Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Thomas Aquinas and Christian realism



I found this Scot McKnight’s web site:

Jesuscreed

“Why study Thomas Aquinas? By almost everyone's admission Aquinas was the most important philosopher for almost 2,000 years between Aristotle and Descartes. But Peter Kreeft of Boston College has another answer: 'My personal answer is that I believe Aquinas was simply the wisest and most intelligent philosopher in history. And I want to show you why.'

In 14 CD's just released (2009), Peter Kreeft introduces listeners to the philosophy and theology of Thomas Aquinas
Peter Kreeft introduces listeners to the philosophy and theology of Thomas Aquinas


The CD's and accompanying Course Guide appears in a prestigeous series called "The Modern Scholar: Great Professors Teaching you!" by Recorded Books. Your local library likely has this series so its free to the public.

Some of Kreeft's lecture topics are: "Aquinas's Importance and a Short Biography," "Philosophy and Theology, Reason and Faith", "Can You Prove God's Existence?", "The Case Against Aquinas's God and Proofs" "Aquinas's Cosmology: Creation, providence and Free Will," "Aquinas's Metaphysics" and other enticing subjects.”

………………………………..

(Joseph) My personal favorite ‘believing’ philosophers of the twentieth century are French Catholics who drank deeply from the wells of St. Thomas and Aristotle: Jacques Maritain who authored Intregal Humanism in 1936 and Emmanuel Mounier, the author of the Personalist Manifesto in 1938. Both Maritain and Mounier had a huge influence in the Catholic student movements of the 1950s in the Caribbean and South America.

What do you know about Thomism? How might it provide a philosophical framework for believers in a postmodern age? I have invited Ray Ciervo to comment on this. He is more familiar with Thomism than most of us.

44 comments:

just joe said...

(this from Ray Ciervo)
Thomas Aquinas lived in the 13th Century from 1225-1274. He was a Dominican priest who wrote the equivalent of about 2 - 300 books. His two Summas are still often used and quoted today. G. K. Chesterton wrote one of the best biographies on Thomas called, Thomas Aquinas, Dumb Ox. Thomas was a large quiet boy when he was being tutored by Albert the Great, the best known teacher and scientist of his day. Thomas’ fellow students named him the “dumb ox.” Albert said the world would hear this “dumb ox roar” one day.

Thomism, as it is known today, is the particular philosophy associated with Thomas. If one is a thomist he must also be more than familiar with Aristotelian, Platonic, Augustinian and others including Jewish and Arabic philosophers and theologians. Thomas was a great synthesizer. Although, many in the church of his day were afraid of “worldly” philosophers, Thomas could take the best of Aristotle and Plato and apply it to Christian theology. He wasn’t afraid to interact, commend and utilize people like the Muslim philosopher Avicenna or Maimomedes, (sp?) the Jewish theologian/philosopher.

Thomas was primarily a theologian and as a theologian his natural theology is where he is most recognized. It is also where he is attacked most. However Thomas was an excellent theologian in every respect. Thomas used Aristotelian logic precisely and thought and wrote mostly in syllogisms. He was clear, concise and incisive. Thomas’ proofs for the existence of God were all from natural theology. As a philosopher, Thomas was a “moderate realist.” Thomas saw philosophy as the “handmaiden of theology.” Where most Protestants or non-catholics reject natural theology, thomists recognize its importance in balancing how we can know God. For the thomist, natural theology is not in place of special revelation, but in addition to it. We can know God through what he has made. Of course, special revelation is exact where natural revelation can be more vague. Yet it is the Scripture that commends the veracity of natural revelation.

just joe said...

(Ray's overview continued ...)

A thomist believes that the truth about reality is knowable. That God’s existence can be shown through natural revelation or natural theology. The cosmological arguments show God exists through motion, cause, and contingency. These three arguments rely on simple logic. For an apologist this is a helpful tool.

