ALASDAIR MACINTYRE'S FALLIBILISTIC INTERPRETATION OF AQUINAS' THEORY OF TRUTH

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This paper seeks to shed some light on the possibility of a fallibilistic interpretation of Aquinas’ theory of truth, as attributed to him by Alasdair MacIntyre. Prima facia, it seems strange to read into Aquinas’ theory of truth a kind of
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     Nóema, 7-2 (2016): Ricerche noema.filosofia.unimi.it   18  ALASDAIR MACINTYRE ’ S FALLIBILISTIC INTERPRETATION OF  AQUINAS ’  THEORY OF TRUTH  Ali Abedi Renani 1   1. Introduction  Alasdair MacIntyre in line with his emphasis on historicism and dialectical method  with regard to truth and rationality has concluded that his account of Thomism is rationally superior to other traditions including Aristotelianism, Augustinianism, and even Kantianism and Nietzschian genealogy. The major theme of MacIntyre in assigning rational superiority and truth to a position is the dialectical success and the survival of the position against the strongest challenges presented against it. MacIntyre believes Aquinas’ Thomism has been resourceful enough to meet these challenges and establish its superiority. As a result of this dialectical method, Mac-Intyre contends a feature of Thomism is its essential incompleteness. This feature sometimes for MacIntyre leans toward fallibilism, in the sense that we should hold our truth-claims always open to falsification and refutation.   MacIntyre (2006, 163) states that considering judgments as falsifiable is a condition of warranted ascrip-tion of truth to a theory. Only types of enquiry, we have had to learn from C. S. Peirce and Karl Popper, which are organized so that they can be de-feated by falsification of their key theses, can warrant judgments to which truth can be ascribed (MacIntyre 2006, 163). Some critics  —  including Robert P. George (1989) and J. Coleman (1994)  —  have objected to MacIntyre at this point, stating that this fallibilism is not compatible  with Thomism, as in Thomism there are eternal truths which are thought to be ir-refutable and accessible to all; as Coleman put it, “ a definition [for Aristotle and  Aquinas] is not culture bound nor is it temporal. Both names and definition which grasp the essence of a subject have no temporality” (  Coleman 1994, 81). In this paper, I seek to evaluate MacIntyre’s claim about Aquinas’ Tho- mism, to see if it is possible to offer a cogent fallibilistic account of Aquinas’ thought which MacIntyre is aiming at. To this purpose, I emphasize two aspects of  Aqu inas’ thought. One is his account of   the mechanisms of the intellect, and the second is his account of first principles. The discussion will show that Aquinas’ thought might be consistent with a particular kind of fallibilism, but that it does not cohere completely with Popperian fallibilism. 2.  The Intellect’s Operation and Mechanism in Aquinas’ Theory of Knowledge In this section, two issues will be sketched. The first is how, in Aquinas’ view  , the intellect operates. The purpose of this discussion is to explain the activity of intel-lect in attaining knowledge. The second issue is to explain two operations of the 1  Assitant Professor of Political Sciences, Allameh Tabataba'i University, Tehran, Iran.    Ali Abedi Renani,  Alasdair MacIntyre ’  s Fallibilistic Interpretation of Aquinas ’   Theory of Truth  Nóema, 7-2 (2016): Ricerche noema.filosofia.unimi.it   19 intellect, by which I seek to explain further Aquinas’ epistemological optimism and its scope. 2.1.   Intellect’s Operation in Aquinas’ View    Aquinas has made a distinction between cognition (perceptive knowledge) and knowledge (science). Knowledge or scientia   is a perfect understanding provided by the intellect. Cognition is what we perceive by our senses. We cannot get a full un-derstanding of a thing through our senses, since our external senses are selective and provide a partial picture of the thing. The disparate data received through the senses should be reassembled by the internal senses or the intellect to produce a complete picture of the thing. In this process firstly phantasms and secondly intel-ligible species are produced, respectively, by the imagination and the intellect (Eardley and Still 2010, 51-56). A phantasm is made out of disparate perceived da- ta that represent the thing in its completeness, and is the thing’s likeness. In the next stage, the universal features of the thing are abstracted from the phantasm by the intellect, and so intelligible species are produced.  An intelligible species is also the likeness of a thing, but unlike a phantasm, it is totally de-individualized and de-materialized. The phantasm of a red car still pertains to one particular red car, but its intelligible species includes only the na-ture of a car, leaving aside all particular conditions that pertain to this particular car (Eardley and Still 2010, 51-56).  