The intrusion of the systematic exigence into the realm of common sense is beautifully illustrated by Plato’s early dialogues. Socrates would ask for the definition of this or that virtue. No one could afford to admit that he had no idea of what was meant by courage or temperance or justice. No one could deny that such common names must possess some common meaning found in each instance of courage, or temperance, or justice. And no one, not even Socrates, was able to pin down just what that common meaning was.1
Socrates (470-399 BC), age 70 at the time of his death (as recorded by Plato) had a father who was a mason; his mother, a midwife. He was known to be extremely ugly: potbellied, with bulging eyes, and a snub nose although the inside was said to be “perfectly delightful.”2 “You can seek him in the present, you can seek him in the past, but you will never find his equal.” He never wrote anything. He lived in Athens during her bloom around 450 BC and at the time of her decline toward the end of the century. He was a strong enigmatic figure who spent most of his time talking with people in the marketplaces and squares of Athens and who was subject at times to fits of abstraction lasting for hours on end: on the value of understanding the world of physical nature, “the trees in the countryside can teach me nothing.”3 As a young man in his 20’s, he turned away from cosmological speculation to an interest in the problem of man since he felt that what Anaxagoras had to say about mind or nous did not go far enough. Citing Cicero on Socrates: he “called philosophy down from the sky and established her in the towns and introduced her into homes and forced her to investigate life, ethics, good and evil.”4 While initially he was thought to be a sophist, in fact, he became or was their bitterest opponent in his belief that , indeed, “there really was such a thing as justice and injustice, right and wrong, truth and falsity” and that “they were supremely important” and “could be known.”5 For Socrates, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”6
Calling himself a “philo-sopher” as “someone who loves wisdom,” he began to go his own way, noting to himself: “One thing only I know, and that is that I do not know anything.” The Oracle at Delphi had said to him: “None is wiser than Socrates” which he, in turn, interpreted as meaning that he is wisest who realizes that, like Socrates, he has little wisdom. He would try to make his fellow men aware of his own ignorance by asking questions and meeting objections. For instance, Socrates said that, if there was an afterlife, he would pose the same question to the shades in Hades. He wanted to base all argumentation on objectively valid definitions which focused on knowing who man is. Since he was a man who would listen to his own inspiration and who in turn inspired others, he had more followers than students. Hence, he was a danger to the establishment. He claimed to have a “divine voice” inside him. He refused to be involved in condemning people to death and to inform on political enemies. A parallelism exists between Socrates and Christ:7 both were enigmatic; neither wrote anything forcing us to rely on accounts written by their followers; both were masters at the art of discourse; both had a personal sense of authority; both believed that they spoke on behalf of something greater than themselves; both challenged the power of the community; and both died as martyrs after trial (in both cases, with the possibility of evasion).
Our knowledge of Socrates is beset by the Socratic problem of sources that differ much on him. Hence, where do we go for an accurate portrait of Socrates’s character and ideas since he wrote nothing himself? There are four main sources given as follows.
(1) Plato was the most important source since he was a student of Socrates when Socrates was in his 50’s. Through his dialogues, the early and middle dialogues supply much of the information that we have on Socrates. But, there is a problem: according to Aristotle, Plato uses Socrates in conversation as an instrument for presenting his own ideas, employing a literary technique that was often used at that time (a technique that was also employed by the students of Pythagoras). It is difficult to distinguish between Socrates and Plato. Two schools of thought exist on who was the real Socrates. On the one hand, Copleston argues that the Platonic Socrates was not the real Socrates since we must trust what Aristotle says. Since Aristotle had been first trained in Plato’s school where the doctrine of ideas as taught occupied a central place, he must have known what was actually Plato’s teaching. But, on the other hand, Burnet and Taylor argue that neither Xenophon nor Aristotle sufficiently understood Plato since Xenophon was too simple in his journalism and Aristotle erred in his views of Plato. While Plato could have been somewhat poetical in his expression, this is no argument in favor of inauthenticity. Only in his later dialogues does Plato develop his own ideas. The metaphysical doctrine of the forms was Socratic essentially although it received a Platonic development. In conclusion, while Copleston prefers the Aristotelian Socrates, most historians argue for some sort of compromise between these two positions. Mlle De Vogel argues that Plato tried to give a realistic portrait of Socrates but that Plato was less of an historian and more of a poet. Aristotle should not be neglected.
(2) Xenophon as a journalist (and also as a general) reported conversations with Socrates in his Memoirs of Socrates although perhaps he did not understand Socrates correctly.
(3) Aristophanes as a playwright of comedies who caricatured Socrates in The Clouds as a comic figure of the late 5th Century. He presented Socrates pejoratively as a sophisticated sophist.
(4) Aristotle knew Plato (d. 348 BC) but did not know Socrates and thus the question arises if he truly understood the witnesses of Socrates. He made a few remarks that are important since they help us determine what Socrates’s actual teaching was: he claimed that Socrates did not separate the forms which make the doctrine of separate forms a distinctly Platonic contribution.
On the character of Socrates, Plato knew him best as a person. As noted, physically Socrates was an ugly little man. As a former soldier, he was physically fit and was known for courage in battle. He was somewhat ascetical in his way of living although he could drink. He was shabbily dressed and always barefoot. He loved to spend his time arguing in the market-place and streets of Athens. He possessed a strong moral character and was fearless about what he said. Since he said what he believed to be true, he got into trouble as a non-conformist. He was deeply concerned with asking ethical and moral questions and he looked for universal definitions with respect to the just, the true, and the good. Philosophy was a way of life for him and not simply a profession.
At his trial, he comes across as the victim of an anti-intellectual spirit in Athens where he was charged with teaching false doctrines, impiety, and corrupting the youth at the end of the 5th Century BC. He was brought to trial by a number of powerful figures in Athens who had hoped to humiliate him by forcing him to grovel and beg for mercy. But, instead, he humbled his persecutors and angered the unruly jury of 500 by lecturing them about the extent of their ignorance and selfishness. Also, when asked to suggest his own punishment, he recommended that the Athenians build a statue in his honor and place it in the main square. The enraged jury, by a slim margin, condemned him to death by a vote of 280 to 220. While the jury soon was ashamed of their act and embarrassed that they were about to execute their most eminent citizen and while they were prepared to look the other way when Socrates’s prison guard was bribed to allow him to escape, he did not flee when he could have done so since he had always insisted on obedience in his life and therefore he would not flee despite the pleas of his friends. He claimed that if he were to break the law by escaping, he would be declaring himself an enemy of all laws. Therefore, he drank the hemlock and he philosophized with his friends until the last moment, talking with them about the immortality of the human soul and the blessings of death when now a philosophic soul is able to enter into a realm of being where wisdom is found in all its clarity and fullness.8 In death, he became the universal symbol of martyrdom for the sake of Truth.
On the elements or the tenets of Socrates’s thought that we are sure about (the conclusions or the beliefs that are to be associated with his life and work), the following four points should be mentioned:
(1) Man is to be equated with his soul since man is his soul (it is the source of all truth). In describing the soul as the intellectual and moral personality of man, Socrates became the first philosopher to give a clear and coherent conception of the soul, the word he used being “psyche,” a term previously used by poets before the Pre-socratic philosophers but referring to a general live force which is needed for life that, as a substance, penetrates everything. Socrates transformed it from that which had existed as a shadowy reality to become a personality where thus man’s first task is to care for his soul. To harm the soul through an unjust act of evil deed is far worse (we inflict a greater injury on ourselves) than to harm or hurt our bodies.
For Plato, the soul and its care was the only important part in man. In the context of his own thought, Plato later gave a metaphysical explanation of the soul in terms of its pre-existence and so education serves to remind us of what we have seen in a previous life.
(2) Man takes care of his soul when he knows what is good. “Knowledge is virtue and ignorance, vice.”9 In attempting to try to define what is good by asking questions that elicit universal definitions, Socrates emerged as the father of moral philosophy. “The crown of all philosophy, of all wisdom, is a philosophy of morals.”10 Knowledge enjoys a kind of prior necessity since to have a good personality requires a prior knowledge of that which is good.
(3) When you know the good, you will act well and do good (ignorance or lack of knowledge being the overriding cause of Evil): “He who knows what good is will do good.” Here we have the Socratic paradox in a statement that sounds contradictory: the wise man is virtuous since no one is voluntarily evil but, to do good, one has to know the good. Knowledge of the good is both the necessary and the sufficient cause for doing the good although, since Socrates was not stupid, such a claim causes us to ask about what Socrates could have meant when speaking about “knowing the good.”
To explain a bit more here: apparently, in terms of his own personality, for Socrates, knowledge does not exist as a purely intellectual thing since another form of knowledge exists which is charismatic or inspirational. In deference to the teaching of Bergson, it is claimed that Socrates had an intuitional contact with virtue that attracted people to him. Since he was in contact with virtue, he stressed the value of education through virtue which, for him, consisted of words and a certain inspiration that united the intellectual aspects with an intuitive dimension. Hence, virtue is knowledge which cannot simply be taught by a teacher unless the teacher also inspires his pupils toward virtue, a life of virtue. Socrates’s theory of knowledge existed as a kind of midwifery where the teacher seeks to awaken something which is inside a student since truth is something that sleeps in our souls from the time of birth until later teaching makes it conscious and then the student begins to learn. Real understanding must come from within a person and, by using our innate reasoning, we can begin to grasp the being of philosophical truths. In general, in the kind of education that we have in Socrates, in education we have both an implanting and an awakening. Knowledge of good and evil lies within an individual and not within a society.
