[Fall 2020] Thomistic Psychology: Cognitive Life

Among all things observed in the universe, human beings alone ask about things other than themselves: they ask what, how, why–and so on. This singularity, downplayed by those who would make us malleable to the worst of all moral inclinations, demands a careful and rigorous inquiry–one which seeks to understand not only the precise nature but also the full import of this distinctiveness.


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Put otherwise, we human beings today seldom truly understand ourselves. If we look to the traditions of modern philosophy or its ultramodern derivations, we will continue failing to attain such understanding: for all such traditions mistaken introduce one or another division between the nature of the human being and the being of humans. We must look either to postmodernity or to premodernity–and the only genuine postmodern traditions heretofore being those that retrieve the premodern–in order to affect a righted understanding of the human cognitive life.

In this seminar, lasting 8 weeks (see here for more information on all Lyceum Institute seminars), we will strive to affect a genuine postmodern retrieve of the Thomistic understanding of the singular human distinctiveness through grasping the nature and development of our intentionally-cognitive lives. In the course of this retrieve, we will study the specifically intellectual nature of the human soul, the operations of intellectual discovery, the formation and development of concepts, and the integral union of intellectual and perceptual faculties in the human person. This is an advanced seminar which provides a serious challenge to all participants.

WHEN: Saturdays from 17 October through 12 December 2020 (no session on 28 November), from 1:30-2:30pm Eastern Time US.

WHERE: on the Lyceum Institute platform run through Microsoft Teams.

Lyceum Institute seminar costs are structured on a principal of financial subsidiarity. There are three payment levels, with discounts for those who are professors and clergy (whose continuing education is not sufficiently prioritized by their institutions) and for students (who are already taxed excessively by the educational system). However, if you are part of the working world and wish to take a seminar but cannot afford the “standard” rate, it is acceptable to sign up at one of these discounted prices. The idea is: pay what you can. Those who can pay more, should, so that those who cannot pay as much, need not. Lyceum Institute members receive a further discount (see here for details).

REGISTRATION IS CLOSED.

[Fall 2020] Semiotics: John Deely

Semiotics–toward which human beings took their first explicit steps in the beginning of the Latin Age of philosophy, in the work of St. Augustine of Hippo–is that by which we begin in a true postmodernism. This is one of the key and perhaps surprising claims of John Deely (1942–2017). That is, often today what is called “postmodernism” is nothing more, in fact, than an ultramodernism: a fragmentary, distorted view of the world grown out of the errors of modern philosophical thinking, run toward its natural, incoherent conclusions.


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In contrast, consider this description Deely gives in his 1994: New Beginnings (18 and 19):

In a word, postmodernism is the opening of a passageway from the age of classical modern philosophy to an epoch as distinct from the modern age as the modern age was from Latin times, or Latin times from the ancient Greek period. The opposition of modernity to Latin (and Greek) times eventually took the form of the opposition of idealism to realism in philosophy. Postmodern thought begins, properly speaking, not so much by rejecting this opposition as by transcending it, for in experience integrally taken, mind-dependent and mind-independent being assert themselves equally–not “equally” in the quantitative sense, but “equally” in the sense of components both asserting themselves in different ways at different times and in different proportions throughout the course of human life, both together making up the one fabric of our lives we call “experience”.

What was needed for philosophy to mature [to postmodernism] was not so much a shift as an expansion, an expansion of the notion of reality–and with it, being–to include the whole experience as the prior ground out of which human understanding arises and on which it throughout depends. From the start, being should have been an inclusive, not an exclusive and oppositional notion. Being is not only “that which can only be said in many ways” (Aristotle), but that out of which the division between what is and what is not independent of the mind arises (Aquinas), and not in any finally fixed way, but differently according to the time and circumstances of the one experiencing such a contrast among objects.

To understand and affect this maturation into postmodernity, we will turn our attention in this seminar to the major contributions to semiotics given by Deely: the proto-semiotic history, an expanded doctrine of causality,  the retrieved and clarified notion of relation, the concept of physiosemiosis, the continuity of culture and nature, the notion of purely objective reality, and the real interdisciplinarity which semiotics fosters. This is an advanced seminar which provides a serious challenge to all participants.

