Thomas Aquinas, Perceptual Resemblance, Categories, and the Reality of Secondary Qualities

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Arguably one of the most fundamental phase shifts that occurred in the intellectual history of Western culture involved the ontological reduction of secondary qualities to primary qualities. To say the least, this reduction worked to undermine the foundations undergirding Aristotelian thought in support of a scientific view of the world based strictly on an examination of the real—primary— qualities of things. In this essay, I identify the so-called “Causal Argument” for a reductive view of secondary qualities and seek to deflect this challenge by deriving some plausible consequences that support a non-reductive view of secondary qualities from an Aristotelian view (via the philosophical commentary of Thomas Aquinas). Specifically, my argument has two facets. First, I show that Aristotle’s view both implies recognition of the extramental existence of secondary qualities and is a prima facia natural view to take regarding the ontology of secondary qualities. Second, I show that the Causal Argument, which is thought to undermine a natural view of secondary qualities as real things, loses its bite when one examines perception in light the ontological relationship among the categories of quality, quantity and substance
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First archival date: 2018-09-26
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