The Ethics and Summa of Theology

The Lasting Happiness And Success Formula

The Secret to Happiness

Get Instant Access

Certain large similarities can easily be asserted between the second part of the Summa and the Ethics. Both begin with a hortatory or protreptic discussion of happiness, proceed then to examine the principles of human action, and consider next some particular virtues, in order to end with reflection on particular states of life. But a reader of the two texts could just as easily be struck by large differences. It is obvious that certain Christian doctrines make their appearance in Summa 2, among them the Old and New Law, grace, and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. More pervasively and more subtly, Thomas changes the specificity and confidence of Aristotelian moral teaching. Where Aristotle begins by emphasizing the limitations of moral teaching and raising difficulties about happiness, Thomas offers a rapid ascent to a divine good. Where Aristotle offers a few remarks on the terms for ascribing and mitigating responsibility, Thomas gives a detailed analysis of nine interlocking acts of knowing and willing. Most profoundly, Thomas engages the structure of Aristotle's Ethics as a pedagogical analogy for the construction of a Christian moral teaching.

In his exposition, Thomas describes three very unequal parts of the Nico-machean Ethics. After a procedural introduction, he says, Aristotle "investigates happiness"in the first part, which is most of the first book. At the end of that book, Aristotle turns to what Thomas counts as the second part of the trichotomy, the main matter of the Ethics: the discussion of virtue. Aristotle begins with the moral virtues. In the second book and part of the third, he defines moral virtue in general and certain principles of moral action. In the balance of the third book and the fourth, Aristotle treats virtues concerned

with interior passions, chiefly fortitude and temperance. In the fifth book, the subject is the virtue of external actions, namely justice. Aristotle's sixth book considers the intellectual virtues. The seventh, eighth, and ninth books describe things that follow on virtues or accompany them, namely continence and friendship. Aristotle's tenth book, which is the (short) third member of Thomas's original trichotomy, completes the treatment of happiness, individually and in the city.106

Compare Thomas's own order in the second part of the Summa. First, Thomas separates the definitions of virtue and the other principles or elements much more strictly from the treatment of particular virtues. Thomas insists, second, on the sufficiency of the four cardinal virtues as a comprehensive organization for all moral virtue. They are the organizing principles, and friendship or continence must be subordinated to them pedagogically. In the Summa, friendship becomes a quasi-potential part of justice,107 while continence appears as a potential part of temperance.108 Third, Thomas suppresses Aristotle's separate treatment of the intellectual virtues. Prudence is combined with the similarly named cardinal virtue. Art is excluded as not pertaining to moral matters. Wisdom, understanding, and knowledge are treated with their related gifts of the Spirit under the appropriate theological virtue.109 Fourth, Thomas inserts into the investigation of principles a long treatment of the passions, which he thinks Aristotle had relegated to the Rhetoric.110 Fifth, Aristotle's discussion of law is moved from the end of the tenth book, where it forms a bridge to the Politics, back to a point just before the consideration of particular virtues. It becomes part of the preliminary review of virtue and choice. Under Thomas's reorganization, then, the Ethics would proceed as follows: investigation of happiness; definitions of virtue, choice, passions, and law; the four cardinal virtues; and the personal attainment of happiness, especially in contemplation.

Thomas regards his revision of the order of the Ethics as an improvement in clarity and comprehensiveness even for the philosophical order of teaching. Of course the guide that enables Thomas to proceed so much more confidently and clearly through the uncertainties of moral life also requires that he regard a clarified and augmented philosophical ethics as inadequate

106 Thomas's understanding of the order of the Ethics is drawn from his remarks in Sent. Ethic. 1.1, 1.3, 1.4,1.19, 2.1, 3.14, 7.1, and 10.1.

107 Summa theol. 2-2.114. Of course, many of the matters that Aristotle discusses in the books on friendship appear in Thomas under the acts of the theological virtue of charity. See, for example, Summa theol. 2-2.28-33.

108 Summa theol. 2-2.155.

109 Thomas explains this in Summa theol. 2-2. prol.

to moral life. At the center of the revised Aristotelian pattern, Thomas must insert two things: an eminent external principle for teaching good action -a principle much more powerful than the law of cities; and an eminent set of new virtues - virtues much more important for happiness than the cardinal virtues. The principle is grace, and the new virtues are infusions of faith, hope, and charity.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment