New book on Aquinas's philosophy by Stephen Brock

Stephen L. Brock, professor of medieval philosophy at the Pontificia Università della Santa Croce in Rome, has just published a book entitled The Philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas: A Sketch. Here is the book description from Cascade Books (an imprint of Wipf and Stock):

If Saint Thomas Aquinas was a great theologian, it is in no small part because he was a great philosopher. And he was a great philosopher because he was a great metaphysician. In the twentieth century, metaphysics was not much in vogue, among either theologians or even philosophers; but now it is making a comeback, and once the contours of Thomas's metaphysical vision are glimpsed, it looks like anything but a museum piece. It only needs some dusting off. Many are studying Thomas now for the answers that he might be able to give to current questions, but he is perhaps even more interesting for the questions that he can raise regarding current answers: about the physical world, about human life and knowledge, and (needless to say) about God. This book is aimed at helping those who are not experts in medieval thought to begin to enter into Thomas's philosophical point of view. Along the way, it brings out some aspects of his thought that are not often emphasized in the current literature, and it offers a reading of his teaching on the divine nature that goes rather against the drift of some prominent recent interpretations.

This sounds like an important new contribution. Personally, I am looking forward to seeing what in Brock's reading of Aquinas's teaching on the divine nature goes "against the drift of some prominent recent interpretations."

You can find out more information and purchase Brock's book here or here.

What do philosophers believe? A new study has some answers

David Bourget and David J. Chalmers have a noteworthy paper forthcoming in Philosophical Studies in which they report their findings from a study they recently conducted about the “philosophical views of contemporary professional philosophers.”

I posted on this study last week at the AMU philosophy department blog. Since I assume that we do not have the same traffic here as we do there I thought I would also put up a post here.

Among the questions that Bourget and Chalmers have tried to answer are the following: Are more philosophers theists or atheists? Are more physicalists or non-physicalists? Are the majority of philosophers deontologists, consequentialists, or virtue ethicists?

You can find a draft of the paper at It is is titled “What Do Philosophers Believe?” The authors admit that it might be misleading to say that their work is a report on the beliefs of a representative group of all philosophers. Indeed, their paper might be more aptly called “What Do Analytic Philosophers Believe?” Bourget and Chalmers explain:

It should be acknowledged that this target group has a strong (although not exclusive) bias toward analytic or Anglocentric philosophy. As a consequence, the results of the survey are a much better guide to what analytic/Anglocentric philosophers (or at least philosophers in strong analytic/Anglocentric departments believe) believe than to what philosophers from other traditions believe. We conceived of the survey that way from the start, in part because that is where our own expertise lies. It is also not clear how much can be learned by requiring (for example) specialists in Anglocentric philosophy to answer questions drawn from Asian philosophy or vice versa. Furthermore, attempting full representation of philosophers worldwide from all traditions would require linguistic resources and contact details that were unavailable to us.

I suppose this narrow sampling is forgivable. With more funding and assistance they might have been able to do something more comprehensive. While I found the paper informative, a friend of mine, who read it at my suggestion (and who reads much more analytic philosophy than I do), told me that he found it uninformative. Oh well, you can judge for yourself.

Divine Action – in Berkeley

The Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology in Berkeley, California, recently held a book launch for Unlocking Divine Action: Contemporary Science and Thomas Aquinas (Catholic University of America Press, 2012) by Fr. Michael Dodds, OP, Professor of Philosophy and Theology at DSPT and the Graduate Theological Union (GTU), Berkeley. Bringing the teachings of Thomas Aquinas into dialogue with contemporary science, Fr. Dodds’ book finds new ways to understand God’s action in the natural world and in human life. Presenters were Dr. Robert John Russell, Founder and Director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences (CTNS) at the GTU; Dr. Ted Peters of CTNS, Professor of Systematic Theology, Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary and the GTU; Dr. Lara Buchak, Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of California at Berkeley, and Fr. Mariusz Tabaczek, OP, GTU doctoral student from the Dominican Province of Poland. Presentations at the event are available on video (here).

International Thomistic Philosophy Conference in Chile

This July 4-6 the Universidad Santo Tomás in Santiago, Chile is hosting the “1st International Congress on Thomistic Philosophy,” which is taking as its topic: “The Person: Divine, Angelic, Human.” The gathering will be held at the university’s main campus in Santiago.

