Chapter 4. "Beauty is a Kind of Knowledge" by Thomas Aquinas

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from Summa Theologica
The Reading Selection from Summa Theologica
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Thomas Aquinas Geldsetzer, Philosophengalerie: Bildnesse van Philosophen 11-17 Jahrhundert

About the author …

Thomas Aquinas (1225-1275) is generally considered to be the most prominent thinker during the Medieval period. The formative influence on his philosophy was the study of Aristotle under Albertus Magnus, a student of the newly discovered writings of "the Philosopher's" writings. Thomas, although primarily a theologian, argues philosophically in many of his works and clearly distinguishes between the methods of philosophy and religion. He uses the scientific thought of Aristotle as a method of theological and philosophical understanding. Nevertheless, for Thomas, philosophy is primarily based on the use of reason, whereas religion is primarily based on the use of divine revelation provided by faith. Both kinds of knowledge, according to Thomas, are consistent and compatible. He is convinced metaphysics is the most important aspect of philosophy.

About the work …

In his Summa Theologica,[1] Thomas Aquinas assumes an essentially Aristotelian theory of beauty as the contemplation of that which pleases. His Šsthetic doctrines can, to some extent, be extracted from his theology, although his remarks about beauty are brief. A thorough understanding of medieval philosophy is not essential to understand the influence of his thought on what constitutes beauty. Thomas lists three essential condtions of beauty: integrity, proportion, and clarity. He notes that beauty is not entirely sensuous since, although sight and hearing are cognitive senses and we do speak of beautiful sights and sounds, "we do not speak of beautiful tastes, and beautiful odors." Finally, Thomas distinguishes between beauty of the body (proportion and clarity) and beauty of the spirit (virtue or honesty). Beauty, for Thomas, is not a subjective response or an intellectual concept; beauty in existent things is objectively or actually perceived through a cognitive process of seeing or hearing.

Ideas of Interest from Summa Theologica

  1. Are goodness and being two aspects of the same form for Thomas?

  2. What does Thomas believe the final cause of goodness to be? What is it's formal cause?

  3. How does Thomas distinguish between goodness and beauty? In what ways are goodness and beauty the same? What does Thomas mean by saying beauty is a formal cause?

  4. How does Thomas explain the teleology of desire or appetite?

  5. What does Thomas list as the three conditions of beauty?

  6. What is Thomas' argument that beauty is related to the intellect?

  7. How does Thomas distinguish good for the body and good for the soul?

  8. How does Thomas explain the relation among beauty, love, and honesty?



Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica. Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. New York: Benziger Bros. 1947.