Thomism Moral Theology After Macintyre: Modern Ethics, Tragedy and

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    Studies in Christian Ethics

    DOI: 10.1177/0953946895008001041995; 8; 33Studies in Christian Ethics

    Fergus KerrThomism

    Moral Theology After Macintyre: Modern Ethics, Tragedy and

    The online version of this article can be found at:

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    irmlydenying thathe is any kind oftheologian,Alasdair Maclntyreidentifiershimselfas a moral philosopherworking in the Thomistic

    Aristotelian tradition (see most recently his substantial and verypositive assessment of the papal encyclical Veritatis Splendor in TheThomist 58 (1994), 171-195). John Milbank, in Theology and SocialTheory (1990), offers the first major study ofhow Maclntyres versionofvirtue ethicswould need tobe supplemented or (rather) radicalizedto make it Christian. He cites exclusively from Whose Justice? Which

    Rationality? (1988), in the preface to which Maclntyre withdraws theobjections which he made inAfter Virtue (1981, second edition 1985)to the central Thomist thesis about the unity of the virtues andultimate compatibility of all moral goods and goals. There is reasonto believe that his nextbook will be even more sympathetic to Thomistethics. But the change of mind over the question of the nature ofconflicting goods and goals remains well worth attention- if for noother reason than that it challenges all students of Christian ethics toreflect on how far their favourite moral theory, whatever it may be,

    can or should accommodate tragic dilemmas.MacIntyres MAdissertation at Manchester in 1951 attackedintuitionist and emotivist ethics. The first nine chapters of After Virtueextend that attack into vehement rejection of all modern moral

    philosophy, Humean, Kantian, utilitarian and Nietzschean. Whilethere has been resistance within moral philosophy itself to details inMaclntyres account (by Peter Winch, Onora ONeill,Annette Baieramong others), this indictment of the moral wilderness of our culturehas been widely endorsed, particularly by students of Christianethics. Other

    grandviews of the scene are of course available. Charles

    Taylor for one, who is also a Catholic though not prepared to allyhimself with Thomism, offers a much richer and far more positiveaccount of the formation of the modern self in his Sources of the Self

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    (1989). The recent return inAnglo-Americanphilosophy toAristotlesethics, breaking the grip of the traditional choice between deontologyand utilitarianism, owes most to fineworkbyclassicists (such as SarahBroadie, Terence Irwin, Martha CravenNussbaum and many others).But, withAfter Virtue, Maclntyre certainly helped to place virtue


    the agenda as the serious alternative to the varieties of moralphilosophy that have flourished since Hume and Kant.The modernity of all modem moral philosophies is defined,

    according to MacIntyres story,by the emergence since the Reformationand the Enlightenment of the liberal individual, conceived of asabstracted from the particularities of character, history andcircumstance. The only way out of the illusions of this liberalindividualism is said to be by rehabilitating something like the

    Aristotelian ethics denounced in their day by such luminaries of

    modernityas Luther and Hobbes

    (A V 154/165).

    Kantianism and Virtue Ethics

    Some influential moral philosophers are attracted by ancient virtueethics precisely because it seems incompatible with Christian ethics.Explored most openly in John Caseys fine book Pagan Virtue (1990),this assumption pervades the writings of such philosophers asNussbaum and Bernard Williams. For them, Christian ethics is

    equatedwith Kantianism. Virtue ethics, according to this story, would havebeen driven off the agenda by Christian ethics.

    For Christians, so this story goes, moral goodness cannot depend inany way upon the accidents of an individuals history. ForAristotle,on the other hand, the existence and possession of virtue includes justsuch an element of contingency. Not everyone is bom with the

    potential of becoming (say) brave or chaste. Human beings areanimals, some ofwhom are always going to be stronger, better able tobear pain, less inclined to be fearful of the unknown, more easilyangered or sexually aroused than others. Furthermore, we are socialbeings, which means that contingencies of birth, race, caste, gender,intelligence, culture, and so on, cannot be irrelevant in our growth invirtue.

