Saturday, July 10, 2010

Is De Koninck himself a personalist?

Or does he think that society is instrumental to the flourishing of the individual? Last year I had posted this letter written by Dr. De Koninck to Sister Margaret Ann without comment. It's time to revisit it. In the letter CDK writes:

I wrote that little work to defend Aristotle and St. Thomas when they say that, within a given genus, the common good is always more divine than the proper or personal good. This proposition had been under attack for some time. The reasoning behind this open attack even by well-known Thomists assumed that "common good" is a univocal expression, i.e. with one single meaning, and that one can therefore pass from one genus to the other. Yet in fact the common good of the family (namely, the offspring) and that of the political community (the well-being of the citizens, which, in the end, consists in virtuous activity) are one only in proportion.

[The children are a common good; but family life, the domestic good is also a common good.] The common good of the political community is "the well-being of the citizens, which, in the end, consists in virtuous activity."

He also writes:

It is one thing to compare the member of a society to the society as a whole. The society is for the sake of the common good of its members who are individual persons. Hence society is for man, not man for society. But it does not follow from this that the common good of society must be broken down into individual goods, the way a loaf of bread is shared at the table.
It is much easier to ask questions and obtain clarification from a living person than it is from a "dead" book. Is society separate from its members? Is it the same as the modern "state"? (Is this the identification that CDK is making here?) Is "society" different in meaning from "community"?

My reading:
A community is made up of its members, but these members are not taken in isolation from one another. Rather, these individuals have ordered relations to one another. Living in society is for the sake of man--because men by their nature are social, living with one another is a true good.

(Being in) Society (or community) is for the sake of its members' living together (well).

One of these days I'll try to find some proof texts from On the Primacy of the Common Good Against the Personalists to confirm this interpretation. I think the rest of the letter supports it, though, if one is able to make the comparison between the political community and the Church.

Michael A. Smith's Human Dignity and the Common Good in the Aristotelian-Thomistic Tradition. An ok introduction, but not without its problems when directly addressing the philosophical questions.

Michael Sweeney, O.P. responds to those who have left comments

You can read those comments here. From The person and the common good:

Several took exception to my contention that there is no cause greater than a person; that a soldier, for example, does not give his life for a cause that is greater than he is. Four objections were raised. I will state them as I have understood them; please correct me if I have not caught the force of the arguments:

(1) If there is no cause greater than the individual person, then the result will be nihilism. If we can state the argument more formally: Proper order in society demands that individuals subordinate themselves to some cause or purpose that is greater than themselves.

(2) Colloquially understood, the statement "they have died for a cause greater than they are" means that immediate self-interest has been sacrificed for the sake of the common good. The common good is held to be greater than the self-interest of the individual. Note, however, that in this case the President's reference was to those who gave their lives for liberty. Might we therefore put the objection in this way: liberty is a common good that is of greater dignity than the life of an individual person.

(3) There is a cause greater than the individual person, which is the good of the many: the good of the many is a cause that is greater than the good of the individual person.

(4) The fourth objection might be stated thus: if there is no cause greater than the individual person, then there is no reason for sacrifice for the sake of another; the best that we can achieve is self-interest. Yet it would appear that people do sacrifice for the sake of others (e.g. soldiers in WWII). Therefore, we should say that there is a cause or purpose greater than the individual person.

Certainly, the tradition of the West (not just the Catholic tradition) asserts that there is a common good, and that the purpose of the political community is to advance the common good. Does this not mean, therefore, that the common good is a greater good than that of the individual person? I hold that it does not, and that the answer to each of the objections lies in what we understand by “common.”

If something is “common” it means that it applies first to all and then and therefore of necessity to each, and in essentially the same way. So, for example, to breathe is truly common to people: it applies to all of us insofar as we are human, and therefore and necessarily to each of us, and in the same way. (True, athletes will have trained themselves to breathe more effectively, but they nonetheless are participating in the same activity.) Similarly, everyone would acknowledge certain fundamental necessities for life - water, food, shelter and the like. These things are truly common.

