The Stoic Art of Living (Morris)

Morris, Tom.  The Stoic Art of Living: Inner Resilience and Outer Results. Open Court: Chicago, 2004.

Check out his website
https://www.tomvmorris.com/

Key idea: Our life goals must be rooted in self-knowledge, “guided by a sense of what is good, and should take form within an ennobling big picture” (Morris 5).

Seneca

The mind should be exercised continually (10).

The proper application of any insight depends on perspective (15).

Seneca details the importance of goal-setting.  “Begin with the end in view.”  Not just any goals, but goals that are proper to you.  The challenge is to find out how we can know the right goals.  That’s where proper philosophy comes in.  We have to go beyond what we want to “what we should want” (19).  Seneca’s task was to link proper goal setting with pursuing the Good. We know that our desires aren’t always good ones; a proper understanding of the Good can try to offset erroneous desires.

Our larger goals will most likely be shaped, whether for good or for ill, by how our soul has developed at that point. Our smaller goals must fit within that larger structure.

Key idea: adversity is necessary for “soul-making.”

Goals and Sequences

Morris echoes, or perhaps anticipates, themes from his other works: “We need a clear conception of what is important” (36-37).

Key idea: “Inconsistency often shows that at some level we really don’t know what we want” (39).  Consistency is truth.  When you are inconsistent, you are not being true to yourself.  One way to guide us is reason.  But Seneca has a “thick,” not thin concept of reason: “It is the whole ability we have to grasp, through intuition, interpretation, and inference, what the truth is about anything” (42).

While many probably admire the Stoic’s ability to not let things get to them, few can go with them on negating all emotion.  Is that what the Stoics really teach?  Probably.  Maybe.  The key point, as Morris notes, is that “any extreme of emotion can distort our perspective if it gets out of control” (48).

Ethics

The most famous modern ethical dilemma is the trolley dilemma or perhaps the Nazis at the door.  Such discussions are important but largely irrelevant to modern life.  Following Seneca, Morris notes, “In modern times we are encouraged to suspect that ethical dilemmas will stalk us at every turn, making it nearly impossible to have agreed upon, universally applicable standards” (57). In reality, you won’t be in those situations.

While we cannot go with the cosmic pantheism of the Stoics, they are correct that we stand in “reciprocally dependent relations with each other.”

Perspective

“It is not external forces in our lives, but our own beliefs about those forces that pressure us and bring on us all the negative experience” (76).  The background for this comment is that we shouldn’t look to the external world for our happiness. Morris takes the Stoic emphasis on the internal and draws a shocking (yet common-sense) conclusion: by focusing “our thoughts, plans, attitudes and energies…close to home, to what we can control, to the small sphere of real personal competence that we do command,” we are actually able to achieve positive change and balance (81). 

In other words, identify your range of control.  Your range of control is what is truly in your power: assent, aspiration, and action (86). This means developing our core within ourselves, which for the Stoics meant cultivating virtue and living according to reason. This means cultivating the will, “the seat of virtue or vice” (99).

Good practical advice

“It is only the relaxed and rested mind that can be intuitive and creative to its highest potential” (60-61).

Reason isn’t everything.  “While we should govern imagination by reason, it is only the power of the imagination that is able to tame emotion” (93).

Like all of Morris’s books, this book makes the ethical life exciting.  As Christians we don’t always have to agree with the Stoics (and Morris offers his own criticisms at the end).  Nonetheless, the early Christians in the New Testament dealt with the Stoics and Epicureans, not the Platonists (who are no doubt important in their own way).

Christian Ethics (Geisler)

Geisler, Norman. Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker.

Geisler’s work is divided into two parts: a survey of the different positions (including a defense of his own, graded absolutism) and a treatment of different issues in ethical reasoning. While one can quibble with some of his exegesis, his larger arguments are compelling. His treatment of defective ethical positions, such as Joseph Fletcher’s Situationism, is masterful.

Situationism

The situationist has the one law of love, the many general principles of wisdom, and the moment of decision (Geisler 45). Fletcher repeatedly asserts that the rule of Christian ethics is “love.” So what do I do in a specific situation? The “what and why” are absolute and the how is relative.

Geisler does note a number of legitimate strengths of situationism, but nonetheless there are gaping inadequacies.
*One norm is too general (57).
*Unless there is advanced cognitive content to what “love” is, then one doesn’t really know what I am commanded to do!
*There can be many universal norms.
*Fletcher hasn’t given any substantial reason on why axioms deduced from other axioms can’t be universal.
*A different universal norm is possible.
*Why do we privilege Christian love and not Buddhist compassion?
*On what basis do we choose one single norm as binding?

Utilitarianism

Greatest good for greatest number.

Problems and ambiguities:
(1) who gets to determine what “good” means?
(2) Offers no protection to minority viewpoint, since by definition they will never been in the “greater” number.
(3) The definition of “end” is unclear. Do we mean a few years? Lifetime? Eternity? In that case, only God could be a utilitarian and he is not (77).

Unqualified Absolutism

premise: all moral conflicts are only apparent; they are not real (79). Held by Augustine, Kant, Charles Hodge, John Murray, and Puritanboard.

hypothetical problem: Lie to the Nazis at the door?

Augustine: cannot gain eternal life by temporal evil.

