Jacques Maritain Center : St. Thomas Aquinas / by Ralph McInerny

CHAPTER 2: Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle

Thomas's next assignment was as regent of studies in Naples, and in the summer of 1272, together with his fellow Dominican and secretary, Reginald of Piperno, Thomas began the long walk south. It should be noted, incidentally, when we consider Thomas's extensive travels, that as a Dominican he was obliged to journey on foot. The modern traveler who flies or drives between the cities that show up on the map of Thomas's life may find it difficult to imagine all that hiking about the continent. Due to delays, Thomas and Reginald did not arrive in Naples until September.

Thomas then returned to the community where he had himself entered the Dominican Order. His task was to set up a house of studies that would be connected with the University of Naples. Thus his teaching career, as well as his writing, continued. The Third Part of the Summa theologiae, through Question 90, which is as far as Thomas got, was written in Naples. The work of commenting on Aristotle continued into this last period of Thomas's life. His commentary on Isiah also dates from this period as does his exposition of the Psalms, which is incomplete.

There now occurred an event of a most puzzling nature.{14} Thomas ceased to write and teach, and to the inquiries of his friend Reginald of Piperno, replied that after the things he had seen, everything he had written now seemed to him as so much chaff. This final phrase would seem to connect with one or two other events that are reported by early biographers and in the canonization process. One night, after a period during which Thomas had been fasting and praying because he could not make sense of a scriptural passage on which he had to comment, Reginald heard Thomas in conversation in his cell. After a time, Thomas summoned his secretary and began again the dictation of his commentary. Persistent questioning by Reginald drew the answer that Peter and Paul had visited Thomas to discuss the difficult passage with him. There are other stories, too, among them one where Thomas was seen praying in church, his feet hovering some distance above the floor. During one of these events, we may surmise, Thomas was granted a vision, after which his own efforts to understand and explain divine things seemed pointless and absurd. The Catholic view of life, as we shall see Thomas explain it, holds that on this earth we are in via, on the way to a destiny that is wholly out of proportion to our natural desires and deserts. Faith is the dark knowledge we now have of the luminous reality that awaits us, and in the next life, in patria, faith will give way to a kind of direct seeing of God that will constitute our eternal beatitude. In the Summa theologiae, Thomas devoted a question to the discussion of such mystical rapture as he seems to have experience himself,{15} but the discussion is, as usual, wholly impersonal, based on the Scriptures and the Fathers. With respect to Paul's remark about having been caught up into the third heaven, {16} Thomas held that Paul saw God in his essence and not merely in some likeness or similitude. If Thomas himself had a comparable experience, his negative estimate of his lifework is no doubt understandable, but it is important to remember from what vantage point if is that such a prodigious achievement as his looks like chaff.

This episode reminds us that with Thomas Aquinas we are dealing not only with a great mind and with one of the greatest and most influential Italian authors, but with a religious, a Dominican, a saint. Sprung from a noble lineage, Thomas throughout his life had contact with the great of this world, with emperors and kings and popes. There is a well-known account of Thomas at table with the king of France suddenly hitting on a refutation of the Manichean heresy, and on the table, in that order. Before leaving Naples for the last time he had a meeting with Charles II. As for churchmen, he had the acquaintance of several popes and presumably many cardinals and bishops. For all that, the picture of Thomas that emerges from the accounts of those who knew him is primarily one of a humble and obedient friar. The religious life, the Dominican life, naturally involves a commitment to make a special and life-long effort to observe the counsels of perfection as well as the commandments, to strive for sanctity. Everything else in Thomas's life was subordinate to this calling and unless we recognize this we simply do not have an accurate picture of the man.

At the beginning of 1274, Thomas set out for Lyons where a general council of the Church was to be held which he had been ordered to attend. There is reason to believe that he had been in poor health in Naples. On the way north, he visited a niece at Maenza and was stricken again. After a few days he was moved to the Cistercian monastery at Fossanova and it was there, on the morning of March 7, at the age of forty-nine, that Thomas Aquinas died.

Benedictine oblate, lay student at the University of Naples, Dominican student and then professor at the University of Paris and in various houses of study of his Order - that in its bare bones is the life of Thomas. We have seen how his writings emerged naturally out of his activities as a teacher. In many respects, there is nothing wholly distinctive about such a life at such a time. Other masters of theology produced bodies of writing as extensive, other theologians concerned themselves with the newly introduced writings of Aristotle, with the Arabic commentaries, with various Neoplatonic and Jewish authors. Nor was Thomas the first to write summary works of theology which attempted to incorporate this new knowledge. To discover what is distinctive in the work of Thomas Aquinas, we must go beyond the format of his writings, their occasion and purpose, their sheer bulk.

We have mentioned that Thomas was principally a theologian. This is a valid reminder and it will be necessary for us to see what his vision of the nature, scope, and method of theology was as well as to evaluate his substantive contributions to this discipline. But it must also be emphasized that Thomas was a philosopher. His commentaries on Aristotle are not as such theological works: they are philosophical works. Compared with his independent philosophical writings, polemical and otherwise, they enable us to comprehend his basic philosophical outlook and to see the contributions he made to philosophy. The fact that he wished to understand Aristotle in order, later, to make use of this understanding in a theological context should not blind us to the autonomous character of that preliminary stage. Furthermore, his conception of theology entailed that, in the course of theological investigation, clarification of preliminary philosophical concepts be made. The sources of our knowledge of the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas are not merely his commentaries on philosophical works nor his independent philosophical writings; the theological writings of Thomas are treasure houses of philosophical clarifications.

In what follows, we shall be considering the writings of Thomas under four major headings. Since one of his major tasks was to assimilate philosophical literature, old and new, we shall consider his relation to the thought of Aristotle, to the thought of Boethius, and to Platonism and Neoplatonism. We use these abstract designations since it is not known with certainty how much of Plato Thomas had read. In any case, he could not read him in the Greek and there was precious little available in Latin translation. Finally, we shall consider Thomas as theologian.

These divisions of our labor have both advantages and disadvantages. While they do not permit us to approach Thomas chronologically as such, it does happen that his commentaries on Boethius are early and can naturally be associated with the works On the Principles of Nature and On Being and Essence. As for Aristotle, there is no chance of considering the commentaries and allied independent writings as confined to any one period of Thomas's life. As we have already seen, throughout his life Thomas was fashioning his commentaries on Aristotle. The major convenience of our approach is that it enables us to speak first, in Chapters 2 to 4, of the philosophy of Aquinas, leaving the discussion of his theology till later.

I. Aristotle Goes West

It has been said that without Thomas, Aristotle would be mute; it can equally well be said that without Aristotle, Thomas would be unintelligible. Like so many of his contemporaries, St. Thomas refers to Aristotle as "the Philosopher," but his use of the appellation cannot be explained simply in terms of a convention of the times.

Although it is in many respects impossible to speak of even the early portion of the Middle Ages without mentioning Aristotle's influence, it is important to see how different that influence was before and after, say, 1200. In the early Middle Ages, Aristotle was known as the author of the logical works that had been translated by and commented on by Boethius. Only by remembering this will we be able to survive our surprise at hearing Plato rather than Aroistotle spoken of as a physicist or philosopher of nature. These early medievals had a partial translation of Plato's Timaeus, whereas the natural writings of Aristotle, which form the bulk of his oeuvre, were not yet known. It must have been suspected that the handful of logical treatises which served as school textbooks were but the tip of the Aristotelian iceberg -- after all, the titles, at least, of other works were known -- but when the full scope of Aristotle's production became known, when all the treatises we associate with the name of Aristotle came into the West almost en masse, the image of the iceberg is aptly suggestive of the disruptive, disquieting, and awesome effect they had.{1}

For the works of Aristotle to have had this impact, they had first of all to be translated. This work of rendering Aristotle legible began in Spain during the 12th century, notably in Toledo under the aegis of one Archbishop Raymond. In Spain, the Christian, Moslem, and Jewish cultures were, however uneasily, juxtaposed. It is thought that the works of Aristotle were first translated in the vernacular Spanish and thence into Latin, and, when we consider that they had found their way into Arabic via a previous Syriac translation, we can appreciate how easily inaccuracies could creep into the text. To the vagaries of this trek through the world south of the Mediterranean must be added the further complication that Aristotle came into the West escorted by Moslem interpreters, with the result that Aristotle's meaning was often identified with what such great scholars as Avicenna and Averroes said it was.

The Aristotle who had been largely inaccessible to the West was not to be confined to a single mode of entry once his advent finally took place. At the papal court, the studium curiae, where Thomas spent the years 1261-65 and 1267-68, a Flemish Dominican, William of Moerbeke, was occupied in translations from the Greek. This remarkable man, who was later to be bishop of Corinth, was responsible for many translations from the Greek, and it is said that Thomas urged him to provide versions of Aristotle more accurate than those coming from the Iberian peninsula.{2} William obliged and so accurate and literal were his translations that they are still taken into account today when scholars seek to establish critical editions of the Greek text of Aristotle.

We must not regard the influx of Aristotle as purely a happy expansion of literary resources. The world view conveyed by the Aristotelian treatises could easily be regarded as a rival of the Christian universe itself as this had been described by the great Fathers of the Church and by their medieval successors. Although by doing so we run the risk of seeming to minimize the vertiginous dimensions of the cultural clash, we can indicate the nature of the supposed threat by citing three real or apparent Aristotelian tenets which collided, or seemed to collide, with Christian belief. First, there is Aristotle's assumption, in his proof of the Prime Mover, that the realm of mobile being has always been.{3} In a word, Aristotle proceeds as if the world had always existed. But it is a matter of Christian belief, based on Genesis, that the world and time had a beginning. Second, if his Moslem interpreters could be believed, Aristotle, in offering what can be called a proof of the immortality of the soul by appeal to the nature of the agent intellect, is not arguing that your soul or mine survives death, but that a single separate entity, the Tenth Intelligence, which makes use of particular earthly souls in order to think, survives their disappearance just as it has anticipated their coming into being.{4} But surely if my soul does not survive death, indeed, if I myself do not, then the Christian promises are meaningless. Third, in describing God as thought thinking itself,{5} Aristotle seems to suggest that for God's knowledge to depend on anything outside and other than himself would be demeaning and imperfect. But that in turn seems to suggest that God does not know and direct what is happening in the world, and what then of the belief in providence?

Thomas's approach to these difficulties differed from that of others, notably that of St. Bonaventure. We shall be turning in a moment to Thomas's treatment of these three problems, but first a word on the commentaries he wrote on works of Aristotle. We pointed out in the previous chapter precisely which works of Aristotle Thomas commented on; he did not comment on all the works and not every commentary he started was brought to completion. What sort of thing was a commentary?

