Gabriele De Anna

title.none: Sherwin, By Knowledge & By Love (Gabriele De Anna)

identifier.other: baj9928.0602.019 06.02.19

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Gabriele De Anna, University of Udine,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Sherwin, Michael S. By Knowledge & By Love: Charity and Knowledge in the Moral Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2005. Pp. xxiii, 270. $54.95 (hb). ISBN: 0-8132-1393-2.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.02.19

Sherwin, Michael S. By Knowledge & By Love: Charity and Knowledge in the Moral Theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2005. Pp. xxiii, 270. $54.95 (hb). ISBN: 0-8132-1393-2.

Reviewed by:

Gabriele De Anna
University of Udine

The focus of this informed, lucid and readable book, which was originally presented as a PhD thesis at the University of Notre Dame, is the vexed question of the interrelation between intellect and will in Thomas Aquinas. This traditional issue is tackled from an original perspective, which originates within current debates. Some contemporary theologians (the author calls them "theologians of moral motivation", and mentions Karl Rahner and Josef Fuchs) affirm that the acts of charity are independent from the knowledge which characterises practical reason: they contrast the goodness of an agent, which depends on his "transcendental" freedom and on his fundamental option--i.e., the decision whether to love God-- with the rightness of his actions, which result from contingencies concerning his psychology and his epistemic standpoint. According to this line of thought, an agent could be morally good even if he performs wrong actions, since the wrongness of his actions could depend on features of his psychology and of his epistemic standpoint which elude his control, and, thus, his responsibility; as far as his fundamental option remains directed towards God, he is morally good. Recently, some scholars--Sherwin refers to Josef Fuchs and James Keenan--have argued that, in the latest stages of his work, Aquinas held a view of this kind.

Sherwin claims that this interpretation is problematic. Moral philosophers working in the analytic tradition suggested that a human virtuous act presupposes and depends on the knowledge of relevant facts (Sherwin here mentions Iris Murdoch, Martha Nussbaum, Elisabeth Anscombe, and Alsadair MacIntyre). This opens a question of Thomistic interpretation. Aquinas considers charity--i.e., love for God received by man through Grace--a virtue, but this cannot be so if it is true both that the virtues depend on knowledge--as moral philosophers claim--and that charity is on the knowledge-independent level of "transcendental" freedom--as theologians of moral motivation contend. Sherwin's book is an attempt to settle this issue by focusing on two main problems: the relationship between charity and knowledge in Aquinas (which occupies the first five chapters), and the implications of that relationship for the status of charity as a virtue (addressed in the sixth and final chapter).

In the first chapter, on "Charity's Relationship to Knowledge", Sherwin presents the views of the theologians of moral motivation. He recognises that they started from the understandable and justified need to overcome the determinism of traditional casuistry. He then explains how the attempt to make moral judgements sensitive to the individual circumstances of the agent led these theologians to misrecognize the connection between charity and practical reason. He further offers an account of the interpretation of Aquinas suggested by the supporters of moral motivation. According to Fuchs and Keenan, at end of his life, Aquinas would have held a view akin to moral motivation theology. Finally, Sherwin claims that moral motivation theology faces three problems. First, it deprives charity and moral goodness of any conceptual content: since they play no role in action they cannot be used to explain action. They become a mere formal striving. Second, knowledge of God would be of little practical importance. Thus Christ and the Christian community would have no role for one's relationship with God. Third, if charity is disconnected from practical reason it has no bearing on action. This means that what we love has no role determining what we choose to do, and this is highly implausible.

The will's relationship to practical reasoning is the focus of the second chapter. Sherwin reconstructs the development of Aquinas's views about the relationship between intellect and will by analysing how he dealt with this issue in some of is major works, which are significant for different periods of his production (De veritate, De malo, and Summa theologiae, prima secundae). Sherwin concludes that, throughout his career, Aquinas claimed that the will and the intellect interact in practical reasoning, although he changed the way in which he characterised the roles of the two faculties. In his mature position, however, he still claimed that the will is directed toward ends which the intellect presents as good. Certainly, he also claimed that the will leads the intellect to focus on the good aspects of the desired ends and to overlook possible bad faces of it. But Sherwin shows that there is no infinite regress here. The first movement of the will does not depend, according to Aquinas, on a good presented by the intellect, but on an inclination toward a universal characterisation of the good which is connatural to the will. Intellectual determinism is avoided since that inclination is not directed towards any particular good, but only toward the good as such. This also makes it possible for us to be free: our freedom is our possibility to choose among different individual goods the best way to realise the universal good to which our will directs us. In this respect, Sherwin says, human action is more akin to art than to a deductive process.