Common in predication only. See the account given by Mike Augros. (This is developed at length by Charles De Koninck in his book on the primacy of the common good.)

There has also, in the past, been a broad consensus concerning goods that are not merely physical requirements for human life but that are also common. Rather than being necessary for sustaining our physical life, they are things that conduce to happiness, or to the flourishing of the person. So, every person requires an education, a measure of freedom, insofar as we have real agency in our relationships to others, recognition as a subject of relationship, and not merely an object, and so on. The particular manner in which these goods are expressed differs from person to person and from culture to culture, but the goods are common, in that they are first true of all and, necessarily therefore, of each.

What is the measure, then, of these common goods? Clearly, it is the human person. What constitutes something as “good?” Simply, that it is sought as conducive to the life or the happiness of the person. The person is the measure of the common good.This assertion - which is founded upon reason, and was taught by the pagan philosophers of the ancient world– is confirmed and amplified in the Catholic tradition:

…There is a growing awareness of the sublime dignity of the human person, who stands above all things and whose rights and duties are universal and inviolable. …The social order and its development must constantly yield to the good of the person, since the order of things must be subordinate to the order of persons, and not the other way around…. (Vatican Council II, Gaudium et Spes, 26)

The common good for society is therefore described as “the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily” (Gaudium et Spes, 26.) The person is the measure of the social order, and there is no such thing as a cause that is greater than a person.

The goods listed above are still common by predication, but not by causation. Fr. Sweeney then jumps to the definition of the common good given in GS and adopted in contemporary CST. What is the common good for De Koninck, St. Thomas, and Aristotle? The end which all members of a political community pursue, the good of the community as a whole. This is the "holistic" common good, as distinguished from the "aggregate" common good of Mark Murphy and the "instrumental" common good of John Finnis (and apparently of contemporary CST as well). The classical or traditional common good is the members of a community living together well. (De Koninck discusses at length how this good is both proper to the individual and yet a shared good.) The instrumental common good is arguably common by predication, as all benefit from that set of social conditions, but is it also common by causation? Do all seek to establish and preserve those social conditions necessary for the flourishing of individuals? It depends on what these social conditions are, but my guess is that if we come up with a complete list that it will be difficult to say that all are aiming to bring all of these conditions about.

Who is primarily responsible for ensuring these social conditions? The government. The citizenry may contribute money and follow the laws to bring these conditions about, but do they do so for all of the conditions? And do they seek to bring these conditions about at all times and places? Temporal discontinuity and a lack of complete attribution seem to invalidate the claim that the instrumental common good is common by causation. [In the order of final causality.]

Fr. Sweeney continues:
With this in mind, let us address each of the objections:

(1) Society is ordered to the common good, which is the good of the person. To say that this good is “common” means that, to the degree that one pursues one’s own good -- his or her own genuine fulfillment as a person -- one will simultaneously seek a society that is ordered to the good of all. What orders society is not some cause that is greater than the person, but the genuine good of the person.

The instrumental common good, taken from CST. Without a reference to others (and the virtues that govern one's behavior towards others), such a belief, that "to the degree that one pursues one's own good -- his or her own genuine fulfillment as a person -- one will simultaneously seek a society that is ordered to the good of all" echoes liberalism. As such, this response is not fully developed. Hence Fr. Sweeney adds:
(2) Certainly, one can pursue apparent (rather than genuine) goods to the detriment of others, and to seek what is truly good requires sacrificing such immediate self-interests for the sake of the common good. I think, however, that we must be careful about how we speak about this. Subordination of immediate self-gratification to the common good does not imply a cause greater than oneself, but the seeking of goods that are more proper to one’s own fulfillment. Freedom, for example, is either an attribute of a person (demonstrated, as Chesterton has it, by the mystical ability to get off a bus one stop early) or a social condition in which one is at liberty to pursue genuine personal fulfillment. No one should surrender one’s freedom, for to do so is contrary to one of the goods that we all hold in common. The soldier who dies in the cause of freedom is dying in the cause of the person, and should be honored for that reason.

