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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'not an author adapted to superficial minds', 7 Feb. 2010
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This review is from: Selected Philosophical Writings (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
- So said Mr Casaubon in 'Middlemarch' about Aquinas. And it's true to the extent that these excerpts are about the most fundamental questions of metaphysics, and that they are written in a dense, aphoristic style that makes few concessions to the reader. On the other hand, what I found here is not the simple-minded apologist or scholastic logic chopper of legend; but a razor-sharp intellect dealing with problems in philosophy of religion which are still very much on peoples' minds today. Is it self-evident God exists? Or can we prove he exists? Or can we in fact know anything definite about him?

Not a religious work per se, then, but a very challenging analytical one. McDermott's modern translation tries to ensure that it isn't harder work than needs be, but if you buy this you'd better be sure you're ready to put in a real shift.

The received opinion of Aquinas among materialists is that, as Bertrand Russell put it, his work is 'not philosophy but special pleading', because he knows in advance what he wants the answer to be. The second part is true, anyway; he set out to justify the doctrines of the church. But who are we kidding? Philosophy - and science - is always more or less an attempt to justify what we already believe. It is impossible it should be anything else, because the way we frame our investigations is dictated by our existing beliefs (and Russell, in approaching Aquinas, was no exception). What matters is whether we succeed in doing it, and whether we are honest enough to accept when we have failed to do it. By those criteria Aquinas, in the context of his time, scores pretty well.

I have two criticisms of this as an anthology. Physically it is of very poor quality; I hope it isn't representative of the Oxford World Classics range nowadays. And it contains only brief selections from Aquinas' best-known work, Summa Theologicae, which I think will be contrary to most buyers' expectation. But considering McDermott had to try and represent the eight and a half million words of Aquinas' writings, he can perhaps be forgiven for that.
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 16 Mar 2016 17:04:55 GMT
KaleHawkwood says:
A helpful review, thanks, but I disagree that science 'is always more or less an attempt to justify what we already believe' - most scientists would robustly dispute that.

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Mar 2016 13:21:57 GMT
gille liath says:
Yes, they certainly would! So would turkeys dispute that Christmas is a good idea. But I think sensible scientists understand that their discipline is subject to the same sort of human limitations as everything else. Realistically a lot of scientific research is commercially backed; most of it has some goal in mind, and is hoping for one result rather than another. Scrupulous people will carry out fair tests, and be willing to accept when they have failed to prove what they hoped - but not everyone is scrupulous. Besides there are often grey areas, and evidence which can be presented in different ways.

But I'm unlikely ever to agree with someone who thinks Lawrence of Arabia is 'beautiful but empty'. :)

In reply to an earlier post on 18 Mar 2016 14:16:41 GMT
KaleHawkwood says:
I think it depends on which branch of science, too.
For me, the last good David Lean film was before he developed elephantitis, which grew to absurdity with Ryan's Daughter - my review of which you must have read!
I'm sure we'd agree on many things, gille.
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