John Murray: Sanctity of Truth and Truth is the essence of God. However, he does not believe every intentional deception is a lie (e.g., a general’s movements in war).

Negative Aspects

Disputed premises:
(1) Are sins of the soul necessarily worse? Perhaps, but the Platonic premise here should at least by acknowledged. On this view, a “white lie” is worse than rape.
(2) Can the lie to save lives be separated from mercy? “God blessed the mercy but not the lie.” But is this really coherent?
(3) Will God always save us from moral dilemmas? 1 Cor. 10:13 only promises victory from temptation, not deliverance from moral dilemmas.

Fatal qualifications

Even one exception to this rule kills Unqualified Absolutism–and Augustine allows for exceptions in the case of Abraham and Isaac/Jepthath and his daughter.

*John Murray doesn’t believe we should be truthful in all circumstances (Murray 145).

“Punting to Providence”

God does not always spare his children from moral dilemmas. In fact, obedience often puts the believer in dilemmas!

“Third Alternatives are not always available.”
e.g., Tubal pregnancies

Conflicting Absolutism

Premise: (1) Real moral conflicts do occur in this fallen world.

(1.1) Yet when faced with this conflict, man is morally accountable to both principles. In other words, sucks to be you.
(1.2) Yet, sin is conquerable through the cross.

Popularized as “Lesser-evil” approach. Best seen in Lutheran Two-Kingdoms. Also, Lutherans will (correctly) praise Bonhoeffer’s attempt to kill Hitler but also say it did violate a norm.

Criticisms

As Geisler notes, this position is basically saying “we have moral duty to sin,” which is absurd (Geisler 103). Another problem, whatever God commands is ipso facto good, so it can’t be a “lesser evil.”

Here is Geisler’s own position, Graded Absolutism:
Explained:
(1) There are higher and lower moral laws.
(2) There are unavoidable moral conflicts
(3) No guilt is imputed for the unavoidable.

Illustrated:
(4) Love for God is more important than love for man.
(5) Obey God over Government
(6) Mercy over veracity (Nazis at the door).

Options and Applications:

Issues

The second section of the book deals with problems in Ethics.

BioMedical Issues.
(1) Nothing groundbreaking here.
(2) Most of the criticisms against utilitarianism can be employed against secular humanism on this point.
(3) Nota Bene: Geisler doesn’t come out and affirm birth control. However, he does note that birth control methods that kill a fertilized ovum are murder. Condoms, however, do not kill fertilized ova. And whatever the merits of NFP, the couple is still in the “controlling” aspect, so it is a form of birth control.
(4) He is against cloning.

He defends capital punishment by asking the question: Is punishment supposed to be “retributive” or “rehabilitative?” The Bible clearly supports the former. Punishment is to punish the offender. Nothing more, nothing less. And common sense shows how tyrannical the latter can be. If the offender is just a patient, then when he is “cured?” (Hint: whenever (if at all) the state says he is).

Geisler gives good responses to the opponents of capital punishment. In fact, if “rehabilitative” models of justice are necessarily suspect, then capital punishment wins by default.

Geisler defends the possibility of just war, including tactical nuclear strikes. A tactical nuclear strike against a larger army is not the same thing as launching thousands of ICBMs and will not destroy planet earth.

Civil Disobedience

Makes a helpful distinction between “Antipromulgation” and “Anticompulsion” (241-242). The former advocates rebelling against the government when it passes a law that permits evil or limits freedom. Schaeffer took this position in A Christian Manifesto. Not only is it unworkable, it is negated by much of Christian history. The latter position means disobeying the government when it commands you to do evil. Geisler categorically condemns armed revolution.

Marriage and Divorce:

As marriage is more than sex, so sex is more than procreation. Its purpose is threefold: (1) propagation (Gen. 1:28), unification (Gen. 2:24), (3) recreation (Prov. 5.18-19).

His take on divorce is a bit complicated.
(1)It is always wrong
(2)That does not mean remarriage is not permissible under certain circumstances.
(3) There can be situations where it is allowed (abuse, desertion)

Unfortunately, Geisler’s “Graded Absolutism” doesn’t save his position. (1) and (3) are contradictory, unless you add another premise:

(3*) Where the necessary situations obtain, divorce is not wrong.

Except Geisler doesn’t actually say that. That’s my position and I think if you pressed him, he would agree, too.

Conclusion:

This is a fine intro to Christian Ethics and will serve nicely in a college or seminary classroom

Kant’s Ethics

Below are Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals and Critique of Practical Reason.

Metaphysics of Morals:

Kant, Immanuel. General Principle of the Metaphysics of Morals, The Great Books Series (Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1952).

Kant is the perfect embodiment of modern liberalism.  Imagine one of your neighbors.  He’s a nice guy, does all the right things.  All he wants is for everyone to be nice.  At worst, he might want the State to enforce niceness.  This isn’t that different from late 20th century America.  It’s completely useless, however, against nihilism and revolution.

This is a lucid treaty which introduces you to Kant’s famous maxim, “Don’t do something if you aren’t willing to make it a universal law.”  That actually works quite well in a Christian, or at least moral society.  There are problems in Kant’s ethics, to be sure, but he does cover all the requisite ground and deals with the same issues you would find in Aquinas on happiness.

