Reclaiming Moral Agency

Reclaiming Moral Agency: The Moral Philosophy of Albert the Great

STANLEY B. CUNNINGHAM
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 307
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt284zbp
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  • Book Info
    Reclaiming Moral Agency
    Book Description:

    This book provides a comprehensive analysis of the moral philosophy Albert the Great (1200-1280)--the first and only such undertaking in English

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1840-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. PART I: ALBERT AND THE CAREER OF VIRTUE THEORY
    • CHAPTER 1 MODERN VIRTUE THEORY AS FOREGROUND TO ALBERT’S MORAL PHILOSOPHY
      (pp. 3-23)

      “Virtue ethics” or “ethics of virtue” is a long-lived conception of moral worth in which acquired traits of character figure as the primary forms and determinants of human goodness in our actions. It is also a philosophical approach which, over and above the moral worth of the actions themselves, emphasizes the development of these virtuous traits within the moral agent. Characteristically, courageous and just acts originate within courageous and just agents. The descriptor “virtue theory” refers more directly to the theoretical enterprise which undertakes to analyze and understand this schema of interiorized human properties. Since the time of Plato and...

    • CHAPTER 2 ALBERT’S ETHICAL TREATISES
      (pp. 24-45)

      Natural virtue ethics, which had only just begun to glimmer as an object of sporadic philosophical interest in the Christian West in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, was greatly energized by the appearance in western Europe of Latin translations of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, the mother lode of virtue theory. This work, however, did not make its reappearance in the West in the form in which we now know it, that is, as a treatise comprising ten books or chapters. Rather, it filtered into the European countries piecemeal.¹ Until the 1240s, only portions of the Ethics were accessible, and different translations...

    • CHAPTER 3 THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ALBERT’S MORAL TREATISES IN EARLY-THIRTEENTH-CENTURY MORAL PHILOSOPHY
      (pp. 46-76)

      For more than four decades during the last century, an impressive pioneering feat was carried out by one man in the field of the history of moral theory in the Middle Ages. The fruit of Dom Odon Lottin’s years of scholarly research has been conveniently assembled into a work of truly monumental proportions, his Psychologie et Morale aux XIIe et XIIIe Siècles. In its six volumes, Lottin meticulously traced out a series of problems in the area of moral theory and moral psychology, extending from the time of St. Anselm to St. Thomas Aquinas and later. Where printed editions of...

  5. PART II: APPROACHING THE MORAL ORDER
    • CHAPTER 4 META-ETHICAL REFLECTIONS ON “MORAL SCIENCE” AND ITS PROCEDURES
      (pp. 79-92)

      Both of Albert’s commentaries on the Nicomachean Ethics include introductory sections in which he philosophizes upon a number of methodological issues. (This introductory procedure is simply not operative in the case of De bono and De natura boni.) The Prologue in Super Ethica presents these reflections in five relatively short quaestiones in which the treatment is focused, crisp, and succinct. Historically, it is noteworthy as one of the very earliest methodological reviews of the nature and scope of natural ethics in the thirteenth century. By comparison, the corresponding section in the later Ethica is more discursive and structurally less well...

    • CHAPTER 5 THE METAPHYSICS OF THE GOOD
      (pp. 93-112)

      Both of Albert’s two early moral treatises, De natura boni and De bono, begin with a metaphysical investigation into the concepts of the good in general and the physical good (bonum naturae) before dealing directly with moral concepts. In this respect, Albert is imitating the procedure already adhered to by William of Auxerre and Philip the Chancellor in their summae. The implication, explicitly confirmed in one of Albert’s later works, is that in order to understand human or moral goodness, we must first of all recognize what we mean simply by “good.”¹ This procedural primacy also reflects Albert’s preoccupation with...

  6. PART III: THE ARCHITECTURE OF MORAL GOODNESS
    • CHAPTER 6 THE GENESIS OF VIRTUE: Intrinsic Causes
      (pp. 115-144)

      In De natura boni, Albert commenced his moral disquisition proper by pointing out a certain disjunction between the order of nature and the human moral order.¹ Some things are not caused by human beings, such as the created things in this world; other things, however, are caused by us, namely, our voluntary acts, of which we are the masters. Now, just as in nature there is one primary thing—matter—which serves as the subject for additional forms, so too in our moral and willing behavior there is a primary subject that is still in potency to further moral specifications...

