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The inherent limitations on human freedom.

THAT THE ESSENCE OF HUMAN NATURE is to be free is a common theme of many otherwise disparate philosophical traditions. From Augustine to Sartre, the fact of human freedom has been the point of departure for the consideration of humanity's essence. If philosophers are correct about the centrality of freedom, then every action humans undertake ought to be characterized by freedom in some way. This fact is made intelligible in light of the Thomistic doctrine, agere sequitur esse, or action follows from being. (1) Indeed, St. Thomas argues that the very purpose of a substance's existence is the characteristic operations by which it manifests its actuality. As he puts it, "All things created would seem, in a way, to be purposeless, if they lacked an operation proper to them; since the purpose of everything is its operation. For the less perfect is always for the sake of the more perfect: and consequently as the matter is for the sake of the form, so the form which is the first act is for the sake of its operation, which is the second act; and thus operation is the end of the creature." (2) If this is true, then it follows that the very existence of freedom in human nature is justified by the performance of free acts, since the substantial act of existence is necessarily fulfilled only in the second act, the characteristic operations or activities that substance undertakes.

In this article, therefore, I analyze the manifestation of human freedom in terms of the various activities proper to humans. This enables us to better grasp the existential significance of human freedom, for it is in these activities that freedom is fully realized. I base my analysis on the thought of Aquinas; moreover, I use many neo-Thomistic philosophers who have reflected critically on the idea of freedom in response to the Kantian notion of autonomy that has led modernity to define freedom in a radically different (and ultimately nihilistic) way. A true notion of freedom must recognize limits imposed by nature that are not acknowledged by the idea of autonomy.

In the fundamental, natural act of existing, human are essentially free; however, it is the "second acts," the characteristic operations, that bring this freedom to perfection. These operations fall into three main categories: man thinks, man does, and man makes. (3) That is, man acts to know the world, he acts to fulfill desires, and he acts to impose perfection on objects for use and enjoyment. These acts, though, aim to achieve different kinds of objects: knowledge aims at the true, doing pursues the good, and making aspires to beauty. If man is free, freedom must be evident in each of these characteristic activities. Yet given that the nature and object of these activities differ, the way in which freedom is manifested must differ accordingly. That is, since the object of thought is truth, we must be able to exercise freedom in such a way that it does not obstruct the pursuit of truth; since the object of doing is the good that we desire, we must exercise that freedom so as to not obscure what is truly good; and since the goal of making is to produce things of beauty, we must not believe that our freedom entails the ability to define beauty itself. In other words, because humans act to attain some transcendental property, the nature of that property conditions the way in which human freedom is exercised.

But is this a coherent picture where freedom is simultaneously constricted? Is not the essence of freedom the lack of natural constraints? On the contrary, the inherent limitations of freedom are not only not contradictory, but are necessary for freedom to achieve its goal. Since action follows from being, the act itself must manifest freedom in order to fulfill the potential of our nature. However, if the operations are to achieve the true, the good, or the beautiful, then there are limits to what the human agent can do in order to be considered free. Moreover, these constrictions on freedom will vary according to the degree of immateriality aimed at in the act.

The fundamental point here is the relationship between freedom and human transcendence. Most philosophers locate the origin of human freedom in our rational nature so that man, as intelligent, is not restricted to a purely biological destiny. Thomas, for example, argues that rational cognition implies freedom from matter, but this freedom from matter means that the form's operations are less restricted by the limitations of material potentiality. (4) In applying this to human nature, Thomas argues that while animals are directed to one course of activity by instinctual pursuit of biological goods, man's rational apprehension of the universal frees him from instinctual impulses so as to allow him to pursue the highest goods. (5) Thus, while sense experience (in both cognition and appetite) regards the world as it appeals to subjective interests, especially with respect to the purely biological needs of survival and reproduction, the intellect is able to pierce this phenomenal presentation and discover the world as it is in itself, independent of any purely selfish interests. (6) Intelligence just is this ability to get past the contingency and fallibility of perception to the stable transcendent necessities of reality. As Yves Simon writes, "The universe of pure sensation is an inhuman universe that becomes human only to the extent that sensation is penetrated by thought. The customary universe of human perception owes its appearance, its consistency, and its humanity to the presence of thought." (7) It is precisely in this overcoming of sensitivity that we find the essence of freedom: to the extent that we are not guided merely by our biological needs, we transcend that natural determination and instinct and so are free to know the world as it is and respond according to a transcendent order of value. (8) (In the rest of this article, I use transcendence to indicate this freedom from biological determination. I do not mean to imply any sort of Gnostic rejection of the material world, but rather that reason frees man from the determination of sense appetites. This usage is ultimately inspired by Wojtyla, though I believe it is shared by all in the larger Thomistic tradition.)

Before continuing, we must clarify a potential confusion by distinguishing free choices to act from truly free acts. Thomas defines the genus of moral action in terms of human acts as opposed to acts of man; the former are undertaken with knowledge and freedom, and so are expressive of human nature, while the latter lack these characteristics. (9) While all human acts are accomplished by free choice, not all those choices achieve freedom for the person, since some chosen acts fail to embody the transcendence proper to man. The difference is one of terminus a quo and terminus ad quem: while all properly human acts begin as free choices, only those that advance freedom are good human acts (acts in accord with true human nature), while those that fail to embody freedom are bad human acts (acts not worthy of human nature). (10) Maritain refers to the proper use and development of human freedom as the "conquest of freedom"--all free acts aim to increase knowledge and virtue, both of which enable man to be more and more free of subrational determinations. (11) Thus, freedom exists for the sake of increasing knowledge and virtue, and only acts that do so can be considered truly free acts; others end up in subordinating transcendence to sensitive or biological impulses and so frustrate freedom. Freedom, then, is inherently a kind of transcendence, but this transcendence is manifested differently in the various actions we undertake. This transcendent end is realized in knowing reality as it is in itself, apart from any merely biological interest it might have for me; it is realized in acting, since we can act for the sake of this transcendent, universal end and so overcome our instinctual biological impulses. Thus, we know the truth of reality, and not just how it appears to ourselves; we know what is really good in itself, and not just pleasurable for ourselves. Moreover, this freedom is also realized in human creativity because man creates not just tools--objects to be used for some purpose related to survival--but also art, which exists simply to be enjoyed as an end in itself. However, in all these instances, the transcendent end of man is accomplished only if we dispose freedom for the sake of that transcendence.

It is clear, then, that the entire purpose of freedom is that man might be capable of achieving his transcendent end. To do so, however, one must exercise freedom in the correct way. There are necessarily limits to freedom. Transcendence, therefore, engenders two related modes of freedom, but these two modes exist with a certain tension. The first freedom is that of unrestricted transcendence, the fact that, as intelligent, we are not limited to the immediacy and particularity of sense experience. The second freedom is the concomitant capacity of free choice that follows from transcendence. The first is the root of freedom; from this it follows that free choice must be exercised in the right way. This helps to illustrate how different acts must manifest freedom in distinct ways, for the act of free choice is always for the sake of spiritual transcendence. We might frame this relation in the following principle: the more spiritually transcendent an act by nature is, the less it will be open to choice; the more concrete and particular the act is, the more that matter constricts transcendence and the more choice we are given with respect to how that transcendence is to be concretely manifested. Ironically, since the end is transcendence, it is only in subordinating our free acts to that end that we truly become free and realize the potential of our free human nature. For if a choice nullifies transcendence then it repudiates, instead of realizes, freedom. Thus, only in using free choice appropriately do we realize truth, goodness, and beauty, thereby achieving the transcendent fullness of being that is the unique goal of all rational activity.

The importance of grasping the limits of freedom with respect to these characteristic human activities is clearly illustrated when one considers what happens to truth, goodness, and beauty when freedom of choice is not limited. If man's freedom extends even to the definition of truth, then truth loses its objectivity; but this means that truth is no longer conditioned by the principle of noncontradiction, and so truth loses all real meaningfulness. (12) Similarly, if man is free to determine the good for himself, then the good can no longer be a standard for evaluating human behavior, and so again loses all real meaning. (13) Again, once we allow that beauty is constituted by the eye of the beholder, then anything might be beautiful, and so the entire enterprise of art appreciation and criticism becomes superfluous. Thus, if the notions of truth, goodness, and beauty are to have any meaning at all, and if those essential human activities of thinking, acting, and making are to retain any intrinsic significance, then we must agree that freedom with respect to these operations is limited according to the nature and end of the action itself. But as knowing is the most immaterial, in it we shall experience pure transcendence with no choice; doing requires some concrete choice of means, yet these means are strictly limited to those appropriate for the dignity of human transcendence. Making--the creation of a unique object--allows for the greatest choice and is unlimited as long as it truly is representative of the end of liberal arts. In recognizing this ordering of human activity, we see that the gift of transcendence is meant to allow us to grasp being in its fullness as embodied in those objective transcendental standards by which we evaluate free human acts.

To understand the ways in which the essential human freedom might be constricted by various activities, we first need to consider the nature of those operations. Keeping in mind that every creature exists for the sake of its operation, we can say that every creature achieves its perfection in its proper operations. Therefore, let us begin by noting Thomas's argument about the fundamental difference between the operations of the intellect and of the will. He writes:
 The true and the good must therefore add to the concept of being
 a relationship of that which perfects. But in any being there
 are two aspects to be considered, the formal character of its
 species and the act of being by which it subsists in that species.
 And so a being can be perfective in two ways: (1) It can be so just
 according to its specific character. In this way the intellect is
 perfected by a being, for it perceived the formal character of the
 being. But the being is still not in it according to its natural
 existence. It is this mode of perfecting which the true adds to
 being. For the true is in the mind, as the Philosopher says; and
 every being is called true inasmuch as it is conformed or conformable
 to the intellect. ... (2) A being is perfective of another not
 only according to its specific character but also according to the
 existence which it has in reality. In this fashion the good is
 perfective; for good is in things, as the Philosopher says. Inasmuch
 as one being by reason of its act of existing is such as to perfect
 and complete another, it stands to that other as an end. And hence
 it is that all who rightly define good put in its notion something
 about its status as an end. (14)

This passage clearly illustrates the fundamental difference between the way we attain the true and the way we attain the good. In both cases, however, human nature is perfected by its operative relations with other beings. (15) Since achieving perfection requires relations, there must be some objective pole correlative to the subjective activity. This objective pole for rational activity is being in general; consequently, man perfects his rational nature to the extent he transcends subjective interests and instead understands being as it is in itself. Thus, being is the proper object of rationality and is the first principle of all cognition. (16) Furthermore, once we become aware of being, we can also desire it; accordingly, our relation to being is the foundation for the use of the intellect and the will. (17)

As Thomas indicates in the passage above, though, knowing is the act whereby man is perfected by receiving the "formal character of the being." This means that the mind is primarily passive: as we do not create being, we do not determine truth; rather, we receive truth by receiving the form (the actuality) of beings we find ourselves in relation to. (18) In order to guarantee the formal identity of the being received, it is imperative that we receive it as it is and not try to conform reality to our interests. (19) Josef Pieper appropriately describes knowing as a kind of assimilation of the knower and the known: "Knowing is the highest mode of having because in the world there is no other form so thoroughgoing. Knowing is not only appropriation which results in 'property' and 'proprietorship.' It is assimilation in the quite exact sense that the objective world, in so far as it is known, is incorporated in the very being of the knower." (20) In this assimilation of the being of the object, the agent comes to possess its perfections for himself; in this way, the knowing agent perfects himself by attaining the perfections of all other beings. (21)

The mind, then, is able to assimilate everything that has a form; but as form is the principle of actuality, the mind is able to assimilate everything that exists. This is the key to the freedom of the intellect: it is unrestricted in the reach of its activity, because every being falls under its power. The intellect, then, is the most transcendent of human powers, for it extends to all being as being. Yves Simon recognizes this in comparing intelligent beings to the rest of creation: "Let us begin by noting how closed, how restricted, a thing lacking in cognition appears compared with the openness of being endowed with knowledge. The subject possessing knowledge has an amplitude clearly denied to the other things of nature." (22) This transcendence brings us close to the unlimited freedom of God, both in the relative infinity of our act of knowing, (23) and in the fact that God as Pure Being is the ultimate object of that act. (24)

Another way of describing this freedom of the intellect is to call man capax universi. (25) Man is capable of knowing the universal truth. This means not only that we know the stable universal necessities behind the booming, buzzing confusion of sense experience, but also that we can know all truth, all that has being in any way. This is the glory of man's unrestricted intellectual freedom. Conversely, this reveals the servitude we have inherited from modern philosophers who restrict our ability to know to mathematical methods or the phenomena of Newtonian physics. These moderns, in limiting man's ability to know, all fall into skepticism since they assert that there is being that cannot be known. (26) But this is an artificial limitation on man's transcendent freedom. Being free is realized most fully in being able to know all that is, for this is the perfection of human nature: "The ultimate perfection which the soul can attain, therefore, is, according to the philosophers, to have delineated in it the entire order and causes of the universe. This they held to be the ultimate end of man." (27)

And yet, this transcendent freedom necessitates a limitation on freedom of choice. Since we are open to being, we must be receptive to it as it is; but this means we can neither choose to reject being, nor to receive nonbeing, for both of these would reject truth and so be a negation of the transcendent freedom to know being as being. We are free to know reality as it is (as opposed to how it appears to be), but this means we have a responsibility to accept being as it is. As Gilson notes, acknowledging this limitation on the freedom of choice in the intellect is a moral issue:
 There is an ethical problem at the root of our philosophical
 difficulties; for men are most anxious to find truth, but very
 reluctant to accept it. We do not like to be cornered by rational
 evidence, and even when truth is there, in its impersonal and
 commanding objectivity, our greatest difficulty still remains; it is
 for me to bow to it in spite of the fact that it is not exclusively
 mine, for you to accept it though it cannot be exclusively yours.
 In short, finding out truth is not so hard; what is hard is not to
 run away from truth once we have found it. When it is not a
 "yes but," our "yes" is often enough a "yes, and ..."; it applies
 much less to what we have just been told than to what we are about
 to say. The greatest among philosophers are those who do not flinch
 in the presence of truth, but welcome it with the simple words:
 yes, Amen. (28)

We cannot control truth; we cannot say what it must be. This is the critical fact of truth: we are not free to decide what it is. We take the data of sense experience, but when we think about it, we seek to discover the way the world is as opposed to the way it appears to be or the way we would like it to be. Man rises above the animals precisely by grasping reality as it is in itself and not imposing his desires upon it. But this means we have to reject all those idols that distort the world and make it appear only with respect to sensitive desires or biological needs. There is, therefore, an ascetic requirement for knowledge: to know we must overcome selfishness and transcend our subjectivity. This denial of oneself that leads to objective truth is intrinsically related to the denial of self that leads to God. Rejecting free choice for the sake of transcendence remains the great challenge of intellectual freedom. As Simon says, "Nowadays many people, both in philosophy and in religion, seem to think that the main thing is to have a satisfied mind, rather than to possess the truth. What they do not seem to realize is that, far from providing intellectual and personal salvation, this sort of satisfaction is exactly like the pleasure that comes from a well-filled belly." (29) To fulfill the promise of freedom, then, requires that we deny ourselves the freedom to choose reality and instead to accept the order of reality as it is.

When we consider acts of the will, however, the way in which freedom operates will be different. Thinking requires that our mind be adequated to the object, so there cannot be freedom of thought. Free will, on the other hand, is manifested precisely in the capacity to choose one's actions. But freedom of choice in acting, as St. Augustine acutely demonstrates, makes the will susceptible to error and so the basis of moral evil. (30) This possibility for error arises because, unlike the intellect, the will must choose one particular good among many, and so it needs to exercise choice so as not to violate human transcendence.

The explanation for this is implicit in the description of the operation of the will given by Thomas earlier. While the intellect is perfected by receiving the form of the object, the will seeks to possess the very existence of the object: it is perfected in obtaining the very being of the good it desires. The will, as the rational appetite, seeks the universal good; (31) as a consequence, it is attracted not to this object or that object (as the sensitive appetite would be); rather, it is attracted to the ultimate rational good, and also to every object that is good in any way as a potential means to the ultimate end. (32) So, inasmuch as some good object motivates every action, every action seeks the good. (33) The problem, however, is that actions are by nature particular; no action can possess all the good that is attractive to us. (34) We therefore must exercise choice to determine which of the myriad goods available to us will be the object of our pursuit. (35) This necessity of choosing however brings with it the potential of choosing wrongly, since some objects are appropriate for human transcendence while others, despite their goodness, are not. Therefore, since all acts seek the good, freedom is only truly realized when the goal of our transcendent nature is realized in free choice. (36)

It follows that freedom in the operation of the will must be limited in two ways. First, although the very nature of acting in pursuit of the good demands that there be freedom, actions are by nature concrete, and concrete actions are by definition particular. Therefore, the only way we can attain the infinite good we seek (the good in general that is happiness) is through particular objects--we cannot possess all good objects simultaneously. Thus, as Thomas argues, we choose the limited means by which we achieve our transcendent end. (37) These means are limited participations in the ultimate human perfection. (38) As means, however, there are many possible avenues for achieving that perfection. This fact helps illustrate a vital difference between truth and goodness. Since truth is merely received by the mind, we have no freedom of choice with respect to truth. The truth is present in the world; it impresses itself upon the mind--we must humbly bow to it. The good is notably different. While everything that exists is good in some way, we have to choose the best available good; hence, we have freedom of choice with respect to the good. The intellect has freedom primarily in that it is not restricted in what it can know, but it is never free to choose to reject a truth; the will has freedom in that it can choose, but that freedom must end up in one concrete choice, so it cannot have all goods things in one act. The truth comes to us whether we like it or not; but we must reach out and freely choose to act in pursuit of the good if we are to possess any at all.

