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Aquinas on The Principles of the Philosophy of Nature
Thomistic Philosophy ^ | 10/14/00 | Joseph Magee. Ph.D.

Posted on 10/31/2001 4:12:33 AM PST by Aquinasfan

The Principles of the Philosophy of Nature

In order to understand just about anything that Aquinas says in philosophy or theology, one has to be familiar with the Aristotelian tradition in philosophy, especially as that tradition was handed on to the thinkers of the Middle Ages.

For Aristotle, the Philosophy of Nature is the study of what is in matter and motion, i.e. stuff that changes. Thus one should know the basic classifications of Aristotelian philosophy, what is meant by change, and the ways in which things are made to change.

Substance and Accident

First, as a kind of preliminary and as a tool for philosophical discourse, one should be familiar with the basic distinctions of Aristotle's logic. The basic logical distinction for our purposes is between substance and accident. This distinction is the basis for Aristotle's Ten Categories

The Problem of Change

Next, by analyzing change, Aristotle found that what is actual comes to be from what had been merely potential. In so doing, he identifies the three principles necessary for every change: matter, form and privation.

The Four Causes

Aristotle identifies four causes, i.e. four positive principles, for every change. They are what changes, what it changes into, the source of the change and what the change is for.

Natural Philosophy - Substance and Accident
(What the meaning of "IS" is)

First, as a kind of preliminary and as tool for philosophical discourse, one should be familiar with the basic distinctions of Aristotle's logic. The basic logical distinction for our purposes is between accident (what exists in and is said of another) and substance (what does not exist in another & not said of another). As an example of what Aristotle means, consider what is named by the word "white." The reality that this word names (a particular color) can be said of some other thing as eg. "This thing is white." "White" is said of "this thing" as though the color belonged to "this thing." Furthermore, it is understood to exist in "this thing;" one does not find any "white" except that is in "this thing" or some other thing. This way of speaking can be contrasted with another, as for example "This thing is Socrates." "Socrates" does not name the same kind of reality that "white" does in the previous example. "Socrates" is not said of "this thing" in the same way as "white" is, and "Socrates" does not exist IN "this thing." Rather, "Socreates" IS "this thing," and the sentence "this thing is Socrates" is understood to assert an identity between the two realities named. This basic notion of Aristotle's logic reflects the basic distinction in the way reality is stuctured and reflects the basic way that we view reality. The fundamental distinction is between substance and accident. Substance is whatever is a natural kind of thing and exists in its own right. Examples are rocks, trees, animals, etc. What an animal is, a dog for example, is basically the same whether it is black or brown, here or there, etc. A dog is a substance since it exists in its own right; it does not exist in something else, the way a color does.

Substance and Accidents

Accidents are the modifications that substance undergo, but that do not change the kind of thing that each substance is. Accidents only exist when they are the accidents of some substance. Examples are colors, weight, motion. For Aristotle there are 10 categories into which things naturally fall. They are

* Substance, and
* Nine Accidents:

* Quantity,
* Quality,
* Relation,
* Action,
* Passion,
* Time,
* Place,
* Disposition (the arrangement of parts), and
* Rainment (whether a thing is dressed or armed, etc.)

All these distinctions are basically logical, but in a sense they reflect the structure of reality. One never finds any substance that we experience without some accidents, nor an accident that is not the accident of a substance. Every dog, for instance, has some color, place, size. Nevertheless, it is obvious that what a dog is is not the same as its color, or its size, etc.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS:
Romulus suggested that I post selections from St. Thomas on a regular basis. As a fan of the Angelic Doctor, I'm more than happy to oblige. This is the first installment.

Where to begin? St. Thomas began his Summa Theologica with an examination of the nature of God and proofs for the existence of God. But we probably shouldn't begin here until we understand the metaphysical basis from which St. Thomas was working. The Summa Theologica takes for granted a knowledge of realist metaphysics in the tradition of Aristotle (among many others). It also takes for granted a knowledge of the terms of classical philosophy, which may seem very arcane and obscure to the uninitiated. But as one becomes more familiar with the terms, one will see how essentially important they are in any attempt to understand the philosophy of St. Thomas.

It is important to begin with metaphysics and epistemology for another reason. Since the time of Descartes, philosophy has been diminished by subjectivism, skepticism and relativism. The notion of objective truth is held in contempt by academics, and relativism is rampant, particularly regarding morality.

So to address a fundamentally skeptical, agnostic, modern audience, it is wise to address fundamental issues regarding metaphysics (the study of being or "the way things are") and epistemology (how we know what we know).

