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​Dr. David L. Twetten, above, associate professor of philosophy

at Marquette University. Below, from left, Lisska Book Award

winners Brian G. Bennet and Philip Williams '12.

​Scholar Defends Aquinas' 'Doctrine of Being'

Providence, R.I. -- The annual St. Thomas Aquinas Lecture on Philosophy and Theology at Providence College featured Dr. David L. Twetten, associate professor of philosophy at Marquette University, defending the central teaching of Aquinas, his “doctrine of being.” 

Twetten’s lecture, “The Power of Language and Reality: Philosophy of Language and Aquinas’ Doctrine of Being,” took place in Aquinas Lounge and was sponsored by the Center for Catholic and Dominican Studies (CCDS).

Twetten has taught courses in metaphysics, Aquinas, and analytic philosophy. He earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Toronto in 1993 and has been teaching at Marquette since 1991. 

St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), a Dominican friar, priest, philosopher, and theologian, revolutionized Christian tradition by embracing the argument of Aristotle over Plato. For thousands of years, Christian tradition held with Plato, that ultimate reality consists of “essence,” a force that binds individual existences together.

Aquinas argued that “existence,” not “essence,” was primary, and followed Aristotle in dismissing Plato’s theory, in part because it did not account for the origin of existence. To Aquinas, God is pure being, or existence itself, and man’s purpose is to develop himself toward being, not to attempt to escape it.

“Aquinas places at the center of his philosophical system a doctrine of existence and purports to prove philosophically that all things but one are produced out of nothing by a first cause, God,” said Twetten. “At the heart of Aquinas’ argument is the real distinction between existence and essence in all things but one.”

Twetten noted that even sympathizers with Aquinas have disagreed about whether he proved the distinction, since it depends on Aquinas’ philosophy of creation.

“Rather than cast gloom on the feast of St. Thomas, I propose to dissolve the problem with a simple line of reasoning, which, if it is correct, makes all nine of Aquinas’ proofs for the real distinction cogent,” said Twetten. “My thesis is that readers of Aquinas, my past-self included, by focusing on existence or the act of being, have overlooked his realist notion of essence -- the foundation on which rests the real distinction.”

“If 20th century readings of Thomas were correct to be ‘existentialist,’ ours would do well to supplement them with some ‘essentialism,’” Twetten said.     

Lisska Book Awards presented

The program began with Dr. Raymond F. Hain, assistant professor of philosophy, presenting the annual Lisska Book Awards for the best theology paper and the best philosophy paper written by students.

Winners of the awards, established by Dr. Anthony Lisska ’63 and Lawrence Lisska ’66, receive a $200 gift certificate “to support their future studies and encourage their growth in knowledge and wisdom,” said Hain.

Brian G. Bennet (East Greenwich, R.I.), a seminarian at Our Lady of Providence Seminary who is taking courses at the College, won the philosophy prize for his paper on “Locke, Hume, and the Nature of Miracles.”

The prize for theology went to Philip Williams ’12 (North Scituate, R.I.) for his paper, “The Morality of Interior Actions.”

The Aquinas Lecture is one of four sponsored annually by the CCDS through the generosity of Edward J. Aquinas Quinn ’63 and his wife, Kathleen Reilly Quinn. St. Thomas Aquinas, hailed as “the Angelic Doctor of the Church,” is the patron of Catholic schools. His feast day is celebrated on January 28.

 

--Vicki-Ann Downing

 

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