The third chapter deals with Aquinas's conception of knowledge and love in human action. Aquinas tries to make consistent two prima facie incompatible principles due to Augustine: 1) love depends on knowledge in that one can only love what one knows; 2) moral knowledge depends on love, since one's loves shape how one views things. Aquinas grounds love and knowledge on the will and the intellect, respectively. Both love and knowledge contribute to human action as two distinct principles, the former moving toward the beloved and the latter showing the beloved. Human action is the result of an articulated entrenchment of will and intellect: the affirmation of a general good cognised through apprehensio and desired by simplex voluntas is followed by the intention to attain such a general good with an action; subsequently, a decision to realise that intention by reaching a particular exemplification of the general good is made possible through a judgement about a particular good which is thus chosen (electio) by the will; the decision might be preceded by a process of deliberation, in which the intellect suggests (consilium) different possible particular goods, to which the will can give its consent (consensus), through liberum arbitrium. The decision is followed by the execution, in which the will can make use (usus) of the desired end, through the guidance (imperium) of the intellect. According to Aquinas the end of an action is the object of love. When an object of love is loved for the sake of something else, love is a kind of usus. When the beloved is desired for its own sake, the attainment of it is not usus, but fruitio, which causes joy (gaudio). God is the only object of fruitio, and all other things are loved for His sake.

In the fourth chapter, "Intellect and Will in St. Thomas' Theology of Faith", Sherwin describes the role of the virtue of faith in the elevation of the intellect and the will. Faith reveals truths about God that the intellect cannot fully understand, and thus the consent of the will is needed to accept them. The will can only consent to these non-fully grasped truths thanks to the greater power which it receives from the infused virtue of charity. When the will consents to the truths of faith, the intellect can accept them.

Charity's relationship to knowledge in action is the topic of the fifth chapter. Aquinas claims that in order to love God and neighbour, the will must receive some information from the intellect, in particular knowledge of God derived from faith. Furthermore, the infused virtue of prudence, and the gifts of wisdom and counsel presuppose the activity of the intellect, which understands the measure of love for creatures (usus) and for God (fruitio). At the same time, human action presupposes an exercise of the virtues, which are moved by the will as their efficient cause. Ultimately, the exercise of the will depends on charity, which moves all the other virtues towards their ultimate end. Sherwin offers convincing evidence that Aquinas remained faithful to this picture throughout his whole life.

In the sixth and final chapter, "Charity's Status as a Virtue", Sherwin answers the two initial questions. First, he claims that, in the latest stages, Aquinas maintained the view that charity and knowledge are deeply integrated in human action. Thus, contrary to the interpretation suggested by moral motivation theologians, he did not have the notion of a fundamental option with no direct role in the righteousness of an agent. Second, Sherwin claims that the upshot of Aquinas's theses on charity and love is that the notion of right action cannot be specified in the formalistic terms assumed by the moral motivation theologians. Like all virtues, charity is expressed in a number of paradigmatic acts, although, unlike non- theological virtues, it is infused by Grace. As a virtue, it must be learned through the practice of action within a community that lives it.

As far as historiography is concerned, the major contribution of the book is the analysis of the development of Aquinas's views on the relations between will, intellect, habits, and Grace in human action. Sherwin convincingly argues that, although Aquinas did indeed change his mind about certain minor issues, his main stands remained unaltered: the will depends on antecedent knowledge of the willed object, and knowledge is shaped by the agent's will and loves. Thus, the book successfully and brilliantly reaches its purpose: it challenges the new interpretation of Aquinas put forward by the theologians of moral motivation. (Although, it must be noted that the reader unfamiliar with the chronology of Aquinas's works would have benefited of a preliminary, brief introduction to the topic: Sherwin's arguments involve repeated comparisons of works by Aquinas from different periods, and it is sometimes left to the reader to evaluate the significance of those comparisons by figuring out the temporal order of the quoted texts.)

The work offers also a second kind of contribution to historiography: it presents some original results of general interest for Thomistic studies. For example, while discussing the development of Aquinas's' characterization of charity, Sherwin observes that scholars should reconsider the dates of composition of De caritate and De spe, which are normally included among the Questiones disputatae de virtutibus, one of the latest works by Aquinas. In fact, in De caritate and in De spe, charity is considered as an exemplar cause of the other virtues, just like in the early Commentary of the Sentences, whereas the mature Aquinas claims that charity is an efficient cause of other virtues and explicitly denies its role as exemplar cause (e.g., in the late secunda secundae of the Summa theologiae). This calls for an earlier date of composition of the two questiones, which Sherwin conjecturally takes to date back to the time of Aquinas's first regency in Paris.

