Some Notes on Moral Philosophy from Maritain

These selections and notes are taken from Maritain in Science and Wisdom in preparation for an article I am working on...

Notes from Science and Wisdom


ST I-II q.65 a.1 and 2; Also, see JoST vol.6 disp.17 a.2; Salmanticenses vol.6 tract.12 disp.4


147ff This has the infamous discussion of the connection of the virtues and charity; cf. Garrigou-Lagrange and Osborne


148: “The natural virtues are indeed connected in prudence, but prudence concerns the order of means to the end, and presupposes rectitude in willing the end.  And in the actual state of our nature, it is not a virtus simpliciter, virtue purely and simply….”  (Again, see Garrigou and Osborne)


151: “But in the state of fallen nature, man is lacking even with regard to the abilities of his nature.”  (Recall also his late-life reflections on such matters in Untrammeled Approaches.)



156: “Thus human acts are directed both by superior reason and inferior reason, and the first follows divine and eternal reasons and considerations, the second those which are human and temporal….”  See the remarks about the role of superior and inferior reason (as providing the minor of the practical syllogism.)  Revisit this whole section (through 161); in particular, see the summary remarks from 158-160.


162: An important point—“But the prescription of good acts [which purely philosophical moral science would do] is not enough to form a practical science [cf. also his remarks to Ramirez on this], a true science of the use of freedom, a science which prescribes not only good acts, but which also determines how the acting subject can live a life of consistent goodness and organize rightly his whole universe of action… On the plane of speculatively-practical science, as on the plane of practically-practical science, this is the object which moral philosophy sets before itself—so far as it is proper to a study which is not that of the iudicium practicum and of the imperium, but of general truths known and organized in the light of causes and principles [cf. DV 3.4] and elaborated according to a speculative mode or according to a practical mode of definition.


163: It would be a practical science which was not really practical—and for this reason illusory. . . Thus, for our last end, it would assign God efficaciously loved above all things by natural love.  And in the state of our wounded nature, this end is purely theoretical, remote from any possibility of actual realization. . .  In either case, to assign as our end God efficaciously loved above all things with natural love is to remain outside [164] the concrete possibilities of human action: outside the whole order of practical things.  I called it just now an illusory science.


164: Supposing you confide the task of guiding your life to an ‘independent moral philosophy’ [cites Deman]; you do not know what is the true end of your life: you set about organizing it without the help of the theological virtues…[etc.]  [165] You think that natural right [law?] is revealed to reason without any reference to the phases of concrete history that are tied in one way or another to a situation not purely natural of which human reason has endured the experience.  [See notes / work on the theme related to Raïssa’s little book.]  Your independent moral philosophy will prescribe for you good acts, exceedingly good acts, for you and for a purely possible double of yourself set in the abstract spaces of pure nature.  But for yourself and your soul, for the real substance of your life, it will be a blind man leading the blind.”


[166] Natural moral philosophy exists; but it is only a sketch or beginning of science.

            It just can’t cross the threshold into being a true practical science (emphasis on both points)

            Compare to points made in the Essay on Christian Philosophy


[167] Claims that it is the “unsystematic character” of Aristotle’s ethics that allowed him to avoid this.

            This seems too strong and not true to the texts; however, his own methodological caution did give him space.


[174] This subalternation is for a factual reason.  “There is nothing surprising in this, because the existential condition of the acting subject is involved in the object itself, in the subiectum formale of the practical science as such.  In other words, the practical character of the science has its term in the actual existence of the subject.”

            Be sure to look at Simon’s remarks in Practical Knowledge, and the Critique of Moral Knowledge


[175] “A science for which human acts are an object or more exactly a formal specifying subject, a science essentially commensurate with human conduct, must have a light inferior to that of theology even when it takes into account values of a supernatural order vested in these acts and in that conduct.”


[176] The light in question is reason [in particular, the first principle of practical reason]

While moral theology descends from revealed principles, moral philosophy adequately considered, from the fact of its subalternation to theology, in a manner mounts upwards to them.

