The Ways to Wisdom
Aquinas Day By Day

 241

Aquinas’s topic: first and second intentions

Aquinas’s texts: De potentia 7.9c and Scriptum in Sententiis

Br. Thomas distinguished the conceptions that stand for real things and are studied in the sciences from the conceptions that organize our thought and are studied in logic, referring to the former as “first” and the latter as Asecond.” Sometimes he distinguished things “understood (intellecta)” into first and second, at other times distinguishing notions, either first from second “intentions” or first from second “impositions” of the mind. These are three ways of saying the same thing; and in every case logic studies what comes “second.” In an ethical context, the term “intention (intentio)” refers to a will act toward the end we intend; but in the logical context “intention” was the term used to translate the Arabic term ma’na, meaning “concept.”

In De potentia 7.9 he makes the distinction this way:

The first things understood are things outside the soul, to which the intellect is first drawn for the purpose of understanding. But the intentions following on the mode of understanding are called the things understood second, for the intellect understands them second since it reflects upon itself, understanding itself to understand and the manner in which it understands.

In 1 Sententiis, d. 23, 1.3 reads:

An individual can be signified in two ways: either by a noun of second intention, such as the nouns Aindividual” or Asingular,” which do not signify a singular thing but the intention of singularity; for by a noun of first intention, which signifies the thing to which the intention of singularity applies.

[Introductions and translations © R.E. Houser]

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