Aquinas and Descartes have different ideas on how humans gain knowledge in the world. Both philosophers need to define what the human body is composed of in order to determine how we gain knowledge.
For Aquinas intellect comes from the soul and the body working in unison. The soul is the substantial form of a living material thing. It is the actuality of a living material substance. Even though the rational soul is what differentiates humans from other living things, it does not make us human beings. Aquinas writes that "we could maintain this if we were to suppose that the activities of sensory souls are proper to such souls apart from bodies." (Aquinas 62) Aquinas is saying that we would be able to say that the human soul is the human being, if our souls were able to sense without using our bodies. The soul and body together allow us to sense, learn (through our senses), and feel emotions. The previous theory of learning comes from Meno. Socrates says that we learn by recollection. Aquinas does not agree with this theory. Aquinas says that we can only learn through the rational soul, what our bodies have come in contact with. "And so the human intellect understands material things by abstracting from sense images and comes by means of material things so considered to some knowledge of immaterial things." (Aquinas 87) The problem that arises is how we come up with universal definitions with sensing only particular cases. Aquinas says that we learn through abstraction. Through abstraction, we first take in all information through all our senses. Then we put together all the information gathers through senses into one image of an object subconsciously. Now we have an image in our minds which is called a phantasm. Afterwards we collect and recall all phantasms. Finally we abstract the non-essential differences from the various phantasms and create a universal definition. Aquinas does not mention God when it comes to our process of...
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