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Archetypes of Wisdom. Douglas J. Soccio Chapter 8 The Scholar: Thomas Aquinas. Learning Objectives. On completion of this chapter, you should be able to answer the following questions: What is theology? What is Scholasticism? What is the Argument from Motion?

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Archetypes of Wisdom

Douglas J. Soccio

Chapter 8

The Scholar: Thomas Aquinas

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Learning Objectives

  • On completion of this chapter, you should be able to answer the following questions:

    • What is theology?

    • What is Scholasticism?

    • What is the Argument from Motion?

    • What is the Cosmological Argument?

    • What is the Argument from Necessity?

    • What is the Principle of Sufficient Reason?

    • What is the Principle of Plenitude?

    • What is the Argument from Gradation?

    • What is the Teleological Argument?

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The God-Centered Universe

  • Whereas the classical mind was predominantly secular, the medieval mind was chiefly theological.

  • Theology, from the Greek theos (God) and logos (study of), means “the science or study of God.”

  • The Middle Ages was philosophy’s turn from the study of man and nature to “otherworldly” inquiries and the study of God.

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The Seeds of Change

  • The Christian religion arose after the death of Jesus Christ, through the efforts of the early apostles and disciples, especially Paul.

  • Christianity originally consisted of scattered groups of believers who anticipated the Second Coming of Christ, which would signal the end of the world.

  • Thinking they would soon be in heaven, early Christians saw no need to develop political interests. They were also uninterested in science and philosophy and remained indifferent to much that went on around them. Their chief concern was salvation through faith.

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The Need to ReconcileFaith and Reason

  • Most of us are rational creatures for whom it is somehow unsatisfying to accept contradictions and serious inconsistencies concerning something as important as our religious faith.

  • The basic principles of reason – also called rules of inference – define the limits of rationality.

  • That is, constantly violating them moves us into the realm of the irrational or illogical. They cannot be rationally refuted, since we rely on them in order to reason.

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The Law of Contradiction

  • One of the most important rules of inference is the law of contradiction. It says that no statement can be both true and false at the same time and under the same conditions.\

    A statement (p) and its opposite (~p) is a contradiction,

    and so is necessarily false.

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Augustine: Between Two Worlds

  • Aurelius Augustine (354-430 C.E.) has been described as “a colossus bestriding two worlds” for his efforts to synthesize early Christian theology with his own understanding of Platonic philosophy and Manichean dualism.

  • Manichean dualism is the belief that God and Satan are nearly evenly matched in a cosmic struggle, and that human beings must choose sides.

  • Augustine set in motion a major shift from the human-centric classical worldview to the God-centered medieval worldview.

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Life of Augustine

  • By his own account, Augustine lived a wanton, worldly life, in the North African city of Tagaste, in the province of Numidia, until he was thirty three years old.

  • Eventually, under the prodding of his mother and the bidding of Ambrose (c. 339-397C.E.), the Bishop of Milan, Augustine turned to the Bible.

  • After his conversion to Christianity, he sold his inheritance, gave the money to the poor, and founded the Augustinian Order, the oldest Christian monastic order in the West.

  • In 396 C.E., he was ordained Bishop of Hippo, a Roman coastal city in North Africa. It was a post he held for thirty four years.

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Augustine’s Ideals

  • Augustine of Hippo wrote more than 230 treatises including the Confessions (c. 400) and the City of God (413-426).

  • He rejected Platonism, Epicureanism, and Stoicism as ways of life.

  • Augustine argued that faith and reason can be reconciled. By itself, without faith, reason is powerless - even perverse - without the right will, without a will grounded in grace, love, and proper longing.

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Augustine’s Works

  • After his conversion, Augustine produced more than 230 treatises, two of which – the Confessions (c.400 C.E.) and TheCity of God (413-426 C.E.) – remain important philosophical works for Christians and non-Christians alike.

  • The City of God details the fall of Rome in terms of a full-fledged philosophy of history, the first philosophy of history ever. By arguing that the fall of Rome was part of the Christian – not pagan – God’s plan, The City of God signals the end of the ancient worldview.

