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«Truthfulness,.the Common Good, and the Hierarchy of Goods A. Leo White An ongoing debate among natural law theorists concerns the way in which the ...»

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Truthfulness,.the Common Good, and the

Hierarchy of Goods

A. Leo White

An ongoing debate among natural law theorists concerns the way in

which the various basic goods are related to each other. St. Thomas maintains that the ultimate good ofhuman beings is the beatific vision. It follows

that any action is good inasmuch as it leads one toward this goal, while an

action is evil if it leads one away. Germain Grisez laments the way in which

many post-Suarezian or "conventional" natural law theorists have used this understanding of the ultimate human end as a foundation for their natural law theory. According to Grisez, they have attempted to derive basic moral principles by combining a theoretical knowledge of human nature with the knowledge that God wills that we achieve the fulfillment ofthat nature.' By seeking to act in conformity with the natural purposes of one's faculties, one fulfills the divine will, and this in tum leads to the attainment of the beatific vision.

This attempt at natural law theory leads to an otherworldly attitude, says Grisez, for the goods of this life have all been instrumentalized for the sake of religion, that is, obedience to the will of God. 2 His own theory avoids this otherworldliness by claiming that each basic human good is

1. Germain Grisez, "The First Principle of Practical Reason: A Commentary on the Summa Theologiae, Question 94, Article 2," Natural Law Forum 10 (1965), p. 193; The Way ofthe Lord Jesus, vol. 1; Christian Moral Principles (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1983), p. 104.

2. Grisez, Christian Moral Principles, pp. 17, 25.

138 A. LEO WHITE irreducible. 3 Hence while it may be true that religion is among the basic human goods, there are other ones as well, and their goodness is not deduced from their relation to the good of religion. Many Thomists have criticized Grisez for the way in which he puts the good of religion on the same level as that of play, another one of the basic goods in Grisez's scheme. 4 Hittinger, for example, points out important reasons for Aquinas's claim that religion "commands all other virtues." 5 This paper goes beyond the discussion of how religion is related to other basic goods, proposing that one can see the interrelationships among all genera of goods once one has looked at them under the light of the common good. The term "common good" has a broader meaning in this essay than it does in St. Thomas's own writings. Aquinas's treatise on law in the Summa Theologiae correlates the common good with law. According to this treatise, every type of law-be it eternal, natural, human, or divine-has its corresponding common good or end. In fact, even the participation by non-rational creatures in the Eternal Law has God as their common good. What this article proposes, however, is that the correlates of the different kinds of law ·are not the only species of common goods, for virtuous self-love and friendship likewise aim at a common good. Only by looking at these as common goods are we able to discern how the various genera of goods are related to each other.

The argument proceeds in two stages. First, it establishes an essential, twofold link between each sort of common good and the pursuit and expression of truth. That is, truthfulness is always motivated by the desire to attain a common good of some sort; conversely one can attain each sort of common good only inasmuch as the seeker is truthful. For example, virtuous self-love requires self-honesty or authenticity, and friendship requires honesty toward others.

After looking at the various levels of common good and showing how each is essentially linked with some type of truthfulness, the paper examines how the various types of common goods are related to each other. It argues that for Aquinas the inclination toward a more universal common good encompasses and perfects the inclination toward a more particular common good. Consequently, the quest for God as the common good of the universe encompasses and elevates the desire to live in society as well

–  –  –

as all other desires. This broader application of the term "common good" thereby makes it possible for one to identify a hierarchy among basic human goods, while avoiding the sort of instrumentalizing of the lower good to the higher one that Grisez associates with conventional natural law theory.

Authentic Self-love

In his Commentary on the Nichomachean Ethics and in the Summa Theologiae, Aquinas echoes Aristotle's analysis of how a virtuous person is first of all a friend of his self. 6 Here we find a microcosmic analog to the common good. Consider how two friends share time together with each other and agree about what is painful and pleasant. These two characteristics are found in the self-love of a virtuous person as well. That is, he too enjoys spending time with himself inasmuch as he takes pleasure in reflecting upon his past, present and future. And just as two friends share joys and sorrows together, so too does a virtuous human find a kind of agreement between his sentient and rational appetitive principles. 7 These two ways in which a virtuous person is a friend to himself seem to be interrelated. For the virtuous person distinguishes himself from the vicious one precisely by seeking the good of his whole life, and "whole life" here includes not only the events of his past, present and future, but also his sensory and intellectual operations. In fact, these two are interrelated: a life as a temporal whole and the whole of that life as formed by sense and intellect. In order to illustrate how they are interrelated, we should contrast the self-love of the virtuous person with the self-hatred that can be found in a particular kind of vicious person: one who is over-indulgent.





An over-indulgent person seeks what is sensually pleasing to the sense of touch while disregarding the relationship between pleasure and the rational good. He seeks the good ut nunc (as something to be had right now) rather than the good simply inasmuch as it is good, or bonum simpliciter (good without qualification). In this manner, he treats himself as if he were an animal. 8 It might be more accurate to say that he treats himself as if he were an imperfect animal, that is, one without memory or foresight. For even perfect animals (i.e., those with memory and anticipation) do a better

6. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae [henceforth SI], 11-11, q. 25, a. 7, c.; In Decem

Libras Ethicorum Aristotelis ad Nichomachum Expositio [henceforth In Nich.] (Turin:

Marietti, 1949), IX, lee. 9.

