Ecstatic Morality and Sexual Politics: A Catholic and Antitotalitarian Theory of the Body

Ecstatic Morality and Sexual Politics: A Catholic and Antitotalitarian Theory of the Body

Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Ecstatic Morality and Sexual Politics: A Catholic and Antitotalitarian Theory of the Body
    Book Description:

    This first book-length treatment of Thomas Aquinas'stheory of the body presents a Catholic understandingof the body and its implications for social and politicalphilosophy. Making a fundamental contribution toantitotalitarian theory, McAleer argues that a sexual politicsreliant upon Aquinas's theory of the body is better (becauseless violent) than other commonly available theories.He contrasts this theory with those of four other groupsof thinkers: the continental tradition represented by Kant,Schopenhauer, Merleau-Ponty, Nancy, Levinas, and Deleuze;feminism, in the work of Donna Haraway; an alternativeCatholic theory to be found in Karl Rahner; and theRadical Orthodoxyof John Milbank.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4776-9
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xviii)
    (pp. 1-12)

    Thomas’s analysis of the body rests on a peculiar metaphysical claim, and some might think this claim alone makes any putative restoration absurd; yet, I do not think this ought to be conceded directly. From Aristotle, Aquinas draws the idea that matter desires form (ScG II, c. 23 and c. 40; III, c. 4, para. 4). In hisCommentary on the Physics, Aquinas asks if perhaps this is meant metaphorically, as Avicenna insists. Thomas, with Averroes, prefers to think that Aristotle meant it quite literally (I Phys., lect. 15, n. 136). Indeed, for Thomas, prime matter is a principle of...

  6. Chapter Two ECSTATIC BEING
    (pp. 13-33)

    All creatures desire the divine likeness and in so doing desire their own perfection. This is possible, for all being in Thomas’s conception is ecstatic. Through examining this idea in the present chapter, it will be possible to see that the metaphysics of ecstatic being in theSumma contra gentiles(III, c. 24, para. 6–9) allows Thomas to describe a philosophical anthropology in which the desires of the human reflect a moral hierarchy (ScG III, c. 63, para. 1–8) and to establish a foundation for his natural law theory (ST I–II, q. 94, a. 2). The four-part...

    (pp. 34-60)

    TheSumma contra gentiles(III, c. 63, para. 1–8) describes a four-part movement of human desire. It is clear from these paragraphs that human desire is naturally other-directed and in an increasingly ecstatic way as one moves through this fourfold hierarchy. Thus, human desire, eros, is, as John Paul II puts it, “a primordial sacrament,” a sign of man’s “particular likeness to God” (TB, 76). The cardinal point in Thomas’s analysis of the ecstatic movement of desire, and thus the body, is the claim that the ecstasy of sensuality is not found in pleasure as such, but pleasure guided...

  8. Chapter Four THE LAW OF THE FLESH
    (pp. 61-73)

    It has been a source of some concern for a long while now how exactly to ground Thomas’s natural law theory most effectively.² It is commonly thought that once Thomas’s biological teleology, inherited from Aristotle, became nothing short of an embarrassment, his natural law theory became unmoored and fatally weakened. That Thomas barely ever spoke of biology seems to have been missed by many. Thomas, unlike his teacher Albert or other thirteenth-century scholastics, never wrote any commentaries on Aristotle’s biological works, and although he does on occasion note the need to find some natural reason for a phenomenon—the rebellion...

  9. Chapter Five THE BODY AS CROSS
    (pp. 74-93)

    In previous chapters, Thomas’s conception of the other-directedness of desire has been described. I have shown that this conception allows Thomas to build a philosophical anthropology in which the desires of the human can be placed in a moral hierarchy. That is, we saw how the metaphysical concerns of theSumma contra gentiles(III, c. 24, para. 6–9) track Thomas’s natural law theory.Summa contra gentiles(III, c. 63, para. 1–8) describes a four-part movement of human desire. It is clear from these paragraphs that human desire is naturally other-directed—and in an increasing manner—as one moves...

    (pp. 94-114)

    Sometime around 1567, the Spanish Jesuit Francisco Toletus wrote his commentary,Enarratio in summam theologiae Sancti Thomae Aquinatis.¹ In 1986, the American feminist Donna Haraway wroteSimians, Cyborgs, and Women.² Oddly, both works contain fundamentally the same thesis about the body. This claim might seem outlandish: indeed, the claim might appear to fall into the absurd. After all, Haraway’s work on “cyborg feminism” is regarded as one of the most theoretical, and radical, feminist critiques of the Western tradition. Her dialectical Marxist critique was published by Free Association Books, a progressive and liberal press whose motto runs “an association in...

    (pp. 115-136)

    According to Martha Nussbaum, any religious leader who uses religious speech in public to criticize contraception, “should be strongly criticized as a subverter of the constitution.”¹ I am no religious leader, and given the kind of world Martha Nussbaum is trying to create, it is just as well.² I want to argue against another claim she has made: “It seems plausible that unimpeded access to contraception is a basic human right of women.”³ I could not find Nussbaum’s argument to support this claim but it is probably an argument from equality. She states that, in America at least, abortion is...

    (pp. 137-155)

    Humanae Vitaeis best understood as a complex argument drawing upon phenomenology, metaphysics, natural law, speculative theology, biblical witness, and political philosophy (cf. TB, 398–9). Commentary on the text typically supposes that natural law reasoning is front and center and that little else is presupposed.¹ In showing the hidden theological depths of the argument, I have also presented the Church’s sexual ethics as an example of Ecstatic Thomism, defending a metaphysics of the body as a self-diffusive good. Commentators have often supposed that Wojtyla’s recent formulation of the Church’s ethics is largely phenomenological because they presume that Wojtyla’s philosophy...

    (pp. 156-180)

    A Jesuit author has recently argued that Catholic moral formation helped National Socialism to identify its enemies and helps explain “the savagery of its violence” toward those enemies. In his argument, Catholic moral theology set the framework for the 1935 Nuremberg Laws prohibiting sexual relations between Germans and Jews. If Germans were identified with spirit and Jews with flesh, then not only is Nazism’s desire to see the two kept apart explained but so too is the violence visited upon the Jews: for is it not a central tenet of Catholic moral theology that there is a war between spirit...

  14. Concluding Remarks
    (pp. 181-188)

    “Privilege:” There is no dirtier word, right?¹ Perhaps. When I went to the lectures of Gerry Cohen as an undergraduate you would have described him as a dyed-in-the-wool Communist. But that was in the mid-eighties and a lot has happened since then: and Gerry Cohen has been thinking a lot. In answer to the title question of his 2000 book,If You’re So Egalitarian, How Come You’re So Rich?Cohen answers that the best egalitarians can hope to do is to live out their privilege by sending their children to the very best fee-paying schools and cultivating in them and...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 189-222)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 223-234)
  17. Index
    (pp. 235-237)