(4) In Socrates one finds belief in immortality, Socrates being the first Greek philosopher to believe in immortality as can be seen in Plato’s Apology of Socrates which recounts the story of his trial where he declares his hope of seeing his friends again in another life though he also voices an agnostic touch when he says “I hope” and “maybe.” For the first time in Greek philosophy, the final good is related to the being of another, other life.
On the significance of Socrates’s methodological achievements as this refers to the development of a form of scientific inquiry as this applies to a possible understanding of who or what we are as human beings, in the structure or the form of Socrates’s Socratic dialogue, a species of method or technique is employed within the practice of philosophy (and thus within science) where “knowledge was to be sought [from] within the [dynamics or the life of the individual human] mind.”11 Distinguish a “way of thinking” as one form or mode of human cognition from a “way of observing” external data as this is given to us through our different acts of human sensing (a second form or mode of human cognition).12 With respect to the way of thinking that is to be associated with the kind of analysis which exists in Socrates, a positive relation or a connatural relation can be admitted if we admit that, in the concerns and interests of mathematics, in the ingress and development of mathematical speculation as we find this among the Pythagoreans and their work in mathematics, a degree of distance or a distancing is assumed or it is undertaken from the mere givens of sense and perception when mathematicians work with imagined numbers and figures in order to raise questions and solve problems that are not immediately applicable or which are not immediately relevant to any function or purpose which exists for us within the context of our concrete human living. In the kind of adaptation that we find in the structure of Socrates’s method (in his characteristic mode of inquiry), a dialectical form of argumentation that distinguishes between the truthfulness of a particular thesis and the probable error or wrongness of another teaching or thesis is joined to displays of irony within the structure of this form of argumentation. An ironical form of argumentation exists within the general form of the dialectics of Socrates’s argumentation. Throughout, thus the ultimate aim or purpose is (1) to expose fallacies which exist in all false claims to wisdom and knowledge and then, from there, (2) to encourage or move a person towards a new way of thinking which could possibly lead or internally engender a knowledge of man’s human nature in a way that would be undoubtedly true and not false (although, for Socrates and perhaps also for ourselves, apprehensions and realizations of truth are only possible for us after much hard work in the context of a life that is given to an ongoing, lifetime quest that is geared toward a possible discovery of universal definitions that can articulate the meanings of terms or concepts whose meaning or intelligibility is desired or sought by us within the context of our own inquiries). As Socrates had noted toward the end of his life at the time of his trial in 399 BC, “Athens is like a sluggish horse and I am the gadfly trying to sting it into life.”
In a method of inquiry that consists of questions and answers, a dialectic of questions and answers (where, like a midwife, Socrates attempts to draw truth from within a person – from within their individual minds – incrementally, through a logical ordering of a series of questions which are posed),13 three constitutive divisions or three constitutive elements are to be distinguished within the range or the compass of the kind of procedure which Socrates applies and employs.14 (1) A problem or question is first posed. For instance, what is justice? What is virtue? What is truth? What is beauty? What is piety? What is democracy? Feigning ignorance in a use or a display of Socratic irony, Socrates would become excited and enthusiastic whenever, apparently, he would find someone who claimed to know something which was allegedly true. (2) He begins then to find “minor flaws” in his companion’s proffered definition and slowly he would begin to unravel it, forcing his dialogue partner to admit his own ignorance. In one dialogue, for instance, Socrates’s partner dissolves into tears. (3) An agreement is reached by the two conversationalists who admit, to each other, their mutual ignorance and who agree to pursue the truth in a serious manner, wherever it leads. The object is a species of universal definition for a given concept, term, or reality which always applies or which always holds whenever a given concept or term is invoked or employed within a given context – whenever the reality in question is being referred to. Instead of a meaning which is somehow added to an understanding which we already have or which enlarges or augments a meaning which is in some way already known, the object is another kind of meaning which has yet to be discovered. A difference in quality is to be adverted to as we move from pragmatic conceptions of meaning and understanding toward a technical formulation of meaning and a species of theoretical understanding which can withstand any possible criticisms that could be launched against its truth or validity.15 A scientific type of knowledge is to be entertained. It is to be desired and worked towards.
In the employment of this methodology, however, almost all of the Socratic dialogues end in an inconclusive manner since Socrates himself cannot give to anybody any definitions or truths that have been conceptualized into definitions since he does not know these truths himself although, as a consequence of the discussions which have occurred, we should all begin to realize and know that certain laws exist on a higher plane, laws that we might not directly know about through our own acts of understanding but, yet, laws which point to the being or the existence of natures, intelligibilities, or truths which, in their own way, always hold. They are always true and at no time can they ever be false. In this context thus we can understand why, in the context of his day, the Oracle of Delphi referred to Socrates as the “wisest man in Athens because [among Athenians] he was the only one who knew that he did not know anything.”16 As we have already noted, inI our search for truth, we must each try and find this from within ourselves, within our minds. We cannot be simply told or informed of this truth by other persons as good and as necessary is the help of other persons. We cannot attend
On the influence of Socrates, besides a pervasive influence in the rise of western philosophy since his death, he also exerted some direct influence within the inner dialectic of Greek philosophy not only with reference to Plato but also in a number of small schools that appealed to Socrates’s direct influence even if Socrates’s views were often combined with other elements to suggest, at times, a superficial connection with Socrates’s thought. There are three schools to be distinguished:
(1) the School of Megara (near Corinth) where Euclid, its head, seems to have been an early disciple of Socrates and was apparently present at his death. Though little traditional friendship existed between Athens and Megara, it seems that Plato and other disciples of Socrates fled to Megara to seek refuge after Socrates’s death. Euclid combined certain insights from Socrates and Parmenides (of the Eleatic school) that accepted one universal principle now called “the moral good.” A speciality of the school was dialectical controversy which involved games of reasoning for the reasoner which reminds one Zeno of Elea.
(2) the Cynic School (founded around 400 B.C.) given the fact that, allegedly, one day Socrates stood gazing at a stall selling all kinds of wares and said: “What a lot of things that I do not need.”17 Its name perhaps came from the fact that its founder Antisthenes (445-365 BC) taught at Athens in a room called the “Kynosarges” or “Hall of the Dog” since Antithenes was not of pure Athenian blood. Antisthenes was a friend of Socrates who admired his independence of character in terms of money and riches although Socrates was as he was because he was concerned with the greater good of obtaining wisdom. Since Antithenes regarded such a freedom from wants and desires as an end in itself, he equated it with virtue and happiness in such a way that it led him to posit virtue as complete self-sufficiency for its own sake (which differs with Socrates’s view of self-sufficiency as a means to something else). Since Antithenes was interested only in the practical side of morality, he opposed the kind of knowledge that Plato looked for in terms of the reality of objectively existing ideas: “I see a horse, not horseness!” He wanted to be able to live independently and he argued that it was impossible to make significant statements. Diogenes (c.350 BC), a pupil of Antisthenes, succeeded as head of the Cynic School at a later date by exaggerating Antithenes’s position into a contempt for current morality which led him to repudiate all civilized customs. He lived a life as primitive as a dog: hence, the Greek kuvikos, meaning “dog-like” from which we derive the word “cynicism.”18 Legend has it that he lived in a tub, and reputedly owned nothing but a stick, a cloak, and a bread bag. To show contempt for public opinion, he masturbated in the marketplace. Allegedly once visited by Alexander the Great who asked him if he could do anything for him to which Diogenes replied: “Yes. Stand to one side. You are blocking the sun.”19
(3) the Cyrenaic School (of Cyrene in north Africa) where Aristippos, its head, advocated a hedonism of the moment despite having been in the Socratic school since he seems to have been more influenced by Protagoras’s claim that only sensations give us certain knowledge in life. Although Socrates had claimed that the good must be the goal of one’s life if one is to be happy, Aristippos defined the good only in terms of pleasure and in obtaining as many pleasures as possible: “the highest good is pleasure; the greatest evil is pain.”20 Since the aim of life is to attain the highest possible sensory enjoyment, one’s way of life should seek to avoid pain in all forms.
1Lonergan, MIT, p. 50.
2Gaarder, p. 63.
3Gaarder, p. 63.
4Gaarder, p. 67.
5Sullivan, Introduction to Philosophy, p. 29.
6Osborne, p. 11.
7Gaarder, p. 66.
8Sullivan, Introduction to Philosophy, p. 38.
9Sullivan, Introduction to Philosophy, p. 31.
10Socrates, as cited by Maluf, Philosophia Perennis, p. 98.
11Collingwood, Philosophical Method, p. 10; p. 17. Please note Collingwood’s argument to the effect that “Socrates…found in mathematics a model for dialectical reasoning.” Developments in mathematics with respect to how mathematics is done in its way of thinking and reasoning as one moves from principles that are postulated to conclusions that are reached leads to possible methodological developments within the practice of philosophy and science. The way of thinking in mathematics suggests a way of thinking that can also exist within the practice of philosophy and science even if it should be the case that the way of thinking which exists within philosophy and science is not to be identified with the way of thinking which exists within mathematics even if it is to be admitted that, at the hands of some philosophers, mathematical ways of thinking have been promoted as the best way to think and reason if, in other contexts, we are to engage in the work of thinking and reasoning. Within this context, we can think about the work of the French philosopher, René Descartes (d. 1650), who had advocated mathematical forms of reasoning within the practice of reasoning in philosophy and science.
