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Thomistic Thought as a Metapsychological Meeting Ground
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Thomistic Thought as a Metapsychological Meeting Ground

Thomistic psychology, metapsychology, cognitive psychology, trans-theoretical dialogue, existential-phenomenological psychology, humanism

Cognitive therapies are among the most popular forms of psychotherapy in the United States (e.g., Robins, Gosling & Craik 1999). It goes without saying that those seeking psychotherapeutic treatment are best served by a profession whose representatives thoughtfully examine their methods of choice. Giuseppe Butera’s article on cognitive therapy and Thomistic psychology is truly thoughtful, as he gives careful philosophical consideration to the basic premises of Aaron Beck’s cognitive approach to therapy. Accordingly, Butera’s work is a valuable contribution to the fields of psychology and psychiatry. Butera carries out his analyses in a manner that is at once conscientious, circumspect, and quite generous. The generosity of Butera’s work is evident in at least three respects.

An Offering of Philosophical Rootedness

First, he has made a concerted effort to explicate a viable array of “philosophical underpinnings” to strengthen the theoretical foundations of Beck’s cognitive therapy. It is well known that cognitive therapists like Beck and Albert Ellis insisted that their work was grounded in a philosophical orientation that dates back to ancient Greece (e.g., Franks 1995). However, as Butera notes, Beck had little to say about these foundations. In his article, Butera has provided Beck’s work with rootedness in a philosophical tradition (Thomism) that is a direct outgrowth of ancient Greek philosophy, especially that of Aristotelianism. In this sense, Butera offers Beck the potential fulfillment of his work at the metapsychological level. Indeed, Butera offers Beck a philosophical affiliation that is richer in contemporary significance than stoicism owing to the holistic–dynamic nature of Thomistic philosophical–anthropology.

An Offering of Philosophically Rigorous Concepts

The second demonstration of Butera’s generosity is his willingness to lend philosophically disciplined ideas from the work of St. Thomas Aquinas to Beck’s somewhat more ambiguous and controversial conceptualizations of cognitive phenomena. Perhaps nowhere is this more significant [End Page 367] than in Butera’s treatment of Beck’s “automatic thoughts.” Butera notes that the automatic thoughts of Beck’s psychology “may be likened to” the judgments of the cogitative power as found in Aquinas’s philosophy. Here, the reader can readily see the strength of Butera’s motivation to augment Beck’s work with Aquinas’s. Beck never articulated what he meant by the word “thought” thoroughly enough to guarantee that the concept of automatic thought is suitably aligned with Aquinas’s notion of judgment. Moreover, Beck’s claim that there is a “conscious thought” between an “external” event and a particular emotional response (Beck 1976, 27) could be seen by some as evidence that his notion of thought and Aquinas’s notion of judgment are fundamentally incongruous. After all, the decidedly Cartesian tone of Beck’s language is unmistakable here. Still, Butera lends the notion of judgment as found in Aquinas’s works to Beck’s thinking on the emergence of affective responses. By doing so, Butera significantly enriches the Beckian view of human subjectivity, human finitude, and human frailty.

A Readying for Trans-Theoretical Dialogue

The third major demonstration of Butera’s generosity is evident in his desire to see Beck’s cognitive approach readied for fruitful dialogue and cross-fertilization with other psychotherapeutic traditions of thought. The productive potential of this desire can be felt, for example, in Butera’s treatment of Beck’s cognitive program of rules. Butera notes that, from a Thomistic perspective, judgments made possible by the cogitative power can become habitual and thereby take the form of such rules. By borrowing from St. Thomas’s philosophical framework in this way, “rules” are actually transformed into scientific metaphors for concrete realities. Increasingly complex rules become manifest as development unfolds over the course of the lifespan; knowledge acquisition takes on an increasingly multifaceted character as the individual’s range of experience widens. Inasmuch as the cogitative power is capable of habitual acts shaped by experience, the discerning reader will note the striking relevance of behavioral and social learning principles for understanding the emergence and regulation of “cogitative rules,” as they might be called from a Thomistic perspective. For instance...