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A RHETORIC OF MOTIVES: THOMAS ON OBLIGATION AS RATIONAL PERSUASION THOMAS s. HIBBS Thomas Aquinas College Santa Paula, California 'TIHE PROMINENCE of moral obligation in modern hies is l'ooted in an early modern claim, which reached uition in Kant, concerning the primacy of the right ov;er the good.1 Although Kant was not the first to make such a claim, his texts have had the most palpable influence on modern moral discourse.2 Many contemporary moral philosophers , however, have !attempted to discredit the Kantian p11oject.3 In so doing, they often advance wlternative views 1 In his highly influential work, John Rawls comments on the importance of the g-0od and the right in contemporary moral philosophy, "The two main concepts of ethics are those of the right and the good. . . . The structure Df an ethical theory is . . . largely determined by how it defines and connects these two basic notions," A Theory of Justice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971), p. 24. 2 There are numerous precursors of Kant, both in the nascent rationalism of early modern science and -0£ late scholasticism and in the project of the "rationalization" of human life characteristic of classical Protestant moral thought. It was Nietzsche, of course, who saw Kant as a most heinous example of secularized Christianity. On the "rationalization" of the moral life in Protestantism, see Max Weber, Die protestantisohe Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus, in Gesammelte Aufsatze zur Religionssoziologie, Volume l (TU.bingen: Mohr, 1920), pp. 17-206. Given the convergence of these discursive fields in early modern thought and society, one might be inclined to see Kant as providing the theoretical foundations for the common moral consciousness. a I am thinking -0f Philippa Foot, "Virtues and Vices," and "Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives," in Virtues and Vices and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978), pp. 1-18, 157-173; Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983) and " Ought and Moral Obligation," in Moral Luck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 293 ~94 THOMAS S. HIBBS characteristic of pre-modern moral philosophy, particularly of rthe 1 writings of Aristotle and Aquill!as. While consensus appears to have exnnerated Aristotle of the taint of Kantianism, the status of Tihomas's moral philosophy is still uncertain in the minds of many.4 Thomas's1 moral iphilosophy is, I believe, pre-modern. Throughout his writings he maintains the primaicy of the good ovier rthe right, the exact inverse of the Kantian position. By modern standards, Thomas's conception of obligation ,seems impov;erished, almost naive. He devotes no independent treatise, or .for that matter no single quaestio, to the question of mom1l obligation. Francisco Suarez, one of Thomas's early modern oommenta.tors, found the latter's view to be muddled and unworkable. While Sua11ez criticizes Thomas's view, he fails to note that he 1and Thomas do not sha11e the same universe of discourse. What Suarez is after-a " theory of obligation "--is not extant in Thomas's texts. In fact, Suarez contributes to the deontological turn in the history of ethics. He pp. 114-123; Peter Geach, "Good and Evil," in Theories of Ethics, edited by Philippa Foot (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 64-73; Elizabeth Anscombe, "Modern Moral Philosophy" in her Oolleoted Philosophical Papers. Volume 3, l!Jthios, Religion and Politios (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1981), pp. 26-42; Alasdair Macintyre, "Hume on 'Is' and 'Ought'," in Against the Self-Images of the Age (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1978), pp. 109·129. While all are critical of Kant, none of these writers advocates a straightforward return to Aristotle or Thomas. Williams, in fact, is sceptical about the viability of Aristotelianism. This litany, moreover, of Kantian critics is not intended to give the impression that there is a consensus on the failure of Kant's project. There are formidable contemporary representatives of the Kantian school. See, for instance , William Frankena, Thinking About Morality (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1980); Thomas Nagel, The Possibility of Altruism (Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1970); and Alan Donagan, The Theory of Morality (Chicago: The University of Chicago...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 293-309
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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