Silly Thomists?

A certain gentleman proposes that there are just all kinds of problems with Aristotle (and consequently Thomism).

You have no theory of logic

Really? The philosopher most closely associated with the development of the syllogism has no theory of logic?

or individuation.

On the contrary. It appears that the gentleman has forgotten about hylomorphism.

In Aristotelianism, only individuals are real they are the primary realities. Take for instance a mountain like mount blanca. On your view a individual rock would only be a fraction of the reality and therefore not real.

Setting aside the fact that this complaint (“In Aristotelianism, only individuals are real”) directly contradicts the one immediately preceding it (“you have no theory…of individuation”), the fact that a whole has parts doesn’t mean that we can’t speak of the parts. The universe is a whole, but we are perfectly capable of speaking of the individual things of which the universe consists. So too with the present example. A rock may be a constituent part of a mountain, but we also know the rock: we can see it and hold it.

Which is why you keep denying that parts of human nature are not real because you cannot speak of real parts.

This he says in partial defense of an earlier claim that “Christ took one part of the human nature created in Adam. He did not take the whole thing.” This is just incoherent on the A-T view: if a thing has only a part of a form, it isn’t an instance of that form at all. And this is exactly why it is wrong to say that sin is a constituent part of human nature: if “to be human” necessarily means (among other things) “to be a sinner” then either Christ was a sinner or Christ was not fully human. There are no other possibilities.

But then again mount blanca is a part of a range and itself is a part of something else as everything then becomes and therefore nothing is real. Which is the reality, rock mountain or range? What about the bear that hunts on the mountain range? Which is the individual, the bear’s teeth, his hair, his toenails?

We are equally capable of speaking of the rock in and of itself as well as speaking of it as part of a mountain, of which we may equally speak in and of itself and as being part of a mountain range. Ditto (in a similar way) the bear and his parts. A rock is a rock whether it happens to be an accidental part of a given mountain or not; a mountain is a mountain whether it happens to be part of a mountain range or not. Depending upon the mountain range, we may or may not be able to conceive of it separately from some specific mountain or other: it is conceivable that there is a mountain range that is so closely identified with a particular mountain that if the mountain goes away, the range does too. The case is slightly different for the bear: a bear lacking teeth or hair or claws (or even all three) is still a bear, just as a blind amputee is still a man.

In short: the fact that a given object is part of something else doesn’t make that object less real. It seems to me that the very idea is incoherent anyway. A thing cannot impart what it does not have. Cold water, for example, cannot make me warm because it lacks warmth itself. So if none of the parts of a given whole are real, then it seems that the whole cannot be real either precisely because none of its parts is real. It would be absurd to say that from nothing (unreal parts) something comes (a real whole). And Aristotle and Thomas say nothing like that.

If you appeal to the numerical unity through qualitative change I ask how do you know that a change such as the change in blood composition is a change in the animal or a change from one animal to another animal?

Because you can’t become something for which you lack the potential. If a dog lacks the power to change into a cat, we know that whatever changes may occur in the dog, they don’t (and can’t) amount to it becoming a cat.

1. The categories cannot be distinguished among themselves. Quantity , quality and relation was just shown indistinguishable.

Sorry, but this is just wrong. “Eleven” is just obviously different from “hot” and both are different from “father”. To say that they can’t be distinguished from each other isn’t even intelligible.

2. Primary realities cannot be identified.

3. If sensation cannot deal with mountains and bears it certainly cannot produce or explain by abstraction/intellection, abstract concepts or class concepts. Only individual particulars are real on your theory so universal abstract or class concepts cannot be spoken of.

I’m not sure what this is supposed to mean. It’s not A-T jargon, and I’m not a philosopher. If he means “real things,” well, Aristotle is all about real things and what we may reasonably say about them. On the A-T understanding, sensation isn’t supposed to explain abstraction, which is an activity of the soul.

I’m no expert on this subject, but one doesn’t have to be to see that the gentleman’s critique doesn’t amount to a whole lot. To suggest (as he did) that these few points comprise a devastating critique of Aristotle is over the top: The Philosopher has been studied and analyzed for 2000 years, and only now has anyone realized that it’s all a fraud? And “proved” it in a single medium-length paragraph? Please. Certainty is an excellent thing when we can get it, but we need to be careful about being more certain than is warranted (something else that Aristotle said).

Posted in Aristotle
2 comments on “Silly Thomists?
  1. Debbie S. says:

    You say, ” I’m not a philosopher,” but you are certainly much closer to being one than I am. I do enjoy reading your blog and no, it doesn’t bore me. :-)

    I wholeheartedly agree with you when you write, “And this is exactly why it is wrong to say that sin is a constituent part of human nature: if ‘to be human’ necessarily means (among other things) ‘to be a sinner’ then either Christ was a sinner or Christ was not fully human. There are no other possibilities.”

    If being a sinner was an integral part of human nature and sin is imperfection, then how could the Lord look at all He had created and say that it was very good? I won’t even begin to touch on the subject of “the problem of evil,” but simply affirm that the Lord made man in His own image, meaning without sin. The Lord did not make man “slightly damaged” or “second-rate.”

    Keep on writing, friend! I will keep reading.

  2. aquinasetc says:

    Hi Debbie,

    Heh. Thanks for your kind words. Some folks (possibly including the gentleman whose opinion I examine in this post) apparently think that one consequence of the Fall was that human nature is changed somehow, so that to sin is an integral part of what it means to be Man. In addition to the Christological problem that I mentioned in the post, it seems that a compulsion to sin that is natural to us would be subject to St Augustine’s objection that if we lack free will, then it would be unjust for God to punish us when we sin. See here, for example.


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