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Leninist regime was no more, the Soviet Union received a new name “
or rather new names “ as its empire fragmented and its citizens became
citizens of Russia, Ukraine, or one of a dozen other nations.
Following a similar line of reasoning, for Aristotle and for Aquinas
as his commentator, the regime remains central to a correct notion of
citizenship and civic virtue. And for at least this reason, the tension
between good humanity and good citizenship must remain. There are
many regimes in which to be an excellent citizen is to be a bad human
being, and even in decent polities one must rise above the imperfect civic
standard and see farther than the regime if one is not to stunt one™s full
growth as a human being and as a member of society. Neither Aristotle nor
Aquinas would deny that this critical distance can be quite dif¬cult, even
painful, for public-spirited citizens to achieve. On Aristotle™s account,
moreover, it is dif¬cult to understand how a citizen who does not possess

4 It is Aquinas™s gloss on Aristotle (quoting Euripides) that underscores the absence of
philosophy from the education of rulers, as commonly conceived and practiced in the
real world. Aristotle does not mention philosophy explicitly in this passage (indeed, he
rarely does in the Politics), but Aquinas™s remark seems right on target and illuminating
of Aristotle™s intention. Cf. Politics III.4, 1277a16“21 with Commentary on the “Politics” III,
3 n. 370 [6].
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations
96

at least those capabilities required of an excellent ruler in the best regime
could ever achieve such regime transcendence.
In his ST, by contrast, Aquinas does appear to privilege the generically
social character of human nature over the regime-relative political in sev-
eral key respects (Riedl 1963, 160“1; White 1993, 641). One may even
say that while retaining an awareness of the importance of regimes and
the virtues and vices they tend to promote, Aquinas rede¬nes the political
or civic character of human nature more fundamentally in the function
of human sociality and its ethical requirements (see, e.g., ST I“II 113, 1).
With this move Aquinas offers readers some probing new possibilities for
harmonizing human and civic excellence. And, by arguing for the nat-
uralness of humanity™s religious character and quest, taking this dimen-
sion of humanity more seriously than Aristotle appears to have done,
Aquinas opens up space for transcendence on the part of ordinary,
nonphilosopher citizens who are aware (however vaguely) of their cit-
izenship in a universal community under God, and perhaps through
grace are cognizant as well of being members of God™s own household
(cf. Fortin 1996, 2:160“1). Hobbes, Rousseau, and other moderns rightly
note how this dual citizenship complicates political matters and opens a
new way for religious encroachments on this-worldly political turf. But
they are wrong to con¬ne the religious profession and worship under
secular authority and thereby in practice to subordinate religion to poli-
tics. In the following chapters I consider in greater detail the dialectic of
virtue, politics, philosophy, and religion in Aquinas™s thought, together
with some salient social and civic implications of Aquinas™s view of their
interrelation.
Before moving ahead with this investigation, we should take note of
one ¬nal feature of Aquinas™s Commentary on the Philosopher™s second
civic foundation.5 In Politics III.4, Aristotle writes that menial tasks and
manual work proper to “vulgar persons” and slaves, and geared to meeting
life™s physical needs, “should not be learned by the good [man] or the
political [ruler] or the good citizen, unless he does it for himself out of


5 Also worthy of note is Aquinas™s normative gloss, not present in Aristotle™s text, on Aristo-
tle™s observation in Politics III.5 that some cities call people “citizens” who do not have the
“honor” of participation in the city™s government in any way, seeking to deceive them as
to their true status in the polity. Aquinas writes that “This is not proper [non est conveniens],
however, because he who does not share in the honor of the city is like an alien in the
city” (III, 4, 382 [6], emphasis added). On Aquinas™s truthfulness (veritas) as an essential
component of the social foundation for politics, and for a comparison of his thought and
Aristotle™s on this score, see White (1993); cf. ST II“II 109“12.
Reinforcing the Foundations 97

some need of his own (for then it does not result in one person becoming
master and another [a] slave)” (Pol. III.4, 1277b3“7).6 Keeping in mind
the overarching context of Christianity and Aristotle™s precarious place in
medieval Christendom™s higher education, Aquinas™s “suggestive gloss”
on this passage is nothing short of explosive for all its literalness and
sobriety:

Now there are different kinds of slaves according to the different operations of
servants. Among them, one role is played by those who work with their hands,
as do shoemakers, cooks, and the like. These men live from the works of their
hands, as their name indicates. . . . Because the operations of these craftsmen are
not those of a ruler but are rather of a servile nature, formerly, among certain
peoples, craftsmen did not have any share in the government of the city. This,
I say, was the case before the advent of an extreme form of popular rule, that
is to say, before the lowliest among the people were invested with power in the
cities. So it is clear, then, that “neither the good statesman,” that is, the governor
of the city, nor even the “good citizen” should learn to perform works of subjects
such as these, except occasionally because of some advantage to himself, and not
because in these matters he should serve others; for if they were to exercise servile
tasks [opera] of this kind, the distinction between master and slave would soon be no more
[iam non esset] (Comm. Pol. III, 3 n. 373 [9], emphasis added).

When writing this gloss, Aquinas the theologian and “master of the
sacred page” must have had on his mind the example and teaching of
Jesus Christ; for according to Christian Scripture and tradition, Jesus in
fact abolished this difference ¬rst by his own deeds of service, of the
classically servile variety, and then by his authoritative teachings on the
subject: “Jesus began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1“2). Jesus was known
simply as the “carpenter” (Mk. 6:3) or the “carpenter™s son” (Mt. 13:55)
on account of the manual work he ¬rst learned from his legal father,
Joseph, and then performed in an obscure region and town for more than
a decade before beginning to preach. He served all, including the poorest
in society, healing their diseases (Mt. 4:23“4). After his resurrection he
cooked breakfast for his disciples; and prior to his death, at the Last
Supper, he performed the task of the lowliest household slave of the times,
washing the guests™ feet ( Jn. 13:1“17). Reading Aristotle™s passage and
Aquinas™s carefully worded commentary in this context, Aquinas gives his

6 One suspects that Aristotle here in part is catering with “a gentle measure of caricature”
(cf. Collins 2004, 51) to the upper-class sympathies of his listeners or readers, who are still
excessively attached to mastery as something noble and choice-worthy in itself; but also
that underlying his overstatements is the serious, positive purpose evinced throughout
his Ethics and Politics of upholding the excellence of self-suf¬ciency, as in some way both
an aspect and an end of the highest virtues, ethical, political, and especially philosophic.
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations
98

readers clearly to understand that Jesus exploded this very difference that
the Master himself equated with a pagan mentality of the Greco-Roman
milieu: as the Apostle Paul would write to the early Christians “there is no
more . . . slave or free . . . in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). If we recall Aquinas™s
central teaching that grace does not undo nature but rather presupposes,
restores, sustains, and perfects it even while transcending its limits (see
ST I 1, 8, ad 2; I“II 109“14; SCG III.147“57), we conclude also that for
Aquinas, Christ™s actions and example had to have implications for a
correct understanding of human nature and consequently the exercise
of human authority, including political authority. According to reason
freed from the impediments of pride and other forms of vice, recognition
of the dignity of public service and the prior acknowledgment of ruling
as itself a form of service do not undo appreciation of the humanity and
value of humble physical service. To recognize the former is to value the
latter, and also to respect one™s social and civic subordinates such that
attending to any of their needs is not a humiliation but an honor.
Afterward the tradition of Christian kingship held it a very honorable
work for a monarch to serve his or her subjects even in menial tasks: wit-
ness the Christmas carol celebrating “Good King Wenceslaus” of Bohemia
for merrily carrying preparations for a good ¬re and dinner through a
snowstorm to a poor serf and preparing it with his own hands.7 True
enough, conscientious monarchs rarely had time to engage directly in
these works because of the demands of their irreplaceable role in ruling
for the common good: as was the case with Aristotle™s truly virtuous rulers,
they saw their job of ruling as a public service that could not be neglected.
Unlike their pagan predecessors, however, good Christian monarchs did
not (or at least should not) consider ministering personally to the physical
needs of the people as in principle beneath them or their regal dignity: on
the contrary. When modern-day American presidents or other heads of
state help care for wounded veterans in hospitals, participate in clean-ups
of abandoned urban neighborhoods, wait on tables at soup kitchens, or
barbecue for their houseguests, including high-ranking foreign of¬cials,
this is not so much a result of Lockean liberalism, much less Hobbesian
theory, as it is of Jewish and especially Christian revelation. Equality alone
does not lead to an ethos of service, to placing oneself “ even physically “
below another person to attend directly to his or her needs, including their
basic physical welfare. Such service, if sincere, requires a humility and a
love (charity in its original meaning) that are central to Aquinas™s ethical

7 For more on Saint V´ clav, Lord of Bohemia (ca. 907“29), see Sayer (1998, e.g., 30, 179).
a
Reinforcing the Foundations 99

and political thought. Aquinas expects our natures to ¬nd this outlook on
life, inspired as it is most directly by revealed religion and Christ™s exam-
ple, to be an improvement “ rationally defensible on the basis of our
moral and social experiences, although its dif¬culty and seeming humil-
iation may cause us to rebel. We will return to this critical Thomistic
development or modi¬cation of Aristotelian ethical and political the-
ory especially in Chapter 6, in the context of comparing Aquinas™s and
Aristotle™s accounts of magnanimity “ the signature virtue of the great-
souled person, citizen, and statesman “ and again in Chapter 9. It will be
helpful at that juncture to recall that Aquinas ¬rst calls this distinction
between classical and Christian thought to his reader™s attention when
discussing politics, and speci¬cally the foundations of Aristotle™s Politics.8


