Morals- are they speculative or practical knowledge? It’s a question I have always wondered myself. Let’s face it, there is so much questioning about morals and morality these days, and I think this is so because our culture is so value- relativized we cannot agree on simple, basic ideas of what is wrong or right, good,, evil and so on anymore. The utter confusion compels us to think alot about morality, and that is a good thing, as least I think so.
We are in good company because as Dr. Richard Geraghty points out, Thomists are not in agreement themselves on the question whether morality is speculative or practical. The good news is that his work begins with thoughtful, easy to follow claims which are backed up with plenty of arguments from sources such as Henri Renard, Maritain, Odin Lottin, Vernon Rourke, Ralph McInerny and the master himself, St. Thomas Aquinas.
His very thought provoking thesis, “The Object of Moral Philosophy according to St Thomas Aquinas,” is no longer in print unfortunately. I asked him on his Q & A forum on ewtn.com/philosophy how I could obtain a copy, and he graciously sent me a copy of his manuscript. Many thanks, Dr. Geraghty.
For this post, I’ll open with a question in part I:
“How can the great variety of opinion among the scholars be accounted for? A quick review of Lottin’s introduction to his book, “Principes de morale” reveals the source of the difficulties. Lotting begins by citing Aristotle, who states that speculative science has for its goal the knowledge of truth while practical knowledge has for its goal action. Lottin then refers to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in which moral science is defined as practical. The implication is, quite correctly, that Aristotle defines the practical nature of moral science in the light of a twofold distinction between speculative and practical science in general.” pg.2
Wow, I don’t know about you, but I have not considered morality a purely practical science, for the simple reason that quite a bit of thought is required (for me at least) to discern what actions are good and right, bad and so on in the first place. But as Dr. Geraghty gets further in the work, he makes a distinction (per Aquinas) between the pondering aspect of morality from the actionaspect of morality, while at the same time retaining both aspects. Intrigued????
Stay tuned for a breakdown of ‘moral science’ and ‘speculative science’ (pg 10).
Dr. Richard Geraghty is professor of philosophy at St. Joseph’s House of Studies, the college-level facility of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Eternal Word, at EWTN. Prior to coming to EWTN, Dr. Geraghty taught philosophy for 18 years at the University of Dayton, Providence College, and St. John’s College Seminary. Dr. Geraghty earned his BA in philosophy at the University of Dayton, an MA in English from Ohio State University, and his MA and PhD in philosophy from the University of Toronto.
Copyright 2014. All rights reserved. Dr. Richard Geraghty.