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Phantasms, followup
Question from Randal Burris on 4/15/2014:

So, then, do we experience with our senses, the phantasms or sensations, in our brains, which our soul then, through its rational, intellectual powers, knows of the "thing in itself", and/or even understands the universal it represents? In other words, do I see/touch/smell a cow, creating a phantasm or sensation in my brain which leads my soul to know THIS cow, and/or even to know about cows in general from these sensations? I know these questions may seem very elementary, but, having no background in philosophy and epistemology, I am wading through the Summa like a wide-eyed 1st-time explorer in a far country, still learning the language of its natives. Oh, well, 55 isn't too old to learn something new, huh?

Answer by Richard Geraghty on 6/9/2014:

Dear Randal,

No. You not too old. In fact you are at a good age to understand metaphysics. It is the philosophical science Aquinas got from Aristotle and then improved it. The result is St. Thomas's version of a Christian metaphysics which is distinct from both Catholic theology and pagan metaphysics, I suggest you get a copy of the book AN ELEMENTARY CHRISTIAN METAPHYSICS written by Father Joseph Owens. Anyway, the epistemological approach to the question of phantasms is a metaphysical one. You start with the fact that you and everybody else are certain that there are rocks, plants, animals and men out in the world. Now having this sense knowledge of things is not the same as being able to explain it., To explain it you embark on an epistemological approach. You ask yourself why are you certain of fact that there are physical bodies in the world? Your experience tell you that some how t the bodies you see in the world must somehow exist in your mind. If this were not so, you would only grasp images or phantasms in your mind, not things as they exist in the world on their own, Your experience tells you that you really are grasping things in the world and not merely images in your eyes and then in your brain, If you were only grasping images in your mind, you would not be grasping things as they are themselves in the world. You must conclude, then, that the physical changes in your eyes and brain are somehow the means by which you grasp things in themselves. Somehow you and other animals become identical with bodily things, not just in a physical way but also in a cognitional way. The difference between us humans and other animals is that we can reflect on this process because we have the faculty of reason. Now what reason enables us to do is to conclude that the images picked up by the eyes and the brain become the means by which we know that bodies exist in the world, Here's where fight stats between philosophers like St. Thomas and modern philosophers. Modern philosophers take a purely materialistic view of sense knowledge. Consequently they argue that all we and other animals sense are the images within our selves. Thus we can never know what bodily things are in themselves. Their explanation of the fact of our experience destroys the validity of that experience. St. Thomas on the contrary comes up with an explanation that explains the fact of our experience. The explanation is that men and animals become IDENTICAL with things in the world by means of the images or phantasms they have of them. For example, the tree we see in or yard is the same tree existing in or mind, The tree out there is the same tree we have in our awareness. The difference between us and the animals is that we have the ability to abstract from our knowledge of this tree or that rock and get the general idea of tree in general and rock in general. Thus man becomes identical with bodily things in two ways. The first way is through the senses and the second way is through the intellect. Joseph Owens has treated of this matter of epistemology in both his elementary metaphysics mentioned above and in book COGNITION. Keep at it and you will then find your thinking and speaking like a native.

Dr. Geraghty

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