Monday, December 17, 2012

Making a Mountain...

Aristotle and Aquinas: The Vital Difference by Don DeMarco, Ph. D.

As far as I'm concerned, personalism is not a significant difference between the ethics of Aquinas and that of Aristotle. (We might even ask the question of whether contenmporary personalism is even important to the moral theology of Aquinas, or if we are just trading one word, e.g. human, for another, person.)

"The difference between the ethics of Aristotle and Aquinas has to do with how virtue comes about. It is reasonable to be virtuous. Surely “honesty is the best policy.” That is simply a reasonable statement that does not require love. And virtue, for Aristotle, lies between two extremes. Thus, the virtue of courage, for example, is the midpoint between the vices of timidity and foolishness. This is all very sensible, though something is missing.

Perhaps Aristotle overestimated our capacity to be reasonable and under-estimated the importance of love. Whereas Aristotle links virtue to reason, Aquinas links it more properly to love. Therefore, as the Angelic doctor states, “Love is the form of all virtues.” This means that every virtue derives its degree of virtuousness by its association with love."

The important difference is that Aristotle writes from a non-Christian perspective, one which is unaided by Divine Revelation. Aristotle does not talk about "love" but he does talk about friendship in all of its forms, as it exists between human beings. But not, friendship between man and God. Should we be surprised then that he has no understanding of the beatitude to which we are called, or the grace that is necessary? No account of the "supernatural organism" which is so central to the moral theology of Aquinas (and of good Christian moral theology in general)?

The differences in their ethics is not due to competing accounts of human nature (with respect to the material or formal causes) - but with respect to human nature as it relates to its Creator, God.
James Chastek, Rights and Justice
St. Thomas makes rights the object of justice, and they are recognizable as rights in our own sense (e.g. they are divided into natural and legal rights, and slaves as slaves do not have any). One important difference is that, by locating them in the context of justice, rights are properly had by others. It is certainly true that I have rights, but when I say this I am considering them so far as they can make someone else just. To consider rights as my own leaves them recognizable as rights, but it prescinds from the context that could make me a good, virtuous, happy person.

1. Ius (pl. iura) is the object of justice that is true; to translate it as right is potentially misleading since what is meant as ius by St. Thomas is not the same as what we mean by right in the sense of a moral faculty or freedom to do a certain action. It is proper to the Bill of Rights to list these moral faculties in order to safeguard them from being infringed by the Federal Government. The Bill of Rights sets to make explicit the limits to the authority of the Federal Government. [subjective active rights]

2. The other subjective "right," a title or claim to something, may be bound up with St. Thomas's notion of ius. Ius, as explained by St. Thomas, is proper to ethics is moral theology - determining what is owed to another, what must be done/rendered to another (an action, first of all) by a moral agent. Determining what is owed to me is proper to a judge or someone else mediating a dispute, though it is not without the flip side - if I have a legitimate claim to something, then it must be given to me. [subjective passive rights]