|Part of a series on|
|St. Thomas Aquinas|
Thomism is the philosophical school that arose as a legacy of the work and thought of St. Thomas Aquinas, a devout Catholic priest. The word comes from the name of its originator, whose Summa Theologica was one of the most influential documents in medieval philosophy and continues to be studied today in philosophy classes. In the encyclical Doctoris Angelici, Pope St. Pius X cautioned that the teachings of the Church cannot be understood scientifically without the basic philosophical underpinnings of Aquinas' major thesis:
|“||The capital theses in the philosophy of St. Thomas are not to be placed in the category of opinions capable of being debated one way or another, but are to be considered as the foundations upon which the whole science of natural and divine things is based; if such principles are once removed or in any way impaired, it must necessarily follow that students of the sacred sciences will ultimately fail to perceive so much as the meaning of the words in which the dogmas of divine revelation are proposed by the magistracy of the Church.||”|
St. Thomas Aquinas believed that truth is true wherever it is found, and thus consulted Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Muslim philosophers. Specifically, he was a realist (i.e., that the world can be known as it is, in contrast to skepticism). He largely followed Aristotelian terminology and metaphysics, and wrote comprehensive commentaries on Aristotle, often affirming Aristotle's views with independent arguments. Aquinas quoted Aristotle with respect, referring to him simply as the "Philosopher."
Shortly before Thomas died, Reginald of Piperno implored him to finish his works. Thomas replied, "I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw to me." Apologist Peggy Frye of Catholic Answers comments that "Aquinas’s vision may have been a vision of heaven, compared to which everything else, no matter how glorious, seems worthless."
With the decree Postquam sanctissimus of 27 July 1914, Pope St. Pius X declared that 24 theses formulated by "teachers from various institutions ... clearly contain the principles and more important thoughts" of Aquinas. They represent an admirable summary of Aquinas's system.
Aquinas says that the fundamental axioms of ontology are the principle of non-contradiction and the principle of causality. Therefore, any being that does not contradict these two laws could theoretically exist, even if said being were incorporeal.
Further, the usage of "definition" that Aquinas gives is the genus of the being, plus a difference that sets it apart from the genus itself. For instance, the Aristotelian definition of "man" is "rational animal"; its genus being animal, and what sets apart man from other animals is his rationality.
[E]xistence is twofold: one is essential existence or the substantial existence of a thing, for example man exists, and this is existence simpliciter. The other is accidental existence, for example man is white, and this is existence secundum quid.
In Thomist philosophy, the definition of a being is "that which is," which is composed of two parts: "which" refers to its quiddity (literally "whatness"), and "is" refers to its esse (the Latin infinitive verb "to be"). "Quiddity" is synonymous with essence, form and nature; whereas "esse" refers to the principle of the being's existence. In other words, a being is "an essence that exists."
Being is divided in two ways: that which is in itself (substances), and that which is in another (accidents). Substances are things which exist per se or in their own right. Accidents are qualities that apply to other things, such as shape or color: "[A]ccidents must include in their definition a subject which is outside their genus." Because they only exist in other things, Aquinas holds that metaphysics is primarily the study of substances, as they are the primary mode of being.
The Catholic Encyclopedia pinpoints Aquinas' definition of quiddity as "that which is expressed by its definition." The quiddity or form of a thing is what makes the object what it is: "[T]hrough the form, which is the actuality of matter, matter becomes something actual and something individual." Thus, it consists of two parts: "prime matter" (matter without form), and substantial form, which is what causes a substance to have its characteristics. For instance, an animal can be said to be a being whose matter is its body, and whose soul is its substantial form. Together, these consist of its quiddity/essence.
"In one sense the term cause means (a) that from which, as something intrinsic, a thing comes to be, as the bronze of a statue and the silver of a goblet, and the genera of these. In another sense it means (b) the form and pattern of a thing, i.e., the intelligible expression of the quiddity and its genera (for example, the ratio of 2: 1 and number in general are the cause of an octave chord) and the parts which are included in the intelligible expression. Again, (c) that from which the first beginning of change or of rest comes is a cause; for example, an adviser is a cause, and a father is the cause of a child, and in general a maker is a cause of the thing made, and a changer a cause of the thing changed. Further, a thing is a cause (d) inasmuch as it is an end, i.e., that for the sake of which something is done; for example, health is the cause of walking. For if we are asked why someone took a walk, we answer, "in order to be healthy"; and in saying this we think we have given the cause. And whatever occurs on the way to the end under the motion of something else is also a cause. For example, reducing, purging, drugs and instruments are causes of health; for all of these exist for the sake of the end, although they differ from each other inasmuch as some are instruments and others are processes."
