fire of the
same species, say a. Then, this smoke y represents fire a. In the same way,
whenever there is an intuition y, it represents a rock x. Any rock x is similar
to any other rock of the same species, say a. Then, this intuition y represents
a rock a. Therefore, Ockham says, in Quod. I q. 14, that the smoke y perceived
in the past is not numerically the same as the smoke y that is presently per-
ceived, but they are the same in the sense that they are of the same
species. This is why Ockham claims that ‘These effects [i.e. instances of

16
Translated by A. Freddoso and F. E. Kelley in: Ockham, Quodlibetal Questions: Quodlibets 1-4, 1:71. I have
made some modifications to Freddoso and Kelley’s translation. Italics are mine.
930 L. D. GAMBOA

smoke] are of the same species; therefore, they are produced by causes of the
same species’. Likewise, an intuition y that was reflexively cognized by an
agent in the past is not numerically the same intuition y that an agent per-
ceives in the present, but they are the same in the sense that they are
effects of the same species, that is to say, they are produced by causes of
the same species, namely, by certain specific rocks. An intuition y represents
a specific sort of rock, not the particular rock that the agent saw before or the
particular rock that the agent sees presently. In this sense, an intuition y
specifically represents a rock a. Consequently, Ockham’s analogical argument
suggests that one can experience having an intuition that is similar to another
that existed before in one’s mind. Ockham is here talking about the cognition
of the likeness or similitudo of an intuition, the likeness that specifically rep-
resents the apprehended thing, i.e. the likeness that represents the type of
the apprehended thing.
In Quod. I q. 14, Ockham seems to distinguish two different degrees of cog-
nizing the LI through a higher-order intuition – degrees [i] and [ii]. However,
he seems unsure about how often one achieves degree [ii], since he says ‘ …
and perhaps [ii] it is sometimes by virtue of these two visions … ’ The first
degree [i] brings about genuine knowledge of the presence of a vision –
which is like an external object – only by means of a higher-order intuition.
Therefore, only in virtue of a higher-order intuition of the likeness of the
vision of a rock, can Clea evidently know ‘I see a (type) rock’. In contrast, the
second degree [ii] brings about genuine knowledge of the likeness of the
vision of an external object by means of a higher-order intuition and an infer-
ence. Consequently, in virtue of a higher-order intuition of the likes of the
vision of a rock and in virtue of an inference, Clea can evidently know ‘The
cause of this effect is of the same species as the cause of another effect
that I experienced before’. The second degree [ii] presupposes the first one [i].
The first degree [i] of cognizing the LI (Figure 3) seems to be the same that
Ockham suggested in Rep. II q. 16 (OTh 5: 378.17–379.4), where he talks about
an angel’s capacity to cognize an agent’s intuitions. According to this thought
experiment, an angel cannot see which particular thing the intuition is about,
though he can see which things the intuition is similar to. Since Ockham
defended the idea that one can think about one’s own acts in the same
way that angels think about humans’ mental acts,17 it follows that in virtue
of a higher-order intuition one can grasp one’s own intuitive cognition and
its internal feature, namely its likeness. This first degree [i] is an epistemically
immediate one concerning the LI and it will result in a mental proposition like
‘I see a (type) rock’ or ‘I have an experience of a (type) cat’.

17
In Quod. IV q. 9; OTh 9: 344.49–54 Ockham claims that one cognizes one’s own acts in the same way that
angels cognize humans’ mental acts, since just as a human’s first-order act is an object for its own intel-
lect, a humans’ mental act is an object for an angel’s intellect, and even an angel’s first-order act is an
object for its own intellect.
BRITISH JOURNAL FOR THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 931

Figure 3. First degree [i] of cognizing the LI.

The second degree [ii] of cognizing the LI presupposes degree [i] and an
inference – hereafter [I.1]. Thus, this second degree [ii] is an epistemically
mediated one. The conclusion of this inference would be the following:

(c) The cause of this effect is of the same species as the cause of another
effect that I experienced before.

The first premise of this inference is, according to Ockham in Quod. I q. 14, a
remembered proposition, that is, a proposition that has been preserved as a
habitus in the soul. This premise would be the following:

(a) All effects of the same species have causes of the same species.

