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Transcendence and Reason

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Nussbaum argues for a (limited) transcendence through contemplation which is compatible with practical reasoning and aspiration towards other human goods. This paper raises difficulties for this account based on a) the relation of thinking to human freedom, and b) the self-constitutive nature of human thinking. It explores connections Thomas Aquinas makes between contemplation, transcendence and happiness, and explains the relation between (unlimited) transcendent experience and rationality by considering individuals who lack rational judgement but do seem capable of contemplation (young children, certain mentally disordered persons). What contemplation by these individuals and by rational, mature adults have in common is awareness (by the less than perfectly rational) of the possibility of a life of unlimited rationality. I claim this awareness does not come naturally to us but is made possible by some super-natural cause acting in a way that does not violate human nature but rather perfects our contemplative faculty and enables our happiness.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, La Trobe University, Bundoora, Victoria, Australia

Publication date: 1998-04-01

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