WHEN: Saturdays from 17 October through 12 December 2020 (no session on 28 November), from 3:00-4:00pm Eastern Time US.

WHERE: on the Lyceum Institute platform run through Microsoft Teams.

Lyceum Institute seminar costs are structured on a principal of financial subsidiarity. There are three payment levels, with discounts for those who are professors and clergy (whose continuing education is not sufficiently prioritized by their institutions) and for students (who are already taxed excessively by the educational system). However, if you are part of the working world and wish to take a seminar but cannot afford the “standard” rate, it is acceptable to sign up at one of these discounted prices. The idea is: pay what you can. Those who can pay more, should, so that those who cannot pay as much, need not. Lyceum Institute members receive a further discount (see here for details).

REGISTRATION IS CLOSED.

Interpretation and Traditions

An Intersection for Semiotics, Phenomenology, and Thomism

Often, in my own work–and in a way which spills inevitably into my own teaching–I draw together insights from three distinct traditions: Thomisim, Peircean semiotics, and Heideggerian phenomenology. In this presentation, given at the University of St. Thomas, in Houston TX, in 2018, illuminates this connection. These three traditions inform much of the teaching, thinking, and conversation at the Lyceum Institute, beyond even my own contributions.

A text version is also available at Reality.

Aristotelian-Thomistic Philosophy and the Form of Health

In the fourth of the Lyceum Institute Colloquia, we present Michel Accad, MD, a cardiologist and practitioner of internal medicine (see Dr. Accad’s site here), who presents for us some of his thoughts on the insights that Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy brings to an understanding of health and the practice of medicine.  This lecture lights upon the history of philosophy and the human body and challenges the commonly-accepted mechanicist and reductionistic views of the human body as a mere machine–grown out of a Cartesian view–in contrast to the classical Hippocratic theory, which encourages an approach to the body as a whole.

Dr. Accad’s lecture is now available on the Lyceum Institute. The live question and answer session will be held on 4 September 2020 (Friday) at 6:30pm ET/3:30pm PT.

Preview – Dr. Michel Accad, Aristotelian-Thomistic Philosophy and the Form of Health

Study and Motivation

Why study anything? Mostly, we open the books because a possession of the knowledge contained therein is believed to profit us: either because it will gain us coveted credentials or because it will enable us in some practical application. Our motivation seldom comes from the thing-itself-studied, but rather from something extrinsic, something beyond the practice of studying itself.

Thus, absent that promise of something beyond, we seldom if ever find ourselves in possession of the motive to study. Perhaps we will indulge an intellectual curiosity: reading a “smart” book–something concerning economics, or politics, history, literature, even a book of philosophy–or listening to a “smart” debate, watching a “smart” television show or documentary, and so on. But most of this, if we are honest, is entertainment masquerading as some sort of “self-improvement” or “continued learning”. We may gain information from such endeavors, but we do not gain understanding.

Understanding is an act, a recursive process whereby we gain knowledge of a thing–whether presented to us directly or through information about the thing–to the extent that we no longer simply know about it, but know it, through knowing its causes. We may be very familiar with an object–say, a person with whom we live or work for a long time–but that familiarity is not yet understanding, properly speaking; for understanding entails an intellectual grasp which no quantity of familiarity alone can provide.

And yet, understanding is a natural good for the human being. Understanding begets a right ordering of ourselves toward the objects of our experience, and consequently an ability to help rightly order those objects as well. It is a good not easily earned and yet one which rewards without dissipation; a reward that does not pass into disinterest or out of fashion. Why do we not seek it more?

Simply, because the processes of education to which we have all been inured, which ape the right pursuit of understanding but perversely convince us of the worthlessness of understanding in and of itself. Certainly, study is tiring, and does not give us the immediate gratification of a cheap pleasure. But pleasure is always the consequence of an action; and, as doubtless we have all experienced, the pleasure derived from immediate gratifications wanes all-too-quickly.