All rational knowledge is either concerned with the object of knowledge or with the form of understanding itself.  Kant’s goal is to construct a pure moral philosophy.  Such a moral philosophy will not only conform to moral law, but will do so out of a sense of duty (and that is the main point for Kant).

Indeed, what makes a good action good?  Kant’s answer is very simple: a good action is good simply by virtue of its volition (256).

Surprisingly enough, Kant argues that reason can’t be the guide.  He correctly notes that reason can’t satisfy all of our wants and perhaps even multiplies them.  Rather, our duty is to follow the law. If we must have emotions, then we should have respect for the law. What kind of law should determine my will?  Kant gives us his famous secularized golden rule: “never to act otherwise than so that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law” (260).

Persons and Things

A person is a rational being who is an end in himself.  A thing is a being whose end is relative to another end (272).

Kingdom of Ends

A kingdom for Kant is a union of rational beings in a system by common laws (274). This definition, while inadequate, is not too far from Augustine’s “common objects of love.”  Ends for Kant are determined by abstract, universal laws.  For example, I must treat everyone as though he were an end in himself and not my means to another end.

Kant nicely summarizes his project this way. Morality has three modes: 1) a form, consisting in universality; 2) a matter, such as the end or goal; and 3) the ability to characterize all maxims in the previous two modes (275).

A Will that is Free

Kant has a standard account of free will.  Such a will is independent of external, determining forces, etc.  It has an internal causality.  That brings Kant to a problem of which he is very much aware. It’s not really coherent to speak of my making laws to which I am subject.  It’s a circle, as he notes: “we laid down the idea of freedom because of the moral law only that we might afterwards in turn infer the latter from freedom” (282).  What is his solution? It’s not clear but I think he says such an intuition of freedom allows us to transcend ourselves.  I’m not really sure what that means.

There is a bigger problem, though.  If the world of nature is mechanistically determined, then how am I free? Kant says that for all practical purposes, we are free. If we don’t presuppose that, then we can’t make sense of human actions.

Problems

Kant is not unaware of problems with his system.  For example, if I have a direct inclination to an action, say, caring for my wife, my passion and strong feelings towards my wife might actually cloud the nature of duty (258). In fact, in order to truly appreciate the duty of caring for my wife, I shouldn’t let my emotions or feelings come into play at all! (Only an unmarried bachelor like Kant could have imagined this).  If I have conjugal relations with my wife and I enjoy it, that’s good and all but irrelevant.  All that matters is we have performed our duties. Have fun with the therapy.

Perhaps more to the point.  I have a duty to preserve my life.  Most men in fact do this.  Here is the problem:  Are they doing this just out of natural habit or from the specific command, “You must act according to the duty to preserve your own life”?  Almost everyone acts from the former and they are not wrong to do so. Kant, however, would say they failed to act ethically.

The same applies to helping the poor.  Unless you do it from the perspective of “I have a duty to be beneficent,” the action has no moral worth.  This doesn’t seem right.

Moreover, with Kant we see the modern commitment to ethical autonomy.  Consider the following chilling passage: “Even the Holy One of the Gospels must first be compared with our ideal of moral perfection before we can recognize him as such” (263).

Kant’s system is beautiful and elegant, yet cold and austere.

Critique of Practical Reason

Introductory thoughts: Freedom is the only idea of speculative reason that we can know a priori (291).  Freedom is the condition of the moral law.  Ideas like God are conditions of the practical use of our pure reason (i.e., God is a limiting concept.  You need God to make other ideas work).

To say it another way: God is an application of our will to a determined object.

Problems Kant must solve:

1) He had previously denied that we could know supersensible reality, yet he specifically posits this for morality (the freedom of our will).

The thinking subject internally intuits itself as a phenomenon (292).

The imperative: these are rules that I do not make up for myself.  They transcend me. It is closer to the realm of causality.  A Law is much stronger.  It actually determines the will.  As such they are categorical.

Theorem I: a principle which presupposes an empirical object of desire can furnish no practical laws (298).

Theorem 2: all material practical principles fall under the category of self-love or private happiness.

A refined pleasure is one that does not wear out and increases our capacity for enjoyment.

Kant proceeds to speak on what is “a good or an evil in itself” (317).  That language is surprising, given his agnosticism on knowing anything “in itself.” Kant is cheating.  He (rightly) says the moral good “is something whose object is supersensible” (319).  He correctly wants to avoid the is-ought fallacy.  On the other hand, one wonders how he can possibly know this, given that the supersensible are noumena and off-limits to our knowing. He says by way of conclusion that “It is therefore allowable to use the system of the world of sense as a type of a supersensible system of things” (320).  I had always suspected Kant was a secularized Plato.  Now I am sure.

Motive: subjective ground of determination (321).

Kant defines personality as “freedom and independence on the mechanism of nature.”

Kant’s most notorious move is his positing God, the soul, and the moral law as postulates of pure reason.  He knows he needs these categories in order for his system to work.  Unfortunately, they are empty concepts. Kant doesn’t seriously think that God will act in history and bring judgment.  Yet that is precisely what Kant’s God would need to do in order for a moral universe to work.  At the end of the day, as Nietzsche would later point out, Kant doesn’t really need God at all.

