Reconstructing Aquinas's Process of Abstraction

Heythrop Journal 59 (4):639-652 (2018)
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Aquinas’s process of abstraction of the particular thing into a universal concept is of pivotal importance for grounding his philosophy and theology in a natural framework. Much has been said and written regarding Aquinas’s doctrine of abstraction, yet recent studies still consider it to be ‘nothing more than a kind of magic.’ This problematic claim is not without foundation, for in trying to understand exactly how this process works, we are constantly faced with an unbridgeable abyss and the repeated vague explanations made by Aquinas. The plain truth is that Aquinas explains what abstraction ought to do and yet, most of the time, he does not explain how it is to be done. This paper intends to show that although Aquinas does not present us with a mechanism for the theory of abstraction, we are nevertheless able to construct a viable mechanism which accords with Aquinas’s guidelines. The aim of constructing a working mechanism that corresponds to what Aquinas demands of the process of abstraction is twofold: First, it attempts to extricate Aquinas’s doctrine of abstraction from the claims of being a quasi-natural doctrine. Second, a viable process of abstraction which is derived from Aquinian-Aristotelian sources can approach contemporary cognitive problems from a fresh point of view.
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Archival date: 2019-05-15
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