In a day when it appears every meaningful concept is “up for grabs,” truth, reality, nature, logic, Thomas is a welcomed resting place. He’s written extensively on good and evil, ethics, faith and reason, humanity, the soul, angels (he’s known as the “Angelic Doctor), metaphysics, epistemology, and almost every subject you can imagine within reason. The system of writing in the Scholastic Period called for a distinct question and answer format which explained your position. Thomas’ questions about his beliefs or opposing beliefs were more incisive and probing than his opponents could ask.

When Pope Benedict XVI was Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, he exhorted the church to rediscover Thomas, although not directly. Benedict is a thomist by the way. He is more theologian than philosopher as John Paul II was more philosopher than theologian. My point is this: The church needs to connect with the world with concepts that apply to all men – common ground. This is found in natural theology – especially metaphysics – the nature of being. Benedict proposes we converse with all men about what is common to all men. This is Thomism at its best

To be a thomist one has to think, something our culture finds difficult, if not disdains. However, the alternative is what? Not think? Act impulsively or by instinct? Thomas would say our very humanness is recognized by our ability to reason and reason about right and wrong. When we cease to reason, even reason to not reason any longer, we have denied our Creator’s design on our being.

Thomas has been called the greatest thinker in the Middle Ages, the greatest thinker between Augustine and Descartes. In my opinion, there isn’t anyone who comes close to Thomas since the Apostle Paul through to the present day. He outshines Augustine, yet quotes him more than any other theologian/philosopher. Thomas is not a hidden “jewel;” he is a hidden treasure that the present day church needs to discover and patiently mine his wealth.

steve H said...

Aquinas' importance is unquestionable in a number of ways, but he is not beyond critique, is he?

Francis Schaeffer obviously appreciated much of Aquinas' work and made clear that his reintroduction of Aristotle's emphasis on the particulars was needed. This emphasis led to the realistic portrayal of nature in art which in itself was a sign of improvement from the overly "spiritualized" or "idealized" Medieval view of the world reflected in art of that period --in icons, for example.

Francis Schaeffer also believed that Aquinas' attempt to synthesize Christian truth with Aristotelian philosophy opened the door to an overemphasis on reason and nature that eventually led to modernism's secular humanism which has ultimately led to postmodernism. (Sproul disputes Schaeffer's thought concerning problems stemming from Aquinas.)

What protections are there in Catholic thought to keep from moving beyond Christian humanism (as Catholic scholar James Hitchcock calls it) or true humanism (as J. I. Packer and Thomas Howard call it) to secular humanism?

Hitchcock also posits that the Reformers rejection of monasticism contributed to the secular perversion of Christian humanism.

Seems like the issue that arises again and again is dualism--separating the physical realm and the spiritual realm and then overemphasizing one or the other.

The God of Scripture is transcendent (wholly different than and distinct from his creation) and immanent (at the same time fully present and active in his creation). That reality has implications for keeping the physical and spiritual realms rightly related in our thinking and behaving. Sin makes a separation.

John M. said...

Sounds like becoming a Thomist would be a life-long occupation.

In what ways does his thinking influence the Church and the culture without those of us who are not scholars being aware of it?
Do we tend to look at the scriptures through a Thomist lense without realizing it or does it require intentionality from a basis of study and knowledge of St. Thomas' thought?

As far as Thomist scholarship and intentionality, I am illiterate. But am I formed and influenced by Thomism without knowing it?

Brian Emmet said...

Joseph, will Ray be "present" with us for this discussion? We can't exactly ask you to speak for him!

I'm decidedly a non-expert in thomistics (thomastics?). My understanding is that the Reformers eschewed "natural theology" because (a) it lends itself to various self-salvation schemes (since I can reason my way to the truth, I may not really need revelation) and (b) connotes that our reason remains untainted by the Fall. This may not represent Thomas accurately, but does reflect a more popular pratice of thomism, at least in certain quarters. How far did Thomas think reason could get us? After all, we live in an age in which the idea that we can reason our way to morality, truth, the good life etc. is extremely popular (although decreasingly so as well!) I wonder if Thomas isn't more helpful to those already in the faith?

Apolojedi said...

