Cognitive Psychology in Early Jesuit Scholasticism, edited by Heider, Daniel

in Journal of Jesuit Studies

Neunkirchen-Seelscheid: Editiones Scholasticae, 2016. Pp. 197. Hb, €89.

Until the beginning of the twentieth century, early modern Jesuit philosophy was considered little more than the last breath of late Scholasticism. Studies of Jesuit philosophy were conducted mostly by Catholic historians, who focused on individual Jesuit philosophers to inquire about their impacts within the Scholastic tradition. Only in 1927 did a significant shift occur, as Martin Heidegger taught a class on Francisco Suárez’s thought as a crucial milestone in the history of metaphysics.

Three years later, Étienne Gilson published his major work on the Scholastic sources of Descartes’s thought, in which he sought to demonstrate Descartes’s debt to his Jesuit teachers. Gilson’s work deeply impacted the historiography of philosophy by generating many additional studies critical of the notion that all early modern philosophy rejected Scholastic thought. In the following years, a plethora of articles appeared in renowned philosophical journals such as Études and Revista portuguesa de filosofía, which in revealed the complex framework of medieval authorities that early Jesuit philosophers followed. At the same time, Paul Oskar Kristeller’s reconstruction of the vitality of Aristotelian thought in the Renaissance (Studies in Renaissance Thought [Rome: Edizioni di storia e letteratura, 1950]) paved the way for Charles Schmitt (Aristotle in the Renaissance, Cambridge, ma: Published for Oberlin College by Harvard University Press, 1983) and Luce Giard’s (Les jésuites à la Renaissance: Système éducatif et production du savoir [Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1995]) elaborations of Aristotelian thought in the Society itself.

This multifaceted scenario emerged over the course of a century of historiography, sketched in detail by Charles Lohr, S.J., in several papers starting in the 1970s. Like Heidegger, Lohr thought of Suárez as the apex of early Jesuit philosophy. However, more recent studies in the creativity of Jesuit thought (before Suárez and after him, up to the order’s suppression) have complicated this picture. Daniel Heider’s Cognitive Psychology in Early Jesuit Scholasticism is a prime example. Heider’s volume, the result of an international meeting organized by the University of Southern Bohemia, contains six essays on rational psychology by some of the leading scholars of Jesuit early modern philosophy that he assembles to show the vitality of Jesuit thought in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Paul Richard Blum brilliantly traces a concept ubiquitous in early Jesuit thought—that of ingenium (talent)—back to Ignatius of Loyola’s spirituality, as outlined in the Spiritual Exercises. By giving an account of Antonio Possevino’s De cultura ingeniorum (1610), the introductory chapter to Possevino’s masterpiece Bibliotheca selecta (Rome, 1593), Blum provides evidence for the impact of Ignatian spiritual tenets on Jesuit philosophy of mind, including indifference, discernment, and self-control. This philosophy was meant to have practical consequences, as well as leading the Jesuit towards prudent applications of psychological insights. Therefore, it should not be surprising that writings addressing this issue were often published outside the university environment. Possevino’s De cultura ingeniorum and Antonio Zara’s Anatomia ingeniorum (1615) are the works of Jesuits who did not teach at any college or university.

In his own contribution, Heider presents a detailed comparative study of Jesuit philosophers dealing with a hot topic of the sixteenth century: the nature of external senses as either active or passive. In particular, Heider delves into the psychological dynamics of the act of perception, finding a distinctive trait of early Jesuit philosophers in what he suggestively terms “cognitive activism.”

Mário Santiago de Carvalho provides a survey of how the Conimbricenses—he Jesuit philosophers of the renowned college of Coimbra—dealt with cognitive psychology, solidly basing his argument on examples found in the seven-volume masterpiece of the Jesuit philosophers of Coimbra.

Leen Spruit, whose Species intelligibilis: From Perception to Knowledge (Leiden: Brill, 1993, 1995) is a standard reference work in the field of late Scholastic cognitive psychology, offers keen insight into early modern debates on the issue of separated souls. Spruit, with his typically clear style, deals in particular with the ontological modalities that characterize the cognitive activity of souls separated from the body. Interestingly, Spruit’s account of Baltasar Álvares’s treatise De anima separata (1598) (which was included in Manuel de Goís’s commentary on Aristotle’s De anima) points out some of the less common sources for contemporary Scholastic commentaries, such as Francesco Zorzi’s De harmonia mundi (1525). Thus he demonstrates the wide range of readings with which the Jesuit philosophers in Coimbra were acquainted.

In his contribution, Bernd Roling focuses on the modalities of cognition that characterize people (and souls) after the resurrection of the body. A specialist in sacred physics, Roling compares psychological theories of resurrection by Suárez, Adam Tanner, and Rodrigo Arriaga, extending the volume’s timeframe into the seventeenth century. Roling’s accounts of Tanner and Arriaga are particularly worthy of mention as they offer the reader insights on several exceptional Jesuit scholars whose impact has not yet been fully assessed.

Ulrich Leinsle provides a wonderful fresco of Jesuit theories on species intelligibiles, tracking the presence (or absence) of this concept in the treatment of cognitive psychology in major Jesuit philosophers and theologians between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Crucial to Leinsle’s paper are his presentation of Gabriel Vázquez’s commentary on the Summa theologiae, whose philosophical importance had been earlier highlighted by Sven K. Knebel, and the detailed survey of the disputations and public acts held at the University of Dillingen. By going through the titles of these disputations—often very long and detailed—Leinsle tracks the impact and influence of Benet Perera’s controversial “Averroism.” Averroism was apparently brought to Dillingen by one of Perera’s former students in Rome, Antonio Balduino, whose popular teachings were immediately criticized by the German superiors.

If the goals of such a volume are to show distinctive traits of early Jesuit psychology and the vitality of Jesuit philosophy beyond Suárez (the most popular in contemporary historiography), then Heider succeeds. Today, this volume stands at the vanguard of studies on early Jesuit philosophy, along with Marco Lamanna’s and Marco Forlivesi’s Benet Perera (Pererius, 1535–1610): A Renaissance Jesuit at the Crossroad of Modernity (Turnhout: Brepols, 2014). Readers of Heider’s volume will pass over a few minor typos to enjoy a learned and well-planned survey of Jesuit psychologies on the eve of modernity.

DOI 10.1163/22141332-00403007-06


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