Published by the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas (founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann)
In association with the The Adler-Aquinas Institute and Aquinas School of Leadership
A Founding Member of the Alliance for Liberal Learning

Friday, July 20, 2018

ALI 2018 Plenary Session Panel 3 (July 20th 1:30 pm EDT)

1:30 pm–3:00 pm: Plenary Session Panel 3 (Location: Meeting Room)
Chair: Paul Richard Blum

Complete conference program (subject to change)

Update: Plenary Session video

Speaker: Robert A. Delfino (St. John’s University, NY), “A Note on Abstraction and the Principle of Individuation”
Thomas Aquinas wrote his famous metaphysical work, De Ente et Essentia, when he was only about thirty years old. In it Aquinas solves the age old problem of universals by relying upon a kind of non-precisive abstraction wherein the essence is considered absolutely. The essence abstracted in this way abstracts from every existence (quolibet esse), but in such a way that it excludes none of them. The converse to the problem of universals is the problem of individuation and in De Ente et Essentia Thomas holds that the principle of individuation is designated matter (materia signata). Thomas argues that designated matter must be included indistinctly in “Man” (the essence of the whole), but that designated matter must be excluded completely from “Humanity” (the essence of the part). However, in his commentary on the De Trinitate of Boethius Aquinas acknowledges problems with holding that designated matter is the principle of individuation; and about year before his death, in a work titled “Response to John of Vercelli, Master General of the Dominicans, concerning 42 articles,” Aquinas argued that “everything in accordance with the way it has existence (esse) has unity and individuation.” In this paper I flesh out some of the changes that must be made to Aquinas’s account of abstraction in De Ente et Essentia if we defend the view that esse (not materia signata) is the principle of individuation. In the final section, I discuss why machines cannot perform the kinds of abstraction I discuss in the paper, and why this appears to doom the project of artificial intelligence.
Speaker: Richard Fafara (Adler-Aquinas Institute), “Philosophy and Civilization”
I focus on a paper presented at the Sixth International Congress of Philosophy held at Harvard in 1926, in which Gilson interrogated history in an attempt to determine the role of philosophy in civilization’s history.  The paper is also important for Gilson’s understanding of philosophy as basically metaphysical and non-historical.  Over time, Gilson developed and deepened this notion of philosophy, but did not alter it.
Speaker: Denis Scrandis (St. John’s University, NY), “Maritain’s Existential Metaphysics”
Jacques Maritain offered Existence and the Existent and its existential Thomism to the post-World War II Western world as a remedy to modern philosophy in general and to atheistic existentialism in particular. With the rise of Galilean and Newtonian mechanistic physics, Aristotelian philosophical physics, with its unsatisfactory explanation of local motion, fell from favor. The notions of nature, being, essence, and existence were abandoned albeit at the cost of their explanatory power. Existence was no longer correlative with, and inseparable from, essence. Existence for Sartre did not activate essence but destroyed or abolished it such that essence came to mean nothing at all. Hence the meaninglessness of modern culture is a residue of centuries old rationalism. Maritain, seeking to counter the influence that Sartre and others exerted upon a despairing culture, propose an alternative existentialism, one that affirmed “the primacy of existence, but as implying and preserving essences or natures and as manifesting the supreme victory of intellect and of intelligibility.” (Existence and the Existent, p 13)
 Maritain analyzed cognitive objects and operations. He traced the passage of essence and existence from a sensible being acting upon human senses to an intellectual judgment affirming the existent’s existence, climaxing man’s grasp of reality in a intuition of being. Maritain shows against atheistic rationalism that the world, populated by existents possessing essences and natures, is sensible and potentially intelligible and moreover a welcoming home for men and women in the exercise of their freedom. John Knasas’s criticism of the intellectual intuition of being are examined. Bibliography Jacques Maritain, Existence and the Existent, translated by Lewis Galantiere and Gerald B. Phelan (Garden City, New York: Image Books, 1957). Jacques Maritain, A Preface to Metaphysics (New York: Mentor Omega, 1962). John F.X. Knasas, Being and Some 20th-century Thomists (New York: Fordham University Press, 2003). John F.X. Knasas, “How Thomistic is the Intuition of Being?,” in Jacques Maritain: the Man and his Metaphysics, edited by John F.X. Knasas, (Mishawaka, Indiana: American Maritain Association, 1988).

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