Unlike the ancient Greeks, who thought that an infinite chain of causality is possible (and thus held the universe is uncaused and eternal), Aquinas argues an infinite chain never accomplishes its objective and is thus impossible. Hence, a first cause is necessary for the existence of anything to be possible. Further, the first cause must continuously be in action (similar to how there must always be a first chain in a chain link), otherwise the series collapses.
As per the Nicomachean Ethics of Aristotle, Aquinas defines "the good" as what all things strive for. E.g., a cutting knife is said to be good if it is effective at its function, cutting. As all things have a function/final cause, all real things are good. Consequently, evil is nothing but privatio boni, or "lack of good," as St. Augustine of Hippo defined it.
Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv), 'Evil is neither a being nor a good.' I answer that, one opposite is known through the other, as darkness is known through light. Hence also what evil is must be known from the nature of good. Now, we have said above that good is everything appetible; and thus, since every nature desires its own being and its own perfection, it must be said also that the being and the perfection of any nature is good. Hence it cannot be that evil signifies being, or any form or nature. Therefore it must be that by the name of evil is signified the absence of good. And this is what is meant by saying that 'evil is neither a being nor a good.' For since being, as such, is good, the absence of one implies the absence of the other.
Commentating on the aforementioned, Aquinas says that "there is no problem from the fact that some men desire evil. For they desire evil only under the aspect of good, that is, insofar as they think it good. Hence their intention primarily aims at the good and only incidentally touches on the evil."
As God is the ultimate end of all things, God is by essence goodness itself. Furthermore, since love is "to wish the good of another," true love in Thomism is to lead another to God. Hence why St. John the Evangelist says, "Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love."
Aquinas holds that the existence of God can be demonstrated by reason, a view that is still taught by the Catholic Church. The Quinque viae (Latin: five ways) found in the Summa Theologica (I, Q.2, art.4) are five arguments demonstrating the existence of God, which today are categorized as:
The existence of God and other like truths about God, which can be known by natural reason, are not articles of faith, but are preambles to the articles; for faith presupposes natural knowledge, even as grace presupposes nature, and perfection supposes something that can be perfected. Nevertheless, there is nothing to prevent a man, who cannot grasp a proof, accepting, as a matter of faith, something which in itself is capable of being scientifically known and demonstrated.
Aquinas responds to the problem of evil by saying that God allows evil to exist that good may come of it, (for goodness done out of free will is superior than goodness done from biological imperative) but does not personally cause evil Himself. Gottfried Leibniz later expounds on this view in his work Théodicée (1710), which argues that God has authored the best of all possible worlds, one that requires the existence of evil to be optimal.
Aquinas held the orthodox Christian view of God. Accordingly, he implicitly contradicted Aristotle's view of God as a being that is not omniscient; Aquinas held that not only did God have knowledge of everything, God himself is knowledge. Further, he held that because God is the first cause of the universe, it is consequently true that the universe is not eternal.
God, according to Aquinas, is the sole being whose existence is the same as His essence: "what subsists in God is His existence." (Hence why God names himself "I AM WHO AM" in Exodus 3:14.) Consequently, God cannot be a body (that is, He cannot be composed of matter), He cannot have any accidents, and He must be simple (that is, not separated into parts; the Trinity is one substance in three persons). Further, He is goodness itself, perfect, infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, happiness itself, knowledge itself, love itself, omnipresent, immutable, and eternal. Summing up these properties, Aquinas offers the term actus purus (Latin: "actual perfection") as a composite.
Aquinas was an advocate of negative theology, which says that due to God's infinity, people can only speak of God in terms of analogy, for some of the aspects of the divine nature are hidden (Deus absconditus) and others revealed (Deus revelatus) to finite human minds. Thomist philosophy holds that we can know about God through his creation (general revelation), but only in an analogous manner. For instance, we can speak of God's goodness only by understanding that goodness as applied to humans is similar to, but not identical with, the goodness of God. Further, he argues that sacred scripture employs figurative language: "Now it is natural to man to attain to intellectual truths through sensible objects, because all our knowledge originates from sense. Hence in Holy Writ, spiritual truths are fittingly taught under the likeness of material things."