[The soldier who dies in the cause of freedom is not dying for his own good, if we understand that narrowly to mean his physical life, which is a private good. Even a private act of virtue (for the sake of honor, etc.) would still be a private good. But the good as intended as an act of love, or an act for the benefit of others or the community? That would be different.]

(3) The good of the many cannot be greater than the good of each one, in that the good of the many is common, and is therefore the good also of each one.

(4) The common good, because common, is indeed the good of each one, and therefore might be correctly termed a matter of self interest: to pursue the common good is, perforce, to pursue one’s own good. However, such a pursuit does not obviate sacrifice for the sake of others, in fact quite the contrary. When a person or a regime (e.g. Hitler or Nazi Germany) acts to enslave whole peoples, the good of all is placed in peril. When my father fought overseas in WWII he was acting to protect the life and liberty of those he loved, and risked his life to do so, precisely because he had is heart set upon the common good.

It is not greater numerically, but we may use "greater" equivocally, as a synonym of "higher" -- that is to say, the political common good is prior to the private good of the individual in importance.

(3) and (4) could also be said by someone like De Koninck (setting aside what Fr. Sweeney says about World War II and the "Good Cause") -- the common good is both the good of all and also the good of the individual member. The difference between De Koninck and Sweeney lies, then, in what they identify as being the proper good.

Even if it is said that the instrumental common good is for the sake of the individuals, the good of these individuals is not attained through living in isolation from one another. Even having a family life is not sufficient. Rather, the good is attained if they live well with one another. So one could say that the instrumental common good is ordered to the members of a community living well with one another, but that is the common good of which the Thomistic tradition speaks -- a virtuous life in community, and this is the common good which should be emphasized in an age of individualism and social atomization. Perhaps Fr. Sweeney would assent to this; it is a necessary addition that is missing from his admittedly brief exposition of the common good.

[If there is no true community, does this common good really exist?]

It appears to me that Fr. Sweeney has attempted to combine the words of the Thomistic tradition with contemporary CST and perhaps other strands, but his account of the common good will be problematic in so far as contemporary CST is influenced by "systems of thought" other than "the perennial philosophy" in its explication of politics. But I will have to take a look at the Compendium before I write some more about contemporary CST and liberalism.

The Smithy: Response to Benedict XVI Audience on Scotus

The Smithy: Response to Benedict XVI Audience on Scotus:

Lee Faber responds to Pope Benedict's recent address on Duns Scotus.
I changed the template, and tweaked the color settings so that there would be some superficial resemblance to the old template. If the colors make the text difficult to read, please leave some feedback.

Fr. Emery's paper for Dominicans and the Challenge of Thomism

Gilles Emery (Fribourg): «Theologia» et «dispensatio» : la doctrine des missions divines et l’enseignement thomiste de la théologie trinitaire. – «Theologia» and «Dispensatio» : the doctrine of the divine missions, and teaching Thomas’ Trinitarian theology today, Reactions: Simon Gaine (Oxford), Gilles Berceville (Paris)

[download #1][download #2]


Fr. Bonino's lecture for Dominicans and the Challenge of Thomism

Serge-Thomas Bonino (Toulouse): Y a-t-il une philosophie thomiste?



