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Reviewed by:
  • Aquinas on the Twofold Human Good: Reason and Human Happiness in Aquinas's Moral Science
  • Colleen McCluskey
Denis J. M. Bradley . Aquinas on the Twofold Human Good: Reason and Human Happiness in Aquinas's Moral Science. Washington, D. C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1997. Pp. vii-xiv + 610.

In this book, Bradley examines whether one can construct an autonomous Thomistic philosophical ethics from Thomas Aquinas's theologically flavored moral writings. In order to answer this question, Bradley provides a comprehensive analysis not only of Aquinas's moral psychology, but also of the Aristotelian doctrines which to a certain extent provide its foundation. Bradley begins with a look at Aristotle's concept of a science, his notion of practical reasoning, and his accounts of deliberation, choice, and the ultimate end for human beings. Bradley also discusses Aquinas's interpretations of those theories and the extent to which Aquinas's views follow and diverge from Aristotle's writings. The metaphysical principles grounding the notions of a science, of being, and of goodness and their connections to Aquinas's ethics are noted and explained. In his discussion of the moral theory itself, Bradley frames his presentation around Aquinas's theory of action (especially its volitional aspects and the workings of practical reason) and the role of natural law, although the virtues are not neglected. Bradley's treatment throughout the book is meticulous (although in my view somewhat repetitive).

The most interesting aspect of this book is Bradley's discussion of the paradoxical nature of Aquinas's ethical theory. As he notes, Aquinas's theory has a teleological orientation; his system is structured around the idea that human beings have a particular ultimate end. Aquinas argues that due to their nature, all human beings desire to attain their ultimate end. As is also well-known, Aquinas specifies that this end is the beatific vision and that only the vision of the divine essence is able to satisfy completely [End Page 118] all human desires. However, this end is not only inaccessible to human beings in this life, but one that they are unable to obtain without the aid of God's grace. But it follows from this that human beings have a natural desire that cannot be satisfied naturally, a paradoxical position, especially for an Aristotelian. For according to Bradley, Aquinas argues that although one can establish through philosophical arguments that human beings have a natural desire which only God can satisfy, no philosophical argument can establish that God, in fact, ever satisfies this desire. That God chooses to do so is a matter of faith and revelation. Thus, as far as philosophy is concerned, human beings may have been structured with an unsatisfiable desire. This violates an important Aristotelian notion about teleology, the idea that there can be no futile natural desire. The inability to satisfy a natural desire for an ultimate end renders a teleologically based system incoherent. It follows that. given his characterization of the ultimate end, a characterization that Aquinas thinks he can establish on philosophical grounds alone, his purely theological commitments are integral and necessary components of his moral system. Thus, Bradley's answer to the question he raises in the book is no, one cannot construct an autonomous Thomistic philosophical ethics from Aquinas's moral writings.

In the process of arriving at this conclusion, Bradley critiques the work of two philosophers, Jacques Maritain and Santiago M. Ramirez, both of whom argue that a purely philosophical ethics can be built out of Aquinas's writings, although both maintain that Aquinas himself did not do so. Maritain and Ramirez take Thomistic philosophical ethics to retain basic Christian beliefs but to be established on the basis of natural reasoning processes alone, independently of revelation. Bradley raises a number of objections against their characterizations of Thomistic ethics, among them the worry that, ultimately, such philosophical systems are not truly independent of a theological ethics (pace Maritain) and the charge that Aquinas's characterizations of the supernatural nature of the human ultimate end is not taken seriously (Ramirez).

Space permits only a cursory examination of some general concerns over Bradley's position. Bradley argues that what is fundamental to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 118-119
Launched on MUSE
2005-02-24
Open Access
No
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