Tom Lange | January 26, 2017
What if the way we think we relate to the world around us is wrong?
Therese Cory, an assistant professor in Notre Dame’s Department of Philosophy, is analyzing theories crafted hundreds of years ago about how people interact with their surroundings. She wants to understand more about the original theories and whether they’ve been interpreted correctly over time.
Specifically, she’s studying 13th-century philosopher Thomas Aquinas.
Aquinas developed theories about how people acquire understanding of objects around them by interacting with those objects—anything from trees to chairs. One of the most important features of his theory is also one of the most puzzling—namely, he claims that the intellect becomes what it knows.
Cory argues that this claim has been persistently misunderstood by readers of Aquinas, who take him to be describing some mysterious way in which the intellect unites with the trees and chairs outside itself.
She believes that instead, Aquinas is describing the kinds of changes that happen within the mind when it encounters new things.
“When I know a tree, I become internally ‘tree-ified,’” Cory said. “Knowing, in short, is a kind of inner transformation, in which our minds acquire new levels of reality that we did not previously have.”
Recently, Cory wrote an essay based on her research that won the American Catholic Philosophical Association’s Rising Scholar Award. The group published Cory’s essay, “Knowing as Being? A Metaphysical Reading of the Identity of Intellect and Intelligibles in Aquinas,” in its journal and awarded her a cash prize and a one-year membership to the organization.