The derivation of the precepts of the Natural Law

According to the New Natural Law Theory -- Robert George gives a brief account in his response to Michael Perry:

Well, I don't want to misunderstand Michael, so let me ask: What about the absolute norm that forbids having sexual intercourse with a woman against her will or without her consent? It seems to me that there are only a couple of ways Michael could go here. One is to affirm the exceptionless norm against rape and say that it is merely a specification of the love commandment of John 13:34. If so, fine with me. I would then want to argue that there are many such specifications, including the exceptionless norm against the direct killing of innocent human beings at any stage or in any condition, and those against adultery, fornication, sodomy, and other intrinsically non-marital sexual acts. Michael might disagree with me about some or all of these, but our debate would not be about whether there is only one exceptionless moral norm. In each case, it would be a debate about whether a particular norm is exceptionless, or a valid norm at all.
James Chastek, The opposition between “strongly held intuitions” and science

Friday, July 09, 2010

William May coming to Oakland

He will be giving a Manhattan Forum lecture on July 27 at 7 P.M. The title of his lecture is "Marriage and Children - Reshaping the Dialog to Reflect the Human Reality." Details.

(Robert George is giving a lecture on August 25. The fee, which will also cover admission for the Manhattan Forum Conference on September 18. Details.)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Zenit: On Duns Scotus
"Defender of the Immaculate Conception"

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Insight Scoop: Benedict XVI on Blessed Duns Scotus, "Doctor subtilis"
Mike Augros on the common good. I think he is mistaken to accept the definition of the common good given in contemporary Catholic Social Teaching, instead of using one provided by Aristotle or St. Thomas. His intention might be good (fidelity to the Magisterium), but if it is the case that St. Thomas (and Aristotle) understand the common good to be something else, that is what we should be recovering, in opposition to liberalism and other errors.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Update on M. Augros

So Dr. Mike Augros is now at TAC. I found this website. It's been a while since I've looked at the Society for Aristotelian Studies website. (His father is still at St. Anselm. Saint Anselm Philosophy has a blog! Dr. R. Augros's posts.)

Monday, July 05, 2010

Holy See on Educational Mobility

Holy See on Educational Mobility

"A True Humanism ... Can and Should Allow the Presence of Foreign Students"

ROME, JULY 3, 2010 ( Here is a greeting sent from the president and secretary of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers to the members of the Service of European Churches for International Students. The group will meet this week in Namur, Belgium.

* * *

As you gather together once again for your annual meeting, I am delighted to send you my greetings and good wishes for your deliberations.

Today Educational mobility within the world's universities is ever on the increase having grown almost three fold since 1975. The development of funding and scholarships for third world countries, together with the emergences of China and other Asian countries is set to change the patterns of movement of international students and professors hitherto not experienced. In particular the development of a ‘European Higher Education Area' through the Bologna Agreement and an extension of existing exchange schemes and programmes will have effects beyond the borders of Europe itself. These are both interesting and exciting times for the development of tertiary education. Moreover, recent projections put the global number of international students set to rise from 3 million in 2010 to 7.2 million in 2025.

The topic you have chosen for your meeting, "Language of faith and language of Sciences, a challenge for international students in a market driven economy" is an important one that goes to the heart of the Church's pastoral mission within universities. Your particular concentration with the specific pastoral care offered towards foreign students in Europe can help to open up this significant topic between the relationship of faith and reason and a particular vision in the formation of young adults. Indeed, the Second Vatican Council reminds us that the future of humanity "is in the hands of those who are capable of providing the generations to come with reasons for life and optimism".[1]

Pope John Paul II, in his important Encyclical "Fides et Ratio"[2] explains that truth is known through a combination of both faith and reason. The absence of either one will diminish man's ability to know himself, the world and God.[3] Human reason, he wrote, seeks the truth, but the ultimate truth about the meaning of life cannot be found by reason alone.[4] The search for knowledge - the search for the meaning of life - is essentially a search for God. This search, at its best, is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and responds to his calling. The honest searcher learns from others, as for example a philosopher learns from a scientist, taking into account his own point of view. Indeed, the same learning should mark the relations between philosopher and theologian.