I believe the one thing we can learn from Thomas is to recognize that all truth is God's truth. Whether Aristotle stated it, Plato or Augustine. The very nature of truth dictates this to be so.

Although Schaeffer was right about many things, I don't believe he was right about Thomas. His criticism was a typical "Reformed" position against anything Catholic. To lay at Thomas' feet the emergence of Secular Humanist thought is to lay at Henry Ford's feet every traffic accident. The possibility is there, but the culpability is a stretch beyond normal reason.

Whether intentional or unintentional. to dismiss Thomas because of Schaeffer's one statement lose the treasure Thomas provides. I say, intentionally or unintentionally, Schaeffer poisoned the well.

The protection from moving to any bad theology or philosophy is good theology and philosophy. CS Lewis is often quoted as saying, "Good philosophy exists for no other reason than to correct bad philosophy."

Although Thomas is primarily a theologian, it is his philosophy which comes under intense scrutiny. He is not beyond critique philosophically as philosophy is not revelation but earthbound reasoning.

Theology on the other hand is revelation or at least, ought to be. Here too, any theology ought to be measured and weighed for its importance and contribution, not to mention its veracity.

To answer John's questions: Yes, Thomism is a life long pursuit as any worldview is. Thomas gives us the tools for viewing reality which he believes can be known. Thomas influences us the same way Aristotle does. We think with Aristotelian logic every day. We live by the law of non contradiction. Theologically, Thomas is Augustinian, quoting Augustine more than any other non, biblical source. Thomas view of God is classical. He is trinitarian. Thomas even has a section on 1 Cor 12 which most Charismatics and Pentecostals would find little objection with.

His view of Scripture is classical too. There is little mention of Papal edicts in Thomas' writings, but continuous quoting of Scripture.

Where he influences us most today is in ethics. His view of war, "Just War" is the theory most refer to. His ethics of primary and secondary causes are another.

I would recommend reading Chesterton's book on Aquinas to get further insight into his influence. " Aquinas For Armchair Theologians" is also an easy read, if you're interested.

Apolojedi said...

Brian: a collection from Thomas' Summa called "Faith and Reason" should answer those questions. Most of what Thomas is attacked with is "straw-man" arguments.

Here's one quote: "So too the light of faith, which is imparted to us as a gift, does not do away with the light of natural reason given to us by God. And even though the natural light of the human mind is inadequate to make known what is revealed by faith, nevertheless what is divinely taught to us by faith cannot be contrary to what we are endowed by nature."

Although Thomas would describe "depravity" as total, he would not subscribe to the Reformed position that the mind is totally incapable of right reasoning. However, he wouldn't say you could reason your way to God's salvation or a savior, or that you could "be" moral with right thinking. He would say that the law written on your heart would tell you right from wrong, but you would still be incapable of attaining the right. For Thomas, righteousness is a gift as is grace and faith.
Norm Geisler has a book on Thomas which covers a lot of these issues.

What Thomas does deliver is in the realm of General Revelation which usually turns most Reformed thinkers off. This is not to diminish what Thomas calls "Divine" theology. Most people cling to the "Divine" and eschew the Natural or what is known as General Revelation. Thomas was comprehensive in all his thought process and thus included Natural Theology.

John M. said...

It sounds as if he disagrees with Augustine on the issue of depravity of the mind, even if he quotes him a lot. He sounds more like Arminius and Wesley...

John said...

Hey guys just thought I'd check in and say Howdy, been thinking of you folks, hope everyone's doing well.

John M. said...

Hey John! Good to hear from you my brother. How are things with you? You might as well throw in your quarter's worth or ask a question about Thomas Aquinas while you're here. I'm totally above my pay grade, but it's fun to stick your toe in the deep waters these guys are swimming in.

Brian Emmet said...

Thanks, Ray, for your helpful, and helpfully brief, overview. Would Thomas be, philosophically speaking, a "foundationalist," or is that a term that doesn't fairly fit him in his context?

steve H said...

I am less than a novice when it comes to Aquinas and Thomism.