In order to demonstrate God's creative power, Aquinas says: "If a being participates, to a certain degree, in an 'accident,' this accidental property must have been communicated to it by a cause which possesses it essentially. Thus iron becomes incandescent by the action of fire. Now, God is His own power which subsists by itself. The being which subsists by itself is necessarily one." This idea is also expounded by Bahya ibn Paquda in his Duties of the Heart.
In addition to agreeing with the Aristotelian definition of man as "the rational animal," Aquinas also held various other beliefs about the substance of man. For instance, as the essence (nature) of all men are the same, and the definition of being is "an essence that exists," humans that are real therefore only differ by their specific qualities. More generally speaking, all beings of the same genus have the same essence, and so long as they exist, only differ by accidents and substantial form.
Aquinas affirms Aristotle's definition of happiness as "an operation according to perfect virtue," and that "happiness is called man's supreme good, because it is the attainment or enjoyment of the supreme good." Regarding what the virtues are, Aquinas ascertained the cardinal virtues to be prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude. The cardinal virtues are natural and revealed in nature, and they are binding on everyone. There are, however, three theological virtues: faith, hope, and charity (which is used interchangeably with love in the sense of agape). These are supernatural and are distinct from other virtues in their object, namely, God.
In accordance with Roman Catholic theology, Aquinas argues that humans can neither wish nor do good without divine grace. Therefore, happiness is attained through the perseverance of virtue given by the Grace of God, which is not fully attained on earth; only at the beatific vision. Notably, man cannot attain true happiness without God.
Regarding emotion (used synonymously with the word "passion" in this context), which Aquinas defines as "a movement of the sensitive appetite when we imagine good or evil" following St. John Damascene, Thomism repudiates both the Epicurean view that happiness consists in pleasure (sensual experiences that invoke positive emotion), and the Stoic view that emotions are vices by nature. Aquinas takes a moderate view of emotion, quoting St. Augustine: "They are evil if our love is evil; good if our love is good." While most emotions are morally neutral, some are inherently virtuous (e.g. pity) and some are inherently vicious (e.g. envy).
Thomist ethics hold that it is necessary to observe both circumstances and intention to determine an action's moral value, and therefore Aquinas cannot be said to be strictly either a deontologicalist or a consequentialist. Rather, he would say that an action is morally good if it fulfills God's antecedent will.
Of note is the principle of double effect, formulated in the Summa, II-II, Q.64, art.7, which is a justification of homicide in self-defense. Previously experiencing difficulties in the world of Christian philosophy, the doctrine of Just War was expounded by Aquinas with this principle. He says:
In order for a war to be just, three things are necessary. First, the authority of the sovereign by whose command the war is to be waged... Secondly, a just cause is required, namely that those who are attacked, should be attacked because they deserve it on account of some fault... Thirdly, it is necessary that the belligerents should have a rightful intention, so that they intend the advancement of good, or the avoidance of evil...
The development of natural law is one of the most influential parts of Thomist philosophy. Aquinas says that "[the law of nature] is nothing other than the light of the intellect planted in us by God, by which we know what should be done and what should be avoided. God gave this light and this law in creation... For no one is ignorant that what he would not like to be done to himself he should not do to others, and similar norms." This reflects St. Paul the Apostle's argument in Romans 2:15, that the "work of the law [is] written in [the Gentiles'] hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them."
... just as by moving natural causes [God] does not prevent their acts being natural, so by moving voluntary causes He does not deprive their actions of being voluntary: but rather is He the cause of this very thing in them; for He operates in each thing according to its own nature.
Thomism is opposed to Molinism in how they view God's grace in relation to free will. Aquinas argued that God offers man cooperative grace, whereas Luis de Molina held that God's grace was given based on a middle knowledge.
Aquinas adhered to the correspondence theory of truth, which says that something is true "when it conforms to the external reality." Therefore, any being that exists can be said to be true insofar that it participates in the world.
Aristotle's De anima (On the Soul) divides the mind into three parts: sensation, imagination and intellection. When one perceives an object, his mind composites a sense-image. When he remembers the object he previously sensed, he is imagining its form (the image of the imagination is often translated as "phantasm"). When he extracts information from this phantasm, he is using his intellect. Consequently, all human knowledge concerning universals (such as species and attributes) are derived from the phantasm ("the received is in the receiver according to the mode of the receiver"), which itself is a recollection of an experience. Concerning the question of "Whether the intellect can actually understand through the intelligible species of which it is possessed, without turning to the phantasms?" in the Summa Theologica, Aquinas quotes Aristotle in the sed contra: "the soul understands nothing without a phantasm." Hence the peripatetic axiom. (Another conclusion to be drawn from this is that error is a result of drawing false conclusions based on our sensations.)
