"The Second-Person Perspective in Aquinas's Ethics: Virtues and Gifts"
New book on Aquinas by Fr Andrew Pinsent, Routledge 2012.
This book applies some of the latest research in science, especially in the study of social cognition and autistic spectrum disorder, to propose a new interpretation of Aquinas's virtue ethics. Instead of understanding the life of grace, including virtues, gifts, beatitudes and fruits, as a 'higher' version of the life of nature, this book interprets grace as transfiguring nature, based on a change from a third-personal to a second-personal mode of relating to God. To use a contemporary metaphor, the infused virtues and gifts remove the 'spiritual autism' of the state of nature.
Based on research carried out at St Louis University with Prof. Eleonore Stump and at the Theology Faculty of Oxford University, the questions addressed in this book, especially the relationship of natural and supernatural, were raised originally in discussions at the Pontifical Gregorian University with Fr Marcus Holden, Fr Kevin Flannery SJ and Fr Joseph Carola SJ. Although intended principally for scholars, the research underpins ideas found in several products of the Evangelium Project, and has far-reaching implications for theology, philosophy and spirituality.
Thomas Aquinas devoted a substantial proportion of his greatest works to the virtues. Yet, despite the availability of these texts (and centuries of commentary), Aquinas’s virtue ethics remains mysterious, leaving readers with many unanswered questions.
In this book, Fr Andrew argues that the key to understanding Aquinas’s approach is to be found in an association between: a) attributes he appends to the virtues, and b) interpersonal capacities investigated by the science of social cognition, especially in the context of autistic spectrum disorder. The book uses this research to argue that Aquinas’s approach to the virtues is radically non-Aristotelian and founded on the concept of second-person relatedness.
To demonstrate the explanatory power of this principle, Fr Andrew shows how the second-person perspective gives interpretation to Aquinas’s descriptions of the virtues and offers a key to long-standing problems, such as the reconciliation of magnanimity and humility. The principle of second-person relatedness also interprets acts that Aquinas describes as the fruition of the virtues. Fr Andrew concludes by considering how this approach may shape future developments in virtue ethics.
"This is a work of lasting value and deep and careful scholarship that makes a serious contribution to three fields at once: the exegesis of Aquinas, theological ethics and philosophical virtue ethics. Andrew Pinsent has written a book that no one working in these areas will be able to afford to ignore, and which makes a real contribution, in particular, to getting the study of Aquinas’s virtue ethics, as something radically distinct from Aristotelian virtue ethics, firmly onto the academic agenda." --Timothy Chappell, Professor of Philosophy, Open University, UK
"In this intriguing re-reading of Thomas’s virtue ethics, Andrew Pinsent firmly resists the reduction of Thomist ethics to a mere variation on Aristotelian ethics, and shows with meticulous attention to the texts how Thomas's theology of grace and of the 'gifts' vitally transforms his understanding of virtue. The discussion is animated by reference to contemporary analyses of ‘second-person relatedness’ in social science, a move which is bound to be contentious but is remarkably thought-provoking." --Sarah Coakley, Norris-Hulse Professor of Divinity, University of Cambridge, UK
"This is an exhilarating book. If Dr. Pinsent’s central thesis about the radically non-Aristotelian character of Aquinas’s theory is right, he has given us a fresh and important insight into the latter’s understanding of the virtues and a greater appreciation of its genius. If it is wrong, we are still left with a treasure trove of fascinating ideas that might be applied to the interpretation of both authors, but especially Aquinas." --Kevin Flannery, Professor of Philosophy, Pontifical Gregorian University, Italy