  • Augustine’s Confessions are considered by some scholars to be the first true autobiography.

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The Life of Thomas Aquinas

  • Born near Naples, Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274) chose to join the Dominican order, though his family insisted that he become a Benedictine monk.

  • Even after his family held him captive for months (and some say sent a provocatively dressed girl to tempt him), Aquinas resisted. He was even able to write a treatise On Fallacies while in captivity.

  • He studied in Cologne with Albertus Magnus, or Albert the Great (c. 1200-1280), then at the University of Paris.

  • Albertus pressed him to ground the Christian faith in philosophy and science. Otherwise, the church would lose influence due great advances in secular knowledge.

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The Wisdom of the Scholar

  • The term scholasticism refers to mainstream Christian philosophy in medieval Europe from about 1000 to about 1300 C.E., and comes from the Greek scholastikos, meaning “to devote one’s free time to learning.”

  • Medieval scholars were the first professors of philosophy; their task was to teach, expound on texts, and publish educational summations of official doctrine.

  • The emergence of the scholastic professor of philosophy reflects a move away from the sophos to a less personal view of the thinker as part of a scholarly community.

  • Thomas Aquinas was an archetype of the scholastic philosopher.

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God and Natural Reason

  • In Aquinas’ time, as in our own, there were conflicting claims about what constituted proper “standards of evidence” for evaluating matters of theology.

  • Aquinas approached this problem from an Aristotelian, “naturalistic” position, sometimes referred to as natural theology because it appeals to natural reason or intelligence.

  • Natural reason here means reason that is unaided by divine revelation. Natural theology is an attempt to “prove” God’s existence by appealing to concrete experience and empirical evidence.

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Proving the Existence of God

  • Aquinas aimed to demonstrate God’s existence through what has become known as the Five Ways (or Five Arguments).

  • The First Way is the argument from motion: that motion must be given to each object by an object that is already moving.

  • The Second Way is the argument from cause, also known as the cosmological argument: that it is impossible for any natural thing to be the complete and sufficient source of its own existence.

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The Third Way

  • The Third Way is the argument from necessity.

  • It states that some things are only possible but others are necessary.

  • It relies on the principle of sufficient reason(that nothing happens without a reason) and the principle of plenitude (that given infinity and the richness of the universe, any real possibility must occur).

  • God is the necessary reason that only possible things actually happen.

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Gradation and Teleology

  • The first three arguments fail to establish that God is a good and loving being. In the fourth and fifth arguments, Aquinas makes a qualitative shift in his proofs.

  • The Fourth Way, the argument from gradation, rests on the idea of qualitative differences among kinds of beings, which ascend in order from the simplest right up to God (an idea later described as “the Great Chain of Being”).

  • The Fifth Way, known as the teleological argument, or the argument from design, is based on the idea that order, or design, doesn’t arise on its own. Since there is order in the world, something capable of ordering a world on such a grand scale must have put it there.

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The Problem of Evil

  • The problem of evil is arguably the most important theological question.

  • Essentially,

    • If God can prevent the destructive suffering of the innocent, yet chooses not to, He is not good.

    • If God chooses to prevent the suffering, but cannot, He is not omnipotent.

    • If God cannot recognize the suffering of the innocent, He is not wise.

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The Problem of Evil

  • Quick answers to the problem of evil are usually worse than no answers because they involve obvious absurdities or suggest a callousness that is inconsistent with charity.

  • The real force of the problem of evil comes back to justifying preventable evil and suffering.

  • Aquinas said that there is a solution to the problem of evil:

    • “Though God did not deliberately will evil, He willed the real possibility of evil. Evil must always be possible when love and goodness are free choices.”

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Overview of Modern Themes

  • The Enlightenment, or the Age of Reason, began in the first half of the seventeenth century with the publication of two seminal texts:

    • Sir Francis Bacon’s Novum Organon (1620)

    • René Descartes’s Discourse on Method (1637)

  • Both thinkers - in particular Descartes - challenged the cumbersome and complex disputations of Scholastic philosophy.

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Reason, Reformation and Revolution

  • Along with Descartes, modern philosophy includes David Hume and Immanuel Kant.