However, this freedom of choice does not mean that we are free to choose anything at all. The good we choose must be appropriate for human transcendence. So, while there are many goods, the way to true human perfection remains relatively narrow. This leads us to the more important, second limitation. In order for this freedom of choice of means to be meaningful, Thomas insists that there must be necessitation with respect to the end. (39) That is, if I am going to exercise freedom of choice, that choice must have some goal, else there is no reason to choose at all; we do not act unless there is an end. But, because there is a predetermined end, I cannot make any choice about that end; rather, the choice of means must be proportioned to that end. If we were free to choose even the end, then every choice would be equally worthy; as a result, the very notion of acting for the good become otiose. In other words, the very notion of free choice implies that there is an end for the sake of which we choose; but if there is an end, then choices are limited in freedom according to their fittingness for the end at hand.

Thus, we are only free by recognizing the limitations that the end of transcendent freedom imposes on us. If we are to reach that transcendent end, we have to treat choices as means to a predetermined end. This is the meaning of Augustine's statement, "This is our freedom, when we are subject to the truth; and the truth is God Himself, who frees us from death, that is, from the state of sin." (40) Sin and cupidity destroy freedom because they are choices that make the fulfillment of human transcendence impossible; therefore, these cannot really be free acts if they destroy the foundation of freedom. (41)

As we have seen, the pursuit of truth and goodness involves significant limitations on free choice: there is no choice of the truth, and choice of action has to be in accord with virtue. That the activity of making is different is made clear by Gilson's rhetorical query, "What is necessary in the free country of art?" (42) Nevertheless, even this free country is subject to the transcendent restriction of beauty on the exercise of human freedom.

It might be objected, however, that making is not on the same level of activity as knowing and willing. After all, unless we are Marxists, we do not see man as homo faber, but as Homo sapiens; what is essential about man are the immanent activities of knowing and willing, not the transitive activity of making. Accordingly, maybe the problem of freedom in technological and artistic production is moot precisely because they are activities that are not fully expressive of our human essence. Again, it is Gilson who helps us find the solution, for he points out that while production is not our highest activity, it remains necessary nevertheless if man is to realize the fullness of being:
 The most perfect artist is not he who puts the highest art at the
 service of the highest truth, but he who puts the highest truth at
 the service of the most perfect art. It simply follows from this
 that art is not the highest of the activities of man. Still it is
 one of them, and no other can take its place. If art is the making
 of beauty for beauty's sake, there is no imaginable substitute
 for it. (43)

The root of this difficulty is that intellect and will are easily seen to be perfections of man because they are immanent activities by which human nature fulfills its highest potential. (44) Productive activity lacks the immanence that is proper to personal perfection. But to emphasize the lack of immanence is to fail to see the ultimate significance of productive activity, for in productive activity we most closely imitate Divine Creativity. (45) God gratuitously shares his infinite goodness by creating the universe. (46) As we are made in the image of God, we aim to share our own goodness, not by creating ex nihilo, but by imposing rational order on matter, and in so doing, educing the beauty of form and order out of the chaos of potency. (47) This creative impulse, which Maritain calls creative intuition or poetry, is both natural to man and necessary for his fulfillment. (48) Creating, then, is in fact an act of transcendent freedom; only because we are like God are we creative, and so to create is an expression of transcendence. Maritain argues the point this way: "In the poet [the spirit of creativity] is free creativity, for it only tends to engender in beauty, which is a transcendental, and involves an infinity of possible realizations and possible choices. In this respect the poet is like a god." (49) To gratuitously bring about beauty is a paradigmatic act of transcendence: it comes to be wholly from the inclination of the artist as an expression of his connatural appreciation of the goodness of all creation. (50) As St. Thomas notes, this intuition of the profundity of being makes the production of beauty an integral aspect of man's transcendent rationality: "Now the reason why the philosopher is compared to the poet is that both are concerned with wonders." (51) However, as we will see, since man does not create ex nihilo, he must choose one particular work to be created; in this way, creative transcendence necessarily involves a wide freedom of choice, but a limitation in the number of things to be created.

To fully appreciate the freedom of this poetic intuition, it is important to note that as in the other cases, true freedom must be transcendent. Thus, the goal of production must be something whose aim transcends our biological needs. In other words, while we produce many things to be used, only those whose end is pure enjoyment properly reflect the transcendent nature of human freedom. (52) So, while even primates use tools, only man produces objects whose purpose is merely to be contemplated for their own sake. (53) We produce tools to help us survive, so a tool must be produced in strict accord with its end use: a hammer has to be made a certain way to accomplish its goal. The production of the beautiful, though, is utterly gratuitous, and so appears to be infinitely free. (54)

Because the transcendence of making is present in the act of gratuitous creativity, there are no limits to its freedom of choice. Indeed, the artist can produce beauty in any way his genius might allow. However, this unlimited free choice requires that the art must truly be an exercise in creativity; it has to be the product of that poetic impulse to create and bring about beauty. Augustine makes the acerbic but obvious point that no one pays a teacher to find out the teacher's opinion; we pay teachers to find out the truth. (55) In the same way we might say that no one pays an artist to find out what the world looks like; we can discover that on our own. Rather, we pay an artist to see how his transformative vision can reveal the transcendent beauty of creation that would not be evident apart from his poetic artistry. (56) Thus, if an act is not truly creative of beauty, it fails to manifest the transcendence for which freedom exists; works of art produced as political messages and social commentary, then, are intrinsic negations of the true goal of freedom because they confuse the necessity of truth with the necessary creativity of poetry.