4.2 Faults in the Foundations: The Uncommented Politics
and the Problem of Regime Particularity
The passage we have just considered, from near the end of Aquinas™s Com-
mentary on the “Politics,” helps reveal why Aquinas chose not to complete
this work. In highlighting and appearing to uphold distinctions between
rulers and ruled that cater to rulers™ desire to deny full human status to
the ruled (or at least the lowliest among them), and so to perform their
public service for truncated ends that fall far short of any true common
good, the Politics in its turn to the particularities of regimes and their
preservation requires normative clari¬cation and reinforcement.
At the very beginning of his explication of Politics III, Aquinas provides
an overview of Aristotle™s argument from that point in the text through
its conclusion in Book VIII. This summary helps us see what in Aquinas™s
view is the focus of the commented Politics as compared with the
uncommented Politics. In Book II, Aristotle begins his investigation into
the best regime by ¬rst summarizing and criticizing candidates put forth
for that honor prior to Aristotle™s writing, by both political founders and
political philosophers. Then, as Book III commences, Aristotle begins to
reveal which regime is in his own view best, by explaining the basic types
of regime and their respective strengths and weaknesses vis-` -vis justice
a
and the common good. According to Aquinas, Aristotle does this in two

8 For a related argument, that Aquinas™s theory of justice comprises a strong “ethic of care,”
see Stump (1997). Cf. also Aquinas™s argument on the best unity built through diversity
combined with “mutual service” and “care,” in the Church and analogously in political
society, in ST II“II 183, 2, ad 1 and ad 3.
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations
100

arguments. First, through Book III, Aristotle distinguishes among the
basic types of regime, indicating ¬rst what features they have in common
and then dividing, cataloging, and comparing them in general terms with
oneanother. Then, from BookIV to Book VI, Aristotle studies each regime
type and its chief variants more closely and in greater detail. Finally, the
Philosopher ¬nishes the Politics with an exposition of his own account of
the simply best regime founded in speech in Books VII and VIII.
Aquinas™s Commentary can thus be seen to follow closely, ¬rst, Aristotle™s
treatment of what regimes have in common and, second, the beginning
of Aristotle™s explication of the most salient distinctions among regimes
and the particular institutions, advantages, and drawbacks characteristic
of each. After the general discussion of citizenship and civic virtue, the
end of which in Politics III.5 already implies that the distinction of regime
types determines the allocation of citizen status, chapters 6 through 8
retain Aquinas™s attention while they (1) locate the common criteria for
a regime™s rightness or absolute justice in its seeking the common good rather
than the private good of the ruler(s) and (2) establish a basic typology of
regimes de¬ned ¬rst according to how many people rule and for whose
good and, second and more precisely, according to the claims regarding
the rightful basis of rule (i.e., the characteristics that entitle people to
participate as full members in each regime). This second regime deter-
minant is more fundamental, according to Aristotle, because it marks out
the highest telos of that regime and of the society it shapes and governs.
Immediately after Aristotle™s focus shifts to democracy and oligarchy as
forms of rule based respectively on the claims of freedom and wealth,
Aquinas™s text breaks off. The Philosopher has shifted too quickly from
the universal to the particular, Aquinas judges, when there is still more
ethical-foundational work to be done.
Aquinas™s suggestive gloss on Aristotle™s text regarding menial work,
service, and the distinction between rulers and ruled, highlights the prob-
lem of adopting a particular regime™s standards of ethical conduct. The
natural dignity of service and of direct physical assistance to those persons
lowest on the social totem pole requires that politics look beyond its own
particularity if the common good it seeks by nature is to be better appre-
hended and approximated. Politics thus presupposes and foreshadows
a human telos more common than any particular political regime can
provide or re¬‚ect, and that should serve as the North Star for the com-
pass of political theory. Aquinas™s commentary nudges the reader toward
recognizing the need for a quest for a social and civic standard transcend-
ing the horizon of this-worldly regimes. The problem of political virtue
Reinforcing the Foundations 101

and regime particularity impels him to seek a political foundation that
respects the legitimate, unavoidable requirements of real regimes yet that
also assists all humans, not just philosophers, in some way to see beyond
and transcend them. That foundation is to be found in the ¬rst place in
Aquinas™s account of natural law, and ultimately in the divine Giver of that
law; the edi¬ce is “cosmopolis,” the universal polity on the order of nature,
perfected to become the City of God in the order of grace. Ernest Fortin
expresses the Thomistic difference this way: “[I]n taking over Aristotle™s
concept of the political nature of man and of human living, Aquinas has
modi¬ed it profoundly under the in¬‚uence of Christianity and Stoicism
and . . . the notion of God as a lawgiver in both of these traditions. Civil
society . . . is itself judged by a higher standard to which human actions
must conform universally. It becomes part of a broader whole, embracing
all men and all cities and is by that very fact deprived of its privileged sta-
tus as the sole horizon limiting the scope of man™s moral activity, setting
the goals to which he may aspire, and determining the basic order of his
priorities” (1996, 2:160“1).
As we have seen, for Aristotle the problem of civic virtue and the
regimes to which it is ordered urges him on to further investigation that
remains almost wholly within the properly political horizon. His quest is
for the best regime, one so perfect for its citizens that it should be prayed
for by all, yet so dif¬cult to achieve that it is far from certain that it will ever
be completed; the Philosopher offers readers of his Politics no historical
example of a civic community animated by the best possible social order.
Aristotle™s dialectic does encourage citizens of any polity to try to cultivate
practical wisdom so that they would be worthy to govern in this best
regime, either alone or with others (cf. Pol. III.5, 1278b1“5). For those
few people who can aspire to a more complete, essentially transpolitical
happiness, there are Aristotle™s occasional hints or nudges toward a life
dedicated to philosophic study and contemplation as the most satisfying
and the most self-suf¬cient (cf. Pol. I.11, 1259a5“18; II.7, 1267a10“15).
On his way to describing the best regime, Aristotle offers advice for
the denizens and would-be statesmen of each regime type, from the fun-
damentally just (if still imperfect), common good oriented varieties to
the worst perversion of politics in tyranny. He devotes much time to spec-
ifying the most common variations of each general sort of government,
indicating what conditions and actions typically give rise to these regimes,
what tends to their corruption or demise, and how they may most securely
be preserved. For Aristotle it appears then that the common foundations
of political life and action have been suf¬ciently treated both in the NE
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations
102

and in the ¬rst three books of the Politics. He seems to leave these more
general discussions, normative as well as descriptive, behind him as he
elaborates in social-scienti¬c manner on regime particularities, from the
very worst through to the always and everywhere best.
While Aristotle sets out from his second civic foundation on an exami-
nation of regime particularities that culminates in his teaching on the best
regime and the education animating and sustaining it, Aquinas returns to
the ¬rst Aristotelian foundation in nature and human nature in order to
enlarge and reinforce it. He thereby parts company with his philosophic
mentor and leaves the last ¬ve and a half books of Aristotle™s Politics
uncommented, motivated in part by the need to ameliorate regime par-
ticularity™s problematic and harmonize the ethical with the political life
in the soul of the individual human being. Aristotle forges on to construct
in speech the ¬nest political edi¬ce he is able and to do so precisely as a
third political-philosophic foundation, perfecting the previous two and
completing the science of politics. Aquinas judges rather that the abiding
problematic of human vis-` -vis political virtue in Aristotle™s account indi-
a
cates some signi¬cant if subtle faults in the Philosopher™s foundations:
in the ¬rst regarding the full ethical dimensions of human nature, and
in the second regarding what normative features all communities and
their citizens have and should acknowledge in common. Aquinas there-
fore returns to construct a new foundation of his own, one that as it were
deepens, enlarges, and reinforces Aristotle™s very helpful yet incomplete
and in some respects unsatisfying beginnings. In Aquinas™s view, this sort
of foundational work is just what a philosophic theologian like himself can
best contribute to political science, attempting a more probing account
of the universal causes that inform and guide the countless particulars of
human social and civic life.


4.3 Politics Pointing beyond the Polis and the Politeia:
Aquinas™s New Foundations
Aquinas lays his new, as it were enlarged foundations for politics most
clearly in the ST, but also, as we have begun to see, in an anticipatory way
in Commentary on the “NE” and Commentary on the “Politics.” One telling
piece of evidence differentiating Aquinas™s foundations from Aristotle™s
consists of the naturally known “¬rst principles of practical reason,” which
Aquinas elaborates in his ST. He does so by employing an analogy with
Aristotle™s indemonstrable (per se nota) ¬rst principles of speculative rea-
soning, yet signi¬cantly he does not refer his readers to any passages
Reinforcing the Foundations 103

in Aristotle™s practical philosophy arguing for ¬rst indemonstrable
practical principles. In this important argument Aquinas is not building
on anyone else™s foundations: he appeals to no authority outside of his
own reason. Together with his theorizing of natural law and the related
concepts of synderesis and conscience,9 Aquinas posits “ also originally “
a full-¬‚edged natural inclination (inclinatio) of the human will toward
goodness and virtue, and so emphasizes the social or relational sense of
human existence even more strongly than Aristotle had done, certainly in
the vertical (human“ God) but also in the horizontal (human“human[s])
dimension.

