Foolishness and Fools in Aquinas’s Analysis

Foolishness and Fools in Aquinas’s Analysis

By Jean Lauand

Notandum, No. 32 (2013)

Introduction: Fools are legion. This self-evident truth, vouched for by Holy Scripture, is quoted more than twenty times by Thomas Aquinas: “stultorum infinitus est numerus” (Eccles. 1, 15).

Not only is there an infinite number of fools, but they exist in a multitude of forms: some kinds are harmless, others bad; some foolish acts are innocent, others are mortal sins. In going through Aquinas’s writings, we find a catalogue of all types of fools:

Asyneti, cataplex, credulus, fatuus, grossus, hebes, idiota, imbecillis, inanis, incrassatus, inexpertus, insensatus, insipiens, nescius, rusticus, stolidus, stultus, stupidus, tardus, turpis, vacuus and vecors.

In this article we shall examine briefly – just short notes – these twenty-odd types of fools presented by Aquinas and some of the causes as well as their effects of these types; and the remedies – insofar as there are any – for foolishness.

Firstly, Aquinas draws comparisons with animals. In the same way as “donkey” is used in English to designate a stupid person, Aquinas gives twenty comparisons of the ‘insipiens’ person with jumentum (donkey): for animals act through passion (a dog, for example, is no sooner irritated than it starts barking; a horse neighs when it wants something, and so on). And the insipiens who forgoes the use of his reason (which is the same thing as forgoing his honour, as Aquinas says), reduces himself to being an ass or a donkey:

Cum esset praeditus lumine rationis, sicut homo in honore constitutus, noluit illo lumine regi, assimilatus est jumentis insipientibus, et ideo facit sicut jumenta [.. ] (In Ps. 48, 10).

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