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Thomas Aquinas, Josef Seifert, and the metaphysics of respecting persons.

I. Introduction

Jacques Maritain once quipped that "nothing can be more remote from the facts than the belief that 'personalism' is one school or doctrine," as some personalist philosophies "have nothing more in common than the term 'person.'" (1) Nevertheless, there are at least several distinguishing features of any genuinely personalist philosophy: a belief in the unbridgeable divide between persons and nonpersons, and in the inalienable dignity of the former; an emphasis on a person's incommunicability or uniqueness; a defense of the "personalist norm," which states that persons ought to be affirmed for their own sake (or ought never to be treated merely as means to an end); and, finally, the rejection of any political system that subordinates a person to the social whole or, conversely, that marginalizes a person's obligations toward the common good. (2)

If these are accurate standards for identifying a personalist system or thinker, then St. Thomas Aquinas appears to be a paradigmatic personalist, at least at first glance. He certainly thinks that the difference between persons and nonpersons is a difference in kind, not degree. (3) He also defends the inherent dignity of persons by arguing that the term "person" refers to "what is most perfect in all of nature." (4) Further, he thinks that a person is incommunicable or radically unique because she is individuated in part through her freely performed actions. (5) With respect to how we ought to treat persons, he says that a person ought to be loved with the love of friendship, which involves willing the good of a person for that person's own sake. (6) And, finally, Aquinas states that a human person, as a member of the species Homo sapiens, must at times subordinate her good for the sake of the common good; however, this does not make her a mere part within a whole, because she is willed by God for her own sake (or as an end in herself). (7)

True, Aquinas does not give us a systematic or complete personalism, but (according to the above criteria) he certainly seems to be a personalist thinker. Karol Wojtyia goes so far as to argue that a broadly Thomistic anthropology and ethics are necessary for grounding an adequate personalism. And he makes this argument despite criticizing Aquinas for failing to explore personal subjectivity and lived experience. In sum, Wojtyia focuses on what he takes to be missing in Aquinas's account of the person, but he affirms and defends its underlying metaphysical principles. (8)

Josef Seifert, however, offers a different kind of critique in his "Personalism and Personalisms," one that questions the suitability of Aquinas's principles for grounding an adequate personalism. His central argument is that Aquinas's account of the good is incompatible with the respect owed to persons--because Aquinas thinks that something is good only in relation to an appetite, a person can be good for another, but not in himself. In what follows, I argue that Seifert's critique fails because he misreads Aquinas's metaethical claims. In particular, he fails to appreciate Aquinas's understanding of the ecstatic (or "other-directed") nature of being and goodness. If my interpretation of Aquinas is correct, then his metaphysical principles can ground the proper respect owed to persons. They are, in fact, ideal for doing so. I conclude by suggesting that Seifert's own account of the good needlessly creates a divide between a person and his desires, and thereby creates problems for his account of moral motivation.

II. Seifert on Aquinas as a Personalist Thinker

Seifert does acknowledge that personalism owes a genuine debt to Aquinas: "St. Thomas is in a great many respects not only a personalist thinker, but even a true model of a personalist metaphysician." (9) As I noted earlier, however, he thinks that Aquinas's understanding of goodness precludes the possibility of affirming a person for her own sake, which is the only appropriate response to the dignity of personhood. Instead, Aquinas can only account for self-interested love, or loving another insofar as she contributes to one's happiness.

