Philosophia Perennis Vol. I: An Introduction to Philosophy as Wisdom

Having introduced logic, cosmology, and psychology, we will now introduce the fourth discipline in our program of Philosophia Perennis: ethics. We have already said (but it would not hurt to review) that with the Greeks there were three parts to philosophy, three divisions of philosophic thought. They are logic, physics ( or cosmology) and ethics. They are all derived from Greek words meaning respectively, thought, nature, and behavior. Our present course is the last of these three, ethics. It is the study of human behavior. The corresponding Latin name is philosophia moralis (moral philosophy). These three Greek divisions correspond to three very fundamental verbs in any language: To know, to be, and to do. Logic deals with the processes of knowledge. Physics studies what is; and since everything that is must have a nature, we call physics the philosophy of nature. Lastly, ethics deals with what man does or ought to do. Since the conclusions in ethics presuppose and depend upon conclusions from the previous courses, it is fitting that we give a brief review of what we have discussed previously. This review will show how all of the other disciplines lead to ethics.

We saw that the word “nature” can be used in two ways. Every physical entity — from a little grain of gold to a molecule of water, to a tree, to a fish — every one of these is a physical entity, what the philosophers call an unum per se. All these form part of what is real — reality. Physics is the study of reality, and that which is real has a nature. When we put all the natures of all the real things together, we have the order of nature. It is important to know that when we put them together they do form an order (the universe), and that is the reason why physics is also called cosmology (the study of the cosmos, or universe). The reality of order in the universe is one of the things that a philosophic study of nature teaches us. We then speak of nature in a larger sense, in the more common understanding of “the study of nature,” the understanding of all things put together, of the whole universe with all the realities that are in it.

So in physics (or cosmology) we study the different types of substance. We learn that every material substance is a composite of matter and form. The true philosophy of material reality, which philosophers call hylomorphism, gives us, if we properly understand it, the concepts of order and of purpose. If we see order and purpose in reality, it leads us in the direction of the ultimate cause. The climax of the course in cosmology, then, is to prepare the mind for the knowledge of God.

We find that every material thing is contingent. That is a term that one of the great philosophers of our century Etienne Gilson (1884 – 1978) used to emphasize in his philosophy. He spoke of the radical contingency of every thing in the material universe. A contingent being is a being that in its very existence depends on one thing or on another. We are all examples of contingent beings. Correct philosophic thought will lead us to know that if there is one contingent being there must be one being that is not contingent. We should try to grasp the truth of this very deep philosophic judgment,* since so much depends on it. Out of the contingency of what we are and what our world is we get a concept of a Being that is beyond contingency, a being that is not dependent on any other. This, of course, is God. A philosopher thinking correctly, using the powers that were given to him the way they should be used, has to reach a knowledge of God. This has always been true philosophically; now it is even a dogma of the Faith. Vatican I defined it as a dogma, with anathema attached to one who denies it. Here is the infallible pronouncement:

“If anyone shall have said that the one true God, our Creator and our Lord, cannot be known with certitude by those things which have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema. (Denz. 1806)

On this account Holy Scripture says, “The fool said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ (Psalm 13:1)” If we consider the world today, seeing that most of the powers running it are atheists, we can conclude that we are being run by fools. Holy Scripture also says, “The number of fools is infinite (Eccles. 1:15).” So, if one tries to become a wise man (and that is our goal), then he is going to be in the minority, the minority that counts.

We then learned that in the study of nature we are led to that tremendously important phenomenon called life. It is so important that it is its own study; the philosophers call it psychology. Psychology in the philosophic sense is the study of the psyche, which means the soul. And everything living must have a soul, the soul being defined as the principle of life in a material being.