            Makes a parallel case to infused prudence; Cf. Study on this by Gardeil from 1918


            From below, from a human point of view, philosophy can perceive supernatural things which are enrapped in the mystery of life and human conduct.  It can do this without lowering or “humanizing” them but on condition that the human light through which the object is perceived is apparopriately exalted.  .  Please God we [177] shall not forget the law of the necessary proportion between the lumen and the object, which was one of the main themes of [Degrees…]”


[177] “The philosopher, without in the least deforming it, can look on it from man’s point of view, and see it as it includes the mystery of human existence, granted that he is willing to subordinate his science to theology.”


[178] Here, he discusses some matters pertaining to the obiectum quod and the obiectum quo;

            See Woodbury’s discussion of the object of moral philosophy


[179] “But the natural and temporal ends of human life are not pure means in relation to the life of grace and glory.  They are ends—intermediate or infravalent ends—and in this respect they are not specified by the supernatural last end.”

“And the last natural end of human life is not eliminated.  It is realized in excess by and in the last supernatural end… [See remaining portion; include his remarks found in Untrammeled Approaches.]”


[180] One cannot cut out a purely temporal end

            Here, see Douglas Farrow, Desiring 149 (with all due qualifications)

            Political life and natural end


[181]  “It is clear that this phrase has to do not with the delimitation of a given material field in isolation from the rest of human conduct, but with the assignment of a formal point of view or formal aspect in accordance with which the whole [182] matter of human conduct may be brought under consideration.  The convictus pliticus or vita civilis [n. That is, life in the order of temporal culture and civilization] like the acquired moral virtues is absolutely inseparable from human life in general and the whole order of the virtues.”


            Also, see the important remarks taken from Banez in the footnotes here too


[182] And again – “HUMAN ACTS in the widest sense are the subject and proper field of moral philosophy”

            See start of ethics commentary

            And again: “Temporal life and temporal ends point out the FORMAL ASPECT IN WHICH THE WHOLE FIELD IS CONSIDERED, with all its concrete ends both natural and supernatural, and with all its actual order of virtues, whether acquired or infused.”


[183] Regarding the consideration of the final end from theology


[184] And it should be written on the walls of all learned places (people frustrate me for their hard-headness not seeing his point): “And even when we are concerned with problems that in material terms are identical, they still differ in their formal perspective of investigation and demonstration.  So that when dealing with moral philosophy adequately considered we are dealing with a web of scientific conclusions different from but subordinated to the conclusions of moral theology.



A point that should be noted – if Deman messes up by saying that moral theology is to “lead us to eternal life”- we need to discuss these matters more carefully!


[185] It must be a factual philosophy; But notice the difference of perspective.  The philosopher turns his gaze toward wounded nature, “but he is interested in our wounded nature, like the novelist and unlike the theologian, for its own sake: and the notion of a wounded nature awakens in his wisdom other echoes than those that are stirred in the theologian.  The same may be said of the notion of nature redeemed.  In these notions he can study the problems which are his own, for instance of concrete psychology and of character, or the history of philosophy, or political philosophy, or the philosophy of the world and of culture, the historical development of the enigma of the human being and the phases of man’s factual situation which are typical for different moments of civilization….[Cf. Raïssa; also other notes on this; and, Journet]”


[186] And here we go – the ratio formalis obiecti ut obiectum –

            I have already pointed out that the objective light which moral philosophy adequately considered uses for its intelligence of human acts, is the light of the principles of practical reason which lead knowledge ot operation, and for the purpose put trust in the truths of theology.


In one hand, in theology, it is the light of virtual revelation (text is slightly different: “virtual light of revelation”)


Note that he makes room in moral PHILOSOPHY for distinct manners of conceptualization (practically practical and speculatively practical)


[188] Revisit this point, where he discusses the ways that reason can be elevated

            With regard to operation / exercise (as in speculative philosophy)

[191] By the object itself – in the order of specification


[192] IMPORTANT TEXT ON THE attraction of moral philosophy by faith

            Show the cases of Aristotle and Qoheleth, as discussed in his 9 lessons


[193ff] These discussions of the two ways that we should consider the causality involved here

            He differentiates it very subtlely from the elevation that occurs in theology


[195] And then the points are summarized as follows: “The superior virtue of faith, when communicated to the reason of the philosopher produces in the habitus of practical philosophy—without the collaboration of its own special virtue and thus without exalting this virtue—a general act of assent to and confidence in the truths recognized by theology, which are needed by practical science.  I am not speaking here of an act of faith.  I am speaking of an act of assent like those by which a science accepts the conclusions or results of another science.”



