Perception in Augustine's De Trinitate 11: A Non-Trinitarian Analysis

Oxford Studies in Medieval Philosophy 8:41-78 (2020)
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In this paper, I explore Augustine’s account of sense cognition in book 11 of De Trinitate. His discussion in this context focuses on two types of sensory state—what he calls “outer vision” and “inner vision,” respectively. His analysis of both types of state is designed to show that cognitive acts involving external and internal sense faculties are susceptible of a kind of trinitarian analysis. A common way to read De Trin. 11, is to interpret Augustine’s account of “outer” vision as an analysis of sense perception and his account “inner” vision as an analysis of occurrent sensory memory and imagination. I argue against such a reading of De Trin. 11, however. Insofar as we take perception to be a phenomenally conscious mode of sensory awareness, outer vision cannot, I claim, be the equivalent of ordinary sense perception. For, on Augustine’s view, the deliverances of outer vision only reach the threshold of consciousness, when outer vision occurs in conjunction with inner vision. Hence, on my analysis, sense perception turns out to be a complex, hybrid state—one that involves both outer and inner vision. If I am right, acts of sense perception turn out not to be directly susceptible to trinitarian analysis. Even so, the account is interesting and nuanced for all that.

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Susan Brower-Toland
Saint Louis University


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