    Christians, on the other hand, find no incompatibility betweenbeing good and being (say) stupid, uncultured, lacking in leisure, andsuchlike. Indeed, for post-Nietzschean moralists like Nussbaum andWilliams, self-stultification in the form of meekness, humility and soon, seems to lie close to the centre of Christian ethics. For Kant, the

    good manneed not have any intelligence, letalone culture or property.Moral developmentand excellenceowenothing to such contingencies.A stupid man is as capable ofbeing good as a clever one, since to havea good will does not depend upon special gifts or skills, as Casey says

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    (p. 145). The moral is entirely sealed off from the empirical. Indeed,for Kant, practical reason - prudence - is not a virtue. On thecontrary, to call a judgment prudential is effectively to say that it isnot moral at all - which shows how Kantian our ordinary moral

    language in fact is.The social and

    political implicationsof this difference need no

    unravelling here.According to this story, the Kantian moralist will beinclined to think that delinquency has little or nothing to do withmaterial conditions.AnAristotelian, on the other hand, would regardethics, politics, economics, and so on, as inextricably connected.(Nussbaum and Williams certainly think theirAristotelianism has

    political implications; Onora ONeill, however, would advise us toread more Kant than the usual texts before we accept that his moral

    philosophy has no political bearing.)

    Practical Reason and the Marquis ofMontrose

    WhatAristotles conception of the virtue of practical reason amountsto, so Maclntyre says, is an adequate sense of the traditions to whichone belongs-a grasp of those future possibilitieswhich the past hasmade available in the present -the kind of capacity for judgmentwhich the agent possesses in knowing how to select among therelevant stack ofmaxims andhow to applythem in particularsituations

    (AV 207-8/223). This isAristotles key virtue of practical reason(phronesis),Aquinass prudentia.

    Cardinal Pole possessed this key virtue, Mary Tudor did not; the

    Marquis of Montrose possessed it, King Charles I did not: WhatCardinal Pole and the Marquis of Montrose possessed were in factthose virtues which enable their possessors to pursue both their own

    good and the good of the tradition of which they are the bearers evenin situations definedby the necessity of tragic, dilemmatic choice (AV208/223).

    These historical exemplars of practicalreason are so


    provocative, even so perverse, that it is hard not to pick at them to seewhether the whole story might not begin to unravel. ThoughAristotleclearlydraws his notion ofphronesis from reflection onhow the wisestof his contemporaries characteristically behaved, he pays very littleattention to the detail of the moral dilemmas which having this virtueof practical wisdom might be supposed to help to clarify and resolve.Maclntyres picture of Montrose as a tragic hero seems very remotefromAristotles conception of the man with the practical wisdom tobalance the claims of

    competing goodsand

    goals.The kind of account

    which Maclntyre offers of moral conflict is, as he says himself (AV167 / 179), quite incompatiblewithwhat we find inAristotle orThomas

    Aquinas. By introducing moral dilemmas in the sense of rationally

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    irresolvable conflicts of goods and goals,Maclntyre rejects the ancientthesis of the unity of the virtues and thereby subverts the Thomistic

    Aristotelianism which he envisages as the onlyway out of the liberal-individualist ethics of modernity. In effect, inAfter Virtue, Maclntyremodernizes Thomist ethics, thereby producing something very like

    the kind of liberal pluralism which is as characteristic a modem erroras the various monistic moral theories that he wants us to reject.Never mind Cardinal Pole (1500-58, the lastArchbishop of

    Canterbury to be in communion with Rome) - what about theMarquis ofMontrose? Likemany anotheryoung Scot of his generationMaclntyre must (I think) have been brought up on the works of JohnBuchan - in whose superb biography Montrose (1928) the Marquisturns out in the end to be one who did not drug his soul with easyloyalties, but faced the problem of his times unflinchingly, andreached conclusions which had to wait for

    nearlytwo hundred

    yearstill they could be restated with some hope of acceptance. In virtue ofhis achievement (the brilliant victories of 1644-45), Montrose muststand as the foremost Scottish man of action: The complete paladin,full ofcourtesyand grace ... Montrose was armed and mailed Reason,Philosophy with its sword unsheathed ... The springs of his beingwere a pellucid reasonableness of soul,joined to a power ofabsorptionin dutywhich iscommonly found only in the ranks of fanaticism; andmuch else in the same vein.Montrose was


