On the Lack of ‘True Philosophic Spirit’ in Aquinas: Commitment v. Tracking in Philosophic Method

Mark T. Nelson 


Bertrand Russell famously disparaged Thomas Aquinas as having ‘little of the true philosophic spirit’, because ‘he does not, like the Platonic Socrates, set out to follow wherever the argument may lead.’ Like many of Russell's pronouncements, this is breathtakingly supercilious and unfair. Still, even an enthusiastic admirer of Aquinas may worry that there is something in it, that there is something wrong with religious ‘commitments’ in philosophy. I examine Russell's objection by comparing standards of permissibility in epistemology with standards of permissibility in ethics, where these issues are better understood. I conclude that the epistemic standard behind Russell's criticism is no less contentious in epistemology than, say, direct utilitarianism is in ethics.