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“Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide”

Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide
by Edward Feser
Oneworld Publications, 224 pages, $14.95
 

Do not let the subtitle deter you. While Aquinas is “a beginner’s guide,” it is rigorous and accessible philosophy at its best. Even seasoned Thomists will benefit from Edward Feser’s analytic precision in interpreting and presenting Thomas’ philosophy. Placing Thomas in conversation with modern thinkers, Feser explains how so many worthies have gotten Thomas wrong and thus done battle with a straw man. More than this, Feser shows how, even on a host of contemporary debates, Thomas provides the most intellectually satisfying ways forward. With discussions of the existence of God, the relation of body and soul, the human intellect and will, and man’s moral obligations, Feser’s Aquinas satisfies a hungry mind.

AquinasBecause this is a work of philosophy, important aspects of Thomas’ thought—such as his Trinitarian theology and his treatise on grace—are obviously left out. But most of the key philosophical topics are here. After a brief biographical sketch of Thomas, Feser launches into an extended discussion of Thomas’ metaphysical views. In fact, the metaphysical foundations of Thomas’ thought are a constant theme throughout. Explaining Thomas’ views on act and potency, hylomorphism, the distinction between essence and existence, the transcendentals, and the four causes, Feser demonstrates that Thomas’ thought not only withstands modern criticism, but best explains and secures much of contemporary science.

Building on Thomas’ metaphysical foundations, Feser walks the reader through Thomas’ famous “Five Ways,” presenting robust and persuasive arguments for God’s existence as the unmoved mover, the first cause, the necessary being, the perfect being, and the supreme intelligence that explains final causality. While Thomas’ presentations of these arguments are compact in his Summa, Feser appeals to Thomas’ other writings to present them in their full splendor. When this is done, one immediately realizes how so many contemporary presentations and criticisms of the Five Ways completely miss the point.

 

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Ryan T. Anderson

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Ryan T. Anderson researches and writes about marriage and religious liberty as the William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at The Heritage Foundation. He also focuses on justice and moral principles in economic thought, health care and education, and has expertise in bioethics and natural law theory. Anderson received his bachelor of arts degree from Princeton University, graduating Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude. He is a doctoral candidate in political philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, where he received his master’s degree. Anderson’s recent work focuses on the moral and constitutional questions surrounding same-sex “marriage.” He is the co-author with Princeton’s Robert P. George and Sherif Girgis of “What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense” (Encounter Books, December 2012). The three also co-wrote the article “What is Marriage?” in the winter 2011 issue of Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy.

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