Volume 79, Issue 3, Summer 2005
Jan A. Aertsen
Aquinas and the Human Desire for Knowledge
This essay examines Aquinas’s analysis of the human desire to know, which plays a central role in his thought. (I.) This analysis confronts him with the Aristotelian tradition: thus, the desire for knowledge is a “natural” desire. (II.) It also confronts him with the Augustinian tradition, which deplores a non-virtuous desire in human beings that is called “curiosity.” (III.) Aquinas connects the natural desire with the Neoplatonic circle motif: principle and end are identical. The final end of the desire to know is the knowledge of God. (IV.) Aquinas also connects the end of the natural desire to know with Christian eschatology, teaching that man’s ultimate end is the visio Dei. This end, however, is “supernatural.” (V.) Duns Scotus severely criticizes central aspects of Aquinas’s account. (VI.) As a rejoinder to Scotus’s objections, we finally consider Aquinas’s view on the proper object of the human intellect.