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Wisdom, Law, and Virtue

Essays in Thomistic Ethics

Lawrence Dewan

Publication Year: 2007

The focus of this book is morals--how human beings should live their lives. For Dewan (and Thomas Aquinas) "morals" is "the journey of the rational creature toward God."

While philosophical considerations are central here, Christian revelation and its truth constitute an enveloping context. These essays treat the history of philosophy as a development that proceeds by deepening appreciation of basic questions rather than the constant replacement of one worldview by another. Thus, the author finds forebears in Plato and Aristotle, in Augustine and Boethius, and especially in Aquinas.

Written over a period of more than thirty years, the essays collected here treat both perennial issues in philosophy and such current questions as suicide as a weapon of war, the death penalty, and lying. Above all, they present the wisdom, the sapiential vision, that makes morals possible.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. v-viii

Previous Publication

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pp. ix-xiv


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pp. xv-xviii

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pp. 1-4

This is a collection of papers on Christian philosophy. Although philosophical considerations are central, the presence of Christian revelation and its truth constitutes the all-enveloping context. The very first paper stresses the need for grace for the actual existence of virtuous living...

Universal Considerations

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pp. 5-6

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Chapter 1: Wisdom and Human Life: The Natural and the Supernatural

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pp. 7-31

Let us consider the foundations of morals or ethics. Those of us who live by faith in Jesus Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, find in him the best possible source of direction for our action.1 However, more so in modern times than ever before, people are exposed to nihilist ideology that presents each individual as a designer of what it is to live a human...

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Chapter 2: Wisdom as Foundational Ethical Theory in St. Thomas Aquinas

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pp. 32-57

One problem for the foundation of ethics is the question of the reality of nature. Is there any such thing as nature?2 Much prevailing scientific orthodoxy suggests that the coherence and order of reality is ultimately accidental.3 Another problem focuses on the move from being to goodness- for-me (from ‘‘is’’ to a decisive ‘‘ought’’). Even given that things have...

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Chapter 3: St. Thomas, Metaphysics, and Human Dignity

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pp. 58-67

The Christian does not depend on philosophy for his conception of human dignity. That is too serious an issue to be left to mere philosophy. As the common doctor of the Church, St. Thomas Aquinas, teaches in the very first article of his Summa theologiae (ST), there is need for a doctrine over and above philosophy, a doctrine revealed to us by God...

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Chapter 4: Truth and Happiness

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pp. 68-84

In proposing ‘‘The Importance of Truth’’ as the theme for this year’s convention, I had it in mind to provide a topic that would lend itself to contributions both theoretical and practical. However, as far as my own contribution was concerned, I was thinking about issues that straddle the borderline between the ethical and the metaphysical. I was thinking of...

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Chapter 5: Antimodern, Ultramodern, Postmodern: A Plea for the Perennial

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pp. 85-98

The present paper is ethical. That is to say, its aim is to affect the actions of people. I will be discussing the goal of human life and the appropriate course of conduct required if we are to arrive at such a goal. It will be, so far as possible, an appeal to reason, not directly to the passions. It supposes that we are somewhat free to shape our own behavior and can be...

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Chapter 6: Is Thomas Aquinas a Spiritual Hedonist

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pp. 99-116

In The Future of Belief, by way of general introduction to the problem of religion in our time, Leslie Dewart refers to Freud’s view of religion, and particularly of belief in a god, as a case of an infantile illusion that has outlasted infancy.1 He then goes on to maintain that Freud himself was...

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Chapter 7: Is Liberty the Criterion in Morals?

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pp. 117-122

In a recent issue of New Scholasticism, Vincent Punzo presented his conception of a ‘‘reflective or person-centered ethics,’’ that is, an ethics having its ‘‘normative basis’’ in ‘‘the constitutive role of the reflective intellect in the lives of . . . persons.’’1 Otherwise said, he proposed a view of ethics that makes ‘‘freedom’’ the ‘‘foundational rational norm.’’ He says: ‘‘The...

