Teaching: December 2008 Archives

Student Exam Answers

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Exam question: How does Thomas Aquinas explain contingency in a world completely planned out by God's providence?

Student answer: Human beings act by free judgement because humans are rational unlike animals who are irrational and do not act on instinct. Therefore, humans act on instinct making there their choices free.

My thought: The correct answer has nothing to do with human freedom but is based on an idiosyncratic definition of contingency in Aquinas. But if you're going to bring in human choice, it's probably not best to ground human free choice in mere instinct or to deny that animals ever act on instinct.


Exam question: Why does Thomas Aquinas think everything that has understanding must also have a will?

Student answer: Thomas Aquinas thinks that everything has understanding must also have a will because everything has intellect. God has intellect and his understanding is his existing and therefore so is his will. Since God has intellect, he has understanding, and since he has understanding he has will.

My thought: The correct answer has to do with what Aquinas thinks  it means to have a will and how that comes for free once your understanding can assign degrees of goodness to various options. I expected it to be one of the simplest to answer given some sense of what the answer really is. Yet my best student this semester gave an complex, completely wrong answer involving all manner of irrelevant material. She has Aquinas thinking rocks have intellect. She appeals to his doctrine of divine simplicity, which he doesn't invoke on this question (and I never covered in class). Only a pretty good student could come up with the latter in the absence of knowin the right answer, but where is the former coming from? Everything has an intellect?


Then there was the question about absolute and hypothetical necessity in Aquinas. One student began by talking about "Absolut necessity".

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