In his Commentary on the Harmonics of Ptolemy, Porphyry has an interesting section (13.19-14.6) detailing how one gets from sensation to universals.

Once the way [20] judgments are carried out has been clarified, they will provide sufficient testimony to what has been said. For once matter has been informed by the aforementioned reason, judgment comes about when the soul happens to pay attention to beings and as it were detaches the forms from matter once again and receives them within itself and, in a way, restores them, so that the judgment may become immaterial. For first to come from sensation is [25] apprehension (ἀντίληψις); by touching being, as it were, it tries to take up <the forms> and, as it were, announce and introduce them into the soul like a guide or an introducer (εἰσαγωγεύς). After that, opinative assumption receives what has been introduced, addressing it by name and writing it down in the soul by means of reason, as if on some tablet existing within it [sc. the soul].

Third after these comes the faculty that [30] makes images of characteristic features (ἰδιώματα) and is truly a painter or a sculptor, viz., the imagination (φαντασία). It is not satisfied with the form of addressing and of writing down, but like those who draw up official descriptions of people arriving at port, or in the manner of those who estimate the exactitude of resemblance by scrutinizing [14, 1] passports: this is how this <faculty> takes the entire shape of the thing into consideration. Once it has achieved accuracy in this way, then it stores away the form in the soul, and this is the concept, which, when once it has entered and has been confirmed, the disposition of knowledge supervenes, from which, like a light [5] ignited from a leaping flame, intellect makes its appearance, like an accurate vision with a view towards the application to true Being.


(Michael Chase, “Porphyry on the Cognitive Process,” Ancient Philosophy 30 [2010], 383–5.)

For Porphyry, the the form of the sense object is removed from the matter and brought to the soul where it is named and it’s qualities are listed. From these qualities a mental image (φαντασία) is formed. This mental image is stored in the soul and becomes a concept.

But how can one judge whether or not this concept is a true? Here Porphyry’s platonism comes out (for most of this description sounds very Aristotelian). In another part of his commentary, Porphyry likens λόγος to a king who judges the accuracy of a messangers description of a visitor which the king already knows beforehand (Chase, “Porphyry,” 399–400). Thus, since the λόγοι in our intellect derive from the Intellect (which contemplates the forms directly since they are internal to itself), we have access to a criterion which can judge the accuracy of our concepts derived from sense impression.

There are many interesting things about Porphyrys congitive process here, but this last section reminded me, again, of George Karamanolis’s book, The Philosophy of Early ChristianityIn the first chapter, after coherently describing how early Christians can at once deride Greek philosophy while yet drawing on those very resources for their own dogmatic developments, Karamanolis gives a description of the methodology of early Christian thinkers. Near the end he says,

This idea that the Scriptures are the measure of truth is characteristic of Christianity and seems to be a notable difference from Hellenic philosophy to the extent that Christian thinkers appear to have commitments to doctrines prior to enquiry, and they resort to it only to confirm the doctrine of the Scriptures.

(George Karamanolis, The Philosophy of Early Christianity [New York: Routledge, 2014] 51–2.)

Karamanolis goes on to qualify this statement, but I bring it up to draw a parallel bretween Porphyry’s cognitive process and early Christian theological/philosophical methodology. Perhaps, like the all-knowing King-λόγος of Porhyry, Scripture tests the concepts brought to it to confirm or deny their truth. If Jesus is the Λόγος that inspired the λόγοι of Scripture, the parallel might work (though, of course, this does not address the problem of interpretive pluralism). This at least helps me see appeals to Scripture to be a little more philosophically robust for early Christian authors then it may seem at first glance by contemporary readers.


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