St Thomas Aquinas (1224-1275)

Course Description

Like our course in the Philosophy of Being: Metaphysics, this is a philosophical course in the truest sense.

The Philosophy of Certitude is the defensive part of Metaphysics. Since every science receives its principles, from which it logically deduces its conclusions, from another, and yet higher, science, there must be a first science which does not derive its principles from a preceding science but which defends the first principles of reason; principles from which all scientific principles are derived. This science is known as Defensive Metaphysics (or sometimes known as Epistemology). For the very nature of proof, which is the domain of science, is that the truth proven is proven from truths previously known, and known with certainty. This necessarily implies that there cannot be a regress unto infinity with regard to proof (in other words, not everything can be proven). One must come to first truths which cannot be proved. In other words, the evidence for their veracity is not derived from previously known certainties. For if they were, and this on unto infinity, then nothing would or could be proven. The evidence of these first truths is derived from themselves: they are self-evident truths, thus not requiring proof for their veracity. These self-evident first truths are known as the First Principles of Reason.

It is commonly held by philosophers that there are three first principles of reason:

1. Principle of Non-Contradiction: Something cannot be what it is, and what it is not, at the same time and under the same respect.

2. Principle of Identity: That which is, is what it is; and is not what it is not.

3. Principle of Excluded Third: Between that which is and that which is not there is no third (e.g. between that which is my soccer ball and that which is not my soccer ball there is no third possibility).

The pursuit of Defensive Metaphysics or Epistemology is therefore, not to prove the first principles of reason, but to defend them. In this course, we will therefore begin by looking at the origin of the Critical Problem: which is the question of whether or not the human mind can know truth and know it with certainty. From looking at its origins we will proceed to investigate the critical problem’s history, from antiquity, through the Middles Ages and into modern times. This investigation will especially look at the philosophy of René Descartes (1596-1650).

From these brief investigations we will look at the nature of skepticism and the possibility of attaining certitude. In this regard we will look at the philosophies of John Locke (1632-1704), George Berkely (1685-1753) and David Hume (1711-1776), all of whom fundamentally denied the human mind’s ability to know truth with certainty. After this we will look at the knowability of the external world, outside of the thinking mind. In this regard we will look at the philosophy of Emmanuel Kant (1724-1804), and see how it led into the Idealism of Johann Göttlieb Fitche (1762-1814), Friedrich Schelling (1775-1854) and George Hegel (1770-1831).

Once we have investigated the philosophies that deny the human mind’s ability to know truth with certainty, using the principles enunciated by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), we will proceed to critically vindicate the nature of knowledge and defend the first principles of reason. This investigation will look at both the objectivity and subjectivity of the act of knowledge. In this regard we will look at the elements of certitude regarding both intellective and sensitive knowledge.

This course is a must for any budding philosopher. It will give the student a firm grounding in the most essential of all philosophical enquiries: our ability to know truth with certainty. A challenging course indeed!

Course Objectives

  1. To obtain a firm grasp of the Philosophy of Certitude.
  2. To gain an understanding of the nature and history of the Critical Problem.
  3. To understand the causes of the philosophical dispute regarding our ability to know truth with certainty.
  4. To grasp the nature of the critical vindication of our knowledge, both intellective and sensitive.

Course Duration

6 Weeks: 12 Hours (i.e., two hours, one night a week).

Recommended Reading

Popular Level Reading:

Gardeil, Henri Dominique. Introduction to the Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas (vol. 4: Metaphysics). Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2012.

_________. Introduction to the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1956.

Garrigou-Lagrange, Reginald. Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought. Translated by Patrick Cummins. London: B. Herder Book Co., 1950.

Geisler, Norman L. and Paul D. Feinberg. Introduction to Philosophy: A Christian Perspective. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1980.

Glenn, Paul. Apologetics. Rockford, IL: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1980.

_________. Introduction to Philosophy. London: B. Herder Book Co., 1966.

Maritain, Jacques. Introduction to Philosophy. Translated by E.I. Watkin. Merryland: Sheed and Ward, 2005.

Spitzer, Robert J. Ten Universal Principles: A Brief Philosophy of the Life Issues. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011.

Scholarly Level Reading:

Aristotle. The Complete Works of Aristotle: The Revised Oxford Translation. Edited by Jonathan Barnes. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1984.

Dobbs-Weinstein, Idit. Maimonides and St. Thomas on the Limits of Reason. Albany: State University of New York Press, c1995.

Feser, Edward. Philosophy of Mind (A Beginner’s Guide). Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2005.

Gilson, Etienne. Thomist Realism and the Critique of Knowledge. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986.

Jenkins, John I. Knowledge and Faith in Thomas Aquinas. NY: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Maurer, Armand A. Being and Knowing: Studies in Thomas Aquinas and Later Medieval Philosophers. Toronto, Ont., Canada: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1990.

McEvoy, James and Michael Dunne, eds. Thomas Aquinas: Approaches to Truth. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2002.

Milbank, John and Pickstock, Catherine. Truth in Aquinas. London and New York: Routledge, 2000.

O’Callaghan, John P. Thomist Realism and the Linguistic Turn. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003.

Owens, Joseph. Cognition: An Epistemological Inquiry. Houston, TX: Center for Thomistic Studies, 1992.

Pasnau, Robert. Theories of Cognition in the Later Middle Ages. NY: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Regis, Louis M. Epistemology. New York: Macmillan, 1959.

Russman, Thomas A. A Prospectus for the Triumph of Realism. Macon: Mercer University Press, 1987.

Spangler, Mary Michael. Principles of Education: A Study of Aristotelian Thomism Contrasted with Other Philosophies. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1983.

Thomas Aquinas. Commentary on Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics. Translated by Richard Burquist. Edited with notes by Ralph McInerny. Dumb Ox Books, 2007.

Woodbury, Austin. Defensive Metaphysics. Sydney: Aquinas Academy (unpublished text), 1947.