In other words, in the course of psychology we graduate from the study of a material entity that could be alive or not alive, into the study of one that is alive. And in psychology we learn concepts like “soul” and “spirit.” As we said before, most people think that the two words mean the same thing. And to many people today neither of them means anything. But the words do mean very much, and they are very distinct concepts. A good way to see the distinction is to put it like this: Not only men have souls, but even trees have souls. Anything alive must have a cause, a principle of its vital activities. An angel* is not a soul. An angel is indeed something living . It is living and existing, but by a life not dependent on matter. An angel is an immaterial living being. Birds, fishes and trees have souls, but these souls are not spirits. The angels are spirits, but they are not souls. In man those two realities meet. In man there is a soul but that soul is spiritual. That is one of the great truths that psychology teaches, and here we mean true psychology, that which is part of philosophia perennis, and part of eternal wisdom.

Were we to tell most people that plants have souls, they would think we were implying that when it dies a tree will go to heaven or hell. This is not what we are saying. What happens to the souls of trees — and for that matter, of animals — when they die? The philosophers say that they return to the potency of matter. The non-spiritual souls, even though they are substantial forms, behave in this regard like accidental forms. Let us take for example a snowball — what happens to its roundness, its spherical shape, when the snow melts? It returns to the potency of matter. Why? Because shape is dependent on matter; it has no existence apart from matter. In the same way, souls that are not spiritual have absolutely no independence, no superiority over matter. Therefore, when the material body is unfit for that kind of a nature, the substantial form in it (the soul) ceases to be except as potency in matter. Every soul is a substantial form. But not every substantial form is a soul. The substantial form of a living man is what makes the matter a human body. It is the cause of why the body digests its food, of why it breathes, of why it feels, and of why it thinks. The same principle in a man that is capable of saying a prayer is also the thing that keeps his blood flowing as long as he is alive.

We have been noticing what great truths philosophic psychology leads us to, and what necessary foundations for a philosophy of ethics these truths are. We can prove by reason the spirituality and immortality of the human soul, and will do that in due time. We can prove that the human soul can subsist even apart from the body, but always with a kind of proclivity to return, to be united with it. But we cannot prove from natural philosophy that there will be a resurrection of the body. That is a purely supernatural truth that we take only on Faith. We would never know it, were it not for the revelation that comes to us from God. All that we can know by reason is that, when we die our souls will continue to exist. They will be everlasting. They will continue forever. What we would not know is that those souls will return to animate the body. For that we need God’s revelation, which clearly affirms the truth of the resurrection of the body.

Only when we realize the Omnipotence of God can we make the resurrection of the body something that compliments the natural ethics and makes it moral theology. It is only that infinite Power which can put a thing in existence out of sheer nothing that guarantees the resurrection of its body. That is why our Lord, when He was berating the Sadducees who denied the immortality of the soul and the resurrection of the body, said to them, “You err, not knowing the scripture, nor the power of God (Matt. 22:29).” The concept of omnipotence at work can only be the result of our Faith. It is only when we accept the Faith truly that we can believe in the creation and also in the “resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” We should notice that these truths are the beginning and end of the Credo by which we profess our Faith: I believe in God, the Father Almighty. . . the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Amen. The omnipotence of God is the most important concept in our whole Faith, and a most necessary foundation for ethics.

It is important to know the difference between a spiritual soul and a non-spiritual soul, to know the difference between a being that will live forever and a being that will go on temporarily and then vanish. Let us imagine that one were to stand up on a nice, beautiful day and have a good, clear view of things, being able to see the sun, the moon, mountains, rocks, birds flying, animals running around, children playing, and a man walking by. Every single thing he sees, every part of that reality that is visible, is temporal. It had a beginning and it is going to have an end. Even the mountain, which might go on for thousands of years seemingly unchanged, is still being changed all the time and eventually is going to be destroyed. But every human being that he sees is going to be and to live forever. This type of realization is one that some people may know, but somehow manage to keep out of focus. It is the purpose of our book on ethics to bring them back into focus.

