Last Friday, Nov. 15, Dr. Joseph Trabbic presented a paper which he had read at the meeting of the Pontifical Academy of St. Thomas in Houston last month. The topic of the paper was the status of appeals to authority in St. Thomas Aquinas.
Some recent and eminent interpreters, perhaps overly sensitive to the allegation that Aquinas could not have been a true philosopher, on the grounds that he was intent only on establishing by argument claims that he had already accepted on authority, have wished to hold in reply that Aquinas as a philosopher gave no weight whatsoever to authorities.
Trabbic’s argued that to assert, as Aquinas does, that an appeal to authority in philosophy is “the weakest form of argument,” is not to say that it such appeals have no merit or weight, but rather only limited or provisional weight. And he pointed to at least two ways in which authorities had “epistemic weight” for Aquinas, first, in matters of education, and, second, when one science “takes its principles” from another, superordinate science. (For those interested, Trabbic’s paper is available on Academia.edu.)
The colloquium was held at the residence of Ambassador Michael Novak, a couple of blocks from campus, and was well attended. Below are pictures of Dr. Trabbic, holding forth on St. Thomas while enjoying a brew, very much like the Angelic Doctor himself, and Michael Novak, raising a nuanced point during the discussion. In the background are paintings of Novak’s late wife, Karen Laub-Novak.