Here is the list of invited speakers:

Eleonore Stump, University of Saint Louis

Eudaldo Forment, Universitat de Barcelona

Lluis Clavell, President of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas Aquinas

Tomás Melendo, Universidad de Málaga

Enrique Alarcón, Universidad de Navarra

John Knasas, University of Saint Thomas (Houston)

Antonio Amado, Universidad de los Andes

Juan Antonio Widow, Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez

Félix Adolfo Lamas, Universidad Católica Argentina

Fernando Moreno, Universidad Gabriela Mistral

Vincenzo Benetollo, O.P., President of the Società Internazionale Tommaso d’Aquino (SITA)

The deadline for proposals for contributions is May 31. They can be sent to

You can find out more information about the congress — in Spanish, Italian, and English — online at the congress’s webpage.

Comments on Freddoso's Translation of the Summa's Treatise on Human Nature

Alfred Freddoso’s recent translation for St. Augustine’s Press of qq. 75-102 of the prima pars of the Summa Theologiae might be of interest to people who are looking for Aquinas texts in English for undergraduate (or possibly graduate) philosophical anthropology classes.

Looking at a few articles, Freddoso does seem to have made a faithful translation and the English is readable. A nice touch is that for certain key phrases, or points in the text where some might want to consult the Latin, or where the translation is not strictly literal, Freddoso inserts the Latin in parentheses.

There have been other single volume English editions of Aquinas’s treatment of human nature. In 1962 James Anderson published a translation for Prentice-Hall of Aquinas’s treatise on human nature from the Summa entitled Treatise on Man. In 1999 Thomas Hibbs put together an anthology for Hackett of Aquinas’s texts called On Human Nature. There are important differences between these three volumes.

Anderson’s volume only covers qq. 75-89 of the Summa’s Prima Pars while Freddoso’s translation also includes qq. 90-102. It could be argued that Aquinas understood this discussion of man in the Summa to include all of the questions between 75 and 102. It all depends on how you interpret the remarks he makes prior to q. 75, a. 1. There Aquinas tells the reader:

Post considerationem creaturae spiritualis et corporalis, considerandum est de homine, qui ex spirituali et corporali substantia componitur. Et primo, de natura ipsius hominis; secundo, de eius productione.

I translate this as:

After the consideration of spiritual and corporeal creatures, there is the consideration of man who is composed of a spiritual and corporeal substance. And first we consider the nature itself of man; second his production.

When Aquinas says that he will first consider the nature of man and then his production, he clearly has qq. 75-89 in mind for man’s nature and qq. 90-102 for his production. And Freddoso acknowledges this by putting the respective question numbers in parentheses after the phrase about man’s nature and the phrase about his production in his translation. Obviously, Freddoso thinks that when Aquinas talks about the “consideration of man” and then divides this up into the consideration of his nature and the consideration of his production, this gives us the complete content of the Summa’s “Treatise on Human Nature.”

Just as obviously, Anderson thinks differently. In his introduction to his translation of qq. 75-89 Anderson says that qq. 44-119 are divided into six treatises: The Angels, The Work of the Six Days, on Man, on The First Man, and on The Divine Government. The fifth treatise, “The First Man,” corresponds to qq. 90-102. So, Anderson does not regard the “consideration of man” as constituting a single unified treatise but two distinct treatises. After all, Aquinas does plainly distinguish between man’s nature and his production. But on the back cover of Freddoso’s translation we read: “This translation, moreover, is the only complete edition of all the material St. Thomas envisaged as being part of the Treatise.” Has Anderson misunderstood Aquinas or has Freddoso? Is there another possibility? You can decide for yourself.

It is less controversial to note in what way Freddoso’s volume differs from Hibbs’s. Freddoso presents one block of texts from the Summa while Hibbs puts together texts from various parts of the Summa with texts from Aquinas’s commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima. Both volumes form coherent wholes: Freddoso’s forms a whole that Aquinas himself intended (and, even granting possible Andersonian objections, qq. 90-102 were at least meant to follow systematically in the overall design of the Summa) and Hibbs’s forms a reconstructed speculative whole that Aquinas may or may not have intended. (Of course, this is not to say anything against the Hibbs volume. I’ve made profitable use of it in my undergrad classes. The point was only to specify further in what way it differs from Freddoso’s offering. Incidentally, Freddoso is among those whom Hibbs thanks for commenting on his introduction to On Human Nature.)