Aquinas' epistemological theory would later be classified as empiricism, for holding that sensations are a necessary step in acquiring knowledge, and that deductions cannot be made from pure reason.
Saint Thomas was important in shifting the influence of scholastic medieval philosophy away from neoplatonism and towards Aristotle. In this he was influenced by contemporary Islamic philosophy, especially the work of Averroes. The ensuing school of thought, through its influence on Catholicism and the ethics of the Catholic school, is by any standard one of the most influential philosophies of all time, also significant due to the sheer number of people living by its teachings.
Thomism's affirmation was not at all easy and quick. Even before Aquinas' death, Stephen Tempier, Bishop of Paris, forbade certain positions associated with Aquinas (especially Aquinas' denial of both universal hylomorphism and a plurality of substantial forms in a single substance) to be taught in the Faculty of Arts at Paris. Through the influence the more traditional Augustinian theologians, some theses of Aquinas were condemned in 1277 by the ecclesiastical authorities of Paris and Oxford (the most important theological schools in Middle Age Europe). The Franciscan Order vehemently opposed the ideas of the Dominican Thomas, while the Dominicans quickly and institutionally took up the defense of his work (1286), and soon thereafter adopted it as an official philosophy of the order to be taught in their studia. Early opponents of Aquinas include William de la Mare, Henry of Ghent, Giles of Rome, and Jon Duns Scotus.
Early, noteworthy defenders of Aquinas were his former teacher St. Albertus Magnus, the ill-fated Richard Knapwell, William Macclesfeld, Giles of Lessines, John of Quidort (a lay master), Bernard of Auvergne, and Thomas of Sutton. The canonization of St. Thomas Aquinas in 1323 led to revoking the condemnation of 1277. Later, Aquinas and his school would find a formidable opponent in the via moderna, particularly in William of Ockham and his adherents.
Thomism remained for quite a long time a doctrine held principally by Dominican theologians, such as Giovanni Capreolo (1380–1444) or Tommaso de Vio (1468–1534). Eventually, in the 16th century, Thomas found a stronghold on the Iberian Peninsula, through for example the Dominicans Francisco de Vitoria (particularly noteworthy for his work in natural law theory), Domingo de Soto (notable for his work on economic theory), John of St. Thomas, and Domingo Báñez; the Carmelites of Salamanca (i.e., the Salmanticenses); and even, in a way, the newly formed Jesuits, particularly Francisco Suárez, and Luis de Molina.
The Modern Period brought considerable difficulty for Thomism. By the 19th century, Aquinas' theological doctrine was often presented in seminaries through his Jesuit manualist interpreters, who often adopted his theology in an eclectic way, while his philosophy was often neglected altogether in favor of modern philosophers. And in all this, the Dominican Order, was having demographic difficulties. Pope Leo XIII attempted a Thomistic revival, particularly with his 1879 encyclical Aeterni Patris and his establishment of the Leonine Commission, established to produce critical editions of Aquinas's opera omnia. This encyclical served as the impetus for the rise of Neothomism, which brought an emphasis on the ethical parts of Thomism, as well as a large part of its views on life, humans, and theology, are found in the various schools of Neothomism (which arose in response to the 1879 encyclical Aeterni Patris encouraging the revival of Thomism). Neothomism held sway as the dominant philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church until the Second Vatican Council, which seemed to confirm the significance of Ressourcement theology. Thomism remains a vibrant and challenging school of philosophy today, and influential in Catholicism, though "The Church has no philosophy of her own nor does she canonize any one particular philosophy in preference to others." According to one of its most famous and controversial proponents, Alasdair MacIntyre, a Thomistic Aristotelianism is the best philosophical theory so far of our knowledge of external reality and of our own practice.
In recent years, the prominent cognitive neuroscientist Walter Freeman proposes that Thomism is the philosophical system explaining cognition that is most compatible with neurodynamics, in a 2008 article in the journal Mind and Matter entitled "Nonlinear Brain Dynamics and Intention According to Aquinas."
Aquinas's doctrines, because of their close relationship with those of Jewish philosophy, found great favor among Jews. Judah Romano (born 1286) translated Aquinas's ideas from Latin into Hebrew under the title Ma'amar ha-Mamschalim, together with other small treatises extracted from the "Contra Gentiles" ("Neged ha-Umot").
