Thomistic Personalism: A Marriage Made in Heaven, Hell, or Harvard? The 30th Annual University of St. Thomas Aquinas Lecture

The 30th Annual University of St. Lecture Dr. Peter Kreeft


“Let me not to the marriage of true minds/ Admit impediments,” writes Shakespeare, sagely. On the other hand, if you marry a horse to a jackass you only produce a mule, which in tum is sterile and produces no offspring. When you marry Thomism with personalism, when you marry a premodern, objective and metaphysical philosophy with a modem, subjective, and phenomenological one, do you get a marriage of true minds made in Heaven or a mule made in Hell or Harvard?

As far back as 1961 Wojtyla presented a prophetic little IO-page paper entitled “Thomistic Personalism” at the Catholic University of Lublin, calling for a synthesis of 3 the insights of these two philosophies in particular and of classical and modern philosophy in general. The main reason he gave for the synthesis was strategic: the need for a fuller answer to what he consistently maintained was the critical question of our time, “What is man?” For the crises in both the Church and the world today are not about theology and its metaphysical foundations, as they were in the early Christian centuries, but about ethics and its anthropological foundations.

Woytyla says in his essay “Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Being” that “The personalistic type of understanding the human being is not the antinomy of the cosmological type but its complement.” And the reason for the need of a personalistic type of understanding is, he says, that “we must pause at the irreducible, at that which is unique and unrepeatable in each human being, by virtue of which he or she is not just a particular human being-an individual of a certain species-but apersonal subject. Only then do we get a true and complete picture of the human being.” We have a subjective inner life…

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Peter Kreeft, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and at the King’s College, in New York City. He is an alumnus of Calvin College (AB 1959) and Fordham University (MA 1961, Ph.D., 1965). He taught at Villanova University from 1962-1965, and has been at Boston College since 1965. He is a regular contributor to several Christian publications, is in wide demand as a speaker at conferences, and is the author of over 63 books.

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