Volume 9, Number 1 (Fall 2014)
Self-reflection figures in various ways in the picture of human freedom proposed by St. Anselm, and this leads to an important question: Just how self-reflective do we need to be to be considered free agents? First I will discuss how self-reflection is necessary, or at least important, to elements in his theory of free will, and then I will look at what Anselm has to say specifically about self-reflection. Unlike Augustine, Anselm does not discuss self-reflection per se at length in his philosophical works. However, a study of his Prayers and Meditations shows that he finds self-reflection to be an essential element of the Christian life. I will not only report Anselm's views but also offer some suggestions on how they might be plausibly developed in light of the question about the extent to which self-reflection is necessary, or at least very important, for free agency.
The claim of this paper is that there is a common form of reflection in Anselm's prayers and the Proslogion and Monologion. The practice of meditation, of rumination and introspection, is the crucial link between these works, mostly thought of as philosophy or speculative theology, and as opposed to Anselm's monastic practices of meditative prayer and thoughtful examination of self and scripture. The philosophical meditations are, like the prayers, the product of an imaginative project, in this case of reasoning as if he did not already believe and as if reason alone were his only resource. I show that Anselm's arguments are solutions to the aporetic paradoxes toward which he pushes reason. Like the sinner's realization of his own inability to extricate himself, grasping these paradoxes is for Anselm the only way of moving toward a sense of the metaphysically unique being of God.
For centuries, Aristotle was considered the primary source of the thought of Br. Thomas of Aquino, OP. Beginning with the historical researches of Etienne Gilson in the 1920s, scholars began to recognize the important influence of Islamic and Jewish thinkers. While it is still true to say that Aquinas was an Aristotelian, historical research has made it necessary to address the question: just what kind of Aristotelian was he? In this essay, I argue that he is best understood as an Avicennian kind of Aristotelian. The argument proceeds in three steps: Aquinas adopted Avicennian metaphysical principles; he then adopted some Avicennian metaphysical conclusions about God; and, finally, he made use of his Avicennian-inspired doctrine of being (esse), to formulate a consistent doctrine of the esse of Christ.
The following theological response to R.E. Houser's scholarship on the Avicennian provenance of God, understood as necessary being, serves to complement rather than critique his historical and textual study; it takes its cues from recent scholarship on Aquinas and, more fundamentally, from the development of Thomism proposed by the Jesuit Donald J. Keefe. As he lauds the distinction between essence and existence, Keefe further argues that this, the ontological object of Christian theology, needs to be conceived historically rather than cosmically, or ahistorically. Thomist act-potency relations (matter-form, substance-accident, essence-existence) cannot be considered cosmically lest necessity continue to haunt theological metaphysics; human beings cannot freely respond to the call to perfect creation in a universe marked simply by necessity. Just as Christian scholars argue that Aquinas altered Avicenna's thought as he brought his philosophy into dialogue with Catholic doctrine, so too does Keefe urge further conversion of Thomism as he shows that even Aquinas remained incapable of escaping the rigorous necessity that follows from adapting Platonic and Aristotelian ontology for Christian theological purposes. Houser helps us see how Aquinas's use of Avicenna can answer the question about how many esses are in Christ, but Keefe pushes the Christological orientation of this Avicennian inheritance to become realistically historical lest the freedom of love Eucharistically perfected be imperiled by the logic of necessity.
Both Avicenna and Aquinas argue for a real distinction between something's existence and its essence. Yet existential Thomists often cast Avicenna's metaphysics as essentialist, as a metaphysics in which realities are essences that exist. For Aquinas, the act of existence is primary, and many Thomists are wary of granting essences in themselves any "being" whatsoever - even possible being. So a question arises: given that both Aquinas and Avicenna support making a real distinction between essence and existence, is the principle of the real distinction between essence and existence in the thought of Avicenna and of Aquinas the same distinction or not? I argue that it is the same (Sections I-III). The differences between their metaphysics are due instead to differences regarding the ontological status of possibility (Sections IV -V). The tradition of existential Thomism has tended to be cautious when speaking about "possibilities" or "creatables" as somehow real (the kind of talk that leads to an essentialist metaphysics that is forgetful of being). I am hopeful that my argument will underscore the importance of "merely possibles" even for metaphysical existentialists.
Susan Wolf's compatibilism is unique for being 'asymmetrical.' While holding that blameworthiness entails being able to avoid acting wrongly, she maintains that our freedom consists in single mindedly pursuing Truth and Goodness. Comparing and contrasting her position to Saint Anselm's seminal, libertarian approach to the same subject elicits serious questions, highlighting its drawbacks. How could freedom entail the inability to do certain things? In what sense are reasons causes? What sense can be made of a double standard for assignments of responsibility? Is not self-control inconsistent with being caused to act by things independent of oneself? Does not virtue require struggling against falsehoods and evils by which one could be overcome? Wolf's compatibilism must be rejected, I shall argue, in light of Anselm's intuitively satisfying response to these concerns: we should prefer a philosophy that entails more of what we want from freedom without begging unanswerable questions of its own.