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  • Aquinas and the "Nicomachean Ethics." ed. by Tobias Hoffmann, Jörn Müller, and Matthias Perkams
  • Christopher Kaczor
Aquinas and the "Nicomachean Ethics." Edited by Tobias Hoffmann, Jörn Müller, and Matthias Perkams. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. Pp. x + 275. $103.00 (cloth), $36.99 (paper). ISBN: 978-1-107-00267-8 (cloth), 978-1-107-57640-7 (paper).

The fourteen chapters of this volume provide sometimes rival answers to many of the most important questions about the relationship between St. Thomas Aquinas and the Nicomachean Ethics. Such questions include but are not limited to: What is the status of Aquinas's Sententia libri ethicorum in [End Page 306] relationship to his other works, such as the Summa theologiae and the Quaestiones disputatae de virtutibus? Does Aquinas radically misunderstand Aristotle and import foreign Christian conceptions into his interpretation of the Ethics? How does his reading of Aristotle concur and contrast with contemporary readings of the Ethics? Is the Sententia libri ethicorum primarily a philosophical or a theological text? What are the tensions and contradictions between Aristotle's Ethics and Christian ethics?

The book covers a wide range of issues and includes contributions from many of the top scholars in the field. The introduction, penned by the three editors, provides a helpful status quaestionis of contemporary assessments of the major questions asked in the previous paragraph. Each author in the volume was invited to summarize Aristotle's position on the matter in question, examine Aquinas's treatment of the same matter in his Sententia libri ethicorum and other works, and provide an assessment of the philosophical implications of the latter's view.

In the opening essay, T. H. Irwin assesses the historical accuracy of Aquinas's Sententia libri ethicorum. Since Aquinas did not read the Greek of Aristotle's text, his commentary suffers from historical deficiencies in various respects. However, precisely as a philosophical commentary, it provides valuable historical insights because "it is historically more accurate to attribute a consistent overall position to Aristotle than to attribute an inconsistent position" (23). In this respect, the Sententia libri ethicorum excels. "If we want to reach a historically accurate account of Aristotle, we ought not to ignore Aquinas's contributions to this goal" (32).

Michael Pakaluk considers the structure and method of Aquinas's appropriation of Aristotle's ethics, in particular the cardinal virtues. Aquinas develops Aristotle's account in part by resolving lacunae in the Nicomachean Ethics, by integrating ethics more closely with metaphysics, and by a more speculative and less practical focus.

Jörn Müller reflects on how Aquinas adopts and adapts Aristotle's conception of happiness in part by also looking at St. Albert the Great's two commentaries on the Nicomachean Ethics. "Albert has a more Neoplatonic vision of man, as an intellect that is able to overcome the borders of the sensible world and accomplish a kind of divinization by means of philosophy, while Aquinas sees human existence and cognition in this world as tied to the fact that man is a natural composite of body and soul" (63). Aquinas is keen to critique Averroistic readings of human happiness, just as in De unitate intellectus he critiques Averroistic understandings of the human soul.

Matthias Perkams looks at Aquinas's views of choice, will, and voluntary action. "Since choice is an interior act of the will, it is free in the sense of not being necessitated by any factor outside human reason, and cannot be impeded from taking place" (89). On this understanding, Aquinas goes beyond Aristotle to posit more than a rational appetite, specifically "will" as a faculty that produces internal acts, even if these internal acts cannot issue in external [End Page 307] actions due to external constraints. He combines an Augustinian emphasis on internal freedom with an Aristotelian focus on philosophy of nature.

Bonnie Kent considers Aristotle and Aquinas on the issue of the loss of virtue. She argues that much of the scholarly controversy hinges "on the assumption that Aquinas's commentary has some hidden unity of approach, reflecting some single overall purpose. If it reflects instead a hybrid of work done at different times, possibly...


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