by Fr. Raymond Taouk


 definition of Philosophy


1)   Name : Philosophy means human wisdom.

2)   Distinction. We mean philosophy par excellence, i.e. 1st philosophy, or metaphysics.

What is said of the 1st philosophy. simpliciter is said of the 2nd philosophysophies sec. quid.


3)   Purpose

·       philosophy is not a practical wisdom to teach us how to lead life prudently.

·       it is a speculative wisdom which consists in knowing :

·       not with a probable knowledge, as orators.

·       but with certainty, which must be by causes. Thus, philosophy is a science.


4)   Means of knowl. (lumen sub quo)

·       each science has its distinctive light, i.e. lumen sub quo or medium formale.

·       by reason vs theology which knows by faith, vs prophecy which knows by revelation.


5)   Object of knowledge

Its material object (objectum materiale or subject matter) is universal—everything. 

·       Historically, philosophysophers inquired into everything—knowl. itself and its method, being & non-being; good & evil, motion and rest, animate and inanimate, man and God.

·       Philosophy addresses problems natural to the h. mind which have a bearing on every science.[1]


6)   Philosophy and other sciences


·       Is it absorbing them as if particular sciences were its compartments?

 or is it absorbed by them as if philosophy was their systematic arrangement? (See diagram below)

·       Philosophy does not seek explanation nearest to the sensible data, but those ultimate explanations most remote from them. It seeks about man’s int., soul, finality.

Philosophy deals with 1st not 2nd causes.

·       Its formal object (objectum formale quod)

·       def. It is the formal standpoint, i.e. the aspect of the mat. o. which it studies per se primo- intrinsically  and primarily.

·       application. Philosophy. studies the 1st causes of everything, unlike other sciences (w. limited scope, and not going up to ult causes). It is true wisdom : sapientis est altissimas causas considerare.


7)   Definition:

Philosophy is the science which by the natural light of reason studies the first causes or highest principles of all things.


8)   Divers historical roles of philosophy related to other sciences :


Philosophy of Aristhomas :

Philosophy and the corpus of  other sciences have the same material object.

The formal o. of philosophy is 1st causes, of other sc. 2nd causes

Descartes :

philosophy absorbs the other sciences-

is the whole of science

Auguste Comte :

The sciences absorb philosophy-

there is no philosophy


ii. philosophy and the special sciences


1)   Judgment.

·  Each science is mistress in her own house, because it has the ncssy tools to reach truth within its sphere. No one has a right to deny the truths thus proved.

·  A scientist may make a mistake in his own domain. The science can judge and correct itself. But also, a superior science has the same right to correct it if the mistake contradicts one result under its jurisdiction.

·  Since philosophy is the highest science, it is competent to judge every other h. science, rejecting as false any scientific hypothesis contradicting its results.[2]

·  E.g., the mechanists contradict the doctrine of free will based on the physical law of conservation of energy.

·  The 2 sciences are not on the same level : philosophy is competent to determine whether and how far a scientific hypothesis contradicts it. But physics is incompetent to determine the question by the principles and data of physics.

·  In case of real contradiction, the alleged ccls of philosophy is proved false for one truth (philosophy) cannot contradict another (scientific fact), contra factum non fit argumentum.

Then, the philosophysopher will bow, not to the verdict of physics, but to the verdict of philosophy judging itself by means of physics, and will revise his arguments accordingly.

2)   Dependence of sciences upon philosophy

·       M. The superior science governs the inferior.

m. But scientific laws are subordinate to the laws of philosophy, since it gives the 1st principles of human knowledge and of being, which makes the principles of sciences dependent on philosophy.

Ccls. Ergo, philosophy governs other sciences.

·       Indirect dependence

- Although the principles of h. sciences = self evident by nat. reason (principia per se nota),[3]

- yet, absolutely speaking (simpliciter) they are not first principles, since they rest on philosophy. principles. Often also, sciences have to use metaphysical principles in a particular aspect (sec. quid), e.g. all sciences rest their validity on the metaphysical. principle of causality : omne effectus dependet a causa.[4]

3)   direction.

·       Sciences are not directed to their end by philosophy, as if they could not attain it without philosophy.

Yet philosophy. classifies the sciences, i.e. assigns them their proper end and defines what constitutes their specific unity and differentiation from the rest. Sapientis est ordinare.

Hence, if a science encroaches on another one, philosophy redresses it, by exercising a negative judgt on it.

·       Ultimate. end.  Only Philosophy., which regards the highest knowl., can attain the ultimate good, common transcendent goal towards which all the special sciences converge.

·       Direction. To be proficient in a given science, one needs not ask advice of philosophy. or be a philosopher.

