Dr Pravin Thevathasan reviews
Thomas Aquinas: Approaches To Truth,
(James McEvoy & Michael Dunne - Editors)

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Thomas Aquinas: Approaches To Truth, (James McEvoy & Michael Dunne - Editors). Price Hbk £27.50, Four Courts Press

This book consists of papers presented as annual Aquinas lectures delivered at the faculty of the Pontifical University, Maynooth.

In The Other as Oneself: Friendship and Love in the Thought of Thomas Aquinas, James McEvoy discusses St. Thomas' philosophical reflections on friendship. This includes good will, intimacy and the sharing of experience and life. Thomas may have inherited much from Augustine and Aristotle, but he develops his own unique brand of ethical reflection on one's relationship with the 'other'.

The "love of concupiscence," the desire of possession and no bad thing in it self, is contrasted with the "love of friendship." Charity is the love of friendship rooted in God's revelation of Himself to mankind. God is loved for Himself and not only for the gifts He gives us.

Friendship-love has an essential quality about it which makes desire-love accidental by contrast. Only friendship-love is capable of real self-transcendence in the direction of the 'other.'

There is a virtuous love of self, and friendship is no more than the extension to the chosen friend of the love the good man has for himself. Aquinas argues that charity obliges us to love ourselves more than our neighbour: we may not sin even in order to save another from sinning.

St. Thomas Aquinas and the Third Millennium by Leonard Boyle OP is a meditation on the Dominican vocation and apostolate in general. The woman at the well (Jn 4:1-42) is a model of a soul struggling to rise from the preoccupation with material things to a belief in Jesus and His word.

For St. Thomas, she is also the model of a disciple of Jesus. Once she understood, she went, full of zeal, to proclaim the good news to her fellow villagers. But first she listened. Before one rushes to communicate, one first should have something to communicate. Study is of prime importance to apostolic activity. However it is a means to the perfection of charity and should never be seen in isolation.

In The Desire for Happiness as a Way to God by Servais Pinckaers OP, the fundamental question is: what is man's true happiness? In his response, Thomas has recourse to the gospel, the Fathers and the philosophers. God alone can fulfil the human longing for happiness. In his commentary on St. Matthew, Thomas cites the Christ of the Beatitudes as giving the perfect answer to the question of true happiness. What is good is what makes one happy. What is evil is what makes one wretched. One of the tragedies of modern ethics lies in the separation of happiness, which is suspected of egoism, from the good.

The treatise on Happiness in the Secunda Secundae of the Summa Theologiae receives its completion in Question 69 which is devoted to the Beatitudes. In it Thomas describes what for him is the perfection and summit of the spiritual life. With St. Augustine, he holds that the Beatitudes are a preparation for future happiness.

There is for Thomas no distinction between morality and spirituality. The moral life, ordered to the perfection of charity, with the help of the virtues, attains it's fullness in the action of the Holy Spirit working through the gifts. Such things are not reserved for a chosen few but concern all Christians.

In The Spirit of Thomism and the Task of Renewal, John Haldane argues that Catholic philosophy needs to embrace the achievements of twentieth century English language analytical philosophy. There is a view that all analytical philosophers are logical positivists committed to atheism and materialism. Not so.

However, analytical philosophers have two serious failings. Firstly, they lack an appreciation of the historical context and secondly they "proceed without reference to a conception of the overall point of their activities ... they philosophise but they ask not why they do so."

St. Thomas is a philosophical realist. He holds the metaphysical view that the world exists independently of our own experience of it and in epistemology he holds that we may engage with the structure of the world. He is a philosopher of common sense who engages in careful propositional analysis. He is systematic, critical and rigorous in his thinking and, therefore, has all the virtues of a good analytical philosopher.

In Reflections on Evolution in the Light of Philosophical Biology, Brendan Purcell examines the philosophical roots of atheistic evolution. Some Darwinians like Jacques Monod write of the ultimate meaninglessness of all reality. However, biology presupposes that the universe is intelligible and that it is worth investigating in a systematic way. Evolution studies the pathway and mechanism of organic change following the origins of life. Contingent existence is, by definition, existence requiring an existing, non-contingent ground.

Scientists like Behe, for example, have referred to the "irreducible complexity" of blood clotting and the immune system. They could never have occurred gradually or by chance. Berlinski and Behe have concluded that the ordered complexity revealed by modern biology is the result of intelligent design.

Why has Darwinian theory been defended as if it were unchangeable? Because, along with Marxism, it has been one of the two great secular faiths of our age. The problem is partly owing to Darwin's failure to make the distinction between science and metaphysics, natural science and revelation. More recently Stephen Hawking has attempted to answer a question that science does not ask: why is there something rather than nothing?

In part it would appear that the advance of "scientism" has been owing to a rejection of metaphysics.

In Thomas Aquinas on the Separated Souls Natural Knowledge, John Wippel begins with some basic Thomist concepts on the soul. Thomas is credited for overcoming Platonic dualism in his philosophy of human nature: the soul is the substantial form of the body. Did his thought regarding the soul's cognitive activities in its state of separation evolve? Yes, according to the Thomist, Anton Pegis among others. After a careful analysis of the relevant texts, Wippel disagrees.

It is evident that when the soul is united to the body, it's vision is directed at lower things. When separated from the body, it's vision will be unrestricted and capable of receiving things from higher substances without any dependence on phantasms. It will know itself directly by intuiting its own essence. By it's natural knowledge the soul will know all natural things in a universal but general way.

Thomas' later treatment of the subject restricts the separated soul's knowledge to only certain individuals.

In Truth as Good: a Reflection on Fides et Ratio, Alasdair MacIntyre begins by noting that the fundamental purpose of the encyclical is to discuss truth itself. Unlike Aeterni Patris, an encyclical about philosophy, Fides et Ratio is a philosophical encyclical. Relativism with regard to truth stands condemned while Aquinas' realistic account of truth is commended: there is a causal relationship between our mind and the real things about which it judges.

For Aquinas, truth is the conformity of thing and intellect. The pursuit of truth, our desire to know and understand, our reflection on the meaning of suffering and death are all part of our philosophical reflections. As such, all human beings are in a certain sense philosophers. The role of the professional philosopher is to articulate these truths more systematically.

Faith and reason are not in conflict. A life dedicated to the pursuit of sanctity need not exclude the pursuit of philosophical enquiry whose good is truth. St. Thomas and St. Edith Stein are prime examples of this.

In Aquinas on CD-ROM: a Guide to Electronic Consultation, Michael Dunne provides an introduction to the originality of information technology--specifically on the possibilities opened up by the Aquinas CD-ROM. He had collaborated with Professor Robert Busa SJ in its creation.

These articles are uniformly excellent and eminently readable. They are a happy reminder of the growing interest in the thoughts and works of the Angelic Doctor.

Dr. Pravin Thevathasan MRCPsych


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