Of God and His Creatures

This statement, along with the previous (n. 4), is St Thomas's repudiation of ultra-realism, a doctrine with which the schoolmen are often charged, as though they gave the objects of universal concepts, as universal, a place in rerum natura. The neo-Kantian school, identifying reality with thought, may be more open to the accusation. Is not the old mediaeval strife about 'universals' still being waged under other names?

Modern scholars make a great difficulty of admitting that the "common element" in a number of similar objects, e.g., of dogs, can be thought of without addition of colour, size, and other points, which go to individualise this dog. Take all those points away, they say, and you have nothing left. Certainly you have no picture in the imagination left. But cursory, rapid thinking, -- and such is our usual thinking, -- is done without any picture in the imagination; we think vaguely, or, as Cardinal Newman in the Grammar of Assent calls it, "notionally." Only in vivid thought is a sensible picture in the imagination formed, and the apprehension becomes what Newman calls "real." The object then appears with its individualising features upon the imaginative canvas, the mind meanwhile remarking to itself that this figure, e.g., of this dog, is a specimen or type, to which other objects will conform with various differences.

Of God and His Creatures: 1.26