[197] “It trusts in theology, and does not bring into exercise its own proper power. . .”

            “That is why the theological truths received by moral philosophy adequately considered present themselves to the non-believing philosopher as superior hypotheses from which one starts to work”


[196n1] This is a rather important footnote too:

“Every subalternated science (other than theology) makes use of credulitas humana with regard to the subalternating science.  It is not surprising that the communicated virtue of faith can produce an act of natural and human assent in the mind of the philosopher with regard to theological science, for this communicated virtue reaches its goal through an inference and through a judgment which is not the act of belief but an effect of the act of belief, as John of St. Thomas points out with regard to quite another problem (vol. 7 disp.2 a.1 n.27 and 28) which bears on a subject of the human order (‘the supernatural mysteries enclosed in human life are known by faith, theology is the science of faith, therefore it is reasonable to trust theology on this question’).  We should notice moreover that the conclusions of the theologian which proceed from faith, but through the medium of a natural discursus, are not an object of faith but of human science.”


[198] And this is important because it does not act as an instrumental cause but, instead, as a principal cause

            It shares in the light of theology not formally but by participation; Here, he cites page 88, where he discusses Caj. In ST I 106.1; also JoST, in particular; CT vol.4 disp.25 a.2; also, De anima q.12 a.6



These principles do not constitute all the principles of the subalternated science—indeed; they do not constitute the main principle, namely that the good is to be done and evil avoided


[201] These truths do not require resolution into the science of the blessed, as is the case with theology; they complete the natural principles of practical knowledge

            [Here, I think it is important to call to mind the fact that there should be little scandal about the lack of resolutive certitude involved.  Aristotle himself was well aware of this fact, on some level, so to speak]


“Note that the principles of theology that are articles of faith can be considered in a twofold manner.  First, they can be considered entitatively in themselves (or, as they are in themselves absolutely true and assert an order to the first revealing truth: and thus indeed they are supernatural, namely immediately revealed, but in this manner they are not the principles of theology formally speaking but, instead, are only materially the principles of theology; because considered in themselves they do not exercise the notion of being a principle, for in this way of considering them, they do not flow into the conclusions of theology: whence, thus taken, they are nothing other than the mysteries of faith, which pertain to faith and not to theology, properly speaking. . . .  They can be considered in another manner, namely inasmuch as they express an order to the conclusions that they virtually contain, and which are deduced from them by the mediation of the natural discursus of reasoning. . . . And thus indeed they are formally the principles of theology, but when considered in this manner they are not formally revealed but, instead virtually revealed only (or, rather revelantia): nor are they thus attained from faith but from theology and thus they are not formally speaking supernatural.”  (Rough translation of Billuart, Cursus theol. Dissert prooem. A.6)


“We may add that in the same way theological truths received as principles by moral philosophy adequately considered can be considered in two different ways.  Either in so far as pronounced purely and simply true in themselves and truths theologically known, and then they are formally theological but only materially are the principles of moral philosophy adequately considered.  Or else, in so far as truths believed (with human faith) by a science subalternated to theology, and insofar as giving order to the conclusions of which they made the discursus ofthis science capable.  And in this case they are formally principles which complete moral philosophy adequately considered, but they are now only virtually theological.  For it is essential for theology to know them, not to believe them, and to illuminate them by the principles of faith, not to illuminate them with the cience of an inferior order.”


