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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: July 2017

3 - Direct Realism about Perception and Beyond: Auriol and Ockham


Is it possible to be a direct realist about all modes of cognition? As we saw in the last chapter, Olivi did not think it was. Perceptual acts immediately reach out to the external world, but acts of memory, imagination and conceptual thought are mediated by inner representations or species.

In this chapter, we will look at Peter Auriol (1280–1322) and William of Ockham (1287–1347). Auriol has been cast as someone who further developed Olivi's critique of species, and in the literature the two Franciscans often emerge as congenial foes of indirect realism. Sections 3.1 and 3.2, however, will argue that this picture needs shading. As we will see, it is true that Auriol, like Olivi, rejected species for perception. Moreover, it will be suggested here that both Franciscans share a broadly relational understanding of the structure of cognition. But notwithstanding that common ground, they disagree about the role of species in post-perceptual cognition. Whereas Olivi, as we have seen, harkened back to the species theory to account for mnemonic and imaginative cognition, Auriol is critical about this approach.

Sections 3.3 and 3.4 discuss Ockham's critique of species. According to a number of commentators, Ockham criticized the species theory on the ground that, from behind the veil of species, it is impossible to establish that a given species is trustworthy. But I will challenge that reading. Given his further epistemological commitments, raising this kind of criteriological objection is problematic for Ockham. Moreover, a close reading of the relevant texts points in another direction. Section 3.5 briefly turns to the way in which the mature Ockham conceived of conceptual cognition. This will help us see more clearly in what way the mature Ockham parted ways with both Olivi and Auriol.

Auriol on Perception

Many medieval thinkers developed their views on cognition by carefully studying paradigmatic cases of veridical cognition. On this basis, the workings of our senses and other cognitive powers were explored, and illusions and misrepresentations were treated as deviant cases, in which one of the success factors of veridical cognition was missing. Now it is one of the many interesting aspects of Auriol's thought that he chooses to turn this procedure upside down.

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Representation and Scepticism from Aquinas to Descartes
  • Online ISBN: 9781316855102
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