    the first to

    signthe National Covenant of

    1638, which he regarded to the end of his life as an entirely properattempt to warn Charles Inot to go too farin supportofepiscopalianismin the reformed Church of Scotland. But by 1643 and the SolemnLeague and Covenant, when the Kirk agreed to send an army to helpthe English parliamentarians, Montrose felt bound to change sides.Thus he found himself in a situationdefined by the necessity of tragic,dilemmatic choice.As a moderate Covenanter who opposed royalabsolutismand a Cavalierwho feared Presbyterian fanaticism, he hadto choose, in a tragic situation, between rival goods - both of thealternative courses of action which confront the individual have to be

    recognized as leading to some authentic and substantial good (A V208/224).

    In Presbyterian mythology Montrose is regarded as simply aturncoat. In the best modern biography, Montrose: For Covenant andKing (1977), Edward Cowan writes (p. 101): He was not the high-minded, high-principled, consistent paragon created by some of hisadmirers; he was a man wracked by doubts and uncertaintiesdesperately trying to understand and come to terms with a situationcreated by history. David Matthew, in Scotland under Charles 1 (1955),refers to the embarrassmentof Montroses legend (p. 270),concedingthat he was consistent but only in being impetuous, proud, and anti-clerical.

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    Does the story of the chameleon-like figure of the first Marquis ofMontrose really suggest that he was much good at knowing how toselect among the relevant stack of maxims andhow to apply them inparticular situations?Agallant and honourable young man (nodoubt) who had little experience ofpoliticsand none of war, he might

    have fittedAristotles description of those whoare

    rash, hairbrained,and vainglorious - noble only in the way in which he faced hisexecution.

    Incidentally, Robert Sanderson, one of the greatestAnglican moraltheologians, whose De Obligatione Conscientiae is a major work of

    casuistry, was deprived of his chair at Oxford (though not of his head)by Puritan Visitors because he too had opposed the Solemn Leagueand Covenant.

    Modern Moral Theories

    The pointabout Cardinal Pole and the Marquis ofMontrose, accordingto Maclntyre, is that their lives exemplify one way in which the choicebetween rival goods in a tragic situation differs from the modernchoice between incommensurable moral premises (AV 208/224).Here, that is to say, Maclntyre lets us see what itmeans to be modernin the ways which he is out to expose and discredit.

    The modern assumption is that either we can admit the existence

    of rival and contingentlyincompatiblegoodswhichmakeincompatibleclaims to ourpracticalallegianceorwecanbelieve insome determinate

    conception of the good life for man - but that these are mutuallyalternatives (AV 208/223).As adherents of modernity, we eithersettle for liberal pluralism in ethics or we plump for some single-principled moral systems, such as Kantian universalizability, theutilitarian calculus, or (worse still) pure emotivism.

    Maclntyre refers us to J. L.Austin,withoutspecifying where he saidanything of the kind. But it is certainlyreminiscent of the kind of thing

    that Isaiah Berlin has been saying for years. Indeed, much earlier (A V103 / 109), Berlin has been identified as the most systematic and cogentdefender of the liberal claim that there is no such thing as one unitaryvision of the world - as holding, then, that the alternative to monisticethical systems has to be a pluralistic theory of the ends and values inhuman life, according to which there canbe no one true account of the

    right goals for a given individual nor any single correct solution towhat one ought to do in any given moral dilemma.Again, Berlin issaid to be the one who has urged upon us strenuously the view thatthe


    heterogeneityof human

    goodsis such that their

    pursuit cannot be reconciled in any single moral order and that

    consequently any social order which either attempts such areconciliation or which enforces the hegemony of one set of goods

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    over all others is bound to turn into a straitjacket and very probablya totalitarian straitjacket for the human condition (AV 134/143).The modem debate about moral dilemmas goes back at least to W.