The book has also a theoretical aim: it intends to support the philosophical and theological plausibility of Aquinas's views about the relations between knowledge and love against some of the tenets of moral motivation theology. Also in this respect, the book is convincing. His interpretation of Aquinas's arguments is both scholarly informed and sensitive to the philosophical subtlety required by current philosophical debates within the analytic tradition. This makes his reconstructions of Aquinas's arguments convincing and philosophically interesting. In this respect, Sherwin's contribution could be useful also to philosophers working in the analytic tradition. In that tradition, some of Aquinas's views on action have become matter of general debate thanks to--for example--Elisabeth Anscombe and Anthony Kenny. In particular, the Thomistic thesis that agents act in view of ends which they represent as good is currently at the centre of a heated discussion, and it is taken to generate various puzzles, for example in the explanation of incontinence and moral failure. Sherwin's careful interpretation shows that Aquinas's views on this issue were much more complex and articulated than it is normally assumed in current debates. For example, Sherwin contends that Aquinas took the inclination of the will towards the good to concern only a universal characterisation of the good, and to be undetermined in respect to particular ways of realising the good in action. The realisation of particular goods is affected by the concrete situation in which the agent has to take his decision and it thus dependents on his psychological situation and on his epistemic standpoint. Thus an action does not rationalistically originate as a deductive inference from an abstract and impersonal conception of reasons and from a predetermined inclination of the will, but rather it is the result of a decision processes in which the will directs the intellect in the search for the truth about particular circumstances relevant for the action, and the intellect presents to the will truths which might move it. Intellect and will are thus entrenched in a way which brings the agent's psychology to bear upon her representation of the end of action as good, and hence the will is not determined to act in a certain way by a general idea of the good to be grasped by reason. In this way, Aquinas avoids the pitfalls of intellectual determinism.

Sherwin's philosophical and theological contribution goes even further. Someone could worry that avoiding intellectual determinism is not enough and that psychological determinism is still a dangerous possibility for Aquinas's conception of freedom: if one's decision depends on one's psychological and epistemic standpoint, isn't one determined in ways which elude his control? This is a central concern both for contemporary philosophers of action and for moral motivation theologians. Sherwin recognises that Aquinas does not confront this problem directly, but he claims that "we can draw upon St. Thomas' principles to offer a Thomistic response". (214) The Author's response is threefold. First, being in a psychological and epistemic standpoint is a typical feature of the human condition, which cannot be renounced. The notion of acting freely can only be made sense of in the context of a choice to be made by an individual in a concrete situation. Second, a credible human freedom is not endangered by the fact that practical reasoning is conditioned by the psychological and epistemic standpoints of individuals, since freedom is something which has to be achieved, by learning how to rule one's life and through the supernatural aid of Grace. Third, when someone intends well, but does the wrong thing due to one's lack of knowledge, one can still be considered morally responsibly for objectively doing the wrong thing. In arguing for this point, which strikes the theology of moral motivation at its hearth, Sherwin relies on the distinction between a conceptual and an epistemic relation between charity and human action. (218-230) From an epistemological point of view, it is very hard to judge whether a particular individual is in the condition to know what the virtue of charity requires in a concrete circumstance. Theologically, this is an aspect under which a man can be judged only by God. From a conceptual standpoint, though, charity does require certain acts in certain circumstances. An agent who misrecognises such requirements fails morally. Moral motivation theologians and several contemporary rationalist philosophers of action fail to consider the relation between charity and knowledge since they focus primarily on the epistemic question. However, Aquinas's arguments, as reconstructed by Sherwin, show that there is a primary conceptual relation between the virtue of charity and an agent's knowledge of the circumstance of her actions. Knowledge depends on charity, and acts of charity are always directed towards a known good.

As we have seen above, Sherwin intends to study the relationship linking charity and love because of a possible clash between the attempt of moral motivation theologians to disconnect them, Aquinas's claims about charity being an infused virtue, and the suggestions of some contemporary moral philosophers, according to whom virtues presuppose knowledge. Despite this initial statement, the thesis of the mentioned moral philosophers is not justified in the rest of the book, nor does it seem to play any fundamental role in the development of Sherwin's arguments (a part for some brief hints to Iris Murdoch in two notes, in pp. 209-10). Someone might wonder what the role of the initial reference to those moral philosophers might be. Probably, Sherwin refers to them at the beginning of the book for the only reason that they inspired his interpretation of Aquinas, and drove his discovery of the connection between virtue and knowledge in Aquinas's philosophy and theology. However, this is not a serious problem, as far as the general argument of the book goes. Aquinas is clear enough about the connection linking virtues and knowledge, and this is enough to generate the clash with the theology of moral motivation. Furthermore, Aquinas's arguments seem to be strong enough in their own terms to convince the reader that knowledge and love must be united in our actions. Or, at least, Sherwin is successful in persuading the reader that they are.