Seifert prefaces his argument by listing what he takes to be the essential tenets of an adequate personalism. When it comes to the treatment of persons, Seifert notes that at the core of personalist ethics we find the following principle: persona est affirmanda propter seipsam, or, persons ought to be affirmed for their own sake. (10) This principle (which we may call the "personalist norm") is a "final ethical breakthrough," and one that must inform any truly personalist philosophy. In fact, "any hedonism, eudemonism, and other ethical systems which fail to express clearly the possibility of a response to a person in virtue of her inner preciousness and for her own sake fail to do justice to the person," and this includes any broadly Aristotelian or Thomistic ethical theory. (11) Why does Seifert think this? He begins with a claim about the true nature of goodness: "There is first a general metaphysical and axiological requirement for an authentic philosophy of the person, namely the nature of the good itself. Authentic personalism rests on the general metaphysical-axiological foundation that the character of bonum (and therefore also the value and dignity of persons) characterizes beings intrinsically!'12 We can distinguish that which is intrinsically good (or that which has "objective value") from that which is objectively good for persons (e.g., goods like health and knowledge), and from that which is merely subjectively satisfying (or good in the sense that it is desired by some particular agent). Here Seifert is following the general schema of the good laid out by Dietrich von Hildebrand. (13) He then turns to Aquinas's account of the good:
   Now, in Thomas's theory that the good (the bonum) is a
   transcendental property of being only ad aliud, in relation to
   appetitus, and not in se (as essence and esse ... are according to
   Thomas's De Veritate), Thomas must also explain our relationship to
   the goodness of God and of other persons in terms of their
   relationship to the appetitus, to their fulfilling our inclinations
   and appetitus. This idea also gives rise to eudemonism: it fails to
   provide the general axiological and metaphysical background for
   understanding the love of other persons for their own sake which we
   have recognized as the very backbone of personalist ethics. (14)

In other words, for Aquinas no being is good in itself, but only insofar as it satisfies some appetite or desire, and a person is no exception--he is not good in himself, but only insofar as he contributes to the attainment of another's happiness. On this interpretation, Aquinas undermines his own account of the love of friendship, because if a person is not intrinsically good then he can only be loved as a means to satisfying some desire, and not as an end in himself.

Seifert suggests that within this framework even God becomes an object of use. (15) If nothing is intrinsically good (or worthy of love, adoration, or respect for its own sake), but only good in relation to some appetite, then this is true even of God, the highest good. God is good only insofar as he can bring about our happiness, and thus we are in principle incapable of adoring or praising God simply for his own sake. Aquinas, of course, certainly holds that God is both our final end and worthy of adoration, but Seifert thinks that he lacks the metaphysical underpinnings that justify adoration.

I am sympathetic to Seifert's concerns. I, too, have worried that prioritizing happiness as an ethical concept risks bringing into any human relationship, and perhaps even into our relationship with the Divine, an element of use incompatible with the dignity of personhood. In the Nicomachean Ethics, for example, though Aristotle says that true friends love one another for their own sake, he seems to suggest that the primary reason for having friends is the contribution they make to our happiness. (16) Without friends, I cannot form certain virtues, and therefore I cannot be an excellent human being, and therefore I cannot be happy. And if God is our final end and source of happiness, is it not the case, then, that I praise, worship, and adore God only because such things are necessary for me to be happy?

However, the more I read Aquinas, the more I am convinced that these concerns are unfounded. Keeping in mind Seifert's claim that a relational account of goodness precludes intrinsic goods (or objective values), let us turn to what Aquinas has to say on the nature of goodness.

III. Aquinas on the Nature of Goodness

Aquinas does not think that goodness is distinct from being; rather, goodness is being understood as desirable or perfective, or being understood as able to bring about a thing's flourishing. (17) Because of God's providential ordering of the universe, all things are typically inclined toward their proper good by virtue of their natural inclinations. Human beings are able to pursue their good by virtue of rational assessment, meaning that they can freely pursue some end that they have judged to be good (whether or not it is actually good is another matter, but at the very least it has been perceived and judged as good in some way). (18)

So it is quite true that Aquinas defines the good in relation to appetite, as Seifert emphasizes. However, what Seifert fails to appreciate is Aquinas's assertion that something can be truly perfective only if it is itself perfect or actual: "Each thing is said to be good in so far as it is perfect, for only then is it desirable." (19) Aquinas's point here is that something is capable of perfecting another only insofar as it is perfect itself, or only insofar as it is actual according to the kind of being that it is. As Andrew Dell'Olio explains, "Even when good connotes something that is perfective of another, that thing's desirability stems from its own perfection, its own fullness of being or state of self-actualization." (20) We might put this a different way. For Aquinas, a thing is good insofar as it is perfect, and it is perfect insofar as it is a fully developed instance of its kind. And something that is complete in its kind can be perfective of another. (21)

