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Aquinas Epistemology and God Essay

Introduction:The scientific developments of the renaissance were powerful and they stimulate new ways of thought that one can be tempted to disregard any role medieval thinking plays in the general development of both renaissance and post renaissance philosophy up till today. It would be a mistake to take it that Descartes, Locke achieved a total radical break from the past and inaugurated a completely new philosophical era. One cannot understand scholars like Descartes or Locke without having some real knowledge of medieval thinking.

Thus, in this essay, I wish to show that Aquinas, a thinker of the middle ages, thought on knowledge is of permanent value and that it deserves respect and due consideration for today’s discourse of philosophy. Aquinas Theory on Knowledge: His philosophy is based on the premise that knowledge and being are correlates. “In so far a thing is, it is knowable and in this resides its ontological truth. ” Thus, the Thomistic theory of knowledge is a realist theory. It plays an integral part in his metaphysics and philosophy of being.

Aquinas is not interested in the problem of objective as we have it in modern thinking and today rather, he is much more interested in how we acquire our knowledge and put them to use. Simply put, he investigates the process of knowledge. He identified three levels of acquiring knowledge namely: sense-experience, imaginations or ideations and intellection. Aquinas thus made an important contribution to epistemology, recognising the central part played by sense perception in human cognition. It is through the senses that we first become acquainted with existent, material things.

Sense experience is contact with material things through the senses which supplies materials for the formation of ideas in imagination upon which understanding climbs to contemplate. It is thus a misconception to suppose that the fundamental role of sense perception was a discovery of the classical British empiricist. It is a synthesis of Aquinas’ Aristotelian view of knowledge. As a matter of fact, Aquinas laid more stress on sense perception as the first and unique source of knowledge than the British empiricist because he identified sense perception as the initial source of knowledge than reflection and introspection.

“For a man perceives that he has a soul, and lives and exists by the fact that he perceives by the senses”. This source of knowledge for Aquinas is responsible for his five ways that he uses to prove God’s existence from the material world. He did not accept Anselm’s ontological proof because, he argues that self evident truths, such as God’s existence in which its attributes belong necessarily to the subject , may not be fruits of experience but experience makes man to be conscious of them. That is another reason where he differs from radical British empiricist.

He argues based on his arguments for God that “in as far as God is manifested in and through the beings of the sensible world, as the necessary source,… the embodied human intellect is capable of proceeding beyond sense to know the source of a non-dependent, non-conditioned absolute being called God. ” He sees the intellect as capable of penetrating through the unanalysed superficiality of sensation. Agreeing with Aristotle, he admits that knowledge is obtained through two stages of operation, sensitive and intellective, which are intimately related to one another.

The intellect does attain ideas from the material that is presented to it by the senses to extend beyond the world of the senses. The two cognitive faculties, the sense and intellect, are naturally capable of acquiring knowledge proper to them. Thus, for Aquinas, it is man’s initiative to know through his makeup although such make up is sustained by God. This sustenance by God makes him to make the proper distinction between faith and reason as sources of knowledge. Truths of faith are revealed truth such as trinity and truths of the scripture.

But truths of reason must be perceived and abstracted upon. St. Thomas insistently repeats “reason gathers truth on the ground of intrinsic evidence, while faith accepts truths based on the authority of the word of God. Therefore, there are two types of wisdom namely philosophical –highest activity of man’s intellect and theological- super science or revealed truth. This distinction is essential to today’s view or tension between science and religion. According to Paul Tillich, “neither scientific nor historical truth can affirm or negate the truth of faith.

The truth of faith can not negate nor affirm scientific or historical truth too”. This is because, their objects are different. Truths of faith are revealed and not available to the senses while that of science is purely experiential based. Thus, they do not contradict each other. Nonetheless, both faith and reason can assist each other. According to Aquinas, faith can act as organ which helps reason to reach its final direction, the supreme truth which is God, “because God is in the highest degree of immateriality, he occupies the highest place in knowledge”.

This led him to explain the value of knowledge and its truth, which is the ultimate goal of the intellect in perceiving and abstracting ideas. He noted that the intellect through a vigilant control of the senses can guarantee the formation of the sense representations. The intellect acquires truth when it gives value to the representations and ideas it forms in phantasm. “For Aquinas all the data of sense knowledge and all intelligible things are essentially true.

” Truth consists in the equality of the intellect with its object, and such concordance is always found, both in sensitive cognition and in the idea. Error may exist in the judgment, since it can happen that a predicate may be attributed to a subject to which it does not really belong. Besides the faculty of judgment, Aquinas also admits the faculty of discursive reasoning, which consists in the derivation of the knowledge of particulars from the universal. Deductive, syllogistic demonstration must be carried out according to the logical relationships which exist between two judgments.

In this process consists the science which the human intellect can construct by itself, without recourse either to innate ideas or to any particular illumination. This error free judgment for Aquinas, is proper to the being which is the supreme fundamental and greatest perfection permeating all things and giving them consistency and reality. Thus, each thing exists in its participation in Being. The true representation is received when the intellect gathers the Being of beings. Meanwhile, some truth can be received although not perfect, when the data is abstracted by the intellect.

The dilemma of knowledge search today is explained by Thomistic epistemology recourse to revealed truth. Thomas claimed that human reason is naturally led to knowledge – from sense experience through phantasm to intellection- to knowing truth and know all truths, whether it is the material world, spiritual world, speculative, practical, political, moral or educational truth etc. But it meets with difficulties which include passions, sentiments, complexity of objects etc. This obstacle is more serious in terms of religious or moral truths because of their abstract nature.

Nonetheless, reason has the ability to reach higher grounds to know God – the supreme truth- his attributes, existence but these obstacles are removed by God’s assistance or intervention to furnish human reason with a clearer manifestation of his being. The ultimate threshold of knowledge alone can give light to the mind to reach him. Thus, he introduces faith in his epistemology though at the end. The ordinary organ of knowledge is reason enabled through immediate evidence of experience but faith comes in when there are obstacles to assist reason to reach quickly as possible its final threshold, supreme truth.

“Faith will tell us Christ is present when our human senses fail”. Conclusion: The limitation Aquinas placed on reason due to obstacles in which it needs to be helped by God makes the whole idea of his epistemology a movement to faith. It seems to many that Aquinas argues to God and not for truth in its own sake. Hegel for instance argues that he treated philosophy according to the categories of theology. Bertrand Russell. A Thomism which limits itself to the consideration of material substance as the start of all knowledge proves itself inadequate in age where everything seems beyond our sensual grasp.

Again, Thomism didn’t relinquish heritage of truth for the sake of new sides but a one way drive of reason Nonetheless, Aquinas’ epistemology is vital for us because it has consequences for philosophy generally especially in relation to theology. ——————————————– [ 2 ]. Aquinas copplestton [ 4 ]. Aquinas copleston [ 6 ]. Age of belif p 150 [ 7 ]. Baptissta mondin p. 306 [ 8 ]. Yeager Hudson p. 12 [ 9 ]. P. 73 yeager hudson [ 11 ]. Benediction hymn composed by Aquinas for the feast of corpus Christi {cf. [ 12 ]. Marin j. walsh.


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