It does seem clear, however, that his teaching on natural theology led to the idea (or at least contributed to it) of natural law.

That there are natural laws is quite clear. My understanding of t the problem is that the idea gradually developed that natural law was equal to revealed law. Some seemed to believe that, by use of observation and reason, a thinker would come to conclusions that aligned with revealed law. That seems to have later developed into such a clear separation between the natural and the revealed (between nature and grace), that ultimately revelation could be dismissed as irrelevant.

Do you see this as somewhat accurate, Ray? If so, couldn't it be rightly said that Aquinas' teaching in effect "opened the door" to the separation?

Apolojedi said...

Great questions . . . concerning foundationalism - it's hard to put Thomas there. I don't think Thomas would consider himself a philosopher as he never presented a systematic philosophy. Theologian, yes. He saw philosophy as the "hand-maiden" of theology which he called the "Queen of Sciences." I understand how people like Gilson and Maritain develop a thomistic philosophy but here I agree with Peter Kreeft and think Thomas wouldn't like the idea of Thomism!
As far as being a foundationalist, I believe that Thomas believed in "first things." That is, things that are self-evident. Whether everything about foundationalism lines us with his thought is something I've not pursued.
Concerning natural law, it would be hard to say there is no such thing. To say, once again, that Thomas is responsible for opening the door to aberrant views of natural law is not easily done. Read what he says about it and you see he definitely sees the difference between grace as a divine gift and natural law only discoverable by reason. Neither does he see natural law as attaining to anything as far as righteousness is concerned.
Thomas is easily misunderstood and becomes the straw-man for anti-catholic attacks.
I'm not sure I agree with all of Thomas' views on sovereignty. There are times I'm uncomfortable with how he states God's moving our thoughts. That's another bottomless pit.

Apolojedi said...

Steve: To ask whether I see your point about Thomas, "opening the door" as "somewhat accurate" seems like you're asking if it's "plausible?" As I said in an earlier post, and if I may add, because he wrote a fair bit about it, the potential for it is there. I don't think it makes him culpable. Today the church still doesn't know what "general revelation" is or its worth. In this biblically ignorant world, general revelation at least leads us to the existence of God. The argument then must be made, "which God?" That's without showing the need for a "savior."

To get to Joseph's original request of me, general revelation is useful in presenting whether or not God exists.

The middle ages and scholasticism is a period the enlightenment tried to call the "dark ages." Actually, they did call it the Dark Ages." The Scholastic period and previous part of the middle ages gave us people like Augustine, Anselm, Bonaventure, and Thomas. Aside from Augustine, the others go unnoticed or recognized. It is from these that theology had a base.

I'm sorry to go off on these things. I rarely get the chance to opine : )

david said...

ray - hey to another n.c. man.

thanks for all of the good comments. anselm's satisfaction theory that lead to the penal substitutionary theory is certainly well known by many - but i know you are right in that very few know where these ideas started.

just joe said...

great discussion guys ... I am doing my best to follow along from Cuba with very limited email access. I can see I will have some catching up to do when i get back to Miami. Perhaps because of my research on Catholicism, I tend to lean more toward Ray's view of Aquinas than to Francis Schaeffer's view ... but what do I know? by-the-way, it is HOT here.... sweating in Havana ....

Brian Emmet said...

So: are there things we can't not know? This would seem to be the natural law position, if I understand it correctly. Because we bear God's image, even though it is defaced/distorted by sin, there remains a law written on our hearts: there are certain things we can't not know. We may deny that we know, or suppress this knowledge--but we still know that, for example, murder is wrong... which would also mean that we really do know that abortion is wrong.

But does Paul' argument in Romans 1 still have teeth? He claims that we can't not know there is a Creator, that some things about God can be discerned through the things that God has made, "so that we are without excuse." I think this argument had "bite" in Paul's day, even among pagans: they all looked at the natural world and saw evidence of order, design, purpose, and probably would have been puzzled by the notion that it all was merely the produce of chance + time. Do the heavens still have this effect on today's pagans (or even on today's believers)?

