In which I stayed up too late citing Aquinas and Locke,
and could really have used the sleep,
and some dinner.
In the sections of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding that are dedicated to empirical science, Locke shows at length how the whole scholastic method of philosophy is intrinsically hostile to empirical science. He was no fool; he knew at whose works he was really aiming. And while I, like you, have made the journey from nominalism to realism, I think we can have realism without the scholastic method of philosophy, and if we value empirical science we must do so.
In short, you seem to think the only really important fight is between Aquinas and Augustine, who occupies the more militantly anti-rationalist space on Aquinas’ metaphysical “Right,” to use a political metaphor. But there is also space on Aquinas’ metaphysical “Left,” and the question between you and I is whether the golden mean lies where Aquinas is, or further to his Left.
(source: Et Seq. | Hang Together)
I’m just struggling to understand your stake in all of this, Greg. I do understand that Locke had to make choices in a pretty highly charged environment, and we both have friends who have to do the same, but I really don’t see how that figures into a general understanding of their place in the history of ideas.
More to the point, I’m not sure why we’re discussing this when the salient fact remains that there is no significant difference between “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Act” and “Kicking Unborn Child Act” to discuss; it makes no difference what level of medical knowledge you have, if you are committed to ignoring it to save a false principle.
From my perspective, Augustine and Aquinas are high points in an unfolding of Christian understanding of all things; Augustine’s work was perhaps the most developed expression of the relationship of divine revelation to all human knowing available, and the most tightly integrated with the period from Christ through the great Councils recognized by all Christians, and the most capable in using secular/pagan categories of understanding and rhetoric to relate revelation to all areas of thought and life.
There is a vulnerability in the tradition after Augustine, as there always is after a seminal thinker achieves a durable synthesis: reduction to a flawed, less-than-the-reality-discussed, syllabus of rote points. In the case of Augustine, the achievement and limitations of Boethius in transmitting the Platonic elements of the tradition combined with Augustine’s own Platonic antecedents and stylistic preferences. (We also have to include the popularity of Dionysius the Aeropagite [pseudo-Dionysius] and the constant inroads of Gnostic/Manichaean/Paulician/Bogomil/Cathar heresy, as well.) The difficulty in tying the Platonic tradition down–of recapturing the synthesis that seemed possible when reading Augustine–was the lack of articulation with reality. As a result, unbalanced secularization or spiritualization threatened the effort to articulate divine truth with human lived experience in every area of life–politics, medicine, cosmology, sanctification, agriculture, etc.
What Aquinas achieved, I am convinced, was to recover Augustine from that reduction–to defend against that vulnerability to dualistic misinterpretation–by judicious application of Aristotle. Aristotle had improved on Plato precisely by better articulating the junctures of world/mind, matter/form, real/ideal; he made it “philosophical” to build up an understanding of real things from observations of their properties.
Aquinas was not a scientist, himself, nor primarily concerned with such knowledge. Nobody would claim that he was. Albert the Great, his mentor, was profoundly interested in such knowledge, and defends empirical study, but spent his career bringing all the knowledge already recorded in Aristotle forward to a Western Europe that had been groping about for some sufficiently rich understanding of the world.
I see no reason to conclude that Aquinas believed himself to have advanced a best or final method of primary research, either. Continue reading