Very roughly, what are called the commentaries of Thomas are of two kinds. On the one hand, we find him working from a text as from a springboard, with his own discussion organized and conducted in relative freedom from the occasioning text. For example, in commenting on the Sentences of Peter Lombard or on the De trinitate of Boethius, Thomas, after giving a preliminary outline of a passage, a divisio textus, goes on to discuss the issues it raised in a more or less independent way, arranging and dividing the discussion as suits his own purpose. The commentaries of Aristotle, on the other hand, like those on Scripture, are far more closely related to the text which provides the order and treatment of issues. A section of the text is subjected to a searching and, as it were, interlinear scrutiny before Thomas passes on to the next section. What is given as the meaning or sense of the text is thus easily checked against the passage under interpretation. The old saw that Thomas baptized Aristotle suggests a most inaccurate picture of what we find when we examine the commentaries on Aristotle. Thomas's contemporaries may be excused for thinking that the influence was going rather in the opposite direction, that Thomas submerged himself not wisely but too well in the task of clarifying the sense of the Aristotelian treatises.

In our time, largely through the influence of Werner Jaeger,{6} it has become customary to regard the treatises of Aristotle as, if not random compilations, nonetheless quite imperfect literary wholes. It can thus come as a shock to read Thomas's commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle -- to take the work that is the test case -- and see him patiently explaining the coherence of the work, the reason for the order among the books (Thomas commented on twelve of the fourteen books), and seeing an inexorable progression from book to book, from chapter to chapter, from line to line. When Thomas rejects an earlier interpretation, as often as not it is because the interpreter failed to account for the intrinsic order of the Aristotelian work. What is to be said about this fundamental difference between Thomas's approach to Aristotle and that which is, or was until recently, dominant today? Nothing of a general or sweeping sort, perhaps. The ultimate basis for choosing between them must be the text of which both methods purport to be giving an account. If the detained coherence and interrelations of an Aristotelian treatise that Thomas invites us to see are in no way provided by what Aristotle wrote, then surely something as remarkable as, if not more remarkable than, baptizing is going on.

The works of Aristotle were proscribed at the University of Paris in 1210 and in 1215.{7} The documents say that the books in question are not to be read (nec legantur), but this must be taken in the technical sense as meaning that they were not to form the basis for lectures. Furthermore, the prohibition was to form the basis for lectures. Furthermore, the prohibition was local. The University of Toulouse made a point of announcing that works of Aristotle which were not lectured on at Paris were lectured on at Toulouse. It seems tolerably clear that the situation at Paris was due to tension between the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Theology, with the former pitting the "new philosophy" of Aristotle against traditional theological figures. However this may be, the prohibitions (and they were to be followed by others, notably that of 1277) suggest caution rather than obscurantism. The concern is not to burn the books of Aristotle or pretend that they do not exist, but rather, in an unhurried and serous way, to assess their philosophical credentials and the impact that the Aristotelian doctrine might have on Christian faith. It was to this dual task that Thomas Aquinas bent some of his best efforts.

II. The Eternity of the World

The short work of Thomas Aquinas entitled On the Eternity of the World is directed against those who, accepting on faith that the world did in fact have a beginning in time, concluded that it was thereby inconceivable that the world should not have had a beginning in time.{8} Thomas proposed to investigate the matter and it is important to see what he is and what he is not doing. He is not questioning the truth of faith that the world had a beginning in time. He is not asking if the world could always have existed independently of the divine causality. "That is an abominable error, not only from the point of view of faith, but also from the point of view of philosophers, who contend and prove that whatever in any way is can only be insofar as it is caused by one who maximally and most truly is." The question Thomas asks, accordingly is this: Is it conceivable that something caused by God could always have been?

Since God is omnipotent, all would agree that he could have created such an eternal world, if such a world were possible. On the side of the world, there would seem to be two bases for saying that an eternal world is an impossibility. The first has to do with the way in which something's being made seems to presuppose its potential existence in something prior to it. That is, before the statue comes to be, it is potentially in the marble: the marble can become a statue. Well, Thomas says in reply, consider an angel. Before the angel come to be, it cannot be said that it, or anything else, can become an angel. There is no presupposed stuff out of which an angel comes to be. Nonetheless, God was able to make an angel, because he did so. So too, Thomas observes, there is no passive potency independent of God such that it could have become the world. "But from this it does not follow that God could not have made some being which has always been."

A second way in which it might be said that an eternal world is impossible is by claiming that the very notion of such a world is self-contradictory and incoherent, on a par with saying that an affirmation and its denial are simultaneously true. Things that are impossible because they make no sense cannot be caused by God and this is scarcely a restriction on or diminution of his omnipotence. That God cannot bring it about that what is true is also false does not detract from his power. Can God bring it about that the past has not been? Thomas takes it to be false to answer this affirmatively because he regards the question as involving conceptual incoherence. Nevertheless, he adds that those who have maintained that God can cause the past not to have been were not thereby called heretics. He seems to be reminding his unnamed opponents that the charge of heresy should not be bandied about lightly. What Thomas wants to know is whether there is a conceptual incoherence, a logical contradiction, in the claim that God could have created an eternal world. To say that God could have created such a world is not, Thomas underlines, heretical. If there is conceptual incoherence, then of course the claim is false. If there is no conceptual incoherence, then it is true that God could have created such a world and false to deny that he could have. St. Thomas means to show that it is not a contradiction to say that God caused a world which has always existed. If there were a contradiction here, it would follow from two factors, taken singly or in conjunction: (1) an agent cause must precede its effect in duration; and (2) nonbeing must precede being in duration, since the world is said to have been created by God from nothing, ex nihilo.

Thomas gives a number of reasons to show that the agent cause, God, need not precede his effect if he has so willed it. We shall not give the tightest argument Thomas offers because it is also the most difficult to grasp without a great deal of explication. It must be said, however, that all four of the arguments proposed rely on a distinction between an agent or making cause which presupposes something passive and an agent cause which does not make this presupposition. For something to be created is not for it to come to be as the result of a change, since change implies that something which was not F comes to be F, as the marble which does not have the shape of Truman comes to have the shape of Truman due to the agency of the sculptor. God as creator does not shape a pre-existent and independent something into creatures. That being said, let us consider the second of the four arguments. Thomas gives.

The cause which produces the whole substance of its effect ought to be able to do at least as much as the causes which produce a form in a preexistent matter, and indeed a good deal more. But there are agents which produce form alone and which are simultaneous with their effect such that whenever the cause is given, its effect is also given. For example, light as cause of illumination does not exist prior to illumining. Therefore, and yet more obviously, it is possible that God who produces his effects in their totality, not presupposing any matter or passive potency, could have effects which are whenever he is. And, since God eternal, the conclusion is that God could have effects which are eternal.

Having concluded on the basis of this and three other arguments that there is nothing contradictory in saying that a cause need not precede its effect in duration, Thomas asks whether, given the fact that God creates the world from nothing, there must have been some time when the world was not. Here too he gives several arguments in favor of the view that God's effect need not have been at some time prior to its being caused. One is taken from St. Anselm and has to do with the phrase "ex nihilo." Anselm observes that when a man is said to be sad without cause, we say that nothing saddens him. So too when the world is said to be made from nothing, the intent is not to suggest that there is something, nothing with a capital N, as it were, out of which the world was formed and which preexisted the world. But it could be taken to mean that the world comes to be after not having been, though not out of or from its not having been. Furthermore, Thomas concedes that it must be said that, for creatures, nothing is prior to being. But he distinguishes a priority of nature and a priority of time. That which belongs to a thing in and of itself is naturally prior to that which it has from outside, as it were. But existence is something that every creature has, not from itself, but from God, such that, considered in itself, without reference to God's causality, the creature is nothing.{9} This priority of nothing over being is one of nature and not one of duration, however. "What is being said is not that, if the creature always was, that at some time it was nothing, but rather that its nature is such that, left to itself, it would be nothing."

Thomas concludes that there is nothing conceptually repugnant in the claim that something has been made by God and yet has always been. If such a claim is contradictory, he adds rhetorically, it is marvelous that St. Augustine did not notice it, since it would have provided the most efficacious way of showing that the world is not eternal. Needless to say, the recognition that an eternal world could have been created by God is not an argument for the factual eternity of the world. If the conception of an eternal created world were contradictory, then of course arguments on its behalf would be otiose.

The position of St. Thomas, then, is this. While he firmly accepts as revealed truth, as a truth of faith, that the duration of the world had a beginning, that time and the world began, he does not regard the contradictory of this truth to be self-contradictory and false on that basis. God might have done what he did not in fact do, namely create an eternal world. Nonetheless, if it is true that the world and time had a beginning, then the contradictory of this is false though meaningful. Since it is false, it could not be shown to be true. But have there not been philosophical arguments of behalf of the eternity of the world? There have been, And notably that of Aristotle. What does Thomas have to say of them? In the Summa theologiae he writes:

The arguments Aristotle puts forth are not demonstrative in the strict sense but only broadly speaking, since what they do is disprove those arguments of the ancients which attempted to show that the world has come to be in one of the ways in which this is truly impossible. This is clear from three facts. First, both in the Eighth Book of the Physics and the First Book of On the Heavens he first sets down opinions of Anaxagoras and Empledocles and Plato against which he then fashions contradictory arguments. Second, wherever he speaks of this matter, he introduces the testimony of the ancients, which is not the method of one who demonstrates, but rather of one who would persuade rhetorically. Third, he expressly speaks in the First Book of the Topics of those dialectical problems which are unresolvable by argument, among them, whether the world is eternal.{10}

We shall return in a later chapter to Thomas's views on the relations between what is believed and what is known or knowable. The discussion of the eternity of the world suggests perhaps the suppleness of his approach as well as the complexity of his attitude toward Aristotle. He is clearly impatient with those who are quick to label their opponents heretics. He is uncharacteristically ironic in his treatment of those who assume that the contradictory of a revealed truth is unthinkable simply because the believer knows it to be false. Further, because the believer holds that the claim that the world is eternal is false does not mean that he is thereby provided with arguments to that effect nor with disproofs of arguments which purport to show the opposite of what God has revealed. It is sufficient, incidentally, that such arguments be shown not to be conclusive. It may well be, as Thomas seems to have held, that there is no conclusive argument for the proposition that the world and time had a beginning.

A final word. When the world is said to be eternal, this term cannot be understood in the same sense it has when God is said to be eternal.{11} Endless duration on the part of that which is susceptibe to change and alteration is unlike the divine duration, since God's eternity is total and simultaneous possession of the summation of perfection.

III. The Nature of Man

If man is a moral agent with a destiny that extends beyond this life, he is nonetheless one among the variety of natural beings. Indeed, when Thomas speaks of the characteristics of man that set him apart from other natural creatures and enables him to transcend the cosmos, he makes use of a vocabulary first fashioned to talk of physical objects. In this, he is following Aristotle for whom "soul" is a term that ranges over a spectrum including mice and men, foliage and fish. Moreover, as we shall see, soul is a special case of that constituent or element of physical things that makes them to be what they are. To say that man is composed of body and soul is a special way of saying that he is composed of matter and form. Thomas takes over from Aristotle the view that the physical thing, that is, whatever has come to be as a result of a change, is composed of matter and form.

