A portion of my continuing reflections on St. Thomas's commentary on the Ethics.

St. Thomas argues (Sent. Libri Ethicorum, I, Lect. 6) that “good” is said analogously both through the ten categories and within one category. While he gives the example of “a good time” which varies according to the context: a good time for military purposes, for farming purposes, for purposes of exercise, etc., this also applies to the word “good” when said of the actions of the godlike, virtuous, and continent man. That is, these moral character participate in actions according to right reason in various modes, i.e. in a godlike, virtuous, or continent way. Perhaps the various “modi significandi” within “good” can be specified; in the case of the godlike, in a way beyond the normal harmony between reason and the passions; in the virtuous, in a way that is a natural (teleological) harmony between reason and the passions; and in the continent, in a way that is only a control over the passions, which are not in harmony with right reason.

It seems a question, though, which is the prime analogate for “good” in the moral sense (i.e. “good” applied within the category of quality, regarding habits pertaining to human perfection). It seems that it could be the virtuous man, insofar as the godlike is called good in a way that exceeds what is normally considered a good man. Indeed, the godlike man is good insofar as he seems to imitate something akin to the goodness of a god, or as if sprung from the god. Hence, the “supervirtuous” is good in likeness to God, whose goodness is a different analogical sense of goodness than moral goodness (although God’s goodness includes moral goodness analogically, for God is just, and both ontological and moral senses of His goodness are had in a supereminent mode).

A very insightful passage is where Aristotle makes his excuse for arguing against his friend and teacher Plato (a morally doubtful move in a book about right conduct). St. Thomas argues that one must rather be a friend to truth than to men, for men are loved as friends in the first place for the virtue and truth. This occurs in the most preeminent fashion in God, hence preferring truth to friends when it comes down to it is following a proper order of natural love, in this case piety or natural sanctity: St. Thomas quotes Andronicus the Peripatetic states: “Sanctitas est quae facit fideles et servants ea quae ad Deum iusta.” This love of truth is common to all philosophers: Plato, whom St. Thomas quotes as saying “Amicus quidem Socrates, sed magis amica veritas.” Even Newton, at the outset of his Quaestiones quaedam Philosophiae, writes, “Amicus Plato amicus Aristoteles magis amica veritas.” The preference of truth to friendship is not callousness, then, but rather a recognition of order: the one in fact gives meaning to the other. This is almost analytic to the word “philosopher,” which St. Thomas ‘defines’ in this context as follows: “philosophos, qui sunt professores sapientiae, quae est cognitio veritatis.”

St. Thomas, awesome as always. Would like your comments.

Lectio 1. In his prooemium, St. Thomas provides a division of the sciences with an eye to discussing the division of philosophia moralis. What is interesting is that this division follows upon four kinds of order related to mind, two of which are found, and three of which are made, (the order of things, the order of the mind’s acts, the order made in human acts, and the order made in exterior things—hence, since logic is in a way an art and a science, but more of an art, this seems to be an order that is found and made). Hence, since ratio is a natural power that seeks order, it is perfected according to these orders. However, these perfections are the excellences of various sciences. Hence a division of the sciences results. This is related to the division provided in De Trinitate. In that place, St. Thomas begins by dividing the speculative from the practical sciences based upon the intellect’s relationship to truth: either in itself or for the sake of something. However, the mind insofar as it is related to order is also a division according to truth, for this order is always in a “thing” to which the mind is adequated (even in rationalis philosophia, namely second intentions). Hence, one can relate what St. Thomas here calls naturalis philosophia to the three speculative sciences, and the practical sciences to philosophia moralis and artes mechanicas. Also, the division of the sciences based upon the ways in which the mind is related to order fits with the further division of the speculative sciences, for the mind insofar as it is perfected by being adequated to such order receives that order according to its mode of receiving, namely immaterially. However, this immaterial reception is ‘graduated’ into degrees which follow the immateriality present in the things in which said order resides.

Lectio 2. St. Thomas resolves the demonstration that there is a best end [optimum finem] in human affairs to the First Mover, “quia naturale desiderium nihil aliud est quam inclinatio inhaerens rebus ex ordinatione primi moventis, quae non potest esse supervacua.” What implication does this have for the Fifth Way as compared to the First Way? What implication does this have for scientific accounts of the natural law?

Lectio 3. The observation that “auditor bene disciplinatus nec debet maiorem certitudinem requirere nec minori esse contentus quam sit conveniens rei de qua agitur,” in the place where Aristotle is discussing the qualities required of a student of ethics, given the mode in which ethics must proceed (I.3), when put in conjunction with St. Thomas’ analogy of the matter proper to various arts, seems to offer an argument that every science has its own “sapiential part.” For if the good auditor of any science must know the limits of the matter dealt with in the science, he participates in the architectonic office, for the sapiential office holder must inspect the matter in order to use it to his own ends. (It is finely put by St. Thomas where he states the two requirements of an architectonic as that it command the lower, and use them to its own ends. Also finely put is the example St. Albert the Great provides of the various modes in which various arts use their respective matters: "sicut forma hominis in auro per liquefactionem, sed in cera per molliationem, in lingo per decavationem." So just as a rhetorizing mathematician and a mathematizing rhetorician are improper modes, so also attempting to soften gold will not be sufficient, and melting wood will be too extreme, when one is attempting to craft an imitation of the human body.)

A few random reflections on EN I.

