Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Aquinas on ethics

VI. Aquinas’s teleological ethics
Similar to Aristotle, as you might expect
All events occur to achieve some end.
Humans have their own natural ends and inclination.
However, humans can choose how they will fulfill a given end.
Ethics concerns what ends are worthy to pursue.
Good fulfills our natural end, evil is a deficiency or privation, something that keeps us from fulfilling our natural goal.
VII. Are all actions either good or bad?
Aquinas distinguishes between the actions of humans and human actions. The former are voluntary, the latter are involuntary.
While the latter are neither good nor bad, the former are always either good or bad.
The will naturally desire what is good, but it needs reason to tell it what is really good and the appropriate means for achieving it.
VIII. Three features of an action
The object of the action.
The circumstances
The end that is sought.
D. All these features of an action are necessary to evaluate the goodness of an actions.
IX. Aquinas and Oprah
Consider Oprah’s giving cars away. In itself the action seems is beneficial.
However, the act can be wrong if, for example, the cars were stolen.
If the needs of the people were trivial, but the financial burdens of here family were greater, that would affect the quality of the action.
If she was just trying to get praise (or ratings) then the motive would not be worthy.
In order for an action to be truly good, the object, circumstances, and end must all be good.
X. Where Aristotle’s Moral Theory Falls Short
Aristotle’s ethics is purely naturalistic,
He treats humans as one more species in nature. He does not believe that humans have a special relationship to God. There is no sense that what is right is commanded by God.
The final end of human life is the happiness and self-fulfillment found in the appropriate development of all categories of human excellence, especially intellectual virtue.
This moral vision is good as far as it goes, but must be supplemented and corrected by a Christian understanding.
XI. The human good for Aquinas
We desire the good in its fullest form.
Any good found in the natural realm can only be a particular and finite good.
Nature does not provide us the means to fulfill our spiritual nature, but points beyond itself to what does fulfill us.
If the purpose of life is the possession of the supreme good, this can only be found in God himself.
This is not just knowledge about God, but acquaintance with God.
Perfect knowledge of God is impossible in this life, so it must be attainable in a (heavenly) afterlife.

6 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Aquinas Summa, Part II, Q. 10, Article 8:

Whether unbelievers ought to be compelled to the faith?

On the contrary, It is written (Lk. 14:23): "Go out into the highways and hedges; and compel them to come in." Now men enter into the house of God, i.e. into Holy Church, by faith. Therefore some ought to be compelled to the faith.

I answer that, Among unbelievers there are some who have never received the faith, such as the heathens and the Jews: and these are by no means to be compelled to the faith, in order that they may believe, because to believe depends on the will: nevertheless they should be compelled by the faithful, if it be possible to do so, so that they do not hinder the faith, by their blasphemies, or by their evil persuasions, or even by their open persecutions. It is for this reason that Christ's faithful often wage war with unbelievers, not indeed for the purpose of forcing them to believe, because even if they were to conquer them, and take them prisoners, they should still leave them free to believe, if they will, but in order to prevent them from hindering the faith of Christ.

On the other hand, there are unbelievers who at some time have accepted the faith, and professed it, such as heretics and all apostates: such should be submitted even to bodily compulsion, that they may fulfil what they have promised, and hold what they, at one time, received.

Reply to Objection 3: Just as taking a vow is a matter of will, and keeping a vow, a matter of obligation, so acceptance of the faith is a matter of the will, whereas keeping the faith, when once one has received it, is a matter of obligation. Wherefore heretics should be compelled to keep the faith. Thus Augustine says to the Count Boniface (Ep. clxxxv): "What do these people mean by crying out continually: 'We may believe or not believe just as we choose. Whom did Christ compel?' They should remember that Christ at first compelled Paul and afterwards taught Him."

-----------------

Aquinas Summa Part II, Q. 11, Article 3:

Whether heretics ought to be tolerated?

On the contrary, The Apostle says (Titus 3:10,11): "A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, avoid: knowing that he, that is such an one, is subverted."

I answer that, With regard to heretics two points must be observed: one, on their own side; the other, on the side of the Church. On their own side there is the sin, whereby they deserve not only to be separated from the Church by excommunication, but also to be severed from the world by death. For it is a much graver matter to corrupt the faith which quickens the soul, than to forge money, which supports temporal life. Wherefore if forgers of money and other evil-doers are forthwith condemned to death by the secular authority, much more reason is there for heretics, as soon as they are convicted of heresy, to be not only excommunicated but even put to death.

