Doubting Our Teachers

Scruton notes that Aquinas successfully completed a full synthesis of Aristotle into Christianity and thereby codified Greek thought into the Western tradition. An underlying structure to this synthesis was the strength and ability of man’s rationality to attain truth – even unto God. Yet, shortly thereafter, Aquinas’ theories were largely forfeited by various thinkers who doubted portions of Greek thought; especially rationality.

The interesting thing, however, is that from another standpoint they were merely carrying on the fundamental tradition of Aristotelean thought – skepticism. Socrates held to universal forms up there in the idea world. Aristotle, his best student and foremost critic, doubted such universal forms, teaching instead of universal particulars. The post-Aquinas thinkers followed this pattern of criticizing one’s predecessor – instead of the scholastic tradition of preserving one’s predecessor.

Though we have certainly abandoned and even synthesized many past ideas, the undercurrent of modern philosophy is one of systematic doubt. The question now becomes why do we not doubt doubt?

Which reminds me of the command to “honor your father and mother, that it may go well with you in the land.” This command was also given to Gentiles in the New Covenant, so it still applies today. The command is not merely to our physical and immediate parents, but also includes our cultural and philosophical parents; the parents of the ideas and wisdom we have today. Perhaps the reason the West is in the dissolution it finds itself is because we doubt and criticize those who came before us more than we seek to honor – and therefore learn from – them.


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