Aquinas and Natural Law by D. J. O’Connor (auth.)

By D. J. O’Connor (auth.)

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For St. Thomas, the human intellect is a part of the soul, and a part which is immaterial in having no bodily organ. s The intellect has several tasks. We have already considered the intuition of essences and the intuitive understanding of first principles. But little of human knowledge comes from such immediate intuitions. Much of it is the result of discursive reasoning in which we proceed step by step through the stages of an argument from truths intuitively known or propositions accepted on less reliable grounds.

I think it is fair to say that both these facts indicate defects in St. Thomas' view. Of course, the sense which the word carries today is the outcome of the intellectual history of the human race and, in particular, of the history of science of the past three hundred years. And if this history has any lessons to teach us, the most important must surely be that the most reliable and accessible kind of knowledge for men is knowledge of the workings of nature (including human nature); and that this knowledge is achieved by making conjectures about facts that we do not know on the basis of facts that we do knowthe so-called hypothetical-deductive method.

Whatever conditions one proposes, they can always be shown to be unsatisfactory in this way by an appeal to experience. It seems, therefore, that the move from unobjectionable trivialities like 'happiness is what everyone wants' or 'happiness is what satisfies all human desires' to giving a description of happiness or a recipe for it is beset with difficulties. We can, of course, reject our opponent's counter-instances. We may say, for example, that the apparently happy man who is poor or ill or the apparently happy criminal or tyrant is not real(y happy.

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