Aquinas™s Own Foundations: Natural Law and the Inclination
to Moral Virtue
We ¬nd ourselves once again in the context of the analogy between the
naturalness of virtue and the naturalness of social and political life: more
precisely here, the analogy between the naturalness of virtue and the
naturalness of law for members of the human species. The law ultimately
in question is not the law of any particular polis. Politics for Aquinas
resides in but also points beyond the polis and its politeia or regime10 ;
and so the law Aquinas elaborates is a part of the divine governance of
cosmopolis, the “whole community of the universe” (see ST I“II 91, 1“2).
It is a law promulgated by nature to all human beings, a natural law.
In elucidating in the ST what he terms the “¬rst indemonstrable prin-
ciples of practical human reason,” which in turn translate into the ¬rst
indemonstrable, naturally known precepts of the natural law, Aquinas

9 For Aquinas™s explication and understanding of synderesis, the “natural habit” of the
¬rst principles of practical reason (about which more will follow), and conscience, the
application of moral knowledge to the judgment of a particular act, see ST I 79, 12 and
13; I“II 19, 5 and 6; 94, 1, 4, and 6.
10 As I revised this chapter and reviewed portions of Strauss™s chapter on “Classical Natural
Right” in Natural Right and History (1953), I found this quote on Aquinas™s thought
that is extremely close (though not identical) in meaning to the formula I had already
used here, “politics pointing beyond the polis and the politeia”: “Thomas . . . virtually con-
tend[s] that, according to natural reason, the natural end of man is insuf¬cient, or
points beyond itself or, more precisely, that the end of man cannot consist in philo-
sophic investigation, to say nothing of political activity” (Strauss 1953, 164; cf. 157“9
and 163). Strauss, of course, is no more convinced that Aquinas™s view is true than is
Jaffa. While their general appraisals of Aquinas™s thought in relation to Aristotle™s seem
very close, if not identical, Jaffa™s book-length analysis is much more developed than any
of Strauss™s brief published remarks on Aquinas, and so it is Jaffa™s work that I will more
often have occasion to engage. I should note also that Jaffa™s views seem to have modi¬ed
considerably in the decades following Thomism and Aristotelianism; compare his A New
Birth of Freedom (2000), especially chapter and p. 509n84.
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations
104

gives the careful reader to understand that there is something radically
new afoot in this theory of ethics, politics, and law. The clearest indicator
of the novelty of Aquinas™s own foundations for ethics and politics is in
the second passage I will consider, where Aquinas asks whether there is
in us any virtue by nature (ST I“II 63, 1).
The ¬rst intimation of this new foundation, however, occurs already
in Aquinas™s Commentary on “Politics” I. As I noted in Chapter 3, Aquinas
glosses for his readers Aristotle™s argument that “there is in everyone by
nature an impulse toward this sort of partnership [i.e., political partner-
ship]. And yet the one who ¬rst constituted [a city] is responsible for
the greatest of goods” by restraining the human propensity to evil and
assisting persons™ growth in virtue (Pol. I.2, 1253a29“30). Aquinas com-
ments that “the human being is the best of all animals if virtue, to which he
has a natural inclination, is perfected in him” (Comm. Pol. I, 1 n. 41 [33],
emphasis added). A few lines earlier he had made a similar comment,
arguing that Aristotle “infers . . . that there is in all human beings a certain
natural impulse toward the city, as also toward the virtues” (I, 1 n. 40 [32],
emphasis added). By contrast, a close look at Aristotle™s texts in Politics I
and Ethics II.1, to which Aquinas also alludes, reveals Aristotle stopping
just short of saying that by our common rational nature we possess an
inclination toward acquiring the virtues. Aristotle writes that “man is born
naturally possessing arms for [the use of] prudence and virtue that are
nevertheless very susceptible of being used for their opposites” (Pol. I.2,
1253b33“5). This formula appears to indicate that virtuous activity is
the proper use or natural purpose of human capacities and powers, but
not that humans naturally experience a positive psychological inclination
toward virtuous conduct, as Aquinas™s formulation seems by contrast to
imply.
If we turn to the text of the NE, we again see Aristotle stop a step or
two shy of Aquinas™s formulation. The Philosopher opines that humans
naturally have the capacity to receive the virtues and that good habitu-
ation transforms that potency into a virtuous act (NE II.1, 1103a24“5).
Still, bad habituation turns that same capacity against virtue, just as a
harpist who is not trained to make beautiful music becomes a bad harpist
precisely by practicing. By nature he was not a harpist at all, although he
had the capacity to become one, good or bad (1103b7“11). On Aristo-
tle™s account, this fact militates against supposing a natural inclination to
ethical virtue, since “the direction of any nature-given tendency [cannot]
be changed by habituation. Thus, the virtues are implanted in us neither
by nature nor contrary to nature . . . ” (1103a23“4). And signi¬cantly, just
Reinforcing the Foundations 105

as Aquinas opens his Commentary on the “Politics” with a discourse about
art vis-` -vis nature, so here Aristotle develops a lengthy analogy between
a
ethical virtue and the arts, but in contrast to natural endowments. Aristotle
begins this comparison as follows: “[O]f all the qualities with which we are
endowed by nature, we are provided with the capacity ¬rst, and display
the activity afterward. That this is true is shown by the senses: it is not by
frequent seeing or frequent hearing that we acquired our senses . . . we
do not acquire them by use. The virtues, on the other hand, we acquire
by ¬rst having put them into action, and the same is also true of the arts”
(1103a26“32).11
Aristotle™s analogy from the arts thus appears to accord a more conven-
tional character to ethical virtue, at least in its acquisition, than Aquinas™s
theory attributes to it (cf. NE II.1, 1103a26“b25). (The Philosopher™s con-
clusion that education, especially “early intervention” or early childhood
education, is, humanly speaking, crucial for virtuous character formation
is, however, one that Aquinas to a great extent shares.) For now it will suf-
¬ce to note that Aquinas™s Commentary on the “NE” II.1 seems faithfully to
re¬‚ect Aristotle™s text in this regard.
Now it could be argued that Aquinas considers his position regarding
a natural inclination to virtue, ethical as well as intellectual, to be more
or less identical with the argument Aristotle advances for a natural apti-
tude or capacity to acquire virtue. This would further indicate, as some
scholars have argued, that Aquinas considers his own foundational ethi-
cal teaching in the ST, where he repeatedly and explicitly posits a natural
inclination to virtue, to be virtually synonymous with Aristotle™s literal
meaning in the NE, at least as regards right reason™s appraisal (cf. Jaffa
1952, 168, 192).
The main problem with this conclusion is that Aquinas quietly yet
clearly indicates in the ST that his own view of human nature™s relation-
ship to virtue, especially ethical or moral virtue, is not identical with the
Philosopher™s as he understands it. Aristotle™s account is better than most,
perhaps even all previous philosophic explanations, yet in Aquinas™s judg-
ment it does not hit the bull™s-eye of the philosophical-anthropological
target. Aquinas himself must do better. In ST I“II, question 63, “Of the
Cause of the Virtues,” Aquinas asks “Whether Virtue Is in Us by Nature”

11 Aristotle here offers an example from the legislative art and civic action: “This is corrobo-
rated by what happens in cities. Lawgivers make the citizens good by inculcating (good)
habits in them, and this is the aim of every lawgiver; if he does not succeed in doing that,
his legislation is a failure. It is in this that a good constitution differs from a bad one”
(NE II.1, 1103b2“6).
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations
106

(article 1) and surveys three broad-based philosophic responses. The ¬rst
is that of the “Platonists,” who considered all the virtues to be “wholly from
within” the human psyche, “so that all the sciences and virtues would pre-
exist in the soul naturally.” At the opposite end of the spectrum Aquinas
¬nds Avicenna and others, who considered the sciences and virtues to be
“wholly from without, due to the in¬‚ow of the active intellect.” Between
these two extremes, Aquinas unsurprisingly locates Aristotle. “Others said
that sciences and virtues are in us by nature, so far as we are adapted to
them, but not in their perfection: this is the teaching of the Philosopher
(NE II.1).” In lieu of concluding that “in this matter, the opinion of Aris-
totle holds,” however, Aquinas writes that it is “nearer [than the others] to
the truth” (emphasis added). To approximate more closely the truth of
things, then, Aquinas must move beyond Aristotle.
Aquinas™s main development of Aristotle™s theory of virtue™s natural-
ness is by way of addition: by our rational nature we do not merely possess
the aptitude or capacity to receive or acquire intellectual and moral virtues;
we also contain the “beginnings” of those virtues and so are in a certain sense
inclined to them. On Aristotle™s account, by nature we are more or less
fertile soil for planting the ¬‚owers and fruits of the ethical virtues. On
Aquinas™s account, the soil of our nature already contains the seeds of
those virtues, both intellectual and ethical, as well as an inclination to
water and grow them. Writes Aquinas:

[V]irtue is natural to man inchoatively . . . , insofar as in man™s reason are to
be found instilled by nature certain naturally known principles of both knowl-
edge and action, which are the nurseries of intellectual and moral virtues, and
in so far as there is in the will a natural appetite for good in accordance with
reason. . . . [B]oth intellectual and moral virtues are in us by way of a natural apti-
tude, inchoatively, but not perfectly, since nature is determined to one, while the
perfection of these virtues does not depend on one particular mode of action, but
on various modes, in respect of the various matters, which constitute the sphere
of virtue™s action, and according to various circumstances.12
It is therefore evident that all virtues are in us by nature, according to aptitude
and inchoation, but not according to perfection, except the theological virtues,
which are entirely from without. (ST I“II 63, 1, emphasis added)13

12 This passage shows that Aquinas™s teleology of virtue is not aptly characterized as a form of
“monism,” insofar as Aquinas underscores here and elsewhere the great variety of modes
by which the virtues become incarnated and ¬‚ourish in the lives of diverse human beings
in their various personal and social circumstances.
13 My summary and quotation here focus mainly on the part of Aquinas™s response that
refers to our generic human nature and focuses on the common character of our rational
soul; he also discusses the bearing of our bodily differences, according to which each of us
Reinforcing the Foundations 107