From a more down-to earth perspective: “The moral philosopher ought surely to make use, betimes, of the truths slowly unraveled by the wise and aged, and reeive them as indemonstrable principles.  [Cf. EN 6.11 11-13; ST I-II q.95 a.2 ad 4; but also see In VI EN n.1254-6; ALSO, all treatment of “indemonstrable,” synesis, gnome, and eubolia.  See these also in ST]


[202] Fr. Deman says that there lies an abyss between theology [203] and philosophy.  And would to heaven that theologians would always keep on the divine side of this abyss!  But faith helps the reason of the philosopher to cross this abyss, as it helps the reason of the theologian to cross the abyss (perhaps it is a deeper one?) between the knowledge God has of himself and the human intellect.”


On 203, he also makes a note about the heterogeneity in physico-mathematical sciences; See earlier reflections on this; Also, see Maritain’s remarks on the recasting of certain notions such as cause, etc.


[204] Argues here agains a kind of rationalistic reading of Thomistic accounts of reason


[210] On the completion of moral philosophy by prudence [cf. Fr. Philip Neri’s article]


[211] “As grace does not destroy nature, nor supernatural life destroy ‘civil’ life, when the soul has acquired the natural moral virtues, these natural moral virtues coexist in the just soul with infused virtues.”  Here, he has a whole host of citations


[213] “To push the analysis further we would need to distinguish, in the soul itself and in the moral life of the person two zones or domains corresponding to the classical distinction between the spiritual and the temporal, between the kingdom of God and the ‘political’ world or the world of culture.”


[214] Here, there is an important example of how the acquired virtues can be superelevated instrumentally.


“The acquired moral virtues adjust our action to our temporal ends.  Their proper domain is that of ‘civil’ or ‘political’ life [a little off, actually] or—as we should say nowadays—that of culture or civilization.  ‘The acquired moral virtues direct us in our civil life , that is why they have for end the good of civilization [bonum civile]’ In III Sent. Dist.33 q.1 a.4 resp.  Here our activity has direct reference to goods ‘proportioned to human nature’ ”


[215] The initiative is with the acquired virtue in regard to its own ends which are civil and temporal; though the acquired virtue has need of the infused virtue so as to be borne beyond its natural point of speciiciation (ultra suum specificum) as is proper int eh case of a rightly directed ordered civil or temporal life, that is, a civil or temporal life referring indirectly to the supernatural last end.  For of itself civil life belongs to the natural order.  But this natural order of civil life is exalted by way of participation from the fact of its reference (which may be explicit or implicit ‘as life is lived’) to the supra-temporal ends of human persons; without such a reference the civil or temporal order has not the rectitude proper to it.”  Cf. Clairvoyance de rome 233, 235


[216] Some important examples (taking into account the supernatural order)

 - about friendship among citizens

- about a sense for justice and truth against playing false (as assuaged by trust in Providence)

            in particular, be sure to note what he says here about acquired virtue acting in its own right


[217] And he again drives the point home AGAIN AND AGAIN (let us pray to the Lord…)


[219-220] “On the one hand, this opinion [i.e. of departmentalizing and naturalism] sometimes manifests, even in the case of people whose faith is otherwise vital, a tendency to treat temporal things or things of ‘civil life’—especially of politics and social life—viewed separately and without sufficient reference to the light of theology—as if man lived in a state of pure nature and as if our Saviour had never come.


On the other hand, average Christian opinion sometimes shows (even with people who in other respects have a desire for Christian perfection) a tendency to neglect in the things of the spiritual life—viewed separately and without adequate support from a good moral philosophy—the proper ends and the proper goods—which are infravalent but not abolished by grace—of the human and temporal order, of nature and the natural virtues, from the practice of which man has not been dispensed by the supernatural virtues.”


[226] On Aristotle again – as a remote preparation for moral science


[233] it is formally and radically natural; but mediately and indirectly attached to a supernatural root (cites Essay on Christian philosophy)


[235] “The philosophical habitus in question makes use of these truths in so far as they serve to deduce philosophical conclusions which are elevated in this way, and not in so far as they fall under the illumination of theology itself.”


