Aquinas’s Argument That Wisdom Is the Ruler of the Other Sciences. A Critical Assessment

0. This post is the fifth in a series dedicated to a sustained reading of and commentary upon Aquinas’s Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle. In my post of July 16, 2017, “Aquinas’s Argument That One Science Must “Rule” the Others. A Critical Assessment,” the second such post, I presented a critique of one of the several arguments present in the opening paragraph of Aquinas’s “Prologue” to his commentary, the one of which he gave the most explicit and easily understood statement. The paragraph in question reads:

When several things are ordained to a single thing, one of them must rule or govern and the rest be ruled or governed, as the Philosopher [i.e., Aristotle] teaches in the Politics. This is evident in the union of soul and body, for the soul naturally commands and the body obeys. The same thing is also true of the soul’s powers, for the concupiscible and irascible appetites are ruled in the natural order by reason. Now all the sciences and arts are ordained to a single thing, namely, to man’s perfection, which is happiness. Hence one of these sciences and arts must be the mistress of all the others, and this one rightly lays claim to the name of wisdom; for it is the office of the wise man to direct others.

The argument critiqued in the July 16 post, so “regimented,” i.e., so simplified and rephrased as to make more fully evident its logical essentials, reads as follows:

All sets of several things ordained to some one thing are sets of things one of which must rule the others.
The set of the sciences is a set of several things ordained to a single thing.
Therefore, the set of the sciences is a set of things one of which must rule the others.

I took it to be sufficiently evident for the purposes at hand that the argument is valid, that is, it is such that, if the two premises are true, the conclusion too has to be true; were it necessary, one could easily set the argument forth in full set-theoretical dress. But I did not take it to be as evident that the argument is also sound. That is, though it is evident that the argument is valid, it is not evident that, in addition, both of its premises, and therefore also its conclusion, are true. In particular, it is not evident that the first premise is true; in fact, I thought it evident that it is false and offered argumentation in “Aquinas’s Argument That One Science Must “Rule” the Others. A Critical Assessment” to that effect, to which argumentation I refer you. I also noted, on the other hand, that the fact of the argument’s not being sound does not by any means entail that its conclusion is false.

1. In today’s post I propose to offer a similarly critical examination of the paragraph’s main argument, an argument discernible in the paragraph’s last sentence.

Hence one of these sciences and arts must be the mistress of all the others, and this one rightly lays claim to the name of wisdom; for it is the office of the wise man to direct others.

Now, it seems to me that the argument that can therein be discerned is:

The ruler of the other sciences is wisdom.
One of the sciences is the ruler of the other sciences.
Therefore, one of the sciences is wisdom.

2. My revision of Aquinas’s statement of the minor premise of the argument,

[O]ne of these sciences and arts must be the mistress of all of the others.

as

One of the sciences is the ruler of the other sciences.

is done simply in order to remain consistent with the choice I have made of “ruler,” rather than the paragraph’s alternatives of “governor,” “director,” and “mistress,” as the means of expressing the relationship of authority at hand.

At any rate, that minor premise follows from the conclusion of the argument examined in “Aquinas’s Argument That One Science Must “Rule” the Others. A Critical Assessment” and reproduced early on in this post:

The set of the sciences is a set of things one of which must rule the others.

The argument having that proposition as its premise and the minor premise at hand as its conclusion is:

The set of the sciences is a set of things one of which must rule the others.
Therefore, one of the sciences is the ruler of the other sciences and arts.

Fully expressed, this argument too is somewhat complex. But I will assume it to be evident that the argument is valid.

3. Let us turn now to the major premise of the paragraph’s main argument. In Aquinas’s own words, the premise reads as:

[O]ne of these sciences and arts must be the mistress of all the others, and this one rightly lays claim to the name of wisdom….

As somewhat regimented, it reads:

The mistress of all of these sciences rightly lays claim to the name of wisdom.

or, as further regimented:

The mistress of all of these sciences is wisdom.

With one more step in its regimentation, we have:

The ruler of the other sciences is wisdom.

4. This premise too requires that an argument be made on its behalf; there needs to be a middle or mediating term between the subject and the predicate of the conclusion. Inspection of the paragraph reveals, however, but one candidate for the role of the needed premise for the argument:

[I]t is the office of the wise man to direct others.

But the argument that we then have

[I]t is the office of the wise man to direct others.
Therefore, the ruler of the other sciences is wisdom.

is far from complete; it is lacking the additional premises that any valid argument for the given conclusion must include.

This is not to claim, clearly, that a valid, and indeed sound, argument involving the premise and the conclusion we have cannot be elaborated. Nor is it by any means to claim that the conclusion is false. But it is to claim that it is not evident that the main argument of the first paragraph of Aquinas’s “Prologue” to his Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle is one justifying its conclusion.

Until next time.

Richard

* Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle. Translated and introduced by John P. Rowan (Revised edition; Notre Dame, Indiana: Dumb Ox Books, 1995 [1961])

This edition of Aquinas’s text is serving as the text at hand in the present series of readings and comments. It is available online, at:

http://dhspriory.org/thomas/Metaphysics.htm

If you prefer to do your reading in hard copy, you may easily purchase a copy of the work through Amazon.com., by simply clicking on the following:

About Rchard E. Hennessey

See above, "About the Author/Editor."
This entry was posted in Thomas Aquinas's Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s