Cooperation in evil and Thomas Aquinas’s understanding of justice

AdobeStock_144823529.jpeg

We’re presenting a short series of abstracts of the work-in-progress our scholars presented and discussed at their June 2017 Working Group Meeting.

Kevin Flannery, S.J., is Professor of the History of Ancient Philosophy, Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

As the participants in our seminar may recall, I am writing a book on the ethics of cooperation in evil. At an earlier meeting of the seminar, I discussed some of the problems contained in the treatment of such cooperation as found in the manuals of Catholic moral theology of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. On that occasion, I expressed agreement with Elizabeth Anscombe’s criticism of that tradition as vitiated by what she calls “Cartesian psychology,” according to which “an intention was an interior act of the mind which could be produced at will.” I also expressed then a preference for an analysis in terms rather of Thomas’s Aquinas’s understanding of the moral virtue of justice. In my presentation, I would like describe how I understand this virtue and how it helps us to determine when a person’s—or indeed an institution’s or a government’s—cooperation is immoral. This will involve an explanation of how justice, according to Thomas, stands in relation to the other virtues, especially prudence. It will also involve an account of how justice, which is a virtue of the will, bears upon the consciences of individuals.

VIDEO: Stephen Brock, “Thomas Aquinas, the Bearer of Practical Truth, and the Rationality of Action”

Stephen Brock, Holy Cross University – “Thomas Aquinas, the Bearer of Practical Truth, and the Rationality of Action” at the workshop Practical Truth: Reflections on the Aristotelian Tradition, April 21-22, 2017.

Interpreters of what Aristotle calls practical truth differ about what its bearer is or what it is properly said of.  As a result, they also differ about the distinction between practical and theoretical truth.  It is generally agreed that the bearer of theoretical truth is an assertion or a judgment about some matter, and that such truth consists in the judgment’s describing the matter correctly.  But while some hold that the same account applies to practical truth, others hold that its bearer is an action, and that what it consists in is the action’s conformity with right desire.  Thomas Aquinas thinks the bearer of practical truth is a judgment.  In this paper I present his position, consider some objections on behalf of the opposing view, and suggest what he would think is at stake the issue.

 

VIDEO: Fr. Stephen Brock, “Aquinas and the Life of the Mind”

Philosopher Stephen Brock gave the talk “Aquinas and the Life of the Mind” on Friday, May 12, 2017 at the University of Chicago.

Saint Thomas Aquinas regards mind, or intellect, as a form of life. It is even the most perfect form, he says, because it carries the power of free choice. Yet we may wonder how free he thinks we really are. For he insists that our mind’s life depends, intimately, on a cause outside itself. But on his view, freedom of choice would not even make sense without this cause; and our lives are fullest, and freest, when we focus more on it than on ourselves. This is to follow the mind’s deepest urge, which is toward that rather neglected virtue called wisdom.

Stephen Brock (Pontifical University of Santa Croce) is Professor of Medieval Philosophy, Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome. He earned a B.A. in Philosophy at the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto. Brock writes widely on Thomas Aquinas and action theory, ethics, and metaphysics. He is the author of The Philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas. A Sketch (Wipf & Stock, 2015) and Action & Conduct: Thomas Aquinas and the Theory of Action (T&T Clark, 1998). Fr. Brock is the 2017 Visiting Scholar with Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

Interview with Craig Iffland, Summer Session Participant

Iffland_Headshot1.jpg

This post is part of a series of interviews with our incoming class for the “Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence” 2017 Summer Seminar. Craig Iffland is a John Templeton Fellow at the University of Notre Dame Center for Theology, Science, and Human Flourishing. Valerie Wallace is Associate Director, Communications, for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

Craig Iffland: I’m from Centreville, Virginia, which is a small suburb about thirty minutes outside Washington D.C.

VW: Tell me about your research.

CI: I work in fundamental moral theology. My dissertation focuses on the intersection between law, sin, and obligation in Thomas Aquinas, paying particular attention to his conception of law as a measure and rule. My aim in so doing is to bring some conceptual clarity to debates over exceptionless moral rules, particularly among contemporary moral theologians. As those debates also turn on questions of intention and action, I have had an abiding interest in the thought of Elizabeth Anscombe. As a John Templeton Fellow at the University of Notre Dame Center for Theology, Science, and Human Flourishing, I’ve also had the opportunity to do quite a bit of interdisciplinary research on social cognition, particularly in the area of collective intentionality.

VW: What are you most looking forward to about this summer’s seminar?

CI: First, learning from an incredible roster of faculty for this year’s seminar. In particular, I’m excited to get some class time with Talbot Brewer since I never had a class with him during my undergraduate years at the University of Virginia. Second, conversations with my fellow students, particularly those working in psychology. I’ve found that engagement with those working in the sciences really help me to sharpen my own views about the underlying capacities that enable and help shape moral discourse.

VW: What are your non-academic interests?

CI: I’m really into movies. My favorite director is Quentin Tarantino. I run a little “film forum” once a month for students at Notre Dame, usually focusing on a common theme or genre (e.g., the “Western”). I like travelling, meeting new people, and making new friends. The place that has the felt the most “home away from home” is Johannesburg, South Africa, where I spent the past two summers doing research.

Interview with Marta Faria, Summer Session Participant

image.jpeg

This post is part of a series of interviews with our incoming class for the “Virtue, Happiness, & Self-Transcendence” 2017 Summer Seminar. Marta Faria is a PhD student in Philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, Rome. Valerie Wallace is Associate Director, Communications, for Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.

Valerie Wallace: Where are you from?

