- The Root of Friendship: Self-Love and Self-Governance in Aquinas by Anthony T. Flood
Wading into the stormy waters where Thomism, personalism, and modern analytic philosophy meet, Anthony Flood's book is an interesting and robust interjection into the debate concerning self-governance. Though it has room for further development and a deeper exegesis of Aquinas, Flood's aim (to defend Aquinas against claims of irrelevance and outright heteronomy) is laudable and worthwhile.
Flood is clear about his theses and audience. He seeks to present Aquinas's account of self-governance as an antidote to impasses in modern debates concerning autonomy. In this he defends three theses: "Aquinas's account of proper self-love is a description of the nature and importance of a person's subjective self-experience, his notion of self-governance cannot be understood fully unless we grasp its basis in self-love, and his account both satisfies contemporary conditions of relevance for self-governance and offers attractive solutions to issues raised in analytic discussions on such matters" (xi). The six chapters of the book can be subsumed under these theses.
The first chapter seeks to defend the first thesis and outlines Aquinas's thought on the nature of self-love and subjectivity. Its central claim is that self-love forms the basis of experience and subjectivity. In this primal self-experience, we judge ourselves to be fittingly loved and choose to love ourselves out of dilectio. This self-love, when properly ordered and habitual is self-friendship (a unique combination between the union of similitude and the union of possession) and is the ongoing constituent of subjectivity—a person's ongoing complacentia for himself. In other words, all other love relations are based on this self-relation, and self-love creates the subjective pole of a person's experience of this world. In addition, self-friendship is based on true knowledge of oneself as a subject with interiority and precludes conflict. Because self-love plays such a role in Aquinas's thought, so too must a person's subjective experience of the self.
The second chapter elaborates the historical antecedents to Aquinas's account and introduces the central conditions of self-governance. Flood divides these conditions into psychological and authoritative. The psychological requirements for self-governance are epistemic (access to the moral law or whatever standard will guide acts) and motivational (the ability to bring oneself to perform an action principally from internal, not external, motivational sources). The authority condition requires that one have the authority to act. Flood's purpose in this chapter is to show that the eudaemonist [End Page 322] tradition (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, and Augustine) satisfies these conditions. His central claim is that virtue is a suffi cient condition for both the psychological and the authoritative conditions of self-governance. The Stoics are the first to outline this explicitly, but it is implicit in the other thinkers. The wise person lives under his own law. Flood also seeks to allay fears of heteronomy in Augustine. Contemporary accounts do not claim that an objective moral order threatens self-governance, so the same should be said for theists. A person governs his own life according to the standards set forth by God and motivates himself to act.
The third chapter ends Flood's defense of the first thesis and transitions to his defense of the second thesis. It also concerns the authority condition in Aquinas. For an account of natural law, Flood follows Stephen Brock but adds that it is not the person qua intellectual which apprehends the good, but the person qua self-experiencing and self-loving. Our most basic relation to the good is not of seeking or obtaining, but of possessing the good of ourselves. From this basic unity the natural law flows; humans self-promulgate the natural law through practical reason. In other words, Flood argues that, since the essential properties of self-love include the desire for and activity of pursuing goods and avoiding...