In general, Vital’s teaching is an attempt to make a synthesis of many positions in late thirteenth-century theology, epistemology, and psychology. His teaching, however, was often derived from the doctrines of different authors and did not show originality and strict consistency. His opposition to Olivi, and more generally his tendency to defend the most common views of his time, puts him outside the movement of renewal of Franciscan thought at the turn of the century. In his discussions of human cognition, he often summarizes to a great length John Pecham, Matthew of Aquasparta, and Roger Mar-ston. Vital shares Henry of Ghent’s view on the intentional distinction of essence and existence, but his discussion lacks the depth of Henry’s metaphysics. Giles of Rome influenced Vital and also the less known Jacques de Quesnoy and Raymond Rigaut.
In considering intellective cognition, Vital holds that it is possible for humans to intellectually grasp singular things. In the cognitive process leading to the acquisition by the knower of the nature of an object, the knowledge of an object in its singularity depends in first place on the perceptive sense-data attesting the hic et nunc of the object and its accidents. Most medieval thinkers, however, agreed with Augustine’s principle that the senses cannot provide knowledge in a proper and true sense. Henry of Ghent, for instance, claimed that a true and ‘‘sincere’’ knowledge only stems from the intellect’s judgment of the sense-data, and concerns the essence of things, insofar as the intellect, by a divine illumination, discovers these essences by comparing a thing to its divine exemplar, that is, the eternal idea of the thing in the mind of God. Thus, the senses allow only knowledge in an imprecise and generic way.
Vital responds to Henry that the intellect ‘‘terminates’’ its cognitive action regarding singulars in sense organs, even though this action is incorporeal and independent from senses, and corporeal only in a certain regard. Furthermore, he draws a distinction between, on the one hand, the singular object as something actually existing hic et nunc, which is the primary object of the senses, and, on the other, the singular conceived as a different ‘‘grade’’ of the specific nature of an individual with respect to another individual of the same species. This singular cannot be grasped by the senses but only by the intellect. Two apples taken from the same orchard may look and taste the same to the senses, and only intellectual cognition can tell them apart (Quaestiones de cognitione, q. 1, ed. Delorme, 163-164).
The inclusion of sensitive cognition in the cognitive process does allow for a role of the species as a medium of knowledge. The Species inform the intellect in the understanding of both singulars and universals. The species are not impressae upon the intellect by the sensitive powers, but rather ‘‘collected’’ by the intellect: (a) from sensing a singular, in order to understand an object in its actual existence, and to maintain the species after the act of sensation (species sensibilis); (b) from the very species sensibilis, thus producing absolute knowledge of the singular, with no regard to its actual existence (species intelligibilis rei singularis); (c) from memory and the imaginative power, whenever there is no sensitive act toward a singular; (d) from these three kinds of species the intellect can finally collect a species of a universal, that is, the consideration of an object in its universality (Quaestiones de cognitione, q. 2, ed. Delorme, 210-211).
See also: > Giles of Rome > Henry of Ghent > John Pecham > Matthew of Aquasparta > Peter Lombard > Peter John Olivi > Roger Marston