Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Virtue and Knowledge: Connatural Knowledge According to Thomas Aquinas

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Virtue and Knowledge: Connatural Knowledge According to Thomas Aquinas

Article excerpt

THOMAS AQUINAS INSISTS that there are two different ways to attain correct judgment. One is by way of "perfect use of reason," and another is by way of "connaturality" (connaturalitas):

   Wisdom denotes a certain rectitude of judgment according to the
   Divine ideas. Now rectitude of judgment is twofold: first, on
   account of perfect use of reason, secondly, on account of a kind
   of connaturality with the matter about which one has to judge.
   Thus, about matters of chastity, a man who has learnt the science
   of morals judges rightly through inquiry by reason, while he who
   has the habit of chastity judges rightly of such matters by a kind
   of connaturality. Accordingly it belongs to the wisdom that is an
   intellectual virtue to form a right judgment about divine things
   through inquiry by reason, but it belongs to wisdom as a gift of
   the Holy Spirit to form a right judgment about them on account of a
   kind of connaturality with them: thus Dionysius says, in Chapter Two
   of On the Divine Names, that Hierotheus is perfect in divine things,
   for he not only learns, but he also receives divine things. Now this
   sympathy or connaturality for divine things is the result of
   charity, which unites us to God, according to 1 Cor. vi. 17: He who
   is joined to the Lord, is one spirit. (1)

Aquinas refers to the latter mode of cognition, that is, that by connaturality, by different names. Sometimes he calls it "judgment by inclination" (2) and other times "affective cognition" (cognitio affectiva) (3) or "experiential cognition" (cognitio experimentalis). (4) "Cognition" (cognitio) in Aquinas is a generic notion applicable to different cognitive activities and their results, comprising both apperehension and judgment. Based on the text quoted above, scholars often call this mode of cognition "connatural knowledge." As observed in the text, connatural knowledge is, to be exact, "judgment by connaturality." The modes of this cognition are twofold:

   (i) "He who has the habit of chastity judges rightly of such matters
   [of chastity] by a kind of connaturality." (5)

   (ii) "Because where there is the greater charity, there is the more
   desire; and desire in a certain degree makes the one desiring apt
   and prepared to receive the object desired. Hence he who possesses
   the more charity, will see God the more perfectly, and will be the
   more beatified." (6)

These texts tell us that the virtues of the cognizer such as chastity (which is, according to Aquinas, a part of temperance, (7) namely one of the moral virtues) and charity (which is one of the theological virtues (8)) play a crucial role in our attainment of moral and religious cognition; only those who have particular virtues have dispositions for cognition of the things related to the virtues. Thanks to the dispositions, one can come to know these things rightly and more perfectly. Whether the cognizer has a connaturality brought by some virtue makes a difference in the mode of his cognition and, furthermore, according to Aquinas's account (9) (which I will explain later), this connaturality is a sort of love (amor). He also says that love brings desire (desiderium) to the thing loved and also joy (gaudium) when desire is fulfilled. (10) Moreover, connatural knowledge can be characterized as noninferential since it is contrasted with "the perfect use of reason" or "inquiry by reason." Aquinas distinguishes "reason" in the strict sense from "intellect" in its function of inference. (11)

These features, namely, particularity, affectivity, and noninferentiality, are what virtue epistemology (12) has been recently trying to defend as components of human knowledge. Indeed, Linda Zagzebski, one of the major virtue epistemologists, pays much attention to Aquinas's notion of prudence (prudentia) (3) as well as to Aristotle's practical wisdom (phronesis) in her book Virtues of the Mind. …

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