Kant’s take on human freedom and determinism bears our consideration.  How can we be free if we live in a Newtonian universe of cause and effect?  Kant’s analysis here is quite similar to Jonathan Edwards’.  As long as we remain in a time-bound universe, we cannot be free.  Kant believes in freedom, though. He maintains that the time-bound universe is the world of appearances, akin to the phenomenal world.  You aren’t free in that world.  However, you do have a transcendental freedom.  Determinism only applies to the sensible world of appearances.

I think he is wrong, but his take isn’t that strange.  As Reformed Christians, we hold free will in suspicion, yet we also believe we are active moral agents who make meaningful choices.  And if we hold to Edwards’ analysis of determinism, it’s not clear how different we are from Kant, practically speaking.

Kant’s writing is elegant and austere and could have only been written during the Enlightenment.  This text is fascinating in some regards because Kant begins to walk back some of his stronger claims in the First Critique.

Metaphysic of Morals (Kant)

Kant, Immanuel. General Principle of the Metaphysics of Morals, The Great Books Series (Chicago: The University of Chicago, 1952).

Kant is the perfect embodiment of modern liberalism.  Imagine one of your neighbors.  He’s a nice guy, does all the right things.  All he wants is for everyone to be nice.  At worst, he might want the State to enforce niceness.  This isn’t that different from late 20th century America.  It’s completely useless, however, against nihilism and revolution.

This is a lucid treaty which introduces you to Kant’s famous maxim, “Don’t do something if you aren’t willing to make it a universal law.”  That actually works quite well in a Christian, or at least moral society.  There are problems in Kant’s ethics, to be sure, but he does cover all the requisite ground and deals with the same issues you would find in Aquinas on happiness.

All rational knowledge is either concerned with the object of knowledge or with the form of understanding itself.  Kant’s goal is to construct a pure moral philosophy.  Such a moral philosophy will not only conform to moral law, but will do so out of a sense of duty (and that is the main point for Kant).

Indeed, what makes a good action good?  Kant’s answer is very simple: a good action is good simply by virtue of its volition (256).

Surprisingly enough, Kant argues that reason can’t be the guide.  He correctly notes that reason can’t satisfy all of our wants and perhaps even multiplies them.  Rather, our duty is to follow the law. If we must have emotions, then we should have respect for the law. What kind of law should determine my will?  Kant gives us his famous secularized golden rule: “never to act otherwise than so that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law” (260).

Persons and Things

A person is a rational being who is an end in himself.  A thing is a being whose end is relative to another end (272).

Kingdom of Ends

A kingdom for Kant is a union of rational beings in a system by common laws (274). This definition, while inadequate, is not too far from Augustine’s “common objects of love.”  Ends for Kant are determined by abstract, universal laws.  For example, I must treat everyone as though he were an end in himself and not my means to another end.

Kant nicely summarizes his project this way. Morality has three modes: 1) a form, consisting in universality; 2) a matter, such as the end or goal; and 3) the ability to characterize all maxims in the previous two modes (275).

A Will that is Free

Kant has a standard account of free will.  Such a will is independent of external, determining forces, etc.  It has an internal causality.  That brings Kant to a problem of which he is very much aware. It’s not really coherent to speak of my making laws to which I am subject.  It’s a circle, as he notes: “we laid down the idea of freedom because of the moral law only that we might afterwards in turn infer the latter from freedom” (282).  What is his solution? It’s not clear but I think he says such an intuition of freedom allows us to transcend ourselves.  I’m not really sure what that means.

There is a bigger problem, though.  If the world of nature is mechanistically determined, then how am I free? Kant says that for all practical purposes, we are free. If we don’t presuppose that, then we can’t make sense of human actions.

Problems

Kant is not unaware of problems with his system.  For example, if I have a direct inclination to an action, say, caring for my wife, my passion and strong feelings towards my wife might actually cloud the nature of duty (258). In fact, in order to truly appreciate the duty of caring for my wife, I shouldn’t let my emotions or feelings come into play at all! (Only an unmarried bachelor like Kant could have imagined this).  If I have conjugal relations with my wife and I enjoy it, that’s good and all but irrelevant.  All that matters is we have performed our duties. Have fun with the therapy.

Perhaps more to the point.  I have a duty to preserve my life.  Most men in fact do this.  Here is the problem:  Are they doing this just out of natural habit or from the specific command, “You must act according to the duty to preserve your own life”?  Almost everyone acts from the former and they are not wrong to do so. Kant, however, would say they failed to act ethically.

The same applies to helping the poor.  Unless you do it from the perspective of “I have a duty to be beneficent,” the action has no moral worth.  This doesn’t seem right.

Moreover, with Kant we see the modern commitment to ethical autonomy.  Consider the following chilling passage: “Even the Holy One of the Gospels must first be compared with our ideal of moral perfection before we can recognize him as such” (263).

Kant’s system is beautiful and elegant, yet cold and austere.

If Harry Potter Ran General Electric (Morris)

Buy Here

Key idea 1: Great stories can provide insights into the narratives of our lives.

Key idea 2: Best leaders teach by example and guide by encouragement.

Morris argues that Dumbledore exemplifies the Aristotelian virtues.  The virtues are important because “what makes” a good leader is something internal.   We talk about “building the inner person” but no one really knows what that means in the concrete, aside from something like “integrity.”  The Aristotelian virtues provide a starting point.

Life is dynamic. We are always in a process of becoming.