For our purposes, there are useful parallels between Aquinas's understanding of being as good and his understanding of being as true. Truth and falsity are typically associated with the mind, as we apply these terms to judgments that either do or do not correspond to reality, and Aquinas agrees that "truth resides primarily in the intellect." But he also thinks that truth resides secondarily in things ("All existing things, namely, all real objects outside the soul, possess something intrinsic that allows us to call them true"), as the intellect can only make true claims about reality if things themselves are intrinsically intelligible or knowable. (22) We call a being true because it is constituted or structured in such a way that it can be grasped by a mind, and ultimately because its form conforms to the divine idea that serves as its exemplary cause: "For a stone is called true, which possesses the nature proper to a stone, according to the preconception in the divine intellect." (23) Aquinas's conception of truth, then, is relational insofar as a thing is called true because it is known (or potentially known) by some mind, but that thing's intelligibility is grounded in its intrinsic constitution. Josef Pieper explains this point nicely: "It belongs to the inherent nature of any existing thing that its essential form (by which a thing is what it is) is actually or potentially 'received' by a knowing self; and further, that any thing's essence, thus 'received,' is actually or potentially owned, even absorbed, by the knowing mind." (24) Similarly, a thing is called good insofar as it perfects (or can perfect) some other thing, but its goodness or ability to perfect is grounded in its intrinsic constitution.

Seifert is wrong, then, to suggest that Aquinas has no account of intrinsic goodness, for his entire understanding of the good's relationship to appetite is predicated upon the claim that what is perfective of another must be perfect in itself. Consider interpersonal relationships. True, I can (and certainly do) view persons as a means to attaining happiness. I seek friends because I want people to assist me in my struggles, comfort me in my sorrows, and share in my joys. However, one can do this for me only by virtue of her intrinsic goodness or perfection, or only insofar as she has certain properties that make her flourish, regardless of any contributions she might make to my own flourishing. Now, every human person has an intrinsic goodness simply by virtue of her rational nature, and this is what grounds the personalistic norm, but we can also speak of moral dignity, or the goodness a person has by virtue of being morally righteous. (25) And the more virtuous a person is, the better a friend she can be, which is precisely why Aristotle says that true friendship only occurs between the virtuous. If a person lacks courage, or prudence, or temperance, she will not be a good friend. (26) And if a person is indeed intrinsically good, then I can affirm her as such.

IV. From Intrinsic Goodness to Ecstatic Desire

If my interpretation of Aquinas is correct, then I have done much to undermine Seifert's overall critique of Aquinas, which rests in large part on Aquinas's inability to account for intrinsic goods. One might respond, however, that even if Aquinas can account for intrinsic goods, there is still no room in his philosophy for the personalistic norm. For if happiness is my final end or highest good, which Aquinas holds, then it seems that I still cannot affirm a person for her own sake, even if she is an intrinsic good, because everything I do is for the sake of my own happiness. There appears to be an incompatibility between my desire for happiness and my desire to love another for her own sake. This is, in fact, the position that Seifert takes, and the reason he rejects happiness as either the "fundamental motive" or "final end" of morality. (27)

Now I will turn to Aquinas's account of human desire and argue that Seifert misreads him here, as well. For Aquinas, human desires are not inherently self-directed, but rather ecstatic or other-directed. Because the good is diffusive of self, and persons are the most perfect beings found in nature, then, as persons, our higher-order desires are outgoing, or directed toward the good of others, rather than consumptive. Paradoxically, we find our fulfillment in the disinterested service of others, and thus there is no conflict between my desire for happiness, and my ability to love a person for her own sake.

