What is Heard About Nature and the Trajectory of Certain Thomists

Father Benedict Ashley, O.P. notes in an autobiographical sketch that his vision of the relation between his Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy and the sort of “natural science” that originated with Descartes et. al. changed over time. At first he took “modern natural science” to have basically zero philosophical significance; the task of the Aristotelian was simply to take the empirical discoveries of “modern science” and integrate them into the framework of Aristotelian cosmology: “In my first phase I saw the task mainly as one of filling in the details in a general plan already laid out. This may appear preposterous, but it really is not so difficult.” But then he slowly begins to think that “modern science” supports an insight of “modern philosophy” into the nature of reality itself — namely that reality is “historical.” This change came for him at the time of Vatican II, and it had the same effect on him that the Council had on many others: “This insight was a liberation, because it made it possible for me to see modern thought and modern culture much more sympathetically than before.” I wonder whether Ashley’s sense of liberation did not incline him to assent to what he saw as an insight more readily. Would he have been more hesitant to assent to his new ideas if they had been less in tune with his age? Continue reading