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  • Second Harvest: Further Reflections on the Promise of the Thomistic Psychology
  • Giuseppe Butera (bio)

method, emotion, developmental psychology, rationalism, holism

Samuel Johnson was once accosted by a lady demanding to know why he had defined “pastern” as “the knee of a horse.” Seeing perhaps that escape was impossible, the great man simply confessed, “Ignorance, madam, pure ignorance” (Fadiman 1985, 312). In preparing to write my response to the gracious and stimulating commentaries of Eugene DeRobertis and Christopher Megone, I came gradually to feel how apposite such a reply would be to some of their own critical observations and remarks. Although I had known from the start that the work of bringing Aquinas’s philosophical psychology (APP) into dialogue with modern psychology would be difficult, it was only in reflecting on their commentaries that I came to appreciate just how difficult it would be and how far short of the mark my own first attempt had fallen. But there was also much in their commentaries to encourage me in this work. For their penetrating observations and criticisms, as well as their supportive comments, I am truly grateful.

Rather than responding to their critical remarks one at a time and in the order in which they appear in their respective commentaries, I would like to treat them thematically. Taken together, DeRobertis and Megone seem to have three major concerns, each of which will be treated separately in the following sections. Very briefly, these concerns have to do with: (1) Claims I make about the difference between the methods of inquiry employed by philosophy and psychology; (2) the absence of a discussion of the importance of developmental psychology for an adequate philosophical understanding of judgment (of both the rational and the cogitative kinds) and its relation to emotion; and (3) a subtle rationalist/cognitivist tendency in my treatment of Aquinas’s understanding of human rationality that comes dangerously close to muting, almost to the point of denying, its decidedly un-Cartesian embodiment.

On Method

Although I did not undertake to argue for the legitimacy of philosophical inquiry into matters nowadays viewed by many to be the exclusive domain of the sciences—among which psychology is often numbered—I did make a few passing comments in that direction. Unfortunately, in the process of doing so, I ended up reducing the variegated field of psychology, with its wide range of explanatory stances and research methodologies,1 to the highly restrictive quantitative methodology [End Page 377] employed by the hard sciences.2 There is no question in my mind that DeRobertis would be right to call my “characterization of psychology as a strictly quantitative science” “damning” (DeRobertis 2010, 370) were I unwilling to disavow it.

Admitting DeRobertis’ point that psychology is not limited to using a strictly quantitative research methodology is not, however, to deny that there is a real difference between the approaches taken by philosophy and modern psychology in their separate attempts to understand the human psyche. Although it is no simple task to say in what this difference consists, some indication of its nature may be grasped by answering questions in Megone’s commentary that invite a careful examination of “the linked roles of reason and experience in both science and philosophy” (Megone 2010, 374).

Although Megone asks three distinct questions, the answers to the first two may be subsumed under the answer to the third, which asks how the “interaction of the two different modes of inquiry [employed by APP and CT]” may “be explained, given their different methods” (Megone 2010, 374). How, in other words, is it possible for cognitive therapy (CT) to be queried by APP, and vice versa, given their methodological differences? To answer this question, we must clarify what it is about modern psychology that makes it different from philosophical psychology (the first question); we must also say something about the “linked roles of reason and experience in both science and philosophy” (the second question).

Generally speaking, philosophical psychology, at least as it is found in the writings of Aristotle, Aquinas, and other philosophical realists, differs from modern psychology not so much in the kinds of questions it asks as in the kinds of answers it seeks...


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