The dialogue with the modern world UPDATED.

Since, about 1945, Thomists have been told that they can no longer practice thomism like Banez, John of St. Thomas, Cajetan, Capreolus, or any of the so called “manual thomists” that arose after Aeterni Patris like Grenier, Hugon, Gredt. The status of Gerrigou- Lagrange is disputed, but he is usually reckoned among one the guys we’re not supposed to think like any more. The reason given for abandoning these authors is that they are “unable to dialogue with/ speak to the modern world”.

The reason is unclear. If the thomists in question lacked dialectical skill, they did not have a philosophical or theological problem at all. For example, say that all, or at least most, of Algebra teachers and chemists were unable to explain Algebra and chemistry to their students (and anyone who’s worked in education, or gone past seventh grade knows how vast this problem is) is this a problem of Algebra or chemistry? Will a new theorem in chemistry make all those terrible teachers into good, inspiring, and motivating teachers? While a bad teacher can be dry, lifeless, and a scandal to the doctrine he teaches, this would not impugn the subject matter.

The claim, then, should mean something more than “thomists happened to have poor teaching skills”. The method itself, then, must be unable to speak to the people in the modern world. And why don’t we immediately infer from this that modern people are simply unable to appreciate or understand the most proper and well-developed theological method? It can only be because we have already decided, on the basis of some argument that is rarely given anymore, that the Scholastic method as such is a bad way of doing theology.

The older school of modern theologians made this claim more directly: Gilson, for example, would claim that Aristotle’s logic was inadequate to do thomistic metaphysics. Because of this, modern thomists began to claim, and still often claim, that they are being faithful to St. Thomas even though they have wholly abandoned his method: for example, they no longer speak about per se and the per accidens, the four causes, discipleship to Aristotle, the order of the sciences from logic to physics to metaphysics, syllogistic construction of arguments, the primacy of definition- and along with it genus and species and difference and essential considerations, the categorical divisions of the predicates, the shunning of poetic and metaphorical language, and the necessity of dialectic. The new wave of thomists also abandoned later scholastic developments of Aristotelian method: of the emphasis on commentary, the disputed question format, the highly polished universal technical language, the emphasis on brevity, outlining the argument, the necessity of Latin terms etc. Some parts of this method lingered for a while, but not many- and from what I can tell all of these parts are now totally gone.

But having thought about it for a moment, who cares? Any movement that exists to speak to the modern world can only last as long as the modern world. What is this age? Just another stretch of time, which, like any age, has no source within itself making it perennial. Unless doomsday comes first, I can foresee an age where some monk will be reading the Summa while walking through the ancient ruins of an American city. That image should be an illustration of the sort of power we should be tapping into now.

An example of discipleship.

I loved Don Giovanni first because Kierkegaard loved it. I came to love the opera even more than Kierkegaard- and I think he would have wanted it that way. At the same time, by loving something even more than SK, I came to love SK more than I did before, first because I was more confident in his genius, and next because of the debt I owed him.

Knowledge is not a kind of belief, II (or, belief is not the genus of knowledge, part II)

-If belief is the genus of knowledge, then to know something means to believe it. But I know things by simple apprehension that I do not believe: I know the word “rose” but I don’t believe the word rose- to use belief in this way is a error in syntax- like saying “I campaign the word rose”.

-An adequate description includes the genus of a thing. But the adequate description of knowledge does not include the genus belief, for knowledge is to be another as other; whereas belief connotes assent or trust, not being another as other.

-If knowledge is a kind of belief, then the synonyms of knowledge and belief should have the same relation. But awareness is a synonym for knowledge, and trust or confidence is a synonym for belief. But awareness is not a kind of confidence or trust.

-Another point can be made if it is pointed out that sense knowledge is knowledge: for many animals can sense, but belief of disbelief only seems to belong to human beings. Besides this it is wrong to say that smelling something is believing it.

A consideration of living things and their relation to body

I am alive; so is my dog, so are my roses. Are we alive because we are bodies? No- for than any body would be alive, a stone, my hair, the corpse I’ll leave one day. This non bodily cause of life also underlies matter- for the same source of life underlies any living thing as it increases or decreases, and as all its cells die off and are replaced by others.

And so in order to account for why things are alive, we need to invoke a principle that is in some sense not bodily, and in also in some sense not reducible to a body, for it remains the same thoughout changes of mass and changes of material parts.

Knowledge is not a kind of belief- UPDATED

If all knowledge is a kind of belief, then what is not believed is not known; just as if all men are animals, what is not an animal is not a man. But we can know something without believing it: e.g. the meaning of a word.

If knowledge is a species of belief, what is the specific difference? If the difference is something known, then a difference would be the same as the species, which is impossible; if the difference is something unknown, then knowledge would be something unknown, which is impossible.

If knowledge is a kind of belief, then a faculty by which we know is a kind of faculty by which we believe. But we know by intellect producing assent, and believe by will producing assent; and intellect is not a kind of will, but rather the two are separate powers.

krasis as substance

Every substance has a principle within itself that sets it above the elements that it is made out of: this principle in water stands to hydrogen and oxygen like the soul stands to the animal.

The problem of objectivity as arising from a less certain principle

Descartes points out that he is certain that he, a thinker, exists. Russell claims that Descartes could be more certain that thought exists. St. Thomas points out something more certain than either of these: something exists. In this most certain of statements, there is no possibility of limiting the object of our knowledge to something contained in the knowing subject, or in viewing the distinction between subject and object as being a primary and irreducible distinction- for “something” or “being” precinds from, and transcends the distinction between subject and object. If the philosophy that calls itself modern were to truly reduce itself to what is most certain, it would see that the “problem of obectivity” is only a problem if we fail to reduce our knowledge to what is most known to us.

Voluntarism, will to power, willfulness, emotionalism, reason vs. will…

When speaking about the will, whether divine or human, make sure not to confuse what the will is with what the corrupt will is: the idea that will could replace intellect, or be an enemy opposed to it only belongs to the will as corrupted in a man. Will cannot act apart from intellect (qua intellect), and in accordance with it; and intellect cannot be at all without will, and can even be moved by will insofar as it is a certain thing. The faculties are distinct, without being opposed; dependent, yet still having an integral spiritual nature in themselves. Will and intellect are best modeled by mother and father, or husband and wife.


In one sense, we understand everything about a science before we study it- we know that we will only study mathematical things in mathematics and only living things in biology (anything else will have to in some way relate to the subject matter). In another sense very plain sense, we know nothing about a science before we study it. This seeiming paradox proceeds from the fact every science rests on definition, for a definition sets a limit on the thing that is to be known and so contains all the true things that can be known about it, though none explicitly.

A consequence of having a human nature.

By nature, we are already loving God more than ourselves. Our only choice is whether we will live in accordance with what we are.

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