For readers who are not immediately familiar with content of the questions that Freddoso presents in his translation, let me give a brief outline: qq. 75-76 deal with the relationship between the body and soul in man; qq. 77-89 deal with the various powers of man’s soul and their operations but the intellect and the will are the main interest, and of these two the intellect gets the lengthier treatment; qq. 90-102 handle God’s production of the first human beings and their general condition prior to the Fall. Many of the articles in qq. 90-102 touch on issues that are of direct relevance to human nature generally and not just in its prelapsarian state. For example, q. 90, a. 2 asks whether the human soul is produced directly by God; q. 91, a. 3, asks whether the human body is appropriately constituted (e.g., given man’s nature, whether horns or hooves would be fitting for him); q. 93, q. 1 asks whether the image of God exists in man. Given these inquiries, one can see why it was not unreasonable for Freddoso to include qq. 90-102 in this volume.

As translated by Freddoso, qq. 75-102  come out to 339 pages, so if you used it in a class together with other texts and you like your students to read carefully, you will have to count on them spending a large portion of the semester getting through it, unless you only use certain sections.

I would have liked a substantive introduction and explanatory notes in this volume. Four brief paragraphs on the back cover are all that we get for an introduction (and it is not specified who their author is) and explanatory notes are completely absent. Neither is absolutely necessary but they are a nice bonus for works of this kind, at least in my opinion. A thorough topical index is included. This is certainly a benefit.

Aquinas, One of the Greatest Philosophers Ever?

In a “non-scientific” poll asking about the greatest philosopher in history, conducted six years ago by the BBC Radio 4 program “In Our Time,” which features academic discussions of famous people and ideas, Aquinas placed #7 overall.

It looks like Aquinas has come a long way since the time when modern historians of philosophy (e.g., Émile Bréhier) claimed that no philosophy was done in the Middle Ages (or, if it was, that it wasn’t worth remembering) and that there was a yawning chasm between the Greeks and Descartes.

Here are the top ten great philosophers according to the BBC poll results:

  1. Karl Marx
  2. David Hume
  3. Ludwig Wittgenstein
  4. Friedrich Nietzsche
  5. Plato
  6. Immanuel Kant
  7. St. Thomas Aquinas
  8. Socrates
  9. Aristotle
  10. Karl Popper 

Marx won by a landslide, receiving 27.93% of the vote. Aquinas only received 4.83% of the vote. Still, considering that this was probably a largely secular audience (not to mention non-Catholic), it is surprising that Aquinas even made the top ten. Moreover, there were a number of other philosophers nominated, who ranked lower than Aquinas. When the voting was finished, Aquinas had beat Socrates, Aristotle, Popper, Descartes, Epicurus, Heidegger, Hobbes, Kierkegaard, Mill, Russell, Sartre, Schopenhauer, and Spinoza. That’s pretty impressive for a pious primitive from the Dark Ages.

I don’t recall this poll getting much press at the time. Well, I suppose that’s not surprising. Philosophers don’t make the news much. It’s probably not unusual, then, that some non-scientific poll by the BBC about philosophers didn’t really cause a stir. So, I’ve taken it upon myself to generate a bit more press for this five-year-old poll. I imagine that the results would not be too different if the poll were taken again today.

There was also an episode on Aquinas originally broadcast by “In Our Time” on Sept. 17, 2009, with John Haldane, Martin Palmer, and Annabel Brett. You can listen to it here. It must be said, however, that Palmer and Brett are not the best guides to Aquinas. Haldane isn’t bad even if in this context his approach to Aquinas has to be introductory.

“In Our Time” generally deals with interesting topics and often has well-informed guests. It’s worth having a look at the old broadcasts in the program archive.

[A version of this post appeared last October on my now defunct blog “the end of the modern world, etc.”]

James F. Ross (1931-2010)

From the website of Edward Feser comes the news that philosopher, James F. Ross, has died (here, and here). Thomists will know of him for many reasons, one of which would surely be his work on analogy. Ross’s website has links to things that he has written, some of which are available online.