Aquinas and political freedom
#1
OK, another point from my class discussion on Aquinas (this is the last one, I promise... :) )

So, we've been covering Aquinas's ideas on human law, which he says trains man's natural aptitude for virtue (Summa Theologica, I-II, 95,1).  This led to two questions for discussion:

First, how exactly can a government encourage the development of virtue in ways other than punishing the wicked?

Second, can Aquinas's ideas on government coexist in a society that believes that the role of government is to protect human freedom?

Have fun!  ;D
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#2
What society is it to which you are referring when you ask if Aquinas's ideas can coexist?

Certainly not the US.  The perceived role of government, at least at this time, and by its leaders, is that government should actively promote and participate in the fulfillment of each individual's potential, simultaneously prescribing his avenues for doing so and providing the material means for it.

This, clearly, is government in a positive role - "positive" not being synonymous with "good" here, but with "active".

The true role of government should be negative, providing the conditions under which personal freedom may flourish, but not involving itself in guaranteeing that personal freedom MUST flourish.  "Negative" here does not mean "bad" but "noninterventionist".

In other words, it is the correct role of government to provide the rule of law and national security, so that those who desire to take advantage of freedom's opportunities may do so.

It is not the correct role of government (except under the Progressive agenda) to watch out for those who do not, will not, or cannot take advantage of freedom's opportunities, and use government resources to help them along.

With which role of society do you see an issue with Aquinas coexisting?
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#3
DS --

But Aquinas's view of government is not "entirely negative."  He seems to be saying (and I may be misinterpreting him here) that the government has a positive role in creating virtuous habits.  This would certainly imply that he would place government not just as the  maintainer of earthly peace, but also as a force for what later generations might call "social engineering," a situation in which political freedom has usuallybeen sacrificed for the desired end. 

My question was meant to discuss whether or not Aquinas's view of the state could coexist with Locke's views on which the United States was founded, not on modern interpretations. 
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#4
(02-19-2010, 06:02 PM)Pilgrim Wrote: OK, another point from my class discussion on Aquinas (this is the last one, I promise... :) )

So, we've been covering Aquinas's ideas on human law, which he says trains man's natural aptitude for virtue (Summa Theologica, I-II, 95,1).  This led to two questions for discussion:

First, how exactly can a government encourage the development of virtue in ways other than punishing the wicked?

Well, one simple way is by rewarding the good.  That can be tax incentives, interest-free loans for good causes, orphanages instead of abortion, etc.  Another way is promoting the truth since the truth naturally leads to virtue.  From Plato, men seek the good naturally.  If people truly knew the good, they would move more in that direction.  This leads in to my other answer below...

Quote:Second, can Aquinas's ideas on government coexist in a society that believes that the role of government is to protect human freedom?

That question presupposes a lot, and a whole paper could be written on it, but here's the gist of my take...

Yes, if human freedom is defined as the freedom to seek the truth which is God.  The truth will set you free.  Protecting people from falling prey to heresy, evil, etc., allows them the freedom to seek God without being swindled.

If we do not know the truth, we are not really free since we are making an uninformed choice.  If we are lied to and told Lutheranism is the way to go along with being told Catholicism is the way to go, we are not truly free because we are making a decision based on bad information.

When a government proclaims the Church as the Truth and tolerates other religions as necessary for the peace, etc., then we are making an informed choice - we are truly free to choose.

Say you were going to buy a car.  There are two cars, A and B, same price, make and model.  Both cars say "driven only on Sundays by a little old lady".  So, you choose A.  It turns out it was used by rumrunners and the transmission falls apart in a week.

But now there is a law that says you can sell crappy cars, but you have to tell the truth.  So now car A says "driven like crazy by a rumrunner - might last a week" and B says "driven only on Sundays by a little old lady - near mint condition".  Obviously, you would pick B.  You had true freedom to choose because the government required the truth even though it tolerated selling crappy cars for those who choose to buy them.

I hope this is for personal thinking and we're not helping you do homework....  :shame:
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#5
The Analects of Confucius Wrote:The Master said, "If the people be led by laws, and uniformity sought to be given them by punishments, they will try to avoid the punishment, but have no sense of shame.

"If they be led by virtue, and uniformity sought to be given them by the rules of propriety, they will have the sense of shame, and moreover will become good."


I think it would be wrong to imagine medieval philosophers or political theorists teaching libertarianism. I'm not good at philosophy and I haven't read a lot of scholastic works, but it seems that bigger government was considered desirable even in Aquinas' time. The fact that the government didn't interfere much in the life of a 14th century peasant doesn't indicate that philosophers necessarily thought that was good; merely that it was part of the reality of feudalism.
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#6
(02-19-2010, 11:02 PM)Pilgrim Wrote: My question was meant to discuss whether or not Aquinas's view of the state could coexist with Locke's views on which the United States was founded, not on modern interpretations. 

OK, gotcha, that's what I was trying to get to.  Lazy Saturday today, so I hope I can write up a good post on Locke vs. Aquinas.
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#7
(02-19-2010, 06:02 PM)Pilgrim Wrote: First, how exactly can a government encourage the development of virtue in ways other than punishing the wicked?

In our overtaxing world using the resources for virtuous cases: to promote sound environment, help virtuous family life, help the poor etc

Quote:Second, can Aquinas's ideas on government coexist in a society that believes that the role of government is to protect human freedom?

The answer is in the definition of human freedom. That is limited, and should serve the proper hierarchy of the values: God, Church (and immortal souls) - the world as whole - communities (nations, families) - individual mosrtal life - material goods for individuals

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#8
(02-20-2010, 12:02 AM)QuisUtDeus Wrote: I hope this is for personal thinking and we're not helping you do homework....  :shame:

Well, since I'm the teacher and not the student, you may put your mind to rest. :)  The issue came up and I thought you guys might like to chew on it for a while...
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#9
(02-20-2010, 12:02 AM)QuisUtDeus Wrote: Well, one simple way is by rewarding the good.   That can be tax incentives, interest-free loans for good causes, orphanages instead of abortion, etc.  Another way is promoting the truth since the truth naturally leads to virtue.  From Plato, men seek the good naturally.  If people truly knew the good, they would move more in that direction.  This leads in to my other answer below...

My students mentioned this and it led to a big discussion on whether intention mattered when it came to virtuous behavior.  If you are are doing something good for an earthly reward, is that really virtuous?
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#10
(02-20-2010, 12:02 AM)QuisUtDeus Wrote: “If we do not know the truth, we are not really free since we are making an uninformed choice.  If we are lied to and told Lutheranism is the way to go along with being told Catholicism is the way to go, we are not truly free because we are making a decision based on bad information.

“When a government proclaims the Church as the Truth and tolerates other religions as necessary for the peace, etc., then we are making an informed choice - we are truly free to choose.”

Your argument would be cogent if there was some truth value in what governments say.  To the contrary, there is not.  Indeed, what governments say correlates to what’s in the government’s self interest which is inversely correlated to the truth.

I think all of the governed know and have known this in all non-theocracies.  So, unless we were governed by a Moses or a pope, (in which case proclaiming the one true Church would be an academic exercise) your argument that the government should declare Catholicism as the one true Church would be counterproductive.  Such a move would most naturally evoke suspicion and resentment and strife.  Even if I am wrong on this count, I think you are wrong to claim that such a secular declaration would constitute “informed choice” on the part of the governed. – Sincerely, Albert Cipriani
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