Monday, September 12, 2011

Vanquishing St. Thomas Philosophically

The philosopher must not only be able to see and show the fact that someone else whent about it in such and such a way; his insight must not only extend to the connections between the other's grounds [Grund] and consequences. The philosopher must also grasp why his predecessor went about it like this. He must get down intot he grounds themselves and grasp them. And this means that the grounds must grip him and best him in the sense that he decides to accept them and retraces within himself the path the othe rfollowed from gorunds to conclusions, perhaps even going beyond him. Or else he must best the grounds; I mean, he must decide to get free of them and take another path. To be bested by St. Thomas's "grounds" means to vanquish him philosophically for ourselves. To best his grounds means to "be done" with him philosophically.

Edith Stein, Potency and Act, ICS (Washington, D.C.: 2009) p. 3. Of course, this is quite general: regardless of the philosopher, we must in the end be bested by their grounds, and thus vanquish that philosopher for ourselves, conquer the mountain of their thought, or we must best their grounds, showing (not, of course, merely assuming) that there is a better way.


  1. Michael Sullivan9:20 PM

    I'm not sure about this. There are some philosophers who are so powerful that even when we reject certain of their fundamental principles or methods - which is what I take "besting their grounds" to be - we are still never done with them. It's many years since I considered myself a devoted Thomist, and yet I never expect to be done with Thomas. Same thing goes for Plato. We don't refute him and move on, not if we know what's good for us, rather we continue to read him over and over.

    Platonists or Thomists or whoever might be another story. I'm trying to read some Maritain after a long interval, and I'm finding it difficult. Although in many ways I still admire him a great deal - and he was formative for my undergraduate years - many of his assumptions and assertions, and much of his style, now grate on my nerves. I'm not ready to say that I'm done with Maritain, but I can imagine getting to that point.

  2. branemrys9:53 PM

    I think there's something to be said for that. I wonder if we could perhaps say that there are philosophers whose 'grounds' are so rich that there's always more to them -- however much we best their grounds, there are more grounds to best.

    This particular passage is interesting , since it's in the introduction, and Stein is talking about the difficulties of a phenomenologist coming to Aquinas: Aquinas is methodical, but his method is nothing like the obsession with method found in phenomenology-- indeed, he doesn't have one method, but as many as he thinks suits the topic; Aquinas is philosophical and reasons philosophically, but is also constantly appealing to Scripture and to authority; and so forth. So this is in the background when she makes this point; perhaps we can say it's a phenomenologist's reason for going all out in the attempt to understand Aquinas.


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