A. The Structure of Physical Objects

So pervasive is this analysis of the structure of physical objects in the thought of Thomas that it may seem to be merely a technical jargon derived from Aristotle. If this were all it was, we could learn it as we do any odd or coded use of language, and that would be that. Far more interesting, of course, would be to see what arguments and analyses this use of language depends upon. As it happens, Thomas on many occasions justifies this way of talking about physical things and it is quite clear that for him that justification resides in the way things are and not simply in the conventions of language. In commenting on the Physics of Aristotle, {12} Thomas gives a masterly explication of the key classical text and, in an independent short work, On the Principles of Nature,{13} he argues for the truth of the claim that physical things, products of natural change, are made up of two factors, matter (hyle) and form (morphe.) Because of the Greek terminology, this is often called the hylomorphic theory.

The Latin term natura, like its Greek counterpart, physis, suggests the process of being born, of coming to be.{14} Thus, it is not surprising that by nature is meant the realm of change, of alteration, of coming to be and passing away, and by natural things those which have come to be as a result of a change, which alter and move constantly while they are, and ultimately undergo a change that terminates their being. The terms universum and cosmos suggest order, but if the natural world has order and structure, this is not so much static as dynamic and conative.{15}

The hylomorphic theory is formulated as an answer to the question: What can we say of anything whatsoever that has come to be as the result of a change? That is, this is the first and not the last analysis; it is the least that can be said of natural things since, if accurate, it applies to them all, whatever may be their differences. This is not to say that it is explicitly based on anything like a tour of the cosmos. Rather, taking any homely instance of change as typical, an analysis is offered which purports to be a generalization of the kind mentioned. Nor should we wonder that the examples tend to be drawn from human affairs.

Consider the child who learns the multiplication table and whose proud parents say, "Junior has become a mathematician." This would not be an appropriate remark when the multiplication table is recited by someone who has long known it. Junior, from not knowing the multiplication table, has come to know it. Let us, following Aristotle and St. Thomas, observe that the change can be expressed in a number of ways:

(1) A human being becomes educated.

(2) The uneducated becomes educated.

(3) The uneducated human being becomes educated.

Each expression of the change listed here has the structure "X becomes Y."{16} What expressions could be altered to the equally familiar structure, "From X, Y comes to be"? If the latter locution suggests, as it seems to, that X ceases to be when Y comes to be, then (1) would not be expressible in this fashion, though both (2) and (3) would be.

(2') From the uneducated, the educated comes to be.

(3') From the uneducated human being, the educated comes to be.

This in turn suggests that the grammatical subjects of (2) and (3) do not stand for, do not signify, the subject of the change, that to which the change is attributed, that which survives the change. We want to say that the man who was not educated has come to be educated. That is, a minimal account of any change would have to cite that which changes, the subject of the change, as well as the new determination or designation it takes on as a result of the change. Furthermore, the subject must not have had, must have been deprived of, that determination or designation before the change occurs. These elements of change receive as quasi-technical names: matter (subject, hyle), form (determination, shape, morphe), and privation (the not having, the privation, the steresis of a form the subject is capable of having). Against this background we can see why it is said that the result of a change is a compound of matter and form, that is, in our example, of human being and educated.

No more than Aristotle would Thomas presume to prove that there is such a thing as substantial change, that is, a change whose term is a substance and not merely a new condition or accident of a preexisting substance. Rather, he would ask: Are there obvious macrocosmic things which exist in their own right, which are things and not merely aspects or accidents of things? An affirmative answer to this question is based on the belief that Socrates, a horse, or a tree are autonomous beings or substances. Have such things come to be? Will they cease to be? Clearly, these questions must be answered in the affirmative. Of what help can the preceding analysis of change be in explaining such substantial changes?

The matter or subject involved in accidental change is itself a substance. If the matter of a substantial change were in turn a substance, then any form acquired by the change would relate to that substance as an accidental form, and then the change would be an accidental and not a substantial one. If substantial change is change, it requires a subject, and it if is substantial change, its subject cannot be itself a substance. It was to get at this feature of substantial change that the term "prime matter" was devised. The form that prime matter takes on, since it is constitutive of a substance and not merely by analogy with the principles of accidental change,{17} we can speak of the principles of substantial change. It is on this basis that Thomas will say that physical or natural substances, substances that have come to be as the result of a change, are composed of form and matter.

B. The Structure of Man

It can now be seen what Thomas means by saying that man is composed of soul and body. Like other physical substances, he has come to be and is thus a compound of form and matter.Soul is the name for the substantial form of living things. Aristotle defines the soul as the first act, that is, the substantial form, of an organic body.{18} he goes on to say that soul is that whereby we first move, live, sense, and understand. These two descriptions of soul move from the generic to the specific. The first definition is applicable to the substantial form of any living thing, though its applicability to man and animal is most obvious. The second definition, by making explicit use of the personal pronoun, is clearly meant as a statement about the human soul. Thomas accepts the Aristotelian doctrine of types or kinds of soul which are denominated from the highest capacity or faculty they give rise to. On this basis, there is a vegetative, sensitive, and intellectual soul. Furthermore, there is a telescoping effect, as it were, such that the sensitive or animal soul possesses the vegetative powers and more besides, and the intellectual soul possesses the powers of the vegetative and sensitive soul and more besides.{19} That "more besides" in the case of the human soul is of course intellect or reason. This is not to say that man has three souls. This cannot be the case because of what has already been said about the nature of substantial change. If the intellectual soul came as a modification to an already existing living thing that survived the change, the intellectual souls would have to be an accident and would not be constitutive of what man is essentially. Indeed, to be a man would not on this supposition be an essential designation.

Our discussion must, of course, be a limited one. We wish to concentrate on the human soul and to do so according to the following plan. Since the human soul is designated from intellection, as from the highest capacity it gives rise to, we must say something about Thomas's understanding of mind, of knowledge. This has particular importance because it is by appeal to the nature of intellection that both Thomas and Aristotle argue for the continued existence of the human soul after death. This conception of the immortality of the soul gives rise to two problems that must be faced. It is perhaps clear from our presentation of the concepts of substantial form and prime matter that these are constituent parts of substances and not substances in their own right. What is not a substance in its own right cannot, by definition, enjoy an autonomous existence. How then within the confines of his Aristotelianism can Thomas claim that the soul survives death? To this problem must be conjoined the issue as to whether or not Aristotle himself held to the soul's survival. Many of Thomas's contemporaries thought not. Thomas, in the opusculum On the Unicity of the Intellect{20} says yes. Further, how can this argument for the survival of the human soul be squared with the Christian belief in the resurrection? The Christian puts his hope in a personal immortality. But a man's soul is not man. Anima mea non sum ego, as Thomas himself wrote: I am not my soul. We must ask how Thomas reconciles the Aristotelian argument, as he reads it, and the Christian belief.

1. Cognition and the Cosmos

In the Disputed Question Truth,{21} Thomas provides us with a panoramic view of the universe and of the place of the knowing or cognitive being in it. The passage is remarkable for the way in which it exhibits the extension of the matter-form analysis from the physical or entitative order to the cognitive or intentional order. Just as in physical becoming a subject takes on a form, so too in coming to know, Thomas suggests the knower takes of the form of other things.

A thing can be said to be perfected or completed in two ways, the first of which, call it entitative perfection, derives at least in natural things, from substantial form. The natural thing is constituted or is thanks to the actualizing of matter by form. Thanks to this, it has a specific sort of being. It is possible in a not wholly Pickwickian way to regard this perfection as a limitation or imperfection. That is to say, if each thing has the specific perfection it has, it is thereby distinguished from things which have other sorts of perfection that it does not itself have. To be is to be a kind of thing, and to be a thing of a particular kind is not to be in the vast variety of ways that specifically other things are. Entitative perfection results in a kind of segregation and isolation. A thing is what it is and not another thing. Thus, the perfection of anything is a limited perfection distinguishing it from all other sorts of perfection, a part of the total perfection of the universe. Into this picture of things, knowledge is introduced as a remedy for the isolation and differences among things.

That there might be a remedy for such imperfection another mode of perfection is found among created things whereby the perfection which is proper to one thing can be found in another. This is the perfection of the knower insofar as he is a knower, for what is known by the knower is in some way in the knower. That is why it is said, in the Third Book of On the Soul, that the soul is in a certain manner all things, because it is fashioned to know all things.{22}

Thanks to knowledge, the perfection of the whole universe can be present to or in one thing. The ultimate perfection to which the soul can aspire, philosophers maintained, was to have the whole order of the universe inscribed within it. They identified a man's ultimate end with this condition, and do we not, asks Thomas, ourselves see man's ultimate end as the vision of God? And, with St. Gregory, Thomas asks what would not be seen by those who see God?

Needless to say, it is not immediately clear what could be meant by saying that the perfection of one thing is had by another. Surely this could not be in the same way that the perfection or substantial form determines the other thing by making it what it is, the kind of thing it is. Knowledge does not make the knower a specifically different entity from what he was before knowing. We must, then, find a way in which the perfection of another is had in knowing and which will differ from the way that perfection makes the other what it is.

Thomas observes that the forms and perfections of things are received in matter: that is how a substance of a specific kind is constituted. The first requirement will be that the form or perfection is received otherwise than it is received by matter, and thus the thing will be knowable insofar as it is separated from matter. This in turn entails that that which receives the perfection of another thing be immaterial. If it were material, the perfection would be received in it as it is received in matter and the result would be another thing of that kind. When prime matter is the subject of substantial form, the result is a specific kind of substance. If substantial form is to be received in a subject in such a way that the result is not a substantial change, the production of a new substance, the subject cannot be the kind of subject that matter is. But if it is not a subject like matter, it is an immaterial subject and the form or perfection is said to be received or had or possessed in an immaterial way. A lion considered as a natural substance is a compound of matter and form. To know a lion, to know what a lion is, is to have that which makes a lion the kind of thing it is, namely, its form. But to possess what-it-is-to-be-a-lion in the cognitive way is not thereby to become another lion, to undergo a substantial change. The latter sort of change results in a new individual; possession of the form in knowledge is to have that which represents each and every instance of it. No doubt my concept of lion is something singular, one among many concepts I have, but its content is such that it does not represent the lion as opposed to that but rather what-it-is-to-be-a-lion, the perfection of leoninity. For the form to be had without material conditions, principal among which is individuation, is for it to had in a universal way: to be some one thing which is common to many.{23} We will have something more to say in a moment about the way in which intellection is said to be an immaterial activity.

