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Can you be a Thomist but not a Christian?

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  • Can you be a Thomist but not a Christian?

    I had a friend ask me recently if you could be a Thomist but not a Christian, and I responded yes. But I began thinking about it, and realized I don't really know. Is this possible? What would that person look like? Is the old, mocking adage that Thomas was merely "Aristotle baptized" true, that without Christianity one is just an Aristotelian? I don't think that is true, but I also don't how they would differ.

    Any thoughts on the general relationship between Aquinas' Christianity and what we think of as his philosophical and natural-theological thought?

  • #2
    I don't really think so. Much of thomas Aquinas' philosophy was influenced theologically and vice verse, it is hard to say that it is still thomism if they are seperated. I suppose, if someone where to hold strictly to just his philosophy, they would be more of an aristotelian, even though, Aquinas and Aristotle diverged at points. Maybe a quasi-thomist? I am not sure how you would categorize such a person.

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    • #3
      What if someone becomes a Classical Theist for the reasons Feser defends in 5 Proofs and The Last Superstition. Consider a few possibilities:

      1) He doesn't find the historic-abductive evidence sufficiently compelling for any of the world's religions and remains unaffiliated.

      2) He finds the evidence for Judaism compelling and becomes a Noachide. (Maimonides, let's remember, was compatibilizing Aristotle's Prime Mover with HaShem long before Aquinas.)

      3) He finds the evidence for Islam impressive and becomes a Muslim.

      I don't see an issue with 1 & 2. I know there's more to being a full-blown Thomist than reading Feser, but I'd be curious to hear how either is precluded by virtue of looking through the same ontological lense. Perhaps 3 would have issues? I posted a thread on Occasionalism (http://classicaltheismforum.com/foru...onalism-thread), which is all the rage in Islam. Clearly you can't deny the possibility of efficient causes and be a Thomist. I don't know if Islam is intrinsically opposed to such an approach, though.

      I suppose we could add .5) Someone who finds the arguments warrant some necessary layer of existence but denies it's the G-d of Classical Theism.

      Maybe we should determine the necessary conditions for Thomism. Perhaps there are degrees.
      Last edited by Bamidbar 22; 01-21-2019, 05:44 AM.

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      • #4
        It depends on whether or not the Christian aspect of Thomistic thought can be delineated from the strictly metaphysical aspect. And, if so, whether an irreligious person who embraces a Thomistic metaphysics can be called a Thomist. I'm not sure how you would go about showing whether or not the religious backdrop of Thomistic thought is essential to Thomism. Can Thomistic metaphysics stand without Christianity?

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        • #5
          There is a lot of discussion of whether some of what appear to be Aquinas's first metaphysical principles depend in some sense on revelation, particularly that without revelation you would not be able to conceive his notion of being and of creation.

          I don't know. That is an exciting account to hold, but I'm just not sure it's true. Aquinas does flag the moments when he is explicitly relying on revelation; if he thought some of his first principles, some of the ones that advance past Aristotle, also depended on revelation, shouldn't he have made that clear?

          It may be that in fact Christianity was a causal precondition of his conception of being and creation, but it seems that someone who is not a Christian could understand and endorse it.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Greg View Post
            There is a lot of discussion of whether some of what appear to be Aquinas's first metaphysical principles depend in some sense on revelation, particularly that without revelation you would not be able to conceive his notion of being and of creation.

            I don't know. That is an exciting account to hold, but I'm just not sure it's true. Aquinas does flag the moments when he is explicitly relying on revelation; if he thought some of his first principles, some of the ones that advance past Aristotle, also depended on revelation, shouldn't he have made that clear?

            It may be that in fact Christianity was a causal precondition of his conception of being and creation, but it seems that someone who is not a Christian could understand and endorse it.
            What about his notions of Being and creation are specifically Christian?

