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Nobody Understands me!

by Gil Sanders

Thomists sometimes get flack for pointing out that their view is not understood, but for the most part it’s true. The analytic sees an “is-ought” problem but the Thomist sees oughtness laden into the very structure of existence. Moral oughtness is just a special instance. Our idea of physical objects is also radically different. We think that all physical objects are composed of matter and form (hylemorphism), which provides a far richer conception of the world than a mechanistic conception of matter. Qualia isn’t problematic for us. The interaction problem doesn’t exist because an immaterial principle is laden in all physical objects (substantial form). We understand the nature of morality, time, epistemology, etc in a way rather foreign to the modernist paradigm. Metaphysics is king for us. Finally, Thomism is an interlocking system with a rich array of concepts refined by centuries upon centuries of great thinkers. You can’t expect to fully understand the ideas in isolation. For this reason, most analytic philosophers do not want to put the time required to understand it. This is not to say that you can’t have some basic understanding of key concepts like act and potency, but the modernist paradigm can be a great obstacle on the road to full understanding. At the same time, there are quasi-essentialist leaks in the modernist paradigm that would lead to a more Thomistic understanding (e.g, possible world semantics or dispositions). There’s some great value in analytic philosophy. Nevertheless whenever someone says, “I understand Thomism well enough” and proceeds to give objection X, more often than not their objection shows that they do not understand it enough. There are good objections out there, and I’m not saying that if you disagree with it, you can’t possibly be understanding it. There was plenty of disagreement even among Scholastics precisely because the issues are so complex. Disagreement is not the issue. Rather, the issue is that unlike the Scholastics, most of the moderns just don’t have a proper understanding because they interpret it under their paradigm and often never studied it beyond a brief introduction.

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