Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide Paperback – Sep 1 2009
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"A useful and easy to read introduction. Students and scholars will find [this] highly beneficial." - Fulvio di Blasi, President, Thomas International "Lucid, cogent, and compelling. Required reading for anyone interested in Thomas Aquinas." - Christopher Kaczor, Christopher Kaczor, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Loyola Marymount University "At last. A concise, accessible and compelling introduction to Aquinas's thought. Feser shows that Aquinas's philosophy is still a live option for thinkers today." - Kelly James Clark, Professor of Philosophy, Calvin College
About the Author
Edward Feser is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Pasadena City College, California. He is the author of Philosophy of Mind: A Beginner's and The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism.
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First of all, Feser is faithful to Aquinas' thought. In content, Feser's philosophy is aligned with something, say, Garrigou-Lagrange might write, the difference only being style. If you think Garrigou-Lagrange understood Aquinas, then you will think Feser has, too. Most of the authors I mentioned above more or less understand Aquinas adequately, so far as I can tell. Like them, Feser won't give you any surprises by departing from the tradition (like, say, E. Stump might).
Second, Feser's book is better because it is clearer. There are plenty of thinkers who understand Aquinas decently enough---one thinks of Maritain or Renard, for example. But anyone who has tried to read these thinkers is painfully aware that their prose is not always clear. Feser has given us a book which is in a class by itself for clarity. If you are puzzled by 'matter', 'form', 'act', 'potency', and so on, then this is the book for you.
Third, Feser's book is better because it understands modern thinkers and their objections to Aquinas. Feser admirably defends the existence of God, the classical attributes of God (including divine simplicity), the immortality of the soul, Aquinas' ethical theory, and so on. Not only this, but he shows why objectors to Aquinas usually have not understood him properly. He treats older objectors like Locke, but also newer ones like Dawkins (and many analytical philosophers, too). It is especially its mastery of analytical philosophy and the issues it brings up which makes this book relevant to modern concerns.
Fourth, Feser has a list of recommended reading which is very, very useful.
And to top it all off, this book has one of the best discussions of causality, especially final causality, which I have encountered.
So, if you're shopping for one book to start with in studying Aquinas, you've found it. Or if you've read many introductions but still feel lost, this is the book for you, too. Feser brings the clarity of analytical philosophy, the relevance of modern issues, and the content of classical Thomism all together in this volume.
Thus, you are required to read a passage or two, and then quickly move to more "modern" things like Descartes, Hume, Kant and of course the plethora of readings in modern analytic philosophy. It is in these modern readings that you will learn of such things as the "mind-body problem" or the "problem of induction." When studying the philosophy of mind, you will learn of the troubles of accounting for qualia or intentionality on physicalist accounts, and the "interaction problem" for dualists.
After reading Feser's book against the New Atheism, my eyes were opened. Aristotle's metaphysics were in no way disproven by modern science, nor were they even adequately argued against by modern philosophy as much as they were simply ignored as the mechanistic view of the world became standard. I learned that these "classical problems" in philosophy were not classical at all, but that they were simply the result of accepting the mechanistic paradigm and were not problems in the Aristotelean-Thomistic tradition. Aquinas' "proofs" of God's existence that Dawkins dismisses (mainly due to his ignorance of the topic), are not even "proofs" but metaphysical demonstrations that must be true if his metaphysical principles are true.
Feser takes the basic outlines given concerning the A-T tradition in The Last Superstision and expands on them in this book. He takes the reader through a general introduction to Aquinas' Metaphysics, followed by a wonderful explanation and defense of his Natural Theology (and thus the famous Five Ways), followed by his Psychology ("philosophy of mind") and Ethics. I will not spoil the book by giving a chapter-by-chapter outline of the book, but would strongly encourage anyone interested in philosophy and particularly those who struggle with the modern "problems" in philosophy to think outside of the box and read this book.
Even if you think you are familiar with the A-T tradition, but have dismissed it for some reason, please read this book and see if you have rejected the tradition for valid reasons or simply due to a misunderstanding. When given the opportunity to teach or discuss introductions to philosophy, I will insist that this book is required reading.
Beginning with Aquinas' view of reality in general, Feser provides brief but highly detailed and carefully crafted chapters that explain Aquinas' arguments for God's Existence, His divine attributes, the immortality and immateriality of the soul, and classical natural law (not to be confused with any modern version of new natural law theory). Moreover, Feser concisely critiques some of the more historically popular objections to Aquinas' arguments showing how they not only fail to forcefully counter Aquinas' claims but also how most of them do not even object to Aquinas on his own terms. In other words, most modern critics do not even properly understand what Aquinas is actually saying, and a careful analysis of the arguments is usually enough to respond to many of the objections against him.
This is a short and excellent introduction to the thought of the Angelic Doctor. I highly recommend it to all readers who are interested in philosophy and to those who think that Aquinas' philosophy is outmoded or that his arguments have long been conclusively refuted. Finally, to those who thought that Feser's previous book, The Last Superstition, was too polemical in nature, this book contains much of what is in TLS but with a much more "academic" tone.
When teaching philosophy, I prefer to use original texts. But it's not always possible - especially in introductory courses. Some of the greatest philosophers were also great communicators: Plato, Descartes, Hume, Nietzsche, & William James are among the names that spring to mind. But not all were: Aristotle, Aquinas, Spinoza, Kant & Hegel, among others, are notoriously difficult, without a Vergil to guide one from one hellacious circle to the next.
For Aristotle & Aquinas, Edward Feser here proves himself a reliable Vergil. Aspects of Aristotelian/Thomistic thought that once seemed to me like no more than antiquated curiosities suddenly come to life as real, philosophically defensible, options. In particular, Feser's defense of the A/T conceptions of efficient & final causation, as against the Humean account that has ruled the roost for the last couple of centuries, is a real eye-opener.
One word of warning: this may be, relatively speaking, a "beginner's guide" to Aquinas, but it is by no means "Aquinas for dummies." Feser frequently addresses recent literature, some of which gets a bit technical. Real "beginners" may need a lot of help from their professors to get the drift.
But, then, that's what professors are for, no?
I think Feser`s greatest success is in his arguments for a re-consideration of Aquinas' Aristotelian metaphysical ideas, especially with regard to causation, but also with regard to an ontology of potency and action, and hylomorphic (form/matter) dualism.
My main criticism is that while Feser's assumed role as Aquinas' champion is usually a benefit to the reader, as Aquinas is presented in most sympathetic light, he is inclined to insist that all of Aquinas' ideas are equally meritorious. In some cases this leads him to present arguments which seem to go beyond what would have occurred to Thomas himself.
But, with plenty of references for further reading, Feser has given the reader a roadmap for further study to follow onto his fine introduction.
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