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The Philosophy of Aquinas

The Philosophy of Aquinas

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Published by Dim Bulb
An introduction to Aquinas in the Neo-scholastic tradition by Maurice De Wulf. It is still incomplete but will be updated soon
An introduction to Aquinas in the Neo-scholastic tradition by Maurice De Wulf. It is still incomplete but will be updated soon

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Published by: Dim Bulb on May 04, 2009
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An Introduction To The Philosophy Of St ThomasAquinas
By Maurice De Wulf St Thomas AquinasSt Albertus MagnuseThomas' Teacher
What Follows is taken from THE PHILOSOPHICAL SYSTEM OF ST THOMAS AQUINAS, byMaurice De Wulf. The work is not yet complete, lacking the introduction and the lat two chapters. Italso needs some minor editing, which I will do once it is complete.
The Schoolmen of the thirteenth century paid special attention to the function of knowing and willing.They regarded these as the peculiar and privileged possession of the human race, situated as it is at the boundary where matter and spirit meet. For, the dignity of man results from a certain way of knowingwhich is peculiar to him, and which is called intelligence. This we must define more closely. In order tounderstand in what sense scholasticism can be described as an intellecutualist system of philosophy.What is knowing? An object is known when it is present in a certain way in the knowingconsciousness. When I see a stone lying in the road, the stone is present in me, but not indeed in thematerial way in which it is present outside of me in the external world. For it is perfectly clear that “thestone is not in me so far as its own peculiar existence is concerned.” In the same way, when I graspmentally the constituent nature of the molecule of water, and the law which governs its decomposition,the material composition of the molecule does not in any way enter into or form a part of me; but thereis produced in me a kind of reflection of a non-ego. The privilege of a being which knows consists precisely in this ability of being enriched by something which belongs to something else.
Knowing beings are differentiated from non-knowing beings by this characteristic; non-knowingbeings have only their own reality, but knowing beings are capable of possessing also the realityof something else. For in the knowing being there is the presence of the thing known produced bythis thing.
In what does this presence or reflection of the object in me consist? The schoolmen to not pretend tofathom the mystery of knowledge; their explanation is a mere analysis of the facts revealed byintrospection.Knowing, they observe, is a particular kind of being, a modification, or a vital action of the knowingsubject. “The thing known is present in the knowing subject according to the mode of being of theknowing subject”; it bears its mark. “All knowledge results from a similitude of the thing known in theknowing subject.” These two quotations, which were common sayings, sum up well the view of thethirteenth century psychologists. In consequence, knowledge does not result merely from the thing; butrather, the thing known and the subject knowing cooperate in the production of the phenomenon. Thisintervention of the knowing subject shows us why scholasticism rejected “naive realism’, whichdisregards the action of the knowing subject, and considers the object known as projected in our mindslike an image in a lifeless and passive mirror. On the other hand, since there is an activity of the thingknown upon the knowing subject, our representations of reality will be to some extent faithful andcorresponds to that reality.
It is of great importance to note that scholasticism distinguishes between two different types of knowledge: sense knowledge, and intellectual knowledge. In the case of the first- the perception of anoak tree, for example- everything that I grasp is particularized or individualized, and intimately boundup with conditions of space and time. What I see is1.this oak tree,2.with a trunk of this particular form,3.with a bark of this particular roughness,
4.with these particular branches and these leaves,5.in this particular spot in the forest,6.and which came from a particular acorn at a particular moment in time.If I touch the tree with my hand,1.the resistance which I encounter is this resistance,2.just as the sound I hear in striking the bark is this sound.Our external senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch) put us in contact either with something which is proper and peculiar to the object of one sense and which each sense perceives to the exclusion of allothers (
 sensible proprium
), for instance, color in the case of sight; or else the common object (
) of more than one sense, for instance, shape in the case of sight and touch. But in every casethe reality perceived by sense is always endowed with individuality.The same is true of those sensations which are called internal, and which originate, in the scholasticsystem of classification.1.from sense-memory (a),2.from sense-consciousness (b),3.from instinct (c),4.or from imagination (d).These are simply so many labels attached to psychological facts which have been duly observed andnoted. A few examples will make this clear.(a) Sense-memory: When I have ceased to look at the oak tree, there remains in me an after-image,which is said to be ‘preserved’ in memory, since I am able to ‘reproduce’ it. We thus possess inourselves a storehouse of after-images received through the senses which can be reproduced either spontaneously, or at at the command of the will. It is clear that these vestiges of past sensations,retained and produced in this way, are individualized just as the original sensation. If I picture to myself and oak tree, it will be a picture of 
oak tree. In the same way, when we realize that a sense perception, or a conscious act of our physiological life, has a certain duration, or takes place after another activity, this realization, which itself involves sense-memory, is once more individual andsingular, and presents us with
particular time. The recognition of past time involves reference to particular psychological events, following each other.(b) Sense-consciousness: Moreover, when I look at an oak tree, something tells me that I see. I amaware that I am seeing. My sense perception is followed by ’sense consciousness,’ and the content of this sense-consciousness is particularized. Again, the complex sense cognition of this oak tree as anobject is the result of the coordination of man perceptions coming from different senses: the height of the tree, the roughness of its bark, the hollow sound which its trunk gives when struck. There is reasonto attribute to the higher animals and to man a central sense, which combines the external sense perceptions, compares them, and discriminates between them. But, in this case also, the result of theseoperations is individualized, and if we compare for instance two complete sense perceptions of oak trees, each is itself and not the other.(c) Instinct: We can apply the same to the way in which we recognize that a certain situations isdangerous to us or otherwise. We posses a discriminating power which estimates certain concreteconnections between things. We naturally flee from fire, and a shipwrecked man clutches instinctivelyto a plank, much in the same way as a lamb looks upon a wolf as dangerous, and a bird considers a particular branch of a tree as a suitable resting-place for its nest. This act of sense knowledge is alwaysrelated to a particular, concrete situation.

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