But philosophy. shows the scientist the position of his sc. in the sum-total of human knowledge. It also give reasons for the principles on which the special science rests.[5] Philosophy. is the scientia rectrix, and without its suzerainty, h. culture ends in int. chaos. As scientia rectrix, philosophy. throws its light on the discoveries and scientific hypotheses.


Philosophy of Aristhomas

The principles of the special sciences are subordinate to those of philosophy, but only indirectly. Philosophy exercises a constitutional government over other sc. acting autonomously. The study of the 1st philosophy should be the end of int. research.

Descartes : The principles of the special sciences are directly subordinate to those of philosophy, exercising a despotic government over them.

1st philosophy. is to be studied at bgg of int. research.

Anti-philosophysophists : The principles of the special sciences are not subordinate to those of philosophy. There is anarchy.

There is no supreme science or 1st philosophy.



4)  Defense

· The part. sciences receive their postulates and principles from common sense or from nat. experimental/int. evidence. This is of itself sufficient to build on these principles.

· A science which cannot explain nor defend its principles needs a superior science to defend them.[6]  This is the case of every science, e.g. Maths does not inquire what is the nature of quantity, number, extension, nor physics what is the nat. of matter. It is powerless before objectors who would deny the existence of the sensible world or that space has three dimensions.

· It belongs to Philosophy to defend them, because the part. science is insufficient to protect them agst errors, and because it cannot provide the stability and essential needs of h. knowledge, which would  fail to reach its final end, if the postulates of the sciences were not scientifically explained, discussed and defended.


5)         free and Independent

·     Ar. concludes that a philosophy. which is independent of the inferior sciences, or at best depends on them as a superior depends on the servants and instruments, is a free science.

·     Philosophy. needs the data of experience, facts, given it by the senses and the ccls of the sciences. Such a dependence is a purely material dependence, since the sup. depends on the inferior to be served by him, and to judge by its own light whatever is brought before him.

·       The dependence on sciences is not absolutely ncssy, because philosophy uses only sense evidence to draw its demonstration. For instance, the distinction of act and potency is based on the existence of motion in the universe, perceived strictly by the senses. This datum is provided prior to scientific observation, infinitely more certain than the inductions of sciences, always present at the disposal of every man, made of simple truths, universally and absolutely valid, more certain than the best established scientific conclusions.

·       The conclusions of sciences are used by philosophy not to establish its own conclusions but rather as confirmation. Its principles cannot be properly developped unless embodied in concrete examples. A sound philosophy can dispense with particular scientific explanations which it uses as illustration, and if the system proves false, the truth of that philosophy would not be affected. Hence, the purely scientific mistakes in Aristhomas’ philosophy in no way affects the ccls of philosophy. [7] Philosophy. will use sciences on four scores :

- to illustrate its principles

- to confirm its conclusion

- to throw light upon and assimilate the assured results of science in things pertaining to philosophy.

- to refute objections and errors which claim science as its support.

·       For his own education, the philosophysopher himself should undergo the training of sciences before wisdom, going from the imperfect to the perfect. All the great philosophysophers have been knowledgeable in contemporary science.[8]


6)         Conclusion :

Philosophy is the highest h. knowledge and only true human wisdom. Other sciences are subject to philosophy. which judges, governs and defends their postulates. Philosophy. is free in relation to the sciences and depends on them as on instruments.


iii. philosophy and theology


1)   Division of theology

·       Nat. theology (theodicy) is the science of God which we attain naturally by the mere powers of reason. It reaches God, author of the nat. order. It is the summit of philosophy.

·       Supernatural theology (theology) is the science of God attainted only if God has informed men about Himself by revelation. Then, reason, enlightened by faith re. revelation, draws implicit conclusions.


2)   Definition of Theology

·       Its object is God Himself sub ratione Deitatis, totally inaccessible to h. reason. It turns around God, whereas the philosophy. object, including God, knows all in terms of ens commune.

·       Its criterion of truth is the authority of God who reveals it.

·       Its light is reason illumined by faith, i.e. virtual revelation or conclusion which reason implicitly draws from revelation.


3)   Dignity

·       It seems to be inferior to philosophy because its does not have the evidence of its principles.

·       Yet, theology is above h. sciences-including philosophy- by :

·       the sublimity of its object,

·       the certainty of its premises.[9]

·       the excellence of its light.

·       It is the first of all wisdom, wisdom par excellence. Yet, it is inferior to another wisdom, obtained by man as a gift of the HG, which enables us to judge of divine things instinctively -per modum inclinationis- not scientifically -per modum cognitionis.[10]


4)   Relative functions between theol. and philosophy

·       Errors :

·       The theory of a double truth, by which the same thing may be true in philosophy and false in theology, was invented by Siger of Brabant who became the main enemy of ST at Paris. It was revived by the modernists, who pretend to be Catholics while freely professing in philosophy anti-Christian theses.