This sketch of the universe and of man's place in it suggests that while he is one sort of thing among many others, the totality of perfection can nonetheless be inscribed in his soul. Man as microcosm can thus be understood in several ways. In one sense, what he is includes the perfection of lesser things and more besides. The characteristics of inorganic things as well as of lower forms of life are found in him. Thus, in an entitative way, man may be said to sum up the cosmos. And, of course, the isolation of things which cannot know does not preclude interaction and order which result from such relations as cause and effect. What Thomas is after is that special sort of relation where the knower is aware of, has present to him as other, the perfections of specifically different things. Indeed for man to know what he himself is is to have his entitative perfection in an intentional way. This intentional presence or possession of the perfections of all other things makes man a microcosm, the universe writ small, as it were, in a special way.

Needless to say, the account here given of knowledge is not meant to explain every sense of knowing. What Thomas is sketching is the way in which concepts of things are had by the knower, but this kind of knowing, he feels, is presupposed by other kinds such as knowing that something is the case, that it is implied by other things that are the case, or knowing how to door perform a given activity.

2. Intellect and Survival After Death

We are now in a position to consider the controverted question as to what exactly Aristotle's teaching on the status of intellect was. Among the Arabic commentators, Averroes, as well as his followers in the West, the so-called Latin Averroists, took Aristotle to be saying that, since the activity of intellect is immaterial, it enjoys a separate existence, separate from this human soul or that. In short, it had the status of an immaterial entity, like that of an angel, rather than the status of a capacity or faculty that each man has because of the kind of soul he has. This seemingly recherché textual point has an importance it is well to underline. As we shall be suggesting, Aristotle's proof that the soul can exist after death is based upon the fact that the activity of intellect is an immaterial one. But if intellect is not a faculty of my soul, this will not provide an argument for the continued existence of my soul after death. Rather, as the Averroists claim, all Aristotle has shown is that intellect, which is not a faculty of my soul, enjoys an existence independent of matter and thus its existence is unaffected by the death of this man or that. It that were the case and if no other argument for the continued existence of this human soul or that could be found, there would be no basis other than faith on which to maintain that a man is destined for an unending existence beyond this earthly life. Moreover, if it were maintained, as apparently some medievals did maintain, that, from a philosophical point of view, we know the soul does not survive death, then the belief that it does so survive would entail a contradiction.

That some believers professed not to find such a conflict between knowledge and belief repugnant was unintelligible to Thomas Aquinas. The tack he takes here is of utmost importance. He argues at great length, in the first chapter of On the Unicity of the Intellect,{24} that Averroes and his followers are wrong on historical and textual grounds in interpreting Aristotle as they do. His argument is that the writings of Aristotle, particularly On the Soul, make it clear that the great Greek philosopher holds that while the human soul is the first act or substantial form of body, and while the intellects is a faculty or capacity of the human soul, nonetheless the activity of the intellect, understanding, is not a vital act that involves a corporeal organ. Thus, the intellect is separate in several senses: it is a separate faculty of the soul, differing from its other faculties, and its activity is separate from matter in the sense of being immaterial. Thomas argues that this is not to say that intellect is something existing separately from the soul, although it does provide the basis for saying that the soul which has such a faculty is capable of existence independently of or separately from the body. That is, the human soul, man's substantial form, unlike the substantial forms of all other natural substances, does not exist simply as a result of its composition with matter, rather it has existence and confers existence on the body. This is not to say, however, that the soul exists prior to men.

The polemical opusculum that Thomas directed against the Averroists is of fundamental importance in deciding the nature and quality of the Aristotelianism of Thomas Aquinas. Written before his commentary on On the Soul,{25} it is explicit in what it set out to do, namely, to show that the text of Aristotle does not permit the Averroistic interpretation. There can be no doubt that Thomas is loath to think that so great a thinker as Aristotle should have taught something on so basic a point that would conflict with revealed truth. But the source of this attitude must be found in his knowledge of the text of Aristotle, not in some rhetorical urge to gild the truths of faith by showing their concordance with Aristotelian doctrine. However, the matter need not and should not be discussed at such a speculative level. We have the exegetical account of Aristotle's doctrine offered by Thomas and that must be assessed, not with reference to his motives, wishes, or hopes, but rather with reference to the Aristotelian text in question. Does Thomas's account of what Aristotle taught square with what Aristotle wrote? That is a far more tenable and defensible interpretation than that offered by Averroes on the point in question here would seem to be beyond doubt.

It is difficult to go beyond the point we have now reached without introducing matters which would invite us to go yet further into the niceties of what Thomas taught concerning the human soul. We have, in the foregoing, mentioned without explaining it the notion of faculties for capacities of the human soul. Nor have we even alluded to a problem that will have occurred to the reader. If the possession of the form of another in cognition is immaterial and thus grounds for an argument showing the possible continued existence of the soul of the knower after death, does this not entail as well the immortality of the animal soul, since, for Thomas, perception or sensing is a kind of knowledge? It will have to suffice here to assert that Thomas offers arguments on behalf of the notion of faculties of the soul and on behalf of a distinctive difference between sensation and intellection on the question of immaterial reception or possession of forms.{26}

Resurrection of the Body

We shall conclude this section by returning to a problem mentioned earlier. Thomas accepts as Aristotelian, and as sound, an argument which concludes that the human soul continues to exist after the death of the human person. If this is called an argument for the immortality of incorruptibility of the human soul, as it is, this does not seem to be the kind of immortality that is involved in Christian belief. The believer hopes for a future personal existence and, as Thomas himself insists, the human person is not simply soul but soul incarnate, body and soul.

For Thomas, death is a punishment consequent upon Original Sin, and our redemption as effected by Christ is, among other things, to repair this damage. Christ's resurrection is symbolic of our destiny and, as St. Paul observed, if Christ did not rise from the dead, then our hope is in vain. At the end of time, the Christian believes, there will be a general resurrection and the beginning of an unending personal life, not merely as a separate soul but as body and soul.{27} Needless to say, Thomas does not imagine that Aristotle had any intimation of immortality in this sense. Indeed, he excuses Aristotle for not speculating on the nature of the separate existence of the soul, apart from the body.{28} That man is destined for a future life of immortality which, so to speak, cancels mortality at its root and redeems the separation of soul and body in death could not have been known by man apart from its being announced by God himself. We have here, perhaps, another instance of the misleading character of the claim that Thomas baptizes Aristotle. The "baptized" conception of immortality is not one that Thomas would dream of ascribing to Aristotle. Indeed, as we have suggested, Thomas's plea for a textually justifiable interpretation of Aristotle's teaching on the human soul and the human intellect is just that. To speak of it somehow as a determined effort to make Aristotle say what Christians believe is simply to overlook the true dimensions of the Christian belief in personal immortality. To say that what Aristotle taught does not contradict the latter is far from claiming that the pagan philosopher had any intimation of what God has prepared for those who love him.

IV Man as Moral Agent

"As Damascene says," Thomas writes, "man is said to be made to the image of God insofar as by image is meant intellectual, free in judgment and capable of autonomous action. Thus, after the discussion of the Exemplar, that is, of God, and of those things which his power voluntarily produces according to his image, we now go on to discuss his image, that is, man, insofar as he is the principle of his own activity because he has free will and the power over his own deeds."{29}

This is the Prologue to the Second Part of the Summa theologiae, the so-called moral part of that great work. In the First Part of the Summa, as the passage quoted suggests, Thomas considered the nature and attributes of God, the Trinity of Persons in God, and then creation. That part of the Summa draws to a close with the famous Treatise on Man,{30} passages of which we have been relying on in our discussion of Thomas's views on the soul. With respect to creatures higher than man, the angels, purely spiritual creatures, their eternal destiny is already settled by a decisive choice between good and evil. The good angels are those who have chosen God's plan, the bad angels, or devils, those who out of pride asserted their own will against God's. It is because such creatures act with a lucidity that is considered to exceed in an unimaginable degree any that we might summon that a single choice suffered to settle their eternal status.{31} With respect to creatures less than man, the vast range of nonliving things and the spectrum through the life-world from the simplest living substance to the higher animals whose senses and perceptions in some ways rival and surpass man's own, there does not seem to be a moral task imposed. True, in Thomas's view such things are so constituted that they pursue goals, their activity can be seen as purposive, but unlike man they are said not to direct themselves to an end. That is, they do not propose alternative ends to themselves, select from among them, and direct themselves to the chosen goal.{32} Of course Thomas does not think that all subhuman creatures are alike in their activity. If it is true that none of them is self-directive, in the sense we have yet to clarify, it is also true that as one moves up the scale from the inorganic into the life-world and through the various ranks within it, there is an increase of indetermination in the activity of things, a growth of spontaneity. This is a point worth dwelling on.

A. Man and Nature

In commenting on Aristotle's On the Soul, Thomas invokes a distinction between the natural world and the life-world.{33} Now, as we have previously seen, the realm of nature is originally viewed as including all spatio-temporal things, whatever has come to be as a result of a change. Physical objects, as they are first discussed, are not distinguished from living substances. Thus, when Thomas makes a distinction within the natural or physical world between the natural and the vital, he is using "natural" in a more restricted sense. And the distinction is one that is employed not simply to distinguish one kind of substance from another, but to speak of different aspects of living substance. That is, the living substance not only has features which lead us to distinguish it from the nonliving; it also shares features with nonliving things. It is these shared and thus more common features which come to be called natural in order to distinguish them from the distinctive features or characteristics of the living. Furthermore, on this basis, Thomas will speak of nature as determined to one effect, to one end. This determination to one, determination ad unum,{34} may be thought of in terms of the negation, E and not-E. The more natural a thing is, the more likely it is that it will be determined to its end or function or operation, E, in such a way that not-E is simply excluded. Consider the somewhat curious doctrine of natural place. The elements -- fire, air, earth, and water -- are taken to have natural places in the cosmos such that it is their nature to move toward them. Fire, for example, flies up, earth descends. It is as if each is determined by its nature to that end or place. Complex things are not thus determined with regard to the goal of their locomotion, but we would no doubt want to hold that there is a finite number of activities which could be ascribed to a given entity as that given entity. Imagine, for example, that the properties associated with iron make up a finite list, and so too with the properties of marble. We just do not expect any and every activity to be associated with a given substance like iron. When we move into the world of life, the variety and indeterminancy increase. In the case of locomotion, Thomas offers the simple example of a plant. Its growth involves pushing itself up and down and out in every direction. With the advent of sense perception, the possibilities of activity multiply and it becomes progressively more difficult to exhaust the variety of deeds that might naturally be associated with an animal.

