This month we’re joined by Jennifer Frey, Harper Schmidt Fellow and Collegiate Assistant Professor in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. Click here to listen to our conversation.
In this episode, we begin with an overview of Thomas Aquinas, one of the most prolific philosophers ever. (It is sometimes said that he wrote, on average, about 10,000 words per day.) Frey points out that whereas today it is common to think of philosophy as a set of specialized subdisciplines, Aquinas’ approach was to pursue philosophy as a unified discipline, under the assumption that one can’t have a fully developed ethics (for example) without thinking through the difficult issues in metaphysics.
For example, Aquinas thought that ethics was deeply rooted in human nature. The basic idea was that we can draw lessons about the difference between a good life and a bad life by studying what it’s in our nature to benefit from. Take friendship; just like it’s in a plant’s nature to benefit from sunlight, it’s in a person’s nature to benefit from friendship. Other philosophers (like Immanuel Kant) influentially argued that the demands of ethics are rather detached and abstract: ethics is its own set of laws, and the key characteristic of these laws is that they are entirely independent of the constraints imposed upon us by human nature. But according to Frey, one of Aquinas’ great innovations was to think of ethics as defined by our human nature.
Tune in to hear about how Aquinas placed human beings back into nature!