Therefore, the second premise has to be the following:

(b) This effect is of the same species as another effect that I experienced
before.

Ockham explicitly suggests premise (a) and the conclusion (c) of this infer-
ence in Quod. I q. 14. However, he does not explain how an intellect forms
premise (b). It seems that premise (b) is a logical conjunction composed of,
on the one hand, the higher-order cognition of the LI in the first degree [i],
and on the other hand, a cognition through which one remembers that one
experienced a similar act before. For example (Figure 4), suppose, on the
one hand, that Clea has a vision of a cat and, at that moment, she grasps
her own vision through a higher-order intuition. As we have seen, this
higher-order intuition will cause a proposition like (b1) ‘I see a (type) cat’. On
the other hand, suppose that Clea immediately thinks (b2) ‘I saw a cat
before’. The judicative act in virtue of which Clea assents to a proposition
like (b2) is, according to Ockham, an actus recordandi or remembering act,
and it occurs when an intellect cognizes past things by considering the past
acts through which those things had previously been cognized. Ockham
explains this process in Rep. IV q. 14 (OTh 7: 279.14–21; OTh 7: 292.11–23).
Thus, when this proposition (b2) ‘I saw a cat before’ exists in an intellect with
a proposition like (b1) ‘I see a (type) cat’, that intellect will be able to form
premise (b): ‘This effect is of the same species as another effect that I
932 L. D. GAMBOA

Figure 4. Second degree [ii] of cognizing the LI.

experienced before’. This is plausible because, through the composition of (b1)


and (b2), an intellect can compare the present vision of a specific cat with the
vision it had before of a cat, and then compose premise (b), where the term
‘this effect’ will stand for the present vision of a specific cat and the term
‘another effect that I experienced before’ will stand for the vision that the
same intellect had before of a cat. Finally, we can see again why the second
degree [ii] of cognizing the LI presupposes the first degree [i]. This is
because premise (b) and the conclusion (c) of the inference both involve the
higher-order intuition of the LI.
Ockham reminds us at the end of the passage quoted from Quod. I q. 14
that he had already put forward this account of the cognition of the LI.
Here, it seems, he alludes to the Quod. I q. 6, where he discusses the possibility
that an angel has knowledge of the common concept under which another
angel grasps, in virtue of a proper or intuitive cognition, a singular thing. In
that passage Ockham says the following:
… one angel, [i] upon seeing the proper cognition of an object in another angel,
sometimes knows the object only under a common concept. For example, if he
had never seen an object and afterwards saw a proper cognition of it in another
angel, he would know the object under the concept of being – in the way that if
someone hears mention of an object that he has never seen, he thereby has a
cognition of that object only under a common concept and not under a particu-
lar concept. He can know the object in a second way [ii] through reasoning, in
the way that a cause is known through its effect. For just as one who sees smoke
without a fire reasons that such smoke was caused by a fire – since at other times
he has seen smoke caused in the presence of fire – and so knows through the
effect that a fire is the cause, so too an angel who sees a cognition of an object in
another angel knows that that cognition is caused by an object, because at other
times in the presence of the object he has seen that an exactly similar cognition
is caused in himself or in another.18
(Quod. I q. 6; OTh 9: 40.100–15)

18
Translated by A. Freddoso and F. E. Kelley in: Ockham, Quodlibetal Questions: Quodlibets 1-4, 1:37. The
italics are mine and I have made some modifications to Freddoso and Kelley’s translation.
BRITISH JOURNAL FOR THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 933