    D. Ross. In The Right and the Good (1930) he maintained that only apluralistic non-consequentialist theory could do justice to the

    complexities of moral experience. In particular, according to Ross, itneed not be irrational, in a conflict of obligations, to feel regret andeven remorse at being unable to honour one commitment even whenone is perfectlycertain that the otherwas stronger in the circumstances.

    If you think you have to choose between liberal pluralism of goalsand values orone of the monistic ethicalsystems, thatmeans, accordingto MacIntyre, that you are blind to the fact that there may be better orworse ways for individuals to live through tragic confrontation ofgood with good (AV 208/224). You thereby betray that you are an

    unthinking product of modern moral philosophy.What the cases of Cardinal Pole and the Marquis of Montroseexemplify,on the other hand, is the pre-modem view - which is thatthe choice between rival goods in a rationally irresolvable conflict ofduties involves the individual in recognizing that either of thealternative courses of action confronting him would lead to someauthentic and substantial good. By choosing one I do nothing todiminish or derogate from the claims upon me of the other; andtherefore, whatever I do, I shall have left undone what I ought to have

    done (AV208

    /224).That there will

    alwaysbe a



    beingunable to fulfil the commitment which one chose to abrogate seems acommon enough experience - but on any of the monistic ethicalsystems such a regret would be irrational.The moral agent as famously depicted by Sartre (the young man

    who has to choose between joining the Resistance and staying with hiswidowed motheron their remote farm) is, soMaclntyre says, envisagedas having to opt quite arbitrarilybetween one allegiance and the other- which seems somehow very immoral. The only possibilities forthe moral


    anymodern moralist

    recognizes,so he insists,

    are either to stick by some single principle (universalizability, utility,feeling) or to make an unconstrained choice - monism or radicalexistentialism. There is no middle way, for moralists trapped in

    modernity, between submitting to a catch-all rule and tossing a coin.Whatever the initial apparent dilemma, applying the rule, whateverit may be, will always yield the one right thing to do, or else, sinceones nature is onesown free creation, it does not matter which courseof action you choose.

    Tragic Dilemmas

    For the tragic protagonist, such as MacIntyres Montrose, however,

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    there simply is no right choice - he cannot do everything that heought to do. By identifying himself as a Cavalier in 1643, in the actualhistorical circumstances, Montrosehad to forfeit what he would havedone as a Covenanter of 1638- and itwould not have been irrationalof him to regret that.

    On either of the only twomodem positions (varieties of monism ormere pluralism), then, what gets lost is the tragic element in moral life- so Maclntyre thinks (AV 133/143). On the liberal pluralist story,genuine moral perplexity is impossible since there is never any rightcourse of action for anyone anyway. On any of the various monistic

    ethical systems, on the other hand, there may at first sight seem to bea conflict of duties, but this will always be resolvable. Does Sartresyoung man stay and care for his mother or go off and join theResistance? Which is the universalizable course? Which will promotethe

    greatest happinessof the

    greatestnumber? Which feels

    right?Once one decides, itwould be irrational to harbour regrets about nottaking the alternative course. What you have decided not to do mustsimply be the wrong course of action in the circumstances- and howcan you have regrets about not doing the wrong thing?

    Maclntyres characterization of the modernity ofpost-Enlightenmentmoral philosophies thus focusses on their failure to take irresolvableand hence tragic moralconflicts seriously. But paradoxically,when heurges us to abandon the ethical systems of modernity and return to

    Aristotelian ethics, he finds himself in another monistic version ofethics which he at once has to subvert.