V. Aquinas on the Nature of Human Desire

In his discussion of happiness, Seifert displays what seems to me a curiously myopic understanding of human desires. Or perhaps I should say that he holds a curiously Kantian understanding, according to which desires are detachable, in a sense, from the person. Aquinas's understanding of human desires is decidedly un-Kantian, however, and here I think that we owe a great debt to Graham McAleer, who, in his Ecstatic Morality and Sexual Politics, clears up much of the confusion surrounding Aquinas's views on human desires (and especially his views on sensuality).

McAleer suggests that to understand what Aquinas has to say on this topic, we must keep in mind two important Thomistic theses: I) the human soul and body are in natural harmony with one another because they are related as form and matter, and 2) that which is good is diffusive of self, or communicates its goodness to others, and this applies in a special way to persons.

V. i. Harmony of Rational and Bodily Desires

I turn first to the natural harmony of soul and body. Aquinas identifies the soul as the formal principle of the individual human being and the body as the material principle. Because they relate to each other as two coprinciples, and not as two distinct things, there is an intimate union between the soul and body. As the structuring principle, the soul completely permeates the body and determines it to be the kind of body that it is, just as the form of a chair is the very structure by which a chair is a chair. As a result, all human desires, including sensuality or sense desires, are specified by the soul as form. (28)

This means that there is a harmony and hierarchy to our desires, and therefore no intrinsic conflict between our sense desires and our rational desires. Granted, Aquinas is quick to acknowledge that vice can create a discord between sensuality and reason, and so often the former rebels against the latter. (29) But it is important to note that he does not see this as the natural state of things. (30) This is why he describes reason's rule over sensuality as a political rule, rather than a despotic rule. (31) Though subject to the authority of rulers, citizens in a polity are free and have legitimate interests of their own. These interests do not conflict with the overall good of the state, but instead contribute to its flourishing. The rulers are obligated to dialogue with their subjects in order to determine the best way to achieve the common good while respecting individual rights. In contrast, a slave has no (legal) rights and is completely subservient to the will of his masters. In comparing sensuality to a free citizen, Aquinas is implying that the goods of the sense appetites are legitimate ("the sensitive power has something of its own"); therefore, reason ought to respect these goods as contributing to the overall flourishing of the person. Like the rulers of a polity, reason's job is to guide and persuade the sense appetites, which are naturally suited to such guidance, rather than violently oppose their inclinations, as masters oppose the desires of slaves.

Now, consider a different model, one that assumes a strong divide between the rational and bodily elements of human nature. Such a metaphysical division prohibits any natural harmony between rational and bodily desires; the two can achieve union only through the despotic rule of reason over the senses. We might associate such an anthropology with Descartes or Kant, but McAleer points out that Aquinas's own student, Giles of Rome, embraced this position, because he thought that "matter as a principium whose potentiality is utterly ordered to form has too little metaphysical character to avoid simply being absorbed in to the actuality of form." (32)

Much more could be said on Aquinas's understanding of the body and its relationship to the soul, but what I have outlined is sufficient for the purposes of this article. Now let us turn to Aquinas's principle that the good is diffusive of self.

V.2 Human Desire as Ecstatic Aquinas thinks that all being is good, and that it is an essential characteristic of the good to be diffusive of self, or to communicate its goodness to another. We might describe being, then, as naturally ecstatic or other-directed, and at the higher levels of being we see a greater capacity for such ecstatic movement: "The better a thing is, the more does it diffuse its goodness to remote beings." (33) Regardless, all being is active and communicative in some way, that is, it manifests itself either by going out toward others or producing others like itself. Norris Clarke suggests that if all being is active or diffusive of self, then it necessarily follows that all being is relational, "for if a being naturally flows over into self-communicating action toward others, and also receives from them, then it cannot help but generate a network of relations with all its recipients." (34)