Two things are novel in Aquinas™s response: the positing of the natural
appetite of the will for rational good, and the naturally known “principles
of both knowledge and action” that provide initial natural direction for
the desiring will or rational appetite (cf. ST I“II 10, 1 and II“II 47, 5,
ad 3). It is further signi¬cant that after the ¬rst paragraph summarizing
the teachings of the Platonists, Avicenna, and Aristotle on the problem
of virtue™s naturalness, Aquinas™s lengthy response elaborating a position
he obviously considers at least closer to the truth than Aristotle™s contains
not a single reference to any other thinker or to sacred Scripture. And
since what is at stake here is the description of our human nature, one
can only conclude that while he does learn much from others and per-
haps especially from Aristotle on this matter, Aquinas is in key respects
constructing his own foundations “ or rather, seeking to discover and the-
oretically to articulate a more solid philosophic, anthropological, or psy-
chological foundation for the virtues than even Aristotle had achieved.
Quite typically for our author, the trait G. K. Chesterton (1956) has wittily
referred to as Aquinas™s “colossal humility” shows forth in the antiposses-
sive attitude Aquinas takes toward his own thought: Aquinas never calls
attention to the originality of his philosophic or theological re¬‚ection,
his “new modes and orders,” except by “omission,” by failing to cite or
refer to the theoretical “modes and orders of others.” If what he argues is
true, its source is in reality and ultimately in God, not in his own intellect;
moreover, if it is true, it constitutes a common good in which many minds
may share. Nevertheless, from our vantage point, there is a signi¬cant new
founding here, as is further apparent in the parallel passage in the ST on
naturally known ¬rst principles of action that are also the ¬rst precepts of
natural law.
In a critical and much-commented article in his questions on law,
Aquinas inquires “[w]hether the natural law contains several precepts, or


possesses a temperament inclined to a certain character, marked by a physical, sensible
attraction or aversion to the acts of diverse virtues and making some easier for us to
acquire than others, some vices more dif¬cult to avert: “the ¬rst two [objections] argue
about the nurseries of virtue which are in us by nature, inasmuch as we are rational beings.
The third objection must be taken in the sense that, owing to the natural disposition
which the body has from birth, one has an aptitude for pity, another for living temperately,
another for some other virtue” (ST I“II 63, 1). From this we can grasp another reason
why humans naturally need political society to live well, beyond the “extended family
units” of the clan or even the village: to provide a diversity of models of various virtues,
which the shared physical stock of a single family might make dif¬cult for their members
to acquire without a highly concerted effort, without mentors to instruct and encourage
and inspiring exemplars to imitate.
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations
108

one only” (ST I“II 94, 2).14 The newness of Aquinas™s moral foundation
is indicated ¬rst in the sed contra (“on the contrary”) section of his article.
The function of the brief sed contra section in the scholastic “disputed
question” genre is basically to break the ¬‚ow or halt the momentum of
the ¬rst arguments, all marching more or less in the direction the author
does not intend to go. After three, four, or even (in the more advanced
texts) ¬fteen reasons why x has been or might well be thought true, a
respected interlocutor is thrust into the conversation to indicate that
“rather, y is true; you should rethink or at least reinterpret x,” and so set
the stage for the author himself to argue his response. In the other articles
of ST I“II 94, authorities cited in the sed contra sections include Augustine
(in 94, 1 and 94, 6, the question™s ¬rst and last articles: Augustine thus
frames Aquinas™s discussion of natural law); John Damascene (94, 3);
Isidore of Seville (94, 4); and the legal text of the Decretals (94, 5).15
In our article (I“II 94, 2), however, as a rare exception, Aquinas cites no
text or philosopher or theologian in the sed contra passage he composes.
He simply offers an argument in an abbreviated form, so to speak on his
own authority: “The precepts of natural law in man stand in relation to
practical matters as the ¬rst principles to matters of demonstration. But
there are several ¬rst indemonstrable [per se nota] principles. Therefore
there are also several precepts of the natural law” (ST I“II 94, 2, s.c.).
In the body of his response Aquinas elaborates what he has already
intimated in the question on virtue™s naturalness and elsewhere: namely,
his theory of naturally known ¬rst principles of practical reason as the
foundational level of natural law and the seedbed of the moral virtues.
His argument builds on Aristotle™s account in the Metaphysics of the ¬rst
principles of speculative reasoning, indemonstrable and naturally known
to humans, present and operative whether acknowledged by those using
them or not; and it dovetails with Aristotle™s opening observation in the
Metaphysics of a natural human inclination toward acquiring knowledge,
that the human being “by nature desire[s] to know” (cf. 980b). Aquinas™s


14 For varying interpretations and analyses of this important article, see Fortin (1996, 165“
6); Finnis (1998a, 79“90), Grisez (1965), Hall (1994, 31“3), MacIntyre (1988a, 173“4),
McInerny (1980), and Pinckaers (1995, 400“56). For general accounts and defenses
of natural law in contemporary cultural and political context, see Budziszewski (2003),
Finnis (1980), George (1999), and Hittinger (2003).
15 Note that Aristotle is conspicuously absent from this group of sed contra “authorities.” It
is also signi¬cant that Aristotle™s Politics is not cited once in the ST™s question on natural
law, and Aristotle™s Ethics is cited only once, as raising an important “objection” to which
Aquinas must respond (see ST I“II 94, 4, obj. 2).
Reinforcing the Foundations 109

own speculative reason will advance a parallel argument, that our nature
as rational animals possesses ¬rst and naturally known practical principles
as well, in accord with and ¬‚owing from primordial natural inclinations
such as those toward self-preservation, family life, broader social life and
virtue, and religion beginning with the search for knowledge of God (see
ST I“II 94, 2). These principles are also precepts of a law that is naturally
known: they are, in other words, active and not merely passive guides to
action; they bespeak personal responsibility ¬‚owing from duties to God
and to others, our fellow humans. That Aquinas knows he is here depart-
ing from at least the letter of Aristotle™s texts is indicated by his failure to
quote or refer explicitly to the Philosopher or his Ethics anywhere in the ST
with regard speci¬cally to the ¬rst practical principles of reason, whereas
he consistently and explicitly cites Aristotle™s pioneering account of spec-
ulative ¬rst principles. Aquinas™s “response” is worth quoting at length:
As stated above (ST I“II 91, 3), the precepts of the natural law are to the practical
reason, what the ¬rst principles of demonstrations are to the speculative reason;
because both are self- evident (per se nota) principles. . . .
Now a certain order is to be found in those things that are apprehended
universally. For that which, before all else, falls under apprehension, is being, the
notion of which is included in all things whatsoever a man apprehends. Wherefore
the ¬rst indemonstrable principle is that the same thing cannot be af¬rmed and
denied at the same time, which is based on the notion of being and not-being: and
on this principle all others are based, as is stated in Metaphysics IV, text 9. Now as
being is the ¬rst thing that falls under the apprehension simply, so good is the ¬rst
thing that falls under the apprehension of the practical reason, which is directed
to action: since every agent acts for an end under the aspect of good (sub ratione
boni). Consequently the ¬rst principle in the practical reason is one founded on
the notion of good, viz., that good is that which all things seek after. Hence this
is the ¬rst precept of law,16 that good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to
be avoided. All other precepts of the natural law are based upon this: so that
whatever practical reason naturally apprehends as man™s good (or evil) belongs
to the precepts of the natural law as something to be done or avoided.
Since, however, good has the nature of an end, and evil the nature of a contrary,
hence it is that all those things to which man has a natural inclination are naturally
apprehended by reason as being good, and consequently as objects of pursuit,
and their contraries as evil, and objects of avoidance. Wherefore according to
the order of natural inclinations, is the order of the precepts of the natural law.

16 Note Aquinas™s wording: not just the ¬rst precept of natural law, but “of law” simply,
or of all law (for us humans): natural law as the foundation of all genuine human law.
Whereas in this question (ST I“II 94, 2) Aquinas gives a bottom-up account of natural law
based on human inclination and experience, earlier he speci¬es in a top-down, properly
theological manner that natural law is a “part” or aspect of the “eternal law” of God™s
providential governance of the universe (I“II 91, 1“2).
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations
110

Because in man there is ¬rst of all an inclination to good in accordance with the
nature which he has in common with all substances: inasmuch as every substance
seeks the preservation of its own being, according to its nature: and by reason of
this inclination, whatever is a means of preserving human life, and of warding off
its obstacles, belongs to the natural law. Secondly, there is in man an inclination to
things that pertain to him more specially, according to that nature which he has
in common with other animals: and in virtue of this inclination, those things are
said to belong to the natural law, “which nature has taught to all animals” (Pandect.
Just. I, i), such as sexual intercourse, education of offspring and so forth. Thirdly,
there is in man an inclination to good, according to the nature of his reason, which
nature is proper to him: thus man has a natural inclination to know the truth about God
and to live in society: and in this respect whatever pertains to this inclination belongs to
the natural law, for instance, to shun ignorance, to avoid offending those among
whom one has to live, and other such things regarding the above inclination (ST
I“II 94, 2, emphasis added).17

Aquinas reiterates later that the multiple precepts of natural law, vary-
ing according to the diverse human inclinations that must be ruled by
reason, “are based on one common foundation” in that they ¬‚ow from, are
comprised in, and so may be “reduced to” (or led back to; once again,
from reducere) the ¬rst precept regarding good and evil in general (ST
I“II 94, 2, ad 2, emphasis added; cf. ad 1 and ad 3).

