, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 159-171

Truth as transcendental in Thomas Aquinas

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Abstract

Aquinas presents his most complete exposition of the transcendentals inDe veritate 1, 1, that deals with the question “What is truth?”. The thesis of this paper is that the question of truth is essential for the understanding of his doctrine of the transcendentals.

The first part of the paper (sections 1–4) analyzes Thomas's conception of truth. Two approaches to truth can be found in his work. The first approach, based on Aristotle's claim that “truth is not in things but in the mind”, leads to the idea that the proper place of truth is in the intellect. The second approach is ontological: Thomas also acknowledges that there is truth in every being. The famous definition of truth as “adequation of thing and intellect” enables him to integrate the two approaches. Truth is a relation between two terms, both of which can be called “true” because both are essential for the conformity between thing and intellect.

The second part of the paper (sections 5–7) deals with the manner in which Thomas gives truth a place in the doctrine of the transcendentals, and shows that his conception of truth leads to important innovations in this doctrine: the introduction of relational transcendentals and the correlation between spirit and being. If “truth” is transcendental, it must be convertible with “being”. Sect. 6 discusses objections that Thomas advances himself to this convertibility. Sect. 7 deals with a difficulty in his account of truth as a relational transcendental. Ontological truth expresses a relation to an intellect but the relation to the human intellect is accidental for the truth of things. Essential for their truth can only be a practical intellect that causes things. In this way, Thomas argues, the divine intellect relates to all things.

I am grateful to Jorge Gracia, Scott MacDonald and Rudi te Velde for their valuable comments on an earlier draft.