This ecstatic movement is found in addition to a being's natural inclination toward its own good: "For natural things have a natural inclination not only toward their own proper good, to acquire it, if not possessed, and if possessed, to rest therein; but also to diffuse their own goodness among others as far as possible. Hence we see that every agent, insofar as it exists in act and possesses some perfection, produces something similar to itself." (35) I think it's important to note that Aquinas does not see a thing's inclination to its own good and its inclination to another's good as mutually exclusive. Nor does he subordinate the one to the other. He does not say, for example, that a being is inclined to diffuse its goodness insofar as this is necessary to achieve its own good. Instead, he portrays these inclinations as dual desires or inclinations found to varying degrees in all beings. We especially see an inclination to communicate goodness in rational beings, and, of course, this is eminently true of God: "It pertains, therefore, to the nature of the will to communicate to others as far as possible the good possessed; and especially does this pertain to the divine will, from which all perfection is derived in some kind of likeness. Hence if natural things, insofar as they are perfect, communicate their goodness to others, much more does it pertain to the divine will to communicate by likeness its own goodness to others as far as possible." (36) If all good is diffusive of self, and God is goodness itself, then God is diffusive of self in an exemplary way. And this is the very foundation of the Christian understanding of creation: God's creative act is an utterly gratuitous act by which he creates things that share in (and imperfectly imitate) his being and goodness, because his essence is the very model by which he creates. (37)

In sum, because all creatures imitate God, who as highest good is diffusive of self in an exemplary way, then we too are ecstatic beings. In fact, as persons we are paradigmatically ecstatic, and this becomes clear in how Aquinas depicts the four-fold hierarchy of human desires. (38) Our lowest and least ecstatic desire is the inclination to self-preservation, which we share in common with all beings. This involves taking in nourishment by converting the other into the self. Next, we desire those goods that pertain to our animal nature, the most notable being the inclination to procreate and to care for one's offspring. (39) At this level we find a clear ecstatic orientation toward another, as parents are responsible for serving the children whom they bring into existence. At the third level of human desire we find uniquely rational desires, like the desire to live in society, and now the other appears to us in a political sense, as one to whom we owe respect and consideration in order that communal life might be possible. As Aquinas says, one ought "to avoid offending those among whom one has to live." (40) In addition to our desire for communal life, Aquinas mentions reason's desire to know truth, and ultimately to know God as the source of all truth. (41) Because Aquinas thinks that knowledge involves a union between the knower and the known, he states that the blessed are united with God in an act of understanding, and they are transformed by this union. (42) The movement from least ecstatic desire to most ecstatic is now complete: "The appetite for self-conservation which reduces all objects to itself is reversed in the appetite for the visio dei: a natural centeredness on self is constantly being absorbed and transformed by an ecstatic other-centeredness." (43)

VI. Aquinas's Metaphysical Principles and the Respect Owed to Persons

I am now in a position to argue that in persons the desire to communicate goodness (or to seek the good of others) takes priority over the desire for one's own good. This might seem like an extraordinary claim, given the selfishness and narcissism we find in the world today. And yet, I think it can be defended if exemplarism does, in fact, ground teleology, or if our participation in and imitation of God's goodness accounts for our natural inclinations. On Aquinas's existential account of the good, we are called to imitate God's diffusiveness as best we can. And this, I think, means striving insofar as possible to make a distinterested gift of self, to seek the true good of the other regardless of any concern for the self. Against Seifert, then, it strikes me that Aquinas's metaethical principles very much account for the respect we owe to persons and for our capacity to respond to the incommunicable value of each person.

To make a disinterested gift of self does not mean that one should give zero consideration to her own desires or well-being. And here is where I think that Karol Wojtyia's phenomenological reflections on interpersonal relationships are invaluable. Consider, for example, his analysis of sensuality, and specifically his analysis of the sexual urge. We can certainly understand the sexual urge strictly at the biological level, but Wojtyia suggests that at the personal level this urge reveals an existential incompleteness in the one desiring. In light of her attractive qualities, for example, I might see a particular woman as good for me, as one who can make up for what I lack, and for whom I might do the same. Now, it's true that sensuality is directed to the singular and inclined to convert the other to the self, not literally (as in the case with food), but insofar as the other appears purely as a potential object for enjoyment. As Wojtyia puts it, "Sensuality in itself has a 'consumer orientation'--it is directed primarily and immediately towards a 'body': it touches the person only indirectly, and tends to avoid genuine contact." (44) In itself this is not a bad thing, but simply the natural inclination of a bodily appetite considered in isolation from the person whose appetite it is. Recall, however, Aquinas's claim that the body is entirely structured by the soul, just as all matter, being the principle of potentiality, is structured by form, the principle of actuality. As a result, all of our desires are accounted for by the rational soul. Recall, as well, Aquinas's claim that as the most perfect beings in all of nature, persons are the most ecstatic or other-directed. Thus, sensuality will only find true fulfillment insofar as it takes on a nonconsuming other-directed orientation, which is possible in light of its natural tendency to accept the guidance and persuasion of reason.

