Chapter Twelve Three Kinds of Objectivity

Jonathan Jacobs

The ethical works of Maimonides and Aquinas owe a great deal to Aristotle. In their overall moral psychologies, in their conceptions of the significance of the virtues and how virtues are acquired, in their common endorsement of virtue as lying in a mean, and in their perfectionist interpretations of human nature, the Aristotelian influence is evident and substantial. Still, there are some crucial differences between their ethical views. Here I shall try to bring into view the difference it makes that Aristotle's ethics is an ethic of practical wisdom, Maimonides' is an ethic of revealed law, and Aquinas' is an ethic of natural law. These are not just variants of what is ultimately a common or shared view; these are three different interpretations of objectivity, and there are significant differences in moral psychology affiliated with them. There are significant differences in the conceptions of the moral agent, the nature of volition, and the accessibility of ethical requirements. For Maimonides and Aquinas, theism is not an accessory to a basically Aristotelian conception; rather, Aristotelian idiom is used to articulate some quite unAristotelian conceptions of virtue and moral epistemology.

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