“Nevertheless, even in these circumstances the quality of fineness shines through, when someone bears repeated and great misfortunes calmly, not because he is insensitive to them but because he is a person of nobility and greatness of soul.” - EN, I.10, 1100b30-33

This passage reflects the difference between Stoicism and Aristotelian virtue ethics in a revealing way. The magnanimous man bears great misfortunes calmly not through insensitivity but on account of his excellence. This excellence, as Aristotle has already been discussing in Book I, c.8, consists primarily in those goods of the soul, and these activities bring about happiness. Thus, the excellent or virtuous soul is not insensitive because he is completed by his surroundings. In a way this is necessary and in a way not. It is necessary that a man have surroundings (perhaps the discussion of happiness and death is apropos here). However, the core of happiness is not principled by the “surroundings” of soul. Again, soul is the form of a living body. While it may not matter insofar as determining the virtues is concerned whether hylomorphism or Platonic dualism is right (for the same “ruling” structure will still result---and it is interesting that Cartesian substance dualism results in a different ruling structure and a different account of happiness), is will matter insofar as beatitudo is concerned, for happiness follows what a thing is by nature. So a Platonist can regard the body as a prison, while the Aristotelian must affirm the context and completion of happiness, the complete life, for life here is principled by soul, the form of the naturally organized body.

- Prolegomena, a general thought:
Where philosophers disagree most is about the principles of things, and the order in which to apply principles when giving a causal explanation of common experience. An example of this is the order between things known and concepts of things known: St. Thomas Aquinas and Immanuel Kant give diametrically opposed accounts of the order between these ‘things’. Another example, it seems, is how to give a principled account of the natural law. A list of goods, specifically human goods, requires a principle by which to judge the fittingness of the list.

- Notes about first readings into the new natural law theory (NNLT):
1) Tollefsen states that the thesis of the NNLT is “that the foundation of practical reason is in a foundational practical recognition of certain basic goods, and that no inference from theoretical truths concerning human nature is necessary or possible.” (1) This is not a view to be taken lightly: “inference from theoretical truths” is the basis for ethical thought. For example, Aristotelian psychology provides a “launching point” or occasio to ethical considerations because it gives an account of the parts of the human soul and the hierarchy among its powers (see St. Thomas, Sententia Libri de Anima, I, l.1). It seems that Hume’s guillotine is not something to be avoided, but refuted. The ‘ought’ is derived from ‘is’ when the ‘is’ is descriptive of the finality that shapes the very definition, ratio, or raison d’etre of a being, in this case a human being.

2) Rowland makes several interesting comments. (2) First, as an introduction to his attempt to establish a “theological natural law” he states that in an attempt to dialog with non-believers, it has been conceived possible “to sever [natural law] from its theological roots.” (3) It is true that the context of St. Thomas’s treatise on law makes a separation from the mode of the science of theology a risky undertaking. However, (provided the distinction between revealed and natural theology), an account of natural law can be given by a science strictly philosophical in order and mode, which conclusions and arguments can be reaffirmed by a higher science (theology), which reaffirmation is no vain attempt because of the diverse ways in which the two sciences conceive of their scientific objects and the natural law as a part of that object.
Second, Rowland indicates the heart of the issue:

Cardinal Ratzinger . . . described natural law as a “blunt instrument” in dialogues with secular society. This was not because he personally rejects belief in natural law, but because he believes that it presupposes a concept of nature in which nature and reason overlap, a view which he further claims was “capsized” with the arrival of the theory of evolution. Without a foundational belief in a divinely created cosmos, the doctrine falls on incredulous ears. It lacks persuasive force. Post-moderns will never buy it because they have rejected a notion of nature that includes stable essences, and Liberals will never buy it because individual autonomy occupies such a high place in their hierarchy of goods that it trumps any appeal to a notion of there being one single vision of a “good life.” . . . Reason has been truncated to finding efficient ways of achieving ends and nature is now subject to scientific manipulation so neither reason nor nature is a strong foundation upon which to build a bridge to the contemporary Liberal tradition. (4)

This is the basis upon which all discussion of “natural law” hinges. First, there is the understanding of “nature” and its correlative, “reason.” These are the touchstones upon which any account of a natural law for man (the being rational by nature) must be based. Furthermore, to obtain the full ratio of law, this natural law must be “theologically” derived in the sense that it is placed within the context of a (divinely) rational legislator, i.e. a cosmos (cosmein: order, marshalling troops) with a super-cosmic origin and source of direction or finality. This requires neither revelation strictly speaking nor does it invalidate the conclusions of natural ethics, which would only imperfectly attain to the full ratio of law.) Third, this cosmic order is eternal, but not necessarily in an immutable Stoic sense, and hence can give an account which utilizes evolution as instrumental principles (satisfying the concerns of the post-modern) which instrumentality requires direction by a non-instrumental source. This introduces a hierarchy of goods (for a hierarchy or subordination of instrumental operations to primary causes by nature must be an order of goods insofar as it imports final causality) within a natural order (satisfying the concerns of the liberal). Natural science in a classical sense (Aristotelian/Thomistic) can adequately ground an account which serves as a “launching point” to ethics and natural law (5). Reason is not and cannot be truncated by science.


(1) Christopher Tollefsen, “The New Natural Law Theory,” Lyceum 10.1 (2008): 1. Tollefsen refers to Germain Grisez’s foundational essay: “The First Principle of Practical Reason: A Commentary on the Summa Theologiae, 1-2 Question 94, Article 2,” New Natural Law Forum 10 (1965): 168-201.
(2) Tracey Rowland, “Natural Law: From Neo-Thomism to Nuptial Mysticism,” Communio 35.3 (2008): 374-396.
(3) Rowland, “Natural Law,” 374.
(4) Rowland, “Natural Law,” 374-75.
(5) See Charles de Koninck, Le Cosme, and Richard Hassing, “Darwinian Natural Right?” Interpretation 27.2 (2000): 129-60. (http://philosophy.cua.edu/faculty/rfh/)

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