Thu Mar 18, 2010
Howison Library, 4:10–6 PM
Ursula Coope (University of Oxford)
Determining one’s desire for oneself: Aquinas, reflection and the will
According to a certain Kantian tradition, the faculty of reason is the active, as opposed to the passive, receptive, aspect of the mind and ‘the source of reason is a particular form of self-consciousness that characterizes the human mind’ (Korsgaard ‘The constitution of agency’ pp2-3). This raises the question: what is the origin, in the history of philosophy, of this conception of reason? I argue that something like this conception of reason is found in Aquinas: in particular, in what he has to say about the difference between rational and nonrational desires. According to Aquinas, my rational appetite (or will) is something I determine for myself in a way that my other desires are not. Part of the explanation for this, I argue, is that (according to Aquinas) reason is the only faculty that is capable of a certain kind of self-reflection. My paper attempts to (i) explain the connection between the self-reflectiveness of reason and one’s capacity to determine one’s rational desires, and (ii) explain in what sense - according to this view - I determine my rational desires. This paper is part of a larger project in which I aim to ask to what extent this conception of reason has its origin in ancient philosophy. My paper touches on this larger question - suggesting that one important source for these views lies in neoplatonist claims about self-reflection (and in neoplatonic attempts to reconcile Aristotle and Plato on self-motion).