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Fisking 'Fundamental Moral Theology'

John Kelleher

Nothing 'serious' or 'towards' anything today, just a fun, quick, easy-as-pie fisking (a practically word-by-word evisceration) of a random sentence on the Internet.

Over the centuries, Fundamental Moral Theology™ became so elegantly-formulated, and was taught so well -- so beautifully -- that any man today who had learned it diligently can still, in but a few words, if utterly unconsciously, lay out its tottering weaknesses with impeccable, crystalline clarity.

For in his salad days that fledgling student was elegantly taught to find with ever greater facility the well-worn ruts in the road within which his cart may safely travel, he had been so well and so clearly instructed, that it now seems obvious to him also, that nothing but trouble and difficulty could be outside these long-trod paths within which his cart travels so smoothly and certainly.

And so now, when asked or prompted, he with perfect surety is able in just a few words, to construct, to lay out, the correct, the obvious, path to fellow travelers.

This recently from a former monk, expostulating upon what he termed "fundamental moral theology" (he neglected to include the trademark, like KLEENEX™, so shame on him), and over whom we cast a veil of protective anonymity:

"1. Man always chooses to act in apprehension of the good, never choosing evil qua evil for its own sake."

... etc., through points 2-6.

The Fisking.

"1. Man always chooses to act in apprehension of the good, never choosing evil qua evil for its own sake."


"Man ..."

Do we mean, "Man" qua Fallen? "Man" according to Kant? to Hume? to the Comanche?

The Aristotelian "Man" self-generates a conundrum that appears to be radically incompatible with the worship of the Church (a conundrum that 'fundamental moral theology' has traditionally 'resolved' by means of expedient oscillation between the two horns of the dilemma).

The Aristotelian "Man's" 'essence' is


(a) The meaning (the telos) of the species "Man," such that each individual man is an 'Accident' (an activation/realization in quantity and extension) of the Substance/Potency/Form/species "Man". Aristotle deploys this general paradigm in his discussions of the nature of pretty much anything.

We Comment:

At first glance, this is grave heresy, because within the Substance/Accident paradigm the unity in being of a Substance is "in itself and not in anything else". Thus it is impossible to discuss the 'essence' of any 'material singular' (individual) Aristotelian man. His meaning does exist, but it does not inhere in him, it exists only as that particular Accident is a member/instance/Accident of the Substance/species "Man".

Viz., the doctrine of the existence and infinite worth of each individual soul is silently draped over a philosophical characterization in which the 'essence' or meaning of any individual man cannot be -- is entirely unable to be -- inherent in him.

Which would seem to strongly imply that an individual man would not -- could not -- have an immortal soul in and of himself, but (we're guessing) his 'soul' would somehow be -- could only be -- an Accident or instance of the single Immortal Oversoul of the Substance/species "Man".

Thus it would seem to require torturous logic ad extra to make the firm doctrine of the existence and infinite worth of each individual soul an implication of the Aristotelian Substance/Accident paradigm, whereas that paradigm could readily be taken to be antagonistic to the doctrine or to rule it out entirely.

However, within Fundamental Moral Theology™, when discussion focuses on an individual soul, the unconscious oscillation to (b) below typically occurs.

OR The Aristotelian "Man's" 'essence' is

(b) (Although this is not in accord with the general Aristotelian Substance/Accident analysis, the following is the only other possibility within that paradigm). Each "Man" is in himself a Substance, each "Man" is the sole member of its own species. This appears to be the analysis commonly deployed in discussions of an individual soul within Fundamental Moral Theology™.

This solves the problem of the existence and worth of the individual soul generated by (a) above, but it introduces the (unasked and unanswered) problem of "intra-species" communication, solidarity, union. (As each man is now his own Substance/species, there exists no analytic commonality between the atom who is "Man1" vs. the atom who is "Man2", etc.)

Of course, the analysis above applies not just to man but to everything; the 'types' of the Aristotelian 'soul' (nutritive, sensible, rational) merely mask the fundamental difficulty.

Within the paradigm, your dog, not 'dogness' but your actual dog, not possessing a rational and therefore immortal soul, cannot go to heaven -- but then, within the paradigm, neither can you.

