IMC 2004: Sessions

Session 1021: Aquinas in Intercultural Perspective

Wednesday 14 July 2004, 09.00-10.30

Moderator/Chair:Julian P. Haseldine, Department of History, University of Hull
Paper 1021-bThe Greek, Latin, Arabic and Hebrew Sources of Aquinas' Doctrine of Contemplation in Sententia libri Ethicorum
(Language: English)
Antonio Donato, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford
Index terms: Philosophy
Paper 1021-cReckoning the Tradition: Aquinas’s Analogical Predication - A Bridge to a True Intercultural Understanding
(Language: English)
Ann A. Pang-White, Department of Philosophy, University of Scranton, Pennsylvania
Index terms: Philosophy, Theology

session grouped by Julian Haseldine (19/11/03):
Abstract paper -a:
As the title suggests my general concern is the encounter of different thinkers from different cultures or civilizations in an interactional and multicultural period or atmosphere.But specifically in this paper my main preocupation is the quality and howness of Aquinas approaching Avicenna’s text. For searching and reaching an appropriate point a proper method is needed that can synthazises explanation and interpretation both. With applying the mentioned method we can have this hypothesis: generally in the field of philosophy Aquinas has re-reading(s) of Avicenna’s philosophy- re-reading as the furthering of conversational constructing of meaning.
Abstract paper -b:
Scholars have traditionally considered Aquinas’ theory of contemplation as fundamentally Aristotelian. However, this does not seem an adequate characterization of Aquinas’ doctrine that appears as the result of the influence of several traditions. Aquinas tries, indeed, to harmonize the Greek Aristotelian prospective with Latin Neoplatonic notion of perfect happiness, put forward by Augustine, and both the Arabic doctrine of the human soul, expressed by the Liber De Causis and the Hebrew theory of the intellect proposed by Maimonides. The Sententia libri Ethicorum provides the best opportunity to trace how Aquinas’ doctrine arises out of a dialogue between these different traditions.
Abstract paper -c:
Catholicism has long been criticized for dragging its feet in reaching a true understanding of non-Christian or non-Catholic cultures, heritage, or traditions. It is sometimes even being branded as embracing religious imperialism. It is not until Vatican II in some of its encyclicals promoting the idea of finding God in all things and the manifestation of this idea in all cultures, Christian or not, that Catholicism embarks on its catching up on intercultural understanding. Before Vatican II, the Thomistic philosophy was regarded as
the exclusive and authoritative teaching of the Church, and the name of Thomas Aquinas thus was often regarded as a synonym of dogmaticism and intolerance. Ironically, however, upon further refection, Aquinas’ own way of dealing with other traditions is anything but radical dogmaticism. This paper is to suggest and to demonstrate that Aquinas’ doctrine of analogy (the analogy of proportionality), though originally only intended to deal with the problem of linguistic predication of God, actually offers us a road map to, though not intentionally, a true intercultural understanding of non-Christian traditions—a method that keeps a good balance of sincerity and distance, humility and understanding.
The paper suggests that, for Aquinas, since God is the “other” that is always remote from human understanding, humans therefore can never claim that they know the essence of God (i.e., What He is) as he is. But since negative attributes (e.g., immutable, simple, eternal) are insufficient in describing our understanding of God, positive affirmative attributes (e.g., good, wise, powerful) must be used but they are to be used neither univocally nor equivocally but analogically, i.e., according to proportion. In other words, although we do not know what God is as He is, we can still understand what God is like by the representation of the creatures through analogy. However, Aquinas cautions us not to understand predications according to proportion as according to exact proportion as seen in the example of “A:B :: 2:1.” Rather, it should be understood as “A:B :: (14:7 :: 4:2).” That is, A is similar to B as 14 is similar to 4, not because there is an exact proportion between 14 and 4 but because both numbers share the similarity that 14 is twice of seven and 4 is twice of two. Thus, to use affirmative attributes, e.g., good, to predicate God must be understood in its proper and unique context of the transcendent and to understand that this divine other will always remain mysterious, distant, and hidden from us. The paper argues that this balance of sincerity and distance, humility and understanding, is to be applied to intercultural understanding as well so as to respect the otherness of the other cultures without succumb to the temptation of subscribing superficial incommensurability between cultures. To make the investigation focused and its results fruitful, the paper will avoid a broad general cross-cultural examination of virtue theories. Rather, it will especially compare Aquinas’ discussion of two important Christian virtues, namely charity and piety, with Confucius’ discussion of the two fundamental Confucian virtues, humaneness (ren/jen) and propriety (li), by the ideas and reasoning drawn from Aquinas’ doctrine of analogy. The paper will demonstrate how this is possible by contextualizing Aquinas’ discussion of charity and piety and Confucius’ discussion of humaneness and propriety to show how there is real difference but real similarity as well between the two traditions according to analogy.