Dougherty gives a detailed reading of the most often-cited definition of self-evidence present in the corpus thomisticum and places the definition in the context of Thomas Aquinas's account of the intellect as essentially productive in its cognitional acts. He also explores some of the reasons Aquinas sets forth for the primacy of the definition and examines the definition in light of some of the examples of self-evident propositions explicitly identified by Aquinas. Moreover, he sets forth various ways Aquinas proposes for dividing the self-evident propositions into classes.
Thomas Aquinas On the Manifold Senses of Self-Evidence
IT IS CUSTOMARY TO CREDIT Aristotle with the discovery, or at least the first extant formulation, of the concept of self-evidence.1 Recent work in the history of science has suggested that Aristotle was indebted in this respect to earlier Greek geometrical models of demonstration, but these earlier texts no longer survive.2 However, in our present day, the merits of the ancient discovery suffer from neglect, and the very concept is met with suspicion. One finds, for instance, influential textbooks of the history of logic enjoining readers to acquire a "healthy skepticism of the concept of self-evidence."3 Further, it is not uncommon for contemporary philosophers to reduce the concept of self-evidence to some kind of subjective feeling of certainty or even personal preference.4 The abandonment of the notion of self-evidence among contemporary philosophers is not a procedure limited to practitioners of logic, as representative views can be found among those who practice metaphysics,5 ethics,6 philosophy of science,7 legal philosophy,8 political philosophy,9 and epistemology.10 This demise of the concept of self-evidence among contemporary philosophers, although widespread, has not gone entirely unlamented, however.11The waning interest in the concept of self-evidence in the present day seems far removed from an earlier time when appeals to selfevidence were more numerous than they were warranted. In the late thirteenth century, there was a concern that appeals to self-evidence were becoming too frequent in theoretical disciplines. The famous condemnations in the year 1277 by the Parisian bishop Etienne Tempier served as a corrective to those whose appeals to self-evidence would extend the use of reason beyond its rightful domain. Among the various philosophical, theological, and dogmatic articles condemned by Tempier was counted one that dealt with this issue of selfevidence, for the bishop proscribed the position "[t]hat nothing is to be held that is not either self-evident or able to be proven from what is self-evident" (quod nihil est credendum, nisi per se notum vel ex per se notis posit declari).12 One should not infer that the need to protect faith from an ever expanding use of natural reason, as may be inferred to be at work in the condemnation of this proposition, was a new occurrence in the thirteenth century, for medieval historians have generally located the beginnings of such an usurpation at an earlier period.13The present paper is an examination of the various definitions or descriptions of self-evidence that occur in the writings of the th...