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, January 27, 2009

Philosophy in the Public Square: Debating Current Issues - Class One

Prof. C. Wolfe

Law and Morality:
What is the Legitimate Scope of Political Power Regarding Issues of “Personal Morality”?

I. Can We “Legislate Morality”?

A. Simple answer: No.

1. Moral virtue has to be free, and so can’t be “imposed”

2. There are limits to what coercion can do (short of a police-state), e.g., Prohibition

B. More nuanced response to a better-phrased question (not “can we legislate morality?” but “can we cultivate the conditions of morality by law?”): Yes.

1. Law, Morality, and Habits

a - laws => fewer acts

note the difference among three classes of people: the “firmly bad”, the “firmly good”, and (more common) those in between

b - fewer acts => reduce causes of bad habits

2. Law and the Formation of Moral Ideals

a - a “sociology of moral convictions”: most people can’t and don’t develop comprehensive moral philosophies themselves - influenced by others

b - laws = one of those sources

e.g., civil rights, homosexual rights movement, sex education

c - question is not whether law (among other factors) will help to shape moral ideals, but how it will do so

II. The Limits of Law

“Moralists” (e.g., those attracted by classical political philosophy) can easily be tempted to aim high; but the greatest moralists (e.g., Aristotle, Aquinas) were “moderate moralists”

Aquinas: Q: can and should the law repress all vices? A: no. Why?

1. In general:

a - law is framed for many men, most of whom are not perfectly virtuous

b - they can’t sustain laws aiming too high - and, aiming too high may cause them to disobey and despise the law

2. Any given society has its own mores, which include virtues and vices, and these vices are especially difficult to regulate; attempts to regulate them

a - can lead to despising of the law

b - can lead to excessive government coercion

c - can undermine civic friendship

3. The existence of vices in a society does not mean that they can’t be legislated against at all; some factors that will determine what can be done:

a - how common is the practice

b - can it be regulated partially, or indirectly

c - limited enforcement sometimes best

Questions for discussion: what are the possibilities and limitations of American law today for “regulating morality”?

Issues: abortion, homosexual acts, obscenity (sex, violence); greed or avarice; smoking; obesity (junk food), excessive drinking

Governments at different levels: federal, state, local

Means: criminal prosecution, civil procedures and threat of civil litigation for facilitating acts, prohibition of public benefits or participation in public programs, taxation, education (general and in schools), age limits, time and place restrictions

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Philosophy Classes begin again next Wednesday

Dear Friends,

Three years ago the Ralph McInerny Center started its six-course Program in Philosophical Studies. So here we are, about to begin the final class! The class will be on "Philosophy in the Public Square: Debating Current Issues." The specific topics and dates are listed below (though one remains to be confirmed).

Like the last several classes, it will be held at the Family Research Council at 801 G St NW, and will be on alternate Wednesday evenings, from 7:00 to 9:00 pm. There will also be an informal dinner ahead of time at Fuddruckers, right around the corner at 734 7th St NW. (There is also some discussion of a post-class retreat to a nearby watering hole . . .)

The course costs $100 ($50 for students). Scholarships are available for those who cannot afford this fee. (We don't want anyone to forego attending simply for financial reasons.) I hope you are able to join us. We encourage you to invite your friends. Look forward to seeing you on January 28.

Chris Wolfe

Spring 2009 RMC Program in Philosophical Studies Course:
“Philosophy in the
Public Square: Debating Current Issues”

-- Jan. 28: Law and Morality: What is the Legitimate Scope of Political Power Regarding Issues of “Personal Morality”? (Christopher Wolfe)

-- Feb. 11: The Moral and Political Status of Human Life in its Earliest (Embryonic and Pre-Embryonic) Stages (Joshua Hochschild)

-- Feb. 25: Environmental Stewardship and Agriculture: Ethical Principles for Relating to Non-Human Life (Joshua Hochschild)

-- Mar 11: The Death Penalty: Human Dignity and Capital Punishment (Michael Pakaluk)

-- Mar 25: The Family in Public Policy: Families Ideal and Actual, and What Should Government Do? (Pat Fagan)

-- Apr 15: Immigratration (Christopher Wolfe)

-- Apr 29: Homosexuality and Public Policy (Christopher Wolfe)