2023: Cognizing as Being in the History of Philosophy

Medieval Mind

This year's colloquium, Cognizing as Being in the History of Philosophy, will take place on April 12-13, 2023. The purpose of this conference is to assemble a wide-ranging perspective on the history and vicissitudes of a certain pattern of theorizing about cognition as a kind of being, or even as being itself.  While this view has made important appearances throughout the historical tradition of philosophy, it has largely “gone missing,” so to speak, from our contemporary conversations about the mind, and even, to a significant extent, from contemporary scholarship about the history of philosophy of mind. 


  • Fedor Benevich, University of Edinburgh
  • Julia Borcherding, University of Cambridge
  • Jonathan Buttaci, The Catholic University of America
  • Caleb Cohoe, Metropolitan University of Denver
  • Therese Cory, University of Notre Dame
  • Lloyd Gerson, University of Toronto
  • Katharina Kraus, University of Notre Dame
  • Ursula Renz, University of Graz
  • Denis Robichaud, University of Notre Dame
  • Sebastian Rödl, University of Leipzig
  • Jan Westerhoff, University of Oxford
  • Mark Wrathall, University of Oxford
Wittgenstein In New York

What is “Cognizing as Being”?     

Roughly speaking, theories of “cognizing as being” represent a counterpoint to the three following trends, widespread in contemporary and historical Western theories of mind. 

(1) cognizing as connecting, i.e., a way of framing the mental essentially or mainly in terms of its relationship to things intramental or extramental.  This trend appears, e.g., in the view that cognition itself is a kind of relation, or that intentionality is the “mark of the mental,” or that thought consists in signification or representation or an object’s presentation to a subject.  Again, concerns about mental “connectivity” animate familiar discussions about realism vs. representationalism, the productive nature of thought (as producing a mental word or sign), attentiveness as a directing oneself toward something, and the dichotomy of subject vs. object.  One might associate connective approaches with visual or tactile metaphors.
            In contrast: Theories of cognizing as being tend to frame the mental essentially or mainly in terms of possessing a certain kind of being (e.g., the being of experience, the being of consciousness, Intellect as Being itself, etc.).  This tendency appears in theories that, e.g., identify the soul or mind with mental activity, or approach consciousness largely in terms of the stuff of which it is made, or that take the identity of knower and known very literally.

(2) the sui generis character of the mental, i.e., the tendency to use one set of conceptual categories to analyze conscious experience (e.g., concepts, faculties, ideas, contents, aboutness, attitudes, mental states, intentionality, qualia, etc.), and a wholly different set to analyze trees and tables and rocks (e.g., parts, wholes, properties, substrata, essence, individuating features, etc.) 
            In contrast: Theories of cognizing as being seek to bring mind into a unified metaphysical theory, e.g., by presenting the mental and non-mental as subject to analogous sets of the same categories, by identifying thought with Paradigmatic Being, by framing mind as a kind of nature, or by portraying mind as the very fabric of reality.

(3) diminishing the reality of the mental, i.e., the tendency to treat the mental as having diminished reality or somehow not “counting” ontologically.  Consider the claim that ideas have no ontology, or the distinction between “mere” appearance and things as they “really” are, or the severing of phenomenology of experience (its subjective “feel”) from the underlying “real,” “objective” mechanisms, or the medieval distinction between “intentional being” vs. “real being.”
            In contrast: Theories of cognizing as being take a more robust approach to mental being as one of the kinds of being that there are, or perhaps the most real kind of being, or even identical with being itself.