Caveat: in my writings about philosophy please understand that I do not consider myself an expert and could be mistaken about what I am writing. I am writing with the purpose of working these things out in my mind and using my blog as a means of recording my thoughts and tracking my progress in this very complicated subject. Of course, I always seek to adhere strictly to the teachings of the Catholic Church and so if any reader ever notices something that could be wrong then please let me know.
The intellect receives its measure from objects; that is, human knowledge is true not of itself, but it is true because and insofar as it conforms to reality.
St. Thomas Aquinas, ST I, II, 93, 1 ad 3
What on earth does this mean and why is it important you ask? This may sound convoluted but actually it is what I would call common sense. My understanding does not come from my own reading of St. Thomas but from those who are much more intelligent than I. In this case the quote, and my understanding of it, comes from Josef Pieper’s book Living the Truth, from Ignatius Press (1989) on page 124.
What St. Thomas is trying to tell us is that we know as being true only when our knowledge conforms to the reality that exists outside of our own minds. Here is an example of what I mean: if I see a red apple on my desk then I can truly know that it is a red apple through my senses. The apple really exists and I know this because I can touch it. And even it I did not touch it I could know that it is there through my sight. Also, my sight tells me it is red in color. Some might argue that the words red and apple are arbitrary and could be called by other names. This is true. For instance, it could be that in our language red is actually called blue and apples are actually called oranges but that doesn’t change the fact that in our language as it is red means something definite and apple means something definite. What I mean is that the things we call red apples are an objective reality that we have assigned the name red apple.
But this does not mean that it is our naming of the thing that makes it what it is. Instead, we all know what a red apple is because we have been taught what it is and we have experienced it through our senses or our intellect. If someone is speaks the English language and picks up a red apple and calls it anything other than a red apple then his knowledge of that object is wrong. But this is only true of those who have learned the Truth of the thing in question. If they have never seen a red apple (which is hard to imagine) then they would not know what to call it. But suppose someone had been taught the wrong word for it. Perhaps they were referring to an apple as a cat. Clearly this would be wrong but the person does not know any better. The solution would be to politiely correct the person and tell them that it is not a cat but an apple. You may even have to go so far as to prove it by showing them pictures of a cat and pictures of apples and then getting other people to corroborate what you are saying. In the end you would suppose that common sense would prevail – right?
But that is not the way our society acts any longer. Although most people would still be willig to accept what a cat is and what an apple is there are other parts of objective reality that they completely discard. For them human knowledge is true of itself, by which St. Thomas means (I think) that the truth is whatever we want it to be. A prime example of what I mean can readily be seen in people’s treatment of the unborn. What is the unborn baby, objectively speaking? It is nothing less than the offspring of two other human beings and, therefore, could be nothing other than a human being. Right? That seems to make sense to me. But in the minds of those who are pro-death it must be something else. How else could they acquiesce in terminating its life? There are only two possible answers to this last question. First, they might think that the unborn baby is something other than a human being: you know – the whole ‘it’s just a clump of cells’ mentality. But from what I’ve read most people, even those who are pro-death, do not believe that any more. (And even if they do believe the ‘clump of cells’ lie it doesn’t seem rational because if it is not a human at conception then at what point does it become one?)
So that leaves just the second possibility – the people in our country, at least those who are pro-death, are no longer rational. In other words, they have no common sense. If they don’t believe the ‘clump of cells’ lie but instead understand that it is a baby and they either approve or actually are involved with abortion then not only are they irrational in their thinking they are also antithetical to their own human nature. And there is another word we can use for that – it is called demonic.
The fact is that to be human means, in part, to be rational. As St. Thomas said, “human knowledge is true not of itself, but it is true because and insofar as it conforms to reality.” There is an objective reality outside ourselves which we did not create and which we do not get to redefine – it is what it is. And we can most certainly come to know that objective reality. Therefore, we cannot redefine the unborn as a non-person in order to dispose of it, and still think of ourselves as fully human. Instead, to be truly rational human beings we must accept the objective reality that that which proceeds from two humans must itself be human.