Message from the President
This issue of ELEUTHERIA is devoted to Father Lawrence Dewan’s, o.p., Presidential Address to the American Catholic Philosophical Association, entitled The Importance of Truth, which was delivered on March 27, 1993, in St. Louis, Missouri, and which is reprinted here with the permission of the author. The text was also reproduced in the Annual ACPA Proceedings, of the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 76 (1993), 1-20.
Father Dewan is a noted for his scholarship on St. Thomas Aquinas. Of particular interest to Institute members is the discussion of speculative knowledge in this address. Father Dewan states:
The most perfect power is the intellect, and its most perfect object is the divine good [bonum divinum]. This is not an object of practical intellect, but rather of speculative intellect.
What are some of the defining characteristics of the “speculative intellect” and “speculative knowledge?” Father Dewan’s words go directly to the core of the speculative in its most original and truest sense:
Now, God’s knowledge of himself is speculative. This seems to me worth stressing, lest it be thought that speculative knowledge is
somehing which pertains to created intellects merely because of their finitude, their being surpassed by the whole of reality and by God himself.
However, in God we find speculative knowledge par excellence, and in him it is pure actuality, the most lively of activities.
My point here is that speculative knowledge is knowledge most noble because of the ontological status of its object, viz something intrinsically worth seeing. That object is primarily the being which is the source of all being.
Before Christianity had understood the world as creatio ex nihilo, Aristotle articulated similar characteristics of the speculative and contemplative life in Book Lambda (1072b20) of theMetaphysics:
Therefore the possession rather than the receptivity is the divine element which thought seems to contain, and the act of contemplation is what is most pleasant and best. If, then, God is always in that good state in which we sometimes are, this compels our wonder; and if in a better this compels it even more. And God is in a better state. And life also belongs to God; for the actuality of thought is life, and God is that actuality; and God’s self-dependent actuality is life most good and eternal. We say therefore that God is a living being, eternal, most good, so that life and duration continuous and eternal belong to God; for this is God.
This is perhaps one of the most celebrated and scrutinized passages in speculative philosophy. Aristotle has arrived at a discussion of the ultimate object and thoughtful act of speculative metaphysics – divine thought as a thinking, on thinking, thinking.
It is curious how modernity has thoroughly inverted and moved away from these time-honoured speculative ideals. Our sciences are now believed to be noble because their objects are human-centred, finite and natural. That the nobility of humanity can only be understood in the context of the eternal and divine good is no longer seen as a necessary proposition. Potentiality, in the metaphysical sense, has taken on greater force and intuitive appeal than actuality, the most crucial of metaphysical concepts. Even more fundamentally, modernity has validated only those mental activities that have as their objects something external to themselves – knowledge, perception, opinion and understanding. In speculative thought thinking is at one with its object. There is no issue as to correspondence, validation or falsification. There is no uncertainty as to whether there may or may not be a diremption between what is thought and what is thought about.
Father Dewan’s address challenges us to once again take up the intellectual discipline and the ethical necessity of speculative thought and divine speculative knowledge.
Table of Contents
- TRUTH AND HAPPINESS by Lawrence Dewan, o.p.
- KAMAKURA DAIBUTSU – Peter McCormick