ND   JMC : History of Medieval Philosophy / by Maurice De Wulf

VI. Moral Philosophy.

304. General Ethics (55). -- The thirteenth century broaches fundamental moral questions and treats them from a philosophical view-point (126). Every system of ethics implies a theory on MAN'S END and on the HUMAN ACT. In fact, ethics is only the study of human acts in their relation to this end.

(1) Man's end -- The human act par excellence is the free act, which alone is moral or immoral. God is the end of man. Possession of Him is the object of the natural tendencies of our highest psychic activities. The Moral Law is but the application to man of the Eternal Law (Lex Aeterna); and by this latter, we are to understand the adaptation of all creatures to their end by the Divine Wisdom Itself: scholastic ethics is thus seen to assume a metaphysical aspect. The scholastics demonstrate that knowledge (visio) and love (delectatio) of the Creator constitute the most perfect activity of which man is capable; that the act which puts us into possession of happiness is an act of knowledge (St. Thomas), or of volition (Duns Scotus), or of both together (St. Bonaventure).

(2) Duty. -- On MORAL OBLIGATION the scholastics have a theory unknown to Grecian philosophy. Obligation, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, is based primarily on the very nature of our acts: for this nature serves as foundation for the "lex naturalis" which is the reflex of the "lex divina aeterna". Our consciences are steeped in that natural law, and every positive law borrows its authority from it. But it is in the Divine order and law that the binding force of all other law is to be finally sought.

(3) Moral conscience. -- Being morally obliged to tend towards its good, human nature is obliged, by way of a corollary, to employ the means that are NECESSARY for this end. The habitus principiorum rationis practicae, which scholastics call synderesis,{1} brings us to the knowledge of the ways that lead to this end. Under the influence of the synderesis, the intellect formulates those great, general principles which are the rules of the moral life; moral conscience, overlooked by Aristotle, is merely the application of these universal principles to particular cases.

It is interesting to note that the elements of the moral good ness of an act (object, circumstance, end), determining the convergence of the act to its end, are at the same time the elements of the ontological perfection of that act. By the degree of actuality or perfection in an act is measured its degree of morality: here once more we witness the systematic solidarity of the great leading ideas of scholastic philosophy.

{1} St. Thomas calls it: "lex intellectus nostri, inquantum est habitus continens praecepta legis naturalis "(S. Theol., ii., q. 94, a. 1).

<< ======= >>