12Collingwood, Philosophical Method, p. 12.
13Osborne, p. 12. James Joyce suggested that Socrates learned this method of useful discovery from his wife, Xanthippe. In his “Insight Revisited,” in A Second Collection: Papers by Bernard J. F. Lonergan, S. J., eds. William F. J. Ryan, S. J. and Bernard J. Tyrrell, S. J. (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1974), p. 258, Bernard Lonergan suggests that, with respect to this mode of inquiry which consists of questions and answers, we have evidence which points to the validity of an argument that would claim that Plato is to be regarded as a methodologist. As Lonergan attempts to speak about it, Plato’s “ideas were what the scientist seeks to discover” and “the scientific or philosophic process toward discovery was one of question and answer.”
14Palmer, p. 54.
15Collingwood, Philosophical Method, p. 11.
16Sullivan, Introduction to Philosophy, pp. 31-32.
17Gaarder, p. 130.
18Osborne, p. 22.
19Gaarder, p. 130.
20Gaarder, p. 132.
Understanding what is Catholic Morality
Robert Spaemann’s Happiness and Benevolence
Chapter 1: Ethics as Teaching How Life Can Turn Out Well
As a point of departure for understanding the meaning of Spaemann’s initial discussion, we can advert to the Socratic moral principle which stays that, if you know the good, you will do the good. Today, this thesis is widely rejected even if we admit that our knowledge of good deeds that should be done does usually condition any subsequent acts of human willing which exist as implementations of a course of action which has been judged good. Our acts of human willing typically occur in a context which refers to our knowledge and understanding of things. Our acts of human willing do not occur in a vaccuum although it is to be admitted that the order of our human knowing does not dictate that which we will or should do in our acts of human willing. Aquinas admitted as much in many of his earlier texts. What we know does not compel what we will do. In the middle of composing his Summa Theologiae, in the prima secunda, it was only there that he began to elaborate a distinct philosophy of the human will. From that point on, he ceased to look at human willing from a context that was determined by the what and whys of our human understanding. Our practical human reason has a life of its own (having its own ends and goals).
However, if we work from a context which thinks of the good as a function of our human cognition, we can understand why, for some moral philosophers, it can be argued that errors in judgment about the truth of things leads to mistaken acts which we would regard as wrong and bad. Admittedly however, the culpability will vary. A person can act in good faith: tentatively. One knows that one is working with a provisional knowledge of reality and the contingency serves to determine the quality of a given response in our moral actions. However, a person can act on the basis of a dogmatic claim to know about what is true or false and the obduracy adds to the wrongness or the badness of the consequent moral actions which are undertaken. If, in any given action, we seek to realize something which does not exist, if we seek to bring into being that which currently lacks being, if we attend to the lack of reality that exists in our misjudgments about things which already exist, then we understand why, in our behaviour, we would be in a state of contradiction. By our actions, we would be realizing conditions or circumstances that are lacking in reality because they are lacking in intelligibility. An absence of rationality in our understanding is being communicated and expressed in ways that would take away from the integrity of our moral actions and so, as noted, we will act against ourselves.
When we attend more closely to the intellectual nature of our human being, we should discover that the ends of our human action are defined or they are known by how we exist as human beings or, in other words, by the kind of nature or intelligibility which we happen to have as human beings. Our proper desires are directed to ends or goals that cannot be willfully chosen. These ends already exist; they are constitutive of who we are as human beings although, as Spaemann notes, we can be in error with respect to our knowledge of these ends and we can also err in terms of the right means that should lead to the right ends or purposes which belong to us as human beings. Our means are right if they have a nature which is connatural with the ends that are to be accomplished. A proper fit must exist between means and ends. Hence, the reference to standards of propriety refers to sets of criteria that exist within the proper ordination which should exist between a set of suitable means and the ends that are to be achieved in a connatural way with the means that best go with the ends in question.
In returning however to the Socratic thesis which avers that, from a knowledge of the good, one will do the good, while it is to be admitted that lack of understanding and knowledge conditions inept moral deliberation and the making of bad decisions, it is possible for us to move from apprehensions that refer to that which exists as “mistakes” to apprehensions of wrong that refer to the existence of evil (moral evil). Evil always, of course, exists as a privation. In the making of mistakes that are based on misjudgments, there exists a privation of reasonableness and rationality (a privation of adequate understanding). However, when we refer to the problem and the mystery of evil, we move from intellectual deficiencies to that which exists as a moral deficiency in the life of our human willing. In the corruption of the moral will, we have evil although, admittedly, failures in our prior acts of understanding contribute to the evil which can exist in distorted forms of human willing. In Spaemann’s exegesis of texts from Plato, he argues that a Socratic understanding of good and evil is not too helpful. Its application leads to too many contradictions. The definition is too narrow. Something is wanting.
But, while we find tensions in Plato’s analysis of good and evil, it is to be admitted that, in it, we can find developments which point to a species of resolution when we see that he argues the case for employing the realm or the notion of the beautiful as a transcendental (as a very general category) that he uses (which we can use also) to subsume nuances of meaning and differences when we attend to certain distinctions which must be made when we attend to the ups and downs of our human moral life. In the context of his own day and time, in the commonsense understanding of good and evil as this existed amongst the Greeks, that which is good was not necessarily that which was beautiful. The two can exclude each other and often exclude each other. However, if we move into a deeper understanding of these two variables, we should find that they can refer to each other or include each other. A more comprehensive theory can be constructed if we adopt the form of beauty, the attribute of the beautiful, and use it as a general form for discussions and considerations about the good that should exist in our human lives. All instances of good suggest or point to the existence of beauty and, if anything is truly beautiful and luminous, good is present within it. In Plato’s analysis, in attempting to suggest how a systematic viewpoint can be constructed, moral reflection tends to be less circumstantial (it tends to be a bit more abstract). The object is an explanatory apprehension even if we can argue that, in Plato, we find a method of analysis that is judged by some to be a bit too removed from the human experience of conflicts and difficulties when concrete moral decisions need to be made within a given set of concrete circumstances. Is Plato’s approach too idealistic? And yet, in Plato, if, heuristically, we can have a solution or a means that, if implemented, can reduce the extent of ambiguity that often plagues our human moral lives, we can have this by turning to philosophical inquiry and by asking philosophical questions in further acts of inquiry that we can possibly move us toward lesser, fewer degrees of ambiguity.
As we shift then into the kind of moral analysis that we find in Aristotle, we find a methodology that can make finer distinctions. If, for instance, in Plato, contradictions or unresolved tensions exist about the nature of a “mistake” (“mistakes” occur within different contexts: we can err on the side of execution and we can err in our choice of means to attend certain ends or goals; we can also deliberately make bad decisions and we can make bad decisions without realizing what, in fact, we are doing), in both Aristotle and Aquinas, we can distinguish between that which exists as an act qua act and that which exists as a means that is selected to reach a given end. Within a context that is specified by the kind of metaphysics that we find in Aquinas (a metaphysics of act), we can distinguish between the kind of perfection which exists in the execution of a given act or action and the lack of a connatural relation which exists between the selection of a means to realize an end and the kind of end that we would like to have. To give an example: in order to obtain money to pay our bills and meet the cost of living, we could decide to rob a bank and we could carefully and intelligently rob a bank. The act of robbery possesses a perfection which belongs to it merely or precisely as a physical act. We say here that a given act or a given series of act is blessed with a kind of metaphysical perfection which properly belongs to it. But, when we move from the perfection of a given act to how it is ordered to an end which is not connatural to the means that we have selected in a given situation, we move from that which possesses a degree of ontological perfection to that which is lacking in a degree of moral perfection. It is a good thing to have money to pay one’s bills and meet the cost of living but a connatural relation does not exist between the value of this end and the disvalue of engaging in a bank robbery. Hence, the robbing of a bank is usually to be seen as an act which is lacking in moral worth or quality although, on the other hand, in Aquinas, the robbing of a bank can be a good moral act (it is not lacking in possible moral perfection) if, in a given context, no other means exists for maintaining one’s physical and biological health. A given person as a living person has a right to food and drink and if a person is deprived of food and drink, it is not wrong to steal the food that he or she needs and the drink that he or she needs to remain alive. If we attend to what kind of relation exists between the ontological goodness or the ontological perfection of a given act and the moral goodness or the moral perfection which could belong to the same act, in moving from one to the other, we should find that moral attributes or moral qualifications add a specification to the goodness of ontological acts in a way which points to moral determinations as itself a larger, more comprehensive good. Efficiency or success in execution is certainly a good but this good is qualified when we ask about how a given act can add to the realization of goods which refers to the ultimate ends or purposes of our human life. The ultimate ends or purposes of human living exist as a greater good. They are constituted by conditions which refer to a sound knowledge of reality that is joined to realizations of choice that are truly ordered to fitting achievements of the kind of good that is intended by how we exist and live as human beings. Hence, with respect to the lower orders of good that exist within this kind of ordering, metaphysical specifications of good exist as a lower level. The moral choices that we make to realize higher orders of good also exist (relatively) at a lower level. To these lower orders of good, a relativity can be ascribed. That which exists as the ends or purposes of authentic or good human living cannot be described as relativities. When we attend to the final goods of our human living, we come into the presence of absolute goods and these lack relativity.