An interesting remark is made in 236 about theological conclusions; This should be compared to Doronzo’s work.  Also, see [237]: “Theology like every science simpliciter dicta knows its own principles by turning back on themEven when the matter concerns a truth of faith theology knows it, not insofar as it is a mystery of faith which transcends theological science but insofar as it is an object to which this science returns to examine it, and explain it and make it more definite in the light of virtual revelation.  And this object is received from theology by moral philosophy adequately considered—not as theologically known but as taken on trust by the subalternated science.”


[240] There is an important parallel weakness here when it comes to the manner in which moral philosophy receives from the speculative disciplines (according to the traditional way of discussing these matters).  And the inferior science does not need to be of the same order as the subalternating science.

A Few Thoughts on Education from Maritain

The following are taken from Jacques Maritain, "Science, Philosophy and Faith"

"An army in which anybody may be a general is not the army of democracy but of stupidity.  A republic of knowledge in which each type of knowledge claimed for itself the architectonic rank, or where it was declared that no one body of knowledge had a higher rank than any other, or a superordinate regulative role, would be a republic of ignorance."

"In truth, the need for order and for unity is unescapable.  If one denies the conditions of a true and natural unity, in which the degrees of knowledge—each one autonomous at its level, each one having its own jurisdiction and its own specific truth to know—are distributed according to the nature of their objects, one would ultimately come to ask of the social or political obedience of the thinking subjects, or of their racial or national endowment, an absurd and despotic unity of the spirit.  One would dress physics, biology, mathematics, philosophy and theology in the same brown or red shirt.  One would proclaim, to the great shame of the human spirit—and we have heard of such things—the constitutional unity and single dignity of sciences of pure Aryan or German blood or of the sciences of pure Marxist-Leninist persuasion.  And they alone, once regimented, would have the right to exist."

"If it is denied that there is a true and natural hierarchy of the degrees of knowledge, disposed according to their purpose, one will be led not to suppress all hierarchy, but to subordinate wisdom to science and to ascribe the regulative role of the sciences to a lower order, which actually amounts to refusing existence to the higher sciences and to wisdom, and to the truths which it is their mission to dispense among men. Let us not delude ourselves; an education in which the sciences of phenomena and the corresponding techniques take precedence over philosophical and theological knowledge is already, potentially, a Fascist education; an education in which biology, hygiene and eugenics provide the supreme criteria of morality is already, potentially, a Fascist education."

Random Readings—Maritain, Benedict, etc.

Of late, I have been doing much random readings while work on my translation of a book by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange and also address some final dissertation issues.  The recent Last Testament of Benedict XVI has given me pause to think on some matters.  Reading about his early assignments teaching, he clearly was a good-ol'-fashioned German academic.  Though generally I despise that ideal of "scholarship" (i.e. soulless pedantry that is disconnected from life), dear Ratzinger had enough soul to avoid that pitfall.  (I will note, however, that the German / continental approach also does produce mastery that we rarely find in the US—mastery that I know I sorely lack too.)  Interestingly, he says he would have spent his time discussing the nature of theology and proximate matters.  We do have his essays to this end in Principles of Catholic Theology.  Given his lack of formal and rigorous philosophical training (and, yes, I mean good ol' scholastic philosophy), I'm glad he didn't write in detail on these matters.  Essays help to sound out the matters.  However, the last thing that we needed in the post-conciliar period was yet another account of the nature of theology that doesn't ground itself in the sane discussions of earlier scholastic thinkers.

Also, revisited Simon's Critique of Moral Knowledge to put together some initial notes for a some-day prolegomena to moral philosophy.  However, as I re-read certain sections of my dissertation, I think it will be important for me to pen some brief prolegomena to the study of logic from a Thomistic perspective.  Not that I find everything in my dissertation to my liking any more.... Still, this general topic needs to be laid out clearly.  I find it vexing how most Thomists completely miss the nature of second intentions.  But, Deely himself noted this well many times in his career.

Finally, have been going through some unpublished and untranslated works of Maritain.  Excellent stuff.  Wonderful little accessible essay on the degrees of knowledge.  I will almost certainly use it as something in an introduction course / lecture some day.