Marta Faria: I am originally from Portugal and I am studying in Rome even though I spend half of the year in Lisbon and half of the year in Rome.

VW: Tell me about your research.

MF: I am doing a Ph.D. in Thomistic Metaphysics. My topic is the Common Good of the Universe in Saint Thomas Aquinas. I am mostly interested in the metaphysical foundations of Ethics, Politics and Human Action in general. As a philosophical topic of inquiry, the common good has traditionally been a topic of disciplines like Ethics and Political Philosophy.  When one analyzes the common good from these intermediate perspectives, it calls for a relative definition: it is the good of a certain collective subject such as the family, the city, or the state. Additionally, we see that, in the doctrine of Saint Thomas Aquinas, these intermediate subjects are conceived as parts of a whole (eg: a particular family is a part of civil society) and can only be fully understood as such. This implies that the intelligible character of these intermediate conceptions of the common good needs to be derived from the good to which each is immediately ordered. For instance, the proper good of the individual is ordered to the common good of the family, which is ordered to the common good of the city, which is ordered to the common good of the state, which is ordered to the universal common good. This happens to be the case because the common good is a good and therefore an end. Consequently, the formal character of the common good must be derived from the ultimate end to which all intermediate partial common goods are finally ordered: the common good of the universe.
Along with being fundamental for the understanding of the intermediary common goods, the question of the universal common good is also interesting for another reason. Saint Thomas makes his own the Dionysian adagio “bonum diffusivum sui”, which implies that for the Angelic Doctor the “good qua good” is communicable. Therefore, the comprehension of the universal common good is also necessary to fully grasp the same nature of the good as intrinsically communicable. There is no other good whose communication is more pervasive than the universal common good, therefore, it must be the highest good of all, not just extensively, as that comes from its own definition, but also intensively. My research being mostly metaphysical aims to study the metaphysical foundations of the good, the key concept of any ethical project.

VW: What are you most looking forward to about this summer’s seminar?

MF:  Even though it is obvious that I expect to learn greatly from the talks of the main speakers I also find that the interaction and discussions with the other participants are extremely interesting. I will get to learn different perspectives over topics that I am used to frame in a specific manner and I will have the opportunity to confront my ideas with other people and to test how consistent they are.

VW: What are your non-academic interests?

MF: All sports in general but mainly jogging and volleyball.

The Structural Significance of Pagan Virtue

AdobeStock_58181974.jpeg

We’re presenting a short series of abstracts of the work-in-progress our scholars presented and discussed at their June 2017 Working Group Meeting.

Angela Knobel is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the School of Philosophy at The Catholic University of America.

 

Augustine is supposed to have said that the virtues of the pagans were no more than ‘splendid vices’. Whether he actually made such a claim and what he meant by it is the subject of much debate.  But on one reasonable interpretation of that claim, Augustine believed that non-Christians could not possess any genuine virtues at all.  Several recent scholars have argued that this was not only Augustine’s view, but Aquinas’s as well.  Many of the scholars who make this claim do so in the context of emphasizing the importance of Aquinas’s (often overlooked) theory of infused moral virtue.  In this paper, I argue that Aquinas not only recognizes the possibility of genuine virtue in non-believers, but that that recognition plays a crucial structural role in his broader account of virtue.  We cannot truly appreciate his theory of infused virtue, that is  to say, unless we see it as building on and presupposing the possibility of pagan virtue.  I conclude by offering a hypothesis about a likely source of contemporary Thomist suspicion of pagan virtue.

General Justice and the Common Good

AdobeStock_134397654.jpeg
We’re presenting a short series of abstracts of the work-in-progress our scholars will present and discuss at their June 2017 Working Group Meeting.  Jean Porter is the John A. O’Brien Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Notre Dame and scholar with Virtue, Happiness, & the Meaning of Life.
Porter will present the Keynote for our June 2017 Working Group Meeting, “What should we fear? Courage and cowardice in public life” on June 5, 2017. Click here for more information and to rsvp.
According to Aquinas, the common good is the formal object of a virtue, namely, the virtue of general justice.  It is initially difficult to know what to make of this claim.  We are accustomed to think of the common good as a political or social ideal, to be pursued through collective political actions.  Aquinas himself, together with most of his interlocutors, regards the common good as a principle of legitimation, which justifies political rule and legislative authority.   It is difficult to see how a virtue-oriented analysis of the common good can add to our overall understanding of a social ideal or a juridical principle. There is something admittedly attractive in the ideal of the virtuous ruler, reliably guided in the exercise of rule by wisdom, informed by good and honorable motivations.  But wise and virtuous sovereigns are not so common these days, and at any rate, this seductive ideal can easily be abused.  At any rate, Aquinas himself does not claim that virtues are sufficient, or indeed necessary to guide public officials in the exercise of their duties. I want to suggest that when Aquinas identifies the common good as the object of a particular virtue, he is not so much making a point about qualifications for rule – rather, he is making a point about the presuppositions and possibilities for the morally legitimate exercise of power.  The point at stake is not so much that a good ruler must be morally good,  but rather, and more fundamentally, a good ruler can be morally good.  Aquinas’ claims about general justice and the common good presuppose the moral legitimacy of political rule and the possibility of living a virtuous life in public office.  At the same time, his analysis of the common good as the object of a virtue is intertwined with his analysis of the common good as a principle of political legitimation.  The moral possibilities for political action and public service presuppose the moral legitimacy of political rule and the institutions set up to carry it out.   For this reason, reflection on general justice and its object, the common good, has something to teach us about the moral legitimacy of political authority and the conditions for exercising power in a morally admirable way.