Truth And Goodness In Immanuel Kant And St. Thomas Aquinas

3328 words - 13 pages

Immanuel Kant and St. Thomas Aquinas account for the existence of truth in sharply contrasting ways. Kant locates all truth inside the mind, as a pure product of reason, operating by means of rational categories. Although Kant acknowledges that all knowledge originates in the intuition of the senses, the intelligibility of sense experience he attributes to innate forms of apperception and to categories inherent to the mind. The innate categories shape the “phenomena” of sensible being, and Kant claims nothing can be known or proved about the “noumena,” the presumed world external to the mind.1 Aquinas agrees that all knowledge comes through the senses, but disagrees with Kant in arguing that categorical qualities do not originate in the mind but inhere in the objects themselves, either essentially (determinate of their mode of being) or accidentally (changeable without loss of essence by the object).2 Aquinas further agrees with Kant that all the knowledge derived from sense experience is knowledge of the essence of things only insofar as it is understood by reason, and thus sense experience is insufficient to constitute knowledge by itself.3 But Aquinas defines knowledge as conformity by the mind to things as they really are, and thus believes the external world is knowable by the mind, both in the essences of things (what they are) and in the act of being (that they are).4 Moreover, for Aquinas, entities are related to each other analogously according to their modes of being, since being is a quality that all existent things share. Thus, being in general is knowable systematically according to a language of existential analogy.5 Kant, in contrast, begins with the assumption that metaphysics is invalid as knowledge and that the universe is fundamentally unknowable except through the way our experience of it is shaped by the categories through which the human mind reasons about it. The two views of truth have divergent consequences for ethics. Aquinas’ philosophy produces a tradition of moral clarity that endures to the present, while the philosophy of Kant leads ultimately to the cultural relativism and moral skepticism that are widespread in the modern world.

For Immanuel Kant, truth is accessible to the mind only because it derives from rational categories already in the mind. Although knowledge begins in the senses, Kant claims, “besides what is given to the sensuous intuition, special concepts must yet be superadded—concepts which have their origin wholly a priori in the pure understanding, and under which every perception must be first of all subsumed and then by their means changed into experience.”6 The sources of such synthetic a priori concepts are categories inherent in reason, and Kant supplies a table of such categories, including in it: Unity (measure), Plurality (magnitude), Totality (whole), Reality, Negation, Limitation, Substance, Cause, Community, Possibility, Existence, and Necessity.7 Thus,...

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