7. In Nich., IX, lee. 4, pars. 1808-9.

8. In Nich., IX, lee. 8, par. 1864.

140 A. LEO WHITE job of managing pleasures than over-indulgent humans. Perfect animals engage in painful or at least non-gratifying behavior when they expect it to lead to some anticipated good. Even though higher brutes cannot grasp order as such, they are naturally guided by instinctive judgment and appetite to act in an orderly manner. But like Callicles in the Gorgias, 9 the over-indulgent person rejects order in his life. In seeking immediate gratification, the over-indulgent person avoids thinking about the past and future significance of his actions. That is, he refuses to think about his life as a temporal whole, seeking pleasure here and now instead. 10 And in refusing to go beyond the present moment in his considerations, he refuses to consider what is good simpliciter.

The self-controlled person, on the other hand, has learned to distinguish the good simpliciter from the good ut nunc as a result of thinking holistically. That is, by relating his present to his past and future he discerns that the good of sense is ordered toward the good of reason. In other words, a person with goodwill toward himself recognizes that the sensory inclinations are good only to the degree that they are ordered toward the good of his whole life. This recognition involves a special kind of truthfulness, which we could call "authenticity" or being honest to oneself. Only a person with this virtue of authenticity is able to integrate his sensory and rational appetite and thereby enjoy the good simpliciter.

Thus we see that there is a close relationship between truthfulness and the common good, broadly conceived. For the virtuous person seeks the truth about his own well-being precisely because he regards his whole life as a kind of common good which he wishes to possess.

Love between Friends

The sine qua non of friendship is goodwill, i.e., the wish that the other person live well. Friends not only have goodwill; they also consistently act to achieve each other's well being. One should not suppose, however, that each friend acts in a manner that is utterly altruistic or selfoblivious. That is, one who acts for the sake of a friend need not forget about his own well-being. On the contrary, one's own well-being is furthered through acts of friendship. But that is not to say that one benefits a friend for the sake of some consequence beneficial to oneself. On the contrary, friendship in the fullest sense of the term does not involve one's

9. Plato Gorgias 492a.

10. In Nich., IX, lee. 4, par. 1816.

THE HIERARCHY OF Goons instrumentalizing the other person. Instead of either using the other or forgetting about one's own well-being, a friend identifies his own good with the good of the other. 11 The core of the life of friendship seems to consist in what we might call collaboration or "cooperative ventures." That is, friendship germinates and grows only when friends act in concert in performing acts consonant with virtue. The goal of these collaborations typically seems to be some good other than friendship itself: friends who go skiing together, for example, enjoy the many things that happen during a skiing event as a concrete good enjoyed by both together. But we must add that the cooperation itself is a kind of common good, for both find it natural and enjoyable to act together. That is because the joint acts of friendship give one a chance to enjoy one's own excellence as reflected in one's friend. Furthermore, one enjoys one's own acts of self-generosity toward one's "other self." 12 Aquinas points out that friends deliberate with each other. 13 I would argue that this remark is a bit of an understatement because deliberation is just one phase in practical reasoning, and friends seem to deliberate together only because they have already apprehended the same goal.

Furthermore, they typically deliberate because they also anticipate collaborating on the ends they seek. It follows that not just deliberation but the entire spectrum of practical reasoning tends to overlap between friends.

And this overlapping underscores how truthfulness is a necessary condition for the cooperation that lies at the core of friendship. For friends cannot act together for the same goal unless they think together, and they cannot think together unless they communicate honestly. The cognitive, affective, and operative unity achieved by friends in their common pursuits is therefore rooted in truthfulness. And since one enjoys friendship itself as a good only after having reflected on this unity, it follows that one enjoys friendship itself as a common good only inasmuch as one believes that, as friends, they have been truthful to each other.

We could summarize the relationship between truthfulness and friendship in the following manner: ( 1) the desire to attain a common good motivates friends to communicate in a truthful manner; (2) friends act as one only to the degree that there is truthfulness; and (3) one can enjoy the acts of friendship only to the degree that one perceives that both friends' interactions have been grounded in honesty.

11. In Nich., IX, lee. 8 par. 1860, Aquinas describes friendship as a kind of oneness.

12. ST, I-ll, q. 4, a. 8, c.

13. ST, 1-11, q. 14, a. 3, ad 4.

142 A. LEO WHITE

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Aquinas informs us that there is a parallel between the way in which the ability to think abstractly enables members of society to communicate with each other, and the way in which it enables them to work together for the common good. This parallel illustrates how truthfulness and the common good are interrelated at the societal level.

With animal communication, non-rational animals are guided by instinctive judgment. Although this instinctive judgment is a kind ofparticipation in reason, these animals do not possess reason's grasp of what is universal.

Therefore, they seek only particular goods at a particular place and time.

Humans too seek particular goods, but they do so under a universal formality.14 That is, they pursue particular goods qua participating in the universal good. This difference has consequences for the ways in which humans and other social animals communicate. Because brutes rely upon sentient cognition-which is concerned with the here and now-they can only communicate with one who is present here and now. But humans, as Aquinas points out in his Commentary on Aristotle sDe Interpretatione, are capable of intellectual cognition, which abstracts from the here and now. This abstraction enables humans to consider future and distant objects. Aquinas says therefore that only humans resort to writing because only an animal capable of abstraction would bother to communicate with those who are remote in time and place. 15 This ability to communicate with those who are absent, says Aquinas at the beginning of his Commentary on the Politics, is closely related to the human abilty to recognize what is just and unjust. That is, brutes can convey only how they feel here and now, while humans can talk about what is useful and harmful as such. Therefore, he concludes, humans and not brutes can thematize the good and the bad, the just and the unjust. 16 The parochial way in which non-rational animals think and operate is most apparent in those cases in which an animal is hostile toward those that do not belong to its group, even though they may be of the same species. It is proper to non-rational animals qua non-rational to be friendly only towards those with whom they are familiar and hostile

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