Natural Right and Natural Law: Aquinas™s “Tendentious Glosses”
on Nicomachean Ethics V.7
In Thomism and Aristotelianism (1952, 167“88), Harry Jaffa argues a
position contrary to the one I have just taken. On Jaffa™s reading,
Aquinas clearly does impute to Aristotle his own understanding of the
inclination to moral goodness or virtue, and his corresponding account
of indemonstrable ¬rst principles of practical reason and precepts of
natural law. Aquinas does this, moreover, simply because he gets the
NE™s chapter on natural right wrong; he reads Aristotle in Patristic.
Jaffa™s assessment of Aquinas recalls Rousseau™s famous critique of earlier
Enlightenment thinkers, who thought they had depicted natural man
but painted civil man instead (Second Discourse [1997], Exordium [5]).
Like Hobbes, Locke, and others who, according to Rousseau, did not
go far enough to reach a true account of nature and the natural man
that they were seeking “ who were too conditioned by social conventions

17 Cf. also ST I“II 91, 2, ad 2: “Every act of reason and will in us is based on that which is
according to nature, as stated above (ST I“II 10, 1): for every act of reasoning is based on
principles that are known naturally, and every act of appetite in respect of the means is
derived from the natural appetite in respect of the last end. Accordingly the ¬rst direction
of our acts to their end must needs be in virtue of the natural law” (emphasis added).
Reinforcing the Foundations 111

and insuf¬ciently radical in their thought for the task at hand “ Aquinas
wanted to uncover purely rational philosophy in the original meaning
of Aristotle™s texts, but in the end read them through a distorting lens
fashioned by his Christian faith and the later classical and Patristic
traditions (cf. Strauss 1953, 157“8). Aquinas sought natural or pagan
ethics but painted Christian ethics. And Christian ethics, Jaffa rightly
stresses, is in crucial respects quite different. As Torrell expresses it, to
identify Thomistic and Aristotelian ethics “is to forget that between their
two moralities lies the entire difference added by the Gospel” (1996,
228; cf. Pinckaers 1995, 188“9).
I cannot address here all the nuanced points of interpretation and
criticism made by Jaffa in his concluding chapter on “Natural Right and
Natural Law.”18 Instead I will summarize three of Jaffa™s most important
arguments concerning Aquinas™s Commentary on the “NE” V.7, the famous
and notoriously dif¬cult chapter on the natural and the legal right or just,
as two distinct parts of political justice. I will then note three objections I
have to Jaffa™s conclusions, in support of my argument that in developing
his theory of natural law Aquinas is consciously laying new, deeper, and
broader foundations for ethics and political science.
Jaffa begins his chapter by summarizing Aquinas™s account of natural
law in the ST, and then goes on to argue that in the Commentary on the
“NE” Aquinas writes this same natural law teaching into his interpreta-
tion of Aristotle™s quite different account of natural right. On account of
Aquinas™s gloss of Aristotle™s natural right theory with shades of natural
law, and also because of Aquinas™s failure to criticize Aristotle explicitly
concerning what philosophic reason can know about human actions and
ethics, Jaffa concludes that “it is only reasonable to assume that Thomas
understands his own natural law doctrine to be identical, in principle,
with the moral doctrine of Aristotle” (168). Jaffa points out several pas-
sages in the Commentary on the “NE” where Aquinas offers what Jenkins
(1996) aptly terms “tendentious glosses” on Aristotle™s text. The ¬rst
group of remarks, Jaffa argues, wrongly imputes to Aristotle™s natural
right teaching Aquinas™s understanding of a natural inclination to moral
virtue, hence to practically reasonable action in accord with a law written

18 I hope to do so in a more thorough fashion in a future article. Although Jaffa™s own views
on Aquinas™s thought and the relationship of faith to philosophy seem to have modi¬ed
considerably, Thomism and Aristotelianism remains to this day a dominant in¬‚uence on
many political theorists™ appraisal of and approach to Aquinas™s work. It is therefore
an academic monograph that, more than ¬fty years after its publication, is still most
important to engage.
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations
112

by nature on the mind. By contrast, Aristotle™s natural right regards objec-
tive states of affairs or moral facts, not moral psychology or moral agency
(see 169“71, 174).
A second salient objection Jaffa makes is to Aquinas™s explicit mention,
in his exposition of natural right, of the naturally known, indemonstra-
ble principles of practical reason that Aquinas also elaborates in the ST
as the foundation of natural law. Jaffa concludes from this anomaly that
“Thomas apparently takes Aristotle™s statement, to the effect that what is
naturally right or just does not depend on opinion, as an outright endorse-
ment of his own doctrine that there is a natural habit of the understanding
[synderesis], by which we know what is, in principle, right and wrong accord-
ing to nature” (175). Third and lastly for our discussion here, Jaffa writes
that Aquinas, without foundation in Aristotle™s text, quali¬es the Philoso-
pher™s unequivocal statement that natural right is entirely changeable “
as malleable (or, in Aquinas™s Latin text of the Politics, similarly malleable)
as legal or positive right. Again, Aquinas does so along the lines of his own
natural law teaching: There are ¬rst principles of natural right that are
unchangeable, because the essence of our human nature is unchange-
able. While these hold always and everywhere, there are also secondary
principles or more speci¬c conclusions from the ¬rst principles that fail
to hold in a few cases due to the mutability of concrete human actions and
circumstances. Again, Jaffa urges, this is a clear misreading of Aristotle™s
littera, attributable ultimately to Aquinas™s faith in Divine Revelation and
Catholic theological presuppositions (see 179“93).
Jaffa is right to ¬nd important elements of Aquinas™s account of natu-
ral law in the Commentary on the “NE” V.7, on natural and legal right. He is
further correct to note that we readers of the Commentary can take away
an erroneous understanding of key aspects of Aristotle™s ethical thought
if we read all of Aquinas™s glosses as endeavoring to clarify what Aristo-
tle meant, and only what Aristotle meant, and if we further assume that
Aquinas, as such an in¬‚uential and careful commentator, always (or vir-
tually always) got Aristotle right. Jaffa™s point of departure seems to be
the keen concern that many mid-twentieth-century readers of Aquinas™s
works “ some of the only scholars who at that time took the contemporary
relevance of classical political thought seriously “ did in fact hold all these
assumptions. He wishes in Thomism and Aristotelianism to complicate the
picture especially with regard to the second premise, that Aquinas™s com-
mentaries are wholly accurate or at least the best available accounts of
Aristotle™s literal, intentional meaning. He thereby seeks to clear a path
to a fresh examination of Aristotle™s own texts and also of alternative
Reinforcing the Foundations 113

commentary traditions in the hope of reinvigorating a genuinely Aris-
totelian ethics and social science for our times (cf. Jaffa 1952, 4“7).
There are, however, problems with Jaffa™s overall reading of Aquinas™s
texts and appraisal of our theologian™s intention. Jaffa™s approach is too
one-dimensional, perhaps inspired by a generous desire to give Aquinas
the bene¬t of the doubt in this regard: so devoted a student of the Philoso-
pher could not have intentionally distorted Aristotle™s teaching, virtually
the embodiment of natural reason regarding ethics, in his Commentary
on the “NE.” It would therefore seem most probably that Aquinas did so
unconsciously, so immersed in his task as a theologian that he could not
help understanding Aristotle™s words in a deeply Christian sense (cf. Jaffa
1952, 168, 188). Contrary to this assumption, however, there are clear tex-
tual indicators that in the Commentary Aquinas consciously goes beyond
Aristotle™s intentional meaning in his explication of natural right, and
that he is fully aware that his account of natural law differs from Aristotle™s
foundational understanding of natural right in important respects.
First, Jaffa describes the question on natural law in the ST without
noting that Aristotle™s NE is nowhere cited where it should be “ indeed it
is almost not cited at all “ if it were a major source of Aquinas™s account
of the naturally known ¬rst practical principles and the accompanying
inclinations to moral virtue and religion. This is odd, given that Aquinas
explicitly cites the Metaphysics in his article on the precepts of natural law.
Why would he not also call our attention to the NE with equal directness,
especially given that this article is a key part of the section of the ST on the
moral life and the virtues? It is even odder since, as Jaffa rightly observes,
these crucial elements of Aquinas™s argument in ST I“II 94, 2 are also part
of the elaboration of Aristotle™s natural right in Aquinas™s Commentary on
the “NE” V.7. These are salient facts for ascertaining Aquinas™s intention
and appraisal of his theory in relation to Aristotle™s.
In his summation of the ST, Jaffa fails to call our attention to the one
citation of the Ethics in the question on natural law. In a subsequent arti-
cle of question 94, Aquinas does explicitly refer to Aristotle™s text on the
“naturally just” and incorporate it into his dialectical inquiry regarding
natural law. He does so, however, primarily in the context of an “objec-
tion.” This argumentum and Aquinas™s reply merit our attention and will
also help us note some important features of Aquinas™s Commentary on
the “NE” that Jaffa does not discuss. Aquinas™s question is “Whether the
Natural Law Is the Same in All Human Beings.” The second objection
he raises to af¬rming this proposition runs as follows: “Further, ˜Things
which are according to the law are said to be just,™ as stated in NE V. But it
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations
114

is also stated in the same book that nothing is so universally just as not to be subject
to change in regard to some men. Therefore even the natural law is not the
same in all men” (emphasis added). To this Aquinas replies: “This saying
of the Philosopher is to be understood of things that are naturally just,
not as general principles, but as conclusions drawn from them, having
rectitude in the majority of cases, but failing in a few” (ST I“II 94, 4, obj.
2 and ad 2).
Two features of these passages seem especially important: First, in for-
mulating this objection (argumentum), he as it were “cuts and pastes” two
different comments from the NE on (1) the legal just and (2) the natural
just. But in his Commentary on the “NE” V.7, Aquinas faithfully re¬‚ects Aris-
totle™s separation of nomos from physis, of law or convention from nature.
Even when he incorporates elements of his understanding of natural law
into the Commentary, Aquinas never once mentions the term “natural law.”
In my view, this is another strong indicator that Aquinas is fully aware of
and indirectly acknowledges the absence of a full natural law theory in
Aristotle™s NE, as indeed in classical Greek thought generally.
Second, it is critical to note how Aquinas introduces his reply to Aris-
totle™s trenchant “objection” based on the mutability of natural right.
He does not say, “What the Philosopher means is . . . ” or “The correct
literal interpretation of Aristotle™s words is . . . .” Rather, in a deliberately
ambiguous and open way, Aquinas says “The saying of the Philosopher
is to be understood . . . ” (emphasis added). He does not here, as he often
does, point to any other passage of the NE (or another work) where Aris-
totle actually says what Aquinas will say in elaboration or clari¬cation. We
can paraphrase Aquinas™s reply thus: “The words of the Philosopher are
true if understood in this way, and so we should understand them thus” (cf.
Jenkins 1996). Turning to the text of the Commentary on the “NE,” we ¬nd
Aquinas almost always using similar formulae when he goes beyond Aris-
totle™s express words or likely literal meaning, glossing passages in terms
of his own understanding of the deepest truth, the fuller reality they sig-
nify in his own estimation. He does not try to pass off his theory as Aristotle™s,
but neither is he only expounding the Philosopher™s express understand-
ing with every elaboration in the Commentary. Here are some examples
of Aquinas™s introductory clues from some of the passages Jaffa ¬nds
most objectionable: “Est autem considerandum, quod iustum naturale est ad
quod hominem natura inclinat”: “It is to be considered, however, that the natural
just is that to which nature inclines man” according to a “twofold nature”:
material and sensible, in common with the other animals, and speci¬cally
rational (Comm. NE V, 12 n. 1019; cf. ST I“II 94, 2). “Est tamen attendendum
Reinforcing the Foundations 115