Dumbledore has a “generosity of spirit.”  Morris says this lets him see “beyond the categories that define people.”  I might take a stab at it from my own perspective.  I have had some students that were generally annoying and often made bad choices.  I realized, though, that they had a lot of raw potential and would probably get straightened out in time.

Key idea: The fundamental virtue in business and life is courage.

This gets interesting.  On one hand, Gryffindor is the house that generates the virtue of courage.  However, Voldemort’s followers often act courageous themselves.  In that case, why can’t a vice generate the same outcome?  To answer this, Morris points to the ancient truth of “the unity of the virtues.”  It is impossible to just have one good virtue.  Here is the difference: Voldemort’s followers appear to act courageously because they are bullied by fear; the good man actually overcomes the fear.

The self-help mindset only goes so far.  True success has a communal side to it.

We can summarize the chapter on ethics under several propositions:
1) Ethics is about creating strength.

2) Doing acts of evil, as seen in Malfoy and Voldemort, always rebounds on itself.

3) Iris Murdoch: when we habitually do good, we often create “good structures” that visit us later on.

Morris calls Wicca “that priesthood of perpetual graduate students and coffeehouse radicals.”

On Obligations (Cicero)

Cicero.  On Obligations (De officiis). trans. P. G. Walsh.  New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Cicero functions as the same structure behind much classical ethical reasoning. He trains the reader to think in terms of a gradation of goods, higher and subordinate goods, something modern conservatives seem incapable of doing.  The payoff in this line of reasoning is that it allows one to navigate the tricky waters of seeming ethical conflicts between two different goods.

Obligation precedes from what is honorable, and the honorable proceeds “from one or other of four virtues.”  These virtues are ordered under truth.

Cicero gives a very shrewd defense of private property.  He does not say that it is an absolute metaphysical right, and for a very good reason. We have a right to private property, and those who threaten it–like the US bureaucracy–commit a great evil. However, because it is established not by nature but by long standing custom, this means if we have property that was stolen from someone 10 generations ago, we don’t have to give it back.  This protects the godly today from the evil wokist who tries to undo society. Later on he points out the evil of a property tax (2.74).

In 1.57 he talks of our duty to the state.  What he means is our native land and commonwealth, not a bureaucracy.  This, of course, would get him brought up on charges by Big Eva today.

Later on he moves to the category of the “fitting.” The fitting implies the honorable, and the honorable the fitting.  What exactly is “the fitting?”  That’s hard to define.  The closest he comes to it is “keeping our life in balance” (1.111).

Cicero echoes Plato’s Phaedrus in that reason drives the chariot of the emotions.

Book 2 explains the life of virtue.  Virtue detects the true, restrains the passions, and subjects impulses to reason (2.18).  Virtues imply one another, so that a man who possesses one possesses all (2.35).  This seems counterintuitive, as we know many people who don’t.  There might be something to it, though. I think the point is that it is impossible to have just one virtue in isolation.

Book 3

Here is the problem: given that the Good exists, what do we do when what is good conflicts with what is advantageous?  Cicero’s answer is that any disagreement is only apparent, since nature and goodness cannot be at variance.

As a Stoic, his argument is that there “can be no advantage in what is not right” (III.II.8).  He then runs this template through several test cases. He defends property rights because violating these would cause the collapse of the human community, “the brotherhood of man.” This is the natural law, or nature’s rational principle.

Case study 1: Can a starving man take food from someone who was completely useless?  Robbery is unnatural, but if the case were such that your robbery rendered a benefit to the community of men, then it isn’t wrong provided it is done for that reason.  Nature’s law coincides with the common interest, and the common interest ordains that the means of subsistence be transferred to the starving.

Case study 2: Can you steal from a tyrant?   Cicero’s answer is chillingly simple: there is nothing wrong in stealing from a man whom it is morally just to kill.

Another reason that the morally right cannot conflict with the advantageous is that doing wrong damages one’s soul.  Wrongdoing leads to personal degradation.

There are other case studies dealing with insider trading, etc. Cicero’s conclusion is balanced: “Holding [knowledge] back doesn’t always amount to concealment; but it does when you want people, for your own profit, to be kept in the dark about something which you know and would be useful for them to know” (180).

Why?  Nature is the source of law, and it is contrary to nature for one man to prey upon another’s ignorance.

Review: Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae

This is one of the great books of all time.  It is basically a Q&A on various masters’ theses.  It is relentless in its pursuit of logical questions (and of apparently inane tangents).  The great thing about Thomas is that you can’t take anything for granted.  The small proof 400 pages ago will be the key to a subtle argument.

Thomas was a victim of his own success.  Few read him beyond the 5 Proofs, and I suspect those proofs weren’t all that interesting for him and his audience.

On God

Thomas: each thing has its own act of being; real apart from the distinct acts of existence.

God: existence as necessary being; his act of existence needs no cause of existence.  Pure act of being.

As Qui Est God has no genus, otherwise he would have an essence distinct from his act of being.  For God, to be is to be good.  His being and goodness are identical.

God knows himself perfectly and he knows himself immediately.

Does God know possibles?

  1. Concerning what might have been, he knows them by simple intelligence.

  2. God’s intelligence.  Will proceeds from intelligence.

The immediate object of divine intelligence is God.  He wills all other things by willing himself.  God’s willing of possibles doesn’t necessarily create them.

  1. a will is an action completely interior to the one willing.

