Thinkers and Doers

By Victoria Moussot
February 12, 2017

We all have heard that people can be labeled as either “thinkers” and “doers.” It was St. Thomas Aquinas who examined these different traits in his Summa Theologica. He wrote, “accordingly, since certain men are especially intent on the contemplation of truth, while others are especially intent on external actions, it follows that man’s life is fittingly divided into active and contemplation.” 1

Thinkers lead a contemplative lifestyle focused on the inward reflection of truth. According to St. Thomas Aquinas four things are necessary to obtained, in a certain order, to live the contemplative life.

  1. Moral Virtues, which must be attained so we will not be disturbed by our passions or outward events and will be free to focus on truth.
  2. Intellectual Preparation in the form of acts such as focusing our attention, studying, and reasoning, to set the stage for contemplation.
  3. Contemplation of Divine Effects, that is, of creatures and the working of the world God created, which paves the way toward the final step,
  4. Contemplation of the Divine Truth of God, the origin and sustainer of all of creation. 2

Doers lead an active lifestyle. This type of person can be described as someone who focuses on the external actions and affairs of the world. In Aristotle’s terms God made people to be “rational” and “political animals”. Meaning, people are called to love our neighbor as we would love ourselves and take action for the good of others. This active lifestyle of loving and helping others is consistent with the moral virtue of prudence, because moral virtues are geared towards action. St. Thomas Aquinas defined prudence as “right reason applied to action.” 3

It is possible that we need to be both thinkers and doers. Interestingly, this lesson can be illustrated by our political system. George Washington was once asked by Thomas Jefferson why the Constitutional Government created the Senate; Washington explained that the two houses of Congress were designed to have two different perspectives and temperaments. The House was created to reflect the hot passions of popular will because small representative bodies are always up for re-election, while the the Senate, with larger representative bodies and longer terms, was designed to temper passion with reason which requires reflection.

At times it may seem that the lifestyles of thinkers and doers are pitted against each other, especially since some of us lean towards one or the other. But should mindfulness be practiced by thinkers, as well as doers? By having qualities of both mindsets, we balance ourselves out, just like how the Senate balances passion with reason. Therefore, we are not compelled into action without reason, and our cautiousness can lead us to think more deeply about consequences before leaping into action.

1, 2, 3 Vost, Kevin. “Are You a Thinker or Doer? .” The one-minute Aquinas: the doctor’s quick answers to fundamental questions. Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2014. 121. Print.