Journeyism 13

 

How Does Intellectual Labour Proceed? (Part 4)

Before returning to Helen Keller’s story in Journeyism 14, it would be helpful to assemble further preliminary elements. Here we briefly draw your attention to descriptions obtained by Thomas Aquinas, the thirteenth-century originator of reflection on the decision-making process. Thanks to his meticulously detailed empirical observations (drawn from personal experience), he brings to light further essential elements (highlighted in bold) presented in condensed form below.

Choice adds to consent the notion of a special relationship to that which is preferred to something else, and accordingly a choice still remains open after consent. For it may well happen that deliberation discloses several means, and since each of these meets with approval, consent is given to each; later preference is given to one and it is chosen.1Our first example: “Consent to several means, Preference is given to one” But if one alone meets with approval, then consent and choice coincide in point of fact, though they remain distinct meanings2Our second example: “Consent and Preference coincide,  though they remain distinct meanings”, for we think of consent as approval, and of choice as a preference.3Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia Iiae. Q.15, a. 3. According to Aquinas, this process occurs in a curious mixed sequence of twelve basic steps. I cannot enlarge here on this achievement of Aquinas. He wrote it up in a central section of the Summa Theologiae (Q. 6-17 of the beginning of the second part). We briefly mention “consent” above. He deals with its complexities in Q. 15. It took him fifty pages of two-column Latin that comes out in translation to one hundred pages.

In the passage, Aquinas distinguishes the two ways in which decision-making works within the same structure.4To avoid possible confusion, we provide examples of each with which to clarify Aquinas’ distinction in this passage. Below, we provide a rough schematic diagram of each, as well as add his essential elements to parallels and key terms (in parenthesis) highlighted earlier in Journeyism 12.

Consent to several means, Preference is given to one

Deliberation discloses several means”

Approval of several means” → “Consent is given to each”

Preference is given” → “One (means) is chosen

You are dining out at a restaurant.

(What is to be done?) You deliberate over four possible courses amongst chicken, fish, beef and vegetable pasta.

(The impetus to create a plan is drawn, partly from known facts and partly from sense and images) You have good memories of eating each dish. You have no dietary restrictions. You have already eaten pasta this week. You have already purchased a delicious salmon filet for dinner tomorrow. You haven’t had chicken in a while. That leaves chicken and beef as possibilities. You approve of the chicken and beef.

(A practical insight yields the what-to-do list.) You consent to the chicken and beef.

(Which of the plans is worthwhile?) The pasta you had for dinner last night was served with a sauce containing ground beef. You don’t want to have beef two nights in a row.

(You judge the possible plans of action for their value) Your preference at this moment in time, then, is to have the chicken course.

(A further practical insight yields the best plan of action) Yes! It is to be done and you choose the chicken course.

Consent and Preference coincide,  though they remain distinct meanings

Deliberation discloses several means”

Approval of one means” → “Consent is given to one means”

Preference is given” → “One (means) is chosen

You are dining out at a restaurant.

(What is to be done?) You deliberate over four possible courses amongst chicken, fish, beef and a vegetable pasta.

(The impetus to create a plan is drawn, partly from known facts and partly from sense and images) You have bad memories of how animals are harvested for human consumption. You are an activist for animal rights. You are allergic to fish. You are a strict vegetarian. There are no other vegetarian options. You approve of one main course, vegetable pasta.

(A practical insight narrows the what-to-do list.) You consent to vegetable pasta.

(Is this plan worthwhile?) Vegetable pasta is hypoallergenic and contains no synthetic ingredients or animal by-products.

(You judge the value of this plan of action.) This meal is the healthiest choice available. Your consent to vegetable pasta coincides with your preference. Your preference at this moment in time, then, is to have vegetable pasta.

(A further practical insight yields the best plan of action) Yes! It is to be done and you choose the vegetable pasta.

As you will see, key elements we have assembled so far that will surface in our re-enactment of Helen Keller’s experience based on her personal reflections later in life,5We would suggest that the supporting passages in this article, written in retrospect by a more mature and articulate Helen, accurately express the strength of resolve in the young Helen at the time of these events. bear a striking parallel both to Aquinas’ experience as well as to topics noted in our sample syllabus.

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