Within the paradigm, the 'type' of your 'soul' could be said to be a necessary condition for going to heaven, but it is not a sufficient condition. In fact there is no sufficient condition; or, more precisely, the paradigm fails, and can give no meaningful account of what would be a sufficient condition. For the notion of a 'material substance' is incoherent within the Aristotelian/Thomist paradigm "without remainder":

Reference has already been made to the problem of assigning substantiality, whether to the individual, as is usual, or to the species, as seems to be more in accord with the act-potency analysis and even with the definition of substantiality, a reality whose unity in being is in se et non in alio. Whichever course be taken, the classic notion of material substantiality must remain incoherent, as has been shown: there is in fact no provision in the classic analysis for a concrete specific form in which the individual member of the species might participate and thus find a base even for its immanent (necessary) intelligibility and its (necessary) intraspecific or immanent activity, while to attribute substantial being to the material individual is to leave the reality of intraspecific communication unaccountable. This systematic impasse eliminates the rational possibility within the classic Thomist metaphysics of any material substantiality, whether of the species as a concrete universal, or of the isolated material individual, and does so without remainder.

The conclusion is then forced: the notion of a material substance, insofar as concerns the classic Thomist format, is unintelligible, incapable of a coherent act-potency account.

[CT Vol II (Chap V), p.446]

CONCLUSION: if we were serving as advocatus diaboli in the case, the above discussion prompts the question: Why deploy such a plainly incomplete or even actively antagonistic philosophy of "Man" within Catholic theology in the first place?


"1. Man always chooses to act in apprehension of the good, never choosing evil qua evil for its own sake."

"Man always"

"always" -- says who?


"1. Man always chooses to act in apprehension of the good, never choosing evil qua evil for its own sake."

"Man always chooses to act in apprehension of the good"

(a) It goes without saying that "the good" is, of course, as that is defined within Thomism/Aristotelianism.

(b) THE Good in Thomism is the Deus Unus, the Aristotelian Prime Mover. The certainty of the "analogy of being" thus becomes essential to Fundamental Moral Theology™. For unless the analogy of being holds, Fundamental Moral Theology™ is unable to be a moral theology at all.

Unfortunately, the analogy of being was known as early as the end of the 13th century to

...set up a radically contradictory postulate of a transcendent creator who is "naturally" known to be the metaphysical absolute, for it is immediately evident that of the transcendent absolute precisely nothing is or can be known, as a matter of definition: of the ineffable, nothing is said.

[CT Vol.I, Ch. II n. 37, p. 278]

The unfortunate reality is that, when this Thomistic set-up is read at the letter (as one would suppose Thomist logicians would ever want to do, but in fact they never do, but let's pretend), it is impossible for mere "Man" (redolent with multiplicity and extension) to have any ability whatever to apprehend his ultimate good -- or even to know whether he is closer or farther away from an apprehension of his ultimate good -- because Man's ultimate good is the strictly and completely transcendent (therefore, wholly unknowable) Deus Unus vigorously argued for by St. Thomas; for instance, in the first 26 questions of Part I of his Summa.

Again, a firm doctrine, that God has made Himself knowable by Man, is simply draped over a system that would at first, second, and third glance appear to simply rule the doctrine out (or that system is 'saved' by extensive, torturous logic ad extra).

At times, by way of a covering explanation, a bit of poetry is introduced: God "is so much more greatly unknowable than Man can ever know Him" -- something like that. (The sentence as it stands is perfectly unexceptionable; the difficulty is that, since the analogy of being fails, you never told us how "Man" can know this utterly ineffable God at all).

(c) In Thomism, 'the good' means, 'the proper end and functioning of a member of a species." Thus "the good for Man" has its ground in the inadequate or even actively heretical Aristotelian anthropology previously discussed.


"Man always chooses to act in apprehension of the good, never choosing evil qua evil for its own sake."

"never choosing evil qua evil for its own sake."

Moral theology solves "the problem of evil" (it is impossible to 'want' evil qua evil; it is only possible to inaccurately apprehend good, or in weakness to prefer a lesser good over a greater) in a manner that appears to introduce a problem into dogmatic theology, because the solution seems to lead to the following...



If we 'really' apprehended Christ with His bride accurately, we could do no other than choose life with them, but our apprehension is obscured and our will is weakened by the Fall, so we sin, which further obscures our apprehension and further weakens our will, and we are thus subject to judgment and punishment even beyond that of Original Sin.

But this schema given within Fundamental Moral Theology™ can provide no satisfactory account of how the Fall could have occurred in the first place. For the pre-Fallen Adam and Eve and the pre-Fallen Lucifer would by definition always want the good for themselves, would both apprehend and will the good for themselves accurately, since neither their apprehension nor their will had been weakened by the Fall, and it is impossible for them to "choose evil qua evil for its own sake."


So many gigantic theological difficulties, in so few words.


Since our earnest ex-monk concludes his impeccably clear and heart-wrenchingly dunderheaded (one almost wants to say, in the Southern fashion, "Bless his heart") 6-point expostulation in just that way, we cannot resist:

Here endeth the lesson.

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