November 11, 2012

FOUR CHARACTERISTICS:

The Return of Thomistic Political Philosophy, Part II (JOSEPH G. TRABBIC, 3/22/12, Thomistica)


Thomistica.net: Some Catholic thinkers have criticized the notion of human rights, Alasdair MacIntyre for instance. How do you think Maritain would respond to critiques like MacIntyre's?

Dr. Dennehy: I have not read MacIntyre in some years, but my initial thought is that Maritain would respond to the communitarian argument in two ways. First, he would point out that the "society of free men" that he describes and defends is not individualist in the way that advocates of the laisssez faire conceived of society as a kind of heap of individuals struggling to ascend to the top and whose obligations to society were negatively conceived as not harming others by force, fraud, or intimidation. Maritain argues, on the contrary, that a society of free men has four characteristics; it is personalist, communal rather than individualistic, pluralist, and Christian or at least Theist. Thus for Maritain a society worthy of free persons must not only be just but also commit itself to "civic friendship." The second way that Maritain would reply to the communitarians is to call attention to the rights of the person as ontologically grounded in human nature in virtue of what it means to be a human being. The exigencies of the human person arise from that ontological fact: each human being is not simply a part of society but a whole as well. Unlike animal groups, human society has a common good, which Maritain describes as a moral good that pertains to society as a whole and yet flows over each of its members. If I am qualified to teach philosophy, society can compel me to teach the subject, but it cannot compel me to teach a particular philosophy as true. The reason is that each of us is a whole in himself has been created by God to exist by his own free will. Maritain borrows here from Aquinas who argues that just as the runner strives to win the race but cannot put all that he is and has in the effort to win (he knowledge of astronomy and the Bible, e.g.), so the person cannot put all that he is and has into serving society (his knowledge of God, the desire to know the truth, and to increase his "freedom of personal expansion," e.g.). Thus, for Maritain, the rights of the person follow from the nature of the person.

The second book in this volume, The Rights of Man and the Natural Law, contain seminal references to the human person that Maritain will develop more fully in his book, The Person and the Common Good, which appeared in print about 1948.


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Posted by at November 11, 2012 7:50 AM
  
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