In this passage, Ockham calls a first-order intuition a ‘proper cognition of an


object’,19 and he claims that an object can be cognized under a common
concept – for example, under the concept of ‘being’ – but not under a particu-
lar concept. The concept ‘being’ is a very general or common concept, in the
sense that it represents every single being. A common concept represents in
virtue of its likeness (Panaccio, ‘Concepts as Similitudes in William of Ockham’s
Nominalism’, secs 1–2), which could be cognized through a higher-order intui-
tion, according to what Ockham says here. He also claims here that the higher-
order cognition of such a general representation constitutes the first degree [i]
of cognizing the LI.
According to Ockham’s second degree [ii] of cognizing the LI in Quod. I q. 6,
an angel can cognize a first-order intuition in another angel, and in virtue of
such cognition and an inference, the first angel can know that the actual
object of the first-order act is similar to another object that he had intuitively
cognized before, because in other cases, in the presence of a similar thing, he
had cognized a similar intuitive cognition, either in himself or in another
angel. Therefore, in the same way that angels do,20 one can cognize that an
intuition has been caused by a specific kind of object, for instance, by any
rock or any cat, by directing one’s higher-order intuition to a vision of a
rock or a cat. This higher-order intuition, together with an already known
proposition like premise (a) in [I.1], will allow us to infer the specific kind of
object of one’s first-order intuition, just as Ockham suggested in Quod. I q. 14.

5. Ockham’s theory of the reflexive cognition of the ICI


We have been analysing the two different degrees of cognizing the LI. As we
will now see, Ockham also describes how we cognize the ICI, that is to say, the
singular thing we think about in virtue of such an act. He proposes two
different modes of cognizing the ICI. According to Ockham in the Quod. IV q. 9:
… [an angel] does not see intuitively the object that terminates a vision. …
Therefore, [i’] he cognizes the objects of our cognitions abstractively and by a
chain of reasoning from effect to cause – in the way that we cognize fire
through smoke. Or else [ii’] he cognizes that object by means of memory, in
the way that a thing is cognized through its image. And these two modes of cog-
nition presuppose a cognition of the object in its own proper nature. Alterna-
tively, an object can be cognized in a common concept, as was explained in
the first Quodlibet concerning the speech of angels.21
(Quod. IV q. 9; OTh 9: 344.56–345.68)

19
In Quod. I q. 13; OTh 9: 76.89–92, Ockham claims that an intuitive cognition is a proper cognition of a
singular thing.
20
See note 17.
21
Translated by A. Freddoso and F. E. Kelley in: Ockham, Quodlibetal Questions: Quodlibets 1-4, 1:285. The
italics are mine and I have made some modifications to Freddoso and Kelley’s translation.
934 L. D. GAMBOA

At the end of this paragraph, Ockham seems to allude to his account of the
cognition of the LI presented in the Quod. I q. 6 and the Quod. I q. 14. At the
beginning of this same paragraph, in contrast, he stresses that an angel
cannot have a higher-order intuition of the object that terminates a first-
order intuition, i.e. the singular thing (particular) that causes that act.22
Since one can think about one’s own acts in the same way that angels
think about humans’ mental acts, the phrase ‘[an angel] does not see intui-
tively the object that terminates a vision’ means that one cannot cognize
through a higher-order intuition the apprehended singular thing that one
thinks about in virtue of a first-order intuition. However, for Ockham, there
are other ways to reflexively cognize what is the singular thing that terminates
an intuitive cognition.
As Ockham states in Quod. IV q. 9, there are two different other ways of
cognizing the object that terminates a vision or, in his words, there are two
different modes of cognizing the object of an intuition in its own proper
nature – i.e. as a singular (unum) thing.23 The first mode [i’] of cognizing
the object that terminates a vision or the ICI involves an abstractive cogni-
tion and an inference. Thus, this is an epistemically mediated mode. The
second mode [ii’], involves a habitus and an AC1.24 Thus, due to an AC1 pro-
duced by a habitus, that was itself produced by a first abstractive cognition
caused by a higher-order intuition of a first-order intuition of a black cat,
Clea could form a higher-order proposition like ‘I saw that black cat’
(Figure 5).
According to what Ockham says in Quod. IV q. 9, the first mode [i’] of cog-
nizing the ICI (Figure 6), involves an inference from an effect to a cause. This
inference would be like the following – hereafter [I.2]:

(a) When I think a true contingent proposition, I normally do so because I


intuitively grasp a certain singular object
(b) I think ‘This (particular) cat is present’
(c) Therefore, I intuitively grasp a (particular) cat

