ends of the things themselves

Thomas [Aquinas] conceived of the intellectual process as analogues to the union between lover and beloved, a union between the learning subject and the object of study. The Latin word from which the word study derives, studium, can also be rendered desire. Learning engages the whole of the subject, who is in relationship all the time. Rather than learning being preparatory so that one can have a better relationship with the divine or with others, because one better understands Physics or Shakespeare and has learned how to reconcile what one learned in class with what one reads in the Bible, the learning process enacts relationship. Every act of study is an aspect of the comprehensive relationship we all have with God. For Thomas, because God upholds the world, there is no time in which we are altogether lacking a relationship with God. The truths of reason are to be found in a participatory, relational understanding of what occurs between subject and object. Learning in and of itself provides spiritual and moral formation.

Thomas found lots of support in Aristotle for this understanding of the learning process. The Greek philosopher exhibited just such respect for and relationship with the world of objects around him. He did not look at objects in terms of their usefulness for someone or something else’s ends. Rather he expressed unparalleled interest in the ends of the things themselves that he studied, whether in biology or political science. All things have a specific end and are not properly themselves until they have achieved this end. In his understanding of the cosmos, everything is in motion, put in motion by the first mover and staying in motion until there’s a perfect fulfilling of ends, resulting in perfect rest. The desire for this fulfillment of ends keeps thing in motion. The universe operates on the principle of cosmic love.

From The Passionate Intellect: Incarnational Humanism and the Future of University Education by Norman Klassen & Jens Zimmermann, Chapter 2.

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