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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Randall’s Doubts About Aquinas

The Aristotelian philosopher John Herman Randall, Jr. was not sure if the works of Thomas Aquinas can be seen as a statement of Aristotelian philosophy. In his Foreword to his book Aristotle, Hermann writes: “Though not aware of the wealth and variety of medieval thought, so fascinating in itself, the present writer is not a medievalist. He seriously doubts whether Aristotle can survive translation into the Latin substantives of the scholastic tradition, or whether it is possible to state his fundamental functionalism in the Latin tongue.” (He has Thomas Aquinas in mind.)

Randall had a low opinion of all medieval formulations in Aristotelianism. In his Introduction, he points out: “The author has come to Aristotle, not from the problems of medieval philosophy, but from the problems of the philosophers like Samuel Alexander and Whitehead in England, and like Charles S. Pierce, George Herbert Mead, and John Dewey in this country. He has found great stimulus for his own thinking in Aristotle’s careful analysis of language and communication against the broader context of his penetrating examination of processes, natural, living, and distinctively human—the processes which he sets off as those of human art.”

In the book’s first chapter, “Aristotelian Approach to Understanding,” Hermann points out that he doubts if Aquinas should be seen as a great philosopher of the Western tradition:  “But I am not sure of Thomas; about him there can be doubts, for after all he was a Christian saint, even if, like a good follower of Saint Dominic, he was a cherub filled with the knowledge of God, rather than like Saint Francis, a seraph inspired wholly with the love of God.”

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