Spaemann distinguishes three levels or three orders of meaning in our analysis of moral activity as this exists for us as human beings: (1) the objective goal of the action to be done; (2) the subjective goal of the agent or responsible subject; and (3) the union which exists between these two goals, the union which exists between objectivity and subjectivity since, by such a union, we can speak about how, in our lives, we can move as subjects into a higher order of being which refers to objective specifications of good. As Bernard Lonergan would argue: through authentic subjectivity, we move into objectivity. No gap necessarily exists between that which exists as subjectivity and that which exists as objectivity.
(1) With respect to the objective goal of the action to be done, we refer to a concrete deed which realizes some kind of effect, product, or result. That which is brought into being enjoys an ontological, metaphysical kind of existence. Whether it is the making of a car or a bomb or an act of kindness which is extended to another, purely as an act, as we have already suggested to some extent, it enjoys an independence which distinguishes it from any agent or agents which have brought it into being. That which is brought into being can exist in a perfect degree of condition or in a manner which is unfortunately defective in some way. (2) Turning to the subjective goal of the agent or the subjective goal of the responsible subject, we refer to the subjectivity of a given agent which can be distinguished in terms of two states of mind or two conditions of consciousness: one is deliberate and subject to conscious control and the other is without care and without a consciousness which would lend itself to a possible degree of conscious control. Where self-consciousness exists and a degree of deliberation, choices can be made and, in the making of choices, a human subject experiences his or her own personal freedom. Now, as Spaemann notes, when a subject does something which is wrong (that which is a “mistake”), two states of mind are possible: one is deliberate and the other is lacking in deliberation. Now, if someone does something that he or she knows to be wrong (if it is a mistake), then a person can make changes later to change what has been done. The presence of deliberateness indicates a degree of self-control and self-control is a plus if persons are to have a point of departure for future changes that could be made. If, on the other hand however, a person does something wrong without realizing this (without knowing about it), then the person is in a worse situation. A person could keep doing something that is objectively wrong and not be in a position to effect any corrective changes. The lack of self-knowledge is too great. (3) Turning to the shift which occurs as subjectivity moves into objectivity, the question of doing “something well,” this shift varies if we attend to the doing of a subject as a maker, artisan, or technician and the doing of a subject who exists as a moral agent or moral subject. We recall Aquinas’s distinction between that which exists simply as an act and that which exists as a moral choice. Behind this distinction we recall Aquinas’s distinction between that which exists as the act of the man and that which exists as a truly human act. When a man is bothered by a fly while he is attempting to concentrate on some kind of task, he shoos it away. He takes a swat at it. Cows do the same kind of thing when they swing their tails. One is the act of a man; the other is the act of a cow. The same kind of act exists in both cases. But, on the other hand, when a human being engages in an act that involves deliberation on his part and a knowledge of options or possible choices, the investment which exists in terms of understanding points to acts which exist properly as human acts (acts which are not the acts of an animal, acts which are not the acts of an indifferent human being). Moral acts differ from other kinds of act since, in a moral act, rational elements are to be found as these are joined to the intentionality of a human agent. An intrinsically moral act is a reasonable, responsible act. Hence, if we return to man as an artisan and man as a moral agent, it is not good if, as an artisan, a man does something bad or something which is defective in an involuntary way (without any deliberation or foresight) since this indicates that he is not a good technician. He does not know what he is doing given the absence of thought and self-direction. He is not using his intelligence to produce something that is entirely lacking in any defects. However, if, as a moral agent, a man does something which is bad or defective in a voluntary way (in other words, with deliberation), then he is a truly bad moral subject. He is using his intelligence not in order to function as a source of value and goodness. Evil is done deliberately (with full knowledge). Hence, it is better for a moral agent to do something bad in an accidental way and not in a way which is consciously deliberate. It is better for an artisan, however, to do something bad in a deliberate or thoughtful way rather than in an involuntary or accidental way since, if deliberation is present, we know that the worker in question knows what he is doing as an artisan. For some reason that is perhaps known only to him, he decides to do something badly at the present moment because he wants to effect some other good that cannot be brought into being other than in the way that he is currently choosing and then doing it. A good technician could deliberately make a defective bomb, for example, so that, in fact, it will not explode and cause harm to other persons. However, a good moral agent cannot deliberately do something that is defective from a moral point of view and, at the same time, remain a good moral agent. When we attend to the ordering of our acts to who we are as human beings, we must always attend to the finality of our human existence, since we always desire that which we believe to be good for ourselves. And so, in this type of situation, we never do anything which is knowingly harmful to ourselves. As we have perhaps already noted, harm comes to us when we lack in our self-knowledge. We misjudge what exactly is our true and proper good as human beings.
With respect to the question of working with an eudaimonistic ethics, an ethics which speaks of the good of human life in terms of eudaimonia, commonly this term has been translated from Greek in terms of happiness. All men desire to be happy. All men want to be happy. But, as Spaemann notes, this is a subjective interpretation/translation and it can be countered by a translation which speaks of eudaimonia in terms of “a life which turns out well.” An objective emphasis or an objective orientation is given since no one wants to live in a way which acts against this principle (against the good that, by nature, we all seek) and so, as a result, if, in fact, some human beings live a life which does not turn out well, the explanation is a lack of understanding or insight on their part. A person has misunderstood a given situation and has make decisions and taken actions on the premiss that he or she is doing the right thing since it is unthinkable to behave in some other kind of way: in a way which consciously acts against one’s well being and a life that “turns our well.” Hence, the absence of a desire to engage in evil deeds takes away from the evil of actions which should not have been undertaken. It can be argued that intrinsically evil deeds do not exist since they are never intended and, in a way, they can never be intended. However, if we adopt this kind of standpoint, we can run into difficulties if we should want to distinguish between the virtue of a good deed and the evil of a bad deed. We can say, yes, the evil exists as an omission but, for some, this might not be too satisfactory. If we always intending to do what is right and good, our degree of culpability cannot be very great (if it exists at all). Eudaimonistic ethics comes across or can come across to us as an individualistic ethics (it is too individualistic) since little attention is paid to moral norms or moral values that apply to all persons, serving as a point of departure for moral criticisms that could be made by others of others with respect to what has been their behavior.
As a kind of summary then, if errors of one kind or another lead to immoral actions and if these errors cannot be adequately understood (every effort would lead to a kind of infinite regress), the only way that any headway can be made is by means of a deepening of our self-awareness in a way which leads us to self-knowledge, greater measures of self-knowledge. A life best turns out well to the degree that it is characterized by greater awareness or greater consciousness. The greater consciousness creates conditions that lead to greater measures of self-control and, even if we must admit that growth in self-knowledge introduces order and reason into the conduct of our lives, if our understanding is to emerge as a species of new first cause or new first principle (the reception of a given understanding leading to the possible reception of another understanding), before this type of thing can truly happen, something must be given to us from some kind of external agent: something that comes to us from God or from the love and gift of other human beings. We recall in this context that that which exists in a condition of potency cannot realize itself and shift into a condition of act. Potencies do not realize themselves.
In Aristotle’s moral philosophy thus, we have a way of thinking and understanding which differs from the theoretical understanding which we find within the sciences. Where, in the sciences, the object is the reality of truth which one grasps in the wake of understanding, in moral reflections or that which exists as practical philosophy, we find an order of reflection that is geared to the virtue of prudence and discovering how we should act to realize concrete goals and objectives: bringing something into being which before had not existed. In the analysis and study of the human good, moral philosophy or the study of ethics is closely tied to the good of political philosophy and also the good of economics. Our individual human lives are realized in the context of a political order and an economic order which already exists. The individual is not a natural unit nor is a given society a mere product of human agreement as if our social order exists as a matter of convention and subject to arbitrary changes of one kind or another. By nature, we are “social animals” and so society or the political order which exists is to be regarded as a species of precondition for the living by us of a good life. In a bad political order, it is difficult to live a good human life although, in the middle of a bad political order, it is essential that human beings live as good human beings if they are not to self-destruct. Because a political order is not constructed by individuals as such but by subgroups or lesser communities which exist with in society, having a dignity of their own and an intelligibility of their own, the polis or the political order cannot be viewed as an order of being which can claim to have too great an authority which would allegedly belong to itself. A good political order recognizes the existence of other authorities and it tries to work with them in a just and amicable way. If moral philosophy is designed to help individuals lead a good moral life and political philosophy is designed to help the life of a given political community, economics plays a role because it serves to encourage the better life of family units (households in Aristotle) since all human beings are born into families and relations of kinship which help them together in their economic life and which also serve to educate individuals for the greater life that awaits them when they enter the greater life of human society as this exists within the polis (the state). However, as Spaemann notes, with the later separation of economics and political philosophy from ethics or moral philosophy, this has led to a greater individualization of ethics since, within this changed context, the individual is more exclusively the focus and not the individual as he exists with other persons in the context of a society which consists of one or more communities that, in their interaction, are constitutive of the existence of a larger social order.
These things being said, it is to be noted that the focus on the worth or the dignity of individual personal morality is something that can be dated from the thought and work of both Plato and Aristotle. The purity of personal motivations finds an echo in both Plato and Aristotle and, with this focus, there is a shift that moves from an eudaimonistic ethics to a Kantian conception which thinks in terms of meeting a transcendent order of obligations: doing one’s duty, fulfilling one’s obligations. If we want to give some content to that which could be meant by a life that turns out well, we must turn to questions of higher duty as a criterion for making our judgments and evaluations. A focus on individual desires for happiness presents itself to us as tending to an overly subjective, relative approach and, if our moral life is to have a more solid foundation, we must attend to values and goods that tend to act against the selfish concerns and interests of individual persons. Only if we begin from this higher perspective can we then turn to turn to our individual claims as this refer to our desire for happiness.
