Thomas Aquinas was the greatest European philosopher of the thirteenth century. Many would say that he was the greatest of all medieval thinkers. Yet his appeal and reputation have waxed and waned. In the period immediately following his death he had relatively few admirers willing to promulgate his teachings. And there were many anxious to censure it. In 1277 ideas thought to be his were ecclesiastically condemned in Paris and Oxford. His influence increased following his canonization in 1323. But his thinking never commanded anything like universal agreement in the Middle Ages. And though his impact on Roman Catholic teaching has been strong from the fifteenth century to the present, his work was largely ignored by the best known Western philosophers from the time of Descartes (1596–1650) to the middle of the twentieth century. Descartes himself sometimes mentions Aquinas with respect. But his most famous writings show little serious debt to Aquinas's major emphases. And some notable modern philosophical figures have been positively dismissive of Aquinas. According to Bertrand Russell (1872–1970), for instance: “There is little of the true philosophical spirit in Aquinas. He does not, like the Platonic Socrates, set out to follow wherever the argument may lead… Before he begins to philosophize, he already knows the truth; it is declared in the Catholic faith… The finding of arguments for a conclusion given in advance is not philosophy, but special pleading. ” 1
Russell's opinion of Aquinas is still not uncommon. But it is now fair to say that it is increasingly under attack. For in the last few decades Aquinas has been more and more studied by professional philosophers, many of whom have come to view him as one of the most perceptive thinkers of all time. Hence, for example, a 1990 editorial comment in the journal Philosophy
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Publication information: Book title: Thomas Aquinas: Contemporary Philosophical Perspectives. Contributors: Brian Davies - Editor. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 2002. Page number: 3.
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