Unfortunately, the metaphysical and epistemological system of Aquinas' time was so taken for granted that Aquinas never wrote extensively or exclusively on either. However, James Anderson recently edited a wonderful little book entitled "An Introduction to the Metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/089526420X/qid=1004532597/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_10_1/103-1239511-6109426)," which gathers and organizes the metaphysical writings of St. Thomas from many sources including the Summa Theologica and Summa Contra Gentiles I highly recommend it.

So lets begin the study of St. Thomas with this introduction to the Metaphysics of St. Thomas by Joseph Magee, Ph.D.

(Also, since an understanding of the metaphysics and epistemology of St. Thomas is so crucial to an understanding of any of St. Thomas' writings, and because the terminology can seem at first to be so arcane to those unfamiliar with it, I will begin with very small posts, and we can proceed from there.

1 posted on 10/31/2001 4:12:33 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: patent; Eva
Patent, Would you bump this to the Catholic list? Also, would you tell me how to do this so I won't have to bother you in the future? ;-) Please post the instructions here so others can learn how to do it too. Thanks!
2 posted on 10/31/2001 4:14:38 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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As I mentioned above, in speaking to a modern audience, it is essential to address the notion of objective truth. Yes, it exists. Yes, we can be certain of it. And yes, we can logically refute any attack against it. Peter Kreeft addresses the issue of objective truth magnificently in a chapter of his great book, Handbook of Christian Apologetics, a book that is essential for any Catholic/Christian library.
3 posted on 10/31/2001 4:38:36 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: *Catholic_list
Did that work?
4 posted on 10/31/2001 6:04:25 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: Aquinasfan
Patent, Would you bump this to the Catholic list? Also, would you tell me how to do this so I won't have to bother you in the future? ;-) Please post the instructions here so others can learn how to do it too. Thanks!
There are two different lists. First, there is forum “Catholic-List.” Anyone who wants to bump a thread to the Catholic list only needs to enter "Catholic_list" in the to box. To search for Catholic related articles you can click here. Bookmark that page for easy searching.

Second, there is the personal list that I keep. Actually there are a number of these, I’m not the only one keeping one and they don’t exactly match each other. As to my list, I describe it on my home page:

Catholic/Pro-life/Traditional Schooling Bump List

Allegedly I have started to compile a bump list for those interested in Catholic (and occasionally other religious) news, pro-life issues, pro-liver issues (with or without beer), and the occasional traditional schooling issue that seems to fit in (private schools, home schooling). For those unfortunate souls who have found their name on my bump list by some mechanism, and who would like off it for any reason whatsoever, please feel free to let me know and you will be cheerfully removed. For any who would like on it, let me know as well.

I tend to keep the number of posts a bit limited, around 5-6 a week. I don't know how often people want to be bumped to things, and it is always my goal to not overwhelm people. Accordingly I will not bump each and every thread that I come across or even every thread I am asked to bump. So the bump list is different then some of the lists like the bang lists (gun and second amendment related posts), the zion_ist list, etc.

Several of the people on the list aren’t Catholic, so it isn’t entirely a Catholic bump list. It’s more my personal bump list, and I can’t really say whether the people on it want to be bumped to every Catholic article or not. It is advertised as being relatively limited in scope. While I have no idea if the people on the list actually like that the scope is limited, it is how I've set it up. For that reason I haven't made a public list available to everyone. I have suggested to a couple people over time that if there is an interest in creating a bump list of names who want to be bumped to everything Catholic, they could go ahead and do that. No takers so far. ;-)

patent  +AMDG

5 posted on 10/31/2001 7:50:42 AM PST by patent
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To: Aquinasfan; Romulus
Romulus suggested that I post selections from St. Thomas on a regular basis. As a fan of the Angelic Doctor, I'm more than happy to oblige. This is the first installment.
I ran out of time earlier (meeting to go to) but I would suggest that you start to create a bump list for these articles. You could either create a list of names (which I would recommend for this) or create a new bump list such as “Aquinas_list.” If you do create a list I would enjoy being bumped to these articles.

patent  +AMDG

6 posted on 10/31/2001 8:35:38 AM PST by patent
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To: Aquinasfan
Thanks! Reading...
7 posted on 10/31/2001 8:55:46 AM PST by Romulus
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To: ELS; Askel5; Dumb_Ox
Here we go...
8 posted on 10/31/2001 9:46:19 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: Aquinasfan
...it is essential to address the notion of objective truth. Yes, it exists. Yes, we can be certain of it. And yes, we can logically refute any attack against it.

