Plato, philosopher and teacher of Aristotle, once taught that, "There is a real distinction between existence and essence." Note that, of the two predications in the preceding statement, the truth of each is evaluated by two different disciplines. An individual man could conceivably argue to falsity of the main clause, and the truth of the quotation, but he would require two different sciences, history and philosophy respectively, each with differing degrees of certitude as to their judgments.

Consider this sentence: St. Thomas held that "A demonstration of the existence of an immaterial, first, and unmoved mover is required to differentiate the science of physics and the science of metaphysics as to their subjects." It succumbs to an identical analysis as the statement concerning Plato. As a further consequence, the student of philosophy ought to invest his time secondarily seeking the answer to the historical question, and primarily the philosophical one. However, when it comes to knowing and defending the authority of one's teachers, and whom one's teacher indicates as teachers, the answer to the former question takes on more importance.

The disciples of St. Thomas take a broad spectrum of positions concerning the Angelic Doctor as the Expositor of Aristotle, the Philosopher. At one extreme, everything St. Thomas writes concerning Aristotle's philosophy in the commentaries is to be taken as (permit me the use of a dirty word) "Thomistic philosophy" (e.g., Weisheipl), unless St. Thomas explicity states otherwise in the same or parallel contexts. The other extreme holds that St. Thomas was only a theologian, and no such Thomistic philosophy can be found (Gilson). A more moderate position states that "When the views [Thomas] presents in more independent writings agree with those he exposes in a particular commentary on Aristotle, we may assume that he accepts the latter as his own position as well. When there is disagreement between the two discussions, we should be very hesitant in assigning such a position from one of his commentaries to Thomas himself, unless there is also some evidence pointing to change or development in his thinking on that point." [1] This view leans to the Gilsonian extreme, stating that St. Thomas agrees with what he says in commentaries on Aristotle only where explicitly stated elsewhere. Otherwise, the Expositor is merely expositing what Aristotle thought was philosophy, and isn't making any "truth-value judgments."

However, one could bend the stick towards the "River Forest" extreme and take what is (too strongly) named "The McInerny Identity Thesis": that St. Thomas agrees with what he says concerning what Aristotle said, unless he explicitly states otherwise (in any place). That this seems to be the case can be evidenced from the following place.

Concerning the disagreement over the distinction of the subject of physics from metaphysics, Wippel's position concerning the texts from Metaphysics IV, VI, and XI as St. Thomas treats of it in his commentary is that: "In these cases we have Thomas's explanation of Aristotle's text, but not Thomas's personal position concerning the conditions of possibility for separation and hence for the discovery of the subject of metaphysics." [2] Metaphysics VI.1 states:

...if there is no substance other than those which are formed by nature, natural science will be the first science; but if there is an immovable substance, the science of this must be prior and must be first philosophy, and universal in this way, because it is first. [1026a27]

St. Thomas, in his commentary, does "little more than repeat the Stagirite's text." [3] Now, without going into the intricacies of this issue philosophically, one can argue from the opponent's own grounds that St. Thomas in fact holds Aristotle's position. For, if there is another text (an independent text) where St. Thomas sustains this view, then it can be attributed to his own philosophical teaching.

In Summa Contra Gentiles, I.12, St. Thomas argues against those who hold that the existence of God can only be held by faith, and cannot be demonstrated by reason. Three arguments for fideism are brought up, and before they are answered in order, St. Thomas presents the four following arguments for the truth of the matter:

Huius autem sententiae falsitas nobis ostenditur, tum ex demonstrationis arte, quae ex effectibus causas concludere docet. Tum ex ipso scientiarum ordine. Nam, si non sit aliqua scibilis substantia supra substantiam sensibilem, non erit aliqua scientia supra naturalem, ut dicitur in IV Metaph. Tum ex philosophorum studio, qui Deum esse demonstrare conati sunt. Tum etiam apostolica veritate asserente, Rom. 1-20: invisibilia Dei per ea quae facta sunt intellecta conspiciuntur.

These arguments seem to be arranged in descending order of philosophical force: 1) from the teachings of logic, causes are to be concluded to from their effects; 2) from the order of the sciences, which argument will be considered in a moment; 3) from the desire or zeal of the philosophers; 4) from the authority of Scripture.

In the third argument, St. Thomas argues that the order of the sciences shows that fideism is false: "For if there are not any knowable substances above sensible substances, there would be no science higher than natural [science], as is said in Metaphysics IV." But, modus tollens, there is a science of metaphysics. Therefore there are knowable separate substances, hence fideism does not hold.

Note that St. Thomas quotes Metaphysics IV, whereas the passage he paraphrases clearly occurs in Metaphysics VI. The passage cited by the Pegis translation of the Summa Contra Gentiles is from Metaphysics IV.3, 1005a18ff, a passage Wippel includes in his dismissal. This misquotation I cannot explain. Concerning this misquoted text, in his commentary (written after SCG) St. Thomas also mentions the same difficulty: the reason for why the naturalists sought to treat of first principles: because they thought that there were no separate substances.

For our purposes, this text shows that St. Thomas must agree with what he states in his commentary on Aristotle concerning the texts in question (Metaphysics IV.3 and VI.1). The force of the argument in SCG depends upon an order of the sciences considered from the rank of their objects. By paraphrasing Aristotle, St. Thomas appeals contextually to the difficulty of distinguishing the subject of physics from metaphysics as part of that order. If they can be distinguished, fideism fails. If they cannot be distinguished, fideism holds. However, the solution to the difficulty (as St. Thomas indicates himself in his commentary, following Aristotle) is that the argument from Physics VIII for an immaterial prime mover establishes the subject of metaphysics.

If St. Thomas did in fact disagree with the Philosopher concerning this point, it is very misleading for him to paraphrase a well-known passage of Aristotle, importing its contextual solutions, in refutation of an error concerning the Catholic faith.

There are at least two replies that could be offered: 1) St. Thomas is appealing only to the order of learning, and 2) St. Thomas is using Aristotle's authority in a merely dialectical fashion: St. Thomas could still hold a "personal solution" to the problem of differentiating the subjects of physics and metaphysics.

Contra 1.: St. Thomas cannot be relying solely on the order of learning for this difficulty: in order to refute fideism, the existence of a science posterior to physics must hold (the order of teaching such a science in relation to physics would be posterior to such a consideration: nobody cares about the order you teach non-existent sciences).

Contra 2.: St. Thomas cannot offer merely dialectical responses to fideism. Philosophy as handmaiden must (in its defensive mode) show this to be (paradoxically) an error pernicious to the faith. Now, the argument from the "desire of the philosophers" is dialectical: "Surely all these men are not hunting in vain." The argument from logic is (in a like fashion, though stronger) dialectical, for while it teaches that effects prove the existence of causes, logic as a science cannot demonstrate the existence of those causes. The way to demonstratively refute fideism is to show the science itself. Now, if St. Thomas is quoting Aristotle as his authority for this, but disagrees with the Stagirite's solution (which solution must be clear, for St. Thomas indicates it in his commentary), all the while making no mention of it, his argument fails his hearers. It is greatly irresponsible for a teacher to introduce a difficulty in the presence of his students which he himself cannot solve.

Now, none of these arguments are demonstrative, and such arguments never will be. However, in the interest of clinging to St. Thomas a the Expositor, it seems that they lend support to following him as he follows the Philosopher.

[1] John F. Wippel, Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas, p.xx
[2] ibid., p.59
[3] ibid., p.57


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