A thomist and an atheist want to have a drink in a nearby pub. In the doorway they see a chin-up bar. The atheist says: “let’s just duck under it, and go in.” The thomist says: “nah, it has all the accidents of a chin-up bar, but its essence is really a bar, so we can have a drink there”… so he walks into the bar, and hurts his head really bad.
I know, it is not really funny… but describes the difference quite well.
Just an observation. It seems that the number of atheists has been increasing over the last several years, while is it true that there are fewer Thomists than before? St. Thomas has been hit on his views of women and some other things as well such as whether heretics should be killed. And E. Orthodox don’t like his discussion of the filioque.
It has always been unlikely, I think, that Thomism would find widespread support among non-Catholics. It’s not just the growth of irreligion in recent years; it goes deeper than that. Despite his unchallenged brilliance and the clarity of his thought, Aquinas’ philosophy is thought to be fundamentally flawed for the reason explained by Bertrand Russell in A History of Western Philosophy, first published three-quarters of a century ago, in 1946. His chapter on Aquinas ends with this paragraph:
There is little of the true philosophic spirit in Aquinas. He does not, like the Platonic Socrates, set out to follow wherever the argument may lead. He is not engaged in an enquiry, the result of which it is impossible to know in advance. Before he begins to philosophize, he already knows the truth; it is declared in the Catholic faith. If he can find apparently rational arguments for some parts of the faith, so much the better; if he cannot, he need only fall back on revelation. The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading. I cannot, therefore, feel that he deserves to be put on a level with the best philosophers either of Greece or of modern times.
For me the trouble is quite “deep”. The basic problem is the concept of “essence” and the “accidents”. The theoretical definition of “essence is WHAT it is” could be acceptable, if it could be applied to specifics. What is the essence of a “table”? Or the essence of a “dog”?
The other problem is what Russell also criticized, the approach of Aquinas. It reminds me the method of Tertullian, who said:
Typical bad approach used by snake-oil peddlers. Don’ look for the efficacy of snake-oil and try to investigate the available evidence. Instead accept the efficacy of the snake-oil, and THEN you can look for SUPPORTING evidence!
Ancient philosophy, just like medieval philosophy, assumed that some things were obvious to all and knowable by all. You started from what you knew to be true, and moved on from there.
But people like Pascal and Russell start with the assumption that they shouldn’t know anything, except maybe one thing, and end up writing volumes and volumes on proving the obvious. Which would be fine as an exploration technique, but… then Russell sneered at everybody else for moving along to the parts they were interested in exploring.
Russell was a hypocrite. You can’t “assume nothing,” and then write books in the Latin alphabet using the English language, or even using mathematical notation and traditional numbers. You can’t even use paper and pencil, if you’re really assuming nothing. Come back when you invent your own universe, Russell.