In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

BOOK REVIEWS Action and Conduct: Thomas Aquinasand the Theory ofAction. By STEPHEN L. BROCK. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1998. Pp. 266. £ 23.95 {cloth). ISBN 0-567-08547-3. The vast majority of contemporary analytical philosophers either assert or assume that action remains entirely within the agent who acts. Anything external that follows from internal activity is, the consensus contends, best regarded as a fortuitous happening, an uncontrollable side effect. Davidson put the hunch famously: "we never do more than move our bodies, the rest is up to nature." Justifications for this view, when offered, normally draw on another assumption, equally widespread. Since the effort to act surely does reside in human agents, and is, for the most part, the sole object of moral evaluation, it follows that this effort exhausts agency. Indeed it must, for if we assign to agents what happens subsequently to the movements that take place within, then description and evaluation of actions will be as arbitrary as the occurrence of those happenings, which of course, we do not control. They move about with a natural necessity that our willing can little alter, and thus it makes little sense to say that our internal efforts are connected to them as cause to effect. What we do, what we can alter, must remain within. What follows? Nothing but trouble, at least according to Stephen Brock in his excellent explication and defense of Aquinas's account of action. Consider, for example, the question of action description (53-67). When I aim, shoot, and fire at a man, something must happen to him-he must die-before we can say that I have killed. The action is completed and assigned to me only after I cause him to suffer something {in this case, death). Of course, I might miss and he might live, in which case the description of what I have done must change, even if our moral assessment does not. Trying to kill a man is not the same as actually killing him, although they are not altogether separate matters. The complete action is a composite of internal and external parts, and assuming I succeed its proper description will require reference to each-both my intention and his dying. Or consider the question of moral goodness (139-49, 186-92). If one assumes that actions remain wholly within agents precisely because one also assumes that we are powerless to effect external happenings, then it is not at all clear on what grounds we may call what goes on within good. If, as the Kantian interpretation of these assumptions would have it, a good will has no object beyond itself, and if a good will can effect nothing 655 656 BOOK REVIEWS besides itself, and if it is in fact a good will that makes one good, then, according to Brock, "the upshot would be simply this: being a good man is no good" (192; cf. 46-48). If a good will does not dispose one to accomplish what is good in the world, then it can hardly be regarded as we invariably wish to regard it, as the subject of moral goodness and the object of moral praise. Of course, Brock's replies assume what the analytical consensus does not: that we can bring about or transform external states of affairs because we want to, that agency presumes power over things. One might expect him to defend his dissent with argument, but, wisely, he does not, at least not directly (137). Instead, he follows St. Thomas and notes that we use the terms "action" and "agent" analogically, in order to embrace rational, nonrational, and inanimate action. Fire boils water. Knives slice through fruit. Machines stamp out widgets. Dogs bite mail carriers. Human beings fight in the morning and kiss in the afternoon. It is Brock's thesis that attending to the analogy of action will yield a better understanding of the relation between human and nonhuman agency, which in turn is "crucial for understanding voluntary action" (3) and its ordinary efficacy with respect to external things (242). Briefly, "action," according to Aquinas, means "origin of motion," while "agent" implies a "principle ofmovement" (38). Agents of all kinds act...

pdf

Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 655-659
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.