Niccolò Machiavelli

“Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527), the founder of modern thought who set out to overthrow the great tradition of ancient philosophy and theology in his work The Prince, which is apparently a book of practical advice for rulers, but really is meant to establish “new modes and orders” that will not be based on “imagined republics that have never been seen or known to exist in truth” but teaches the effectual truth of “learning to be able not to be good, and to use this and not use it according to necessity.” This is Machiavelli’s notorious realism: “For a man who wants to make a profession of good in all regards must come to ruin among so many who are not good.” Machiavelli takes his bearings from great Founders of states (e.g. Romulus, Moses) because in those cases the need for force and fraud (the lion and the fox) is plain. If what you need to do to acquire equipment for fame and glory (the highest good for Machiavelli) goes against virtue, too bad for virtue. Virtù (the cunning use of force and fraud to reach one’s aims) exercised for the good of the state replaces Christian or Greek ideas of virtue. Fortune (Machiavelli’s term for nature) comprises chance or opportunity in human and subhuman virtue, which Machiavelli compares to a woman who can be raped by anyone young and bold enough. Machiavelli opposes the role of religion and of the Papal states in keeping Italy disunited and Italians unpatriotic” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).

St. Thomas Aquinas

“St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) reconciles the teaching of the Christian Faith with Aristotle’s philosophical principles. Theology uses reason/philosophy to understand the supernatural mysteries of God, Trinity, Incarnation, Grace, Redemption, of revealed Truths first known by believing. Philosophy and theology cannot ultimately contradict each other, since the one, final sources of both truths known by unassisted reason and truths known by faith is God, who cannot and will not contradict himself. Aquinas argues Five Ways to God’s existence, starting from facts about ordinary experience: Continue reading “St. Thomas Aquinas”

St. Augustine

“St. Augustine (354-430 AD) sought to combine Christian faith and human reason: to believe in order to be able to understand. In his Confessions he explains his life-long quest for truth and goodness in which he moved from a life of sin and debauchery, passing first under the influence of Manichaeism ( a religious doctrine that held that human life is caught in a struggle between good and evil, God and matter, and which urged asceticism to free the self from evil), and then under the influence of Platonism (from which he learned the doctrine of Forms of Ideas (logos), and that reality goes beyond what is bodily), before finally undergoing a conversion and liberation of his will enslaved by sin through his encounter with the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. In his City of God he tried to show that Christianity is not the cause of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. He argues against Varro that the Greek and philosophical views on the best way of life based on moral and intellectual virtue, although true, is only able to be realized in speech, but not in deed on account of original and personal sin. Since a commonwealth, according to Cicero, is based on the common agreements or consensus or loves of its citizens, there are finally two cities based on two loves: the city of man based on sinful love (the love of self above all things even to the contempt of God); and the city of God based on the love of God above all even to the contempt of self. Grace and the God-given virtues of faith, hope, and charity make it possible for Christians to be good citizens in the earthly city, but they are aiming at the heavenly city. [His theory of knowing is Plato’s + the Interior Master of Word and Spirit who give us an inward, a priori standard of truth.]” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).

Aristotle

“Aristotle (384-322 BC), student of Plato at the Academy, teacher of Alexander the Great, and founder of the Lyceum, took up Plato’s ideas about politics as order towards the virtuous living of the citizens. In his Ethics he argued that all men seek one or other of three kinds of happiness: as sense pleasure or immediate satisfaction; as political honor or fame or glory; and as seeking to know the truth about what is highest and best or the whole (= contemplative or theoretic life). He defines habit as a good habit that enables one to act in the mean between the extremes of excess and defect easily, quickly, and with pleasure. (E.g. liberality as a virtue having to do with getting and giving wealth is the mean between extravagance which gives too much in relation to one’s getting, and stinginess which is too concerned with getting and does not give enough.) Continue reading “Aristotle”

Plato

“Plato (427-347 BC) was the student of Socrates (469-399 BC) and the teacher of Aristotle. He used his dialogues to justify philosophy in relation to the common sense of the city, the pretended wisdom of the Sophists, and the pseudo-inspired teaching of the comic poets (Aristophanes–The Clouds) and the tragic poets (Sophocles–Oedipus the King or Tyrant, Antigone). Continue reading “Plato”