Aquinas’s Arguments for the Thesis That the Science of the Most Intelligible Objects Is Wisdom.

(This post is the ninth in a series dedicated to a sustained reading of and commentary upon Thomas Aquinas’s Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics.*)

1. In the present post I will first offer, in an at least somewhat summary fashion, the results of the two posts in the present series that bear immediately on the arguments Aquinas has set in front of us in the first paragraph of his “Prologue” to the Commentary. I will next review the prologue’s second paragraph and the argument that it contains. I will then set forth in explicit form the argument which the first two paragraphs taken together present, an argument which Aquinas left implicit.

In, then, my post of July 16, 2017, “Aquinas’s Argument That One Science Must “Rule” the Others. A Critical Assessment,” I offered a “critical assessment” of the most explicitly stated of the several arguments that can be discerned in the first paragraph of Aquinas’s “Prologue” to the Commentary. As “regimented,” i.e., so rephrased as to make more fully evident its logical essentials, the argument 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 that the argument is valid, that is, it is such that, if the two premises are true, the conclusion also 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 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 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.

2. Then, in my post of August 19, 2017, “Aquinas’s Argument That Wisdom Is the Ruler of the Other Sciences. A Critical Assessment,” I offered a “critical assessment” of the first paragraph’s primary argument. As duly regimented, the argument 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.

I took it to be sufficiently evident that this argument too is valid. But I did not take it to be as evident that the argument is also sound, for two reasons. The first is that the minor premise,

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

depends upon the argument examined in “Aquinas’s Argument That One Science Must “Rule” the Others. A Critical Assessment.” And, as I have indicated, though it is evident that that argument is valid, it is not evident that it is sound.

The second reason for my not taking it to be evident that the first paragraph’s primary argument is sound is that the argument for its major premise simply lacks the premise or premises that a valid argument for the given conclusion would require. As regimented, that argument given is:

It is the office of the wise man to direct others.
Therefore, the ruler of the other sciences is wisdom.

I am not saying, of course, that there is no valid or sound argument by which Aquinas, or anyone else, could arrive at that conclusion. Nor am I saying that the conclusion is false. I am simply saying that the complete argument that the valid argument would have to be has not been presented to us, at least not yet.

3. Now, on to the review of the prologue’s second paragraph and the argument that it contains. Remembering that Aquinas has, in the prologue’s first paragraph, concluded that

The ruler of the other sciences is wisdom.

the question now is that of which of the sciences is the ruler of the other sciences. Aquinas according says, in the prologue’s second paragraph:

We can discover which science this is and the sort of things with which it is concerned by carefully examining the qualities of a good ruler; for just as men of superior intelligence are naturally the rulers and masters of others, whereas those of great physical strength and little intelligence are naturally slaves, as the Philosopher says in the aforementioned book, in a similar way that science which is intellectual in the highest degree should be naturally the ruler of the others. This science is the one which treats of the most intelligible objects.

Two things immediately command our attention. The first, of course, is Aquinas’s argument related to ruler and slave. I will spell that argument out in the next post, something of an appendix to the present post, after I address in the present post the second thing that immediately commands our attention, the comparatively straightforward statement of the paragraph’s argument. I approach things in this order because my spelling out of Aquinas’s argument re slavery will depend upon my spelling out of his argument re the ruling science and the subordinate sciences.

I will render the major premise of the paragraph’s argument, which, in Aquinas’s words, is:

[T]hat science which is intellectual in the highest degree should be naturally the ruler of the others.

as:

The science which is intellectual in the highest degree is the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences.

This this rendition preserves, I believe, the meaning of the original while rendering it suitable for its role in the argument at hand.

I will similarly render the minor premise, which, in Aquinas’s words, is:

This science is the one which treats of the most intelligible objects.

as:

The science which treats of the most intelligible objects is the science which is intellectual in the highest degree.

The argument, accordingly, is:

The science which is intellectual in the highest degree is the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences.
The science which treats of the most intelligible objects is the science which is intellectual in the highest degree.
Therefore, the science which treats of the most intelligible objects is the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences.

The argument is, without question, valid. But is it sound? That is, are both of the premises true? It turns out that that has not been made evident in either case. That is, starting with the major premise, we can easily see that, if the science which is intellectual in the highest degree is, or is identical with, the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences, that identity, that being by the former of the latter, is not immediate. The major premise itself needs then to be demonstrated. And that demonstration will require, in the terminology of the logical tradition, a “middle term” the designee of which is both that which the science which is intellectual in the highest degree is and that which is the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences.

Likewise, turning to the minor premise, we can easily see that, if the science which treats of the most intelligible objects is, or is identical with, the science which is intellectual in the highest degree, that identity, that being by the former of the latter, is not immediate. The minor premise itself needs then to be demonstrated. And that demonstration will require a “middle term” the designee of which is both that which the science which treats of the most intelligible objects is and that which is the science which is intellectual in the highest degree.

It necessarily follows that, given what we have been given so far, it is not evident that that argument is sound. It remains to be seen whether Aquinas, in the prologue or later in his commentary, provides us with what is needed for the demonstrations of the two premises.

4. I turn now to the setting forth, in explicit form, of the argument which the first two paragraphs taken together present, an argument which Aquinas himself left implicit. First, then, we have the conclusion of the first paragraph, which will serve as the major premise of the argument being made explicit:

The ruler of the other sciences is wisdom.

and we have that of the second paragraph, which will serve as the minor premise of the argument being made explicit:

The science which treats of the most intelligible objects is the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences.

The subject of the major premise needs to be expanded so as to match the predicate of the minor premise, thus:

The science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences is wisdom.

This rendition represents another instance of preserving the meaning of the original while rendering it suitable for its role in the argument at hand.

The argument of the first two paragraphs is then:

The science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences is wisdom.
The science which treats of the most intelligible objects is the science which is by nature the ruler of the other sciences.
Therefore, the science which treats of the most intelligible objects is wisdom.

Once more, it is evident that the argument is valid. But it is not evident that it is sound, for it is not evident that the arguments which have been offered on behalf of its premises are themselves sound.

5. Setting aside the in fact more numerous posts attempting to specify to some initial degree the ways in which the philosophical perspective motivating this blog coincides, and does not coincide, with that or those of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, I have thus far in the present series of readings of and commentary upon the latter’s commentary on the former’s Metaphysics reviewed the arguments of the first two paragraphs of the “Prologue.” It is not evident that those arguments are sound, though, with one possible exception (see above), it is evident that they are valid. Sound or unsound, they have led Aquinas to the conclusion that:

The science which treats of the most intelligible objects is wisdom.

An understanding of that proposition depends necessarily upon one of just what the “most intelligible objects” in question are. In the initial sentence of the third paragraph, Aquinas tells us that:

Now the phrase “most intelligible objects” can be understood in three ways.

He accordingly, in the third paragraph and in the two succeeding paragraphs, will spell out those three understandings. In, then, the next post but one in the series, I will review the arguments that Aquinas sets forth in the third paragraph.

In, however, the next post, something of an appendix to the present one, I will turn my attention to the argument, noted above, related to ruler and slave.

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, with occasional minor differences, 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."
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