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            • #7
              Given that this is a thomist forum and many members are Noahides, I think that answers the OP's question.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Nginyiwarrarringu View Post
                Given that this is a thomist forum and many members are Noahides, I think that answers the OP's question.
                I don't believe this is correct. I don't think most people here would call themselves Thomists. We'd have to run a poll, but my hunch is that this forum is much more diverse than you think.

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                • #9
                  I tend to agree with RomanJoe. It could also be that Noahides or non-religious theists or Muslims are assenting, implicitly, to some Christian idea they would otherwise reject outside the context of the Thomist system.

                  I'm highly sympathetic to Classical Theism and Thomism but am not a Christian. I wonder if there are aspects of Thomas' metaphysics that implicitly require Cgristian dogma as support. Obviously, his stance on grace and things like that can to some extent be ignored. But it's an open question whether his system is so tight that other, apparently non-Christian elements if philosophy, are bound up with ideas like grace or love as the center of virtue ethics or uniquely Christian notions of Being.

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Brian View Post
                    What about his notions of Being and creation are specifically Christian?
                    I don't understand the idea. One source of the thought is the view that it is not as possible to distinguish nature and grace as the neo-Thomists took it to be; in some sense even nature is grace, and this alters the Christian's conception of being.

                    There was also a big debate among twentieth-century Thomists over whether such a thing as a Christian philosophy is possible: which is not merely a philosophy accessible to pagan reason and fully compatible with Christianity, but which also is not theology. I read a bit on this years ago but could not really tell you anything about it in particular.

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                    • #11
                      Islam is not intrinsically occasionalist. In Sunni Islam, certainly, occasional has long been dominant, but it is not mandated by the Koran nor anywhere close to universal. The motives for it are much the same motives for occasionalism, Ockhamism, and Calvinism in Christian thougtth. That is, apart from purely philosophical reasons, it springs from the misguided idea that affirming God's absolute power requires there be no secondary causes.

                      By the way, can't one be convinced by the evidence for Judaism and convert to Judaism?

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Jeremy Taylor View Post
                        By the way, can't one be convinced by the evidence for Judaism and convert to Judaism?
                        Certainly, but you can't un-convert and you'll be held to a much higher standard. "If you become the ideal type of Noachide you will be doing a greater service to humanity than by converting to Judaism. You will be a living example for others to follow."

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                        • #13
                          I certainly believe you can be a thomist without being a Christian. I just think Thomistic thought can quite naturally lead someone to Christianity (there is a lot of consilience w.r.t. the existence and nature of God; the immortality of the soul and its relation to the body; the natural law; possibility of miracles; and so on), so it isn't surprising that many thomists are or end up becoming Christians.

                          But the basic theses of thomism can surely be accepted without a person having any religious conviction at all. I don't see why anyone would have to be Christian in order to accept the greater part of thomistic thought. Aquinas was a highly original thinker who had his own philosophical views, which he combined with the insights of Aristotle, Plato, and the neo-platonic tradition. Contrary to what is sometimes said, Aquinas didn't simply "baptize Aristotle"; although he takes much from Aristotle, he has a number of original views and arguments. I'd say a thomistic philosophy is broadly structured around the following theses:

                          The reality of change and its analysis in terms of potency and act;
                          The reality of "esse" or the act of existence, the real distinction between essence and existence;
                          The doctrine of Participation;
                          The existence of a perfectly simple being whose essence is existence;
                          Hylomorphism and the four causes;
                          The immateriality of the intellect;
                          Natural law ethics;
                          Prioritt of the intellect over the will.

                          There might be more but thise are the ones that come to mind right now. Someone could accept only some of those and still qualify as a thomist in my view. And I see no reason whatsoever why someone couldn't accept those views without being a Christian.

                          There also have been some famous non-Christian thomists, like Mortimer Adler, who called himself "a pagan" - though he eventually converted to Catholicism near his death.

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                          • #14
                            Thanks, perhaps I'll look into Adler. I seem to come across a lot of his books at used book stores.

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