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.”


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