Jon Aquino's Mental Garden

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Sunday, January 02, 2011

How to tackle the Summa?

I'm rather undecided on how to tackle Aquinas' "Summa Theologica".

One approach - let's call it the "traditional" approach - is to read the Dominican Fathers' (accurate but hard-to-understand) translation of Aquinas - approaching it a little at a time, using Kreeft's Shorter Summa to start with, then moving on to Kreeft's Summa of the Summa, then perhaps Pegis's Aquinas in 2 volumes, then, perhaps, on to the full 5 volumes.

Another approach is the "cheater" approach. Here I would read McDermott's paraphrase "The Summa Theologiae: A Concise Translation", together with Brian Davies's explanatory "The Thought of Thomas Aquinas" (or Feser's "Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide"). All of these books are well spoken of. But I'm not really reading Aquinas - I'm reading these interpretations of him.

But what is my goal? Is it to get at Aquinas's ideas, or to be an Aquinas scholar? I would say it is to get at his ideas, so if interpretations make it easier, so be it.

On the other hand, Kreeft (in his "Shorter Summa" intro) and Adler (in "How To Read A Book") discourage this approach of using secondary sources, saying to mine the ore from the primary source. And what can I say - Flannery O'Connor read the Dominican Fathers' translation.

Then again, if an easy way presents itself (McDermott's paraphrase), why not take it? I like easy.

So I am torn between ease and ought.

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And of course there are other interesting books to read, to "take a break" from the above plan: W. D. Ross's "Aristotle", Irwin and Fine's "Aristotle: Selections", Clarke's "One and the Many", Maritain's "Degrees of Knowledge"... This sounds too ambitious - let's not do it. Well, maybe the W. D. Ross.

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Anyway, back to the question: How to approach the Summa?

Life is short. I think I'm going to go with the cheater approach. That is, McDermott's paraphrase, interspersed with Brian Davies when I need to take a break. When done, maybe I'll do the 2-volume Pegis to get at the primary source.