Aquinas: A Beginnerís Guide
by Edward Feser
Oneworld Publications, 224 pages, $14.95
Do not let the subtitle deter you. While Aquinas is ďa beginnerís guide,Ē it is rigorous and accessible philosophy at its best. Even seasoned Thomists will benefit from Edward Feserís analytic precision in interpreting and presenting Thomasí 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 manís moral obligations, Feserís Aquinas satisfies a hungry mind.
Because this is a work of philosophy, important aspects of Thomasí thoughtósuch as his Trinitarian theology and his treatise on graceóare 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 Thomasí metaphysical views. In fact, the metaphysical foundations of Thomasí thought are a constant theme throughout. Explaining Thomasí views on act and potency, hylomorphism, the distinction between essence and existence, the transcendentals, and the four causes, Feser demonstrates that Thomasí thought not only withstands modern criticism, but best explains and secures much of contemporary science.
Building on Thomasí metaphysical foundations, Feser walks the reader through Thomasí famous ďFive Ways,Ē presenting robust and persuasive arguments for Godís existence as the unmoved mover, the first cause, the necessary being, the perfect being, and the supreme intelligence that explains final causality. While Thomasí presentations of these arguments are compact in his Summa, Feser appeals to Thomasí 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.
Having presented Thomasí general metaphysics and its application to God, Feser turns to its application to man with a discussion of psychology (anthropology) and ethics. Of particular interest in these chapters is Feserís deployment of Thomasí account of the intellect and soul to answer many problems in contemporary philosophy of mind. This includes detailed discussion of the immateriality of the intellect and the immortality of the soul. Feserís account of Thomistic ethics places heavy emphasis on the human goodís grounding in what we are (our human nature) and on how the ends that perfect us and the corresponding principles that direct our action can be known even apart from revelation. Feserís cursory dismissal of Germain Grisez and John Finnisí interpretation of Thomistic ethics is unfortunate but does not mar the book as a whole.
Long have I searched for a book to recommend to colleagues, friends, and students to introduce them to the basics of Aquinasí philosophy; I search no longer.