[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).


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.