Ethics, therefore, presupposes the true philosophy of what is. In other words, moral philosophy rests upon the philosophy of nature. The foundation of all morality is the knowledge of what reality is. That is why we speak of a foundation of morality as the natural law. Natural law in this context is to be distinguished from the laws of nature, such as the law of gravity. But still, the fact that we call the foundation of morality the natural law suggests that the principles of correct behavior are rooted in the nature of things. Consequently, when we truly know the reality of the things we are dealing with, we know what are our responsibilities and duties in relation to them.

Here is an example that will illustrate this last point: If a mother were to give a basket to a child, she could give him commandments with regard to it by saying, “Handle it very carefully. Don’t upset it. Don’t turn it over. Don’t hit it against something hard.” These are commandments, because they are given in the imperative mood (“do” and “don’t”). If that child were intelligent, his mother could give him these instructions in another modality. She could say, “This basket contains eggs.” His intelligence would then know how to deal with it. He does not have to remember, “Did she say, ‘hit it’ or ‘don’t hit it.’ ‘Turn it over’ or ‘don’t turn it over.’” To know that every one of our brothers and sisters in humanity, that every human being is a person that is going to live forever, is the beginning of all sound morality. What a tremendous realization that is! Now, philosophy does not consist in many things, but in a few profound truths deeply realized.

Everything that has been said so far has been a preparation for the subject of ethics. We have not yet actually gone into ethics. We will use Aristotle as our foundation, for he was the first one to ask the pertinent questions about ethics. But before we do that, it would be good to say a few words about Greek philosophers and philosophy in general regarding truth and error in ethics. Among the Greek philosophers, every conceivable type of ethical error was given classical expression. This will be the subject of future courses when we study the history of thought. The reason there exists a history of thought at all is simple: There are errors into which humanity has fallen. Truth has no history; it is eternal. There is no history for “two and two make four.” Whenever you say it, it is true. It is so, and it is eternally so. But because men have made false judgments, and because such judgments inevitably yielded their consequences, we have today a history of philosophy. Therefore, to study the history of philosophy is identical with the study of polemics.1

Anyone who uses well the faculties that were given to him will have to reach the wisdom of Philosophia Perennis. True, there will be slight areas for opinion, but the fundamentals will always be there. No philosopher of wisdom would ever say, “Everything is matter.” That judgment made by any person is a judgment of sheer folly, and every further thought that is based on it is going to be nothing but sheer folly. The name for this folly is materialism. On the other hand, no true philosopher will tell you everything is idea: “It’s all in my mind.” The man that says this (like Kant) is a solipsist, not a philosopher.2

What is the first question the philosophy of ethics asks? It is this: “What is the highest object that man must desire?” Here we will give a little sample of the way the philosophers think. The greatest thinker in the natural order and the founder of Philosophia Perennis is Aristotle. And here is Aristotle raising the question, trying to find the object of the philosophy of morals. What does every one of our acts aim at? Aristotle says, “At some good, either real or apparent.” When a man is doing anything deliberately, he has made a judgment that something is good. Then he is willing to act in relation to that good. Now, the good is not something that exists outside, such as a tree or a mountain. It is an aspect of something already existing. It is something added to reality. Where does it come from? For what is it good? Aristotle identifies the good with the desired. The good is simply the object of desire. Things first exist, then if they are objects of love, they become good. The fundamental goodness of things is that their Creator loves them, and that is why He posited them in existence. Because He first loved them, He had a desire to create them. And it is when we discover an aspect of goodness in things that we have attributed to them a new kind of reality. So the science of ethics, which seeks the objective to which all human activity must be directed, begins with discovering the highest good.

