Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Summa Theologica - Thomas Aquinas

Summa Theologica is a heavy, heavy bit of work.  This is literally true, as Thomas Aquinas is one of only four authors who get two volumes in the Great Books series.  The others are Shakespeare, Gibbon and Aristotle, whom Aquinas most resembles.
The format for Summa is very interesting.  Aquinas follows these steps:

  • Ask a general question
  • Break that question into smaller questions
  • Provide several (numbered) objections to the smaller questions
  • Cite some pushback from a respected philosopher or theologian
  • Answer the question by his own reasoning
  • Respond to each of the objection in particular
This is a brilliant set up and frankly I'd like to see it done with more modern topics.  An opinion piece about a topic like, say, gun control, would benefit greatly from the feeling that the author has a full understanding of both sides of the argument.  It's hard to argue that Aquinas wasn't on topic of his topics.  
Having said that, the arguments have moved quite some space from the time that Aquinas was writing.  His first question, "Whether Law is Something Pertaining to Reason", seems quaint.  Of course the law is connected to reason.  Can you imagine trying to argue the counter to that?  The objections given are wholly unconvincing.
Objection 1: It would seem that law is not something pertaining to reason. For the Apostle says (Rom. 7:23): "I see another law in my members," etc. But nothing pertaining to reason is in the members; since the reason does not make use of a bodily organ. Therefore law is not something pertaining to reason.
Obj. 2: Further, in the reason there is nothing else but power, habit and act. But law is not the power itself of reason. In like manner, neither is it a habit of reason: because the habits of reason are the intellectual virtues of which we have spoken above. Nor again is it an act of reason: because then law would cease, when the act of reason ceases, for instance, while we are asleep. Therefore law is nothing pertaining to reason.
Obj 3: Further, the law moves those who are subject to it to act aright. But it belongs properly to the will to move to act, as is evident from what has been said above. Therefore law pertains, not to the reason, but to the will; according to the words of the Jurist: "Whatsoever pleaseth the sovereign, has force of law."
Aquinas answers well to these objections:
I answer that, Law is a rule and measure of acts, whereby man is induced to act or is restrained from acting: for lex (law) is derived from ligare (to bind), because it binds one to act. Now the rule and measures of human acts is the reason, which is the first principle of human acts, as is evident from what has been stated above; since it belongs to the reason to direct to the end, which is the first principle in all matters of actions, according to the Philosopher (Aristotle Phys ii.). Now that which is the principle in any genus, is the rule and measure of that genus: for instance, unity in the genus of numbers, and the first movement in the genus of movements. Consequently it follows that law is something pertaining to reason.
'Now the rule and measures of human acts is the reason, which is the first principle of human acts'.  In other words, we make rules and measures with our reason.  This is true even if different groups of people make different rules.  Each group relies on reason to make rules.  This is true even when those people sleep.  And we no longer have monarchs (sovereigns) that make their laws by whim.  But even then 'it needs to be in accord with some rule of reason'.
Overall, this was pretty heavy reading and I often wished that I was going through each question with someone else so that we could discuss them.  Not the first time that I've wished that with this reading list and I'm sure it won't be the last.

No comments:

Post a Comment