Eli Hobillo (1470) translated, without the Hebrew title, the "Quæstiones Disputatæ," "Quæstio de Anima," his "De Animæ Facultatibus," under the title "Ma'amar be-KoḦot ha-Nefesh," (edited by Jellinek); his "De Universalibus" as "Be-Inyan ha-Kolel"; "Shaalot Ma'amar beNimẓa we-biMehut."
Abraham Nehemiah ben Joseph (1490) translated Saint Thomas' "Commentarii in Metaphysicam." According to Moses Almosnino, Isaac Abravanel desired to translate the "Quæstio de Spiritualibus Creaturis." Abravanel indeed seems to have been well acquainted with the philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas, whom he mentions in his work "Mif'alot Elohim" (vi. 3). The physician Jacob Zahalon (d. 1693) translated some extracts from the Summa contra Gentiles.
Aquinas did not disdain to draw upon Jewish philosophical sources. His main work, the Summa Theologica, shows a profound knowledge not only of the writings of Avicebron (Ibn Gabirol), whose name he mentions, but also of most Jewish philosophical works then existing.
Aquinas pronounces himself energetically against the hypothesis of the eternity of the world, in agreement with both Christian and Jewish theology. But as this theory is attributed to Aristotle, he seeks to demonstrate that the latter did not express himself categorically on this subject. "The argument," said he, "which Aristotle presents to support this thesis is not properly called a demonstration, but is only a reply to the theories of those ancients who supposed that this world had a beginning and who gave only impossible proofs. There are three reasons for believing that Aristotle himself attached only a relative value to this reasoning..." In this Aquinas paraphrases Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed, where those reasons are given.
Thomism began to decline in popularity in the modern period, which was inaugurated by René Descartes' works Discourse on the Method in 1637 and Meditations on First Philosophy in 1641. The Cartesian doctrines of mind-body dualism and the fallibility of the senses implicitly contradicted Aristotle and Aquinas:
But, meanwhile, I feel greatly astonished when I observe [the weakness of my mind, and] its proneness to error. For although, without at all giving expression to what I think, I consider all this in my own mind, words yet occasionally impede my progress, and I am almost led into error by the terms of ordinary language. We say, for example, that we see the same wax when it is before us, and not that we judge it to be the same from its retaining the same color and figure: whence I should forthwith be disposed to conclude that the wax is known by the act of sight, and not by the intuition of the mind alone, were it not for the analogous instance of human beings passing on in the street below, as observed from a window. In this case I do not fail to say that I see the men themselves, just as I say that I see the wax; and yet what do I see from the window beyond hats and cloaks that might cover artificial machines, whose motions might be determined by springs? But I judge that there are human beings from these appearances, and thus I comprehend, by the faculty of judgment alone which is in the mind, what I believed I saw with my eyes.
In describing Thomism as a philosophy of common sense, G. K. Chesterton wrote:
Since the modern world began in the sixteenth century, nobody's system of philosophy has really corresponded to everybody's sense of reality; to what, if left to themselves, common men would call common sense. Each started with a paradox; a peculiar point of view demanding the sacrifice of what they would call a sane point of view. That is the one thing common to Hobbes and Hegel, to Kant and Bergson, to Berkeley and William James. A man had to believe something that no normal man would believe, if it were suddenly propounded to his simplicity; as that law is above right, or right is outside reason, or things are only as we think them, or everything is relative to a reality that is not there. The modern philosopher claims, like a sort of confident man, that if we will grant him this, the rest will be easy; he will straighten out the world, if he is allowed to give this one twist to the mind...
Against all this the philosophy of St. Thomas stands founded on the universal common conviction that eggs are eggs. The Hegelian may say that an egg is really a hen, because it is a part of an endless process of Becoming; the Berkelian may hold that poached eggs only exist as a dream exists, since it is quite as easy to call the dream the cause of the eggs as the eggs the cause of the dream; the Pragmatist may believe that we get the best out of scrambled eggs by forgetting that they ever were eggs, and only remembering the scramble. But no pupil of St. Thomas needs to addle his brains in order adequately to addle his eggs; to put his head at any peculiar angle in looking at eggs, or squinting at eggs, or winking the other eye in order to see a new simplification of eggs. The Thomist stands in the broad daylight of the brotherhood of men, in their common consciousness that eggs are not hens or dreams or mere practical assumptions; but things attested by the Authority of the Senses, which is from God.—Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas, p. 136.