    Aristotles Blindness to Tragedy

    The problem withAristotle, as with Plato andAquinas, is that theyshare a belief in the existence of a cosmic orderwhich dictates the placeof each moral good, goal, virtue or principle, in a total harmoniousscheme of human life (seeAV 133/142). Pre-modern ethics, that is to

    say, depends on a very deep view about the balance of elementswithin the soul, as within the body and the cosmos and any otherliving organism (see Stuart Hampshire, Morality and Conflict, 1983).The point about the key virtue of practical reason is that it enables themoral agent in any perplexity to weigh the competing claims and findthe correct answer. What at first looks like a conflict of duties willresolve itself as soon as the hierarchy of goods and goals is recalled.In the case of Sartres young man, it would have seemed obvious to

    Plato,Aristotle andAquinas that his patriotic duty to his country

    outweighed his filial concern for his mother - the common wealwould always take precedence over family responsibilities. Claimsand values in the ethical sphere could never ultimately conflict.Consider an example given by Germain Grisez (in The Way of the

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    Lord Jesus: Christian Moral Principles, 1983, p. 297).Ateacher mighthave a conflict between a professional duty to meet a class, whichcannot be taken over by someone else or made up later, and a familyduty to participate in the funeral of a parent, which would require adays absence. If there were no conflict it would be wrong to neglect

    either engagement. It is a simple choice between two good courses ofaction. Because it is impossible to do both, Grisez rightly says, onlyone can be morally required. Of course you must consider the effectson individuals in whichever group you decide to join (your class oryour family), and so on. Having done this, one possibility is likely tobe identifiable as the proper duty to fulfil. One or other of thealternatives is likely to emerge as the better course, once you havetried to imaginehow the others involved would react. If not, one mayblamelessly omit either duty, Grisez concludes.No doubt one of the

    principalmotivations in Grisezs discussion of

    apparent moral dilemmas, as in a great deal of casuistry, has to dowith saving people with over-scrupulous consciences fromunnecessary anxiety. But inAfter Virtue MacIntyre clearly thinks thatthis bluffway with moral dilemmas takes all the drama out ofhuman

    life. In fact, as Charles Larmore notes (in Patterns of Moral Complexity,1987, p. 38), it is Sophocles and notAristotle who looms overMaclntyres first essay in search of postmodern moral philosophy.

    The Sophoclean View

    The Sophoclean view of the moral life reveals the superficiality andblandness of the Platonist-Aristotelian-Thomist conception of theultimate reconcilability of all moral goods and goals (AV 133-135/142-143). Buchans portrait of the Marquis of Montrose displays aSophoclean protagonistmuch moreconvincinglythan anAristotelianphronimos. WithAeschylus,but especially with Sophocles (Antigone,Philoctetes), we are offered systematic explorations of moral conflicts

    generated by the contradictory imperatives of rival allegiances.Maclntyre distinguishes this Sophoclean view from the liberalismwhich he attributes to Isaiah Berlin.According to the liberal view,when genuine moral conflicts arise the choice between the rivalclaims, goods or goals, is not expressible in a judgment with truth-value (Berlins position beingthus assimilated to Sartrean existentialism- a highly contestable thesis!). On the Sophoclean view, in contrast,when dutiesand virtues areperceived asmaking rivalandincompatibleclaims upon us, we cannot but recognize the authority of both claims-

    and the authority of the claim which we choose to go againstremains: our situation is tragic in that we have to recognize the

    authority of both claims (AV 134/143). In contrast to the modernliberal moralist, the Sophoclean believes that there is an objective

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    moral order -bust our perceptions of it are such thatwe cannot bringrival moral truths into complete harmony with each other and yet theacknowledgment of the moral order and of moral truth makes thekind of choice which ... a Berlin urges upon us out of the question.

    For the modem liberal life of itself has ... no form, save that whichwe choose to

    projecton to itin our

    aesthetic imaginings (A V 135 / 144).For theAristotelian, there is no tragic moral conflict unless we have ahero with a flaw-a flaw in practical intelligencewhich springs frominadequate possession or exercise of some virtue (A V 153/ 163). In asociety in which everyone led the good life there wouldbe noroom forirresolvable moral dilemmas. In Christian terms, there is no tragedybut for sin. This viewdepends partlyonAristotlesPlatonic conceptionofthe balanced individual. Mainly,according to Maclntyre, itdependsonAristotles misreading of Sophocles. The moral conflicts presentedin

    tragicdrama may often take the form that

    theydo because of the

    flaws in the protagonists (Macbeth, Lear and so on). But whatconstitutes these conflicts as tragic, so Maclntyre insists here, is theconflict of good with good ... prior to and independent of anyindividual characteristics. It is failure to see the centrality of conflictof good with good in human life that blindsAristotle to the truecharacter of Sophoclean tragedy- and to the moral complexity ofhuman life.