This background is useful when we turn to Thomas's way of distinguishing man from all other natural creatures. It would be quite wrong to think that he sees the cosmos as a programmed and determined place where each thing is being guided along a predestined path in very much the same way. For Thomas, there is a real indeterminancy in the natural world and it increases as we move upward toward man. Moreover, this increase in indeterminancy is a function of the increasing self-determination of creatures of higher sorts. The plant is a center and source of agency in a way that a mineral is not; the animal is to a far greater extent than the plant the originator of its natural history; and, again, there are degrees within the animal kingdom. Thus, when Thomas turns to man as the image of God because he has free will and is the master of his own activity, he clearly means to cite a qualitative difference, but it is a difference that is added to what is also found in the subhuman viewed as encompassing a vast declension down through a scale of progressively less self-determination toward the fully natural, that is, things that are determined to one and only one end.{35}

It is all but impossible for us to speak of such things without employing locutions suggestive of evolution. Lest any misunderstanding arise, it should be said that Thomas nowhere speaks of man as emerging from a vast prehistory of development, from the simpler forms of life. When he compares man and other living things, he insists on structural similarities. To speak of growth and sensation and sense desire as things found in plant, beasts, and man is not, for Thomas, to speak metaphorically. He holds that there are univocal meanings of these terms which permit them to encompass animals and plants and men. That is why he can think of man as the creature in whom are summed up all levels of being found in things less than himself, but with the addition of the determining or defining features of the human.{36} Man as microcosm. He can be weighed like iron, he grows like a plant, he moves himself about, he perceives, he wants or shuns what he perceives as do animals. But beyond all these shared features, he has other characteristics which lead us to see him as a distinct species. What we have then is, as it were, a static rather than a dynamic panorama of the relations among material creatures. We can imagine, as Thomas himself did,{37} the figures of plane geometry -- the triangle, the square, the various polygons -- in such a way that the earlier items on the list are included in the latter, a kind of Chinese box in which these figures nest. That is what we mean by a static view. Opposed to it would be the dynamic view, according to which the more complex figures would emerge out of the simpler and function, so to speak, as the dialectical limit of them.

If Thomas did not hold anything like an evolutionary view, there is nonetheless a curious claim not unlike "ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny" in remarks he makes about the human fetus. He seems to distinguish in the period of gestation between a plant stage, an animal stage, and a fully human stage, when the soul is infused by God. This has tempted some interpreters as a possible opening toward the evolutionary. Perhaps. But that evolution can be argued to be compatible with positions Thomas did in fact hold is very far from providing a basis for the claim that he actually embraced the evolutionary theory.

Free Will

What now of the distinctive characteristic that leads to man's being called the image of God? That characteristic is free will, or, as Thomas prefers to call it, free judgment, liberum arbitrium.{38} What we find in Thomas is not so much a proof or argument to the effect that man is free as an account or analysis of what it is for him to be free. It is true that he often suggests a reduction ad absurdum of the denial of human freedom. If man is not free, then deliberation, advice, precepts, prohibitions, rewards, and punishments are pointless.{39} Which means, among other things, that he who would deny that man is free must provide some account of the kinds of activities just mentioned. Given that man is free, we need an account of his freedom. The following is a typical argument from the several to be found in the writings of Thomas.

For a clarification of this, consider that some beings act without judgment, as the rock moves downward, and similarly all things which lack knowledge. Other things act with judgment indeed, but not with free judgment, like brute animals. For the sheep seeing the wolf judges that she should flee by a natural judgment which is not free since it does not involve pondering (non ex collation), but she judges by natural instinct. So it is with every judgment of the brute animal. Now man acts by means of judgment, because through a knowing power he judges that something should be pursued or avoided, yet this judgment is not by a natural instinct toward a particular action but from a rational pondering (collation). Thus he acts by free judgment since he is capable of directing himself in diverse ways. Reason is not bound in contingent matters (that is, obliged to assent to a proposition and reject its contradictory) as is clear from dialectical syllogisms and rhetorical persuasions. Particular things to be done are instances of contingent things and reason is thus open to diverse judgments and not determined to one. For this reason, that man acts from free judgment follows necessarily from the fact that he is rational.{40}

Insofar as reason reveals that there is no single course of action open to us given our ends or goals, we are free with respect to choosing the means. When we act, we are not determined by the way things are, as if only one course were open to us; rather, we determine ourselves as to whether or not we shall act and, if we do, whether we will do this or that. Reasons is thus the radix libertatis, the root of liberty. We will consider another analysis Thomas gives of human freedom after we have looked at what he has to say of ultimate end.

Turning now to Thomas's moral teaching, we shall take up the following points: that human action is for an end; that there is an ultimate end of human action; that god is man's ultimate end; the relation of freedom and ultimate end;{41} the practical syllogism and natural law. This is a considerable menu, of course, but with effort we should be able to provide both an historically accurate account or what Thomas taught on these matters and one that suggests the plausibility of the positions he adopted. It goes without saying that all these are matters of continuing controversy in moral philosophy and that we do not here pretend to develop the Thomistic teaching in the light of all relevant objections to it.

C. The Teleology of Human Acts

Here, in close paraphrase, is Thomas's argument to the effect that it is peculiar to man as man that he act for an end. Of the various actions men perform, those are properly called human which are peculiar to man as man. But man differs from irrational creatures in this, that he has dominion over his acts. Hence only those acts are properly called human of which man has the dominion. Now man had dominion over his acts thanks to reason and will. Therefore, those actions are properly called human which are due to deliberate will. Whatever other actions pertain to man can be called acts of man but not human acts. Now actions due to a given power are caused by it under the formality of its object. But the object of will is the end and good. Hence it is necessary that human actions as such be for an end.{42}

The elegantly formal procedure is typical of Thomas. Each sentence functions as premise or conclusion in the cumulative argument. Indeed, simply by numbering the sentences, we can make the shape of the proof crystal-clear. It is then an easy matter to test the procedure for its crucial moves and to isolate the premises that require elucidation before they can be accepted or rejected.

(1) Human acts are those proper to man as man.

(2) Man differs from irrational creatures in that he has dominion over his acts.

(3) Only those acts are properly human of which man has dominion.

In (2), the distinguishing characteristic of man, that which sets him apart from other animals, is said to be that he has dominion over his acts. What is said of man in terms of that which he has in common with other animals is not said of him as man; what is said of him in terms of that which is proper or peculiar to him, distinguishing him from other animals, is said of him just insofar as he is a man.

The next step of the argument calls into play the account of free will we have already seen, from which it is concluded that properly human acts stem from deliberate volition. Thomas then distinguishes acts of man from human acts, a distinction already implicit in the first stage of the argument.{43} whatever activities can be truly ascribed to man but which are nonetheless shared or common because they do not belong to him properly, exclusively, are not human acts in the sense being developed. For example, activities such as growing, digesting, seeing, aching, and so forth may be truly said of a man, but not as man. First, such activities are not exclusive or peculiar to him; second, they are not due to what is definitive in man, they are not the result of deliberate volition.

The final step of the argument relies on the notion of the formal object of a power or potency. Sight and hearing are not distinguished from one another in that sight bears on, say trees, elephants, and stars, while hearing is concerned with birds, bushes, and zebras. Something is an object of sight under the formality of color; something is an object of hearing under the formality of sound. The will is a power whose object is the end and good. A thing is called good to the degree that it is an object of desire, of appetency. And of course something is desired insofar as it is regarded as perfective of the desirer. The will, as rational appetite, is the tendency toward whatever reason judges to be perfective of man. From a material point of view, the things that are the objects of will are innumerable: ice cream, justice, comfort, victory, money, and so on. But this is like mentioning, as the object of sight, trees, elephants, and stars. Just as they are visible insofar as they are colored, so things are the object of will insofar as they are good and endlike. Once this somewhat difficult point is grasped, the argument concludes easily: human acts as such are for the sake of the good or end.

That human actions as such are to some end or purpose is not perhaps too surprising a contention. Of any human action whatsoever it is true that it is for some end or purpose. But this of course allows for a quasi-infinity of particular objectives. Thomas wants to maintain not simply that every action has an end but also that there is an ultimate common end or purpose of every action. This is the conception of the ultimate end. It is easily one of the more controversial elements in Thomas's moral teaching, although the concept of ultimate end did not originate with him. The notion of a comprehensive human good which is the ultimate objective of any particular act is, indeed, a familiar one. Nonetheless, it is a hard notion to grasp, not least because one way of illustrating it invites misunderstanding.

The notion of ultimate end is contrasted with that of a proximate end, and the latter may be illustrated by invoking a chain of objectives. For example, a man studies in order to learn biology, he wants to know biology in order to obtain a degree, he wants a degree in order to gain entrance to medical school, he wants to go to medical school in order to become a physician, and he wants to be a doctor in order to heal the sick. What comes last in the list is the ultimate aim of the chain. When now we are told of a single ultimate end of all human activities, we are likely to imagine that there is one objective or aim which shows up on a list with others but which takes precedence over the rest of them. It seems clear that this is not at all what Thomas meant by the ultimate end. This can best be seen when we look at the arguments he fashioned against the suggestion that a man might have a plurality of ultimate ends.

(1) When anything desires its perfection, it desires it as an ultimate end, that is, as its perfect and completing good.

(2) It is thus necessary that the ultimate end so fulfill the whole appetite of man that nothing outside it remains to be desired.

(3) It cannot be that there should be two things toward which appetite could tend as wholly fulfilling of it.{44} The thing to notice here is the description of ultimate end that functions in the argument. What is involved is that which is completely fulfilling perfective of man. Now, another way of putting that would be: goodness as such. Consider this second argument against a plurality of ultimate ends for man.

(4) In the process of rational appetition, there must be a principle that is naturally desired.

(5) The principle of the process of rational appetite is ultimate end.

(6) Hence it is necessary that whatever is desired under the formality of the ultimate end is one.{45}

The ultimate end, it becomes clear, is the formality under which whatever is chosen is chosen; it is the conception of that which is fully and completely perfective of the kind of agent we are. When we see that "happiness" is another word for "ultimate end," it becomes clear that we are not speaking of a particular aim or purpose or goal among other particular ones: we are speaking of the formality under which any particular goal is pursued.

Of course, to say that a man pursues whatever he pursues for the sake of his total fulfillment or happiness is platitudinous. We must go on to ask in what human happiness consists. In this regard, Thomas distinguishes between an imperfect happiness, that which is attainable in this life, and perfect happiness, our ultimate destiny. If human action is distinctive because it is rational, the perfection of rational activity, the virtues perfective of our distinctive kind of activity in its various modes, will constitute our happiness. Echoing Aristotle,{46} Thomas can thus offer as a first account of human happiness that it is a life lived according to virtue. Virtues are perfective of the activity of reason itself as well as of the rational activity involved in choice and action. Behind this observation lies the distinction between the theoretical and practical uses of mind, a distinction we shall examine in the next chapter. Suffice it to say for now that while reason has been introduced into the discussion of morality as a component of deliberate choice, St. Thomas considers that use of reason which has for its end or good the contemplation of truth as the most perfect expression of the distinctive human activity. "And therefore the ultimate and perfect happiness which is expected in the future life will consist wholly in contemplation. That imperfect happiness, however, which can be had here, consists first and primarily of contemplation and secondarily of the operation of the practical intellect ordering human actions and passions, as is said in the Tenth Book of the Nicomachean Ethics."{47}

We are now in a position to see why St. Thomas identifies man's ultimate and perfect happiness with the contemplation of God. This can be put most briefly thus. Whatever good, whatever sum of goods, we may pursue and achieve in this life remains incorrigibly particular and partial. No good is goodness itself. Thus, we may say, our appetite for goodness remains forever unassuaged by particular goods, none of which exhaust the formality under which it is pursued, namely, that which is fully and perfectly satisfying of our will. The same point can be made from the side of truth. Whatever the mind grasps, it grasps under the formality of being. But any being we know is a particular being, this one, not being or beingness itself. Some indirect and imperfect knowledge of God, who is being, can be achieved in this life by inference and analogy from created effects. But this knowledge can never attain to knowledge of the divine nature, of what God is. "If then the human intellect, knowing the essence of a given effect, knows of God only that he is, it has not yet attained the first cause absolutely speaking, and there remains in it a natural desire to seek knowledge of that cause. Hence it is not yet perfectly happy. For perfect happiness, therefore, the mind must grasp the very essence of the first cause. Thus its perfection will be had in union with God as its object, in whom alone the happiness of man consists."{48} God is not merely another good to be pursued; he is the good that is identical with goodness itself, the fullness of goodness.

