The Ralph McInerny Center for Thomistic Studies will offer a three-year program in philosophical studies that will provide a wide-ranging introduction to classical philosophy. This program will consist of six courses over three years (during the fall and spring semesters), each course consisting of 6 or 7 two-hour sessions, including lectures and time for discussion.

This program is intended for generally educated citizens who wish to develop a deeper grounding in philosophy. No previous formal study in philosophy is required. Our goal is to provide people with sound philosophical “tools” that will help them to evaluate and form judgments about problems and issues facing them and their fellow citizens, drawing especially on the ethics and metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas.

OUR FIRST COURSE will be an introduction to ancient Greek philosophy. We will begin September 27, 2006 (Wednesday) from 7 to 9 p.m., at the McInerny Center office at 616 E Street, NW, Suite 1214. Short recommended readings will be provided online, along with suggestions for further reading. OUR SECOND COURSE will briefly survey the main periods in the history of philosophy, from Medieval to Early Modern until contemporary philosophy. And it will focus particularly on two absolutely uniquely great figures like Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. OUR THIRD COURSE will deal with the basic principles in natural philosophy and logic as the needed background for the study more advanced areas, like metaphysics, in the FOURTH COURSE, and ethics and political theory in the FIFTH COURSE. Finally, in the SIXTH COURSE, we will end the program by addressing the public square and the current issue.

Classes will be taught by Fulvio Di Blasi (University of Palermo), Joshua Hochschild (Mt. St. Mary’s College), Ralph McInerny (University of Notre Dame), Dr. Michael Pakaluk (Clark University), Christopher Wolfe (Marquette University) and other Visiting Professors.

Cost of enrolling: $ 100.00 per course ($ 50.00 for students). Some tuition grants are available. To register, contact

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


Prof. M. Pakaluk, RMC @ FRC, 24 September 2008
Moral Philosophy: Conscience, freedom, virtues, habits, pleasure

Points on conscience:

1. What we loosely refer to as ‘conscience’ was classically divided into two things, synderesis (a natural ‘habit’ of the mind) and conscientia (an ‘act’ of the mind, a kind of judgment)
2. Conscience is not classically regarded as a source of obligation (an inner voice) but rather as the application of reason to particular cases. Just like any reasoning, it is measured by the truth (reality) and is capable of “getting it wrong”.
3. Because conscience is the arriving at a judgment of what should be done, all things considered, anything that I (merely) have strong feelings about, or very much want, cannot be counted as a dictate of conscience.
4. There must be starting points of practical reasoning (because there must be starting points for any reasoning), which are in some sense provided by ‘nature’; these are naturally good but can be corrupted.
5. Because the will should follow what reason proposes, an erring conscience binds; but
6. Because we can be responsible for not knowing what we should know, in those cases an erring conscience does not excuse

St. Thomas Aquinas, S.T. I, 79, 12 c

"Synderesis" is not a power but a habit; though some held that it is a power higher than reason; while others [Cf. Alexander of Hales, Sum. Theol. II, 73] said that it is reason itself, not as reason, but as a nature. In order to make this clear we must observe that, as we have said above (Article 8), man's act of reasoning, since it is a kind of movement, proceeds from the understanding of certain things--namely, those which are naturally known without any investigation on the part of reason, as from an immovable principle--and ends also at the understanding, inasmuch as by means of those principles naturally known, we judge of those things which we have discovered by reasoning. Now it is clear that, as the speculative reason argues about speculative things, so that practical reason argues about practical things. Therefore we must have, bestowed on us by nature, not only speculative principles, but also practical principles. Now the first speculative principles bestowed on us by nature do not belong to a special power, but to a special habit, which is called "the understanding of principles," as the Philosopher explains (Ethic. vi, 6). Wherefore the first practical principles, bestowed on us by nature, do not belong to a special power, but to a special natural habit, which we call "synderesis". Whence "synderesis" is said to incite to good, and to murmur at evil, inasmuch as through first principles we proceed to discover, and judge of what we have discovered. It is therefore clear that "synderesis" is not a power, but a natural habit.

St. Thomas Aquinas, S.T. 79, 12 c

Properly speaking, conscience is not a power, but an act. This is evident both from the very name and from those things which in the common way of speaking are attributed to conscience. For conscience, according to the very nature of the word, implies the relation of knowledge to something: for conscience may be resolved into "cum alio scientia," i.e. knowledge applied to an individual case. But the application of knowledge to something is done by some act. Wherefore from this explanation of the name it is clear that conscience is an act.