·       The Cartesian movement resulted in emancipating philosophy from theology and in denying the name of science for theology. It was practically setting the rationalist principle (nothing outside my reason can be true-esp. not God’s revelation). 

·       Function of theol. over philosophy.

·       negative dependence on theol. As the superior science, theol. judges philosophy. It guides and governs negatively the inferior sciences, so as to reject as false any philosophical affirmation in contradiction with the faith.

·       No positive dependence. The principles of philosophy are independent of theol. since they are self-evident principles, whereas those of theology are truths revealed by God. Being entirely distinct, it is absurd for a philosopher to invoke revelation to prove a philosophy. thesis.

·       Function of Philosophy over theology.

·       Theol. as such is not dependent on philosophy since its principles are drawn from the knowledge God and the blessed have of God Himself.

·       Theol. uses philosophy in its demonstrations, as its instrument, and raises it to the honours of ancilla theologiae. The weakness of h. mind obliges us to reason about God by means of analogy w. creatures, and this involves the proper understanding of analogy and all analogical philosophy. notions (science of being-truth-good…). Hence :

1- Most theological arguments have a Major of reason, a minor of faith and a ccls of theology.

2- A system of theology cannot be true if its philosophy. is false, whereas a philosophy. could still be true if the sciences it makes use of be false (philosophy uses them only materially as illustrations).


5)   Mutual service

·       Of philosophy on theology

·       as the foundation of faith for apologetics (part of theology).[11] It gives natural fundamental truths (ex. of God, remunerator, immortal soul, possibility of revelation, of saying God) as an introduction to faith -praeambula fidei. Theology, the science of faith, presupposes these truths.

·       to give the notions of the mysteries of faith drawn from analogy w. creatures, e.g. verbum mentale explains the dogma of the Trinity.

·       to refute the adversaries of the faith, e.g. philosophy shows the non-contradiction of the mystery of the Eucharist based on the philosophical theory of quantity.

·       Of theology on philosophy

·       negative protection. By restricting freedom fr error, it enlarges freedom for finding truth.

·       it is urged to define precisely important concepts used in theology. Thomism elaborated the theory of nature &  personality, of habitus & habits thanks to theology.


6)   Conclusion

Theology-the science of God by means of revelation- is superior to philosophy. Philosophy is subject to theology, neither in its premises nor in its method, but in its conclusions which it controls negatively.


7)  Application to Thomistic theology.

Why does the Church, in the person of more than sixty popes, recommend Thomism above all other theological schools?  Why, for example, could we not follow with equal confidence the synthesis produced by a St. Augustine or a St. Bonaventure?  For two very simple reasons.  First, as we have already said, Thomism is the most universal theology and that which has best proven its mettle.  Just as those scientific hypotheses which are able to account for the greatest number of facts while adhering the most faithfully to superior principles carry more weight than others, so a theological system will be the surer for having proven its value in numerous domains.[12]  This quality is particular to Thomism.  Any modern theologian who wants his discipline to advance must stand on the shoulders of St. Thomas, in the same way that a physicist takes all previous discoveries into account, under pain of dragging science back to the age of Archimedes.

The second reason for making Thomism the official theology of the Church is that it is ultimately based upon eternal and unchangeable principles:  Revelation and the philosophy of realism.  It is true that there is only one Revelation; but it is also true that Revelation only becomes a scientific theology when it is studied by the human reason according to the principles of common sense codified by Aristotle.  Given that there is only one Revelation and one perennial philosophy, there is at bottom only one theological science which binds with irrefutable logic the truths of faith to conclusions of theology.  If the Church clings to Thomism, it is not by stubborn fanaticism or even simple discipline but by logical necessity.  In the same way, architectural styles in building vary with the ages but there are identical and invariable laws to be observed in all construction, such as the laws of gravity and resistance, without which there would exist not castle, house nor cabin.  So it is with St. Thomas.  He is important not so much because he built up an admirable theological synthesis, but rather because he advanced farther than any other in his understanding of theology and his scientific ordination of its fundamental principles, which remain the point of reference for every aspiring theologian in the same way that the aspiring architect must first go to architectural school.[13]  Now, these laws and essential principles of Thomism are what the Church demands that one follow as sound guidelines when she enjoins adherence to St. Thomas.[14]


iv. philosophy and common sense


1          Unscientific knowledge

·       Start. Before the acquisition of perfect knowl., man knows them imperfectly w. everyday life knowl.