In general, our lived experience tells us that genuine love is impossible in any personal relationship if the other is viewed merely as a means to satisfy one's own desires, even though the lover does hope that the beloved will contribute to his happiness. Along with Seifert, then, we can and should acknowledge that love demands seeing others as good or precious apart from any contributions they might make to our happiness. Given the Thomistic framework I have outlined above, we can also acknowledge that there is no inherent incompatibility between one's altruistic tendencies and one's legitimate self-interests; and, paradoxically, that in making a disinterested gift of self we attain our own happiness or flourishing, because we more fully actualize our ecstatic nature.

If my interpretation of Aquinas is correct, there is no conflict between my good and the good of the other, for both are achieved simultaneously. Aquinas gives the metaphysical framework in which to solve Sidgwick's worry over the "dualism of practical reason," or the apparent irreconcilability between practical reason's inclinations toward self-interest and general benevolence. (45) There is no problem to worry over, as a sufficient analysis of being and personhood shows.

VII. Concluding Remarks

Though I lack the space to develop this point at length, I will conclude by suggesting that Seifert's own positive account of goodness and desire leads to an incoherent moral psychology. In particular, he needlessly creates a strong divide between a person and his desires, which is a very Kantian move, and like Kant, he runs into problems explaining moral motivation. For example, I simply cannot make sense of Seifert's clear moral exhortation to respect persons without some sort of agent-relative desire at work here, like the desire to be morally righteous, or the desire to give to beings the kind of respect owed to them by virtue of what they are. Aquinas's account of desire rests on a self-evident claim: human action is incoherent unless we presume some sort of desire for a certain end/ good, whatever that might be. He then argues that all of our ends are subordinate to the final end of happiness. (46) But, as I have tried to show, happiness, or excellent human activity, includes acting on our ecstatic inclinations to respect and bring about the good of others.


(1.) Jacques Maritain, The Person and the Common Good, trans. John J. Fitzgerald (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002), 12-13.

(2.) Maritain observes that personalism arose in response to two opposing errors in social philosophy: collectivism (the belief in the sovereignty of the state) and individualism (the belief in the sovereignty of the individual). See his introduction to The Person and the Common Good. For an overview of the history of personalism, see Thomas D. Williams, Who Is My Neighbor? Personalism and the Foundations of Human Rights (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2005), 110- 17, and Emmanuel Mourner's introduction to his Personalism, trans. Philip Mairet (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1989).

(3.) Aquinas discusses personhood in his writings on the Divine Trinity, for example, in I, q. 29 of his Summa Theologiae, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (NewYork: Benziger Brothers, 1947). In general, Aquinas accepts Boethius's definition of a person as an "individual substance of a rational nature," though he modifies this definition when applying it to the Divine Persons. See Joseph Koterski, SJ, "Boethius and the Concept of Person," American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 78, no. 2 (2004). With respect to rationality, Aquinas thinks that rational activity is distinct in kind from sense activity, because the former is the operation of the intellect alone, while the latter depends upon particular sense organs. Nonhuman animals, because they lack a rational soul, are in no way personal. See ST I, q. 75, a. 2--3.

(4.) ST I, q. 29, a. 3.

(5.) ST I, q. 29, a. 1: "Further still, in a more special and perfect way, the particular and the individual are found in the rational substances which have dominion over their own actions; and which are not only made to act, like others; but which can act of themselves; for actions belong to singulars. Therefore also the individuals of the rational nature have a special name even among other substances; and this name is person."

