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Thomas Aquinas, resolution as a reflective method in philosophy, human knowing, judgment, resolutio, reductio, abstractio, reflexio, via iudicii, inductio, deductio, examen, James Anderson, M. D. Chenu, W. Norris Clarke, Mariasusai Dhavamony, Louis Marie Regis


History of Philosophy | Philosophy | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


While the importance of resolution as a reflective method in the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas is generally recognized, relatively little has been written about it, and the few articles devoted to it differ in their conclusions as to its nature and use. It is the aim of this dissertation to analyze the texts in which the term or its synonyms appear in order to discover its fundamental meaning and role as revealed by Thomas’s own statements and practices.

The first chapter notes the divergent meanings which the Latin term resolutio acquired through being used to translate several different Greek terms, as well as being different senses by Thomas’s predecessors. A survey of the different contexts in which the term appears in Thomas’s treatises manifests a basic distinction between those texts in which it refers to physical processes affecting sensible substances and those in which it refers to intentional procedures, whether logical, epistemological or metaphysical. Finally the chapter considers briefly the terms most often taken as synonyms: reductio, abstractio, reflexio, and via iudicii, noting further that inductio, deductio, and examen have likewise been regarded as synonyms by some commentators.

The second chapter is a general account of Thomas’s theory of human knowing in order to locate resolution within this broader perspective. It examines the Aristotelian background of Thomas’s epistemology, noting the modifications he made in transposing Aristotle’s insights into a mental universe which, by reason of the Christian belief in creation, vastly differed from that of the Stagerite. It points out, further, the diversity between Thomas’s day and our own as to the primary meaning of knowledge or science: whereas to us it is an abstract body of knowledge, to Thomas it was a concrete term naming a qualitative perfection of the human knowing power. Science consisted in the habitual presence in the intellect of immaterial concepts derived from material things.

Since this is so, the thing as known has a different mode of being than the thing as existing, which raises a question regarding the correspondence of the former to the latter. In Thomas’s view, what assures us of the truth of our knowledge is resolution. As human understanding is a gradual and cumulative activity involving several distinct steps which we today call simple apprehension, judgment and reasoning, there are several types of resolution.

The third chapter investigates the resolution proper to judgment, which Thomas calls “reduction to the senses”: an explicit recognition of the two-fold origin of any known fact in sense experience and intellectual activity. Whatever is known must be reduced to the senses either directly or indirectly in order to be known truly; the type of reduction used in a particular instance corresponds to the way in which the knowledge was originally derived from the senses.

The fourth chapter studies the resolution proper to reasoning: the latter derives its content from sense experience, but its formal structure is dependent upon the principles of intelligibility to which all human knowing must conform. The truth of the conclusion of a process of reasoning is established when it is perceived as either implied in or conforming to these first principles.

The fifth chapter investigates the way in which metaphysics reduces the plurality of the sciences to a unity through resolution to being (ens) and the first cause of beings. For Thomas, however, even metaphysical resolution is incomplete, for it attains the existence of a first cause, but not its nature. Accordingly, chapter six follows Thomas beyond metaphysics into the realm of faith, where resolution functions, not as an epistemological technique, but as an existential pilgrimage back to the God from human beings have come through creation.

The conclusion of this study is that Thomas’s doctrine of resolution is a synthesis of an Aristotelian epistemological procedure and the Neo-platonic way of salvation, carried out under the influence of his Christian faith. The basic meaning of resolution for Thomas is always that of a return to the source, which includes both the sources of our knowledge and the source of our being. All the specific types of resolution are finally integrated when the human knower, being united with God in eternity, knows all things, himself included, in their creative source.

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