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A Book Review . . . The Order Of Nature And The Good Life

June 10, 2017 Featured Today No Comments

By JUDE P. DOUGHERTY

Redpath, Peter. The Moral Psychology of St. Thomas Aquinas. St. Louis: Enroute Books, 2017; 795 pp. Cloth, $64.95.

Peter Redpath is a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Great Ideas (Chicago). He has taught philosophy for over 44 years, principally at St. John’s University, Jamaica, N.Y. During that period he has authored 12 books, served as an officer in nearly a dozen organizations, and cofounded the Etienne Gilson Society to perpetuate the work of that historian. He calls himself a “Ragamuffin Thomist.” Well, disheveled, or tweedy perhaps, compared with the impeccably groomed Mortimer Adler, whom he took early on as a mentor.
The moral psychology that Redpath develops is as much that of Aristotle as of St. Thomas. He draws heavily upon St. Thomas’ Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics, but one can also detect in his work the influence of John Paul II’s personalism. As an Aristotelian he recognizes that the virtues call to each other; moral virtue depends on intellectual virtue, and vice-versa. Similarly, one cannot talk about prudence without talking about wisdom.
Redpath’s discussion of virtue is securely anchored in an Aristotelian realism, a metaphysics of being that finds expression in Aquinas and in his contemporary disciples such as Etienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain.
Although steeped in Thomistic metaphysics, Redpath’s strongest contribution to Thomistic literature may lie in the domain of social and political philosophy. This follows naturally from his concentration on moral and intellectual virtue. For Redpath, “statecraft” is of pressing concern, given problems facing his native America. He asks: How is it possible to govern a multicultural community composed of individuals with different standards of behavior and contradictory conceptions of the good?
That question leads the author into the topic of moral education. “Moral education,” he writes, “is chiefly a training of the human appetites and emotions.” Obviously governments cannot make men moral, but they can influence the direction of public education.
Redpath has a lot to say about education and how self-mastery, personal excellence, and rationally directed appetite may be promoted. He is convinced that the classroom study of abstract systems and the speculative debate that follows are of little value. He goes on to show the pedagogical importance of connecting moral virtue with happiness. There necessarily follows a discussion of the concupiscible and irascible appetites, the Aristotelian doctrine of the mean, and finally an extended treatment on friendship.
Friendship, he observes, is an activity of pleasing communication between people. People who delight in talking to others, who readily agree with others, and who find pleasure in the company of others are those who quickly make friends. The young tend to make friends more easily than the old.
As a supplement to his expository text, Redpath provides for each chapter of the book a set of questions that a serious student might raise with respect to the material presented.
Given the ground that Redpath covers, from Plato’s Republic, to Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Emile, to Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, no brief review can do justice to his book. Somewhere in the volume, Redpath attributes to St. Thomas what can be said of his own work. The office of the wise man is to explore the order of nature and to communicate that order and its implications for the good life.
The great achievement of The Moral Psychology of St. Thomas is Redpath’s insight into how to effectively teach it.

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