22
In the Quodlibeta Septem, Ockham uses the term ‘terminare’ when talking about relations, causes and
effects, and intuitive cognitions. An intuitive cognition and its singular object are each the terms or
extremes of a relation. From a nominalist perspective, only a present singular thing can naturally termi-
nate or cause a mental act such as an intuitive cognition. Rep. III q. 3; OTh 6: 112.5–6. For further infor-
mation about Ockham’s application of the verb ‘terminare’, see e.g. Karger, ‘Théories de la pensée, de ses
objets et de son discours chez Guillaume d’Occam’, 441. The term was widely used in the Middle Ages.
See also King, ‘Rethinking Representation in the Middle Ages’, 86.
23
In Ord. d. 2 q. 6; OTh 2:185.3, Ockham claims that every single entity is essentially one. Consequently, the
proper nature of every single entity is to be one.
24
Ockham’s first definition of ‘memory’ is: a habitus that inclines an intellective act. Only an AC1 can be
understood as a representation or image of something that previously caused an intuitive cognition
and that previously caused a habitus that will cause an AC1. See Figure 1. Ockham put forward that
definition of ‘memory’ in Rep. IV q. 14; OTh 7: 279.14–21 and 297.11–17.
BRITISH JOURNAL FOR THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 935

Figure 5. Second mode [ii′ ] of cognizing the ICI.

Figure 6. First mode [i′ ] of cognizing the ICI according to Ockham’s mature writings.

Premise (a) involves an abstractive cognition, understood as a complex


apprehension.25 Thus, when Ockham says ‘ … [i’] he cognizes the objects of
our cognitions abstractively … ’ he means a complex apprehension such as
premise (a). This complex apprehension would not be directly caused by a
simple intellective apprehension, i.e. by an intuitive cognition or an AC1.
Rather, a proposition like (a) can only be produced through a habitus,
because this is a proposition that would follow from the occurrence of the
same experience in the past.
Premise (b) is a higher-order proposition that would result from the higher-
order intuition of the mental proposition ‘This (particular) cat is present’, a
proposition an agent thinks about in virtue of an intuitive cognition. In his
early and mature writings Ockham defended the idea that one can reflexively
cognize one’s own mental propositions. For example, in Rep. II q. 17, when he
argues for the theory that a higher-order act is distinct from a first-order act,
he assumes that one can grasp, through a higher-order intuition, an opinion –
i.e. a mental proposition.26
As described in Figure 7, in Ockham’s early writings, a higher-order intui-
tion directed at a mental proposition would be mediated by the complex
apprehension in virtue of which Clea consciously thinks or grasps ‘This (par-
ticular) cat is present’; whereas in Ockham’s mature writings – as described
in Figure 6 – such a higher-order intuition would be immediately related to
that mental proposition, since it would be a mental act. Ockham seems to
refer to the mediated way in which one can cognize one’s own mental prop-
ositions in Rep. II q. 17 (OTh 5: 386.1–4), one of his early writings, when he

In Rep. II q. 12–13; OTh 5: 257.15–18, Ockham claims that every complex cognition can be called ‘abstrac-
25

tive cognition’.
26
See note 14.
936 L. D. GAMBOA

Figure 7. First mode [i′ ] of cognizing the ICI according to Ockham’s early writings.

