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THE ARISTOTELIAN FIRST PRINCIPLE OF PRACTICAL REASON KEVIN L. FLANNERY, S.J. Pontijicia Universitas Gregoriana Rome, Italy INTRODUCTION* I N THE Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 94, a. 2,1 Thomas Aquinas identifies what is often spoken of as "the first principle of practical reason"-that is, "that good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided." Thomas explains: All other precepts of the natural law are based upon this: so that whatever the practical reason naturally apprehends as man's good (or evil) *I am grateful to Peter Ryan, S.J. and Stephen Brock for commenting on a draft of this paper. 1I shall use a number of abbreviations: ST= Summa Theologiae; An.Post. =Posterior analytics; An.Pr. =Prior analytics; DA =De anima; EE =Eudemian ethics; EN = Nicomachean Ethics; GA =De generatione animalium; lnsomn. =De insomniis; Int. = De interpretatione; Metaph. =Metaphysics; MM= Magna moralia; Phys. =Physics; R. =Republic; Rhet. =Rhetorica; SE =Sophistici elenchi; FPPR =the first principle of practical reason; PNC =the principle of non-contradiction. I also use a number of transliterated Greek terms such as akolasia (depravity), akolastos (depraved person), akrasia (weakness of will), akrates (person subject to weakness of will), egkrateia (continence in spite of temptation), egkrates (person who remains continent in spite of temptation ), and phronesis (practical wisdom). I use them for brevity's sake and since they have also found their way into the standard philosophical vocabulary, at least in Aristotelian studies. I also speak in this essay as if Aristotle was the author of MM. For an argument in favor of a qualified understanding of this thesis, see note 14. For the Greek text of the works of Aristotle I have for the most part used the Oxford Classical Texts. The one major exception is Susemihl's edition of the MM: Franz Susemihl, ed., Aristotelis: Magna moralia (Leipzig: Tuubner, 1883). For most (but not all) of the translations from Aristotle, I have made use of Jonathan Barnes, ed., The Complete Works of Aristotle: the Revised Oxford Translation, 2 vols. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984). For English translations of Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologiae, I have used the translation by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, 1920). 441 442 KEVIN L. FLANNERY, S.J. 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.' As its name suggests, the first principle of practical reason (FPPR) is no incidental tenet. Thomas compares it in this same article to the first principle of theoretical reason, better known as the principle of non-contradiction (PNC): "that the same thing cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time."3 On the other hand, it is also commonly acknowledged that Thomas's (philosophical) ethical theory is Aristotelian. How is it then that we never hear of an Aristotelian first principle of practical reason , either in the secondary literature or (as it seems) in Aristotle himself? I shall argue in this essay that there is such a principle in Aristotle's ethical theory and that it has the logical status that Thomas attributes to it. It is none other than the well-known paradoxical Socratic principle that no one deliberately does wrong4-understood in a certain way. (I shall refer to this principle as "the Socratic Principle.") I shall also argue that Aristotle has a fairly elaborate theory about how, psychologically, a person accommodates himself to a violatiqn of the first principle of practical reason. I shall leave one issue unaddressed: whether (as in the question from ST above) Aristotle's FPPR includes "all other precepts of the natural law." It will be apparent, however, 2 The best exegesis of this article of ST is Germain Grisez, "The First Principle of Practical Reason: A...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 441-464
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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