Author Topic: The Thomist Critique of Cartesianism  (Read 421 times)

Joe Cupertino

The Thomist Critique of Cartesianism
« on: October 27, 2017, 11:54:25 PM »
The more I dabble in philosophy and metaphysics (most recently with the help of Dr. Ed Feser books, other writings, and lectures), the more and more intrigued I'm becoming by just how detrimental an impact Rene Descartes, the "Father of Modern Philosophy", had on the world.  It seems like a Vatican II like impact, significantly undermining true thinking, faith, and morality throughout history.

The brief critique in the video below (it's not me, in case anyone wonders) concisely exposes the fundamental problem at the root of the philosophy of Descartes.  As the speaker says, his philosophy caused a major shift away from ancient philosophy (the highest development of which is found in the Aristotelian-Thomistic system, or Scholasticism).  Ancient philosophy held a view of ontology predicated on the notion that we are objects with a participation relation to the external world.  Descartes’ ontology shifts to a subject-perception relation to the external world.  I think it's easy to see just on the surface how this leads to Skepticism, Relativism, and other major problems we currently see in the world. 

The speaker concludes with two points:
 
1. The principle of non-contradiction, an immediate consequence of the most evident idea of being, is the most fundamental principle and law of metaphysics and reality.  This is opposed to Descartes' proposition that "I think" and "I exist" are the foundational and most self-evident truths on which all knowledge and philosophy is predicated.  Without the principle of non-contradiction preceding Descartes' proposition, "I think, therefore I exist" can not stand, as Garrigou-Lagrange demonstrates below, following Etienne Gilson.

2. When we are deceived, we are not deceived by the senses, as Descartes claims, but rather, we are deceived by our intellect and our judgment.  This is important, since Descartes' idea that everything we sense should be doubted leads to the conclusion that reality is deceptive and everything can be doubted except for the fact that we are thinking (since we are thinking by doubting).

Here is the Garrigou-Lagrange quote.  It seems the entirety of Cartesianism is effectively dismantled in these few sentences:
   
Quote
As Gilson [143] well remarks, Thomistic realism is founded, not on a mere postulate, but on intellectual grasp of intelligible reality in sense objects. Its fundamental proposition runs thus: [144] The first idea which the intellect conceives, its most evident idea into which it resolves all other ideas, is the idea of being. Grasping this first idea, the intellect cannot but grasp also the immediate consequences of that idea, namely, first principles as laws of reality. If human intelligence doubts the evidence of, say, the principle of contradiction, then—as Thomists have repeated since the seventeenth century—the principle of Descartes [145] simply vanishes. If the principle of contradiction is not certain, then I might be simultaneously existent and non-existent, then my personal thought is not to be distinguished from impersonal thought, nor personal thought from the subconscious, or even from the unconscious. The universal proposition, Nothing can simultaneously both be and not be, is a necessary presupposition of the particular proposition, I am, and I cannot simultaneously be and not be. Universal knowledge precedes particular knowledge. [146].

- Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.  REALITY—A Synthesis Of Thomistic Thought.

« Last Edit: October 28, 2017, 12:12:04 AM by Joe Cupertino »
 
The following users thanked this post: Mithrandylan, GPRW, When Antisemites Attack!

Nctradcath

Re: The Thomist Critique of Cartesianism
« Reply #1 on: October 28, 2017, 03:01:14 AM »
The more that I learn, the more I realize that anything that doesn’t have its roots in the Catholic faith is a lie and from the father of lies. I don’t take many high level academics in certain disciplines too seriously beyond medical science because of the gross thinking errors that they accept and make. Often, anything that the modern world may get “right” is because much or large parts of it was borrowed or taken wholly from the Church in some way. I often wonder where the world would have been at technologically  and medically had the Protestant revolt been utterly crushed. It is sad.
 
