As we may have mentioned once or twice, we occasionally get questions from our readers. When these are substantive — as most of them are (the complainers just issue, er, complaints and then run away) — we can use our answers as blog postings. This saves us a lot of work, or at least some brain time trying to think up something that will instruct as well as edify without offending too many people except for modernists, socialists, and New Agers . . . but they’re offended all the time, anyway.
|Man is defined by his capacity for virtue|
This was actually a series of questions, nine in all. As we covered the material in depth in previous postings, we answered them with brief clarifications. Most of the issues seemed to be semantic, so we only need to give brief responses.
1. I have never heard of defining human person as capable of acquiring virtues. I consulted some books on Catholic Social Teaching and Catholic Ethics and have not found such a definition.
All the books and teachers we know of on Catholic social teaching and ethics take for granted one of two things. Either that human beings are defined by their “analogously complete” capacity to acquire and develop virtues, or reject that principle, which is fundamental to Aristotelian-Thomism.
Fortunately, CESJ is interfaith and can go straight to Aristotle and Aquinas (who corrected Aristotle) without worrying about anyone’s flawed interpretation or assumptions about Catholic teaching, the Bible, or anything else except “the statements of the philosophers themselves.” It is, frankly, a sad comment on much of what passes for “authentic” Catholic social teaching these days that many people assume as a given that the collective (an abstract idea created by man) has rights and virtues that man created by God does not have.
|All men are equal in their capacity for virtue.|
This is a very serious problem, as it leads directly to socialism and capitalism, and away from personalism. The idea of human beings defined by their capacity for virtue is found in Aquinas’s “analogy of being.” It is a very difficult concept to grasp as Aquinas explains it, so many people, even the experts, ignore it. We have tried to make it easy to understand, but it is the very foundation of Catholic social teaching as well as the natural law and the Just Third Way, even if the experts don’t acknowledge it.
2. The point above does not mean that what you said is untrue. It makes sense to me. You said it best in some other post, i.e., “Consistent with humanity’s political nature, society exists for one purpose only: to provide the environment within which the human person ordinarily acquires and develops virtue — pursues the good life — thereby fitting him- or herself for the end for which humanity was created.”
When someone agrees with us, we’re not going to argue. Much.
3. The definition of human person is so crucial that I need to learn more about it. Where can I read more about a human person as capable of acquiring virtues?
We are almost finished with a book that might help. If you don’t want to wait and can find a good translation (unless you read ancient Greek!) Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics and the Politics go into this, although Aristotle made the mistake of assuming the capacity each human being has to acquire and develop virtue is different. This is one of the errors Aquinas corrected: each human being’s capacity to be virtuous is “analogously complete” with all other human beings.
4. Your definition covers unborn human beings which is very good.
|All humans are equally human.|
Yes. Potential humans and actual humans are both stages of being (an application of the analogy of being) and are thus both fully human and human in the same way as all other humans. This is the first principle of reason, on which Aquinas based his analogy of being: “That which is true is as true, and is true in the same way as everything else that is true.” Unfortunately, today people often confuse the fact that there are different truths with the error that truth is not always true.
5. Your definition poses a problem in one respect, however. It does not cover human beings that are permanently unconscious, for example, somebody after a severe accident who is in a coma. Such a person is not able to develop virtues anymore, ergo, under your definition, is not a human being anymore. I realize that this is an extreme case, but philosophers traditionally test validity of their concepts in extreme cases.
We disagree. We think our definition covers all human beings, even unconscious ones in a coma. The definition is that all human beings have an analogously complete capacity to acquire and develop virtue. This does not change just because particular human beings are unable to develop that capacity. That’s why it’s the capacity for virtue that defines human beings, not the actual virtues or vices they acquire and develop. Both people in comas and evil people are human beings and human in the same way as everyone else.
That covers the first five comments and questions. We’ll address the remaining four when we take up this subject again.#30#