To move away from the subjective bias of eudaimonistic ethics and given Kant’s concerns about the subjectivity of eudaimonistic ethics which tends to associate our happiness with experiences of pleasure, Kant accordingly proposes a reformulation about how we are to conceive of the end or the purpose of our existence as human beings, an end or purpose which is to be expressed in how we are to live as moral beings. From Kant, we get the reformulation that we have been using which refers to eudaimonia in terms which refer to our human lives “turning out well.” Such an emphasis is more comprehensive and abstract. It cannot be so easily correlated with anything that we do as one particular act although, at the same too, it is noted and argued that Kant’s deontological ethics is somewhat abstract although, to his credit, from the viewpoint of an eudaimonistic ethics, Kant notes that, eventually, if we will all focus on meeting requirements that tell against our selfishness, our lives will turn out well and we will know happiness within our present current life. In response to this conclusion, Kant’s moral philosophy was criticized for its inconsistency although, in the end, if we are to conceive of ethics in terms of some kind of pure, abstract morality, we will tend to have something that is a bit inhuman and oppressive: something which perhaps should be done away with (Schopenhauer). The rationalism of Kant’s ethics tends to separate that which is good from that which is beautiful. A point of departure is being used that cannot think these two principles together. And so, in the end, given the concreteness of our human life, the individual human conscience is something that cannot be done away with as it deals with concrete situations that are not readily understood by attempting to apply abstract principles and universal rules. To try to engage in exercises that would try to separate the concreteness of our human living (a life that turns out well) from notions of disinterestedness and duty leads, with Nietzsche, to a kind of emptying which occurs in our subsequent moral reflection. Moral considerations are taken out and the result is a form of reductionism which, in turn, encourages ways of thinking and analysis which do not attend to how we exist within human communities which exist in a way that is more natural and intelligible than the simply being of our individual human existence. As Aristotle would say: we can only be moral within a society (within a social order). Moral considerations join us with other persons and if we attend to this primary condition, we cannot subscribe to an understanding of ethics that is entirely conditioned by an exclusive focus on duties and the performance that we should give to our duties.
Chapter 2: Eudaimonism
Three theses are stated: (1) we all seek to be happy or, less misleadingly, we want our lives to turn out well; (2) our individual actions exist for the sake of a greater good that is being intended; and (3) we evaluate the morality of a given act to the degree that it conduces to the greater end or good that is being ultimately intended. While each of these positions is questioned and denied by other thinkers and philosophers, it is to be admitted that we tend to seek goals or objectives that, for us, we greatly value and would seem to lead us to that which we would really want. We do this to get that although, often, we find that a given deed or action does not lead to that which we really desire. We are disappointed by our decisions and actions. We experience a certain lack of fulfilllment and we seek more. We move to something else and we often find that we are similarly disappointed. A given good is not really good as soon as we attain it. It might even be evil to some extent although it was intended as a good. Ambiguities are present. We may not have a very clear understanding about the happiness we desire or, more accurately, we might know know exactly what is meant by a life that is “turned out well.” The sense of disappointment that we experience points to something that is missing in our lives…something more that is not understood or attained even if this something more exists in a potential way and as it draws us to try and find ways to move toward it. As we look at our moral agency, we cannot deny that we organize our lives in such a way that we employ means to obtain ends and that, in our acts of moral deliberation, we weigh costs and benefits to each other. Having goals gives a form to our lives even as we realize that personal costs are involved in attempting to reach certain goals. However, if we attempt a deeper reflection, while, yes, we admit that in the tradition (in Aristotle) we have language which speaks about means and ends, it is to be admitted too that, in the tradition (in Aquinas), we have language which speaks about a connatural relation which exists between means and ends. The end does not justify the means. Given the intelligibility of a desired goal, the means that lead to it must participate in the goodness of the intelligibility that is being desired as a greater goal. If one wants to increase one’s income to send one’s children to university, one does not engage in a bank robbery to increase the size of one’s income. A closer look at the relation between means and ends should indicate that a kind of mutual kind of causality or priority exists between means and ends. The relation between parts or elements, the relation between alleged means, determines the end that is brought into being. A greater union exists between means and ends since, in the means, we find the ends. The relation which exists between parts determines that which exists as a whole. Hence, even as we admit that, as human beings, we reach toward ends through means which exist as immediate or proximate ends, the focus shifts from the primacy of ends to the primacy of means. Right ends exist through right actions. The goodness and rightness of our actions is all determinative since the good doing of good actions as means is the means whereby we can possibly think about the realization of that which can exist as a good life: a life that has turned out well. Admittedly however, objective and subjective determinations of good exist with a degree of tension between them since it is possible that we can achieve good actions, do good deeds, and not realize that we have done what we should have done. We can also believe that we have done well when, in fact, we have not done well. It is no easy task to try and move toward a comprehensive view that can know all the variables and give to each variable its due weight.
Chapter 3: Hedonism
If I can begin with a very general summary or overview of Spaemann’s discussion on hedonism, I would say that Spaemann associates hedonism with an animalistic notion of that which is regarded as good although, by the end of his discussion, he indicates how hedonism, as a philosophy, exists in a self-contradictory state. By following lines of thinking and value which exist within it (hedonism as allegedly a philosophy), we are led to points of view which transcend hedonism as a sound moral philosophy. In any case, if we begin with how Spaemann initiates his discussion, he notes that self-questioning in the moral sphere begins when our lives are not entirely subject to meeting external demands and needs. If our physical desires are satisfied and a degree of security exists with regard to their enjoyment, a spirit of inquiry can begin to reveal itself to us and this inquiry can begin to move us from animal apprehensions of good toward apprehensions of good that are connatural to the existence and being of ourselves as human persons who exist with minds that can ask questions and who can come to know about alternative courses of action and the possibility of making a choice among different moral options. Within a hedonistic way of life, yes, as the Sophists had noted, we tend to act out of self-interest. In living hedonistically, we want that which immediately pleases us…experiences of pleasure. But as our self-inquiry begins to identify our motives or our purposes in terms of pleasure, when we ask ourselves if this orientation is sufficient for us or if it truly leads toward our happiness, we begin to find that the goodness of our lives cannot be determined or settled if our object is the constant experience of pleasure. We find that we are not happy (we are ill at ease) if we should find that the purpose of our lives is determined by individualistic desires that are geared toward experiences of pleasure (sensate experiences of good). The implication, for us, is that the dawn of reflective moral inquiry is such that it is geared away from suppositions or assumptions that would correlate that which exists as the good life with that which exists as a life of pleasure. In speaking about a dialectic which exists within hedonism, Spaemann refers to the presence of three contradictions. Firstly, when hedonism as a way of life or as an orientation is conceptualized, when it is articulated in terms which refer to it as a universal truth, a contradiction manifests itself between a focus on subjective well being and a manner of articulation which wants to move beyond the subjectivity of well being toward an apprehension of truth or reality that transcends subjective conditions. The kind of subjectivity that exists in hedonism precludes universalism and apprehensions of truth that are not to be correlated with human experiences of pleasure. In other words, animal apprehensions of good in terms of pleasure do not square with the possibilities of self-transcendence which exist in the life of human beings who live and exist as human subjects. Secondly, another contradiction exists when we think about memories of past pleasures and anticipations of future pleasures. Yes, at times, when we remember past pleasures, we can be consoled. However, in these memories, we can be disappointed or burdened with sorrows as we experience and know that we are not experiencing these pleasures currently. Disappointments can easily attend our memories of past pleasures. Similarly too, when we think about future pleasures, this can be a heartening thing for us. We can look forward to future pleasures but then, there also exists the experience of disappointment and when our hopes are dashed, the fuller or stronger the hope, the more we are disappointed. Our experience of pleasure is turned into experiences of pain. The greater the anticipation, the greater the sorrow and disappointment. Hence, within this context, we find contradictions that exist in an existential kind of way. Thirdly, when we attend to the existence of feelings that exist with a content or with feelings that are associated or triggered by an external object, we deal with feelings that take us beyond ourselves in an existential form of self-transcendence that undermines the subjectivity of pleasure which exists as something that is supposed to be essentially selfish. However, if we attend to the true nature of friendship and when we attend to our desire to have truly good friends, we find that this attainment (its full attainment) requires self-sacrifice on our part. The self-sacrifice leads to enjoyments of deeper fuller friendship and so, as we notice these variables within our consciousness of self, we discover that selfish notions of the good which exist as pleasure cannot be believed or held in a way that can point to the rationality of such a thesis. As we seek to grow in experiences of well being, we find that true well being requires a species of human consciousness that distances itself from sensible experiences of pleasure. Pleasure is to be distinguished from a condition of joy which can include or which includes both an objective and a subjective aspect.