The Will and Its Act

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pp. 123-124

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Chapter 8: The Real Distinction Between Intellect and Will

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pp. 125-150

Speaking of the will, its nature and raison d’être, Thomas de Vio, Cardinal Cajetan, uses the expression "arduum arcanum," a challenging mystery. 1 And anyone who has read Cajetan’s commentaries on the primary texts concerning the will in the Summa theologiae (ST) of St. Thomas Aquinas will be inclined to agree. The study of intellect and will belongs...

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Chapter 9: St. Thomas, James Keenan, and the Will

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pp. 151-174

James Keenan’s book Goodness and Rightness in Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae1 offers us an occasion to reflect on the conception of the will and its relation to intellect. This book favors a distinction involving the use of the words ‘‘goodness’’ and ‘‘rightness.’’ Whereas classical Christian moral theology has spoken of both persons and their actions as ‘‘good’’ and...

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Chapter 10: St. Thomas and the Causes of Free Choice

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pp. 175-185

The stimulus to compose this chapter came from my reading of David Gallagher’s ‘‘Free Choice and Free Judgment in Thomas Aquinas.’’1 Gallagher presents Thomas on free choice at considerable length, following the doctrine through Quaestiones disputatae de veritate and Summa contra gentiles (SCG) to Quaestiones disputatae de malo and the prima secundae of...

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Chapter 11: St. Thomas and the First Cause of Moral Evil

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pp. 186-196

Seeking the first cause of moral evil, St. Thomas Aquinas was not content to speak only of the deficiency in the will’s choice, nor again to speak only of the freedom of the will itself, taken as a good thing created by God. Rather, between these two, namely, the privative deficiency and the...

Natural Law

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pp. 197-198

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Chapter 12: St. Thomas, our Natural Lights, and the Moral Order

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pp. 199-212

The study of the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas draws one into considerations of the distinction and coexistence of reason and revelation, as well as of the divisions, pedagogical sequence and coexistence of the sciences. St. Thomas, in the Summa theologiae (ST), insists from the start on the unity of his theological undertaking, while affirming the inclusion...

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Chapter 13: Jacques Maritian and the Philosophy of Cooperation

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pp. 213-220

I will take as basis for my observations chapter 4, ‘‘The Rights of Man,’’ of Jacques Maritain’s Man and the State.1 Maritain notes that with the Universal Declaration of Rights published by the United Nations in 1948, men ‘‘mutually opposed in their theoretical conceptions’’ have been able to come to a merely practical agreement regarding a list of human rights...

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Chapter 14: Natural Law and the First Act of Freedom: Maritian Revisited

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pp. 221-241

My project herein might be called a ‘‘fiftieth anniversary’’ observance. Labeled ‘‘May-June, 1945, at Rome,’’ Maritain’s essay ‘‘La dialectique immanente du premier acte de liberté (notes de philosophie morale)’’ was originally published in Nova et vetera in the autumn of that year. Subsequently it appeared in the book Raison et raisons (1948) and in English...

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Chapter 15: Jean Porter on Natural Law: Thomistic Notes

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pp. 242-268

Jean Porter’s book Natural and Divine Law1 aims at making theologians aware of medieval Scholastic theological discussions of natural law. The sources she consults include both theologians and canonists, extending over a period including the twelfth and much of the thirteenth century...

Legal Justice

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pp. 269-270

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Chapter 16: St. Thomas, the Common Good, and the Love of Persons

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pp. 271-278

My theme is the relation of the person to the common good. When one hears these words, the expectation is that the discussion will be of things political, even if at a philosophical level. And certainly my original interest in preparing the present essay was quite political, namely, the duty one has to put one’s own life at risk for the good of the political society in...

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Chapter 17: St. Thomas, John Finnis, and the Political Good

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pp. 279-311

In our observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the role of the philosopher is to provide, as Jacques Maritain said, the true philosophy of those rights.1 The present study is focused on the nature of political society, with the view that this is the best thing there is, at least in the line of practical life...

