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Gaven Kerr


The Metaphysics of St Thomas Aquinas and Neo-Thomistic Realism

My research is primarily engaged with a controversy in neo-Thomistic circles concerning critical realism. Etienne Gilson famously argued that a Thomistic realist should not attempt to defend realism by complying with the demands of modern critical philosophy. Rather, the Thomistic realist should accept realism as part and parcel of a sound methodological procedure. This was in direct reaction to various Thomists who engaged with modern developments in philosophy. Thus, my research focuses upon offering a defence of Thomistic realism that is agreeable to both traditional Thomists of the Gilsonian kind and modern critical philosophers.

To that end, I shall offer an account of Aquinas’s metaphysics and show how his metaphysical position can be used in a defence of realism. Furthermore, I shall show that this metaphysical position overcomes the modern problem of representationalism, by focusing on the active presence that the object has to the knowing subject. This active presence of the object represents a definite development of traditional Aristotelian realism, and a development which differentiates Aquinas’s realism from Aristotle’s. By focusing on the active presence of the object, Thomas does not leave himself vulnerable to subject-centred sceptical arguments, such as those advanced by Descartes and Kant. Finally, I believe that this form of Thomistic realism is sufficient to overcome the contemporary debates concerning representationalism, such as response-dependence theories of perception.

General research areas

My main areas of research are into metaphysics and epistemology. I am especially interested in showing that Aquinas’s metaphysics and epistemology are not reducible to Aristotle’s, but represent an original philosophical position. Moreover, I believe that Aquinas’s philosophical position has been ignored by most modern philosophers because it is perceived to be nothing but a form of Aristotelianism. More generally, I am engaged in contemporary metaphysical and epistemological debates, such as the existence of God, problems with perception, realism/anti-realism, Platonism/Aristotelianism. Conference papers include: Lonergan and Aquinas on Isomorphism; The Existence of God; The Limitation of Infinite Esse; Offering a Philosophical Defence of Realism; A Modern Defence of Scholastic Philosophy.

Supervisors:  Professor James McEvoy and Dr Joseph Diekemper