quod quia rationes etiam mutabilium sunt imutabiles . . . ”: “It is nevertheless to
be noted that, since the essences of mutable things are immutable,” the
primary principles of natural justice are likewise unalterable (Comm. NE
V, 12 n. 1029; cf. ST I“II 94, 4“5). “Est autem hic considerandum, quod iustum
legale sive positivum oritur semper a naturali, ut Tullius dicit in sua rhetorica”:
“However, it is to be considered here that the legal or positive just is always
derived from the natural [just], as Cicero says in his Rhetoric” (Comm. NE
V, 12 n. 1023; cf. ST I“II 91, 3 and 95, 2). Even when Aquinas follows
a direct paraphrase of Aristotle with a speci¬cally Thomistic gloss and
no similar preface, he refrains from saying what he often says elsewhere:
“Aristotle manifests”; “Aristotle proves”; “Aristotle shows us his intention”;
“here the Philosopher raises (or resolves) a doubt.”
In my judgment then, this evidence indicates that Aquinas™s Commen-
taries are intended not only to clarify the Philosopher™s literal meaning
and reveal the richness of his thought, but also to correct or supplement
Aristotle™s account. In Aristotle™s own spirit, Aquinas attempts to “save the
appearances” whenever possible and credit all Aquinas considers true in
the Philosopher™s sayings “ as he does regularly also with his other inter-
locutors “ even while showing what more he thinks needs to be said or
differently understood. In this instance, Aquinas takes the truth of natural
right to comprise also its interrelation with natural law. Parts of Aristo-
tle™s account must be jettisoned or reinterpreted in order to incorporate
this insight; Aquinas indicates some of them in the commentary while
reserving the full account he has to offer and even the un-Aristotelian
term “natural law” for the ST. For the reasons explained in Chapter 3,
the fact that Aquinas rarely openly takes issue with Aristotle does not
indicate that Aristotle™s authority in his view always holds, even on the
terrain of natural or philosophic reason. Aquinas™s commentaries, even
the closely textual sententiae, are living works of dialectical inquiry, not
simply historical studies.19

19 This section is generally much indebted to Jenkins(1996), which helped me to assess
more comprehensively some perplexing features I had noted in Aquinas™s Commentaries
on the Ethics and the Politics.
5

Finishing the Foundations and Beginning to Build
Aquinas on Human Action and Excellence as Social,
Civic, and Religious




[S]ince reason produces certain things by way of making, in which case
the operation goes out into external matter . . . and other things by way of
action, in which case the operation remains with the agent, as when one
deliberates, chooses, wills, and performs other similar acts pertaining to
moral science, it is obvious that political science, which is concerned with
the ordering of men, is not comprised under the sciences that pertain
to making or the mechanical arts, but under the sciences that pertain to
action, which are the moral sciences.
Aquinas, Proemium to the Commentary on Aristotle™s “Politics” (6 [6])


Thus far in Part II we have seen Aquinas follow or rather precede the
three Anglo-American theorists of Part I, in learning from Aristotle™s
ethics and political theory and especially from the Philosopher™s political-
philosophic foundations. In Chapter 3 we observed Aquinas unearthing
and appropriating Aristotle™s argument for the naturalness of social and
political life for human beings, an argument that seems in turn to entail
the conclusion that humans by nature seek to participate in the common
good of a just social order and a ¬‚ourishing civic community, although
any particular political community has only a relatively natural status vis-
a-vis its members. In Chapter 4 we saw Aquinas comment on Aristotle™s
`
second foundation, the argument in Book III of the Politics supporting
the centrality to political theory of regimes, citizenship, and civic virtue.
But Chapter 4 also questioned the fully Aristotelian character of Aquinas™s
foundations, arguing that in Aquinas™s view cracks are to be found in Aris-
totle™s foundations, ¬ssures that come from not taking the common good
of justice and its transpolitical reach quite seriously enough, from for-
saking the foundational work too quickly in favor of focusing on regime
116
Finishing the Foundations and Beginning to Build 117

particularities and preservation. Aquinas then reinforces the foundations
of Aristotle with a new foundation of his own, in the inclination to eth-
ical virtue in accord with a properly natural law. The universal status
of this law bespeaks human membership in a universal community that
transcends the borders of any polis or nation. The social and civic incli-
nation that gives rise, on Aquinas™s account, to political life also points
beyond the polis, or any political society, for its ful¬llment in a universal
or fully common good. Aristotle™s foundational theory of natural right
in NE V.7 re¬‚ects and foreshadows an account of an aristocratic regime
that is always and everywhere best, even if existing only in the realm of
philosophic reason (cf. Pol. VII“VIII). Aquinas™s new foundation in nat-
ural law resists ¬nding the highest exemplar for social and civic life in
any particular polis or politeia humans could found, either in speech or
in deed. The highest ful¬llment of justice and the common good, the
model for exemplary personal conduct, must be sought in tandem with
the human inclination toward religion, natural and (because Aquinas
believes it has been given to humans) also supernatural or revealed. In
these regards, Aquinas™s unique version of natural law theory owes more
to the Stoic and Neoplatonic traditions, and especially to Augustine and
the Patristic tradition, than to the Philosopher.
In this chapter, I continue charting the ways Aquinas™s new founda-
tions, comprising yet also transcending the roots of political life rela-
tive to speci¬c civic regimes, help reinforce and expand the role of the
common good in his ethical science of politics. This part of our study
begins with Aquinas™s account of another critical root of the moral life,
the good disposition of the human will, continuing on to his analysis
of human actions and their transindividual impact, and ¬nally reaching
the “cardinal” or principal human virtues in their social and civic reach
and rami¬cations. I argue that on Aquinas™s account in the ST, both the
social and civic and the religious orientations of human nature inform or
shape these pivotal moral virtues, which mark an important link between
personal and common goods. In Part III, I continue this line of investi-
gation and argument through two speci¬c case studies, looking closely at
Aquinas™s appropriation, analysis, and remodeling, from his Commentary
on the “NE” through the ST, of two Aristotelian ethical virtues of critical
civic signi¬cance: magnanimity and legal justice. It is my contention that
Aquinas™s novel foundations in the natural inclination to social life and
hence ethical virtue, and in properly natural law, are of more signi¬cance
than is often recognized by those who would reinvigorate political science
with greater attention to the virtues; and that one does not have to be a
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations
118

Christian or Catholic thinker to ¬nd in Aquinas™s revisions of Aristotle
some important viable alternatives. Aquinas, like but not identical to
Aristotle, offers crucial insights that denizens of the twenty-¬rst century
may appreciate, especially given their correlation with key elements of
our recent civic situations and experiences.


5.1 Community, Common Good, and Goodness of Will
In the Second Part of the ST, which deals speci¬cally with the moral life,
Aquinas as a theologian quite naturally concentrates his analysis on the
ultimate happiness humans may hope to attain according to Christian
Revelation: union with God through immediate, reciprocal knowledge
and love. Yet Aquinas also considers the imperfect or “inchoate” happi-
ness that humans may enjoy in accord with their rational nature. In his
account of human happiness in this twofold dimension, Aquinas stresses
the need for a rightly ordered human will, well disposed and desiring its
proper end, as an essential condition for full happiness of both inchoate
and perfect varieties (ST I“II 4, 4). Aquinas de¬nes the will as the “ratio-
nal appetite,” the intellectual faculty that desires good in accord with the
universal reach of speci¬cally human reason. He argues further that, in
keeping with the ¬nite, temporal dimensions of human nature, a good
will normally manifests itself in “good works,” which are in turn “neces-
sary that man may receive happiness from God”1 and achieve relative or
inchoate happiness in this world (ST I“II 5, 7; Aristotle™s NE I.9) . After
investigating the nature of happiness at the beginning of the ST™s second
part, Aquinas develops his theory of human action as it relates to the
achievement of the highest good all humans by nature desire, happiness
(ST I“II 6“21). He begins with the interior acts of the will or rational
appetite, for Aquinas the principle of motivation to action and of the vol-
untariness that is the de¬ning trait of all properly human acts. In accord
with his theories of ethical inclinations and ¬rst practical principles and
precepts, Aquinas argues that the will is naturally inclined from the ¬rst
toward “good [or being qua desirable] in general,” following the human
intellect™s naturally ¬rst apprehension of being in general (see ST I“II
10, 1; note its many parallels with I“II 94, 2). Aquinas goes on to ask what
more particular or detailed conditions are required for the will itself to be

1 At least one of these good works, the will™s free and internal act of conversion to God
(conversio ad Deum), is strictly required by the divine economy of salvation(cf. ST I“II
5, 7).
Finishing the Foundations and Beginning to Build 119

good, steadfastly inclined toward those internal and external actions that
conduce to true happiness.
Especially relevant here is an article within the question entitled “Of
the Goodness and Malice of the Interior Act of the Will” (ST I“II 19,
10; cf. also 19, 3“4 and 19, 9), another apparently apolitical section of
the ST with surprising political-theoretical import.2 Aquinas™s main pur-
pose in this part of the ST is to elaborate the ways in which the human
will can and indeed should conform to the divine will.3 In this context,
Aquinas posits at least a “formal,” implicit direction of the will to the
common good in general as an essential condition for moral rectitude.
The foundation of this conclusion is clearly the natural human orienta-
tion toward participation in the life of various communities and in their
corresponding common goods: “[A]man™s will is not right in willing a
particular good, unless he refer it to the common good as an end: since
even the natural appetite of each part is ordained to the common good of the whole.
Now it is the end that supplies the formal reason, as it were, of willing
whatever is directed to the end.4 Consequently, in order that a man will
some particular good with a right will, he must will that particular good
materially, and the common and divine good formally.5 Therefore the
human will is bound to be conformed to the divine will, as to that which
is willed formally, for it is bound to will the divine and common good,
but not as to that which is willed materially, for the reason given above”
(ST I“II 19, 10; emphasis added).6