Perhaps, if we are to gain the motivation which ought in some way be directive of us toward that natural good–indeed, the highest of natural goods–we need to unlearn these lessons.

Importance of the Liberal Arts

Today, many minds have been shaped by educational philosophies of base pragmatism that treat the individual as a worker to be shaped for social goals, rather than a person to flourish within society.  This is not to disparage the professions of STEM, of doctors and lawyers, or to discourage learning the ins-and-outs of computer technologies.  But these endeavors aim primarily at the perfection of productivity, in making good things other than oneself, rather than in making better one’s own being, one’s own mind.

It is in contrast to these modern pursuits that we find the traditional curriculum of any schools with a classical inclination, known as the liberal arts.  These seven courses—grammar, logic, rhetoric, mathematics, geometry, music, and astronomy—are called liberal because they free the mind and are called arts because they are tools for the mind’s interaction with the world.  Through extension, in the modern world, “liberal arts” has also come to comprise university education that includes instruction in philosophy, history, literature, classical languages, and theology, for these studies, too, liberate the mind (and build upon the liberation gained in the traditional seven).  This freedom consists not merely in the lack of restraint, but rather in an empowering: an uneducated person may lack any physical, moral, or civil restraints on his or her behavior, and yet nevertheless is not truly free to do many things, because he or she lacks the knowledge of how and especially why he ought to do them.  Conversely, with the absence of restraint, someone may do many things which result in a consequent lack of freedom: thus someone becomes a slave to the passions, to addictions, to thought-atrophying forms of entertainment, and to any object which may receive a disproportionate estimation of its worth. 

Distinctively human action—that is, the kind of action which belongs to human beings and no other animals—receives its specifically-human character from the use of reason; and reason is developed through learning.  Learning therefore needs also to be sufficiently broad in its scope: if someone studies one and only one subject for the whole of life, he or she will never develop a well-proportioned perspective on the fullness of human experience.  It is to this purpose that the liberal arts are applied: to provide a broad basis of education with which one can more easily grasp any subject, investigate any question, and seek every answer.  Consider the praise given its study by John Henry Newman:

Surely it is very intelligible to say, and that is what I say here, that Liberal Education, viewed in itself, is simply the cultivation of the intellect, as such, and its object is nothing more or less than intellectual excellence.  Everything has its own perfection, be it higher or lower in the scale of things; and the perfection of one is not the perfection of another.  Things animate, inanimate, visible, invisible, all are good in their kind, and have a best of themselves, with is an object of pursuit… The artist puts before him beauty of feature and form; the poet, beauty of mind; the preacher, the beauty of grace: then intellect too, I repeat, has its beauty, and it has those who aim at it.  To open the mind, to correct it, to refine it, to enable it to know, and to digest, master, rule, and use its knowledge, to give it power over its own faculties, application, flexibility, method, critical exactness, sagacity, resource, address, eloquent expression, is an object as intelligible (for here we are inquiring, not what the object of a Liberal Education is worth, nor what use the Church makes of it, but what it is in itself), I say, an object as intelligible as the cultivation of virtue, while, at the same time, it is absolutely distinct from it.

1852: The Idea of a University, 90-91.

There is a fruitful distinction suggested by the phrase “Liberal Education”, as comprising those subjects not in themselves arts—as philosophy or literature, for instance—but which nevertheless contribute to the freedom of the mind.  That is, though we are here enveloped in a study of the liberal arts, our ultimate goal is for a liberal education—towards which the arts are innately ordered.  We ought to keep this ordination in mind, to avoid lapsing into sophistical pretensions resulting in a misuse of these arts.

The liberal arts attain this not through each becoming a monolithic subject studied unto itself, but as each is interwoven through the others; each must be understood as part of a greater whole to which it ultimately belongs and within which it attains its ultimate fructification.  To study the liberal arts, therefore, requires rejecting the myopic specialization characteristic of modern university study.  Conversely, it thereby allows us to be doctors, but not just doctors; lawyers, but persons, too; engineers, but also poets; scientists, but also men and women of faith and human sensitivities. 

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