This, however, points to a second, more profound limitation on the exercise of productive freedom. If artistic production is truly an act of rational creation, it must embody rationality, for the essence of beauty is its rational intelligibility. (57) So, while the artist has unlimited choice in what to produce, the object nonetheless has to manifest the rational order characteristic of transcendence, for without this it is not fulfilling the potential of truly human creativity. Thus, anyone who sees beauty in the irrational or inhumane, as Plato's story of Leontius might indicate, has violated the principles of freedom; we are not free to admire that which is not properly worthy of admiration. (58) Again, if beauty is the result of freedom, and freedom stems from rationality, then beauty itself, as the creative manifestation of transcendent intelligence, must manifest rationality. In fact, there is neither art nor beauty without intelligence, for art is the intellectual virtue that perfects the process of making, (59) and beauty is nothing other than intelligible order and harmony perceived in the work of art. (60) Because beauty manifests rationality, it induces contemplation; and in contemplating beauty man discovers true joy--the act of the contemplative appreciation of the universal good in which we rest. (61) Thus, an appreciation for the gratuitous beauty of rational order brings an appreciation for the goodness of all that God creates. As Pieper argues:
 Such nonrational, intuitive certainties of the divine base of all
 that is can be vouchsafed to our gaze even when it is turned toward
 the most insignificant-looking things, if only it is a gaze inspired
 by love. That, in the precise sense, is contemplation. ... Out of
 this kind of contemplation of the created world arise in never
 ending wealth all true poetry and all real art, for it is the
 nature of poetry and art to be paean and praise heard above all
 the wails of lamentation. (62)

In fact, Maritain argues that once art loses the focus on the rational ideal of beauty, it soon becomes vitiated as a whole: "It is with beauty in its genuine transcendental sense that certain of the most significant elements of modern art have fallen out, because other constellations, especially knowledge and self-knowledge, and other supreme ends have arisen in the heaven of the poet. ... And the delectation that beauty gives is replaced by the delight of experience of supreme freedom in the night of subjectivity." (63) Without true transcendence, free choice loses its focus and the virtue of art degenerates into mere virtuosity, which is proficient but in the end not satisfying of the deepest human longings. (64) Let us return to Maritain, who pronounces the ultimate limitation upon the freedom of the artist to be the transcendence of the human artist:
 Art has no right against God. There is no good opposed to God or
 the ultimate Good of human life. Art in its own demesne is sovereign
 like wisdom; it is not subordinate by its object to wisdom or
 prudence or any other virtue. But by the subject and in the subject
 it is subordinate to the good of the subject; so far as it finds
 itself in man and is made use of by the freedom of man, it is
 subordinate to the end of man. (65)

In all operations, then, freedom of transcendence and freedom of choice must coincide to achieve the end for which man acts. In doing and making, our transcendence must be contracted due to the materiality of the action; as a result, we have freedom of choice in these instances and, if it is used well, our actions are rewarded with the truth, goodness, and beauty that are the aim of human transcendence. Maritain argues that only in possessing these properties does man achieve the transcendence for which his essence was intended--the ability to know being as it is in itself: "Once we touch a transcendental, we touch being itself, a likeness of God, an absolute, all that ennobles and makes the joy of life: we enter the realm of the spirit. It is remarkable that the only real means of communication between human creatures is through being or some one of the properties of being. This is their only means of escape from the individuality in which they are enclosed by matter." (66) Thus, in accepting the limitations of freedom in human operations, we actually open ourselves up to the infinite being of the universe, and the much greater gift of the infinite possibilities of human relations. Only by limiting our own freedom do we become free to broaden our reality by knowing others who pull us out of our subjectivity and bring us to transcendence.

We can conclude, therefore, that to be truly human, free actions must be rational; but because they are free, in order to be rational, these actions must be regulated by virtue. (67) Thus, there is in every free act the natural limitation of virtue. If an act is not virtuous, it can never accomplish the goal for which it was undertaken; but then, it cannot really be a free act, since it fails to manifest the transcendence we intend. This is evident in our pursuit of truth, where wisdom demands we accept reality for what it is; of goodness, where prudence demands we choose the best means available; and of beauty, where art inspires infinite creativity as an expression of human transcendence. It is only through these values that life becomes truly meaningful and worth living. (68) We achieve transcendence in knowing all being, in choosing the highest good, and in creating beauty as a testimony to the goodness of creation. To achieve the freedom of transcendence, then, means we first recognize that man is not free to determine his end. Rather, true freedom is found in accepting that our end is God, who is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Freedom of choice exists so that man might participate in that Divine end. Thus, as Pope John Paul II said, "Freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought." (69) It is because freedom has this united purpose that we can engage in a variety of free actions, all of which coalesce to lead man to the transcendent end of eternal happiness, an end that is restricted to those creatures who are blessed with the dignity of freedom.


(1.) See, for example, Summa contra gentiles 11.97.4: "Now, from the diversity of forms by which the species of things are differentiated there also results a difference of operations. For, since everything acts in so far as it is actual (because things that are potential are found by that very fact to be devoid of action), and since every being is actual through form, it is necessary for the operation of a thing to follow its form. Therefore, if there are different forms, they must have different operations." Cf. SCG 1.28.7, 11.21.9, 11.68.7, 11.79.4. All citations to the Summa contra gentiles (hereafter, SCG) are taken from the translation by Anton Pegis, James Anderson, and Vernon Bourke (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975).

(2.) Summa theologica I.105.5.c. All citations to the Summa theologica (ST) are taken from the translation by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Benzinger, 1948). See also SCG 111.113.1: "Each thing appears to exist for the sake of its operation; indeed, operation is the ultimate perfection of a thing." For an analysis of the important ontological consequences of this doctrine, see W. Norris Clarke, SJ, Person and Being (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1993), 6-24.

(3.) In The Arts of the Beautiful (np: Dalkey Archive Press, 1965), 18, Etienne Gilson ties this division to the various philosophical sciences: first act, or being, is the object of metaphysics; knowing is the object of epistemology and logic; ethics studies acting; and art is the intellectual virtue of making. It might be objected that man obviously does other things: he sees, he sleeps, he grows, etc. But it is the activities that fully demonstrate his rational nature-thinking, making moral decisions, and creating that can be counted as properly human.

