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RATIONAL BY PARTICIPATION Aquinas and Ockham on the Subject of the Moral Virtues* All ethical theories presuppose a certain anthropology—even those that explicitly reject such a thing, like Kant's theory of morals, with its radical dichotomy between nature and reason. For, as Aristotle says, it is impossible to answer the question, Which virtues are necessary for living a good, happy life? unless we know what the human being—the subject of those virtues—is. More precisely, this means knowing what the soul is, for by "human virtues" we mean primarily acquired habits of the soul, and not such capacities of the body as the ability to run fast or jump high, which are not distinctively human. This being so, the moral philosopher must gain some knowledge of the soul before addressing ethical questions. Of course, it goes beyond the scope of an ethical treatise to investigate the nature of the soul—and Aristotle refers us to other treatises for a more exact treatment. Nevertheless, Aristotle thinks that some knowledge of the soul must be presupposed, such as that of the distinction in it between the rational and non-rational elements. The rational element, or logos, is the capacity for reasoning, arguing, deliberating, choosing, commanding, etc. Regarding the nonrational element, another distinction must be made. One part of it is completely beyond the control of reason, namely, the vegetative soul, the principle of growth and nutrition. Another part "would also seem to be non-rational, although in a way it shares in reason" (1102bl3). Here Aristotle has in mind the principle of our sensitive appetites. In themselves the appetites are non-rational: for they are moved and determined, without the mediation of reason, by a perceived good or evil. But because they can obey the advice and exhortations or reproaches of the rational element, "they share *This study is based upon my article published in Tijdschrift voor Filosofie, 58(1996), 37-61 (with permission of the publisher). I wish to thank John Steffen for helping me with the English translation. 359 Franciscan Studies, Vol. 56 (1998) 360Carlos Steel somewhat in reason" (b30). Hence we can distinguish two sorts of virtues: some (like wisdom, science, and insight) are virtues of the rational part (or intellect), while others "seem to be the virtues of the non-rational parts," into which they bring order and moderation (1117b23). The first sort is brought about primarily through instruction, while the second type is acquired by habituation (ethos) and education; these latter virtues are called the ethical, or moral, virtues strictly speaking, while the former are labelled the dianoetic, or intellectual, virtues.1 These reflections of Aristotle deeply influenced the moral philosophy of Thomas Aquinas. In particular, the passage about the participative relation between the rational and non-rational parts of the soul is cited many times by Thomas, especially concerning the issue of what in the human being can be the subject of "the virtues."2 This is, in scholastic terms, the question "de subiecto virtutum." In this essay, I take this question as my starting point for an examination of the conception of man that is presupposed in Thomas's moral doctrine. In the first part, Thomas's doctrine is developed; in the second part, his view is criticized from the standpoint of William of Ockham; and finally both standpoints are brought into confrontation with each other.3 I. THOMAS ON THE SUBJECT OF THE VIRTUES Before addressing the question "On the Subject of the Virtues," we must indicate briefly what we mean by "virtues." For Thomas, virtues are acquired habits (dispositions, attitudes) that enable persons to perform their own "work" (opus) in an excellent 1Cf. Aristotle, Ethtca Nicomachea, I, 13 and 11,1. " Rationale dicitur duplex, scilicet per essentiam et per participationem." For the most important passages see Index thomisticus, sub lemmate "participationem." 3A first version of this study appeared in French on the occasion of an Ockham Congress in Leiden: see " Ockham versus Thomas d'Aquin. Le sujet des vertus morales," in Ockham and Ockhamists, ed. E. P. Bos and H. A. Krop (Nijmegen, 1987), 109-117. I refer to this article for a number of references and Latin citations that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 359-382
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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