Dynamic Transcendentals: Truth, Goodness, and Beauty from a Thomistic Perspective
by Alice M. Ramos
Catholic University of America, 259 pages, $64.95
In his 1960 Elements of Christian Philosophy, Etienne Gilson called beauty the “forgotten transcendental.” The appellation was again applied by Jan Aertsen (though this time in interrogative form) in his magisterial work, Medieval Philosophy and the Transcendentals. To this day, a steady stream of conflicting claims regarding the transcendentality of beauty continues to flow through the terrain of Thomistic scholarship. Yet despite these ongoing debates about it’s transcendental status, there is at least one point on which all can agree: Beauty has not been forgotten by today’s Thomists.
One need look no further than this collection of essays by Alice Ramos to find proof of the seriousness with which the topic has been treated. The volume does not attempt to put forth a systematic account of the transcendentality of truth, goodness, and beauty, nor does it engage in an extended treatment of their “dynamism.” Rather, the strength of the collection lies in its ability to manifest the breadth of their applicability. With beauty as her central thread, Ramos not only shows how closely the beautiful is tied to the true and the good, but also how significant this thread is to subjects as disparate as cultural renewal, theodicy, human vulnerability, and the perfection of the universe. Indeed, identifying the beautiful with the “true good,” Ramos claims that the (morally) beautiful is actually the proper object of practical reason itself. Each of her eleven essays is learned and thought-provoking, and the result is a collection that will appeal to scholars and students in the fields of ethics, anthropology, and metaphysics, alike.
In the book’s introduction, Ramos hopes that “this volume may be of service to others who will be able to further develop what may be in only seed form here.” There is much that lies in seed form here (for example, the provocatively brief discussion of an “intensification of the transcendentals,” which demands a more rigorous analysis in light of St. Thomas’ metaphysics of act and potency); and if stimulating further reflection is the measure of success, it is safe to say that Dynamic Transcendentals succeeds.
—Philip Neri Reese, O.P., is a Dominican friar in the Province of St. Joseph.