This enables Thomas to fashion another account of man's freedom in choice.

Notice that man does not choose necessarily. The reason is that what is such that it can be or not be is not such that it necessarily is. That it is possible to choose or not to choose can be shown in two ways with reference to man's capacity. Man can will or not will, act or not act; and he can will this or will that, do this or do that. This follows from the very power of reason itself. Whatever the reason can apprehend as good, the will can tend toward. Reason can apprehend as good not only to will or to do, but also not will and not to do. Furthermore, in any particular good can be found both good and the defect of good, that is, evil. Any such good can thus be apprehended as chooseable or as something to be shunned. Only the perfect good which is happiness cannot be regarded by reason as in some way defective. Therefore man wills happiness necessarily; he cannot want to be miserable or unhappy. Choice, however, bearing as it does, not on the end, but on means to the end, is not of the perfect good which is happiness but of other particular goods, and these man choses not out of necessity but freely.{49}

D. Theoretical and Practical Thinking

In order to speak of the practical syllogism, we must first consider the distinction Thomas makes between the theoretical, or speculative, use of mind and the practical use of mind, although our emphasis here will be on practical reason. In the following chapter, when we discuss the divisions of the speculative sciences, we will need to go much further into the matter of the theoretical and the practical.

By now the reader will no longer be surprised to find the textual setting in which a distinction is made and the distinction itself are often surprisingly unrelated, at least at first view. More often than not, the setting is overtly theological and the distinction that interests us is made or recalled in order to be put to some extremely arcane use. Thus it is that one of the best passages in which Thomas discusses human practical knowledge and its degrees occurs when he asks whether God has theoretical or practical knowledge of creatures.{50} We are not concerned with that further theological employment of it but only with the distinction between theoretical and practical knowing.

Stated in its simplest terms, the distinction comes down to this. The theoretical use of our mind aims at the perfection of the knowing process, of knowledge as such, and that perfection is, of course, truth. When our aim is truth, when what we are after is to bring into accord our thinking and the way things are, we are using our minds in a theoretical way. When, on the other hand, we make use of our minds not chiefly to attain the perfection of thinking as such but rather the perfection of some activity other than thinking, for example, choosing or making, we are then making use of our minds in a practical fashion.{51}

In the discussion to which we have referred, Thomas makes it clear that not just anything can be a concern of practical thinking, but only those things that we can do or make. That having been said, he suggests that while some instances of thinking may be called wholly theoretical and others wholly practical, it is often necessary to recognize that an instance of thinking can be in some respects theoretical and in other respects practical. Such mixed cases presuppose a plurality of criteria, and Thomas enumerates them in the following passage in which, though he is concerned with degrees of speculative thinking, he gives at the same time an account of degrees of practical thinking.

A given science can be called speculative in three ways: (1) First, with respect to the things known, which are not operable by the knower (that is, are not things he can do or make); this is the case with human knowledge of natural and divine things. (2) Second, with respect to the mode of knowing: as for example, if a builder should consider a house by defining and distinguishing and considering its general description. This is to think of something makeable in a speculative or theoretical manner, not as makeable. A thing is makeable by the application of form to matter, not by an analysis of a complex thing into its universal formal principles. (3) Third, with respect to the end: for mind practical differs from mind theoretical in its end, as we read in the Third book of On the Soul. The practical intellect is ordered to the end of operation whereas the end of the speculative intellect is the consideration of truth. Hence, if a builder should consider how a certain house might be built, not directing this to the end of operation, but to knowledge alone, his knowledge would thus be, with respect to his purpose, theoretical knowledge of an operable object.{52}

Taking this discussion in its applicability to human action as hitherto defined, such that it is clearly what Thomas means to include under his general term operabile, we can distinguish degrees of moral knowledge. A consideration of virtue, of justice, or of temperance that issues in definition of these object is practical only in the sense that it is concerned with things we might do, with achievable qualities of our actions. Nonetheless, because the mode of consideration is indistinguishable from that appropriate to a consideration of natural objects and provides no immediate guide to action, the purpose of the knower cannot be to apply such knowledge. Let us call this minimally practical knowledge or theoretical moral knowledge. Where both the object and the method of considering are practical, we may, making use of a label Thomas suggests elsewhere, {53} call it virtual or habitual practical knowledge. Where all three criteria of the practical are saved -- an operable object, a compositive or recipe mode of considering it, and the actual application of the knowledge -- we can speak of completely practical knowledge.

If we now ask ourselves what type of practical knowledge is exemplified by, say, the Second Part of the Summa theologiae, or how, given the above, Thomas might characterize the kind of knowledge expressed in Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, the answer, while complicated, is clear. We find in the moral part of the Summa instances of theoretical knowledge without qualification, insofar as man's nature and various aspects of human psychology as well as remarks about the divine nature may be come upon there. From the point of view of practical knowledge, we certainly find a great deal that is minimally practical, for example, such things as the definition of virtue and sub-divisions of moral virtue and the "parts" of justice. All this, we may say, is necessary if there is to be any moral advice, where by moral advice we mean the kind of practical knowledge that is aimed at practice. In other words, moral philosophy or moral thinking would seem to reach its intrinsic aim in the formulation of virtually practical knowledge. A moral discussion, even when it concludes with a prescriptive judgment as to what is to be done, does not itself provide an instance of the kind of thing it prescribes. That is, making a prescriptive judgment as to how one might act temperately is not in itself a temperate act.

E. Natural Law

We can now locate the two remaining points of Thomas's moral doctrine that we wish to discuss. The Thomistic notion of natural law precepts bears on a type of virtually practical syllogism arises from an analysis of purely practical knowledge, whereas the notion of the practical syllogism arises from an analysis of purely practical knowledge. With respect to natural law, then, the point is that natural law precepts amount to judgments which express at the highest level of generality what we ought to do. Thomas maintains that there are certain judgments as to what we should do that everyone is capable of making.{54} What we shall do is, first, look at Thomas's theological or cosmic description of natural law, and, second, discuss the content of natural law as distinguishable from the wider setting in which it is first introduced.

The whole of creation is governed by God, a governance that is also called providence. Another way of speaking of it is as the eternal law which incorporates the divine plan for creatures.{55} If law thus measures the activities of creatures, who are measured by it, being measured by it is not itself an instance of law as Thomas uses the term here. This is puzzling for the modern mind, perhaps, in that when we hear the phrase "natural law" we are likely to think of regularities within the natural world. For Thomas, law is a promulgated rational ordination to the common good by one who has charge of the community.{56} Now, just as natural events may be said to be rational, not because of any reasoning on the part of physical objects, but because of the wise ordering of their creator, so the activities of natural entities are lawful, not because they rationally direct themselves, but because they are directed. Thomas uses the phrase "natural law" of those creatures which are not only rationally directed but which rationally direct themselves to an end. Such creatures are men. Natural law is thus describable as that participation in eternal law which is peculiar to rational creatures. Men are not merely directed by divine reason, as if their activities can be called rationally only by extrinsic denomination; they direct themselves rationally and this self-direction involves another law, distinct from eternal law. This new law is natural law.

The view of man involved is one with which we are now familiar. The notion of human action is of deliberate volition, of conscious self-direction. Furthermore, as the discussion of human freedom made clear, man has not been given a mind simply to discover the single possible course of action open to him. Any choice bears on a course of action in which reason can discover pros and cons. Thus, we are not forced to act in the way we do. Nor is this merely an ontological openness, as if it meant simply that we are capable of acting wrongly as of acting rightly. The indeterminancy involved is moral; there is no single map of good human action. Good courses of action must be discovered by reason. And yet we recall from the treatment of freedom derived from the concept of ultimate end that our freedom does not extend to the ultimate end itself. Thomas holds that a man necessarily desires his own happiness. It follows that true articulations of human happiness or perfection, true judgments as to the nature and constituents of the ultimate end, will give us the principles and starting point of moral discourse. It is these principles that are covered by the phrase "natural law" in its moral employment.

What is the import of the adjective "natural" when we speak of natural law?{57} As we shall see, it has at least a double valence. On the one hand, it suggests a law appropriate to our human nature, prescriptive judgments as to what is good for, what is perfective of, such an entity as ourselves. On the other hand, it has an epistemological meaning in that the judgments in question are ones that a man makes naturally, easily, right off the bat. Both of these senses are operative in a famous passage in which Thomas asks whether there is one only or several precepts of natural law.

It should be mentioned that there is only one place in the writings of St. Thomas where we find anything like an extended formal treatment of natural law. This occurs in the context of the so-called Treatise on Law in the Summa theologiae, the First Part of the Second Part, Questions 90-105. Thomas first takes into the question of the nature of law in general and arrives at the definition we have already given: law is a promulgated rational ordinance to the common good on the part of one having charge of the community. He then distinguishes types of law: eternal law, natural law, human law, and divine law. As the definition suggests, laws other than human positive law are said to be such by an analogy with it. The discussion of natural law is to be found in Question 94, although the discussions of human law and of divine positive law, particularly the discussion of the Ten Commandments, cast helpful light upon it.

When Thomas raises the question of the content of natural law -- is it made up of one or of several precepts? -- he employs an interesting parallel between the priorities and procedures of theoretical intellect and those of practical intellect.{58} The precepts of natural law, he holds, function for practical intellect in much the same way that self-evident truths function for the speculative or theoretical use of the intellect. Indeed, the precepts of natural law are themselves taken to be self-evident or per se nota; that is, they are known "in themselves" as opposed to being derived or inferred.

This notion of the "knowable in itself" is ambiguous, however, and can mean one of two things: knowable in itself as such, or knowable in itself by us. The first is had whenever a proposition is such that its predicate enters into the definition of its subject. Of course, when one does not know the definition of the subject, he will not recognize that the proposition is self-evident. The proposition "Man is rational" is self-evident, but if someone did not know that man is defined as a rational animal, he would not grasp the proposition as self-evident. Where knowledge of the definition of the subject term cannot be lacking, we have the sort of self-evident propositions that Boethius called axioms,; these are such that no one could fail to know the meaning of their terms -- for example, "Every whole is greater than its part" and "Two things equal to a third thing are equal to each other." The first sort of self-evident proposition, the non-axioms, are self-evident not to everyone but only to the knowledgeable. "An angel is nowhere" is such a proposition. Those who know that angels are not bodies immediately grasp the truth of the judgment that they are not circumscriptively in place, that is, that they do not take up any room.

