By Morris Weitz
First released in 1988. Routledge is an imprint of Taylor & Francis, an informa corporation.
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Additional resources for Theories of Concepts: A History of the Major Philosophical Traditions
Here Descartes seems to imply that we can conceive figure and colour, can 62 Descartes form concepts of them, by abstracting from particulars; however, abstracting is not creating or apprehending abstract entities. ' We know by intuition the simples: figure, extension, motion, etc. 'All others [things other than the simples] we conceive (concipimus) to be in some way compounded out of these' (AT X, 418; HR I , 41). '... All the simple natures,' Descartes says, 'are known per se and are wholly free from falsity' (AT X, 420; HR I , 42).
Therefore we must needs say that our intellect understands material things by abstracting from phantasms; and that through material things thus considered we acquire some knowledge of immaterial things, just as, on the contrary, angels know material things through the immaterial (la, 85, 1). Second, Aquinas says that abstraction can occur either by composition and division or by simple consideration of one thing without considering another. The latter mode of abstraction, unlike the former, when what is abstracted is not really a separate entity, does not yield falsehood.
The difference between these two abstractions consists in the fact that in the abstraction of the universal from the particular, that from which the abstraction is made does not remain; for when the difference of rationality is removed from man, the man no longer remains in the intellect, but animal alone remains. But in abstraction in terms of form and matter, both the form and the matter remain in the intellect; as, for instance, if we abstract the form of a circle from brass, there remain in our intellect separately both the understanding of a circle and the understanding of brass (la, 40, 3).