Understanding what is Catholic Morality
Servais Pinckaers’ Morality The Catholic View, an introduction
Preface: to understand the many different components which are constitutive of Catholic morality in terms of specifying these differing components or sources and understanding how Catholic theology has been able to think together these different components in connection with the concrete problems and difficulties which exist when it comes to concrete human living. The Second Vatican Council in its Decree on the Training of Priests specifies three conditions or three different requirements:
1) understanding how Catholic morality is grounded in scripture and the teachings of the Church fathers
2) understanding how Catholic morality is joined to the dogmatics of the Church’s teaching as this refers to the truths of revelation
3) understanding how Catholic theology relates to changes and developments as these have occurred in the history of human social forms, culture, and science.
How can the Church’s teaching be better understood? How can it be applied more wisely? What are its suppositions and what kind of obligation exists for us as Catholics as we try and cope with new problems and developments that have yet to be more fully understood?
Chapter 1: the Gospel sources
Ancient moral catechesis: responding to questions about what leads to human happiness, what leads to our salvation, what leads to our human perfection as in “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
1. Sermon on the Mount, Matthew’s gospel
Matthew’s Gospel has been described as a text that has been written by someone who has had a rabbinical formation (hence, a gospel which is intended for Jews more than gentiles). Especially with respect to the Sermon on the Mount, a new law is given: one which supersedes the Old Law or the Torah although it is also noted in scripture that Christ’s new law is not meant to cancel or annul the traditional Jewish law. Instead, on the authority of Christ’s words, we have a new way of living which exists as a fulfillment, as a perfection of the old law. If sin goes beyond deeds and words to include thoughts, then the kind of moral good which Jesus’ followers to abide by is something which is greater and more perfect. In the teachings of Jesus, we have a form of radicalization which suggests that, in one respect, it is more difficult to live as a good Christian than it is to live the life of a good Jew. A qualification needs to be adverted to since, through Christian belief, Jesus’ followers have a point of departure for a form of access which is to be described as a “living in Christ.” Through belief, through faith, we can begin to have grace, grace which exists as a form of God’s presence, and through this grace, we can begin to live a life that is more human. As human beings, we can begin to live in a manner which transcends our limited, created conditions. Later generations distinguished between what exists as a natural life and what exists as a supernatural life.
2. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, chapters 12-15
Paul’s letters normally end with a moral exhortation of some kind which is given after a lengthy dogmatic section which has to do with what exactly should be the true belief of Christians. This division has served to suggest that dogmatic theology is to be distinguished from what we do when we do moral theology although, if we attend to the corpus of Paul’s letters, it should be obvious to us that Paul’s moral teaching exists as a kind of deduction or consequence, given the truths of faith and salvation which belong to the new Christian dispensation. From faith in Christ, we have a context for a new, higher form of living
3. Other scriptural texts
St. Paul as a moral theologian in other letters touches on other themes: the primacy of charity, the centrality of conversion, and the necessity of humility, obedience, and patience. A life of the flesh is to give way to a life that is lived in the Spirit. In the teaching of St. Paul, two themes or two emphases are brought together or perhaps we can say that they are presented in a way which elicits our need to understand them better in a way which would link and join them to each other. (1) Jesus Christ in his life and work exists is a new source of morality and (2) what God has created in terms of an inner, natural law points to the intelligibility of contingently existing things and how, in this law or through this law, we can determine the good of things and what we are to regard as evil. What exists as sound moral teaching is only known in the context of living a good moral life as this would exist for the converted Christian.
Chapter 2: the Moral Teaching of the Fathers of the Church
1. Scripture as the first and consistent source of moral teaching: focusing on the person and life of Christ as this is presented in the scriptures and as this knowledge of Christ is communicated or mediated to us through the life and worship of the Church (episcopal homilies, public worship, and subsequent practice as the life of Christians is played out in the common world). The church fathers communicate their teaching through homilies, commentaries, and specific texts that address moral questions.
2. Judicious use of resources drawn from Greco-Roman culture and philosophy: working with what is sound and good in the moral teaching that exists outside revelation but in a manner which points to links and similarities. It is eventually taught that all which is good in Greek thought can be seen either as a precursor of the Christian dispensation or as something that has been derived in some way from Old Testament sources. Pagan moral teaching about virtues and vices is revised or uplifted by an addition that is given to it when we turn to the requirements of faith and charity. Definitions and meanings are re-interpreted and revised and virtue is seen more as something that comes from God and less as something which exists as a purely human product. What is the role of humility in our human lives? How do we best live a happy life?
3. Inseparable from the great spiritual currents that were then operative in the life of the Church: cult of the martyrs, call to virginity, monastic aspirations, and the search for wisdom. A close connection exists between spirituality and morality. For example, what is the role of suffering? How do we best deal with the experience of suffering in our human lives?
Two examples from St. Augustine:
1. On the Morals of the Catholic Church: the greatest good makes us most happy and this greatest good would have to be God. Thus, if our natural inclinations and reason are to take us to the greatest good and the greatest measure of happpiness that can be through union with this good, then, if our natural inclinations and reason are to be fulfilled, faith must exist; faith must be adverted to. Charity born of faith is the greatest Christian virtue or maybe we can say a faith that is informed by charity if we select a phrasing which comes to us from the Council of Trent. Augustine takes the four classical virtues of prudence, justice, courage, and temperance and he interprets them in a way which indicates that they exist as expressions of love, forms of love. A link is drawn between the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity and these aforementioned cardinal virtues that can be known through self-reflective human reason.
2. First Homily on the Sermon on the Mount: seven stages are distinguished in term of growth or progress in the spiritual life, beginning with humility and leading to purity of heart and union with God, these seven stages being related to the list of Jesus’s beatitudes and the seven petitions that are found in the Our Father. Grace is emphasized as a species of first principle if the Christian is to move from an initial conversion in humility to a final transformation which occurs through purity of heart and union with God.
In conclusion, the Church Fathers initiate a development which takes Christians teachings about faith, hope, and charity and how one best lives a fully Christian life and, from this perspective, a revised moral teaching is introduced into contemporary culture. No systematization is attempted at this point although, from the 6th Century, in monasteries, penitentials are drawn up which list penances that should be applied with the commission of specific sins. The context of this is a change in the Church’s penitential practices. Private confession is introduced in a manner which mitigates against the rigor of the more traditional public penance.
Chapter 3: The Classic Period of Western Theology
To understand what distinguishes scholastic theology from what had existed before, one attends to the work of Peter Abelard (d. 1142) who compiled summaries of theological positions that revealed lack of agreement and conflict between differing points of view. Author of Yes and No. In studying the writings of the Church fathers, one finds a certain lack of coherence and, as a consequence of Abelard’s work, a new task is given to theologians: finding ways to reconcile conflicting positions. One tries to introduce a greater coherence into how we understand our Catholic faith. Hence, within this context, we find the work of St. Thomas Aquinas who attempted a major work of transposition by taking the work and teaching of St. Augustine and articulating it in a way which shifts it into a way of analysis and conception that largely comes to us from the thought and work of Aristotle. If Augustine’s theology is largely guided or determined on the basis of analogies that are derived from apprehensions that come from neo-Platonist form of philosophy, Aquinas’s work as a theologian is indebted to analogies that are drawn from the kind of philosophy that we associate with Aristotle (the metaphysical kind of analysis that we find in Aristotle and which Aquinas develops when he moves from a metaphysics of form to a metaphysics of act).
Aquinas borrows from Aristotle’s moral philosophy and he combines the focus on happiness that we find in Aristotle (as human beings, we all seek to be happy) with a form or vector of self-transcendence which exists within the human spirit in terms of a desire to know God and be joined and united to him eternally. A natural desire for God is acknowledged although, oddly enough, we have a desire which can only be adequately met through supernatural means: through receptions of grace that come to us from God and all the gifts that are given to us from the Holy Spirit. In other words, as human beings, we have a natural desire for that which exists as a supernatural end and the the fact that we have this vector or orientation is perhaps the best evidence that we have that our human spirit is informed by a self-transcendence which takes us beyond ourselves towards something that is greater and for which we would be prepared to sacrifice ourselves in terms of everything that we have and possess.
In the structure of his Summa Theologiae, we find a number of general and particular considerations. In the Prima Secundi, we have, for the first time in Aquinas, a theory of the human will which differs from that which would refer to the nature of our human understanding. Traditionally, in the footsteps of Socrates in the Greek tradition, the will exists as a function of the intellect. We act, we do on the basis of what we know. Our willing is determined by our knowing. But, while we admit that our willing is often conditioned by our knowing, because of the Christian belief in the existence of Original Sin and our common apprehensions of human life, this position which emphasizes the primacy of the intellect over will was not always fully accepted. In earlier texts, Aquinas had admitted that what is grasped by us in our acts of understanding do not necessarily force our wills to do anything. However, it was only in the context of his later thought that he moved into questions and considerations which led him to realize that our acts of human willing possess a nature of their own and that an adequate understanding of the human person needs to recognize that willing exists with a causality of its own. Human beings are best understood if we can refer to an ongoing tension which tends to exist between our willing and our knowing. Each influences the other in terms of a mutual form of causality. To understand our human acts of cognition more fully, we should advert to our human acts of willing and to understand our acts of willing more fully, we need to advert to the structure or the nature of our human cognition. An adequate understanding of that which exists as our human moral life must consider these two vectors together: one is orientated to apprehensions of truth and the other is orientated to that which exists as a good. A desire for knowledge is mated to a desire for love and a way of life that is defined in terms of a union with something that is greater than ourselves. Love is more greater, more powerful than death. Our lives are fully actual if we can be united to God in loving communion with him…the Beatific Vision.