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Chapter 18: Thomas Aquinas, Gerard Bradley, and the Death Penalty

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pp. 312-325

In 1970 Germain Grisez published a paper criticizing St. Thomas’s view of the legitimacy of capital punishment.1 That Grisez found Thomas’s doctrine in this matter unacceptable is not surprising, since, as he made clear there, Grisez rejected Thomas’s fundamental conception of political society and indeed, the absolute primacy of the common good.2 Grisez...

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Chapter 19: Death in the Setting of Divine Wisdom: The Doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas

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pp. 326-335

The contemporary phenomenon that has stimulated the following reflections is suicide as a tactic of war waged in the interest of a religious cause. Certain Muslims have recently been using such tactics, driving trucks of explosives into emplacements, the truck driver having no possibility of escape (and making a videotape prior to the event to proclaim his religious...

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Chapter 20: Suicide as a Belligerent Tactic: Thomistic Reflections

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pp. 336-346

For a colloquium in 1985 celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Faculty of Philosophy of Laval University, I wrote a paper entitled ‘‘Death in the Setting of Divine Wisdom.’’1 I had been asked to prepare something in the domain of ‘‘ultimate questions,’’ and I was then much interested in such events as the suicide bombings in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1983. At the...

Various Virtues

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pp. 347-348

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Chapter 21: Jacques Maritian, St. Thomas, and the Philosophy of Religion

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pp. 349-357

My aim here is to carry further than Jacques Maritain ever had occasion to do certain fundamental proposals of his. I treat philosophy of religion as the highest part of moral philosophy. Maritain championed the development of as autonomous a moral philosophy as is possible in the universe, the true dynamics of whose sphere of action is revealed to us in the...

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Chapter 22

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pp. 358-364

What do I mean by ‘‘spirituality’’?1 I am going to take this word as synonymous with ‘‘holiness,’’ ‘‘sanctity,’’ as these words, in turn, are a way of speaking, from a particular angle, of what Thomas Aquinas called ‘‘the virtue of religion,’’ or just plain ‘‘religion.’’2 It refers to the quality of life of a religious person. The activities of the religious person are such deliberate things as acts...

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Chapter 23: St. Thomas and the Ontology of Prayer

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pp. 365-373

Twice in his twenty-year academic career, toward the beginning and toward the end, St. Thomas Aquinas undertook to present systematically the act of prayer.
The first of these studies is found in the fourth book of his Commentary on the Book of Sentences of Peter Lombard, written about 1256.1 There2 the...

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Chapter 24: St. Thomas, Lying, and Venial Sin

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pp. 374-386

Is it good to tell a harmless lie to save a life? Immanuel Kant held that it is very bad, for even though the lie does no immediate harm to the individuals involved, the liar is doing all he can to undermine the basis of law and contracts.1 Thomas Aquinas, following St. Augustine’s lead, had a...

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Chapter 25

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pp. 387-400

Recently I heard of a bishop who, seeking advice on the abortion issue, consulted some academics in a Catholic institute of higher education in his diocese. He consulted the members of the Department of Theology. He did not, as far as I know, consult those in the Department of Philosophy. As it happens, the people best informed in the Theology Department...

Methodological Postscript

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pp. 401-402

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Chapter 26: "Obiectum": Notes on the Invention of a Word

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pp. 403-443

The importance for theology, at least from the mid-thirteenth century onward, of the Latin word ‘‘obiectum, -i’’—a substantive meaning the object of a power—is easily shown. The case of St. Thomas Aquinas is entirely symptomatic. The word figures prominently in his explanation of...

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Chapter 27: St. Thomas and Moral Taxonomy

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pp. 444-478

Aristotle tells us that Socrates was the first to consider moral taxonomy. We read: ‘‘Socrates, however, was busying himself about ethical matters and neglecting the world of nature as a whole but seeking the universal in these ethical matters, and fixed thought for the first time on definitions.’’1 We might ask ourselves why it was in the realm of morals that interest in...


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pp. 479-652


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pp. 653-668


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pp. 669-690

Moral Philosophy and Moral Theology Series

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E-ISBN-13: 9780823248650
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823227969
Print-ISBN-10: 0823227960

Page Count: 600
Publication Year: 2007