claims that, through two different acts, in two different ways, one can reach
one object, and not a fictum. In this context, an object could be a concept
or a proposition, since they are objective beings or ficta.27
In Rep. II q.17 (OTh 5: 387.4–12), Ockham seems to suggest the first mode
[i’] of cognizing the ICI – i.e. the epistemically mediated mode – when he
argues against the idea that Clea, for example, is able to cognize her own
intuition and its intentional content in virtue of that same intuition. According
to Ockham, it is not true that, when there is only one act present in Clea’s intel-
lect, for instance, she would be able to cognize that same act and its inten-
tional content. In order to prove this, Ockham proposes a new thought
experiment, which runs as follows (Figure 8) (Rep. II q. 17; OTh 5: 388.18–
389.7). Suppose that Clea is perceiving a black cat. If at this moment (t1) we
were to ask her whether she cognizes the intentional content of her intuition
through a higher-order act x, she would answer that she can only see that she
perceives or has an intellective act – for example, ‘Ego intelligo’. At (t1), she will
not say anything about the intentional content of her intuition – i.e. the ICI.
However, if we were to ask her afterwards, at (t2), whether she cognizes the
intentional content of her intuition, she would answer that she now cognizes
the object of her first-order act, because at (t2) she would be able to reflexively
cognize – through a second higher-order act y – the mental proposition that
has been caused by her first-order intuition. The mental proposition that
would be cognized through a second higher-order act y would be something
like ‘This (particular) cat is present’, a proposition formed in virtue of Clea’s
intuition of a cat.
Therefore, according to Ockham, one can reflexively cognize – through a
higher-order intuition – a mental proposition that has been caused by the
intuitive cognition of an object extra animam, and due to this higher-order
cognition, one can cognize the intentional content of that intuition.
Ockham does not suggest the need for any inference in Rep. II q. 17, as he
does in Quod. IV q. 9, a passage from his mature writings. Nonetheless, ever
since his first writings he argued for the idea that one cognizes the intentional
content of one’s own first-order intuitions, and that the way one does this
involves the cognition of the proposition that has been caused by the relevant
first-order intuition.

Ockham stresses that ficta are mental objects in his Ord. d. 2 q. 8; OTh 2: 274.13–16.
27
BRITISH JOURNAL FOR THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 937

Figure 8. Ockham’s early account of how we cognize the ICI.

6. Conclusions
In the quoted passages from Quod. I q. 6, 13, 14 and IV q. 9, Ockham dis-
tinguishes, on the one hand, the LI, regarding the thing it is causally related
to, from, on the other hand, the ICI, or the singular thing that terminates
that act. Thus, throughout my reconstruction, I have added more evidence
in favour of the idea that, for Ockham, intuitive cognitions are described in
these two different ways.
Ockham develops his accounts of the higher-order cognition of the LI and
ICI in his Quod. I q. 6, 13, 14 and IV q. 9, i.e. among his mature writings.
However, he initially presents these accounts in Rep. II q. 16 and 17, although
in these early writings, he was not very clear about the cognitive process
involved here.
As we have seen, the internal feature of an intuitive cognition – i.e. its like-
ness – can be reflexively cognized in an epistemically immediate way, that is,
simply in virtue of a higher-order intuition directed at a first-order intuition.
This is what I have called the first degree [i] of cognizing the LI, which is
included in the second degree [ii] of cognizing that same feature. This
second degree [ii] gives us much more information about the internal features
of one’s own intuitive cognitions. That information is delivered at the con-
clusion of an inferential process. Regarding how one can cognize the LI, an
internalist reading of Ockham’s account of intuitive cognitions seems to be
correct, since the LI corresponds to the internal structure of such an act,
and for this reason, that feature can be immediately cognized in virtue of a
higher-order intuition.
The externalism/internalism debate has emphasized that an intuitive
cognition is an act in virtue of which one thinks about the singular thing
it is suitably causally related to. As we have seen, Ockham holds that
one can reflexively access the ICI, though that access is mediated, by an
inference. In any case, for Ockham, one cannot access the intentional
content of an intuition simply through a higher-order intuition – as one
can do in relation to the LI. From this point of view, the externalist
reading seems to be correct: the ICI is not part of the internal structure
938 L. D. GAMBOA

of such an act, and consequently, one cannot access it simply in virtue of a


higher-order intuition.
My reconstruction of Ockham’s account of the higher-order cognition of
the LI and the ICI supports a moderate understanding of Ockham’s account
of the nature of these mental acts, because it accepts that intuitive cognitions
have both internal and external features. In addition, my reconstruction pro-
vides a more detailed description of Ockham’s theory of reflexivity. According
to this theory, one can genuinely know that one is in a certain mental act, and
one can cognize the two different features that Ockham attributes to intuitive
cognitions.

Acknowledgements
I owe thanks to three anonymous reviewers for their comments, suggestions and
careful reading.

Funding
This work was supported by Postdoctoral Fellow at the Instituto de Investigaciones
Filosóficas (IIF’s), Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).

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