(4.) ST I.14.1 and I.84.2; cf. SCG II.47-48.

(5.) See On Evil, trans. Richard Regan, ed. Brian Davies (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), and ST I.59.1; I.83.1; I-II.10.1.

(6.) I take this to be the constant theme in the Western philosophical notion that being, or that-which-is, is the object of the intellect, first articulated in Plato (see, e.g., Theaetetus 184b2-187a1) and accepted, with modifications, by thinkers until the onset of modernity. Yves Simon nicely summarizes the point this way: "Sense knowledge exists for the sake of life and for the sake of thought; where there is no thought, the objectivity of knowledge is subordinated to the subjectivity of need. The animal uses its senses for nourishment and reproduction; to the extent that man rises above animality, he puts his sense data at the service of thought." An Introduction to Metaphysics of Knowledge, trans. Vulcan Kuic and Richard J. Thompson (New York: Fordham University Press, 1990), 21. For a good contemporary defense of this position, see John Deely, The Impact on Philosophy of Semiotics (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine's Press, 2003), 28-89.

(7.) Simon, Metaphysics of Knowledge, 115. One might note that it is for this reason that the moral environment is of much greater urgency than the physical environment. Because man does not operate primarily in terms of biological impulses, but rather as a transcendent moral agent, the degradation of the notion of personal transcendence will always be more deleterious than harm done to the merely physical habitat in which we live.

(8.) At the 2007 meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, Timothy O'Connor presented an address called "Human Freedom and the Emerging Sciences of Brain and Behavior," in which he reviewed some recent experiments in cognitive science concerning the existence of free will. These experiments generally attempted to discern freedom on the basis of the spontaneity of simple bodily movements while under observation and while being exposed to certain subliminal influences. Apart from the responses suggested by O'Connor, I would like to point out the general inappropriateness of this entire approach. All sensory experience is mediated by the vis cogitativa, or the cogitative power, the inner sense responsible for instinctive reactions to the environment (see ST 1.78.4 and Disputed Questions on the Soul qq. 8 and 13). To the extent that bodily movements remain under the control of the cogitative power, environmental influences will necessarily impede absolutely free activity. Moreover, as the brain is the organ of the interior senses, to stimulate the brain is to excite the instinctive reactions of the cogitative power which again function somewhat independently of free choice. Thus, inasmuch as bodily movements are always mediated by the instinctual reactions of the cogitative power, testing whether I can wiggle my finger when I want (one of the experiments mentioned by O'Connor) fails to reach the level of free action in any way. Indeed, all experiments concerning freedom involving simple bodily movements will always be vitiated by the environmental factors to which the cogitative power naturally reacts.

(9.) ST I-II.1.1. This distinction is elaborated for great effect in Karol Wojtyla's discussion of those acts we do as opposed to things that happen to us; see The Acting Person, ed. Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, trans. Andrzej Potocki (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1979).

(10.) See ST I.18.2.

(11.) For a good overview of Maritain's position, see John P. Hittinger, "Maritain's Evaluation of Bourgeois Liberalism" in Liberty, Wisdom, and Grace: Thomism and Democratic Political Theory (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2002), 61-72.

(12.) Etienne Gilson criticizes all forms of modern idealism for failing to see this: "What a deliverance it would be for us, if we could recognize the elementary truth that the object of epistemology is not thought, which is only the consciousness of an act of knowledge, but knowledge itself, which is the grasp of an object. ... Once the truth is no longer being as known by the mind, what is knowledge? ... It was at this point that the good, the true and the beautiful began to transform themselves into values, because values are simply transcendentals which strive to subsist after they have severed their connection with being." Gilson, Methodical Realism, trans. Philip Trower (Front Royal, VA: Christendom Press, 1990), 122-23.

(13.) This point is brilliantly put forward by John Rist in Real Ethics: Rethinking the Foundation of Morality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

(14.) DeVeritate 21.1.c. All citations to DeVeritate are to Truth, trans. Robert W. Mulligan, SJ, James V. McGlynn, SJ, and Robert W. Schmidt, SJ (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1954; reprint, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994).

(15.) In fact, Thomas defines both the true and the good as transcendentals derivable from the relation of being to a soul's power; see DeVeritate 1.1.

(16.) On this important point, see, e.g., SCG 11.83.31 and 11.98.9, ST I.5.2 and I.87.1, ST I-II.94.2, and Commentary on Aristotle's Metaphysics IV.6.605.

(17.) See ST 2: "Now the intellect apprehends primarily being itself; secondly, it apprehends that it understands being; and thirdly, it apprehends that it desires being. Hence the idea of being is first, that of truth second, and the idea of good third."

(18.) ST I.79.2. This is not to deny the critical importance of the active intellect, which Thomas fittingly argues in the very next article, but it is to recognize the primal fact that the human mind does not create or constitute truth because we do not create being. We might note also that the active intellect extends well beyond the act of abstraction; see the summary statement in Simon, Metaphysics of Knowledge, 157.

(19.) Simon writes, "Knowing is not making, creating, or transforming: we could say that in knowing we touch the object, but we never interfere with it" (Metaphysics of Knowledge, 8). This, of course, is where all modern idealism falls irredeemably into error, for it refuses to accept reality as it is and tries to conform reality to our interests, thereby enabling the very short slide from Kant to Nietzsche.

(20.) Josef Pieper, Happiness and Contemplation, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine's Press, 1998), 65-66.

(21.) See DeVeritate 2.2, and the comments on this passage in Ralph Mclnerny; Praeambula Fidei: Thomism and the God of the Philosophers (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2006), 184-85.

(22.) Simon, Metaphysics of Knowledge, 4-5 (italics in original). This, of course, is the insight originally suggested by Aristotle that the mind is in some way all things (De Anima 111.8, 43 lb20).

(23.) See Simon, Metaphysics of Knowledge, 25: "Privileged natures overcome their natural limitations--and even approach a kind of relative infinity by being able to being in a sense all things. ... In knowing [the universe in this way we] imitate the divine infinity."

