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Parallelism in Philosophy: Aquinas and Aristotle

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

   Philosophy holds the sole purpose of perfecting the mind. To different philosophers this idea can draw variable conclusions, depending on their own views.   However, philosophy remains consistent with itself throughout centuries of its use. Aristotle and Aquinas exemplify this because although they have different ideas, the true purpose of philosophy is the same with adaptation to their beliefs.

   Aristotle was one of the first to proclaim that philosophy begins in wonder. Wonder is something based in our senses that, according to Aristotle, establish a framework leading to First Philosophy. This “ladder of knowledge” is constructed as such: our senses create memories off which we base our experiences; with these experiences we create notions about the world around us, and then practical uses or sciences based on those notions. First Philosophy is the attempt to apply all of these notions to everything that exists. The endeavor brings our minds to greater perfection thus fulfilling the purpose of philosophy.  

   The initial perception of wonder was thought to have started in leisure because as Aristotle states “it was when all such sciences had been fully developed that those other ones were discovered those that aimed neither at providing pleasure nor at coping with the necessities of life…” (Metaphysics, 17). This means first satisfying all of the human composite needs, emotional, physical, and otherwise. Such a life is closer to that of a divine being and  “A man will not live like that by virtue of his humanness, but by virtue of some divine thing within him” (Ethics, 415). This greater being is not separate from the world, but rather is a part of it. Divinity exists within humans as they strive to achieve First Philosophy.

            Aristotle’s divinity is based out of philosophy itself. Though its essence cannot be known by human minds, contemplation does bring us closer to divinity. It’s been established that philosophy can only take place in societies of leisure, without any effort towards “human composite needs” (Ethics, 416). A god is rid of these needs and exists perpetually in a state of leisure. So it can be assumed that “the activity of a god, which surpasses all others in blessedness, will be an activity of contemplation” (Ethics, 418). Therefore contemplation will bring both happiness and blessedness.  To achieve this fully, man must rid himself of anything connected to his “composite nature” since these things will “impede his contemplation” (Ethics, 417).  

   St. Thomas Aquinas, though partially reflecting Aristotle’s work, has a different view. All philosophy begins in faith, and it alone cannot bring mankind closer to divinity. Theology is necessary for complete perfection of the mind, and philosophy only plays a part within it. As Aquinas states: “It is necessary for man’s salvation that there should be a doctrine revealed by God, besides the philosophical disciplines investigated by human reason” (On Faith and Reason, 10). Though philosophy does use principles such as that of the first mover, it cannot guide mankind to understanding the essence of the divine because comprehension of God is beyond human reason. God is the cause in the effectual existence of the universe, but we cannot find him by studying the world around us, only by revelation can we understand him further; “an end must first be known by men who are to direct their intentions and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation” (On Faith and Reason, 10).  Humanity cannot reach perfection without understanding about the divinity they are striving towards, but nothing worldly can help us understand God, so we turn to things beyond us, such as revelation.

   Still Aquinas believes that philosophy is useful within theology because it enhances theology by clarifying revelation. Philosophy is used in theology in three distinct ways: “…in order to demonstrate the preambles of faith,” such as God’s existence, “…by throwing light on the contents of faith by analogies,” for easier understanding of revelation, and “in order to refute assertions contrary to faith, either by showing them to be false or lacking in necessity” (On Faith and Reason, 37).  But there are errors in using philosophy also. Using philosophy in ways contrary to revelation or in attempts to go beyond human capacity are wrong. For it is faith that gives us solid belief, and philosophy is only used to understand it.  This greater understanding will bring us closer to perfection of our mind.

   From looking at the views of both Aristotle and Aquinas it is evident that there is constancy in the elements of philosophy. They both refer to it as a liberal science, because according to Aristotle it is founded in leisure and is taken upon for its own sake; and according to Aquinas faith through philosophy is a free act—it is of man’s consent to believe. Thus since philosophy is a liberal science based in leisure, Aristotle and Aquinas also believe it will bring happiness. Finally, both agree that philosophy seeks to perfect the mind by bringing man closer to the divine, and that this perfection is beyond human capabilities.

   Despite certain parallels that can be drawn between Aristotle and Aquinas there is also a great deal of divergence in their ideas. The most important difference is in their beliefs about philosophy’s capabilities. They both understand its purpose is to bring perfection of the mind, but understand it to have different capacities. Aristotle believes that philosophy strives to reach a divine being that is a part of nature. Hence why his philosophy begins in wonder; all things of the world are things can be perceived by the senses. Man can understand the divine through First Philosophy. Aquinas, on the other hand, believes that God is an omnipotent being that can never be known by human reason further than to prove his existence. God can never be fully understood through the senses because he is beyond them. He uses to Aristotle’s principles of First Philosophy to show that philosophy progresses to a point but is still limited in comparison to revelation. Therefore Aquinas’ wisdom is “the understanding of divine things” whereas, Aristotle’s wisdom only deals with “principles and causes” not necessarily those of a god (On Faith and Reason, 16; Metaphysics, 18).  Furthermore, Aristotle looks at these principles and causes to understand the world, and Aquinas accepts that God is the first mover and therefore the source of everything.

   By investigating the views of ancient and medieval philosophers, one can understand how modern philosophy developed and is reflected in the works of philosophers such as Pieper. Pieper follows the consistency of Aristotle and Aquinas with principles such as leisure and liberalism and combines their differential ideas as well. He both emphasizes finding wonder in this world, and claims that real leisure is only possible in worship. Philosophy’s most important principles have stayed consistent throughout history. It is the source for a philosopher’s beliefs that causes discrepancies. Aristotle, as stated before, sees philosophy’s beginning to be in wonder in contrast to Aquinas’ beginning in faith. Conclusively, it appears that the fundamentals of philosophy are constant but further conclusions about these fundamentals are variable depending upon the philosopher’s beliefs. 


Philosophy(56230)
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