Philosophical Review 108 (1):143-146 (1999)

Dominik Perler
Humboldt-University, Berlin
Historians of philosophy often credit Descartes, Locke, and other seventeenth-century authors with having introduced one of the most vexing problems into epistemology: the problem of mental representations. For these authors claimed that our knowledge of the external world is always mediated by mental representations, so that we have immediate access only to these representations, the ideas in our mind. As is well known, this “veil-of-ideas epistemology” gave rise to a number of skeptical questions. How can we be certain that our ideas are accurate representations of the external world? And how can we be sure that there is an external world at all if we never have immediate access to it? In his highly original and provocative study, Robert Pasnau argues that these questions are not distinctively modern. They were already asked and thoroughly discussed by medieval authors: “much of what is often taken to be novel in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries was already old news by the fourteenth”. According to Pasnau, it was Thomas Aquinas who introduced some form of representationalism into epistemology by developing the species-theory, and it was first Peter John Olivi and later William Ockham who attacked this theory, insisting that we always have immediate cognitive access to the external world.
Keywords Analytic Philosophy  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0031-8108
DOI 10.2307/2998279
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