How to Change The Way You See Things: Conceptualization, Reconceptualization, And Thomas Aquinas


Thomas Aquinas thought that vegetables and animals have souls. According to him, the soul of the vegetable—its matter and essential form—is to take in nutrients, and the soul of the animal is to enjoy access to the senses and to move.

But humans, according to Aquinas, possess the soul-powers of vegetables and animals plus something unique: reason. That is, humans possess the ability, not just to take in nutrients, to experience through their senses, and to move, but to apprehend persons, places, and things conceptually, discerning what is essential about them (as well as what is accidental or lacking in them).

But, of course, to activate our rational faculty, we have to pause and bring attention and energy to conceptualizing and reconceptualizing things.

This is what the woman who rewrites the blind man’s sign achieves. She exercises her uniquely human power (perhaps given to each of us by God, by virtue of our being human) to reframe the vision of those passing by and who are otherwise walking, as it were, as mere animals in conceptual blindness. (For a human this may well be the worst form of blindness that there is.)

In any event, the woman in the video is awakening the hearts of passers-by to see something that is true, and she does this by surprise, defamiliarization, and redescription (much as poets and artists do).

Imagination and language are powers of the human soul, disrupting our blindly followed habits of nutrient collection, sensory perception, and movement. They bring us into the distinctively human realm, the rational realm we share with God (if Aquinas is right that God exists).

How, and to what purpose, do you use your distinctive gifts of imagination and language?

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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