The same is manifest from those things which are attributed to conscience. For conscience is said to witness, to bind, or incite, and also to accuse, torment, or rebuke. And all these follow the application of knowledge or science to what we do: which application is made in three ways. One way in so far as we recognize that we have done or not done something; "Thy conscience knoweth that thou hast often spoken evil of others" (Ecclesiastes 7:23), and according to this, conscience is said to witness. In another way, so far as through the conscience we judge that something should be done or not done; and in this sense, conscience is said to incite or to bind. In the third way, so far as by conscience we judge that something done is well done or ill done, and in this sense conscience is said to excuse, accuse, or torment. Now, it is clear that all these things follow the actual application of knowledge to what we do. Wherefore, properly speaking, conscience denominates an act. But since habit is a principle of act, sometimes the name conscience is given to the first natural habit--namely, "synderesis": thus Jerome calls "synderesis" conscience (Gloss. Ezekiel 1:6); Basil [Hom. in princ. Proverb.], the "natural power of judgment," and Damascene [De Fide Orth. iv. 22 says that it is the "law of our intellect." For it is customary for causes and effects to be called after one another.


Often there are distinguished different types of freedom:
-- Freedom of indifference: the mere power of choosing among indifferents
-- Negative freedom: absence of external constraint or limitation, whether legal, economic, or social (peer pressure, stigma, public opinion)
-- Positive freedom: expressive or creative realization of one’s nature to achieve some valuable good
Each earlier sort of freedom is (typically) a condition for the later sort.
Libertarians differ from other conservatives in taking government’s role to be the restricted to preserving negative freedom.
(i) it is doubtful that there is any coherent notion of negative freedom which stands on its own, which isn’t regarded as in service to a positive notion (for the libertarian this is typically an ideal of self-reliance);
(ii) freedom is not possible without truth, and yet once truth is introduced, one is led to a positive conception of freedom.

Freedom depends upon truth:
For you to act freely, is for (i) you to act (ii) of your own accord to attain (iii) what you want.
Coercion and compulsion can diminish all of these: psychological diminishes (i); external diminishes (ii); both can diminish (iii).
But so can ignorance:

-- If you act in ignorance of a first principle of practical reason, then, to that extent, it is not you who are acting (not, at least, the sort of being that you are).
-- If you act at the suggestion of another, or on a principle supplied by another, which cannot stand up to ‘right reason’, then you do not act of your own accord.
-- If you act for an end (purpose, goal) that cannot reasonably be endorsed, then in getting that you do not actually get what you want (see Plato’s Gorgias).
Because freedom depends upon truth, and truth involves correspondence to something over and above us, then freedom depends upon some act of acquiescence in, obedience to, or reverence for the truth.

False contrasts between: freedom and law (either human or divine); freedom and nature.


A habit is necessary whenever something of a certain nature has a goal which its nature itself is not sufficient for it to achieve. The habit, then, a ‘second nature’, is acquired (either by a natural or conventional process) so that such a thing may reliably achieve its goal. Habits suit nature as exercised over time. E.g. God and the angels have no habits.

A habit is a certain ‘category’ of existence, a stable disposition, quality-like (it makes a thing of a certain sort). Habits are good if they conduce to a thing’s achieving its goal, otherwise bad.

Habits of a human being may belong either to the body (strictly, the body-soul unity insofar as this involves vegetative or animal functions not directly responsive to reason) or to the ‘soul’ (strictly, the mind, and the body-soul unity insofar as this involves animal functions responsive to reason). Good habits of the body are healthy and healthy conditions; bad habits are bad health and unhealthy conditions. Good habits of the ‘soul’ are ‘virtues’, and bad habits are ‘vices’.


Some useful terms:
-- Intellectual versus ‘moral’ (or ‘ethical’)
-- Cardinal
-- Theological
-- Harmful versus disgraceful

Some theses about moral virtues:

1. We acquire them by doing other sorts of actions better or worse.
2. We acquire them by doing like acts (we become courageous by acting courageously). (A circle?)
3. The correct action is so because, in various dimensions, it falls within a mean between extremes.
4. Similarly, bad habits which we can acquire may be assigned to either of two extremes.


There are two sorts of pleasure, bodily and ‘psychical’.
Bodily pleasures are restorative and always imply either pain or a deficiency.
Psychical pleasures are inherent in the activity, yet still ‘side effects’.
The paradox of hedonism, and instrumentalism.

No comments: