Humor in Commentaries

Humor in Aquinas’ Commentaries on Aristotle

Aquinas occasionally uses irony in ridiculing those views he believes are especially untenable and foolishly asserted.

On this passage of Aristotle’s in the De Anima, “For whereas the sensitive faculty is not found apart from the body, the intellect is separate” (429b5), Aquinas comments:

Sec. 689. …This same text has been, for some, an occasion of falling into the error of regarding the intellectual power as quite separated from the body, as a substance that exists on its own. Which is an utterly indefensible position.

In the course of refuting this error that there is one intellect for all men, he makes the following observation:

Sec. 690. For it is clear that the actually intelligent being is this particular man. Whoever denies this implies that he himself understands nothing; and therefore that one need pay no attention to what he says.

Sec. 695. Many other criticisms might be urged, such as I have set out in more detail elsewhere. Enough to note for the present that the theory in question is an implicit denial of the existence of thinking in the human individual.

Thomas Aquinas. Aristotle’s De Anima in the Version of William of Moerbeke and the Commentary of St. Thomas Aquinas, Book III, Lecture 7. Translated by Kenneth Foster and Sylvester Humphries. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1951).

Thus, he who claims that there is one intellect for all men, implies that he himself as an individual has no intellect.

Following the lead of Aristotle, Aquinas makes a similar jab against one who would deny the principle of non-contradiction, i.e. that the same thing cannot both be and not be at the same time and in the same respect.

Aristotle notes:

But even in this case it is possible to show by refutation that this view is impossible, if only our opponent will say something. But if he says nothing, it is ridiculous to look for a reason against one who has no reason, on the very point on which he is without reason; for such a man is really like a plant.

Aquinas comments:

608. … And on these grounds it can be shown that it is impossible for the same thing both to be and not be. But this kind of argument can be employed only if the one who denies that principle because of dificulties “says something,” i.e. if he signifies something by a word. But if he says nothing, it is ridiculous to look for a reason against one who does not make use of reason in speaking; for in this dispute anyone who signifies nothing will be like a plant, for even brute animals signify something by such signs.

Thomas Aquinas. Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Book IV, Lecture 6. Translated by John P. Rowan. (Chicago: Henry Regnery Company, 1961).

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