The Virtue of Thomas Aquinas and Machiavelli
An investigation and exposition
The author's goal in this essay is to evaluate the definition of virtue according to Aquinas and compare/contrast that with Machiavellian virtue. Following this evaluation the author will attempt to discredit Machiavellian virtue as being shallow and impossible. Relying on question 55 from the Summa Theologiae and various chapters from The Prince, the author hopes to lay a solid and concrete argument against Machiavelli. It is insufficient to write of Aquinas without first mentioning Aristotle and the relationship Thomas Aquinas had with his work. Aristotle writes at great length of the human good. The good for man, according to Aristotle, is an active use of those faculties which separate man from the rest of nature, namely reason and will, which are distinct from lower faculties such as feeling or reaction. One principle that deeply influenced Aquinas was Aristotle's theory that the moral virtues are each an average of two opposing human traits (which is how the average person gauges morals today whether they are conscious of it or not). Courage is found between cowardice and rashness, generosity between stinginess and prodigality.
The highest good for Aristotle is found in the contemplation of truth, he believed this was the highest part of man's nature; that it was so because of its reliance on man's intellect and reason. Thomas Aquinas took the contemplation of truth a magnificent step further by postulating man, through seeking his ultimate end, as participating in the very nature of God. For Aquinas this participation is the state of Grace. A person in the state of Grace possesses certain powers, these are referred to as virtues. More specifically they are infused virtues that can be separated into two distinct kinds: Theological virtues and Moral (or Cardinal) virtues. Before delving too deeply into the specifics of these virtues it is important to establish some ground work.
Thomas Aquinas defines virtue as "a good habit bearing on activity". We can also relate this definition to a good faculty, namely habit. Intrinsic to the concept of virtue is habit. Habit according to Thomas can be within the natural order or elevated to the Divine by Grace. Habits are seen as "stable dispositions", or qualities, that guide the faculties to act a certain way. Habits can be infused or acquired depending on the faculty. Of course not every habit is a virtue but only one that guides a faculty, through the use of reason, toward the good; the good being the Ultimate end or the Beatific Vision which awaits us when our life here on earth is over.
Aquinas makes a key point about virtues. The key point made is between what Aquinas refers to as the infused virtues (those which are God given and work in us without interference from the faculties of man) and the acquired habits. When these acquired good habits become regular practice for us we call them our "second nature". Our second nature leads our actions to perfection. Elemental and absolutely necessary for the development of our second nature are reason and will, our intellect. The infused virtues, on the other hand, are a gift from God and are thus called supernatural because they transcend reason and will; they are gifts which we can not freely acquire or operate. Among these infused gift virtues are two kinds: the first are the Theological virtues (Faith, Hope, and Charity) which are concerned directly with God and our ultimate end, which are unaided by reason. The theological virtues supply man with the love of God and teach us His will. The second and lesser of the infused virtues are the moral virtues. The moral virtues are concerned with human action and not with God himself. More specifically they are concerned with human conduct. The four moral virtues (which are also called Cardinal virtues) are Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance, and Justice. Where the...
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