2 In his Philosophy of Democratic Government, Yves R. Simon concurs that this article, generally
overlooked by students of social and political thought, is especially revealing of Aquinas™s
approach to citizenship, political authority or rule, and the common good (see Simon
1951, 36“71, especially n. 20).
3 In the preceding article, Aquinas had concluded that “in order that the human will be
good it needs to be conformed to the divine will.” His supporting argument runs as
follows: “the goodness of the will depends on the intention of the end. Now the last end
of the human will is the Sovereign Good, namely God. . . . Therefore, the goodness of the
human will requires it to be ordained to the Sovereign Good, that is, to God . . . ”(ST I“II
19, 9; cf. I“II 1, 8; 3, 1; 19, 7).
4 Cf. ST I“II 10, 1 and I“II 90, 2, ad 3: “Just as nothing stands ¬rm with regard to the
speculative reason except that which is traced back to the ¬rst indemonstrable principles,
so nothing stands ¬rm with regard to the practical reason, unless it be directed to the last
end which is the common good: and whatever stands to reason in this sense, has the nature
of law” (emphasis added).
5 Here I follow Oesterle™s translation (Aquinas 1983); the Leonine text reads bonum autem
commune divinum.
6 By what is “willed materially,” Aquinas refers to the thing [quid] immediately or actually
desired; by what is “willed formally,” he means the overarching cause of that thing™s being
desired, the propter quod or “that for the sake of which.” For example, imagine that at
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations
120

Aquinas™s “reason given above” seems, rather typically, to be twofold.
First, a ¬nite being or action may properly be considered good by human
reason from one perspective but evil from another. Water may be a very
good thing in itself and rain sorely needed by the agricultural sector of
my society, but if my family business is the outdoor painting of homes,
prolonged, steady rainfall is emphatically not desirable or good from my
particular perspective. Second, unassisted, ¬nite human reason is inca-
pable of comprehending the ultimate, universal good that is the object of
the divine will and divine providence, and of judging absolutely whether
or not some things are truly good or best from the perspective of this
¬nal common good (cf. ST I 49, 3).
To illustrate his meaning on this foundational ethical issue Aquinas
employs a political example, the execution of a criminal. On the assump-
tion that the condemned is both the head of a household and a citizen
of a polity, it is perfectly reasonable to consider his impending execution
from the respective standpoints of his family™s welfare and the well-being
of civil society, as well as from that basic perspective that views the preser-
vation of a human life (or the “good of nature” in this particular human
being) as intrinsically desirable or good. Accordingly, Aquinas reasons
that “[a] judge has a good will when, because it is just, he wills the execu-
tion of a robber [latronis]; whereas the will of another, for example the
robber™s wife or son, who does not wish him killed, insofar as according
to nature killing is evil, is also good.”7 Aquinas elaborates as follows:

Now since the will follows the apprehension of reason or the intellect, the more
common the nature of the good which is apprehended, the more common8 is
the good to which the will tends. This is evident in the example given above.
The judge has care of the common good, which is justice, and therefore he wills
the robber™s death, which has an aspect [rationem] of good in relation to the

the end of a long day™s work on this book, I want to go swimming; that is what I am
willing materially. I may or may not make explicit to myself at the moment my formal
rationale for so willing: to maintain my health and to get some necessary relaxation, as
both components of and means toward an integrally good or happy life. In other words,
swimming is willed not solely for its own sake, but ultimately sub ratione boni; in willing
swimming materially, I am evincing and rendering concrete my formal desire for the
good.
7 Note the diversity of good moral viewpoints that Aquinas recognizes and defends.
Throughout this chapter in particular I quote extensively from Aquinas™s works, since
the sections of the ST on which I base my arguments are generally quite technical and
familiar only to those scholars with a special interest in Aquinas.
8 The Latin reads communior and communius, which both Oesterle and the Dominican
Fathers translate as “universal”; “more common” is awkward in this context but still seems
preferable for showing the intended contrast with privatum.
Finishing the Foundations and Beginning to Build 121

common welfare [statum communem]. But the wife of the criminal has to consider
the private domestic good, and from this point of view she wills that her husband
the robber not be put to death. Now the good of the whole universe is that which
is apprehended by God, who is its maker and governor; hence whatever he wills,
he wills under the aspect of the common good: this is his own goodness, which
is the good of the whole universe. On the other hand, the apprehension of a
creature, according to its nature, is of some particular good proportionate to
that nature. Now something may happen to be good under a particular aspect,
which is not good under a universal aspect, or vice-versa, as stated above. Hence
it happens that a certain will is good in willing something considered under a
particular aspect, which nevertheless God does not will under a universal aspect,
and vice-versa. Hence it is that different wills of different men can be good in respect of
opposite things, inasmuch as under different aspects they will a particular thing to
be or not to be (ST I“II 19, 10, emphasis added).

This passage pulls together various common goods in which Aquinas
considers human persons naturally inclined to participate: the domestic
or familial good (at times referred to as “common,” as in II“II 47, 10,
ad 2; at times, as in this context, as private or particular); the social
and civic common good; the good of the universe or “cosmopolis”; and
the divine good, as the common cause, exemplar, and completion of all
other diverse goods (cf. Kempshall 1999, 77“85; Keys 1995, 178“82).9 As
human beings, we are naturally inclined “ albeit in diverse ways and to
different degrees “ to participate in all of these, and thus we ought to will
their realization, preservation, and ¬‚ourishing. Moreover, since the will as
rational appetite is naturally oriented to the good per se, under its general
or universal aspect, one ought normally to rank higher levels of common
goods ahead of purely private goods or goods per se communicable to
only a few.
This directive to privilege the more universal common good is not,
however, intended by Aquinas to do violence to the natural order of
human affections. Rather, it directs one to look beyond this passionate,
affective order when necessary, and to will and act in consequence. For
example, imagine the case of a student taken hostage while traveling
abroad. His captors threaten to kill him unless twenty terrorists native
to that polity and justly held prisoner in the student™s home country are
released within a week. It is most natural and reasonable for the young
man™s parents to long for his safe return and for the authorities of his

9 For a lively debate among mid-twentieth-century Thomists arguing for either a
“personalist” or common good “ based account of human ¬‚ourishing, see De Koninck
(1943, 1945), Maritain (1947), Eschmann (1943, 1945), and Simon (1944); more recent
studies of this debate include Keys (1995) and Smith (1995).
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations
122

country to do everything possible to attain this end. If the parents have a
low level of education or public awareness, no one should be scandalized
to see them lobby their government with all their might to release the pris-
oners. After all, they might reason, it™s only a matter of letting twenty for-
eigners go home, where they won™t bother us anymore, and our innocent
eighteen-year- old goes free, as in all justice he should. But if the parents
have greater familiarity through study or experience with the ways of the
world, they will realize that to release convicted murderers and subver-
sives is contrary to the order of justice and might well embolden them to
commit more heinous acts against public peace and welfare, national or
international. And though it might break their hearts, they would realize
that single-mindedly to foster the good of their own family in a way that
would risk very great harm to thousands of other families who together
inhabit the same nation or share a common humanity would constitute
a grave injustice. Thus they might directly will the more universal com-
mon good more than the particular or less common good of their family,
although they would certainly feel more acutely the danger and perhaps
the harm done to the latter in the person of their child. Public of¬cials
who would allow misplaced compassion to dictate their course of action
in such a situation would fail to act responsibly. But conversely, a gov-
ernor who felt no pity for the lad and his relatives and friends, or was
unwilling to do everything possible within the realm permitted by the
basic exigencies of justice and the common good to secure his release,
would be inhuman and unworthy of his or her social role of special care
for the community and its members.10
If the parents in this ¬ctitious but not unfamiliar example were per-
suaded that the “terrorists” in question were unjustly convicted, that their
trial was unconstitutionally conducted or their sentence unreasonably
severe, then it would, of course, become legitimate for them to pursue
the most straightforward path toward their son™s liberation. But barring
such circumstantial quali¬ers, on Aquinas™s account other means to a
happy outcome “ means more in accord with the “order of peace and
justice” “ should be sought by the parents qua citizens and qua human
beings, as well as by the competent public authorities. It is not that the
former should cease willing and working for their son™s life and liberty;
quite the contrary. In many actual instances, it is only those with close
affective, passionate ties to the individual persons in question, those who

