December 7, 2008

Augustine on cognition

AUGUSTINE: Tell me, please, whether everything we know through sight, we see.
EVODIUS: So I believe.
AUGUSTINE: And everything we know by means of seeing, you believe, we know though sight?
EVODIUS: This too I believe.
AUGUSTINE: So when smoke is all we see, by what account do we commonly know an unseen fire to hide beneath?
EVODIUS: It's true, what you say, and no longer would I suppose that whatever we know through sight, we see. For as you have shown, on seeing one thing we can know something else which is not in our sight.
AUGUSTINE: How about what we perceive by sight? Is it possible for us not to see that?
EVODIUS: Not at all.
AUGUSTINE: Knowledge and perception are therefore different things?
EVODIUS: Different in every way. We perceive the smoke we see, and from it we know a fire we do not see to lie beneath.
AUGUSTINE: Your understanding is sound. But surely, once this is accepted you see that nothing of the fire acts on our body, i.e. our eyes, except the smoke which is all they see. For to see is to perceive, and to perceive (as we agreed earlier in our discussion) is to be acted upon.
EVODIUS: And thus I still agree.
AUGUSTINE: Therefore when something becomes not-hidden to the mind through an action upon the body, it is not necessarily the case that any one of the five senses we mentioned is necessarily involved, as long as the experience of that action itself is not hidden. For although the fire is neither seen nor heard nor smelled nor tasted nor touched by us, it is not hidden from the mind once smoke is seen. This not-being-hidden may not be called perception (because the body receives no action from the fire) but instead is called cognition through perception, because out of a separate action on the body, i.e. the vision of something else, the fire is conjectured and ascertained.

On the Measure of the Soul, 24