  2. God doesn’t necessarily create existence by “willing,” but only through one of the divine actions whose terminus is an effect exterior to God

Treatise on Law

Thomas only devotes one question specifically about natural law in the middle of 19 questions.  More importantly, Thomas never abstracts natural law (which is usually exactly what his critics and defenders do).  Natural law is oriented back to the eternal law and the divine providence (ST 1-2. 90).

A short definition: “Law (lex) is something rational (aliquid rationes) directed to the common good by those who are responsible for that community” (Kerr 105).

  1. Eternal

  2. Natural

  3. Human

  4. Divine

(2)-(4) are how the eternal law is worked out in providence. You can’t separate natural law from discussions of God.

GRACE AND JUSTIFICATION

(1) For Thomas grace is two things: the work of God upon the soul and the effect of that action.

Two things are considered in the soul: the essence of the soul and the work of its powers.  The form of the soul is intellectual in orientation

The Subsistence of the Soul

Thomas: Nothing acts so far as it is in act, and nothing acts except that whereby it is in act. The soul is the form of the thing.  The soul’s powers are its mind and will.

(2) Form is the act in which a thing has its being and subsistence.

For Aquinas justification, in short, will consist of reorienting the intellect back to God’s proper order.  It is important to keep in mind that the soul is a spiritual substance that is intellectual in character (and this isn’t unique to Aquinas.  This is roughly the historic Christian position).

(3) Grace finds its seat in the essence of the soul, not in the powers.

What metaphor does Aquinas use to explain the nature of this grace infused into the soul?  Light.  Light, however, suggests an intellectual range.  This would place grace somewhere else than the essence of the soul–some place like the intellectual powers of mind and will.

In short, God moves all things (in justification) according to the proper mode of each.  It looks like this:

Infusion of justifying grace → a movement of free choice → forgiveness of sin

Part 2 of Second Part

Scope: This is Thomas’s course on virtue ethics.  Much is good, much bad.

The glory of the soul, which is the enjoyment of God, is the principle object, not the glory of the body (II.2.18.2).  True to an extent, but it’s not clear why Thomas needs the resurrection for this.

On Charity

There is a kind of friendship based on the communication between God and man (II.2.23.1).

Human acts are good as they are regulated by their due rule and measure (23.4).

Charity is infused in us (24.2). Every act of charity merits everlasting life (II.2.24.6). Mortal sin destroys charity entirely (24.10, 12). The spiritual life is an effect of charity.  Mortal sin destroys that.

Charity is capable of reflecting on itself.  The intellect reflects on the universal good, and since to will is a good, man can will himself to will.  Love, therefore, is a spontaneous movement of the lover to the thing loved (25.2).

While we are obligated to love our enemies, we are not obligated to show them all effects of love (25.9).

Key point: One’s obligation to love another is proportionate to the gravity of the sin one commits in acting against that love (2.26.6).

On Giving Alms

* Some are punished eternally for not giving alms (2.32.5).  By contrast, “almsdeeds deserve to be rewarded eternally through the merit of the recipient, who prays for the giver” (2.32.9).

* God gives us ownership of temporal goods but the use of them is directed to helping our neighbor).

Just War

Standard Augustinian stuff. Thomas gives several conditions: a) authority of the sovereign or leader waging it; b) just cause; c) right intentions.  Tyrannical governments are not just because they threaten the common weal (2.42.2).

The Glory of Monastic Life

It’s possible to go to heaven without being a monk, but it’s a lot harder.  Thomas speaks of being perfect.  He doesn’t mean sinless.  A thing’s perfection, rather, relates to charity, the consequences from charity, etc (2.186.3).

Various Nota Bene

* The church can compel secular power with regard to heresy and schism (2.39.4).

* Married sex increases concupiscence and is the contrary of the passage “cleansing ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit” (2.186.4).  He quotes Augustine to the effect that when married people caress one another they are “cast down from manly mind” (Solil. 1.10).  Sorry, Reformed Thomists, but this is where the Reformation is a clear improvement.  Indeed, Thomas goes on to say that “perpetual continence is required for religious perfection.”

* Contrary to claims by Dutch Calvinists, there is no cultural activity in heaven (2.181.4).

Thomas’s Linguistic Fallacies

This type of thinking was quite common until recently.  It’s still painful to read, though.  For example, wisdom (sapientia) connotes sweetness because it comes from the word “saporem” (2.45.2).

Further, Thomas commits the word = concept fallacy.  For Thomas “religion” means “religious orders.”  Therefore, when James talks about “religion pure and undefiled,” this gives the sanction for man entering into religious orders (2.188.2).

A virtue is an operative habit (I-II, q.55, a2).

The Order of Love

Wherever there is a principle, there is an order.  Charity is of a “last end.”  Therefore, it has reference to a “First Principle” (26.1).

Christology: On Person and Nature

Nature designates the essence of the species. A suppositum is the whole which includes the nature as “its formal part” (III.2.2).

Something’s “assumption” includes the principle and term of the act (3.3.1). The principle of the assumption is the divine nature itself.  The term is the Person in whom it is considered to be. The act of the assumption proceeds from the divine power, which is common to the three persons.  The term of the assumption, being the second person, isn’t common to the three.

Thomas argues that Christ didn’t assume a generic human nature, since human nature cannot be apart from sensible matter (3.4.4).

Now to Christology proper.  The person of the Son of God is the suppositum of human nature.  For the most part, suppositum functions similar to hypostasis, so why doesn’t Thomas call it hypostasis?  I think his using “suppositum” allows him to affirm “one person” of the Son, pace Nestorius, yet acknowledge a human dimension to the Son’s person.  A suppositum is the existing hypostasis.

Why is this important?  If we take phrases like “Christ is God” or “this Man is God,” then strictly speaking it isn’t true.  By “Christ” do we mean the eternal Son, the human nature, both, neither?  Therefore, by understanding the hypostasis as a suppositum of the Second Person, we can say the above propositions.

A hypostasis is that which has being.   A nature is that by which it has being.

Treatise on the Sacraments

A sacrament is ordained to signify our sanctification (III.60.3). The cause of our sanctification is Christ’s passion.  The form is grace and the virtues.  The End is eternal life.

Do the sacraments cause grace?  Thomas says they do by distinguishing a principal cause and an instrumental cause (III.62.1). The principal cause works by the power of the form.  The instrumental is the cause by which it is moved.

The soul’s powers flow from its essence, “so from grace there flow certain perfections into the powers of the soul, which are called virtues and gifts” (III.62.2). Grace, accordingly, is in the sacrament as an instrumental power.

Sacramental grace: the principal efficient cause is God himself. This grace is to take away defects consequent on past sins, which hinder divine worship.

The sacraments, especially Orders, imprint a character on the soul.  (Thomas then has some horrendous exegesis of Hebrews 1, where he reads medieval Latin understandings of “character” into the koine Greeek.) The important part is that Thomas equates character and sealing of the Holy Spirit (cf. Schaff on this point; I think volume on Nicene Christianity).

The inward effect of all sacraments is justification (III.64.1).

Eschatology

The Empyrean heaven is a corporeal place (Supp. III.69.1).  It will have the souls of the righteous.  Venial sin is cleansed in purgatory.  Some souls can come and visit.

Thomas gives the standard medieval arguments for praying for the dead, and in reverse the saints can pray for us.  Here is where it gets tricky.  In response to the question, “Why can’t we just go to God?” Thomas answers, “There is a divine order where ‘the last should be led to God by those that are midway between’” (quoting Ps. Dionysius, Supp. III.72.2).  If pressed strictly, Thomas must admit there is no logical reason for us ever to pray to God.  He doesn’t forbid it, but given the above ontology we shouldn’t.  Indeed, he goes on to say that the “perfection of the universe demands” we go through saints.

Here’s the next problem: by what standard do I know that a deceased is a saint and not in Purgatory?  Presumably he would say the Church has decreed it.  Okay, where did the church gain that access to knowledge?

In terms of the signs preceding the End Times, he follows Augustine.

Notes of Interest

When Mary gave birth, Jesus didn’t break through her birth canal and damage the virginal purity (Supp. III.83.3).

On Hell

The saints see perfectly the sufferings of the damned (Supp. III.94.3). Divine justice and their own deliverance will indeed by a direct cause of the saints Joy at seeing the sufferings of the damned.

Conclusion

This book will change you.  It won’t necessarily change your theology, but you will grow in intellectual virtue by reading through it.  Thomas forces you to always work with the implications and connections.

John Frame: Doctrine of the Christian Life

If you have read Frame before, then you know what you are getting: carefully argued positions, fair treatment to opponents, and a staggering amount of biblical reflection. His tri-perspectivalism is on display here, as in earlier books. I will address it as the review moves forward.

He defines ethics as “living under God’s law, in God’s world, in the presence of God himself” (Frame 3). Further, these are Lordship ethics, and Lordship has three attributes:

1) Control:
2) Authority
3) Covenant presence.

He begins with a description of ethics and a brief (too brief, perhaps) survey of autonomous ethics. He notes that autonomous ethics are hamstrung by rationalist/irrationalist dialectic: man proclaims his own reason as the standard yet denies it is able to reach knowledge of God.

Following this he gives a commentary on the Decalogue, noting key particular applications. I am not going to give a summary of each commandment. Rather, I will note some of his more controversial claims, his more helpful sections, and other notae bene he makes.

Per the Second Commandment, and the Regulative Principle:

RPW advocates see three categories for what is biblically permissible: 1) express commands, 2) approved examples, and 3) theological inferences. Well and good, but adding these extra categories mitigates the simplicity of the RPW. Even worse, it “gives considerable scope for human reflection, in even determining ‘elements’” (471).

What about the specific words of our prayers? They don’t fit in the above categories. Are they circumstances? They can’t be that, since they aren’t “common to human actions and societies.”

What about temple worship? Not everything in the temple was typological of Christ’s sacrifice. It had prayer, teaching, and praise, yet these weren’t abrogated.

On the sixth commandment he gives an eloquent, and quite frankly emotionally-moving, defense of the unborn, with some interesting history on Operation Rescue. On sexual ethics he points out the naturalistic fallacy in the Roman Catholic arguments against *some* birth control methods.

Thomas Aquinas, Summa: Part 2 of II

Part 2 of Second Part

The glory of the soul, which is the enjoyment of God, is the principle object, not the glory of the body (II.2.18.2).  True to an extent, but it’s not clear why Thomas needs the resurrection for this.

