The Common Good in Late Medieval Political Thought

By M. S. Kempshall | Go to book overview

3
Thomas Aquinas--Metaphysics and Hierarchy

Whilst the influence of Albertus Magnus on scholastic philosophy and theology extends much further than simply serving as a preparatory guide to Aquinas, an examination of the connections between the two theologians can still prove instructive. This is particularly true of his role as a scholastic commentator on Aristotle's ethical and political thought where Albertus provides a natural, and much-needed, point of reference for Aquinas' understanding of the common good.1 According to Albertus' analysis of the comparative terminology in book I of the Ethics, the superiority of the common good to the individual good can be justified from at least three perspectives--Aristotle's account of the analogical predication of goodness in the universe, the pseudo-Dionysian principle that all good is communicative of its own goodness, and the epistemological theory that individual humans are attracted to the good as the natural object of their intellect and their will. When Aquinas came to discuss the common good of the human community, it accordingly took the form of a wide-ranging investigation of each of the three elements which were outlined in Albertus' exposition. In the first instance, Aristotle's account of analogical predication prompted him to analyse the participation of individuals in existence and goodness in the universe. In the second instance, the pseudo-Dionysian schema of communicative goodness made him examine the way in which the' operation of hierarchy directs individual goods towards their ultimate perfection in God. In the third instance, the operation of the intellect and the will precipitated a discussion of the naturalness of the relationship between goodness and human volition.

Viewed in the light of Albertus Magnus' exposition of the Ethics, the central question which is posed by Aquinas' understanding of the individual and the common good is the extent of the correspondence between each of Albertus' metaphysical elements (analogy and participation, communication and hierarchy, intellectual apprehension and volition) and the model which Aquinas considered appropriate for the good of the political community. Thus, if Aquinas' commitment to the superiority of the moral good of human society is to be read as a justification of the complete absorption of the individual within the community, then the most natural place to find evidence for it would be in his association of the comparative terminology of

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1
For the connection between their respective commentaries, see Thomas Aquinas, Sententiae Noni Libri Ethicorum ( Rome, 1969), 235*-57*, and, more generally, J. Weisheipl, Thomas d'Aquino and Albert his Teacher ( Toronto, 1980).

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