American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 94, Issue 3, Summer 2020

Marie I. George
Pages 357-378

Aquinas’s Teachings on Concepts and Words in His Commentary on John contra Nicanor Austriaco, OP

In “Defending Adam After Darwin,” Nicanor Austriaco, OP, mounts a noteworthy defense of monogenism, part of which turns on the relationship between abstract thought and language. At a certain point, he turns to a passage from Aquinas’s Commentary on John to support two claims which he affirms without qualification: namely, that the capacity for forming abstract concepts corresponding to the quiddities of things presupposes the capacity for language and that we grasp concepts through words. In addition, he asserts that Aquinas is talking about abstraction in this passage. I argue that these three claims are based on a misreading of Aquinas. I then show that Aquinas would agree with the qualified claim that the formation of certain concepts presupposes the usage of words. I also show that Aquinas might accept with qualification the notion that the capacity for forming abstract concepts presupposes the capacity for language: namely, by way of disposition.