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Thomas Aquinas

Who was Thomas Aquinas and what made him known as the greatest medieval philosopher?

St. Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) was born in Rocaseca, Italy. He began his religious studies in a Benedictine monastery and studied liberal arts at the University of Naples. He entered the Dominican Order of Preachers when he was only 20. He studied theology in Paris, attaining his doctorate in 1256, and taught there until 1259. Aquinas then lectured on theology and philosophy at Dominican monasteries near Rome, and then returned to the University of Paris. He taught for a year in Naples in 1272. Aquinas died near his place of birth, while traveling to a church council in Lyons.

During his teaching career, which spanned from 1252 to 1273, Aquinas wrote extensively. He lucidly solved long-standing problems in the interpretation of Aristotle, made clear distinctions between Christian theology and philosophy, and demonstrated how the two were compatible on many subtle points.

What are the major works of Thomas Aquinas?

Aquinas (1224-1274) wrote prodigiously throughout his life, and his works include commentaries on the writings of Aristotle, reports on Albertus Magnus' (1200-1280) lectures, a commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (c. 1095-1160), and other philosophical treatises such as On Being and Essence and On the Principles of Nature, as well as On the Unity of the Intellect against the Averroists. He is most famous for his Summa against the Gentiles and Summa on Theology.

What were Thomas Aquinas' main original ideas?

Although Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) was deeply influenced by the work of the Aristotielians, as well as the stoics, Neoplatonists, and St. Augustine (354-430), his resolution of past philosophy with christian theology is considered unique. Many of his solutions to standing problems display moderation without intellectual compromise. For instance, his position on universals (whether or not general terms name general things that exist), is even called "moderate realism." Aquinas did not believe that universals exist, but he did posit a foundation outside of the human mind for universals and truths about them. That foundation was the fact that individual things of the same kind, which are referred to by the name of that kind (e.g., specific cats that are called "cats") have real similarities and resemblances. Whether or not this solution did more than restate the problem remains an open question, but it definitely impressed many as a new way of thinking about the old problem of universals.

Was Aquinas able to solve the conflict between faith and reason?

St. Thomas Aquinas sits between Aristotle and Plato; St. Thomas is still considered one of the most important philosophers to have ever lived (Art Archive).

St. Thomas Aquinas sits between Aristotle and Plato; St. Thomas is still considered one of the most important philosophers to have ever lived (Art Archive).

Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) redefined faith as a kind of knowledge, rather than as a specific feeling or attitude of mind. As such, he said that faith fell between opinion and scientific knowledge. Faith was greater than opinion because it involved strong agreement, as an act of will, and it was less than scientific knowledge because it lacked factual evidence that could compel agreement.

Aquinas thought that philosophy was reasoning based on existing knowledge or experience, leading to new knowledge, which he called "the way of discovery." He held that philosophy was also the use of reason to confirm beliefs by tracing them back to basic principles, which he called "the way of reduction." Philosophy becomes theology if the beliefs one begins with are based on faith. There are, in turn, two kinds of theology: truths in Scripture that are learned for their own sake, and metaphysics or explanations based on religious principles.

Despite his theological idea of metaphysics, Aquinas did distinguish between philosophy and theology. For instance, in De Aeternitate Mundi, although he held the religious belief that the universe was not eternal, he said that it might be eternal based on philosophical reasoning. In general, apart from religious revelation, Aquinas

Did St. Aquinas really have a recipe for making mice?

Like many of his contemporaries, Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) believed in the spontaneous generation of insects and vermin. The doctrine of spontaneous generation held that life could literally just appear without the prior presence of parent organisms. This biological mythology went back to Aristotle and is in fact strangely empirical, if you think about it. Flies, for example, do suddenly seem to appear out of rotting garbage. It took a long time—well into the seventeenth century—to discover that the maggots they spring from come from eggs laid by parent flies.

Aquinas thought that insects sprang to life in filth, owing to the Devil's influence. He thought that the development of mice, however, depended on changes in the positions of the stars. As "proof" of this origin of baby mice, Aquinas had a recipe: Take some old rags and wheat and leave them undisturbed in a drawer for a while (to give the stars enough time to exert their effects) and then take a peek. Again, there is a crude empiricism at work here. If there are mice in a dwelling, its inhabitants rarely see them breed, and rarer still do they observe female mice building nests and giving birth. If this has happened in a neglected drawer, all that may be evident when one suddenly opens it is the litter of pink babies when the last time one looked there was nothing but old rags and wheat. (If you try this at home, the wheat is probably unnecessary, although the mother mouse will doubtless appreciate it.)

believed that we get our knowledge from sense experience and our intellectual understanding of our sense experience.

What were Aquinas' views on science?

As an Aristotelian, Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) believed that every object has its proper place. He also held the Eudoxian astronomical view that Earth was in the center of 49 to 53 concentric spheres. However, he thought that scientific conclusions required judgment and assessment, so that all findings and reports should be considered and compared. He also believed that scientific information could be changed and revised, which is a strong tenet of modern empiricism.

What did Aquinas think about the soul?

Although Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) carefully and meticulously investigated what was known in general about human senses, intellect, will, and emotions, he believed that the human being is the whole of all these faculties or "powers." Simply put, the physical body is the matter or material of a human being, and its form or soul is its "substantial form." That the soul can understand general truths and exercise free will proves its non-materiality. The reality of the soul is its spirituality. Because the soul cannot be divided, it cannot be corrupted and is therefore immortal. Furthermore, because the soul cannot be divided, it cannot be the result of biological inheritance but is made directly by God, each time a person is born. This divine intervention at birth gives the biological process of human reproduction a dignity and sanctity that elevates the institution of marriage.

Why was Aquinas called the "Angelic Doctor" by Catholics?

Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) was called the "Angelic Doctor" because he believed there were beings with intellectual powers and abilities greater than those of humans. They existed on the highest level of the universe and were purely spiritual, although finite. They were angels.

What did Aquinas contribute to metaphysics in the non-religious sense?

Thomas Aquinas (1224-1274) was very interested in the question, "What does it mean to be?" He sought to understand reality as a whole and tried to formulate explanations of all experience in terms of ultimate causes. About metaphysics in relation to its considerations of immaterial substances, he said, "Although this science considers these items, it does not think of each of them as its subject; its subject is simply being in general." Taken literally, this claim about metaphysics describes it as transcendent of religion, because religious entities have being and their being is the subject of the most general philosophical study. Metaphysically, Aquinas determined that every being is distinct and undivided (unum), it has meaning (verum), and there is something good about it (bonum).

Aquinas distinguished between what a being is and that it is. What it is, is its essence, and that it is, is its esse. We can know the essences of things without considering their existence, but it requires an act of judgment to determine esse, that something is.

 
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