Part of the mission of those who have both academic and pastoral responsibility in the student world should be to foster collaboration between not only different disciplines but also cultures. It is in this way that a true ‘humanism' can grow. Pope Benedict XVI knows only too well of this need when he said recently:

"I want to stress the importance of the education of young intellectuals and of scientific and cultural exchanges between universities in order to propose and enliven integral human development....In this context I have entrusted to you in spirit, dear young people, the Encyclical Caritas in Veritate in which we recall the urgent need to shape a new humanistic vision."[5]

In order for there to be ‘love in truth', the Pope asks for an "authentic human development" calling for a new humanism that as a "fruitful dialogue between faith and reason cannot but render the work of charity more effective within society."[6] In fact it is only in a dialogue between ‘the language of science and the language of faith' that we can properly arrive at the truth. Indeed the truth is embedded, waiting to be discovered, so that each human person may come to their fullest potential. For, as Pope John Paul II reminds us,

"The truth and everything that is true represents a great good to which we must turn with love and joy. Science too is a way to truth; for God's gift of reason, which according to its nature is destined not for error, but for the truth of knowledge, is developed in it."[7]

The danger that education can be reduced to a mere functionalism, rather than being in essence a search for the truth, is particularly present for many foreign students, principally if their return is linked to future economic and industrial productivity. A true humanism pervading academic pursuit can and should allow the presence of foreign students - along with students of host countries - to bring a richness and diversity that should be at the heart of the university fostering an education that touches the whole of a person. Moreover, in this search for and the living out of discovered truths and the dialogue between science and faith also has positive repercussions for the mission of the Church as Pope Benedict XVI reminds us:

"The dialogue between faith and reason, religion and science, does not only make it possible to show people of our time the reasonableness of faith in God as effectively and convincingly as possible, but also to demonstrate that the definitive fulfilment of every authentic human aspiration rests in Jesus Christ. In this regard, a serious evangelizing effort cannot ignore the questions that arise also from today's scientific and philosophical discoveries." [8]

I would like also to mention, having now passed this last year which has been dedicated to priests, the work of fostering vocations with university communities. The opening up of individuals, to one another and to God, is part of the process of the vocational search to find the purpose God has for a person in their life. The search for truth must also be one for the truth about ourselves and God's call. The encouragement for all to discover the will of God and, for those for whom it is discerned, a specific call for the priesthood, should never be absent. Moreover it should be a prominent and frequent cause for deliberation and reflection, including those who are foreign students.

As you embark upon your symposium, be assured of our prayers and support. I am confident that your work will bear much fruit, and that aided by the prayers of Mary, Seat of Wisdom, the Lord will bless you abundantly in this encounter.

Antonio Maria Vegliò


Agostino Marchetto

Archbishop Secretary

From the Vatican, 1st July 2010

--- --- ---


[1] Second Ecumenical Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes, no. 31:

[2] Cf. Pope John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, September 1998:

[3] Ibid., no.16.

[4] Ibid., no.42.

[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Address on the occasion of the Marian Prayer Vigil "with Africa and for Africa", Saturday 10th October 2009:

[6] ID., Encylical Letter "Caritas in Veritate", June 2009, No. 57:

[7] John Paul II, Science and faith in the search for truth, Address to teachers and university students in Cologne Cathedral, November 15, 1980:

[8] Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the participants of the Plenary assembly of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, 10th February 2006:

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Salon: "What Darwin Got Wrong": Taking down the father of evolution (via Stephen Hand)


Jerry Fodor: Still getting it wrong about evolution
The Sunday Times
The Guardian
Boston Review
From the third day of Dominicans and the Challenge of Thomism:

Emmanuel Perrier (Toulouse): Les thomistes ont-ils encore des raisons de parler du droit et de la politique?[download]

Michael Sherwin (Fribourg): The Return to Virtue: challenges and opportunities [download]

Romanus Cessario (Boston):How to Present a Thomist Moral Theology Today [download]

Wojciech Giertych (Vatican City): Gratia etsi sit efficacior quam natura, tamen natura essentialior est homini, et ideo magis permanens” (Ia-IIae, q. 94, art. 6, ad 2). Nature and Grace within Moral Theology, Reactions: Nicanor Austriaco (Providence), Michał Mrozek (Warsaw).[download]