(24.) ST I-II.3.8.

(25.) See Josef Pieper, Living the Truth: The Truth of All Things and Reality and the Good (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), 77-91.

(26.) Simon's comment here is pertinent: "The intellect can deal only with what is like itself, and the actuality of what is known, the being of its object as object. ... But what cannot be forgiven in idealism is the way it capitulated before this problem, by cutting its critical inquiry short. ... To conclude that thought reaches only to its own productions is not to solve this problem, but rather to turn one's back on it the moment it is glimpsed" (Metaphysics of Knowledge, 132).

(27.) DeVeritate 2.2.c.

(28.) Etienne Gilson, The Unity of Philosophical Experience (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1937), 49.

(29.) Simon, Metaphysics of Knowledge, 21-22.

(30.) Augustine, On Free Choice of the Will, trans. Thomas Williams (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993), Book I, esp. 1.11: "Only its own will and free choice can make the mind a companion of cupidity."

(31.) See ST I.59.1.

(32.) This, of course, means that it is attracted to all things, since every being is good (ST I.5.3) and because every being, as created, participates in a limited way in the infinite goodness of the Creator (ST I.6.4).

(33.) ST I-II.8.1.

(34.) The exception, here, of course, is the Beatific Vision, in which we are ultimately fulfilled. Because of this, Thomas argues that the will is in fact compelled in this instance, since there is no other good to be sought; see ST I.82.3.

(35.) ST I.83.1:
 But man acts from judgment, because by his apprehensive power he
 judges that something should be avoided or sought. But because this
 judgment, in the case of some particular act, is not from a natural
 instinct, but from some act of comparison in the reason, therefore
 he acts from free judgment and retains the power of being inclined
 to various things. For reason in contingent matters may follow
 opposite courses, as we see in dialectic syllogisms and rhetorical
 arguments. Now particular operations are contingent, and therefore
 in such matters the judgment of reason may follow opposite courses,
 and is not determinate to one. And forasmuch as man is rational
 is it necessary that man have a free-will.

(36.) This notion of freedom as arising not from the underdetermination of causality, but from the superdetermination of the rational powers is well described in Yves Simon, Freedom of Choice, ed. Peter Wolff (New York: Fordham University Press, 1969). See esp. 153: "Freedom proceeds, not from any weakness on the part of the agent but, on the contrary, from a particular excellence in power, from a plenitude of being and an abundance of determination, from an ability to achieve mastery over diverse possibilities, from a strength of constitution which makes it possible to attain one's end in a variety of ways. In short, freedom is an active and dominating indifference."

(37.) ST I-II.13.3.

(38.) On Evil 5: "As a created good is a likeness and sharing of the uncreated good, so the attainment of a created good is a happiness analogous to true happiness."

(39.) ST I.82.2:
 But necessity of end is not repugnant to the will, when the end
 cannot be attained except in one way: thus from the will to cross
 the sea, arises in the will the necessity to wish for a ship. In
 like manner neither is natural necessity repugnant to the will.
 Indeed, more than this, for as the intellect of necessity adheres
 to the first principles, the will must of necessity adhere to the
 last end, which is happiness: since the end is in practical matters
 what the principle is in speculative matters. For what befits a
 thing naturally and immovably must be the root and principle of
 all else appertaining thereto, since the nature of a thing is the
 first in everything, and every movement arises from something

(40.) On Free Choice of the Will 11.13.

(41.) See ST 3. Pieper notes that if freedom entails the ability to do evil, then God cannot be said to be free. Yet God's freedom in creation for the sake of his infinite goodness shows us more clearly how evil is opposed to true freedom; see The Concept of Sin, trans. Edward T. Oakes, SJ (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine's Press, 2001), 79.

(42.) Etienne Gilson, Form and Substance in the Arts, trans. Salvator Attanasio (np: Dalkey Archive Press, 1966), 48; cf. 226: "Art taken in itself and in the pursuit of its proper end is free to make use of everything in order to attain it."

(43.) Gilson, The Arts of the Beautiful, 15-16.

(44.) Simon concludes a long discussion on the perfective nature of the various levels of activities of the soul this way:
 In the vegetative life, what is immanent is only the effect of the
 activity, which makes this activity not immanence but production.
 The teen of the nourishment is distinct from the activity of
 nourishing oneself, for nourishment is but a way of maintaining
 organic integrity. In other words, as an efficiency rather than a
 quality, vegetative activity consists in change aimed at the
 improvement of an imperfect subject; and we recognize it as an
 efficiency rather than a quality, because when its term is
 reached, the activity cannot continue. It is only in animal
 life, or more precisely in knowledge and desire, that there
 appears genuine immanent activity that completes itself within
 itself, is not related essentially to any effect, and, involving
 no change, represent the act of fulfillment of a perfect subject.

(Metaphysics of Knowledge, 83-84); cf. his distinction between immanent perfective activity and work in Work, Society, and Culture, ed. Vukan Kuic (New York: Fordham University Press, 1971), 1-32.

(45.) In the prologue to ST I.14, Thomas argues that God has three acts, knowing, willing, and power; while the first two are immanent, and shared by rational creatures, the last is identified with his creative activity.

(46.) ST I.44.4.

(47.) See Gilson, The Arts of the Beautiful, 69-109, esp. 78; cf. Jacques Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, trans. J.F. Scanlan (np: Kessinger Publishing, nd), 48-49 and 74-75.

(48.) Jacques Maritain, Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry (Cleveland: Meridian Books, 1954), esp. 75-108.

(49.) Ibid., 81.

(50.) That reflection on the goodness of the world is the source of our creative intuition is the theme of Josef Pieper's In Tune with the World: A Theory of Festivity, trans. Richard and Clara Winston (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine's Press, 1999).

(51.) Commentary on Aristotle's "Metaphysics," trans. John P. Rowan (Henry Regneiy Company, 1961; reprint, Notre Dame, IN: Dumb Ox Books, 1995), 1.3.55.

