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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(v.) to quibble, to split hairs

A wonderfully useful word popped up on Haggard Hawks this afternoon:

At the root of it are the Thomists, a sect of philosophers that first emerged in the early thirteenth century (and has continued to develop ever since). The Thomists—pronounced “tome-ists”, incidentally, not “Tom-ists”—followed in the footsteps of their mentor, the mediaeval Christian theologian and Scholastic philosopher Thomas Aquinas, whose death in 1275 sparked the cult of thinking that now bears his name.

Aquinas was known for his philosophical treatises on Aristotle, the truth, ethics, and the human soul, and in his religious works he debated and analyzed many significant issues and questions, often in an attempt to ally his prized Aristotelian ideas with the tenets of western Christianity. In doing so, however, Aquinas established a reputation for going into almost extreme levels of detail in his writings. Perhaps his most celebrated work, for instance, his Summa Theologica, a vast theological textbook, includes entire chapters dedicated to issues like ‘Whether an angel is composed of matter and form?’, ‘Whether an angel can be in several places at once?’ and ‘Whether the angels differ in species?’ To later philosophers such discussions were irrelevant, especially in light of more weightier concepts. (Indeed, following Aquinas’ template, the expression How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? has been used since the seventeenth century to allude to an utterly pointless and time-wasting debate, or subject of research.) But to Aquinas and his Thomistical followers, such debates were of great importance.

It is this reputation for exploring the absolute minutiae of every concept that lies behind the verb Thomisticate, which was first coined in 1730.


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