Aquinas and Kant Thomas Aquinas Term Paper

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It is feasible, perhaps, that someone could hold the principle that he should always act rationally but also believe that this rationality should act towards maximizing their individual base pleasures. Clearly, this could be carried out at the expense of other rational beings. This would violate Kant's universal laws of morality because it would reject the elevated nature of humanity in general. At the same time, if this person were willing to accept the notion that everyone else should behave as he does, his actions would be difficult to categorize by Kant's methods.

Kant's morality is a bit more complex than Aquinas' and objections to the latter's conception of ethics are slightly more straightforward. Basically, Aquinas' position that "knowledge is virtue" is difficult to back in light of instances in which knowledge of the rightness of an action are known but still not followed. It is perceivable that an individual could be in full possession of the knowledge that, "One ought to protect those put in one's charge," but when faced with crises involuntarily act to save himself -- thus, neglecting the responsibility recognized through knowledge. Aquinas' whole system of classifying moral and immoral actions is thrown into disarray when it is recognized that it is possible for an individual's perception of a situation and the actual physical realities of that situation can differ. Nevertheless, Aquinas' approach to ethics is undeniably a rekindling of Aristotle's notions placed into a Christian setting. It seems that Kant recognizes these apparent problems with his predecessor's writings and attempts to circumvent the whole debate.

Still, the faith Aquinas held in rational thought as the vehicle through which virtue and valuable knowledge could be obtained is directly reflected in his approach to philosophy and theology. "For Thomas there is not just one level at which things really exist but many: there are organizations of matter which are not mere products of general laws of attraction and repulsion arranging matter, laws isolated in our laboratory experiments where measuring instruments abstract from all indifference, noise, impurities, foreign bodies, extraneous factors." Therefore, the many anomalies of the natural world, to Aquinas, are best explained by making distinctions between the differing levels of reality as they relate to those that human beings are capable of observing. Thus, gaining the knowledge to solidify the existence of God was possible, and demanded for a moral existence. Everything within Aquinas' understanding of philosophy and theology demanded that he undertake this task.

Aquinas is convinced that philosophical argumentation can prove that God exists.... At the same time, he denies that God's existence is self-evident to us in this life." His broad approach is always to proceed from an observable effect to trace it back to God in some manner. He proposes that there are five ways in which God can be proven to exist. The first, and the most famous, stems from the observation that things in this world move. Aquinas goes on to note that things are always brought from their potential to move to actually moving by other objects that are in movement themselves. Consequently, he arrives at the conclusion that everything that has been put into motion can be traced back to an original mover -- something unmovable itself -- and he additionally asserts that everyone recognizes this first mover to be God. Clearly, this is a powerful argument and still holds substantial pull to this day. However, one consequence that Aquinas toys with but eventually rejects is the notion that motion travels back through time infinitely. His grounds for rejecting this concept are not altogether apparent. Perhaps, this is simply because the idea that time could be infinite seems fundamentally nonsensical. Yet, it is not completely obvious that asserting that an immaterial first mover is responsible for all movement is not equally nonsensical. Additionally, the most questionable conclusion is naming the fist mover God, and in particular, the traditional God backed by Catholic authority.

Aquinas' remaining methods for proving the existence of God have not stood the test of time as well as his first line of reasoning. The second addresses causality in general, while the second and third approaches deal with the nature of human perception and the varying degrees of perfection in the natural world. This fifth argument is directly tied to Aquinas' vision of human morality and its elemental relationship with acquisition of knowledge. He notes that there exist unknowing objects in the world, and that these objects are acted upon by conscious beings. Carrying this theme out to its full extent, the conscious being who exhibits his will through all of the non-thinking objects of the world must be God. What is most important to carry away from these arguments is the painstaking methods employed. Certainly, Aquinas' particular relationship with Christina theology and his belief in the proper ways to lead a moral life required that he search for multiple ways to prove what he saw as a fact accepted upon faith. "Aquinas comments that once one knows that something exists, it remains to determine how it is, so as to know what it is."

Notably, Kant was fond of Aquinas' approach to philosophy, although he sought to rectify what he saw as basic mistakes made by his predecessors. Kant's major objection to the current metaphysics of his time was that it did not permit one to prove the existence of, or even to discuss God. He saw this as the primary failing of those who attempted to argue that experiences and knowledge came entirely from external input. Largely, his reaction to this sort of philosophy was to generate notions of reality and ethics that were free of strictly empirical interpretations. Consequently, he was able to make assertions regarding God that were analogous to Aquinas' although arrived at through utterly different routes,

We see things alter, come into being, and pass away; and these, or at least their state, must therefore have a cause. But the same question can be raised in regard to every cause that can be given in experience. Where, therefore, can we more suitably locate the ultimate causality than where there also exists the highest causality, that is, in that being which contains primordially in itself the sufficient ground of every possible effect, and the concept of which we can also very easily entertain by means of the one attribute of an all-embracing perfection."

Obviously, Aquinas' influence can be discerned from this passage. Thus, Kant's notion that there exist some bits of information that constitute a priori knowledge cause him to conclude that something can be said about God. Yet, his categorical imperative and logical method do not have any clear corollaries to aspects of Aquinas' argumentation. They are two very distinct philosophers who nevertheless shared a similar drive to justify faith.

Works Cited

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1988.

Kant, Immanuel. "What is Enlightenment?" Philosophy. 1784. Retrieved from eserver.org/philosophy/kant/what-is-enlightenment.txt.

Kretzmann, Norman and Eleonore Stump. Aquinas. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2003.

McDermott, Timothy. St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologiae. Allen: Christian Classics, 1989.

McGreal, Ian P. Great Thinkers of the Western World. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992.

Strathern, Paul. Kant. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1996.

Strathern, Paul. Kant. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1996. (p55).

See above, no. 1. (p55).

Kretzmann, Norman and Eleonore Stump. Aquinas. Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2003. (p113).

McGreal, Ian P. Great Thinkers of the Western World. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992. (p284).

See above, no. 4. (p284).

See above, no. 3. (p196).

See above, no. 3 (p202).

Kant, Immanuel. "What is Enlightenment?" Philosophy. 1784. Retrieved from eserver.org/philosophy/kant/what-is-enlightenment.txt.

See above, no. 3. (p205).

McDermott, Timothy. St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologiae. Allen: Christian Classics, 1989. (pxxv).

See above, no. 3. (p113).

See above, no. 3. (p116).

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason.…[continue]

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