Thoughts on Thomas Aquinas and Ethics

The Glory of St. Thomas Aquinas, detail. Paris...
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So, I am still recovering and feel brain-clogged. Excuse the mess:

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My friend Thomas never ceases to amaze me. While I may disagree slightly with him over a few things, over all, he is someone whom I love to read. I think that there is much to be said in reexamining doctrines, dogmas and other intellectual foundations from time to time to see if there is a correction needed, or even to arouse the spirit of competition so that we do not become complacent. That arousal produces thinkers such as Thomas.

One thing first – I am still not liking this idea of habits of virtue. What worries me is that this is the way we see a fix to criminality as well, but more especially so, those who we deem as moral abominations. Can you make a habit out of sexuality, to conform to the ‘natural?’ What if sometimes, we are just ‘born that way’ and if we engage in habits to transform that, we do more harm than good to the individual? Granted, I’m not saying to dismiss sin, in however we define that term and to whatever actions we attach it too, (as we do have additional principles) should be dismissed, but I am worried that we have let ourselves believe that we can just practice being virtuous or sinless and believe that this is good for our humanity. To this end, I agree more completely with his four virtues than with Augustine, as well as the addition of the theological virtues is somehow reassuring that I can still read Aristotle and not be counted a heretic (not that I’m worried about that too much).

I like Thomas’ notion of the telos of humanity, and what constitutes evil. If our End is to be good, perfect, eternal, and that End is established by God, how can we then exist eternally without that End? Of course, this may suppose a discussion on the sovereignty of God, something not found in our reading materials. I do note that he considers “ultimate happiness consists in the contemplation of truth.” The discussion author notes that Thomas also believed that “ultimate happiness is there not possible in this life.” I think back, then, to Augustine and the idea that all creatures seek peace, just sometimes, not the right peace. I still cannot come to an agreement that our telos, our peace, evil, etc… can exist outside of God, so that even the perversion is ordained by God who has established our perfect telos. If our ultimate happiness is God, and God will destroy all evil – which are not people themselves, but “imperfection of being,” then to what end is the developed notion of eternal torment, if when evil is destroyed, imperfections cease, and we realize our telos? If God’s Grace is, and I tend to agree here, “a perfecting of our created nature as a means toward our supernatural end”, then how cannot God’s Grace be extended, impartially?

In reading Thomas, I see the beginning of the Modern State – although we are starting to forget what that is – and rejoice in his words. I agree, nearly completely. I still have an issue with his formulation of Just War, however. I do appreciate the fact that he sees laws of the Modern State necessary, but that they should be limited to “chiefly those that are injurious to others.”

Sorry for the brevity, but something has placed me under the weather.

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