Right Practical Reason: Aristotle, Action, and Prudence in Aquinas

Right Practical Reason: Aristotle, Action, and Prudence in Aquinas

Right Practical Reason: Aristotle, Action, and Prudence in Aquinas

Right Practical Reason: Aristotle, Action, and Prudence in Aquinas


This book is a study of the role of intellect in human action as described by Thomas Aquinas. One of its primary aims is to compare the interpretation of Aristotle by Aquinas with the lines of interpretation offered in contemporary Aristotelian scholarship. The book seeks to clarify the problems involved in the appropriation of Aristotle's theory by a Christian theologian, including such topics as the practical syllogism and the problems of akrasia. Westberg argues that Aquinas was much closer to Aristotle than is often recognized, and he puts forward important new interpretations of the relation of intellect and will in the stages of intention, deliberation, decision, and execution. In the concluding section of the book, he shows how this new interpretation yields fruitful insights on a range of theological topics, including sin, law, love, and the moral virtues.


The part of this work which may lay some claim to originality, or at least to offer a solution of a stubborn difficulty in Thomist studies, is Part III, on the process of action. An interpretation is presented which is both faithful to the Summa Theologiae treatment, and avoids the cumbersome scheme of alternating actions of intellect and will, helping to clarify the account of practical reason. The necessary foundations and the implications for a revised view of prudence complete the structure of the book.

This study began as a thesis for the Faculty of Theology at Oxford University, for which I received a D.Phil. in 1989. I am indebted to the Rev Dr Oliver O'Donovan, Regius Professor of Moral Theology, for suggesting the topic of prudence and encouraging me to see its importance.

I am thankful to my supervisor, Fr Herbert McCabe, OP, for his wisdom, patience, hospitality, and grasp of St Thomas; and to my examiners, Professor John Mahoney, who made suggestions for revision, and Dr Antony Kenny, who also assisted in arrangements for publication.

Professors James Reilly of the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, Toronto, and Russell Hittinger, of the Catholic University in America, and an anonymous reader of OUP, read the entire typescript (at different stages), and offered helpful suggestions for improvement. I am indebted to the careful copy-editing of Mr R. M. Ritter for avoiding a number of errors and ambiguities.

Others have encountered smaller portions of the work. Chapter 8 (in shortened form) was read and favourably received at the International Conference on Medieval Philosophy in Ottawa, August, 1992. Other chapters were read by Frs Joseph Owens and Walter Principe of the Pontifical Institute in Toronto; and Fr Lawrence Dewan, of the Collage Dominicain de philosophie et théologie, Ottawa, kindly helped me with the chapter on metaphysics. None of those named are responsible, of course, for remaining errors or infelicities.

In addition to what may be described as these 'formal causes', the production of the book involved many others in efficient and instrumental causality. For financial support I am grateful to the . . .

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