(6.) STI-II, q. 28, a. 1: "When a man loves another with the love of friendship, he wills good to him, just as he wills good to himself: wherefore he apprehends him as his other self, in so far, to wit, as he wills good to him as to himself."

(7.) Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book III: Providence, trans. Vernon J. Bourke (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975), ch. 112, para. 3: "The intellectual nature is the only one that is required in the universe, for its own sake, while all others are for its sake."

(8.) One can find Wojtyla's reflections on the personalist project, and on Aquinas as a personalist thinker, in (among other places) his "Thomistic Personalism" and "Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Being," both of which appear in Person and Community: Selected Essays, trans. Theresa Sandok, OSM (NewYork: Peter Lang, 1993).

(9.) Josef Seifert, "Personalism and Personalisms," in Ethical Personalism, ed. Cheikh Mbacke Gueye (Frankfurt: Ontos Verlag, 2012), 180.

(10.) Ibid., 169-70.

(11.) Ibid., 169.

(12.) Ibid., 175.

(13.) See Dietrich von Hildebrand, Ethics (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, I978), esp. chs. 1-3, 17-18.

(14.) Seifert, "Personalism and Personalisms," 175-76.

(15.) Ibid., 178-79.

(16.) Aristotle begins his treatise on friendship by listing various reasons why people develop friendships, reasons which are all agent-relative: "For without friends no one would choose to live, though he had all other goods; even rich men and those in possession of office and of dominating power are thought to need friends most of all; for what is the use of such prosperity without the opportunity of beneficence, which is exercised chiefly and in its most laudable form towards friends? Or how can prosperity be guarded and preserved without friends? The greater it is, the more exposed is it to risk. And in poverty and other misfortunes men think friends the only refuge. It helps the young, too, to keep from error; it aids older people by ministering to their needs.... Those in the prime of life it stimulates to noble actions." See Nicomachean Ethics, trans. W. D. Ross, in The BasicWorks of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon (NewYork: Random House, 1941), bk. 8, ch. i.

(17.) ST I, q. 5.

(18.) Aquinas's account of how we discover the true goods of our nature can be found in his discussion of the natural law in ST I-II, q. 94. Humans are not unique in having innate inclinations toward their proper goods, but they are unique in their ability to understand and pursue these goods, and thus Aquinas describes the natural law as humanity's unique participation in the eternal law.

(19.) ST I, q. 5, a. 5.

(20.) Andrew J. Dell'Olio, Foundations of Moral Selfhood: Aquinas on Divine Goodness and the Connection of theVirtues (NewYork: Peter Lang, 2003), 44.

(21.) See Jan Aertsen, "The Goodness of Being and Good in St. Thomas Aquinas," The New Scholasticism 59: 449-70.

(22.) Thomas Aquinas, Questiones Disputatae deVeritate, trans. RobertW. Mulligan, SJ (Chi cago: Henry Regnery Company, 1952), I, 5, ad. 2.

(23.) ST I, q. 16, a. 2. For a fine introduction to Aquinas's theory of the divine ideas, see Gregory T. Doolan, Aquinas on the Divine Ideas as Exemplar Causes (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America, 2008).

(24.) Josef Pieper, "The Truth of All Things," trans. Lothar Krauth, in Living the Truth (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, I989), 37.

(25.) J. Brian Benestad argues that human dignity is both a permanent possession and a goal to be achieved. See ch. 1 of his Church, State, and Society: An Introduction to Catholic Social Doctrine (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2011).

(26.) In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle observes that though friendship is not a requirement of justice, as friendship is not owed to anyone, justice is a necessary condition for friendship, for if one is unjust then one cannot be a true friend. And in a very real sense one cannot be just without having the other moral virtues, as one lacking temperance or courage will eventually fail in the demands of justice. This is why Aristotle describes justice as "universal" or "complete" virtue. See Nicomachean Ethics, bk. V, ch. I.

(27.) Seifert, "Personalism and Personalisms," 177.