Apolojedi said...

Brian: Yes, the natural law still works. It can still be suppressed and denied but it presses back. What we call the "moral law" argument is the best approach to non-believers today. Everyone knows instinctively it is wrong to torture babies. As you said, there are some things we can't not know. J Budziszewski, wrote a book with a similar title- What We Can't Not Know. He's a natural law theorist, and probably one of the best.
Finding common ground with unbelievers is found in the moral law. The I.D. movement and the moral law argument is the best approach to engaging them.

Brian Emmet said...

Yes, I have read some Budziszewski, with profit and delight, and commend his work to others.

Apolojedi said...

Brian: Have you read, Written on the Heart? He also has a new one published, A Line Through the Heart. I think it's his best yet. Haven't finished it, but love it so far.

Everyone: This conversation has caused me to to go back into Thomas' writings and peruse. I continue to find clarity in his writings. Joseph had recommended a course presented by Peter Kreeft on Aquinas through: The Modern Scholar, series. I've listened to the first 5 sessions. So far, pretty informative. Kreeft is a good teacher!

Admittedly, I'm leaning toward doing my doctorate on Natural Law theory as it relates to ethics and morality. I find particular interest in how Darwinism has presented an alternative to Natural Law which we are witnessing currently in our law making institutions.

If anyone is interested, one of my first papers in seminary was on Thomas' view of "law" itself. It's a short paper of 15 pages. There's no commentary in the paper, just an exposè of Thomas' view.

Robert said...

Delighting in your thought string...sorry I have not been able to participate...been busy closing out this chapter of church life for me. Love to get back in soon.

Merry Christmas!

Brian Emmet said...

Not to divert this discussion, but to add a plug for natural law thinker J. Budziszewski (pronounced something like bud-cha-cheff-ski). His book "The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man" is a great place to dip into his work. Chapter titles include The Revenge of Conscience; The Illusion of Moral Neutrality; Politics of Virtue, Government of Knaves; The Problem with Communitarianism (chap 5), Liberalism (6), and Conservatism (7); Why We Kill the Weak. Can't recommend him highly enough! if you want to sample some of his works, go to www.firstthings.com, type his last name in the Search box, and you'll have half a dozen or more articles to choose from.

I know he's not St. Thomas... but he's in that tradition, and you may find him a good doorway into the work of the Man.

just joe said...

hi friends, looks like I am missing out on a great conversation. The name that Brian and Ray mentioned is new to me, although "FIRST THINGS" is not. Sound like a good source.

I spent a fruitful half day in the Archbishops archives in Old Havana today ... got 7 pages of handwritten notes and 150 digital images on my camera of documents. It was a good day.

Brian Emmet said...

See, while we're all here just yacking away, Joseph is actually accomplishing something! Keep at it, bro!

John M. said...

This whole discussion is beyond the scope of my learning and reading, but I'm learning a lot. And I'm being reminded of just how little I know about these things.

Joseph, ditto Brian's comment. I admire what you're doing.

Robert, does "closing out this chapter of church life" mean getting through Advent on the liturgical calendar or does it mean that you are moving on from this parish?

Robert said...

John


Thanks for asking. I will complete the Advent season at Holy Trinity and will be there once in a while during 2010. My main function in the Mission will be leadership development while continuing my involvement in our historic churches and relationships. I will retain orders in the Anglican Communion through The Anglican Mission in the Americas...invested too much to leave that behind. I want to bring it all forward into the future...cause it all belongs to us!

John M. said...

That's great Robert. I recently read an article about Todd Hunter who was leader in the Vineyard Movement and co-authored some of John Wimber's books. He is now Anglican and it sounded like he's doing something similar to what you're descring. I think he is in CA.

just joe said...

one more comment on the earlier discussion about F. Shaeffers take on Aquinas. One of Jacques Maritain's most significant works was also one of his earliest:"Three Reformers: Luther, Descartes, Rousseau." in which he is very critical of all three and consider them the progenitors of Englightenment Modernism with evils of extreme individualism. Maritain was thoroughly Thomist, and was an "anti-modern" by some accounts. I plan to read it next year sometime. I don't have my notes here with me in cuba about his criticism of Luther, but it was pretty strong on a philosophical basis.