The following users thanked this post: annamack

Mithrandylan

  • Administrator
  • TTF Apprentice
  • *****
  • Posts: 445
  • Thanked: 276 times
  • Gender: Male
  • Divínum auxílium ✝ máneat semper nobíscum
Re: The Thomist Critique of Cartesianism
« Reply #2 on: October 28, 2017, 09:41:12 AM »
Hey Nick,

Good question about technology. It's something of a scientism myth (as you and many others may be aware) that the Church was "anti-science" or "anti technology" or whatever else.  If you were to read authorities on technological progress- for instance, Brynjolfsson and McCafee's The Second Machine Age, you'll often hear of "Moore's Law" or the "exponential" nature of technological progression.  The idea is that technological advances occur at doubling rate which appears somewhat inconsequential for a great expanse of time, until a certain point, when the doubling rate finally becomes noticeable, and then eventually even bordering on incalculable (such as we find ourselves today, with only five-ten years ago the greatest minds saying that an autonomous car is a complete impossibility-- and now we're only a few regulations and a cultural shift away from them being available to the public).  So we see that it takes mankind some eight thousand years to get around to (for instance) the steam engine or the cotton gin, which were enormous revolutions in technology.  Then the telephone, the Internet, and now where we are today-- technology has arguably become more advanced (in terms of quality and capability) from 1990-2017 than from 4000 B.C. to (e.g.) 1790 A.D. 

So, the point is, that even by the technocrats' own standards and laws, the Church really had nothing to do with impeding technological progress.  It's the sort of thing that, by its own nature (according to them, anyways), progresses in the very way that we've seen it progress.  That, of course, hasn't stopped many of their pop apologists from deriding the Church as a cruel social tyrant.  But as I say, their own rules should make it fairly clear to them that this can't be the case.

And of course, some great technological advances occurred proximate to the Church's golden age.  Glasses, Clocks, Chimneys, and the like. 

Now, I'm a huge fan of Dr. Feser, too, and I think that he's spot on that the Cartesian revolution in thought (which emboldened Bacon, Newton, et al.) did play a major role in altering the techno-social landscape.  People simply stopped caring about what was true in favor of what was useful.  And within about two hundred years, the elite noticed that capitalism and industrialism was incredibly useful (to them, at least), and this coincides with the first machine age, so to speak, and with theorists like William James and F.W. Taylor who sort of initiate contemporary western thought into quite blatantly not giving a care in the world as to whether something is true or good, but as to whether it is useful and efficient.  So there's undoubtedly a connection there.
I wear it for a memorable honor,
For I am Welsh, you know, good countryman.
 

Nctradcath

Re: The Thomist Critique of Cartesianism
« Reply #3 on: October 28, 2017, 11:10:55 AM »
The destruction of the monasteries in the Protestant revolt actually caused real medical and technological progress to halt and regress for a long time. The monks were doing amazing things in medical and technological research for their time.
 
The following users thanked this post: Mithrandylan

Nctradcath

Re: The Thomist Critique of Cartesianism
« Reply #4 on: October 28, 2017, 11:14:37 AM »
Imagine if the monasteries were not destroyed and you would have had hundreds of more years of steady research done by ordered monks. The world would be a far better place. Of course, these what ifs are fairly useless as we are where God desires us to be now in his Providence.
 

MyrnaM

Re: The Thomist Critique of Cartesianism
« Reply #5 on: October 28, 2017, 04:20:13 PM »
Way to deep for me, however, this idea of deception reminds me, a few weeks ago when I was sitting and THINKING about my life, it occurred to me that most of my mortal sins were committed after I was led into the Vatican II religion.
Having been born in 1940.  Therefore, yes I was led into Vatican II as a young adult. 

As I meditated not on my past sins (confession took care of that) but my sinfulness, I was blaming the devil for deceiving me.  Then one day a little light turned on into my head and said, "the devil can only deceive someone when that someone wants to be deceived."   The quotes there are not meant that I heard anything audibly but were definitely a loud and clear thought. 
Myforever.blog/blog
 

ClemensMaria

Re: The Thomist Critique of Cartesianism
« Reply #6 on: November 09, 2017, 10:23:44 PM »
Isn't "I think therefore I am" a logical fallacy?  The "I" is already presupposed.  It seems to usurp a prerogative of God.  Only God is He Who is.  "I am Who am." Or "He Who is".  Exodus 3:14
 
The following users thanked this post: Mysterium Fidei

When Antisemites Attack!

