Beauty, Transcendence, and the Inclusive Hierarchy of Creation 

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Creation of Adam by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, Rome

We’re presenting a short series of abstracts of the work-in-progress our scholars presented and discussed at their June 2017 Working Group Meeting.

Thomas Joseph White, O.P., is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of Studies.

 

Interpreters of Thomas Aquinas have long argued about whether he holds that beauty is a “transcendental,” that is to say a feature of reality coextensive with all that exists, like unity, goodness and truthfulness.

In the first part of this essay I will argue that Aquinas can be read to affirm in an implicit way that there is beauty in everything that exists. He also affirms clearly that this beauty derives from God, who Aquinas says is beautiful.

In the second part of the essay I will consider what it might mean from a Thomist point of view to speak of a transcendent divine beauty, and what is cannot mean philosophically speaking, given Aquinas’ other metaphysical commitments with regard to divine simplicity in particular. In the final part of the essay I hope to treat the question of how the beauty of the creation both manifests and conceals divine beauty, and to give special attention to the topic of hierarchy of perfections in creatures (as being, living and intellectual). My argument will be that Aquinas’ hierarchical understanding of reality is inclusive in character, so that an order of ethical and religious ethics derives from the natural order of beauty. The world’s natural beauty is meant to be respected and cared for in ways that acknowledge the intrinsic ontological integrity of “lesser” realities but also their inclusion within an order that sustains rational creatures, and their reference to the divine.

Interview with James Dominic Rooney, OP, Summer Session Participant

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This post is part of a series of interviews with our incoming class for the “Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence” 2017 Summer Seminar. James Dominic Rooney is Dominican Priest and graduate student in Philosophy at Saint Louis University. Valerie Wallace is Associate Director, Communications, for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

 

Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

James Dominic Rooney: I am from Ohio, originally, but more recently of St. Louis, MO.

 

VW: What are your research areas? Why?

JDR: I am interested in metaphysics, Eastern and Western medieval philosophy, and philosophy of religion.

I’ve always been fascinated by the most general, fundamental questions of philosophy, such as the nature of casuality, what exists, or basic truths we often take for granted. Much of this explains my interest in metaphysics. Metaphysics as I conceive of it follows on Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas: it is the science of being-as-being, or the structure of reality. While this can seem esoteric, empirical science appears to require metaphysical assumptions, and I am interested in how we should decide between metaphysical theories that might have ramifications for fundamental physics (quantum mechanics, etc.) or other sciences like biology.

Because of my interests in metaphysics, I have found a lot of interesting resources in medieval philosophy both in the Latin West and in China (Confucianism). Both of these traditions have a view of metaphysics as the science of wisdom, knowing the ultimate causes of everything. We tend to divide theoretical and practical concerns far apart, so that scientific inquiry is neither morally good nor bad, and is just beside the point of leading a fulfilled life. But I think the Chinese and Latin philosophers point to a different vision of wisdom: philosophy (and the wisdom it seeks) is not only a kind of theoretical knowledge, but importantly connected to a way of life. This perspective seems to me often forgotten or unpracticed in contemporary philosophy, let alone society. I think we could all benefit from rediscovering how to acquire wisdom.

 

VW: What are you most looking forward to about this summer’s seminar?

JDR: I look forward to having the opportunity not only to learn from some of the top scholars in their respective fields, but to be able to have personal discussion with them alongside other graduate students. The best and most lively work in philosophy seems to me to originate in these kind of discussions.

VW: What are your non-academic interests?

JDR: I am fond of art-house movies, calligraphy, bonsai trees, skiing, and being generally outdoors. But my aesthetic interests are really just a mature compensation for my love of computer games.

Audio: Fr. Thomas Joseph White, OP | Metaphysics: Philosophy as Wisdom

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Our scholar and theologian Fr. Thomas Joseph White talks about the classical idea of philosophy as wisdom, and the notion of a hierarchy of being in the universe in accord with the modern sciences. The talk also contains a consideration of objections that might arise from Kant, Heidegger or Neo-Darwinianism.
This lecture is part 3 of a 3-part series on an introduction to metaphysics and shared by one of our partners, the Thomistic Institute.

 

Audio: Fr. Thomas Joseph White, OP | Metaphysics: Transcendentals and the Existence of God

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Stained Glass window in the Church of Braine-le-Chateau, Wallonia, Belgium, depicting Saint Thomas Aquinas.
Our scholar and theologian Fr. Thomas Joseph White talks about about Aquinas’ views of the transcendentals: being, unity, truth, goodness, beauty, and how they relate to more ultimate questions about the existence of God, in this Soundcloud shared by one of our partners, the Thomistic Institute.
This lecture is part 2 of a 3-part series on an introduction to metaphysics.