Robert said...

John

Yes, Todd Hunter was recently consecrated a bishop in the Anglican Mission (same movement where I serve as a Clergy Formation Advisor). He is leading an initiative called C4SO (Churches for the Sake of Others) which plans on launching 200 new churches in the next 10 years. He already has 39 in the beginning stages.

Don't know how that segues from Thomism...but preachers usually can make it somehow happen!

John M. said...

Thanks Robert. Sorry to get us off track. Good to "catch up" with you a little bit, though. I'll let someone else figure out how to segue it into Thomism.

just joe said...

hi guys, just got back from Cuba last night ... only to find that our wireless internet is not working. I am starting to feel 'digital deprivation' ... although maybe it is a good thing. Holiday greetings and blessings to you ... seems like we are pretty much done with this thread...

by-the-way, our last night in Cuba we attended a marvelous Christmas pagent and Choral presentation in the main Cathedral in Old Havana ... it was breathtaking. And very significantly, Cuban tv crews were there to record it and broadcast it on Cuban tv ... for 40 years it was illegal to have have a Christmas tree!

John M. said...

Welcome back, Joseph! Wow... that's awesome!

Brian Emmet said...

Welcome home, Jose! Sounds like your trip was a good one, and imagine you're happy to be home again. Merry Christmas, all!

We may have exhausted our thomistic knowledge, but I am interested in Joseph's point a few comments ago about ways in which the Reformation got some things right and others not quite so right... kind of exploring a thomistic critique of Luther.

Apolojedi said...

Brothers, thanks for the conversation. I hope it was somewhat helpful. Not more than 10 years ago I was pretty ignorant of Thomas and thomism. It happened that the seminary I attended was fairly entrenched in moderate realism ala Thomas. At first, I hated to read Thomas simply because I didn't know what he was writing about. I knew every word on the page but could not make sense of his thoughts. Being fairly stubborn, never liking to quit, I plunged in - bought some books that interpreted Thomas - the rest is history. I am in no way a philosopher . . . in fact, it's Thomas' theology that keeps me going back to him. His view of how philosophy helps theology (a handmaiden) is what makes me understand how to use philosophy. As I continue to read and study theology, Thomas appears to be the most significant contributor to thoughts about God. I find many use Thomas' thoughts but never give him the credit. Stephen Charnock is one exception. RC Srpoul would be another. -
Anyway, thanks for the conversation - keep plugging along.

just joe said...

thank you Ray ... we appreciate your participation and I hope you will come back repeated to join us in these conversations and throw a little neo-Thomistic light on the issues ...just as Steve and John bring us E.O. Light from the EAst and Robert brings some quality Anglicanism to us.

Brian, I scanned in 4 or 5 pages from a book I am reading by Joseph Amato, giving an overview of Maritain's critique of Luther as a key founder of modernity (along with Descartes and Rousseau). I'll send as an email attachment to any who are interested.

Michael said...

Joseph, thanks for emailing the pages from Joseph Amato's book. I enjoyed reading them. There is alot to think about. I though it was interesting that according to Maritain all three men started from themselves (there own despair, struggle) and worked out from there. If I was to summarize what I read, Luther from his despair looked up, Descartes looked in, and Rousseau looked out for their solution/salvation. I am sure, we all to varying degree probably do the same thing.

I would like to read more on Thomas, does anyone have a suggestion on a good first book. I believe I heard someone mention Chesterton?

Merry Christmas everyone.

Apolojedi said...

Michael, the book on Thomas by Chesterton can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Saint-Thomas-Aquinas-Dumb-Ox/dp/0385090021/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1261584127&sr=8-1
That's Amazon. You should be able to find it in a library.
Two other books to consider are: Hooked on Philosophy, by Robert O'Donnell (Sp?). He explains a lot of Thomas' terms.
A heftier explanation of Thomas is "The Thought of Thomas Aquinas" by Brian Davies.
Peter Kreeft has edited the Summa with "The Summa of the Summa." It's selected reading in the Summa Theologicae.

