Info

We find a different but no less striking contrast between Aristotle and Aquinas. Aquinas writes of synderesis that, "the common principles, the natural law, in its universal meaning, cannot in any way be blotted out from men's hearts" (Aquinas, S.T., Q. 94, Art. 6; p. 645). For Aquinas, synderesis and conscience equip the agent with resources for moral guidance and self-evaluation that do not have counterparts in Aristotle's theory. This is yet another approach to the accessibility of ethical considerations. Aquinas writes:

Accordingly, we conclude that, just as in the speculative reason, from naturally known indemonstrable principles we draw the conclusions of the various sciences, the knowledge of which is not imparted to us by nature, but acquired by the efforts of reason, so too it is that from the precepts of the natural law, as from common and indemonstrable principles, the human reason needs to proceed to the more particular determination of certain matters. (Aquinas, S.T., Q. 91, Art. 3; p.620)

He adds that as to "the secondary precepts, the natural law can be blotted out from the human heart, either by evil persuasions,, or by vicious customs and corrupt habits." (Aquinas, S.T., Q. 94, Art. 6; p. 645) but the first principles are accessible to all, known by all, and cannot be blotted out. The act of conscience is needed in order to make specific determinations of what is to be done in actual situations, but any agents who have not lost their reason have a grasp of basic practical principles. This is a resource of ethical capability we do not find in Aristotle's view, and correspondingly, we do not find anything quite like conscience in it either.

The Thomistic view is, in some ways, more like many more modern views in that it maintains that fundamental principles of right action are accessible to an agent as long as the agent has not lost his reason. Among the great diversity of modern moral theories, many of them share the notion that it is the agent's rationality that identifies and engages the agent to moral rules. There is of course, the significant difference that Aquinas embeds the agent's practical rationality in an objective teleology. Aristotle and Aquinas do agree that in any undertaking which is a human act the agent aims at what he or she takes to be some good. But there are built into Aquinas' moral psychology more substantial resources in the constitution of the rational agent to enable him to recognize what is good. To be sure, the virtues of character are, for Aquinas, very important. Also, there is no guarantee that the agent will regularly choose to pursue genuine goods. But there is a basic type of moral cognition that is possible independently of how the agent perceives things on account of his character. Our grasp of natural law, though it must be elaborated and made determinate in specific judgments, supplies an awareness of basic principles of human good. This is a respect in which Aquinas' moral psychology and account of moral cognition differ from Aristotle's.

Moreover, law, to count as law, must be in some way promulgated, and in Aquinas' theory it is promulgated in part by the provision to each agent of an innate disposition to grasp fundamental practical principles. This is not the grasp of a code; again, reasoning must be undertaken in order to make the specific determination of just what is to be done in a particular situation. Moreover, even the principles of natural law themselves are arrived at by reflection (on goods to which we are naturally inclined). The inclinations are innate, but the principles that we recognize as principles of natural law are articulated as a result of consideration. They are not simply self-evident or given in a fixed body of law. There is though, a key difference between the Thomistic moral philosophy and the

Aristotelian. On Aquinas' view every rational agent is an active, responsible participant in a moral order through the capacity to recognize norms supplied as natural law for the governance of action.

Synderesis is not a straightforward counterpart to the innate disposition to good that Aristotle ascribes to human nature. It is true that on Aristotle's view, "Some concern for a conative final good is a necessary feature of a rational agent" (Irwin 1992, 367); but this does not guarantee that the agent is rightly oriented to the good, or that the agent will recognize principles governing the actualization of human good. As Paul Sigmund has pointed out:

.Aquinas has combined quite disparate elements in Aristotle—the phronesis of the Nicomachean Ethics, the description of final causality in the Physics, the discussion of the natural basis of government, slavery, property, etc., in Book I of the Politics, the ambiguous treatment of natural justice (not natural law) in Book V of the Ethics, and the description of law as reason in Book III of the Politics—into a new synthesis that makes the determination of natural ends (based on natural inclinations) a central consideration in the development of a workable theory of natural law. (Sigmund 1993, 224-225)

Now, not only are these various elements combined (which would not in itself signal a substantial departure from Aristotle) but they are combined through the theistic metaphysic which underwrites them and their interrelations. Aristotle and Aquinas do share a teleological, dispositional interpretation of human nature. And Aristotle does say that "Law, however, has the power that compels; and law is reason that proceeds from a sort of intelligence and understanding" (NE, 1180a 21-22). Still, this is quite different from the view that "Law is nothing else than an ordinance of reason for the common good, promulgated by him who has the care of the community" (Aquinas, S.T., Q. 90, Art. 4; p. 615). Thomistic natural law has a ground or origin that explains its promulgation (and authority) in ways in which are not parts of Aristotle's notion of practical wisdom. If one wishes to argue that Aquinas completes Aristotle's ethical philosophy, it is certainly not completion merely by addition. The way in which Aquinas completes it makes a significant difference both to the accessibility of rules of practical reason and to the obligatoriness of them. It would be a misleading (if not simply inaccurate) simplification to say that Aquinas attaches Aristotle's moral psychology and notion of practical wisdom to a metaphysics that also involves theistic commitments. Those latter make crucial differences to moral psychology and to moral epistemology.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment