Friday, June 28, 2019

The Search for Liberty; Chapter Nine: Compare and Contrast

NB: All previous chapters can be found here.

It is appropriate, I think, to compare and contrast Aristotle and Aquinas and their respective development of Natural Law.  It is clear that Aquinas built on Aristotle.  Did he merely copy uncritically?  Did he differ?  Where and why?

Atkinson begins with a review of the two philosophers.  She then offers a summary examination of the two:

Like Aristotle, Aquinas believed that human beings live for a telos or end, which is eudaimonia.

Eudaimonia…is a Greek word commonly translated as happiness or welfare; however, "human flourishing or prosperity" and "blessedness" have been proposed as more accurate translations.

Etymologically, it is made up of two words: “good” and “spirit.”  It appears to be something much deeper than material happiness, or “if it feels good, do it.”  It is connected to the ideas of virtue and excellence, and a body that embodies this good spirit. 

A definition attributed to Plato: “The good composed of all goods; an ability which suffices for living well; perfection in respect of virtue; resources sufficient for a living creature.”  The “good” for a thing, including for humans, is determined by its essence, or Form.  The problem?  Everyone has their own definition of goodness, happiness, or blessedness. 

Thomas went further in explaining the term Eudaimonia – it has much more depth than “happiness”; Thomas used the word Beatitudo: supreme happiness, blessedness, a blessed condition, beatitude.  As previously examined, this is defined as the happiness that comes from seeing the good in others and doing the good for others. It is, in essence, other-regarding action.  In other words, nothing like what “happiness” means today.

Both philosophers identified man’s ability to reason as both unique and an important characteristic in order to attain the highest virtue.  For Aristotle, the ability to reason was at the pinnacle; for Thomas, theology was at the top – God placed a soul in man.  Both agreed that humans should strive for eudaimonia.  Aristotle believed man was capable of this on his own; Thomas did not.

Aquinas…believed that God was leading human beings to a rational, moral life, while Aristotle believed that being moral was naturally inherent in human beings.

Don DeMarco further examines this difference, in an essay entitled Aristotle and Aquinas: The Vital Difference:

The difference between the ethics of Aristotle and Aquinas has to do with how virtue comes about. … Perhaps Aristotle overestimated our capacity to be reasonable and under-estimated the importance of love. Whereas Aristotle links virtue to reason, Aquinas links it more properly to love.

Which brings me back to Plato’s Form of the Good and Jesus being the perfect embodiment of this Form.  The end or purpose for man is happiness, beatitudo. Jesus – even for those who do not believe Him to be the Son of God – was a good and wise man, a moral teacher; despite the West having killed God a couple of centuries ago, Jesus is still recognized in this supreme position.  What did Jesus offer as beatitudo: supreme happiness; a blessed condition?

Matthew 22:36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”  37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  38 This is the first and greatest commandment.  39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Again, I am not writing anything about punishment or the justification of violence; I am not making a leap from Natural Law to the prison cell.  In other words, I haven’t yet come to the “libertarian” portion of this study.  I am just getting at Natural Law and the end, or purpose, of this being we know as “human.”  Without understanding this, there is no point to discuss natural law, the rights derived from this, and a political theory intended for liberty.

So, what of this love?  How does it fit into this narrative?  Man has always had a violent and destructive side; however rarely was this violence and destruction given justification by man’s philosophies – all major religions throughout history included some version of the Golden Rule. 

I am not suggesting that there are not those who claim religious justification for violence.  I am suggesting that many of the world’s major religions have at their core something else: The Golden Rule, or beatitudo. 

The Enlightenment fully freed man’s reason from God.  Post-Enlightenment “reason” has given us many man-made philosophies, all of which have been used as justification for violence and destruction – no Golden Rule.

Aristotle has not proven sufficient to achieve happiness: beatitudo.  Reason without God is reason with no foundation.  It is difficult to imagine liberty – or the individual – surviving or even being found without a foundation under reason.  Aquinas offers that foundation.

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