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Monday, February 4, 2013

0263: Schools of Thought within the Thomist Tradition



Entry 0263: Schools of Thought within the Thomist Tradition  

For his book Aquinas: A beginner’s Guide (Oxford: Oneworld, 2009), professor Edward Feser had written a brief overview of the history of Thomism that in the end was cut out from the book when the author and the editors agreed that it did not fit entirely smoothly where it was going to go. Feser, however, found another option. He made available what he had written on the history of Thomism in two installments in his blog. Here are the links to “The Thomistic Tradition, Part I” and “The Thomistic Tradition, Part II”:




In his reflections, Professor Edawrd Feser identifies the following strands of Thomism:

1. Neo-Scholastic Thomism: Due to its emphasis on following the interpretative tradition of the great commentators on Aquinas (such as Capreolus, Cajetan, and John of St. Thomas) and associated suspicion of attempts to synthesize Thomism with non-Thomistic categories and assumptions, Neo-Scholastic Thomism has also sometimes been labeled “Strict Observance Thomism.”

Its core philosophical commitments are summarized in the famous “Twenty-Four Thomistic Theses” approved by Pope Pius X. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange (1877-1964) is perhaps its greatest representative.

2. Existential Thomism: Etienne Gilson (1884-1978) tends to emphasize the importance of historical exegesis but also to deemphasize Aquinas’s continuity with the Aristotelian tradition, highlighting instead the originality of Aquinas’s doctrine of being or existence. The main reason for the label is the emphasis this approach puts on Aquinas’s doctrine of existence. Contemporary proponents include Joseph Owens and John F. X. Knasas.

3. Laval or River Forest Thomism: Charles De Koninck (1906-1965), James A. Weisheipl (1923-1984), William A. Wallace, and Benedict Ashley are among its representatives.

It is sometimes called “Laval Thomism” after the University of Laval in Quebec, where De Koninck was a professor. The alternative label “River Forest Thomism” derives from a suburb of Chicago, the location of the Albertus Magnus Lyceum for Natural Science, whose members are associated with this approach. It is also sometimes called “Aristotelian Thomism.

Writers like Ralph McInerny exhibit both Neo-Scholastic and Laval/River Forest influences, and the approaches are not necessarily incompatible.

4. Transcendental Thomism: Joseph Marechal (1878-1944), Karl Rahner (1904-84), and Bernard Lonergan (1904-84), seek to reconcile Thomism with a Cartesian subjectivist approach to knowledge in general, and Kantian epistemology in particular.

5. Lublin Thomism: It is also sometimes called “phenomenological Thomism.” In particular, it seeks to make use of the phenomenological method of philosophical analysis associated with Edmund Husserl and the personalism of writers like Max Scheler in articulating the Thomist conception of the human person. Its best-known proponent is Karol Wojtyla (1920-2005).

6. Analytical Thomism: It is described by John Haldane, its key proponent, as “a broad philosophical approach that brings into mutual relationship the styles and preoccupations of recent English-speaking philosophy and the concepts and concerns shared by Aquinas and his followers.”

By “recent English-speaking philosophy” Haldane means the analytical tradition founded by thinkers like Gottlob Frege, Bertrand Russell, G. E. Moore, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Elizabeth Anscombe (1919-2001) and her husband Peter Geach are sometimes considered the first “analytical Thomists.”

We might tentatively distinguish, then, between three subcategories within the group of contemporary analytic philosophers who have been described as “analytical Thomists.”

a. Those who emphasize the “analytical” element at the expense of the “Thomism.” Anthony Kenny (who rejects Aquinas’s doctrine of being) and Robert Pasnau (who rejects certain aspects of his account of human nature) would seem to exemplify this first tendency.

b. Those who give both the “analytical” and the “Thomistic” elements of analytical Thomism equal emphasis, and is represented by thinkers like Geach, Brian Davies, and C. F. J. Martin (all of whom would attempt to harmonize Aquinas’s doctrine of being with Frege’s understanding of existence) and Germain Grisez and John Finnis (who would reinterpret Aquinas’s ethics so as to avoid what Moore called the “naturalistic fallacy”). The work of Norman Kretzmann and Eleonore Stump also possibly falls into this second category.

c. Those whose training was in the analytic tradition and whose modes of argument and choice of topics reflects this background, but whose philosophical views are in substance basically just traditional Thomistic ones, without qualification or reinterpretation.

The work of writers like Gyula Klima and David Oderberg seems to fall into this category.

d. [Speaking about his own position, Edward Feser added:] My own understanding of Aquinas has been influenced most by the work of writers in the Neo-Scholastic, Laval/River Forest, and Analytical schools (especially the third category of analytical Thomism that I distinguished). In particular, I follow these approaches in reading Aquinas as the pivotal figure in an ongoing “Aristotelico-Thomistic” tradition, a “perennial philosophy” which has its roots in the best of ancient Greek thought and continues to this day.

7. Other approaches: While Aquinas is generally understood to be an Aristotelian, commentators like Cornelio Fabro (1911-1995) have emphasized the Platonic elements in his thought. And John Deely advocates bringing Thomism together with semiotics, the general theory of signs and signification