10 Cf. Aquinas™s treatments of the proper order of charity in ST II“II 26 and the impact of
special ties on duties of bene¬cence at II“II 31, 3.
Finishing the Foundations and Beginning to Build 123

have a deep personal friendship with and a sense of responsibility for
them, who can perceive when justice is not being done, when compla-
cency on the part of public of¬cials blinds them to real possibilities of
remedying a situation in accord with the fullest possible equity and com-
mon bene¬t. Yet, on Aquinas™s model, to the extent that their awareness
permits, these parents must carry out their lobbying and even protesting
in the broader context of desiring and working to foster social peace
and justice. While their closest ties and primary duties are to their own
kith and kin, and in ful¬lling these well they contribute positively to the
public welfare, the common good is not well served when even legitimate
particular goods are set against or wholly abstracted from a more com-
mon, universal context of justice. Aquinas™s version of the good citizen is
not Rousseau™s model, the Spartan mother whose will was so supremely
¬xed on the good of the civic whole that her sons™ individual fates in
the war failed to interest her, much less move her or inspire her postbat-
tle prayer. It is rather along the lines of a far less famous contemporary
mother of an American soldier, one Sandy Oseguera from Dyer, Indiana.
Asked by a reporter about her attitude to her son™s service in the U.S.
Army and possible wartime deployment to Afghanistan, she replied that
“[a]s a mother, I don™t want him to go. . . . As an American, I™m so proud
of him. I™m so proud he chose to do this long before there was a need to
do this. If that™s a sacri¬ce that has to be made, it™s got to be done.”11
It seems important to stress that Aquinas™s connection of moral recti-
tude, or goodness of will, with the common good is not primarily a matter
of negatives, of not desiring particular goods, but rather desiring especially
the highest or intrinsically most common. Aquinas understands that it
is socially and civicly indispensable, for instance, that individual persons
specially value and care for particular or proper goods. Following Aristotle
in Politics II, this is the crux of Aquinas™s argument that property should
generally be privately owned and managed, but also “made common in
use” through limited legal incentives as well as generous voluntary sharing
and giving (cf. ST II“II 66, 2; I“II 105, 2). Likewise, Aquinas argues that
the particular goods of honor and glory should be valued, but moderately
so: through them the good of virtue can shine forth and be made known
to many, and their bestowal for public service both fosters and ¬‚ows from
the common good. One of Aristotle™s most astute political observations
was the propensity of the politically ambitious to prize honor above all

11 As quoted in Jason Thomas, “Families Await Word on Loved Ones in Military,” The Times
(Northwest IN), October 20, 2001.
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations
124

other goods they desire, and such still often seems to be the case today.
To give two examples from acquaintances who have worked recently in
government: an aide to a public of¬cial, booking a speaking engagement
on a college campus, had sheepishly to ask if, in addition to the invitation
sought, it would be possible to present the speaker with a plaque, since
this of¬cial would really appreciate this gesture; another laughed at the
eagerness of colleagues, recently appointed to of¬cial posts, to receive
their new business cards where their names would now be preceded by
“The Honorable.” Even in a polity where titles of nobility are banned the
urge for honor seems inextricable. But on Thomistic grounds, the ideal
is to educate persons to will those honors only in function of truly being
(not merely seeming or being referred to as) honorable, and to desire
honor especially to facilitate their work of public service, benefaction,
and care for the common good.
While Aristotle and Aquinas both seek in their ethical writings to foster
the subordination of honor to virtue and the common good in ethical and
political motivation, it is signi¬cant to note how Aquinas often couches
it also in the language of duty (debitum) (in Aquinas™s non-Kantian sense,
the good that is due), not merely goodness. The right in natural law is
conceived not merely as the proper or bene¬cial or just or best state
of affairs; it is always relational, and so a responsibility to another. Here
we see some key rami¬cations of Aquinas™s new foundation in natural
law: paradoxically, the reverse side of natural law™s greater universality (in
terms of community, not merely sameness or species), when compared to
strict natural right, is a greater emphasis on the interiority of the individual
and on the court of conscience where that individual is always responsible
to others, whether individuals or communities, and especially to Another
(cf. ST I“II 19, 5, ad 1, and 91, 2; I 79, 12“13).


5.2 Natural Sociability and the Extension of the Human Act
Aquinas™s investigation in the ST I“II moves immediately from the article
we have just treated, concluding his consideration of the goodness of
internal acts of the will, to consider the meaning of “goodness or malice
in external human actions” that follow from and complete internal acts of
the will (ST I“II 20). Aquinas also inquires about their general repercus-
sions, asking “[w]hat follows upon human acts by reason of their being
good or evil?” (ST I“II 21). In this context, Aquinas makes an important
argument to the effect that the actions of naturally social and political per-
sons cannot but redound to the bene¬t or detriment of the communities
Finishing the Foundations and Beginning to Build 125

to which they belong, even in cases where the social repercussion is not
apparent or does not enter into the agent™s explicit intention. Under-
standing Aquinas™s claim here should elucidate another controversial
yet key aspect of the connection he posits among good deeds, personal
goods, and common goods.
Aquinas begins by arguing that voluntary or properly “human” acts,
because they are necessarily morally good or evil, are ipso facto either
right or sinful (ST I“II 21, 1). He then considers moral acts insofar as
their goodness or evil is properly imputed to the agent performing them
by means of praise or blame (ST I“II 21, 2). As we have seen, Aquinas
considers that the goodness or malice of an internal act of the will is not
determined solely by the order of the person to or within himself, but
also and especially with a view to what is willed regarding others: individ-
ual persons, families, societies, and common goods. We might therefore
expect that both internal human acts and the external acts that often
¬‚ow from them will have to be evaluated in terms of their social and civic
impact, which is in fact what Aquinas argues in response to the question
“[w]hether a human action is meritorious or demeritorious, insofar as it
is good or evil”:

We speak of merit and demerit in relation to recompense rendered according
to justice. Now, recompense according to justice is rendered to a man by reason
of his having done something to another™s advantage or hurt. It must, moreover,
be observed that anyone living in a society is, in a fashion, a part and member of
the whole society. Wherefore, any good or evil done to the member of a society
redounds on the whole society: thus, who hurts the hand, hurts the man. When,
therefore, anyone does good or evil to another individual, there is a twofold
measure of merit or demerit in his action: ¬rst, in respect of the recompense
owed to him by the individual to whom he has done good or harm; secondly, in
respect of the recompense owed to him by the whole of society. Now when a man
ordains his action directly for the good or evil of the whole society, recompense
is owed to him, before and above all, by the whole society; secondarily, by all the
parts of society. Whereas when a man does that which conduces to his own bene¬t
or disadvantage, then again is recompense owed him, insofar as this too affects
the community, forasmuch as he is a part of society: although recompense is not
due to him, insofar as it conduces to the good or harm of an individual who is
identical with the agent, unless perchance he owe recompense to himself, by a
sort of resemblance, insofar as a man is said to be just in himself (ST I“II 21, 3).

All the “objections” Aquinas entertains against this depiction of the
social repercussions of individual acts hinge on a surprisingly familiar
claim, common in liberal political theory: that some human actions that
are noble or base, good or evil, affect no one but the agent performing
Aquinas™s Social and Civic Foundations
126

them, whether for good or for ill. They are in no sense “other-regarding”
actions, and therefore they are simply unrelated to justice and merit.
Aquinas™s replies to this position are terse to the point of seeming mere
assertions: “A man™s good or evil actions, although not ordained to the
good or evil of another individual, are nevertheless ordained to the good
or evil of another, i.e., the community” (ad 1). “Man is master of his
actions; and yet, insofar as he belongs to another, i.e., the community of
which he forms part, he merits or demerits inasmuch as he disposes his
actions well or ill, just as if he were to dispense well or ill other belongings
of his, in respect of which he is bound to serve the community” (ad 2;
cf. 96, 4). “This very good or evil, which a man does to himself by his
action, redounds to the community, as stated above” (ad 3).
As we have seen, the foundation for such conclusions is the case for the
“social and civic” nature of man, as presented in the Ethics, the Politics, and
Aquinas™s Commentaries on the same. Even in our liberal democratic polity
with theoretical and practical demands for state neutrality regarding the
good life on the rise, as we reviewed in Chapter 1, and where privacy reg-
ulations abound and seem to multiply daily (how many lea¬‚ets regard-
ing privacy policies has the reader in 2006 received recently?), there is
ample evidence in our institutions and actions that we still recognize ele-
ments of Aquinas™s view as correct. Special bene¬ts “ medical, social, and
educational “ for veterans; magni¬cent state funerals and national days of
mourning for former presidents; monuments to our greatest leaders and
our war dead: these all bear witness to the sense that those who offer direct
service to the political community as a whole still seem to have a special
claim on the goods, services, and honors the community can bestow. Even
those who bene¬t society in general ways that are not speci¬cally political
or military in nature, on the local, national, or international/global levels,
are frequently honored and celebrated by government institutions and
leaders: poets, musicians, great scientists, religious leaders recognized as
moral exemplars, educational pioneers or university chancellors, social
workers, doctors who treat the poor.
Even in the case of actions that bene¬t primarily one or a few indi-
viduals, we also have ample experience of our sense of social value and
merit. Here is one example of such an action, performed primarily for
the bene¬t of another and at great risk to the agent.12 During the win-
ter of 1995“6, some little girls were playing on the banks of a frozen

12 The basic outlines recalled from this true story should suf¬ce as an illustration of a
meritorious act taking place in a modern liberal democracy.
Finishing the Foundations and Beginning to Build 127

lake in southern Michigan. Two of them ventured out on the ice and fell
through. A teenage boy out for a walk heard their cries and managed to
pull them from the water. With the help of some neighbors, he quickly
returned the girls to their homes in time to prevent hypothermia from
setting in. Clearly, the direct bene¬ciaries of this action were the chil-
dren and their families, who were effusive in expressing their gratitude.
But in some way the entire town and even the region of “Michiana” (the
local term for the region comprising northwestern Indiana and southern
Michigan) were in the teen™s debt. The act of fortitude and bene¬cence
was a source of pride to the whole community;13 the life and health of two
of its youngest members were goods appreciated, indeed felt, by many.
So it was ¬tting that the lad received praise, honor, and thanks also from
the town mayor, the city council, and the local media. Along these lines,
there is our memory of the Catholic chaplain who was the ¬rst con¬rmed
casualty at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, often eulo-
gized and publicly honored for his efforts and sacri¬ce in service to a
speci¬c brigade of ¬remen; or the special tax bene¬ts given to those who
are primary caregivers for a child, handicapped person, or senior citizen.
But what of actions that primarily bene¬t, and are intended to bene-
¬t, only the individual agent? Or, conversely, what of an isolated act of
intemperance? Typically today, these are dismissed as irrelevant beyond
the private sphere of human existence. Indeed, certain of Aquinas™s
formulations seem to support just this sort of pronounced private“

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