Jacques Maritain Center : A First Glance at St. Thomas Aquinas / by Ralph McInerny


This little book provides a first, informal look into the vast world of St. Thomas Aquinas. I have tried to make it as intelligible as I could, using much the same style as I used in Ethica Thomistica, mingling argument with anecdote and example.

Thomism is solidly based on the assumption that we know the world first through our senses and then via concepts formed on the basis of our sense experience. Indeed, our knowledge of ourselves, of knowledge, of God, depends upon our conviction about the physical world. This contrasts in a dramatic way with a dominant alternative which, beginning with Descartes, starts with knowledge of the self and establishes the reality of the physical world. I am not here concerned to develop both Thomism and its alternative, but frequent references are made to what I call Modernity for purposes of contrast. Needless to say, these asides should not be taken to provide the best case for Modernity.

Many years ago an elderly Professor Joseph Bochenski said to a youthful me: "When you are young, you teach more than you know; with experience, you teach as much as you know; when you are old, you teach far less that you know." This book contains truth, but not the whole truth. Much of what is said, being said with great brevity, could be extended indefinitely. But that is what philosophy is, the endless pursuit of knowledge, the constant addressing of objections, the willingness always to go back to the beginning. This handbook stays very close to Square One.

Why write such a book?

A few years ago I spent a month speaking to some young nuns of the Immaculate Heart of Mary of Wichita on our medieval heritage. I thought of them as the Woodchuck Lectures, not because they answered that old question, but because of the avenue the convent is on. In June of 1988, I gave a sketch of the Thomistic Revival at Notre Dame for non-philosophers. The following month, I taped thirteen lectures on Thomas Aquinas for Mother Angelica. In the fall of that year, I gave a course on the World of St. Thomas Aquinas at Cornell University, where I was the Rachel Rebeccah Kaneb Visiting Professor of Catholic Studies for the academic year 1988-89. All these efforts to connect somewhat difficult matters with their origins in common sense converged in this book, a book my colleague Jim Carberry has long urged me to write.

I dedicate the book to Mortimer Adler for two reasons, the first more important than the second. Mortimer Adler has devoted a long lifetime to making the wisdom of the West available outside the grooves of academe, addressing himself urbe et orbi. He has succeeded enormously. If I offer so modest a work as this in tribute to him, it is because I know he will approve of what I am trying to do in it. A lesser reason for the dedication is that Mortimer was the one to whom the epithet Peeping Thomist was first applied, by Time Magazine. Al Plantinga has several times in print given me credit for this phrase. Since I have enough to answer for already, I wanted to make the historical record clear. Of course Mortimer is not among the Peeping Thomists for whom this book is written. But you, presumably, are.

I want to thank the students who used earlier versions of this book. In particular I want to thank Brendan Kelly and Michael Paietta, my graduate assistants, for helping get this ready for the printer and/or performing various other tasks that not even Dante with all his ingenuity devised for those with sins to make up for.









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