On the part of the Church, however, there is mercy which looks to the conversion of the wanderer, wherefore she condemns not at once, but "after the first and second admonition," as the Apostle directs: after that, if he is yet stubborn, the Church no longer hoping for his conversion, looks to the salvation of others, by excommunicating him and separating him from the Church, and furthermore delivers him to the secular tribunal to be exterminated thereby from the world by death. For Jerome commenting on Gal. 5:9, "A little leaven," says: "Cut off the decayed flesh, expel the mangy sheep from the fold, lest the whole house, the whole paste, the whole body, the whole flock, burn, perish, rot, die. Arius was but one spark in Alexandria, but as that spark was not at once put out, the whole earth was laid waste by its flame."

Victor Reppert said...

John: This is an interesting and worthwhile reminder. The logic of Aquinas's position on the role of the state leaves no one with the power of the sword available to do the compelling, the forcing, or the burning of heretics. You have to "borrow" the state's coercive power in order to persecute people religiously, and to do that the state has to step outside its "job." So consistent application of Aquinas' position on laws should have ruled out religious persecution.

People of that time really did think that people who taught false doctrines were exposing others to a greater likelihood of eternal damnation. Hence people who spread false doctrine are worse than serial killers: serial killers knock a few years off people's earthly lives, but those that teach heresy expose their victims to an eternity of hell.

A nonbeliever who achieves political power doesn't have to worry about people putting others in danger of eternal punishment. But some people might be thought of as standing in the way of progress. Many people have been died in the name of Enlightenment, starting with the guillotine victims of France during the Revolution. It is the use of coercive political power in the interests of strongly-held convictions about reality that leads to persecution. It is a tempting tool to use, but those of us with sufficient historical understanding to learn from the mistakes of the past realize that it is the wrong tool.

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, now aren't YOU the one who has chronological snobbery?

People of that time really did think that people who taught false doctrines were exposing others to a greater likelihood of eternal damnation. Hence people who spread false doctrine are worse than serial killers: serial killers knock a few years off people's earthly lives, but those that teach heresy expose their victims to an eternity of hell.

While I do agree with your conclusion about the use of political power to achieve moral and intellectual ends, I think Aquinas' logic is impeccable if you grant his assumptions, in a culture where there is a complete break down of the wall of separation between church and state.

I think people on both sides worry about the consequences should one side dominate and have absolute political power over the other side. Those concerns are real. We should both acknowledge them and defend each other's right to express our opinions.

Cheers.

Victor Reppert said...

Chronological snobbery is the assumption, without any good reason backing it up, that an idea that has become outmoded is false. I think the lessons of history show that religious persecution is wrong. I also think that soteriological exclusivism does carry with it the temptation to coerce if there is no wall of separation between church and state.

Sam Harris says he wants to proclaim the death of God in public school, so he wants to collapse the wall of separation between church and state every bit as much as did Jerry Falwell. The new atheists are committed to the atheist equivalent of soteriological exclusivism.

Ilíon said...

VR: "Chronological snobbery is the assumption, without any good reason backing it up, that an idea that has become outmoded is false."
Even to call an idea "outmoded" is to creep very close to chronological snobbery, and may well be to step into it.


VR: "... so he wants to collapse the wall of separation between church and state every bit as much as did Jerry Falwell."
You're not accurately describing Mr Falwell. What you're doing is echoing your own leftish prejudices concerning "right-wingers."

Anonymous said...

Neither Aristotle nor Aquinas argued that "all events occur to achieve some end." Nor did they argue what you probably meant to say, namely that every event occurs to achieve some end. Aristotle and Aquinas don't usually talk about 'events,' and with good reason, since it's extremely difficult to individuate them (is my typing this message an event? is my pressing of each individual key an event? is my writing of the individual words, or sentences, a series of events? are events made up of other events? what makes up events that aren't made up of other events? what are the terms of events?) Event ontology is extremely difficult to make any sense of whatsoever (witness most contemporary philosophy on causation). Aristotle and Aquinas might have some implicit ideas on what 'events' are, but they certainly don't take them as basic, talk about them much at all, or think that 'every event occurs to achieve some end.'