    • CHAPTER 7 THE GENESIS OF VIRTUE: Extrinsic Causes
      (pp. 145-158)

      By situating the virtuous act in a much wider context, article 1 (tr. I, qu. 4) of De bono undertakes to show how the formation of moral goodness rests upon a plurality of converging elements: the act itself, the (proximate) end, circumstances, the powers of man’s soul, and the accompanying sensations of pleasure and pain. The account of the genesis of virtue up to this point, however, has dealt with only two intrinsic causes. Given Albert’s metaphysics of the good, a complete examination must also include the active or efficient causes of morality, and the final cause (however we interpret...

    • CHAPTER 8 THE CONCEPT OF VIRTUE
      (pp. 159-178)

      Article 1 of question 5 of De bono begins an inquiry into virtue in general. Albert proposes (p. 67, ll. 4–5) to deal first with the definitions of virtue, and second, with how these definitions apply to the individual virtues. In point of fact, question 6 (pp. 79–81) extends the issue of applicability when it poses three more queries about why there are four virtues, why they are called “cardinal” or “political” virtues, and about the “order” among them.¹

      In De natura boni (pp. 30–31) Albert had catalogued ten definitions of virtue, six of which were drawn...

    • CHAPTER 9 THE ORGANIZATION OF THE VIRTUES
      (pp. 179-198)

      The previous chapters dealing with the analogical concept of goodness, the genesis of virtue, and the nature of virtue in general have presented a partial picture of Albert’s moral theory against the wider background of the evolution of moral treatises in the thirteenth century. The organization of the cardinal virtues and the configuration of their subalternate parts constitute another facet of this overall enterprise. These various schemata are not insignificant: they supply additional glimpses into Albert’s concept of human moral worth as an organically integrated network of active moral virtues—within which there are hierarchies and context-dependent primacies. Here and...

    • CHAPTER 10 THE PASSIONS
      (pp. 199-204)

      Following the analyses of temperance and its parts in De bono, and prior to the tractate on prudence, Albert the Great inserted a treatise on the passions. This treatise—actually, a quaestio comprising seven articles—does not stand alone: it is still part of the tractate on temperance. The seven articles which he devotes to this difficult subject matter appear to constitute the first systematic treatise on affective psychology ever composed in the Latin West.¹ It was partly inspired, no doubt, by the new interest in philosophical psychology in the 1240s arising from commentary literature on Aristotle’s De anima.² Its...

  7. PART IV: MORALITY, OBLIGATION, AND LAW
    • CHAPTER 11 NATURAL LAW
      (pp. 207-238)

      The last tractatus of De bono is devoted to the theory of justice. At the beginning of this section Albert inserted two questions which constitute an innovative treatise on natural law (ius naturale).¹ The pages in these two questions constitute the principal and definitive source for St. Albert’s natural-law theory. Its significance is no less appreciable within the broader context of the historical evolution of natural-law theory in the Middle Ages.

      Up to this time, only one other extensive treatise on natural law appears to have been written by a theologian or philosopher: the section on law in William of...

  8. PART V: VIRTUE’S REWARDS
    • CHAPTER 12 FRIENDSHIP
      (pp. 241-253)

      In modern ethical theory, certainly between the period of Francis Bacon and Montaigne and the 1980s, one finds comparatively few philosophical analyses (outside of Aristotelian scholarship) dedicated to friendship theory. Cartesian man as isolated mind and Thomas Hobbes’s preoccupation with the human solitary condition seem to have been influential in this regard.¹ Medieval thinking was no different: after all, theologians were focused on the relationship between God and man, and in that preoccupation they were disinclined to speculate on the relationship of affection between humans.² Modern medieval scholarship, in turn, has clearly mirrored that history of neglect. Even today, one...

    • CHAPTER 13 LAST ENDS AND HAPPINESS
      (pp. 254-269)

      Since there is no question or treatise in De bono dedicated to man’s last end, it is not easy to reconstruct adequately Albert’s thought on this issue—at least at this point in his career. As with the earlier De natura boni, the De bono was supposed to include such a treatment. The preface to question 4 in the first tractatus clearly promises such a move: after a detailed analysis of the natural virtues, we may expect a disquisition upon “the end and perfection which is happiness.”¹ Both early works, however, were abandoned short of completion, and so fall short...

    • CHAPTER 14 CONCLUSION: Albertus Redux
      (pp. 270-276)

      It is a sad irony of medieval scholarship that the volume of research dedicated to St. Thomas Aquinas should have inadvertently done so much to obscure Albert the Great’s contributions to the whole field of moral philosophy. As Dom Odon Lottin and others have established, there is a considerable intellectual gulf between the consummate acumen of Aquinas and the moral theorizing of, say, Philip the Chancellor, William of Auxerre, and John of Rupella. Without in any way detracting from the genius of Aquinas, I have tried to show that Albert the Great did much to bridge that gulf, and that...

  9. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 277-288)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 289-294)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-295)