An intellect, in order to achieve knowledge, should grasp the essence of things. The perception of the accidental attributes like colour and texture is not enough to yield scientia  . To know the thing perfectly, the intellect should under-stand its four causes  —  the material, formal, efficient, and final cause  —  and its ef-fects. This perfect knowledge is not an instantaneous and individual endeavour; rather, it is a collective and a long enterprise, and it is even possible that such knowledge will never be obtained. The intellect should distinguish between the ac-cidental and the essential features of a thing. This process, however, does not ap-ply to artefacts, since their forms are imposed on their matter, and they do not have essences like those of natural things, so no artefact qualifies as a substance, but we can understand their four causes and effects to know them perfectly (Eard-ley and Still 2010, 8-60). Intellect has an active role in providing cognition and knowledge. Things are only potentially intelligible; they become actually intelligible when the intellect reassembles the disparate object produced by the external senses into the phan-tasm, and then abstracts the universals from it in the intelligible species (Eardley and Still 2010, 54-55). Without the operation of the internal senses and the intel-lect all the data received from the object by the external senses are disparate and un-integrated due to the partiality of each of the senses. It is the intellect that combines these data to provide a picture that is intelligible and might match the real object. In this process, both the intellect and the thing get actualized from a prior state of potentiality. The thing becomes actually intelligible while it was only potentially intelligible before; the intellect actually possesses the form of the thing    Ali Abedi Renani,  Alasdair MacIntyre ’  s Fallibilistic Interpretation of Aquinas ’   Theory of Truth  Nóema, 7-2 (2016): Ricerche noema.filosofia.unimi.it   20  while it had the form potentially before; or better put it, it had only the potentiality to receive the form. 2.2.  Aquinas’ Epistemological Optimism   For Aquinas, John Jenkins (1997, 112- 13) argues, “each  potency receives intrinsic ordination [direction] to its proper object” ; therefore, errors only enter in the op-eration of potencies that are under the control of the will, and have the possibility to act in different ways. Intellect as a potency has the quiddity of things as its ob-jects, and is not deceived in its grasp of the quiddities. This is the same as for sight  when the organ is healthy, and there is not any impediment to seeing (Jenkins 1997, 112-13).  Aquinas discusses the directedness of the intellect toward its proper ob-jects. He holds a very optimistic view to the intellect’s capacities, according to  which the intellect  —  like other cognitive faculties  —  does not or even cannot err in cognizing its proper object; the quiddity or the essential attributes of a thing is the proper object of intellect, thus it does not err in knowing them. Hence, as long as the faculty exists, its judgment concerning its own proper object does not fail. Now the proper object of the intellect is the "quiddity" of a material thing; and hence, proper-ly speaking, the intellect is not at fault concerning this quiddity (  Summa Theologica   85-6).  Aquinas does not explain adequately why the intellect does not err with regard to its proper objects, or why being the proper object of the intellect precludes errors. One way to explain this is that , in Aquinas’ view, the intellect at this stage is not dealing with composites. In Aquinas’ view, the possible errors of the intellect come in when it composes and divides concepts in a way that does not correspond to reality: By accident, however, falsity can occur in this knowing of quid-dities, if the intellect falsely joins and separates. This happens in two ways: when it attributes the definition of one thing to an-other, as would happen wer e it to conceive that “mortal rational animal” were the definition of an ass; or when it joins together parts of definitions that cannot be joined, as would happen  were it to conceive that “irrational, immortal animal” were the definition of an ass (   Questiones Disputatae de Veritate   I-XII).  The discussion so far shows that for Aquinas, error does not enter into the intel- lect’s first operation of defining things as it is dealing with the quiddity of things as its proper object. In sum, the intellect has the capacity to apprehend the essences of things by its natural light (Jenkins 1997, 113-114).  Jenkins ( 1997, 115) states that though, as explained above, the intellect in its first operation grasps the essences fully, there is some textual evidence in which    Ali Abedi Renani,  Alasdair MacIntyre ’  s Fallibilistic Interpretation of Aquinas ’   Theory of Truth  Nóema, 7-2 (2016): Ricerche noema.filosofia.unimi.it   21  Aquinas speaks about our imperfect apprehensions of some natural essences like flies, fire and bees 2 . Indeed, as Pasnau (2004, 166) points out, in Aquinas’ view, “the knowledge of an essence is not an all-or- nothing affair.” The intellect has a rough account of essences which is adequate to some extent, but is not complete. Human cognitive capacity is so weak, in Aquinas’ view, that he states “no philoso-pher could have ever completely investigated the nature of a single fly” (Aquinas’ symbolum, cited in   Pasnau 2004, 166). On this basis, Jenkins (1997, 115) con- cludes that though, in Aquinas’ view, the intellect is veracious in identifying natural kinds and distinguishing them according to their essences, or in other words it is able “to cut the world at its joints”, it is not able at least  initially to apprehend the  whole essence of some things; the intellect in these cases uses reasoning to move from an imperfect to a full grasp of the essences. In this interpretation, we need to use fallible discursive reason to come to a full grasp of some essences, and since our grasp of the essentials is deficient we should instead use accidents in our defi- nitions of