(28.) G. J. McAleer, Ecstatic Morality and Sexual Politics (New York: Fordham University Press, 2005), 9-10.

(29.) See ST I-II, q. 9, a. 2.

(30.) See McAleer, Ecstatic Morality and Sexual Politics, 37: "For Thomas, there is no fundamental antagonism within human nature, even after the Fall. That the sensitive appetites are said to be like free persons in contrast to the body, which is said to be a slave, means that it cannot be Thomas's position that the removal of integrity necessitates the rebellion of the senses: Thomas talks of the natural operations of the senses and intellect--as well as the contraries in the body--being at variance with one another in some circumstances." A bad habit, for example, might incline me to eat more than I know to be reasonable, but this is an acquired disposition rather than a natural inclination.

(31.) ST I, q. 81, a. 3, ad. 2: "The soul is said to rule the body by a despotic power, because the members of the body cannot in any way resist the sway of the soul.... But the intellect or reason is said to move the irascible and concupiscible by a politic power: because the sensitive power has something of its own, by virtue whereof it can resist the commands of reason."

(32.) McAleer, Ecstatic Morality and Sexual Politics, 10.

(33.) ScG III, c. 24, para. 8.

(34.) W. Norris Clarke, SJ, Person and Being (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press,

(35.) ST I, q. 19, a. 2.

(36.) Ibid.

(37.) For a helpful overview of the development of the Christian understanding of creation, see Joseph Koterski, SJ, An Introduction to Medieval Philosophy: Basic Concepts (New York: Wilely-Blackwell, 2008), esp. chs. 3 and 6.

(38.) See McAleer, Ecstatic Morality and Sexual Politics, 19. Aquinas discusses the hierarchy of basic human desires in several places, perhaps the most well-known being within the context of his discussion of the natural law. There he argues that reflecting on our natural inclinations or desires allows us to discover the true goods of our nature, which in turn allows us to formulate the secondary precepts of the natural law, for example, to seek knowledge and avoid ignorance. See ST I-II, q. 94, a. 2. Aquinas also discusses human desires while reflecting on the state of the blessed in the beatific vision. See ScGIII, ch. 63. There he argues that all of our desires, including our sense desires, will be satisfied in our final union with God.

(39.) See ScG III, ch. 63, para. 2; ST I-II, q. 94, a. 2.

(40.) ST I-II, q. 94, a. 2.

(41.) ScG III, ch. 63: "For there is in man, in so far as he is intellectual, one type of desire, concerned with the knowledge of truth; indeed, men seek to fulfill this desire by the effort of the contemplative life. And this will clearly be fulfilled in that vision, when, through the vision of the First Truth, all that the intellect naturally desires to know becomes known to it."

(42.) Because Aquinas thinks that knowledge occurs in accordance with the being of that which knows, humans naturally know only essences instantiated in matter. To know God, who is immaterial and identical with his own essence and existence, we need God's assistance. In the beatific vision, God serves as the very form by which the intellect understands. See ScG III, ch. 52.

(43.) McAleer, Ecstatic Morality and Sexual Politics, 24.

(44.) Karol Wojtyia, Love and Responsibility, trans. H. T. Willetts (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993), 105.

(45.) In the concluding chapter of The Methods of Ethics, Sidgwick writes that even if one takes as self-evident the moral precept that we should seek the good of others in a disinterested manner, "He may still hold that his own happiness is an end which it is irrational for him to sacrifice to any other; and that therefore a harmony between the maxim of Prudence and the Maxim of Rational Benevolence must be somehow demonstrated, if morality is to be made completely rational." Shortly after, Sidgwick concludes that such a demonstration is impossible, and practical reason remains in a sense "divided against itself." Thus, conflicts between self-interest and duty "would have to be decided by the comparative preponderance of one or other of two groups of non-rational impulses." See the concluding chapter of The Methods of Ethics (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1981), esp. [section]1 and [section]5.

(46.) ST I-II, q. 1 and 2.
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Author:Kucharski, Paul
Publication:Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 22, 2014
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