Knasas, John F. X. Thomism and Tolerance

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KNASAS, John F. X. Thomism and Tolerance. Scranton: University of Scranton Press, 2011. 168pp. Paper, $20.00--John Knasas holds that tolerance is an "undeniable aspect of the common good," and therefore support for tolerance is a standard all philosophies must meet. This tolerance should be "fraternal," based not on mutual indifference but on mutual concern for the other. Thomism and Tolerance seeks to defend the modern ideal of tolerance through grounding it in a metaphysical understanding of Thomistic ethics. Knasas therefore argues in chapter one that, contrary to widespread opinions, fundamental truth claims are not opposed to fraternal tolerance. Indeed, as Knasas argues at greater length in chapter five--particularly in criticizing the thought of John Rawls and Richard Rorty--political philosophies that rely on skepticism cannot provide an adequate foundation for tolerance.

Beginning in chapter two, Knasas therefore turns to the natural law ethics of Aquinas to find such a foundation. The approach to ethics here is profoundly metaphysical, which leads to an excellent discussion of Aquinas's first principle of practical reason, in which "the good" that ought to be done according to this principle points us to the notion of being. This first principle is therefore understood ultimately as a call to love so radical that "reality itself prompts us to love." Knasas examines here the richness, intelligibility, and analogous structure in the sameness-in-difference of being as the good.

The human person carries special dignity, as an intellector of being. "Among all the instances of being as the good, the human, through intellection, has the good in an especially intense manner." This grounds a universal psychology, for human beings always act in the context of at least some inchoate sense of ourselves as intellectors of being, even when we mistakenly act contrary to the truth of this dignity. There is an important discussion here of the implicit knowledge of metaphysics, and indeed orientation to God, given in ordinary experience. The relation of metaphysics to psychology is central to the entire work, and one finds scattered throughout the text some perceptive observations concerning this psychology of being in human life, for example in the depth of the experience of personal rejection: "Since being is so intensely present in our fellows, then their rejection of us can appear as being's rejection of us. And since being includes all, rejection can be experienced as total isolation."

In chapter four, Knasas moves from this grounding of ethics and psychology in being to a more specific argument for Thomism as the best foundation for tolerance in human society. …