“his ideas have a curious tendency to come to life” – Therese Scarpelli Cory on studying Aquinas

From Medievalists.net, an interesting interview with Therese Scarpelli Cory, Professor of Philosophy and author of Aquinas on Human Self-Knowledge. I found the following passage particularly interesting:

So when I had the opportunity to study medieval philosophy further in grad school, I started digging into Aquinas’s theory of self-knowledge. His texts can initially appear relatively straightforward, even formulaic. But if you keep working with them and widen the area of investigation outside the “usual” contexts (as I mentioned earlier), his ideas have a curious tendency to come to life. For me that’s one of the biggest thrills of studying medieval philosophical texts.

Anyway, the more I dug into his texts on self-knowledge, the more I realized that they are driven by wonderfully common-sense reflections on how the ordinary person experiences himself or herself in daily life, and very serious consideration about what conditions need to be in place in order to have such experience of ourselves. That’s was surprising, because we tend to think of serious theories of selfhood and self-knowledge as the product of modernity. In the book, Aquinas on Human Self-Knowledge, I try to show that medieval thinkers were just as interested in these themes; they just have a different (and philosophically very interesting) approach.

What I especially appreciate about Aquinas’s theory of self-knowledge is that it’s entirely respectful of our embodied nature: He insists that we come to understand ourselves in and through our interactions with the sensory world. This insight into experience seems to me to be exactly right. I don’t learn about myself, what I’m capable of, what I enjoy, what makes me happy, what it means to be human—by turning inwards and simply “looking.” Rather, I learn about myself in the moment of engaging intentionally with the world around me, in experiencing myself as sensing or thinking or reasoning or feeling happy and sad about something.

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