Putting aside the question of what you mean by "objective truth," I notice that you left out:

And yes, we can know with certainty whether or not any particular proposition is an objective truth.

Knowing that objective truth exists as an ontological category is different than knowing what is contained within that category, no?
9 posted on 10/31/2001 9:55:37 AM PST by BikerNYC
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To: Aquinasfan
Nevertheless, it is obvious that what a dog is is not the same as its color, or its size, etc.

Obvious? Is there an "ideal form" for dog? How is "what a dog is" not the same as its size, color, organs, body, brain, and every particular aspect that makes up a dog?
10 posted on 10/31/2001 9:59:16 AM PST by BikerNYC
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To: BikerNYC
And yes, we can know with certainty whether or not any particular proposition is an objective truth.

We can know with certainty that any proposition that is deduced from first principles is true. OTOH, most of the "truths" that we know, we know with probability.

As for whether we can trust our senses, I will be posting Thomas' epistemology later on.

11 posted on 10/31/2001 10:36:56 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: BikerNYC
And yes, we can know with certainty whether or not any particular proposition is an objective truth.

We can know with certainty that any proposition that is deduced from first principles is true. OTOH, most of the "truths" that we know, we know with probability.

As for whether we can trust our senses, I will be posting Thomas' epistemology later on.

12 posted on 10/31/2001 10:39:18 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: BikerNYC
And yes, we can know with certainty whether or not any particular proposition is an objective truth.

We can know with certainty that any proposition that is deduced from first principles is true. OTOH, most of the "truths" that we know, we know with probability.

As for whether we can trust our senses, I will be posting Thomas' epistemology later on.

13 posted on 10/31/2001 10:40:59 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: BikerNYC
And yes, we can know with certainty whether or not any particular proposition is an objective truth.

We can know with certainty that any proposition that is deduced from first principles is true. OTOH, most of the "truths" that we know, we know with probability.

As for whether we can trust our senses, I will be posting Thomas' epistemology later on.

14 posted on 10/31/2001 11:02:25 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: BikerNYC
And yes, we can know with certainty whether or not any particular proposition is an objective truth.

We can know with certainty that any proposition that is deduced from first principles is true. OTOH, most of the "truths" that we know, we know with probability.

As for whether we can trust our senses, I will be posting Thomas' epistemology later on.

15 posted on 10/31/2001 11:03:44 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: Aquinasfan
I, too, am a big fan (to the limited extent I can understand him, that is).

Thanks for the post!!

16 posted on 10/31/2001 11:08:14 AM PST by Dominus Vobiscum
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To: Aquinasfan
just a note on Dr. Magee's terminology: ...For Aristotle there are 10 categories into which things naturally fall. They are

* Substance, and
* Nine Accidents:
...
* Action,
* Passion,
...

I believe that it common to use the word "passion" in Aristotle scholarship with a different meaning than the modern use. I'm a little rusty on this, but here's how I think it goes in Aristotle:

A substance, by its nature, has a number of potentialities. A man has a potential to run, to think, and so on. A block of stone has a potential to become a statue. These potentialities can be realized. When a man runs, this is an "action". A running man is not a different substance from a standing man, rather it is the same substance with an "accidental" (ie not essential) modification.
Similarly, when the block of stone is carved into a statue, one of its potentials is realized. In this case, however, it is a "passion", not an "action" (think "active/passive"). In each case, the substance has changed inasmuch as a potentiality has been realized, and in each case it remains the same substance. The difference is how the change was initiated. I can't remember if Aristotle has a specific way to distinguish these two in all cases (is it an action or a passion when a man falls asleep?), but it's pretty clear to him at least that there are these two different ways that a potentiality is realized, and thus they deserve separate (if related) places in the system.
17 posted on 10/31/2001 11:08:16 AM PST by dan909
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To: BikerNYC
And yes, we can know with certainty whether or not any particular proposition is an objective truth.

We can know with certainty that any proposition that is deduced from first principles is true. OTOH, most of the "truths" that we know, we know with probability.

As for whether we can trust our senses, I will be posting Thomas' epistemology later on.

18 posted on 10/31/2001 11:17:12 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: BikerNYC
And yes, we can know with certainty whether or not any particular proposition is an objective truth.

We can know with certainty that any proposition that is deduced from first principles is true. OTOH, most of the "truths" that we know, we know with probability.

As for whether we can trust our senses, I will be posting Thomas' epistemology later on.