Aquinas enters into an inquiry which also looks at the development of our moral virtues, our moral habits, which exist as operative potencies in the human soul. Virtues exist as habits which can then be actualized, reduced to individual act, when a virtuous deed is performed. Natural virtues and supernatural virtues are distinguished from each other and these virtues are nourished in a way which adverts to external sources, external points of origin (causes which exist within nature and causes which exist beyond nature). As in nature, different levels can be distinguished, in the same way, levels which are relatively supernatural with respect to the existence of lower levels of being can be distinguished from levels which are absolutely supernatural. That which exists in an absolutely supernatural way refers to the things of God and the existence of grace that always comes to us as a gift. That which we cannot achieve in our contingent, created human way can be assisted by gifts that come to us from above, and so, by turning to God and the things of God, we begin to live a supernatural life. Lives informed by natural virtue are transformed by lives that can be informed by the operative potency of supernatural virtues. A form of transvaluation occurs as, through conversion, we can begin to see our world and our human lives in a radically different way. That to which we had attributed little value is see to have the greatest value.
Chapter 4: The Modern Period The Manuals of Moral Theology
To understand the kind of moral theology that began to appear after Aquinas, we must understand the change of intellectual climate that occurred after Aquinas, beginning with the theology of Duns Scotus. In Scotus, we find an understanding of human cognition that is governed by a hermeneutic that works from an understanding of the kind of cognition which occurs in acts of sense. Acts of understanding are interpreted in a context which refers to the nature which properly belongs to acts of sense. Hence, if human acts of understanding are viewed as fundamentally having the same nature as acts of sense and if, in theology, we work with analogical acts of understanding that are grounded in an understanding of human cognition that is grounded in how we are to understand our acts of sense, a fundamental change is introduced into the conduct and praxis of our Catholic theology. To use fewer words, we say that material analogies are used in a way which replaces psychological or intellectual analogies in the kind of understanding that is done in the work of Catholic theology. Limitations are introduced into the practice of Catholic theology. On the basis then of this changed context, in the conduct and praxis of moral theology, the chief object of focus becomes that which exists externally to ourselves who exist as human subjects. As is noted by Pinckaers, less focus is directed to how we might cultivate our human dispositions (our human virtues). It is noted that nothing is said about happiness as the end of human life and how this orientation can be translated in a way which can refer to the happiness of eternal union with God. What is real is not so much that which exists within ourselves as human beings but that which exists externally to ourselves. In Scotus, instead of working from a primary first principle in theology that attends to the wisdom of God, the new first principle refers to the will of God and that which God has ordained: the laws which God has established as these laws can be determined in terms of the data of revelation and the laws of nature which are inscribed in our hearts, being common to all human beings. We live good moral lives through living a life of obedience. We all have obligations to fulfill. In the wake of this emphasis, manuals of instruction were composed to indicate how, as human beings, we are to live lawful lives. As Pinckaers notes, what kind of relation exists between the fact of human freedom and the obligations which we must meet if we are live good, moral lives? Five key categories are mentioned: freedom, law, conscience, cases (casuistry), and sin. Because pride of place is to be allotted to the demands of legislation and requirements of lawful obedience, within this tradition of thought, a kind of objectivism emerges to characterize Catholic moral thinking. Subjective conditions are not really attended to and, within the manualist tradition of exposition, a high degree of abstractness was to be found in the kind of analysis which was predominantly employed. Very many distinctions were made as one moves from universal laws to particular circumstances and so, within this tradition, one argues with other moral theologians about the rightness or wrongness of a given act within a particular set of conditions. Pinckaers refers to the question of probabilism and how one is to determine that which one is free to do and that which one must do if we refer to some kind of moral obligation that must somehow be met. If we think about how, in Judaism, we can find a legal tradition which pits the opinion and the point of view of a given rabbi against the opinion and point of view of another rabbi, maybe, by doing this, we get a sense of the kind of debates and discussions which existed among Catholic moralists. We find a great attention to detail and one wonders about how we are to choose one opinion or point of view instead of another. Mention is made of rigorism on the one hand and laxism on the other. The Jesuits were accused of laxism by the Jansenits in 17th Century France and, in turn, the Dominicans were accused of excessive rigorism. An over concern with legalistic forms of argumentation has been said to distinguish this tradition of thought which has been dominant in the centuries immediately prior to the Reformation and extending into the 20th Century until the time of Vatican II. And so it is said that within this tradition, a narrowing of focus occurred.
Chapter 5: The Question of Christian Ethics after the Council.
This chapter takes a reader into the new kind of context which exists in the Catholic Church after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council in 1965. In the decrees of the Council, a desire to be open to the modern world was expressed, a desire to reach out and to come into a more fruitful and positive relation that could possibly exist between the Church and what is happening in contemporary modern culture. This has led to a number of consequences in how Catholic morality is to be understood: how we are to think and engage in reflections which could guide us in moral decisions which we need to make. Kant’s distinction between the transcendental and the categorical is mentioned in a way which has been used to understand the structure or the order of moral reflection. It is said that Christian ethics exists at a higher level and that, at a lower level, we have something which exists as a human ethics. From the teaching of the Catholic faith, we can derive a set of universal norms and then we can apply these norms in a rather loose and free way as we deal with concrete questions and problems at a local level. A kind of “situation ethics” is favored as a good way to conceive how in concrete circumstances we are to make specific decisions. Universal moral norms cannot exactly specify what we need to do in specific cases and so, in dealing with concrete problems, we need insights that grasp or understand things that cannot be understood if one tries to work from some kind of general perspective. Two specific changes need to be noted: a loss of belief in the validity of natural law arguments and a loss of belief in the fact that certain actions are intrinsically evil. It was once taught, for instance, that the end can never justify the means. This was the classic position so to speak. You cannot do evil in order to achieve something good. However, a shift of paradigm has occurred in a way which has changed the context of current work in the field of Catholic moral reflection. According to traditional teaching, in evaluating human ethical behavior, determining the rightness or wrongness of a given act is key. One also attends to personal intentions and circumstance but what is key is the rightness or wrongness of an anticipated act. However, in our current time, many moral theologians focus on the rightness or wrongness of our human intentions. From a first principle which refers to our human intentions, one tends to think about the moral quality of acts and the aptness or situation that exists in the existence of circumstances. Much can be said about why this shift of paradigm has occurred. We can think about a kind of axial shift that has occurred in the birth of modern philosophy. Instead of using metaphysics as a first principle in philosophy, one uses an understanding of human cognition and epistemology as a basic first principle. One moves from object to subject. Hence, in the light of some of these changes, if persons do not hold that the end cannot be used to justify any means, we can get into a situation which has been described as proportionalism or consequentialism. One makes judgments based on weighing good against evil. If one determines that more good will probably result from a given act, then one is inclined to do the act even if the act, in itself, is not good. From this standpoint, conscience is seen in a manner which is more open to seeing that a conflict of sorts tends to exist between conscience and authority. The teaching office of the Church makes pronouncements of one kind or another but, if conscience is seen in a manner which emphasizes its autonomy and independence, then persons will feel free to reject Church teaching if they find that it does not suit their personal situations. The focus on the primacy of good intentions has consequences that can lead to situations and conditions that cannot be tolerated or accepted by other persons.
Chapter 6: Freedom and Happiness
All moralists agree that human moral life is constituted by two principles: a subjective principle refers to the freedom of human choice and an objective principle refers to the rule of law. In the early understandings of moral life that have down to us from the Greeks and until the time of Aquinas, moral life was viewed in terms of the human desire for happiness. As Aristotle had said: all men desire to be happy (even if, admittedly, happiness is not something that can be directly attained). We say that our happiness exists as a kind of by-product. According to the traditional teaching, if we do a good deed, if we do something that is inherently good, we are happy (even if, in the doing of good, we pay some kind of personal price). Think here about the happiness of St. Thomas More who makes jokes at his place of execution. He died a happy man and so he died as a free man. However, in this history of Christian moral reflection, we find a change that begins to set it after Aquinas. William of Ockham is mentioned as the originator of a new tradition which omits considerations of happiness from a fully thought out teaching about the nature of Christian morality. In the old teaching, dating from Aristotle, a philosophy of human happiness is offered which is based on a normative understanding of the nature of human life and being. If we can state it in this way we can say that the old teaching about happiness functioned as a kind of bridge or point of mediation between how we exist as beings endowed with free choice and how apprehensions of law should serve to mold and form our human moral actions. However, in Ockham, we find an emphasis of the power of God’s willing. God is approached as someone who is all mighty and not as someone who is all wise. Where for instance, in Aquinas, God exists as an unrestricted act of understanding and this understanding is perfectly united with his willing, in later theology, God is an unrestricted act of willing. God’s decisions determine what is right and wrong and these decisions are subject to change although Ockham and others within the Christian tradition continued to acknowledge the belief and fact that God does not contradict himself. God abides by the law of contradiction: one cannot assert or say or affirm that A is and that not-A is at the same time, in the same way. In Islam, a voluntarist theology of God is said to exist to a radical extent. God is not obligated to abide by the principle of contradition. These matters aside for the time being, the emphasis that is given to the supremacy of God’s will tends to jive with a voluntarist understanding of the human person. It can be indeed argued that these two kinds of understanding are linked. The voluntarist emphasis, the emphasis given to the will, willingness, and willing, derives in general from a philosophy that is not interested in understanding the natures of things. When we talk about natures, we talk about the presence of intelligibilities. What a given thing does as a subject and what a given thing receives as a subject is largely, partially explained by what it is in terms of its having a nature, an intelligibility, which functions as a principle of explanation, revealing the reasonableness of certain actions and also revealing the unreasonableness of other actions. If this type of thinking is omitted, it leads to a truncated understanding of human moral activity. A human action is good if it exists as an obedient, submissive act: if it is lawful and not illegal. One is supposed to do the right thing in any given situation and, in moving toward determinations of this right thing, an extrinsicist type of approach is used. One does not move toward objectivity through anything which exists as authentic subjectivity. By not adverting to how the principle of self-transcendence exists in human lives, we cannot see or grasp how, in our subjectivity, we can move toward objectivity. Where this type of thinking is omitted, external goals or requirements, the actions which are to be done, are to be done in a way that imposes itself on a human subject. Human subjectivity is looked upon with suspicion. In some way, our subjectivity is to be negated. And so, we get a way of thinking that is very objectivistic. Through a kind of descent that existed in later philosophical reflection, we get the deontological ethics of Kant and not the eudaemonistic ethics of such as Aristotle and Aquinas. As Pinackaers notes, considerations of human happiness should be omitted since there is too close of relation between the need and the value of human happiness and a utilitarian type of ethic which tends to be very individualistic and centered on happiness in a way which gives to it a hedonistic interpretation. In our modern era, however, utilitarian ethics tends to hold central sway. Virtue ethics is contrasted with utilitarian ethics in a way which can be used to distinguish the two types of freedom or the two types of morality that are mentioned by Pinackaers: one freedom is defined by excellence, another, by our ability to make choices that suit us on a case by case basis (hence, a “freedom of indifference”). If we are to move away from a voluntarist type of ethics that has become so prevalent and if we are to introduce the question of happiness into the equation, then we speak about the centrality of joy (joy instead of pleasure). Joy refers to a knowledge of things that are permanent and a doing of good deeds which points to a like permanence. Transcendent things enjoy a primary, deteminative form of existence.