Brian Emmet said...

Michael, a great summary of Luther, Descartes, Rousseau--looking up/in/out--brilliant! Mazel tov, and Merry Christmas to all!

Thoughts for a new thread, post-holiday?

Michael said...

Not sure if this is a good subject.. but it might make a good book..."How Consumerism stole my Christmas!" by the Grinch!

Ray thanks for the book link. I think I will start with Chesterton and work my way up from there.

just joe said...

Interesting article on Princeton professor and conservative thinker Robert P. George, a frequent contributor to FIRST THINGS magazine.

New York Times

George’s admirers say he is revitalizing a strain of Catholic natural-law thinking that goes back to St. Thomas Aquinas. His scholarship has earned him accolades from religious and secular institutions alike. In one notable week two years ago, he received invitations to deliver prestigious lectures at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Harvard Law School. His critics, including many of his fellow Catholic scholars, argue that he is turning the church into a tool of Republican Party. They say he is too focused on the mechanics of sex and morality, neglecting the other sides of the Christian message: the corruption of human reason through original sin, the need for forgiveness and charity and the chance for redemption.

just joe said...

(more from the article on George)

He is by all accounts a terrific teacher. (“Awesome,” several undergraduates said in a stack of glowing evaluations he showed me.) Part of the reason may be that he brings almost every philosophical question back to a central debate about the nature of the self, a battle between reason and the passions. Moral philosophy, as George describes it, is a contest between the Greek philosopher Aristotle and the Scottish enlightenment thinker David Hume.

Aristotelians, like St. Thomas Aquinas, hold that there is an objective moral order. Human reason can see it. And we have the free will to follow or not. “In a well-ordered soul, reason’s got the whip hand over emotion,” George told the seminar, in a favorite formulation borrowed from Plato. Humeans — and in George’s view, modern liberals are usually Humeans — disagree. Against Aristotle, Hume argued that the universe includes facts but not values. You cannot derive moral conclusions from studying the world, an “ought” from an “is.” There is no built-in, objective reason for me to choose one goal over another —

Apolojedi said...

Interesting to get a different perspective, especially when it is theological. Thanks Joseph. This gets my juices flowing.

just joe said...

thank to you all and your helpful discussion of books, I've been finding a lot of hidden treasures in my library -- book that I bought a long time ago because they looked interesting, but never found time to read them. First, Brian mentioned Robert Farrar Capon, and I found a book by him on my shelf called "Parables of the Kingdom" and it nearly changed my life.

Now, Ray mentioned Chesterton's book on Saint Thomas Aquinas and Michael said he was going to start with it. I checked, and lo and behold, it was sitting on my shelf. So I now I have another book to read this week before I go back to school.

Understanding Aristotle and Saint Thomas is important for any scholar of Latin America. Thomism was the dominant intellectual paradigm for 500 years of Spanish (and Portuguese) Catholicism, and only reluctantly began to give way to Enlightenment philosophy in the 19th century. In the 1890s, Pope Leo XIII attempted to launch a renewed emphasis on Thomistic philosophy (also known as Christian realism) and directly influenced a generation of scholars such as Jacques Maritain among others.

Now, a new generation of rising conservative thinkers like Robert George are also influenced by neo-Thomism ...

back to my book ...

Apolojedi said...

Joseph - so glad you're pursuing this. Thomism hasn't attained a revival, but the present Pope is a thomist and John Paul II was. JP was more the philosophical pope while Benedict is more a theologian - and quite a good one I may add. I know I run the risk of sounding Catholic, (I was raised Catholic), but they do add an interesting perspective. I'm sure you've discovered how vast the church is and how its politics plays into so much. I enjoy reading the Catholic theologians, especially the non-mystical ones. They have a better grasp on pre-modern theology.