19 posted on 10/31/2001 11:21:49 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: Aquinasfan
Add me to your list, if you like. Thanx.
20 posted on 10/31/2001 11:27:35 AM PST by Diogenez
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To: BikerNYC
And yes, we can know with certainty whether or not any particular proposition is an objective truth.

We can know with certainty that any proposition that is deduced from first principles is true. OTOH, most of the "truths" that we know, we know with probability.

As for whether we can trust our senses, I will be posting Thomas' epistemology later on.

21 posted on 10/31/2001 11:28:37 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: BikerNYC
Obvious? Is there an "ideal form" for dog? How is "what a dog is" not the same as its size, color, organs, body, brain, and every particular aspect that makes up a dog?

Look at yourself as an example. During the course of your life you have changed size, shape, color, position, etc. Yet you have remained you. In other words, there is not an identity between you and qualities "accidental" to you.

Similarly, you are more than the sum of your body parts. If you lost your arm, would you be 1/5 of yourself? Obviously not. Such an assertion is a category error. What is "you" or your substantial form is not material. Hence what is "you" (your substantial form) cannot be measured or quantified, except in its essential unity.

However, your body parts are not "accidental" to you as are your size and shape. Body and soul or "matter" and "substance" are mysteriously unified. More on this in upcoming posts.

22 posted on 10/31/2001 11:36:26 AM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: dan909
That's coming in the next post. ;-)
23 posted on 10/31/2001 12:35:53 PM PST by Aquinasfan
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To: Aquinasfan
Saint Thomas Aquinas, Priest & Doctor of the Church

Saint Thomas Aquinas,
Priest & Doctor of the Church
Memorial
January 28th




Benozzo Gozzoli
Triumph of St Thomas Aquinas
1471 -- Tempera on panel
Musée du Louvre, Paris


Adoremus Hymnal

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) was educated at the Abbey of Monte Cassino and at the University of Naples. In 1244 he joined the Dominican Order. Considered one of the greatest philosophers and theologians of all time, St. Thoms gained the title of "Angelic Doctor". He had an undisputed mastery of scholastic theology and a profound holiness oflife. Pope Leo XIII declared him Patron of Catholic Schools. His monumental work, the Summa Theologica, wasstill unfinished when he died.

Source: Daily Roman Missal, Edited by Rev. James Socías, Midwest Theological Forum, Chicago, Illinois ©2003

 

Collect:
God our Father,
You made Thomas Aquinas known
for his holiness and learning.
Help us to grow in wisdom by his teaching,
and in holiness by imitating his faith.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.

First Reading: Wisdom 7:7-10,15-16
Therefore I prayed, and understanding was given me;
I called upon God, and the spirit of wisdom came to me.
I preferred her to scepters and thrones,
and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her.
Neither did I liken to her any priceless gem,
because all gold is but a little sand in her sight,
and silver will be accounted as clay before her.
I loved her more than health and beauty,
and I chose to have her rather than light,
because her radiance never ceases.

May God grant that I speak with judgment
and have thought worthy of what I have received,
for He is the guide even of wisdom and the corrector of the wise.
For both we and our words are in His hand,
as are all understanding and skill in crafts.

Gospel Reading: Matthew 23:8-12
But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.


SHORT PRAYER AFTER COMMUNION

Sweetest Jesus,
Body and Blood most Holy,
be the delight and pleasure of my soul,
my strenght and salvation in all temptations,
my joy and peace in every trial,
my light and guide in every word and deed,
and my final protection in death. Amen

St. Thomas Aquinas
The Aquinas Prayer Book, Sophia Institute Press,
©2000.




Prayer of Saint Thomas Aquinas:
"Ad Sacrosanctum Sacramentum"


O sacred banquet at which
Christ is consumed,
The memory of His Passion recalled,
our soul filled with grace,
and our pledge of future glory received:

How delightful, Lord, is Your spirit,
which shows Your sweetness to men,
offers the precious bread of heaven,
fills the hungry with good things,
and sends away empty the scornful rich.

V. You have given them bread from heaven.
R. A bread having all sweetness within it.

Let us pray:

God, Who left for us a memorial of Your Passion in this miraculous sacrament, Grant we implore You, that we may venerate the holy mystery of Your Body and Blood, so that we may ever experience in ourselves the fruitfulness of Your redemption.
You who life and reign, world without end. Amen.

(Translation from The Aquinas Prayer Book, Sophia Institute Press)



Link to The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas - http://www.newadvent.org/summa/

24 posted on 01/28/2010 4:09:31 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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