On Charity

There is a kind of friendship based on the communication between God and man (II.2.23.1). Human acts are good as they are regulated by their due rule and measure (23.4).

Charity is infused in us (24.2). Every act of charity merits everlasting life (II.2.24.6). Mortal sin destroys charity entirely (24.10, 12).

Charity is capable of reflecting on itself.  The intellect reflects on the universal good, and since to will is a good, man can will himself to will.  Love, therefore, is a spontaneous movement of the lover to the thing loved (25.2).

While we are obligated to love our enemies, we are not obligated to show them all effects of love (25.9).

Key point: One’s obligation to love another is proportionate to the gravity of the sin one commits in acting against that love (2.26.6).

On Giving Alms

* Some are punished eternally for not giving alms (2.32.5).  By contrast, “almsdeeds deserve to be rewarded eternally through the merit of the recipient, who prays for the giver” (2.32.9).

* God gives us ownership of temporal goods but the use of them is directed to helping our neighbor).

Just War

Standard Augustinian stuff. Thomas gives several conditions: a) authority of the sovereign or leader waging it; b) just cause; c) right intentions.  Tyrannical governments are not just because they threaten the common weal (2.42.2).

The Glory of Monastic Life

It’s possible to go to heaven without being a monk, but it’s a lot harder.  Thomas speaks of being perfect. He doesn’t mean sinless. A thing’s perfection, rather, relates to charity, the consequences from charity, etc (2.186.3). 

Various Nota Bene

* The church can compel secular power with regard to heresy and schism (2.39.4).

* Married sex increases concupiscence and is the contrary of the passage “cleansing ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit” (2.186.4).  He quotes Augustine to the effect that when married people caress one another they are “cast down from manly mind” (Solil. 1.10). Sorry, Reformed Thomists, but this is where the Reformation is a clear improvement.  Indeed, Thomas goes on to say that “perpetual continence is required for religious perfection.”

* Contrary to claims by Dutch Calvinists, there is no cultural activity in heaven (2.181.4).

Thomas’s Linguistic Fallacies

This type of thinking was quite common until recently.  It’s still painful to read, though. For example, wisdom (sapientia) connotes sweetness because it comes from the word “saporem” (2.45.2).

Further, Thomas commits the word = concept fallacy.  For Thomas “religion” means “religious orders.” Therefore, when James talks about “religion pure and undefiled,” this gives the sanction for man entering into religious orders (2.188.2).

A virtue is an operative habit (I-II, q.55, a2).

Summa Theologica: Part 2 of II

This is something like Thomas’s account of virtue ethics.  Much is good.  Much is quite, quite bad.

Part 2 of Second Part

The glory of the soul, which is the enjoyment of God, is the principle object, not the glory of the body (II.2.18.2).  True to an extent, but it’s not clear why Thomas needs the resurrection for this.

On Charity

There is a kind of friendship based on the communication between God and man (II.2.23.1).

Human acts are good as they are regulated by their due rule and measure (23.4).

Charity is infused in us (24.2). Every act of charity merits everlasting life (II.2.24.6). Mortal sin destroys charity entirely (24.10, 12). The spiritual life is an effect of charity.  Mortal sin destroys that.

Charity is capable of reflecting on itself.  The intellect reflects on the universal good, and since to will is a good, man can will himself to will.  Love, therefore, is a spontaneous movement of the lover to the thing loved (25.2).

While we are obligated to love our enemies, we are not obligated to show them all effects of love (25.9).

Key point: One’s obligation to love another is proportionate to the gravity of the sin one commits in acting against that love (2.26.6).

On Giving Alms

* Some are punished eternally for not giving alms (2.32.5).  By contrast, “almsdeeds deserve to be rewarded eternally through the merit of the recipient, who prays for the giver” (2.32.9).

* God gives us ownership of temporal goods but the use of them is directed to helping our neighbor).

Just War

Standard Augustinian stuff. Thomas gives several conditions: a) authority of the sovereign or leader waging it; b) just cause; c) right intentions.  Tyrannical governments are not just because they threaten the common weal (2.42.2).

The Glory of Monastic Life

For Thomas, It’s possible to go to heaven without being a monk, but it’s a lot harder.  Thomas speaks of being perfect. He doesn’t mean sinless. A thing’s perfection, rather, relates to charity, the consequences from charity, etc (2.186.3). 

Various Nota Bene

* The church can compel secular power with regard to heresy and schism (2.39.4).

* Married sex increases concupiscence and is the contrary of the passage “cleansing ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit” (2.186.4).  He quotes Augustine to the effect that when married people caress one another they are “cast down from manly mind” (Solil. 1.10). Sorry, Reformed Thomists, but this is where the Reformation is a clear improvement.  Indeed, Thomas goes on to say that “perpetual continence is required for religious perfection.”

* Contrary to claims by Dutch Calvinists, there is no cultural activity in heaven (2.181.4). Or so Thomas says.  I still lean towards Schilder.

Thomas’s Linguistic Fallacies

This type of thinking was quite common until recently.  It’s still painful to read, though. For example, wisdom (sapientia) connotes sweetness because it comes from the word “saporem” (2.45.2).

Further, Thomas commits the word = concept fallacy.  For Thomas “religion” means “religious orders.” Therefore, when James talks about “religion pure and undefiled,” this gives the sanction for man entering into religious orders (2.188.2).