Chapter 7: The Holy Spirit and the New Law
If we refer to the events of salvation history as these are recounted to us in the texts of the New Testament, we find a hiddiness which belongs to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Through Christ’s incarnation, that which belongs to God enters into our human history in a perceptible kind of way. Christ says that whoever sees him sees the Father. Christ’s incaration, as we know and experience it, points to God the Father, reflecting God the Father. However, in the stories and accounts that we have in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit comes across to us as something that is more hidden. He is mentioned more rarely and he comes into our human history most prominently after Christ’s ascension into Heaven. When he enters more fully into our human history, he enters in a less obvious manner and yet he enters our history in a way which profoundly changes it, directing it, protecting it, guiding it. The manner of coming which belongs to the Holy Spirit in turn helps to explain why we can speak about an inner connection which exists between God the Holy Spirit (working in our lives) and a teaching about the placing of a new law within our hearts, an inner law that comes to exist within our awareness of self. The hiddenness of the presence of the Holy Spirit within the context of our lives points to the implanting of a new law which lives interiorly within us and which comes to dominate our inward conscious lives. The giftedness of the Holy Spirit points to a deeper apprehension or a personal appropriation of that which exists for as the life of Christ who rules our minds and hearts. Given how the Holy Spirit exists as a procession of love within God, it should not be a matter of surprise to us that, as the Holy Spirit begins to live within us as believers, our faith and hope are strengthened and, at the same time, they are brought to a further point of development or a completion which exists when charity rules us from within to determine how we are to live out our faith in a way which points to its full expressiveness. Our lives of faith are informed by our acts of charity and the living of a virtuous life is placed on a new foundation that gives to them a greater depth: a depth which raises our manner of living to a higher level as, through our thoughts, words, and deeds, we become co-operators and partakers in a life that is not entirely our own but which exists in a way which refers to God lives in us through all of our thoughts, words, and deeds. We become more fully how we should live and be to the degree that we allow God’s love, the Holy Spirit, to flood our hearts in a way which gives to us a renewed nature, a principle of life and activity which comes to us from above in terms of God and the many divine things which belong to God. We speak here about how we can exist and live as created participations in the being and the life which belongs to God. Our created, contingently existing natural virtues are raised to a higher level: a supernatural level which is brought into effect by way of our receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In these gifts, we can speak about how our naturally existing acquired virtues are supplemented by virtues which exist in an infused manner although, admittedly, these virtues are actuated through secondary causes which refer to the external word of religion which, in turn, refers to the words of scripture and the sacramental practice of our liturgical worship. In the Sermon on the Mount, the new law of Christian life and faith is best conveyed and a way is shown that leads or which transcends a life of law and obligation as, now, a law of love replaces a law of external form that is grounded in a life of duty and the meeting of our different obligations. Love is a greater thing as it works through the sacraments as the tools or the instruments of this new, higher law, working in a manner which constitutive of the life of the Church, joining the concrete life of the Church with a transformation of human life as this exists within the internal experience of self which we have as conscious human subjects.
Chapter 8: Natural Law and Freedom
In our current cultural context, natural law continues to be seen with a measure of suspicion. It is seen as an obstruction to the human experience of freedom and then, from a viewpoint that is determined by a voluntarist understanding of divine things, natural law is seen as some kind of imposition. The intelligibility or the goodness of natural law is not grasped and, as a consequence, its value with respect to living a truly good human moral life is not grasped and appreciated. From a reading of Aquinas, a division of five transcendental natural inclinations can be identified and, on the basis of these inclinations, five kinds of natural law. (1) A natural desire to do good points to why we spontaneously seek that we regard as good and avoid that which appears to be evil. For this reason, it is argued that no one truly desires that which is harmful to himself although we admit that bad judgments can cause difficulties if misjudgments are made about that which truly exists as a good versus that which exists as a privation of goodness. The attraction that we have for the good points to this attraction as an exemplification or as a striving which we refer to as love. We love what we desire although, as we already admit, it is easy for us to love the wrong things. It seems though that we are helped if our desire for that which is good is grounded in a self-transcendence which can exist within us as human beings, motivating, informing our subjective human acts. In self-transcendence we value things for their intrinsic good and not for reasons that refer to our convenience. (2) A natural desire to preserve being refers not only to our desire for life and the enjoyment of life but also a life which exists as a good life, as a life which can be said to flourish. From a desire which inclines us to live a good life, we can attend to the good of life which legitimately belongs to others that we should respect. In the living out of this desire, we must impose obligations on ourselves and not lose hope, a kind of hope that is transcendental because it transcends all the disappointments that we encounter in our contingent existence when, from this lower context, we encounter determinations which mitigate against the value of hope. (3) An inclination to marry attends a natural inclination to preserve and protect life since, in the nature of our human living, there tends to exist desires that are inclined to marriage and the raising of a family (although, admittedly, this is a desire that does not obligate any given individual but, instead, persons who live together in community. The obligation falls on the human community and not on the single persons. The making of stable marriage commitments and the raising of a family impose numerous obligations although it is argued that the experience of trials and difficulties can lead to levels of maturation which point to growth in love (its gradual deepening). (4) A natural inclination to know the truth grounds our natural desire to ask questions and engage in various activities that would want to lead to a growth in our human understanding. We never engage in inquiry without some kind of prior knowledge. But, without entering into inquiry and asking questions, we will impede changes which could possibly occur in ourselves. We will not grow in our humanity. This inclination to know the truth of things and then to know the reality of things is expressed in a cognitive manner which leads to greater understanding and wisdom and it is also expressed in the context of the moral life where, through the virtue of prudent judgment, we can find a rational mean which exists between two extremes. Virtue lies in the middle way: between that which is excessive and that which is privative. The mean of reason determines the wisdom of an anticipated possible act and it also determines an option or a possible way of responding to a situation which was previously not known or imagined. (5) A natural inclination to live in society indicates to us the fact that we exist as “social animals.” Aristotle had argued that, as human beings, if we reject this precept, either we live as animals or we live as gods. This natural desire to live in society accordingly leads to a positive understanding of political life. It is not something that we are forced to do as if it exists as some kind of lesser evil but, instead, if we appreciate all the goods that can come through us through living a good political life, we can appreciate the virtues of citizenship for what they are and not as burdens that we must somehow accept and tolerate. On the basis of an understanding of self that knows about our social nature, it is an easy step to move into a philosophy and also a theology of friendship. A good friend is someone who helps you to live a virtuous life. One cannot have true friendships among gangsters. A utilitarian approach to life does not jive with friendships that value other persons for who and what they are as human beings. In the life of the Church, we have friendships which are informed by the supernatural habit of charity. Through charity, it is perhaps possible to find good ways to live with persons that one would not otherwise live with. In the apprehension of natural law as a principle which should guide our lives, we need to move from external apprehensions of this law to its internal appropriation and the fruitfulness of this appropriation. What is handed on to us becomes part of our intellectual and moral furniture and, from its transcendental, transcultural character, we have a point of departure for enlargements of being that can be possibly given to us. Because this law has been implanted into the fabric of our being, it can serve as a point of reference and as something that points to the beliefs of our religious faith while being something too that can be joined and raised by our religious faith in a manner which takes us beyond our present level of functioning into a way of life that is exemplified by how we can become temples of the Holy Spirit. God, in his life, has begun to live within us and we begin to accomplish works that we would not otherwise be able to do.