    Moral Dilemmas in Christian Ethics

    The only resolution of the moral conflicts in Sophoclean tragedy thatis available is an appeal to the verdict of some god (AV 134/143)- aresolution beyond the protagonists death. In Whose Justice? WhichRationality?, however, which contains some fine analysis of Philoctetes,Maclntyre maintains that, while Sophocles may well have beeninvoking a theological framework and saying that, in a tragic dilemma,we always have to wait upon the voice of some divine being, such a

    response is inherently defective-

    because tragic drama is not thekind of genre which can provide adequate answers to the kind ofquestions which the plays present (WJWR p. 63).Aristotle turns out tobe not soblind after all. The moralphilosophernow seesmore deeply than theplaywright. Without takingus throughwhatever arguments have led to this change of mind, Maclntyre nowclearly believes that further reflection in moral philosophy will showthat the Sophoclean moral dilemmas (conflicts of good with good)depend on some mistaken judgment or flaw in the protagonists

    character, justas

    Aristotle said. It looks, in fact, as if Maclntyresdeepening commitment to Christian theology brought him to see,betweenAfter Virtue and Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, that notheological account of human life can tolerate the possibility of moral

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    conflicts thatowenothingto thehuman agentssinfulness. In particular,Aquinas is called upon in defence of the thesis that the dilemmasconstitutive of tragedy ... always rest upon an underlying mistake(WJWR p. 186)- a mistake on the part of the person involved.

    Arguing against Nussbaum, whoholds (in The Fragility of Goodness,



    of thevirtue of

    practicalreason is

    opento, and indeed a development of, the Sophoclean picture of anindividuals having to choose between rival goods (like the Marquisof Montrose inAfter Virtue!), Maclntyre now endorses the Thomistthesis that, ifsomeone seems to himself tobe confrontedby conflictingmoral claims, he must be guilty (however understandably) at somepoint (however far back in his moral history) of some error or flaw(however deepseated) to which he is (however excusably) blind.Oedipus showed arrogance in thinking that he could deal with thetruth;


    alongwith the

    planto defraud Philoctetes.

    (Perhaps it was too obvious to say whatAntigone did wrong or howher character was so flawed that her conflict of loyalties was not theconflict of one good with another that it has traditionally been takento be.)The one thing clear to Maclntyre now is thatAquinas is right- it

    is always human sinfulness, never the nature of things or the divinewill, which generates the moral conflicts that we call tragic (WJWR p.187). There can never be any irresolvable conflict of good with good,of one true moral principle with another, of one obligation withanother


    for a Christian.Thus, Maclntyre has moved away from the claim that what defines

    the modernity of modern moral philosophies is their failure to makeroom for moral conflicts- either because of their conflict-free liberal

    pluralism or because of some overriding principle. In his attempt torehabilitateAristotelian ethics in After Virtue hefoundhimself includinga notion of Sophoclean tragic conflicts of good with good whichundermined the whole project.On further reflection, however, he hascome to endorseAristotles picture of tragic dilemmas - whichmeans that he also accepts the Thomist view that there are no moraldilemmas but for some ingredient of human sin.Aquinas accepted fromAristotle the truth of the belief in thesubordination of all particular goods and goals to the supreme goodand final end. In reality, then, there canbe no genuine incompatibilityor incommensurabilitybetween one goal and another, orbetween onevalue and another. Of course people who are deeply confused or in astate of grave sin will often find themselves confronted with conflictingobligations. Given hisbelief in the necessity of divine grace for us even

    to be able to think straight, it is not surprising thatAquinas had nodifficulty in acknowledging the existence of much moral perplexity(as he called it). But on his view, as now on Maclntyres, a moral theorywhich insisted on the existence of irresolvable conflicts of one good

