Video: Therese Cory on medieval theories of mind, cognition, and personhood

Author: Todd Boruff


“The project of understanding reality is not something that one person or one culture does by themselves.” 

— Therese Cory

Therese Cory is the John and Jean Oesterle Associate Professor of Thomistic Studies at the University of Notre Dame. Her research focuses on 13th century philosophy and uncovering different ways of "modeling" the mind and its activities. More information can be found on her faculty page.

Video Transcript

I work on 13th century philosophy. I'm particularly interested in the works of Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas.

The topics I'm particularly interested in have to do with mind, self consciousness, personhood, the nature of knowing. People think about those kinds of topics as being fundamentally modern topics. So we think about there being a turn to the subject in Descartes where Descartes sort of brought to attention the fact that we are minds that are self knowing, and part of my work has been to try to demythologize that claim and to show that in fact in the 13th century, there's sophisticated theories of self knowing that are developed and that in fact they have a robust conception of the human person as a self-aware agent.

There's this tremendous moment of cultural exchange that's happening where the tradition of Greek thought that was developed and expanded and brought into new forms in the Islamic world, in particular in centers like Baghdad and Cordoba, then gets passed on and developed further in the Latin tradition. So you really see, I think, at this moment that the project of understanding reality is not something that one person or one culture does by themselves but it's really a kind of joint project and that really gives us hope for seeing how these cultures which were often thought to be very much in conflict politically have this sort of fruitful intellectual exchange in the Middle Ages.

Notre Dame is known for its specialization in medieval philosophy and I have many great colleagues and graduate students who are working on medieval philosophy here so the community is very strong. It's also a pleasure and a privilege to work at an institution that takes the Catholic intellectual tradition seriously because people that I work on Aquinas and Albert for instance, they're very important figures in the Catholic intellectual tradition. They continue to have influence in Catholic theology today.

It's really important for students to have that philosophical component in their education because it's really the way in which they learn to think about reality from the inside out. If you've studied any sort of architectural styles and you go to a European city and you're traveling through these streets and looking at these buildings, it makes so much of a difference if you know what you're looking at and I think of philosophy as being the process whereby you train yourself to be able to see what you're looking at for the first time.