·       End. For most things, where science is unattainable, we shall be content w. it, however much we read on it.

·       Universal knowl. is unattainable. The master of one science is the dwarf of most others. The closest thing to universality is reached by becoming a wise man -a philosophysopher- where ‘it is easy to make oneself universal’ by knowing all things through their first causes.


2          Extent of common sense knowledge.

·       much ordinary knowl. does not pass the level of opinion or belief.

·       There are real certainties re.

i)      the senses (bodies have three dimensions)

ii)    self-evident axioms (whole is greater than part; effect has a cause)

iii)   ccls immediately deduced from axioms.

·       great truths which found moral life are object of common sense (ex. of God, free will).


3          Limitations

·       Re. the ccls of implicit reasoning, Although objectively well founded on sciences, these certitudes are weak since the possessor has no knowl. of their grounds, the mode of ex. in the mind is impfct.

·       Spontaneity. Re. the self-evident truths, the mode of knowledge is also imperfect, because spontaneous.


4          Relations of Philosophy and common sense

·       Vs Scottish school, common sense differs from common consent or instinct compelling man’s assent.

·       If causes. = immediate apprehension of self-evident first principles, i.e. based on the authority of the evidence, it is the foundation of the whole philosophy.

·       If causes. = entire body of truths known by causes., philosophy is superior as the perfect sc. to rudimentary knowledge.

·       If causes. = premises alone, it is inferior to philosophy in mode of knowl, but superior as to object and light.[15]

·       Philosophy extends indefinitely the domain of scientific certainty and justifies, controls c.s. per se. Yet, per accidens, c.s. may judge philosophy based on sense evidence : contra factum non fit argumentum.

·       Object of philosophy :

i)      truths of fact = sense evidence

ii)    self-evident first principles of the mind.

iii)   proximate ccls of the first principles.

Hence, Philosophy. depends materially on c.s. to get started.


5          The modern school scorns unjustly common sense. Descartes, Malebranche, Kantian school, condemns it as the source of ‘credulity’.


6          Conclusions:  

Philosophy is not based on the authority of c.s. meaning the common consent, but on c.s. meaning the self-evident first principles. It is superior to c.s. as the scientific stage of knowledge is superior to the ordinary stage. Yet, philosophy may be accidentally judged by c.s.


Philosophy of Aristhomas

The convictions of c.s. are valid, and science is untrue to itself if it rejects them.

But the basis of philosophy is the natural witness of the intellect, not the authority of c.s.

Scottish School

Common sense is equivalent to common consent. Its authority imposes itself as a blind instinct on the mind and is the foundation of philosophy.

Rationalist, Critical and Modernist Schools

Common sense is incapable of furnishing the basis of philosophy and its convictions have no speculative value whatsoever.




[1] Cf Aristotle’s famous dilemma ‘One must philosophise. Then you must philosophise. You say one should not philosophise. Then (to prove your contention) you must philosophise. In any case, you must philosophise.’ from fragments of the Protreptikos.

[2] E.g. some people may question whether the law of inertia (formulated since Galileo and Descartes) can be reconciled with the axiom : quidquid movetur ab alio movetur.

[3] They can be known by nat. reason without knowledge of metaphysics : e.g. the math. axiom, two quantities which are equal to a third qtty are equal to one another, resolves into the higher pple, two beings identical with a third are identical with one another = pple of triple identity (negatively, pple of the third excluded), Logic p.32.

[4] Iª 104 1.

[5] St. Thomas Aquinas In Metaphysics Introduction.

[6] Architecture defends the sc. of building.

[7] The ‘crime’ of the decadent Scholastics of the XVI & XVII c. was to believe that Aristhomas’ philosophy was bound up w. the mistakes of ancient science, of which it is in reality wholly independent.

[8] Some were even great scientists (Aristotle, Albertus Magnus, Leibniz), and great discoverers (Phythagoras, Descartes, Leibniz).

[9] If in general, the argument of authority in science is the weakest, when it comes to the authority of God, it is the most powerful argument. I 1 a 8 ad 2.

[10] I 1 6 ad 3.

[11] Cf. Garrigou, De Revelatione I 2 1918.

[12] Ambroise Gardeil, OP, Le Donné Révélé et la Théologie (Juvisy, Seine-et-Oise: Éditions du Cerf, 1935), pp.253-284.

[13] In Labourdette, Dialogue Théologique (Saint-Maximin, Var: Éditions de la Vie Spirituelle, 1947), p.12.

[14] One Hundred years of Modernism (Fr. Bourmaud) pp 37-8).

[15] Philosophy. and all sc. are ultimately founded on the natural evidence of the first principles.