Why Some Consider Aquinas’s Use of Reason Autonomous

The ambience of faith within which the believer engages in philosophy has seemed to some to entail that the believer cannot truly engage in philosophy at all.  This criticism is rooted in quite modern notions of how philosophy begins.  Unlike the assumptions … that the philosopher begins with truths everyone already knows – since Descartes the initial task of the philosopher has been taken to be the rinsing from his mind of all prior knowledge claims.  Various methods were devised to carry this out, such as methodic doubt, and the suggestion is that philosophizing is presuppositionless.  The philosopher ideally is uninfluenced by his upbringing and culture; he is an isolated mind, and little else, to which somehow questions occur.  (Ralph McInerny, Aquinas, p. 32)

McInerny’s point, that since Descartes “Philosophy” has come to mean something much different, is an idea that modern Christians need to keep in mind when traversing Aquinas’s thought for neat ideas on apologetics and evangelism.  Those who see Aquinas as forsaking God’s authority for autonomous reason are reading, anachronistically, a modern definition of Philosophy back into St. Thomas.  As I mentioned in the last post, Aristotle did not believe that he was reasoning autonomously.  Aquinas, in agreeing with certain of Aristotle’s first principles was not giving up his own but was recognizing that even the natural man can get some things right.  He was not doing Philosophy as we know it but “divine science.”

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