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    with another, generated either by the nature of things or by divineintervention, could not be Christian. Moral conflicts are just problemsof finding the right balance, in an ethical system in which goods andgoals are ultimately compatible in an all-inclusive hierarchy. ForAristotle, as for Plato and certainly forAquinas, any moral theorywhich is true to the nature of

    thingsis monistic because it is

    (howeverimplicitly) theological.Conflicts of values or principles which depend on some human

    error at some stage for their existence are one thing. There is of courseno simple rule in Thomistic moral theory to resolve such conflicts, inthe way that Kantian universaliability, the utilitarian calculus orwhatjust feels right is supposed to be able to. Such dilemmas arecommon,often deeply distressing and sometimes beyond any satisfactorysolution. This iswhere any moral theory requires tobe balancedby thepractice of casuistry - which,

    incidentally,is not the invention of

    medieval Catholicism: we have lists of textbook hard cases from the

    Stoics, together with the answers to them. (Ifthere is any disaster in thehistory ofmodernChristian ethics it is surely the tendency to set moraltheory and the discussion of hard cases over against each other.)

    There will certainly be conflicts of one good with another, and onegoal with another, in moral theories which have no theologicalcomponent at any level - as W. D. Ross, Isaiah Berlin and manyothers say. The ThomisticAristotelian analysis of such moral conflictswould, however, take the moral element out of them. Which course

    of action Sartres young man should take, which obligation Grisezsteacher should honour, simply turn out to be practical quaestions -which is why neitherAristotle norAquinas pays much attention tosuch dilemmas. From the fact that I have a duty to do one thing oranother, it does not follow that I have a duty to do both. No blameattaches to me, as Grisez says, frommy having to disregard one of thetwo rival commitments. If exhypothesithe moralclaims are symmetrical,my decision will have to be made on perfectly straightforward non-moral grounds. It seems to be a moral question only if it is assumed

    that any practical question about what to do in a situation in whichobligations are involved must be a moral question. But that does notmean that people who have to disregard one obligation in order tohonour another will always feel free of blame. On the contrary, inmany everyday situations in which people have done all that theycould they often feel guilty.Afiremanwho has rescued as many as hepossibly could of the people in a burning building should not blamehimself for the deaths of those left behind, whose lives he could havesaved only if he had not rescued some of those whom he did. But, as

    everyone knows, this kind of guilt is often felt. That isone reason

    whycounselling is offered to rescuers and suchlike in the aftermath ofdisasters. Whatever their personal religious beliefs, those who arecalled upon to offer counsel in such cases are surely doing their best

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    to take the appearance of a moral dimension out of what were in fact

    simply practical problems.Charles Larmore writes as follows (p. 150): We have to live with the

    fact that we have obligations we cannot honour. Our possibilities inthe world are then too narrow for what we know we ought to do. We

    should not feel guiltor

    take the blame for the choices thatwe

    havesometimes to make between one good and another. Nor should wegive way to scruples and anxiety. But there is a certain regret, a tingeof awe even, in Larmores remarks, which might be thought todisclose a properly religious sense of the finitude of the humancondition.And the wider questions remain. Is MacIntyres second version ofThomisticAristotelian ethics correct? Is a Christian ethics, such as

    Thomism, withno room for moral conflicts of one good with another,

    genuinelyChristian? Is


    theorycommitted to the existence

    of such moral dilemmas compatible with Christian revelation?

    1 I am grateful to members of the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics forcomments which have enabled me to clarify what I tried to say in the original versionof this paper Since I have omitted my section on Maclntyres conception of Thomisticmoral

    enquiry, mayI

    givereferences to two fundamental studies? T. H.

    Irwin,Tradition and Reason in the History of Ethics, in Foundations of Moral and Political

    Philosophy edited by Ellen Frankel Paul and others (1990) and Jean Porter, Opennessand Constraint: Moral Reflection as Tradition-guided Inquiry inAlasdair MacIntyresRecent Works, in The Journnl of Religion 73 (1993) 514-536.

    1995 SAGE Publications All rights reserved Not for commercial use or unauthorized distributionby Oscar Amat on November 20, 2007http://sce.sagepub.comDownloaded from