It may be wondered what the significance of introducing the distinction is. Thomas has told us that he considers the precepts of natural law to be self-evident propositions. Are they self-evident in both of the ways explicated? That is, are there some principles of natural law that every man knows and others that are perceived as self-evident only by the learned? If this is the suggestion -- and it is difficult from the content to be absolutely sure -- then we must keep open the possibility that extremely sophisticated propositions, for example, those that prohibit the use of artificial contraceptives on the basis of the biology of reproduction and the chemistry of certain pills, may be matters of natural law and self-evident to the learned. However that may be, it is certain that in the immediate sequel to the distinction between kinds of self-evident propositions, the emphasis seems to be on those that are analogous to axioms in the theoretical order.

In the order of theoretical thinking, Thomas goes on, being is the first thing grasped by the mind, since knowledge of it is presupposed by and included in all subsequent knowledge. On the basis of this grasp of being, the first judgment is made: the same thing cannot be affirmed and denied; the same thing cannot be and not be at the same time and in the same respect. This, the so-called principle of contradiction, is the regulative principle of all of our thinking, of all subsequent judgments and principles. The parallel to it in the practical order is this: good is the primary concept in the practical use of our mind. Every agent acts for an end, Thomas writes, and the end instantiates the notion of the good. The good is that which all things seek. On this initial grasp is based the first perceptive judgment of practical reason: the good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided. The principle is fundamental and regulative of all other precepts of natural law. What is the criterion for inclusion in the precepts of natural law? "All things which should be done or which should be shunned pertain to precepts of natural law insofar as practical reason naturally apprehends them to be human goods."{59}

The application of this criterion is of great interest. Practical reason will naturally apprehend as good, and thus as to be pursued while its opposite is to be shunned, all those things to which man has a natural inclination. Furthermore, the order of the precepts will follow that of natural inclinations: the hierarchy of the latter will be reflected in the former. What is meant by an order among our natural inclinations? This: there are certain inclinations, natural impulses, that we share with all things, for example, the impulse to mate and to raise offspring. Finally, there is in us an inclination to the good according to the nature of reason, and this is the inclination peculiar to us; for example, we have a natural inclination to seek the truth and to live in society.{60}

This is the ordered set of natural inclinations that Thomas says we find within ourselves. These inclinations are not themselves precepts of natural law; their importance is that their presence within us assures that we have immediate access to certain types of good, of objects of desire and inclination. But, again, the natural inclinations are not themselves precepts; if they were, the effort to distinguish natural from eternal law would have been unnecessary. It is when we turn to the third and last type of natural inclination, that which is proper to man, namely, to live according to reason, that we find the locus for natural law. The human agent, aware in his own experience of his desire for pleasure, feeling the urgency of the sexual instinct, must consciously guide himself with respect to such activity. He is not simply propelled into conjugation like a beast; he acts consciously, responsibly, with awareness in such matters; he foresees consequences, he must provide, and so on. Certain judgments as to how we must comport ourselves with respect to reproducing and raising children will immediately be made. It has been suggested that a first precept in this area need only be the recognition that some regulation of sexual intercourse is necessary if such activity is to be human, that is, rational.{61} Such further recognitions as that we must seek knowledge of the context of our deeds and that the rights of others are to be respected would be suggestive of the first and immediate judgments which guide human actions.

Needless to say, this doctrine of natural law is a vexed and controversial subject. Simple historical accuracy demands that we attribute to Thomas only what he had to say on the matter and not burden him with any and every later variation on it. His own teaching on natural law seems to be at once clear and obscure. It sounds right to say that there are objective limits within which men can justifiably work out their lives, that beyond these limits we would be unwilling to recognize action as appropriately human. But the articulation of the first self-evident precepts is difficult. Perhaps this is merely another aspect of their similarity to the first principle of theoretical reason. After all, however well it captures the regulative principle of all our thinking, the first time we encounter the formulation, "It is impossible for a thing to be and not to be at the same time and in the same respect," it strikes us as a sort of tongue twister, nothing we would say untutored. And yet it does, we come to see, express what no one could meaningfully deny. Given this, it may not harm the theory of natural law precepts to say that whenever we attempt to articulate one, we nevertheless have the sense of constructing an extremely artificial formulation.

F. Moral Science

A further implication of the parallel between the theoretical and the practical would seem to be this: just as the principle of contradiction is not a proper principle of any particular science, since it ranges over all, so too the precepts of natural law are the presuppositions of moral science. Indeed. This appears to be a necessary interpretation, since Thomas on more than one occasion speaks of moral science as capable of establishing only what is usually the case, for the most part true. The conclusions of moral science, in other words, are general; they express what is by and large the preferable way to act. This matter of the relation between natural law precepts and other moral precepts is one that Thomas discusses on several occasions. The following passage is of considerable interest.

It should be known that something is derived from natural law in two ways: first, as a conclusion from principles and, second, as the determination of the common. The first mode is similar to the way in which in sciences demonstrative conclusions are derived from principles. The second is similar to the way in which in the arts common forms are determined to something special, as the artisan determines the common form of house to this or that house. Some things are derived from the common principles of natural law by way of conclusion like this: "Thou shalt not kill" can be derived as a conclusion from "Do harm to no one." Some things are gotten by way of determination as follows: as the natural law has it that he who sins is punished, that he should be punished in such and such a way is a determination of the natural law.{62}

Although the first mode would seem to be itself a particularization, it is clear that Thomas envisages some inference as:

(1) Do harm to no one.

(2) To kill someone is to do him harm.

(3) Do not kill anyone.

Not a very controversial example, perhaps, but this mode of derivation, as well as the other, suggests that Thomas thinks of moral science or knowledge as a progressive development, which has at one term, as its governing principles, the self-evident precepts of natural law, and moves toward more and more particular precepts. The development in the direction of particularity would seek the advantage of more concrete and applicable precepts.

This advantage is equivocal, however. The characteristic of the common self-evident precepts of the moral order is that they are the same for everyone, that is, they hold always and everywhere. Their disadvantage would seem to be one of interpretation. If it is taken to be obvious that one should harm no man, it is not always clear what harm is. The same, of course, is true of killing. Presumably, the kind of killing that is prohibited is what we should call murder. Now, to say that murder is always wrong, that one should never murder, is to say something that no doubt is always true, always applies. But this does not foreclose difficulties, because the determination of when killing is unjustified, of when it is murder, that is, is not always easy. Thus the need for a movement toward ever more circumstanced and particular precepts to overcome that difficulty of interpretation. But this in turn has its dark and disadvantageous side.

But with respect to the proper conclusions of practical reason, there is not the same truth and rectitude for everyone, nor are they even equally known by all. For everyone it is right and true that one must act rationally. From this principle follows as a proper conclusion, so to speak, that the goods of another should be returned. That is for the most part true, but in the particular case it can happen that it would be perilous, and thus irrational, to return another's goods; for example, if he asks for them in order to subvert the country. This defect increases as we get increasingly particular; for example, if we should say that goods should be returned but with these exceptions and in this manner. The more conditions we add, the more ways the precept can fail to apply, such that it will not be right either to return or not to return goods.{63}

So much for the ambiguous nature of moral science according to Thomas. The intrinsic goal of moral science is the most circumstanced knowledge possible of what we should do; the closer it comes to its objective, the more need for interpretation in the application of its precepts. And, of course, it is application, action, practice that is the ultimate goal of moral science, of the practical use of our mind.

G. The Practical Syllogism

If moral science is virtually practical knowledge, this is because its considerations, no matter how nuanced and circumstanced, remain on the level of generality. We have seen how Thomas holds that the more concrete, and thus helpful, the considerations of moral science become, the more difficult they are to apply, since so many qualifications have been built into the precept. This means that such a precept, insofar as it expresses ways and means of achieving our end or moral ideal, is problematic in the extreme. The view of the nature of moral science which thus emerges is striking. On the one hand, there are principles which express what is our perfection or end or ways of acting without which the end could not be achieved. The certitude of such judgments is bought at the price of great vagueness, however. To know that murder is always and everywhere wrong is to have an important truth, but it is of little value if we are not able to handle the extremely complicated situations in which men may find themselves and in which it is the identification of an action as murder that is the chief problem. Insofar as our inquiry attempts to overcome vagueness, it does so at the expense of certitude. Thus, at either end, moral knowledge seems to leave a lot to be desired and we are not surprised, perhaps, to find Thomas saying that moral science is of little or no value.{64}

What is the import of that remark? We must recall the nature of practical knowledge, of which moral science is an instance. The aim or end of practical knowledge is not to get our minds straight about the way things are. Rather, it is thought undertaken to guide actions so that we may become as we ought to be. The aim of theoretical knowledge is truth, Thomas says, and insofar as we say the same of practical knowledge, we shall want to alter the meaning of the term.

Truth in practical intellect is different from truth in the speculative intellect, as is pointed out in the Sixth Book of the Ethics (1139a26). The truth of speculative intellect consists in the mind's conformity with reality. Because the mind cannot be infallibly conformed to things in contingent matters, but only in necessary matters, no speculative habit of contingent matters is an intellectual virtue; these are confined to necessary matters. The truth of practical intellect consists in conformity with right appetite, a conformity which is irrelevant with respect to necessary things which are not due to human will, but only with respect to contingent matters which can be effected by us, whether it is question of interior actions or external artifacts. Thus the virtues of practical intellect bear on contingents, art on things to be made, prudence on things to be done.{65}

The prudence or practical wisdom which is here spoken of as a virtue of the practical intellect is not to be confused with moral science. The latter is concerned with contingent matters, but at a level of generality. Prudence bears on the singular circumstances in which one acts and thus may be thought of as the application of general truths to particular, singular circumstances. Like Aristotle before him, Thomas speaks of a practical syllogism, the discourse whereby one applies generalities to particular circumstances with a view to acting. The major premise of the practical syllogism is a general precept or law.{66}

Two kinds of knowing are directive of human acts, a universal and a particular kind, for when we put our minds to thinking about things to be done, we make use of a sort of syllogism, the conclusion of which is a judgment or choice or operation. Actions, after all, are singular. Thus, the conclusion of an operative syllogism must be singular. Now a singular proposition is derived from a universal only by way of another singular proposition, as a man is prohibited the act of parricide because he knows a father ought not be killed and knows that this man is his father.{67}

Not only must we know general precepts, we must also know their application to particular circumstances. The problem would seem to be merely a cognitive one, but it can often be the case that the reason such knowing does not take place is the condition of the agent's appetite. One may assent to the general precept as expressive of the way one should act given man's end, and yet one's past history of action may incline one to act contrary to the general precept. If a man is in a state of passion, drawn by the promise of sense pleasure, say, he may well he disinclined to see his circumstances in the light of the precept which prohibits fornication. This failure to think is a species of ignorance, and Thomas will thus see sin as a species of ignorance. But the ignorance need not be, as in our example it is not, a failure to know the general precept. The failure of knowledge in the case imagined has to do with these circumstances here and now. And the cause of the failure to apply the general knowledge is an appetitive disposition, for example, an acquired tendency or disposition to indulge oneself in matters of sensual pleasure heedlessly. It is the reverse of this situation, the happier possibility that Thomas is envisaging when he speaks, as in the passage quoted earlier, of practical truth. One whose appetite is disposed to be directed by reason in matters of sense pleasure is said to possess the virtue of temperance. Thus the right appetite, conformity with which is practical truth, turns out to be moral virtue. Moral virtue both removes impediments to and positively disposes one to the guidance of the general moral precepts, knowledge of which may be due to moral science. Practical reason as guided by practical wisdom or prudence is thus seen to be dependent not only on cognitive prowess but also on an appetitive disposition.

