Philosophic Thought in France and the United States: Essays Representing Major Trends in Contemporary French and American Philosophy

By Marvin Farber | Go to book overview

MATERIAL POSSESSIONS AND THOMISTIC ETHICS

Vernon J. Bourke*

Thomistic philosophy in America still lags behind European Thomism. This is less evident in speculative thinking than in the approach to practical problems. Significant contributions have been made by American scholars, in the area of Thomistic epistemology, psychology, and metaphysics. With the recent development of several centers of research in medieval studies, both in the United States and Canada, the history of St. Thomas's thought is now being studied in a scholarly manner on this side of the Atlantic. However, though America is probably regarded in many other parts of the world as the home of a practical-minded people, it can hardly be claimed that much work has been done by American Thomists on the problems of ethical, social, or political philosophy. That is not to say that there is a lack of interest in these questions, or that the work already done is of negligible value.

The fact is that American Thomism is a comparatively young movement. Many of its leading writers and teachers are European scholars who, perhaps, hesitate to handle questions of practical import because they necessarily require a background of familiarity with American customs and circumstances of life, difficult for a newcomer to acquire. There is also, no doubt, a certain unwillingness to become involved in controversies of a practical character, because of the danger that any criticism of existing conditions or practices may be misunderstood. It is far easier to be daring and critical in the speculative order than in the practical. There is a tendency of the general reading public to regard any new or different type of thought, if it be practical, as an attack upon the established order of things. Yet, it is the function of the philosopher to criticize

____________________
*
Born in 1907. Ph.D., Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, University of Toronto, Professor of philosophy, St. Louis University. President of the American Catholic Association of Philosophy, 1948; member of the American Mediaeval Academy and of the American Philosophical Society. Associate editor of The Modern Schoolman. Author of Augustine's Quest of Wisdom, Thomistic Bibliography ( 1920- 1940), Syllabus on Ethical Problems, and Saint Thomas and the Greek Moralists.

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