Thursday, April 17, 2008

When scientists screw up philosophy

Siris takes Larry Krauss to the woodshed over yet another silly misreading of Thomas Aquinas:
Every scholar who deals with historical issues always runs across weird stories that float around about what people thought or said or did way back then; and this provides a pretty good little instance of how this happens. Thomas Aquinas, in a very early work (the Supplement to the Summa Theologiae is just passages from his early Commentary on the Sentences reorganized after his death to fill in the gap at the end of the unfinished Summa), notes down, in passing, an argument to the effect that the resurrected won't need to eat because one needs to eat only to replace what's lost and to grow, comestio [ordinatur] ad restaurationem deperditi, et ad augmentum quantitatis. D'Israeli comes along much later and glosses this Aquinas gravely debating whether there is excrement in Paradise. (I suspect he had it at secondhand.) Krauss, reading D'Israeli, transmogrifies it into whether there's excrement in Heaven, which is somehow related to the noncorporeality of angels. And now there will be someone who will read it and take it at face value, and garble it further; and no doubt there will be someone at some point in the future claiming that Thomas Aquinas debates whether noncorporeal angels excrete in Heaven.

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