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Thomas Aquinas (St.)

(ca. 1225-1274)
Italian Theologian 

Influences

Education 
  • University of Naples, liberal arts 
  • University of Paris, Dominican House of Studies 
  • Cologne, theology, under Albert the Great (Albert Magnus)-1248 
Career
  • 1252-1259, teacher at University of Paris 
  • 1259-1268, teacher at assorted places in Italy 
  • 1268-1272, University of Paris 
  • 1272-1273, University of Naples 
Ideas and Contributions

Thomas Aquinas was at the center of the 13th century Christian doctrinal crisis caused by the rediscovery of Greek science, culture, and thought. He based many of his ideas on those of Aristotle, recasting them to fit his Christian theological framework. For example, he added the interior senses (cogitative power, imagination, memory) to Aristotle's five senses. Aquinas believed that intellect makes experience understandable by extracting general, non-sensory traits.  

Thomas Aquinas felt that the process of gaining knowledge was not like the process of pouring water into a vessel.  A pupil is not simply the receiver of good things from without, but is a living agent.  All the teachers in the world can do him no good unless they adopt methods which will stimulate the activity of his mind.  No one can know for another, each one must know for himself; teachers are only intended to excite the latent energies of our minds and to help us in knowing.  In his "Hints to Teachers" he warns against overloading the mind of the beginner with a multitude of "useless" questions.  Instead, the teacher should give the student a clear knowledge of them (questions), bearing in mind the capacity of the pupil; establish them by a few good, strong arguments, if proofs are necessary, and then pass onto something more particular, without consuming valuable time in dealing with hair-splitting arguments which the bigger cannot understand, and in the study of which there is little profit and much annoyance.

Aquinas espoused the hylomorphic view [metaphysical idea which says that all natural bodies are made up of both primary matter and substantial form] of the oneness of the body and soul. He believed that man's rational soul was immortal and proposed "the inclusion of the history of nature in the history of the spirit and at the same time noted the importance of the history of spirit for the history of nature. Man is situated ontologically (i.e., by his very existence) at the juncture of two universes, 'like a horizon of the corporeal and of the spiritual.' In man there is not only a distinction between spirit and nature but there is also an intrinsic homogeneity of the two. . . . [The] body is the matter and the soul is the form of man." (Britannica Online)

Although his ideas were controversial for many centuries, his views became the official philosophy of the Roman Catholic church in 1897. Thomistic psychology is still taught in Catholic schools today.

Selected Publications

  • Summa de Homine, part of Summa Theologica (1266-1273) 
  • On Being and Essence
  • On Truth

References

Britannica Online. (1994-1997). Thomas Aquinas and Thomism: Life and works. Retrieved 1997 from http://www.britannica.com

Zuzne, L. (Ed.) (1957). Names in the history of psychology. New York: John Wiley & Sons.


Thursday, 14-Nov-2013 04:39:00 EST