Aquinas and Sartre

Aquinas and Sartre: On Freedom, Personal Identity, and the Possibility of Happiness

Stephen Wang
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 328
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt28522k
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  • Book Info
    Aquinas and Sartre
    Book Description:

    Thomas Aquinas and Jean-Paul Sartre are usually identified with completely different philosophical traditions: intellectualism and voluntarism. In this original study, Stephen Wang shows, instead, that there are some profound similarities in their understanding of freedom and human identity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1894-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xviii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xix-xxii)
  5. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. xxiii-xxiv)
  6. NOTES ABOUT THE TEXT
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
  7. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-20)

    Thomas Aquinas was born at Roccasecca, midway between Rome and Naples, probably in 1225.¹ He was an oblate at the Benedictine abbey of Monte Cassino and then a student at Naples. After becoming a Dominican friar he spent the rest of his life studying, teaching, and writing in Cologne, Paris, Rome, and other Italian locations. He died in 1274 at Fossanova, south of Rome, on his way to the Council of Lyon.

    Aquinas was not teaching in a vacuum, and the questions of freedom, identity, and happiness that concern us here were already much discussed in the thirteenth century. The...

  8. PART ONE HUMAN BEING
    • Chapter 1 IDENTITY AND HUMAN INCOMPLETION IN SARTRE
      (pp. 23-57)

      Human beings do many different things. Why, then, does someone do one thing rather than another? What explains the action? Our answers to these questions will point to a great range of “causes,” “reasons,” “motives,” or “motivations”—in ordinary conversation we do not distinguish between these words very carefully. Often, however, a satisfying answer falls into one of two categories. A first type of answer tells us something about who the person is and what the person is like: “She treats the patient because she is a doctor”; “He runs away because he is a coward”; “They go to the...

    • Chapter 2 IDENTITY AND HUMAN INCOMPLETION IN AQUINAS
      (pp. 58-90)

      Thomas Aquinas grew up in a Christian culture that took for granted the doctrine of creation. Etienne Gilson wrote that in the eyes of this culture the universe is “saturated with finality.”¹ Everything is becoming something and going somewhere. In this dynamic universe, according to Aquinas, living things, such as plants and animals, have a special place. They move themselves and so are involved in a more intimate way in the progression of their own journey. The extraordinary thing about human beings is that within certain limits they can determine for themselves what their destination will be and how they...

  9. PART TWO HUMAN UNDERSTANDING
    • Chapter 3 THE SUBJECTIVE NATURE OF OBJECTIVE UNDERSTANDING IN SARTRE
      (pp. 93-116)

      In part one we explored the way human identity is constituted by the practical choices human beings make. In part three we will look more closely at how these choices are freely made. Here in part two we need to address a question that arises from the ideas developed so far. There have been hints in the previous two chapters that our personal commitments color the way we see the world, and that we only understand things in the way that we want to understand them. Sartre’s being-for-itself and Aquinas’s will seem to influence the way we interpret ourselves and...

    • Chapter 4 THE SUBJECTIVE NATURE OF OBJECTIVE UNDERSTANDING IN AQUINAS
      (pp. 117-152)

      As creatures with intellect, human beings are open to the world around them and transformed by what they understand. As creatures with will, we desire what is good and seek our own perfection. Within certain limits we can choose our goals and in doing so choose who we will become. These are the conclusions Aquinas led us to in chapter 2. It appears that human desire must be based on a prior understanding of what is good. Our decisions about ends and action, it seems, must have a rational foundation in the objective reality of the world as it is...

  10. PART THREE HUMAN FREEDOM
    • Chapter 5 FREEDOM, CHOICE, AND THE INDETERMINATION OF REASON IN SARTRE
      (pp. 155-191)

      Sartre and Aquinas, as we found in part one, have a shared understanding of how human identity is constituted by the free choices human beings make. We create ourselves and establish our goals through our actions, and these actions are not determined by any preexisting self. In part two we learnt how both thinkers believe that our interests and purposes determine how we understand the world, yet this personalised understanding still makes us present to a truth that is other than us. The subjective perspective we bring to things reveals their objectivity. Now in part three we need to ask...

    • Chapter 6 FREEDOM, CHOICE, AND THE INDETERMINATION OF REASON IN AQUINAS
      (pp. 192-240)

      Sartre and Aquinas agree that human actions are characterized by their end. According to Sartre, there is an insufficiency about everything we find, and we have to go beyond it and interpret it in the light of a particular chosen future. This future allows us to make sense of the past and the present, but it can in no way be derived from the facts of the past and the present. Ends cannot be discovered in the world or in ourselves. We are indeed formed by many factors (our human nature, our individual psychology, our circumstances, etc.), but these do...

  11. PART FOUR HUMAN FULFILLMENT
    • Chapter 7 THE POSSIBILITY OF HUMAN HAPPINESS IN SARTRE
      (pp. 243-255)

      In the action theories of Sartre and Aquinas human beings are creatures who seek particular concrete things: food, pleasure, success, security, fame, friendship, etc. We are not disembodied creatures who have some abstract notion of human fulfillment. Desire takes us beyond who we are, in all its particularity, to the person we hope to become, in all its particularity. Nevertheless, both thinkers hold that within these concrete goals, or through them, there is a more universal good that we are seeking. This universal good is the fulfillment we find in achieving our goals, whatever they may be. It is not...

    • Chapter 8 THE POSSIBILITY OF HUMAN HAPPINESS IN AQUINAS
      (pp. 256-274)

      There are elements of Aquinas’s understanding of the human being that could lead one to conclude that human fulfillment in this life is an achievable goal. The good is not always beyond us—sometimes it is present and possessed. Intellect and will, for example, are not always restless and unsatisfied in Aquinas’s scheme. Although the reason does advance from one piece of understanding to the next, opening our soul up to further horizons of being, the work of the intellect is “simply to apprehend intelligible truth.”¹ The movement of reason leads the intellect to rest (quiescere) in the possessing (habere)...

  12. CONCLUSION
    (pp. 275-280)

    There are a number of ways of characterizing the shifts in human sensibility and self-understanding that have occurred in the West in the modern period. In his much-discussed book Sources of the Self Charles Taylor argues that in our late modern or postmodern era we are unable to justify the constitutive goods we seek because we have lost an ability to trust in the established moral orders that founded them in the first place.¹ The extended self of the premodern period (a self that is defined by its place in an external web of belonging and interdependence), which became the...

  13. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 281-292)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 293-298)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 299-300)