When the practical syllogism is looked upon simply as a cognitive sequence, problems arise as to why choice or action is said to be the "conclusion" of such discourse. That fornication should not be committed and that this person is not one's spouse may be grounds for the recognition that one should not have sexual intercourse with the presumably pliable young lady in question. But why, it is often asked, should this inference be taken to issue in action? Is it not at best a cognitive recognition perfectly compatible with action contrary to it? Put thus, it is quite clear that the difficulty is unavoidable. If Thomas proceeds otherwise, it is because for him, the practical syllogism is not simply a matter of knowledge.{68}

The so-called major premise of the practical syllogism is expressive of the human good, of that which is perfective of the kind of agent man is, either as his end or as means to the achievement of that end. Knowledge of the good is expressive of truth in the usual sense. But to relate to the good as true, to have merely a cognitive relation to it, is not to relate to it as good. The good is the object of appetite. It is only when the major premise of the practical syllogism expresses truly a good to which we also relate appetitively as good that the practical discourse will issue in action or choice as its conclusion.{69} In short, appetite, disposition, has to be present from the beginning if this is indeed to be an instance of practical discourse, of dis discourse aimed at practice, at action. If the major premise expresses a good to which we relate as a good, then the application expressed in the minor premise is facilitated and the conclusion which is an action follows. Only when the premises are taken to have to produce appetite, as it were, for the first time when the conclusion is reached do the unfortunately familiar difficulties arise.

This sketch of the moral doctrine of Thomas Aquinas will have to suffice for present purposes. It is of course tempting to add to the sketch from the vast number of pages Thomas devoted to the presuppositions, concomitants, corrolaries, and consequences of the few matters we have mentioned. The hope is that, however skeletal the presentation, it may nonetheless serve to suggest the basic structure of Thomas's moral philosophiy. One who knows Aristotle well will find much that is familiar in the account we have given, and this is no accident. And yet, as our discussion of ultimate end makes clear, Thomas put the Aristotelian approach to the service of elucidating moral theology as well as moral philosophy. When man's end is recognized to be a supernatural one, the means to achieving it can scarcely be thought of as virtues a man can acquire through his natural capacities alone. Thus Thomas will speak of infused as well as of acquired virtues.{70} Indeed , his moral theology, as is only to be expected, gathers round the preeminent Christian virtue of Charity. Man's ultimate purpose is to love God with his whole heart and soul and his neighbor as himself. Reflection on what this ennobling task consists of, reflection at the level of generality as to how this aim can be realized, could never be confused, as will be obvious, with the acts of charity that are the ultimate concern of such reflection.{71}

{1} See F. Van Steenberghen, Aristotle in the West. (Louvain, 1955).

{2} See above, Ch. 1, n. 10.

{3} Physics 8.1.

{4} F. E. Peters, Aristotle and the Arabs (New York, 1968).

{5} Metaphysics 12.9.

{6} For a discussion of this point, see Ralph McInerny, "Ontology and Theology in Aristotle's Metaphysics," in Mélanges à la mémoire de Charles de Koninck, (Quebec, 1968), pp. 233-240.

{7} Van Steenberghen, La philosophie au XIIIe Siècle (Louvain, 1966), pp. 80-99.

{8} I have used the text of the De aeternitate mundi contra murmurantes to be found in S. Thomae Aquinatis Opuscula Philosophica, ed. Spiazzi (Turin, 1954), pp. 105-108.

{9} Later, in Chapter 3, we will discuss the real distinction between essence and existence in all creatures.

{10} Summa theologiae, Ia, q. 46, a. 1.

{11} Ibid., Ia, q. 10.

{12} In Octo Libros Physicorum Aristotelis Expositio, ed. (Rome, 1954): In 1 Physic., lect. 12-13.

{13} In Opuscula philosophica, ed. cit., p. 119 ff.

{14} In commenting on Aristotle's Metaphysics 5.4 (lectio 5), Thomas discusses the many meanings of "nature."

{15} On "universe," see Summa theologiae, Ia, q. 103, a. 3 on "cosmos" or "world," see Proemium of Thomas's commentary on Aristotle's On Heaen and Earth.

{16} Physics 1.7; St. Thomas, In I Physic., lect. 12, n. 5.

{17} Ibid., 191a9-10; In I Physic., lect. 13, n. 9.

{18} On the Soul 2.1, 412a27-8 Thomas, In II de Anima, lect 2; Summa theologiae, Ia, q. 75.a. 1.

{19} See Ralph McInerny, "La terme 'Ame', est-il univoque ou equivoque?", Révue philosophique de Louvain, 58 (1960), 481-504, English version in my Studies in Analogy (The Hague, 1968).

{20} I use the text as edited by Leo Keeler, Sancti Thomae Aquinatis Tractatus de Unitate Intellectus Contra Averroistas (Rome, 1946).

{21} Quaestiones Disputatae, ed. Spiazzi et al. (Turin, 1949), Vol. 1.

{22} Q. D. de Veritate (On Truth), q. 2, a. 2.

{23} This raises the "problem of universals." See below, Chapter 4.

{24} See F. C. Copelston, A History of Medieval Philosophy (New York, 1972), pp. 199-212.

{25} In III de anima, lect 10.

{26} Summa theologiae, Ia. Q. 77 and q. 85, a. 1.

{27} IV Contra gentiles, Ch. 80.

{28} In I Ethic. (Nicomachean Ethics), lect. 17, n. 212.

{29} Summa theologiae, IaIIae, prologue.

{30} Ibid., Ia, qq. 750-102.

{31} Ibid., Ia, q. 64, n. 2.

{32} On Truth, q. 24, art. 2.

{33} Commentary on Bk. 2, lectio 3, n. 257

{34} In De coelo et mundo, lect. 26, n. 6.

{35} Summa theologiae, Ia, q. 83; On Truth, q. 24.

{36} On Truth, q. 2, art. 2.

{37} Commentry on On the Soul, Bk. 2 lectio 5, nn. 295-298.

{38} Summa theologiae, Ia, q. 83; On Truth, q. 24.

{39} Quaestio disputata de Malo, q. 6, a. 1.

{40} Summa theologiae, Ia, q. 83, a. 1.

{41} Ibid., IaIIae, q. 13, a. 6.

{42} Ibid., IaIIae, q. 1, a. 1.

{43} ". . . actions of this kind are not properly human, because they do not proceed from the deliberation of reason, which is the proper principle of human acts." Summa theologiae, IaIIae, q. 1, a. 6.

{44} Ibid., IaIIae, q. 13, a. 6.

{45} "It is necessary that whatever a man desires he desires for the sake of the ultimate end, which is clear from these two arguments. First, because whatever a man desires, he desires under the formality of good. And what is not desired as the perfect good, that is, as the ultimate end, must be desired as tending to the ultimate end." Summa theologiae, IaIIae, q. 1, a. 6.

{46} Nicomachean Ethics 1.7.

{47} Summa theologiae, IaIIae, q. 3, q. 5.

{48} Ibid., IaIIae, q. 3, a. 8.

{49} Ibid., IaIIae, q. 13, a. 6.

{50} Ibid., Ia, q. 14, a. 16.

{51} Exposition of the De trinitate of Boethius, q. 5, a. 1.

{52} Summa theologiae, Ia, q. 14, a. 16.

{53} "Knowledge is said to be practical because of its being ordered to some work (opus), which occurs in two ways. Sometimes actually (in actu), namely when it is actually involved in the production of a work, as when the artisan proposes to impose a preconceived form on matter. . . .Sometimes however knowledge is indeed such that it can be ordered to act but is not actually so ordered, as when the artisan thinks of a possible artifact and knows it as the term of various steps (per modum operndi), but does not intend to perform those steps; this is practical knowing habitu vel virtute, certainly, but not in act." On Truth, q. 3, a. 3.

{54} Summa theologiae, IaIIae, q. 94, a. 4.

{55} Ibid., IaIIae, q. 93.

{56} Ibid., IaIIae, q. 90, a. 4.

{57} On this point, see Ralph McInerny, "The Meaning of Naturalis in Aquinas's Theory of Natural Law," in La Filosofia della Natura, nel Medioevo, ed. Vita e Pensiero (Milan, 1966), pp.560-565.

{58} "It should be said that law is a kind of dictate of practical reason. The process of practical reason is similar to that of theoretical reason since in both there is a movement from principles to conclusions. . . .Given this, we hold that just as from undemonstrable principles, the human reason proceeds to more particular judgments." Summa theologiae, IaIIae, q. 91, a. 3.

{59} Ibid., IaIIae, q. 94, a. 2.

{60} There is a vast literature devoted to natural law. One way into it is via R. A. Armstrong's Primary and Secondary Precepts in Thomistic Natural Law Teaching (The Hague, 1966), which has a good bibliography. See too E. B. F. Midgley, The NaturalLlaw Tradition and the Theory of International Relations (New York, 1975). See Armstrong, Ch. 6.

{61} See Armstrong. Ch. 6.

{62} Summa theologie, IaIIae, q. 95. A. 2.

{63} Ibid., IaIIae, q. 94, a. 4.

{64} On the Virtues in General, trans. Reid (Providence, 1951), a. 6, ad 1m.

{65} Summa theologiae, IaIIae, q. 57, a. 5, ad 3m.

{66} Ibid., IaIIae, q. 90, a. 1, ad 2m.

{67} Ibid., IaIIae, q. 76, a. 1.

{68} On this problem, see Weakness of Will, ed. G. w. Mortimore (New York, 1970).

{69} Ralph McInerny, "Prudence and Conscience," The Thomist, 38, No. 2 (1974), 291-305.

{70} Summa theologiae, IaIIae, q. 63, a. 3.

{71} On Charity, trans. Kendzierski (Milwaukee, 1960), a. 3.

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