Aquinas books
October 9, 2006 — 17:59

Author: Kevin Timpe  Category: Teaching  Comments: 8

I’m teaching an upper-division course in the spring on Aquinas. I’m going to try and devote a third of the course to Aquinas’ philosophical theology, a third to his metaphysics, and a third to his ethics. Pretty soon I’m going to have to put in my book orders. I think that I’m going to use the Cambridge Companion to Aquinas and either The Philosophy of Aquinas or Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae: Critical Essays. But before I order them, I wondered if there are any other candidates that I’m overlooking and should consider. (Let me note that I am quite familiar with Stump’s Aquinas, but think that the level of complexity here is greater than what I should tackle in this course.)
Also, I’m considering either using The Treatise on Human Nature or Summa Theologiae: Questions on God. Any thoughts on which is the better translation (where ‘better’ is a function of both more accurate and readability for undergraduates)?

  • The Pasnau/Shields book is excellent. This is the one a medieval scholar recommended to me when I asked her advice on this, and I’ve been pretty pleased with it. I didn’t use it as a text for the students to read, because I’ve just taught a 100-level course that includes Aquinas, but she said someone she knows used it for a 300-level course with a good deal of success.
    Stump’s book has gotten some mixed reviews. There was one by Anthony Kenny, I believe, that was really negative, on both historical and philosophical points. I don’t know enough to know how to evaluate something like that, but I get the feeling her historical work is viewed in much the same way as Jonathan Bennett’s (i.e. love it or hate it), but maybe that’s just a poor induction from only a few samples.

    October 9, 2006 — 19:10
  • Kevin, a few ideas. You might consider the brief book (about 122 pp.) Ethica Thomistica: The Moral Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, Ralph McInerny, (CUA Press, 1997). There is also A Shorter Summa Peter Kreeft (Ignatius Press, 1993, that includes lots of explanatory commentary for beginners). Finally, Brian Davies, The Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Oxford: OUP, 1993). It’s about 350 pp., but covers lots of Aquinas thought and very clearly.

    October 9, 2006 — 20:37
  • The Treatise on Happiness has lots of great stuff, and you might consider it as a way to do Aquinas’s ethics in a different and very accessible way. The way Aquinas divides the subject makes it easy to follow his argument. (I’ve never taught it, since I’ve never taught a medieval philosophy course; but more informally I’ve found that people tend to pick up the various aspects of Aquinas’s ethics more quickly when I start here.)
    I’m a little curious as to how you are distinguishing ‘philosophical theology’ from ‘metaphysics’ in the case of Aquinas. What sort of topics will you be looking at under the latter?

    October 9, 2006 — 23:09
  • p. toner

    I second Mike’s recommendation of Fr. Davies’s book. But there’s also the obvious choice: Gilson’s The Christian Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas.
    The Pontifical Institute recently released a translation of the final edition of Gilson’s book, but as far as I can see, it’s only available in an overpriced hardback. So if it were me, I’d stick with the older edition.
    A very different kind of book: Chesterton’s St. Thomas Aquinas.
    This book could work very nicely as a kind of overview in the early weeks of the course. It seems to me it’s much easier to get a grip on the details of Aquinas’s thought if you’ve already got some kind of grasp of the main outlines. Chesterton’s book also gives a biographical and historical background that helps “place” Aquinas.

    October 10, 2006 — 10:06
  • I also second Brandon’s suggestion, _A Treatise on Happiness_. I think it’s a Hackett publication, which is all the better.

    October 10, 2006 — 11:54
  • I would second the recommendation for Gilson’s book, but stick with the old translation.
    The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas is decent, but they misunderstand Aquinas on a few crucial points by reading back some contemporary notions into Aquinas, ie: Scott MacDonald’s chapter on Aquinas’s epistemology misunderstands Aquinas as an internalist concerning justification.

    October 10, 2006 — 14:43
  • Benedikt Paul Göcke

    When I did a course on Aquinas and Creation I found the following book quite useful: Aquinas on Creation.

    October 11, 2006 — 12:17
  • Kevin Timpe

    Thanks for all the good recommendations. Now I just have to decide what to do on the basis of them.
    Brandon, some of what we’ll be covering in the section of the course on metaphysics is what Aquinas says about causation, substances/accidencts, and human nature (of course, all this is related to his philosophical theology).

    October 13, 2006 — 10:33