A Constructive Thomistic Response to Heidegger’s Destructive Criticism: On Existence, Essence and the Possibility of Truth as Adequation

Heythrop Journal 61 (5):825-841 (2020)
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Martin Heidegger devotes extensive discussion to medieval philosophers, particularly to their treatment of Truth and Being. On both these topics, Heidegger accuses them of forgetting the question of Being and of being responsible for subjugating truth to the modern crusade for certainty: ‘truth is denied its own mode of being’ and is subordinated ‘to an intellect that judges correctly’. Though there are some studies that discuss Heidegger’s debt to and criticism of medieval thought, particularly that of Thomas Aquinas, there is no constructive reply to his assertions. As a result, Heidegger’s critique had an unprecedented effect on the credibility of medieval philosophy, whereby great portions of the philosophical community dismiss it altogether as an illegitimate Onto‐Theology. It is the aim of this study to offer a constructive reply that will fundamentally grapple with these allegations. By constructive reply we mean not only a reply that avoids the problems Heidegger raises regarding existence, essence and truth, but more importantly, one that uses Heidegger’s criticism in order to present a more insightful account of these notions. The present study is composed of two parts where the second serves as a sort of addendum. The first part, the core of this study, is an attempt to develop an understanding of the distinction between essence and existence that, on the one hand, accords with Heidegger’s criticism while on the other hand advances our understanding of how we think and understand reality. After presenting Heidegger’s depiction of Aquinas’s distinction between essence and existence (esse) as a real distinction, the study will present several views propounded by scholars of Aquinas regarding the status of this distinction. It will be argued that it is not clear whether the distinction is real, formal or conceptual, and that different types of distinction are applied in different places, particularly in regard to the phantasm that Aquinas considers essential to the human act of thinking. The second part diverges from the first part and focuses on Heidegger’s criticism of Aquinas’s conception of truth as adequation, i.e., what it is that grounds the possibility of truth as adequation. This divergence is necessary in order to present a full metaphysical response to Heidegger’s criticism. Since the aim of the present study is to argue that Aquinas’s philosophical system can contend with Heidegger’s criticism, a partial reply would greatly diminish its effectiveness.

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Liran Shia Gordon
Hebrew University of Jerusalem (PhD)

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