  • The Reformation and the Copernican Revolution signaled a major shift from the medieval worldview, with its organic emphasis on a God-centered, earth-centered universe in which everything had an allotted place in a fixed hierarchy.

  • The modern worldview, in stark contrast, moved the earth from the center of the universe and put the reasoning individual at the forefront of philosophy.

  • Objective and methodical reason replaced faith on the path to truth.

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Abuses of the Catholic Church

  • By the 14th century, the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and of the pope had eroded.

  • The credibility of the papacy was severely damaged by corruption, disputes and scandals. These abuses led to cries for reform.

  • Martin Luther (1483-1546), a Roman Catholic Augustinian monk and professor at the University of Wittenberg, began the Protestant Reformation in Germany on October 31, 1517.

  • Martin Luther was eventually excommunicated from the Church in 1521.

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The Reformation

  • Martin Luther nailed ninety-five theses (criticisms of church teachings and practices) to the church door.

  • The philosophical significance of Luther’s move lay in its implication that individual experience and interpretation are more truly Christian than unquestioning acceptance of an official, authoritative position.

  • Luther’s revolt against institutionalized authority is one of the major markers of the decline of the medieval worldview.

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A Geocentric Worldview

  • In the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed that the universe was carefully created by God, and that human beings were the purpose of His creation.

  • The world of nature was thus thought to reflect a spiritual order.

  • This geocentric worldview (with the earth at the center of the universe) can be both comforting and reassuring.

  • If the universe manifests designed order, then each of us is assured that we “belong” where we are.

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Aristotle and Ptolemy’s Cosmologies

  • According to Aristotle, the earth was the unmoving center of the universe and the sun, moon and planets moved in semiregular “epicycles” around it.

  • Ptolemy, an astronomer of the second century C. E., gave Aristotle’s ideas even more weight by designing a mathematical model that seemed to predict planetary motions quite well.

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The Copernican Revolution

  • However, by the fifteenth century, the Ptolemaic model no longer matched the observed positions of the planets.

  • Copernican astronomy challenged the authority of Aristotle and the astronomer Ptolemy.

  • This geocentric worldview was overthrown by the astronomer Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543), who proposed a more accurate model with the sun at the center of the universe.

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The Copernican Revolution

  • In reaction to Copernican astronomy, Martin Luther called Copernicus “that fool [who would] reverse the entire art of astronomy…Joshua bade the sun and not the earth to stand still.”

  • Copernicus rendered both church authority and the consensus of unqualified non-astronomers irrelevant.

  • His careful application of reason and observation began a revolution in both astronomy and philosophical thought.

  • Once Copernicus’s work was known, the earth was cut loose from its central place of honor, and became just one more planet revolving around the sun. If the earth was reduced in significance, what about us?

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Where Are We, Then?

  • For almost three centuries, many philosophers remained convinced that, with the exception of “idiots,” people possessed an innate, virtually equal capacity for rational thinking that could be nurtured, developed, and tapped into to produce progressively better lives for each generation.

  • A major task of the Enlightenment was to start anew – just like America, just like each wave of immigrants – and to use reason to accomplish a kind of individual and cultural rebirth, uncluttered by past superstitions and improvable beliefs, to create a “new world” based on objective, universal knowledge.

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Discussion Questions

  • The “problem of evil” has perplexed philosophers, theologians, and others for centuries. How does Thomas Aquinas approach the problem of evil?

  • Do you think he solves it?

  • Do you think it is solvable at all?

  • Give examples of “the problem of evil” as seen in today’s society. Can these problems be solved?

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Principles of Reason (Rules of Inference)

Law of Contradiction


Argument from Motion

Cosmological Argument

Argument from Necessity

Principle of Sufficient Reason

Principle of Plenitude

Argument from Gradation

Teleological Argument

Problem of Evil

Augustine (354-430 C.E.)

Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274)

Martin Luther (1483-1546)

Albertus Magnus (c.1200-1280

Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543)

Ptolemy ( second century C.E.)

Chapter Review:Key Concepts and Thinkers