Re: The Thomist Critique of Cartesianism
« Reply #7 on: January 03, 2018, 01:57:37 PM »
So inferring from G-L, "I think, therefore I am" is a complex statement, whereas the true foundations of knowledge are simpler. The assertion of what IS requires the understanding of the principle of non-contradiction, while the assertion of an "I" with a "faculty of thought" requires abstraction or development from a more undifferentiated experience of being.

That sense of a solitary "I" which is "known" prior to all else is a conditioned experience. I notice a connecting line from there to the narcissism of today's man, "trapped" inside of a hollow, voracious "experiencing self." To move to a "realist epistemology" is less a matter of epistemology than of metanoia.

« Last Edit: January 03, 2018, 02:00:01 PM by When Antisemites Attack! »
 
The following users thanked this post: Mithrandylan, Joe Cupertino

Rubecorks

Re: The Thomist Critique of Cartesianism
« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2018, 10:47:02 AM »
Isn't "I think therefore I am" a logical fallacy?  The "I" is already presupposed.  It seems to usurp a prerogative of God.  Only God is He Who is.  "I am Who am." Or "He Who is".  Exodus 3:14

The two cannot be compared.  The first is a reasoned conclusion, while the latter is a statement of truth using predication.

 

Rubecorks

Re: The Thomist Critique of Cartesianism
« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2018, 11:33:13 AM »
Here is the Garrigou-Lagrange quote.  It seems the entirety of Cartesianism is effectively dismantled in these few sentences:
   
Quote
As Gilson [143] well remarks, Thomistic realism is founded, not on a mere postulate, but on intellectual grasp of intelligible reality in sense objects. Its fundamental proposition runs thus: [144] The first idea which the intellect conceives, its most evident idea into which it resolves all other ideas, is the idea of being. Grasping this first idea, the intellect cannot but grasp also the immediate consequences of that idea, namely, first principles as laws of reality. If human intelligence doubts the evidence of, say, the principle of contradiction, then—as Thomists have repeated since the seventeenth century—the principle of Descartes [145] simply vanishes. If the principle of contradiction is not certain, then I might be simultaneously existent and non-existent, then my personal thought is not to be distinguished from impersonal thought, nor personal thought from the subconscious, or even from the unconscious. The universal proposition, Nothing can simultaneously both be and not be, is a necessary presupposition of the particular proposition, I am, and I cannot simultaneously be and not be. Universal knowledge precedes particular knowledge. [146].

- Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.  REALITY—A Synthesis Of Thomistic Thought.



I don't feel comfortable with GL quoting Etienne Gilson (who died in 1978). At least according to Wikipedia I don't get a good impression of him. He seems to disassociate Thomism from Scholasticism, when I know they are the same. He also speaks here of "realism" even though I know the Church's philosophy is "moderate realism".

The axiom "cogito ergo sum" has existed for a long time. Can't we find something early on by a Church authority that denounces that, if it should be denounced?  If we cannot, then it reveals there is not a problem with it. From my own learning I have never gotten the impression the Church looks down on that.

I have seen frequently that axioms in Latin should not be considered merely by a word-for-word translation. There are usually things implied that you don't see, and would have a spirit of understanding to it.

"I think, therefore I am."

Taking this too literally, one would say that since a baby doesn't think, that it doesn't exist. Or, I don't exist when I am in a coma. I don't think this was ever implied.

I have gotten the impression that this is a way of describing the self-evident truth of self-existence. If something is evident, then thinking must be involved, and it sounds to me like the adage is merely talking about our awareness of our own existence, not saying we existence as a result of being able to think.




 
The following users thanked this post: annamack