Tuesday, 17 September 2019

On Judging Aquinas

Anthony Kenny, in 𝘈 𝘕𝘦𝘸 𝘏𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘞𝘦𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘯 𝘗𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘰𝘴𝘰𝘱𝘩𝘺, 𝘝𝘰𝘭𝘶𝘮𝘦 𝘐𝘐: 𝘔𝘦𝘥𝘪𝘦𝘷𝘢𝘭 𝘗𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘰𝘴𝘰𝘱𝘩𝘺; p. 76:

"The secular reaction to the canonization of St. Thomas’ philosophy was summed up by Bertrand Russell in his 𝘏𝘪𝘴𝘵𝘰𝘳𝘺 𝘰𝘧 𝘞𝘦𝘴𝘵𝘦𝘳𝘯 𝘗𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘰𝘴𝘰𝘱𝘩𝘺. ‘There was little of the true philosophical spirit in Aquinas: he could not, like Socrates, follow an argument wherever it might lead, since he knew the truth in advance, all declared in the Catholic faith. The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy but special pleading.’

It is not in fact a serious charge against a philosopher to say that he is looking for good reasons for what he already believes in. Descartes, sitting beside his fire, wearing his dressing gown, sought reasons for judging that that was what he was doing, and took a long time to find them. Russell himself spent much energy seeking proofs of what he already believed: 𝘗𝘳𝘪𝘯𝘤𝘪𝘱𝘪𝘢 𝘔𝘢𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘮𝘢𝘵𝘪𝘤𝘢 takes hundreds of pages to prove that 1 and 1 make 2.

We judge a philosopher by whether his reasonings are sound or unsound, not by where he first lighted on his premisses or how he first came to believe his conclusions."

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