In classic Thomist philosophy, as we saw in the previous posting on this subject, the four natural virtues are temperance, fortitude, prudence, and — above all — justice. According to Aristotle (and thus Aquinas), the capacity to acquire and develop these virtues is built into human nature. No one is human without the capacity to acquire and develop these virtues, for that capacity (which is the good common to every human being) is what defines human beings as human beings.
|Not virtue, but the capacity for virtue.|
It is important to note that it is not having virtue that defines human beings as human beings, but having the capacity for virtue. Were it otherwise, infants and others who developed vice instead of virtue, or who did not have enough virtue or the kinds of virtue to satisfy some critics, would not be considered human. That, of course, is impossible, for it would violate the first principle of reason to say that someone can be non-human or partially human based on the degree and kind of virtue he or she possesses.
In its “negative” statement, the first principle of reason is the “law of (non) contradiction”: nothing can both “be” and “not be” at the same time under the same conditions. Thus, to say that someone is partially human — i.e., part human and part non-human — is a contradiction in terms. It thereby violates the first principle of reason.
Nor does this change when the matter of degree is potential humanness versus actual humanness. A potential human being is as fully human as an actual human being; a fetus, an infant, a child, an adult, and an elderly individual are all fully human, and are human in the same way, as all other humans.
|Eventually the instigator gets taken down, too. . . .|
That, in fact, is the “positive” statement of the first principle of reason: the “law of identity”: that which is true is as true, and is true in the same way, as everything else that is true. Someone can be a more fully developed human being, but no one can be more or less fully human than anyone else, or he or she isn’t human at all — and it also violates reason to say that a human being can be non-human at the same time under the same conditions. . . .
Evidently, when reason is violated, there is something of a domino effect.
Now, the reason for this discussion is to make it clear that the capacity for the natural virtues of temperance, fortitude, prudence, and justice defines human beings as human beings. This is necessary, for we must understand the natural virtues before we can go on to the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and charity.
|Supernatural is above the natural.|
This is because where the capacity for the natural virtues is part of human nature (hence “natural”), the capacity for the supernatural virtues — at least according to Aquinas — is infused into human nature by God as a free gift to every human being (Aristotle had different thoughts on the subject that we need not go into here). The capacity for the supernatural virtues is thus “above nature” or super-natural.
The distinction between natural virtue and supernatural virtue is important in Thomism. Because it is “above nature,” supernatural virtue absolutely requires the existence of natural virtue as its foundation. Having supernatural virtue without natural virtue is like having a roof without a house. A house without a roof is incomplete, just as justice without charity is incomplete, but a roof without a house — charity without justice — is completely meaningless, even counterproductive, for what use is a roof that doesn’t cover anything? It’s rather like Alice’s grin without a cat.
Unfortunately, charity and justice have been confused for the past two hundred years. This has been a disaster, as it changes not merely the meaning and purpose of life, but the definition of human being.
|John Paul I: Charity no substitute for justice.|
In justice, we can only punish people for what they have done, not for what they might do, for their characteristics, or because we find them inconvenient. This is because all human beings are equally human, and all have the same capacity to acquire and develop virtue, i.e., to become more fully human, and thus all have equal natural rights to life, liberty, and private property. All human beings are thus automatically persons by nature, “natural persons” with inherent rights to life, liberty, and private property.
Someone is important and has dignity not merely for what he or she has become, but for what he or she can become. Charity fulfills justice, it does not replace it. Paradoxically (and to oversimplify), charity looks to results while justice looks to opportunity. In classical philosophy and theology, then, what is important is access to the opportunity and means to become virtuous, not necessarily acquiring and developing one’s full capacity for virtue. All human beings are in that sense “works in progress.”
That is why charity fulfills justice. Justice demands that everyone have equal access to the opportunity and means to become virtuous. It does not demand that people actually be virtuous. Yes, people should be punished — appropriately and judiciously — when they commit vicious acts, but not because they have a lack of virtue. They should only be punished if their vicious acts cause material and provable harm. You can’t punish someone for being greedy, but you can punish someone for stealing out of greed — as long as you understand that you are punishing him or her for the theft, not for being greedy!
When someone has full access to the opportunity and means to become virtuous and fails — for whatever reason — only then does charity step in to make up where justice may have been lacking. Again, charity does not in this way invalidate or replace justice, but completes or fulfills justice.
|Yeah, he said it, too.|
This is why charity and social justice are often confused these days. Charity is concerned not with the failure of justice, but its completion or perfection. Social justice is concerned with the failure of justice. If justice fails to function due to flaws in the system, the proper response is to organize in social justice to correct the flaw in the system so that justice functions properly, not to try and provide what justice should have or would have provided had it been operating properly.
Yes, charity must often provide for people until social justice takes effect and corrects the system. That, however, is a temporary expedient until justice can once again function. It is not a permanent solution.
All of this is reversed when we redefine charity and justice, and assume that the meaning and purpose of life is individual or social betterment. Whether one is a capitalist or a socialist, mere material betterment is not the meaning and purpose of life.
|Something seems to have gotten lost in translation. . . .|
There is nothing wrong with becoming materially better, of course, but it must be done in a way that does not violate the rights of anyone. The end does not justify the means, even if you call what you’re doing justice, charity, or social justice. “Charity” that violates justice is not true charity, while “social justice” that violates justice and charity is simply wrong.
Thus, by defining human beings by their effectiveness in carrying out individual or social betterment (as the capitalists and socialists do) we end up defining human beings by the virtues or vices they acquire. Someone is what he or she is, and that means you can justly eliminate anyone who does not measure up to some predetermined standard you have set.
Nowhere is this seen more graphically than in abortion. A woman may have a right to her own body (we’re not debating that), but she does not have a right to anyone else’s. A potential human is as fully human as an actual human, and therefore has the same capacity to become more fully human.
|Yes, but what's your economic agenda?|
That being the case, both potential humans and actual humans are natural persons and have the same natural rights, even though they may not have the capacity to exercise them, any more than a blind man can exercise his right to drive a car or a woman in a coma can vote. In Roe v. Wade (1973), however, the United States Supreme Court claimed that the Court did not know whether or not a fetus is a human being, but that it is not a “person” as that term is meant in the U.S. Constitution.
This is simply bad jurisprudence as well as execrable logic, as the U.S. Constitution takes for granted that all human beings are automatically persons with rights. The Fourteenth Amendment was adopted in part to strengthen this point, but was nullified in 1873 by the Court to enhance its own power.
This brings us almost full circle back to our original question: does the State have the duty to provide for everyone’s needs — making everyone a “mere creature of the State” and a person by State fiat — or are human beings persons with natural rights, and the State’s primary duty is not to care for people, but to make it possible for them to care for themselves?
That is what we will look at in our next posting on this subject.