Q: Kant like Thomas Aquinas?

…on intuition?

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Was Kant doing work and pursuing aims like that of Thomas Aquinas? Here is an excerpt from The Revival Scholastic Philosophy in the Nineteenth Century by Joseph Louis Perrier, 1909 in which the author seems to think so. Below is section from the Introduction. It contains another quote within the quoted section. I’ve placed the pertinent section between the asterisks. My comments about it are below.

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Friedrich Paulsen, in the introduction to his work Immanuel Kant, comparing Scholasticism with the Kantian system, expresses himself thus:

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“If Scholastic philosophy is at present experiencing a kind of revival in the school of Catholicism, this is due, not so much to its own inner vitality as to its supposed fitness to serve an ecclesiastical political system, which, through the favor of circumstances, — patientia Dei et stultitia hominum, an old Lutheran would say, — has attained again in our time to unexpected power. Moreover, there still remains the question whether continuance of existence is in general something of which a philosophy can boast. Perhaps fruitfulness is a better characteristic and this the Kantian philosophy shows; it still gives rise to new systems of thought. Thomism, on the contrary, though of course a great achievement for its own time, yields today nothing except unfruitful repetitions. It does not set free the spirit, it enslaves it, which of course is just its intention.”

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In close connection with Paulsen’s view stands the thesis recently defended by Mr. Picavet in his famous Esquisse d’une histoire generale et comparee des civilisations medievales. For him, Scholastic philosophy and the body of Christian dogmas are identical; the existence of God and the immortality of the soul are the essential Scholastic doctrines. Accordingly, he seems disposed to widen the field of Scholasticism, and to include within its limits a certain number of men whom neo- Scholastics will probably be loath to welcome as brethren. Not only does he admit Descartes and Locke, but also Rousseau and Voltaire. He even feels inclined to add to his heterogeneous list the name of Robespierre.

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But the man to whom he [Picavet] directs our attention with the greatest insistence, whom he regards as a direct offspring of the Middle Ages, as a man in the theological period still, a Christian, a Lutheran, a pietist, a Scholastic,” is Immanuel Kant.

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Why not? Kant quotes the Bible; he develops the proof of the existence of God from final causes, and he is fond of repeating the Hebrew meaning — God with us — of his name Immanuel. In religion, Kant is a supporter of the Christian doctrine; he advocates the existence of free-will; when he undertakes his Critique of Pure Reason, he is morally certain of the existence of God and of another life.

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It is in Christian terms that he expresses the final conclusion he reaches, denouncing, as believers do, the insufficiency of speculative reason and ending with an act of faith.8 In one word, Kant’s work is an apologetic and may be compared to St. Thomas’s Summa contra Gentiles.”

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The comparison of likenesses between Kant and Aquinas is a stretch. So we might be inclined to dismiss it, but that the comparison is made and put into print indicates the matter has a bearing not just on philosophy, but also theology. After all, the Roman church must have felt a strong enough influence of Kant on theology to include his name in the Index Librorum Prohibitorurn.

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Yet, the differences between Aquinas and Kant should not be seen as starkly as Batman v Joker or Hal Jordan v Sinestro. The deviation is more subtle. Consider how Kant makes his case in the Critique of Pure Reason:

“In whatever way and through whatever means a cognition may related to objects, that through which it relates immediately to them, and at which all thought as a means is directed as an end, is intuition. This, however, takes place only insofar as the object is given to us; but this in turn, is possible only if it affects the mind in a certain way. This capacity…to acquire representations…is called sensibility [Sinnlichkeit, open sensation]. Objects are therefore given to us by means of sensibility, and it alone affords us intuitions…” (A 19/B 33).

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The Enlightenment pursued speculations about the ways of human knowledge which led in directions unexpected. On the extreme end of the materialists were opinions the likes of Pierre Jean Georges Cabanis (1757-1808), a physiological psychologist, who said “thought is a secretion of the brain.” Still moderate materialist views had to confront the cul-de-sac of their their controlling thesis. Charles Darwin (1881) admitted that “With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which, has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy.”

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Intuition has a place in the functions of human knowing, but it is not central to all knowing. We have divine illumination in various forms which God has placed in the natural realm as well as in his written Word. Thomas Aquinas recognized that both are needed and that neither is possible without the participation given to man to that end.

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“It is necessary to say that the human soul cognizes all things in the eternal reasons, through participating in which we cognize all things. For the intellectual light that is in us is nothing other than a certain likeness of the uncreated light, obtained through participation, in which the eternal reasons are contained. Thus it is said in Psalm 4, Many say, Who shows us good things? To this question the Psalmist replies, saying The light of your face, Lord, is imprinted upon us. This is as if to say, through that seal of the divine light on us, all things are shown to us.” (Summa Theologica, 1a 84.5c).

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Thomas avoids Mysticism (which is a spiritual sense with a higher Self as the end) by demonstrating illumination’s end is in knowing God himself. That Thomas says “obtained through participation” is a key phrase. Thomas did believe such knowledge is mediated. It’s not merely intuition. It’s a knowing that comes either by direct analogy of revelation or by the principled process of reasoning. God does not most often bring us into the light of truth by some mystical intuition or beaming star from the sky. He mediates truth to us by the light of reason which is found in the world around us and in the Scripture given to the world.

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image credit: ‘A Debate at the Union Club (1887)’ public domain