the things; however, in Jenkins’ view (1997, 117), Aquinas may still hold that intellect due to its abilities and natural light can claim the correspondence of its ideas to the essences that are casually responsible for the formation of the phantasmata. Our intellect in its initial understanding “cuts the world at its joints” though it has many things to learn through discursive reasoning. I n Jenkins’ view (1997, 126), this assurance about the correspondence of the intellect’s ideas to real- ity, despite the incomplete understanding of essences, indicates that Aquinas is epistemologically optimistic. The acknowledgment of the role of reason by Aqui-nas mitigates to some degree what might otherwise appear to be an unrealistic op-timism with regard to the power of intellect; as he himself puts it, the need to rea- son is correlated with human beings’ imperfect knowledge:   … to reason is to advance fro m one thing understood to an-other, so as to know an intelligible truth. And therefore angels,  who according to their nature, possess perfect knowledge of in-telligible truth, have no need to advance from one thing to an-other; but apprehend the truth simply and without mental dis- cussion…(  Summa Theologica   I.79.8).  The above quote implies that the need to reason is a consequence of imperfect human knowledge. This approach can be used to support democratic and delibera-tive kinds of reasoning, since our knowledge of things is limited and partial, and needs to be complemented through dialectical and discursive reasoning. This line of reasoning can be used as a response to some critics of MacIntyre, including George (1989) and Coleman (1994), who claim that for Aquinas some truths are evident to all. According to these critics, as was mentioned in the beginning of the article, “a definition [for Aristotle and Aquinas] is not culture bound nor is it tem- poral. Both names and definition which grasp the essence of a subject have no temporality” (Coleman 1994, 81).  While according to the interpretation just of-   2   Thomas Aquinas, In Symbolum apostolorum, prologus 864, in Opuscula theologica, vol. II, cited in Jenkins (1997, 115).      Ali Abedi Renani,  Alasdair MacIntyre ’  s Fallibilistic Interpretation of Aquinas ’   Theory of Truth  Nóema, 7-2 (2016): Ricerche noema.filosofia.unimi.it   22 fered, though Aquinas is optimistic about the capacity of the intellect, this opti-mism does not apply to the second operation of the intellect in which it forms judgments; indeed, as argued above, his optimism does not apply to all of the first operation. The intellect will gradually know the essence, and thus, the element of temporality comes in. As will be explained further in the next section, the enquirer begins its enquiry from contingent points, and not from self-evident principles, and finally might arrive at first principles. These contingent starting points are cul-ture-dependent, in the sense that they might differ across cultures. Therefore, falli-ble and dialectical reasoning is compatible with Aquinas’ thought . This is despite the fact that MacIntyre (2006, 162-3) claims Aristotle and Aquinas have not ade-quately taken into account that progress in enquiry is often torturous and uneven, and that it might even result in regress and frustration. 3.  Aquinas’ Account of First Principles    Another approach that can be used to support a fallibilistic interpretation of Aqui-nas is based on his account of first principles. First principles are the principles  which are used as the foundations of theoretical and practical reasoning. Accord-ing to the modern and the Cartesian understanding of first principles, these princi-ples are epistemological propositions, in the sense that they are or should be self-evident and distinct ideas that do not need to be derived from other propositions. MacIntyre is critical of this epistemological account of first principles, and imputes a dialectical interpretation of first principles to Aquinas, which, in turn, yields a fal-libilistic account of his theory of truth. MacIntyre’s view of dialectical method rests on two denials. The first is denying the possibility of knowing the first principles of knowledge at the begin-ning of an enquiry; the second is denying the need for an initial knowledge of the first principles as a condition of acquiring knowledge. Instead, in his view, first principles become known at the end of enquiries. MacIntyre, from an anti-Cartesian perspective, argues that enquiries start from established contingent be-liefs, not from first principles which are self-evident to every rational and compe-tent agent. The mind through a dialectical method might finally know the first principles regarding some matter or phenomenon   (MacIntyre 2006, 146-147).  The enquirer in the Thomistic perspective, unlike the Cartesian view, does not need to know and be aware that he knows something. The mind might, in fact, know first principles and use them in its enquiries, but it might not be aware of the fact that it knows them, and is using them. In the Cartesian view, by comparison, first principles should be knowable, distinct and indubitable at the beginning of any enquiry. For the Cartesian it is always a reference backwards to our start-ing-point that guarantees our knowledge, and hence, it is only through knowing that we know that we know. By contrast, for the Thomist our present knowledge involves reference forward to that knowledge of the arche/principium which will, if we
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