(52.) This distinction between things to be used and things to be enjoyed, and the concomitant preference for the intrinsic value of the latter in light of their transcendent nature, is central to the Augustinian Christian worldview; see On Christian Doctrine, trans. D.W. Robertson, Jr. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997), Book I, esp. chapter 38: "Between temporal and eternal things there is this difference: a temporal thing is loved more before we have it, and begins to grow worthless when we gain it, for it does not satisfy the soul, whose true and certain rest is eternity; but the eternal is more ardently loved when it is acquired than when it is merely desired."

(53.) This is the source of the critical distinction between servile and liberal arts: the liberal arts are reflective of the transcendent nature of man, while the servile arts in one way or another are limited to our animality inasmuch as technological creations are made to service our needs for survival. This distinction is examined at length in Yves R. Simon's Work, Society, and Culture, ed. by Vukan Kuic (New York: Fordham University Press, 1971), who says anything we produce because we have to is a work of legal fulfillment, while things made for their own sake are acts of free development.

Josef Pieper points out the great irony of the modern industrial age is to reduce society to a "world of total work," in which all creation is subject to utilitarian standards and so nothing is an end in itself. In this way, there is no transcendence or freedom in what we do; this kind of work can never express freedom. While it is easy to see the cynical degeneracy of the National Socialist use of the motto "Arbeit macht frei" in enslaving people, Pieper points out that both communist and capitalist societies essentially embrace the same ethos; see Leisure, the Basis of Culture, trans. Gerald Malsbary (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine's Press, 1998).

(54.) The vast difference between the two kinds of production is nicely illustrated by Chesterton's comment that while all primates use tools, the act of a child drawing a monkey is the most commonplace of sights but a monkey drawing a child is utterly unprecedented.

(55.) "Concerning the Teacher," tr. by G.C. Leckie in The Basic Writings of Saint Augustine, Volume 1, ed. Whitney J. Oates (New York: Random House, 1948), 394, a point that ought to be heeded by academics in all eras.

(56.) This clearly illustrates the absurdity of Voltaire's method of judging poetry by translating it into prose: the purpose of poetry is not to communicate truth, but to grace truth with the affective power of beauty; see Gilson, Form and Substance in the Arts, 216.

(57.) See Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 19-30; cf. Umberto Eco, The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, trans. Hugh Bredin (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), 64-121.

(58.) Republic IV (439e5-440a5).

(59.) Maritain makes this point in contrasting art as a virtue with the poetic impulse which is perfect by that virtue: "My contention is that in science and in art the creativity of the spirit is not free--I don't mean, of course, in the sense that. it does not enjoy the spontaneity of the most autonomous life of which man is capable--I mean in the quite precise sense that in science and in art the creativity of the spirit is subordinate to an object, which holds command and mastery. Science has an object, which is infinite: Being to conquer. ... Art, also, has an object, which is finite and enclosed in a genus: the work to be made. ... But poetry has no object. And that's why, in poetry, the creativity of the spirit is free creativity" (Creative Intuition, 129-30).

(60.) Gilson argues that there can be no beauty without intelligence: "Is art possible without intelligibility? In keeping with what we have said about art in general, our answer to this question can only be in the negative. If artistic beauty is an intelligible entity posited in sensible apprehension, the beautiful would disappear with the intelligible, and since intelligibility offers itself to the sensibility only as form, without it artistic beauty would disappear" (Form and Substance in the Arts, 161).

(61.) This is Thomas's definition of beauty in ST 1:
 Beauty and goodness in a thing are identical fundamentally;
 for they are based upon the same thing, namely, the form; and
 consequently goodness is praised as beauty. But they differ
 logically, for goodness properly relates to the appetite (goodness
 being what all things desire); and therefore it has the aspect of
 an end (the appetite being a kind of movement towards a thing).
 On the other hand, beauty relates to the cognitive faculty; for
 beautiful things are those which please when seen. Hence beauty
 consists in due proportion; for the senses delight in things duly
 proportioned, as in what is after their own kind--because even
 sense is a sort of reason, just as is every cognitive faculty.
 Now since knowledge is by assimilation, and similarity relates to
 form, beauty properly belongs to the nature of a formal cause.

(62.) Josef Pieper, Happiness and Contemplation, 85. This recognition of beauty as a sign of divine goodness is an important element of Augustine's metaphysics; see, e.g., Sermon 241.2.

(63.) Maritain, Creative Intuition, 141 and 145; cf. Gilson, The Arts of the Beautiful, 119-23, where he says that modern artists have so rejected the objectivity of being that they are not even like a Platonic Demiurge, since their creativity is utterly unlimited in freedom and so has no constraints of beauty or intelligibility. This theme of the dehumanization of art in the forgetfulness of beauty is also picked up by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) in In the Beginning: A Catholic Understanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall, trans. Boniface Ramsey, OP (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 67-71.

(64.) Gilson, Form and Substance in the Arts, 195-96: "Whoever says art means technique, and since the means necessary to create beauty must first be acquired as though they themselves were the end of art, they tend to replace it everywhere. It is then that the virtuoso appears, excellent in himself and necessary because virtuosity is the freedom to create beauty. Left to itself it ends up by substituting the perfection of the means of execution to that of the work."

(65.) Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, 58.

(66.) Ibid., 26.

(67.) "Can we conceive of any human activity which is not presided over by a virtue, or of a human operation which is not finally conducted, judges and regulated by the intellect?" (Gilson, Form and Substance in the Arts, 9-10).

(68.) As Hans Urs von Balthasar says, "Truth, goodness, and beauty are transcendental attributes of being, so much so that they can only be understood in one another and through one another. Together they prove the inexhaustible depth and overflowing richness of being." Cited in John Saward, The Beauty of Holiness and the Holiness of Beauty: Art, Sanctity and the Truth of Catholicism (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1997), 25, n. 12.

(69.) John Paul II, Homily at Camden Yard, Baltimore, MD, October 8, 1995.
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Author:Jacobs, James M.
Publication:Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture
Date:Jan 1, 2010
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