Wednesday, May 16, 2007

An Introduction to St. Thomas’ Method in “Summa Theologica”

The following comes to us through the courtesy of Timothy M. Renick, author of Aquinas for Armchair Theologians (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), which I have recently finished reading. Although I am no Thomas specialist – more like a Thomas novice – this little volume was very easy to read and at least seemed to me to be enlightening. Moreover, as the lengthy quote below will amply illustrate, it is written with a great sense of humor. For all these (an potentially other) reasons, I recommend this volume.

Below is reproduced Renick’s attempt (pp. 147-9 of the volume mentioned above) to provide an illustrating and orientating example of the methodology and form with which Thomas argues in the Summa Theologica:
Question 7: Proteins
(in Thirty-Seven Articles)
First Article

Whether chunky or smooth be the more perfect form of peanut butter?

Objection 1: It would seem that chunky is the more perfect form of peanut butter. For Plato argues that a thing is more perfect as it more closely approaches its original form. But peanut butter takes the peanut as its original form; therefore chunky, having more of the perfection of the peanut, is the more perfect form of peanut butter.

Objection 2: Further, according to the Philosopher, that object is more perfect which contributes most directly to being, and that object is less perfect which detracts from being. Now, smooth detracts from being by means of its tendency to stick to the roof of the mouth, bonding the upper and lower palates. (There was that spate of tragic choking deaths in Sicily last year.) Therefore chunky is the more perfect form of peanut butter.

On the contrary, Peter and Paul together have declared, “Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don’t’.”

I answer that, a thing may be perfect in two ways. The first is with regard to its means and the second with regard to its end. Now, smooth is the more perfect peanut butter with regard to the means since, due to its physical properties, it can serve as the means for not only nourishment but for bonding one’s dentures, repairing tableware and, as Augustine points out, “performing acts so shameful and perverse that the multitudes of Carthage would pay to observe them.” But chunky is the more perfect with regard to the end as when Marcia Brady declares to her beloved housekeeper Alice, “Oh Alice, this sandwich is the living end.” Hence, the wisdom of the angelic Saints Peter and Paul is confirmed: “Sometimes you feel like a nut; sometimes you don’t.”

Reply Obj. 1: Are you going to listen to Plato? The guy wore a dress.

Reply Obj. 2: An object may be less perfect in and of itself (I always forget the Latin for that), or it may be less perfect because of the way an object is employed. Hence a chalice, which is inherently a good object, becomes imperfect when it is embedded in the forehead of your Dominican brother who mocks you incessantly for being the “Dumb Ox.” Similarly, smooth peanut butter, when not joined properly with the appropriate amount of jelly, causes the bonding of the upper and lower palates, as was the case in Sicily. Yet this speaks to the imperfection of the application of the peanut butter; not an imperfection of its being. Peanut butters do not kill; people do.

1 comment:

Timothy R. Butler said...

That is absolutely marvelous! I'm sure Thomas would be proud to see his method applied to peanut butter. I need to check out that book.