When we start to think about the good, we discover that there is a hierarchy of good things. Now let us have The Philosopher talk to us, and tell us what the good is: “The good appears to be one thing in one pursuit, and quite a different thing in another pursuit. It is different in medicine from what it is in strategy.” Aristotle liked to take examples like these: What is the good that all the medical profession and all its appendages pursue? What is the good achieved in medicine? Health. If men became indifferent to health, if they did not care about illness, then all the hospitals in the world would cease to exist. Nobody would write books on medicine. Nobody would try to discover medicines, or new medical technologies. To say “the good in medicine is health” immediately sets the mind onto something very concrete. We can use it as an example for other things. The one other example Aristotle gives is strategy, the art of war. If there is a just war, almost the whole nation takes on a whole new aspect. Everything is relevant to the attainment of some good. What do we call that good? Victory. Now we should see the point; the good is that for which all other things are working. This is a famous sentence from Aristotle: The good is, “that for the sake of which all other things are done.” In the case of medicine, health. In the case of strategy, victory.

Now, let us make our own example: the building of a house. Building is a project which uses many machines and requires much activity. There are many people doing different tasks — ground clearing, laying a foundation, framing, plumbing, electrical work, etc. But what is all that aiming at? What is the good to be produced? A house. If nobody thought that a house is a good thing, all building would stop. The same is true in every other art. Now, every pursuit or undertaking has its specific end, but if there be something which is the end of all the things done by human action, this will be the supreme good. This will be the moral good. If there be several such ends, the sum of these will be the supreme good.

We must attempt, however, to render this still more precise. There do appear to be several ends to which our actions aim. But as we choose some of them (for instance, wealth or power) as means to something else, it is clear that not all of them are final ends; whereas the supreme good seems to be something final. Consequently, if there be some one thing which alone is a final end, or — if there be several final ends — the one among them which is the most final, this will be the good which we are seeking. In speaking of degrees of finality, we mean that a thing pursued as an end in itself is more final than one pursued as a means to something else. A thing that is never chosen as a means to something else is more final than things chosen both as ends in themselves and as means to that thing. Accordingly, a thing that is always chosen as an end and never as a means, is necessarily the ultimate or the supreme good. This is true only of happiness. That is why we call it absolutely final. What is it that all men are seeking? It is happiness.

Happiness, above all else, appears to be absolutely final in this sense, since we always choose it for its own sake and never as a means to something else. Honor, pleasure, intelligence and excellence, in their various forms, we choose for their own sakes. We would be glad to have each of them even though no extraneous advantage resulted from it. But we also choose them for the sake of happiness in the belief that they will be a means to our securing it. No one chooses happiness for the sake of honor, intelligence or excellence, nor as a means to anything else other than itself. So what is the conclusion? We can make one statement descriptive of the actions of human beings. All the millions of beings that live this day, today, from morning till night, in every one of their actions are seeking happiness. Even when they were doing something wrong, they thought it was going to make them happy.

What are the things that people think will make them happy? One is money. This one is very easy to dispose of if one is a philosopher, and very difficult to convince anyone of who is not. It is always a means, never an end. Nobody ever gets money for its own sake. Some may like what it looks like, but when they want to enjoy it, they exchange it for something else. Another thing that people think will make them happy is power. A great part of ethics and of moral theology is to convince us that happiness is not found in power. Why are people deceived by the allure of power? It makes them god-like; they want to be like God, and God is powerful. But there are very good reasons why power is not the essence of happiness, and the universal experience of men clearly shows that people who have power are not the happiest people in the world. Honor, influence, and popularity are other things that people think will make them happy. But another thing we learn from experience is that the supreme good for a person cannot be something outside of that person. It cannot consist in what people think or say about him. It has to be something in him if it is truly what makes him happy.

Now we have come to a very delicate point, the kind of point with which philosophy constantly occupies itself. As we said before and will keep saying, when we deal with philosophy, we are dealing with very fundamental matters. Just a small deviation, no matter how small, can lead to catastrophic consequences. We can truly say that all men are seeking their own happiness. We can also say that happiness is the pursuit of ethics. If this is true we must ask ourselves an obvious but important question: If everybody is pursuing his happiness, then is everybody morally correct — no matter what life he is living? No. To explain this answer, we must make some distinctions.

When we discuss animals and animal behavior, we cannot introduce any notion of morality. Animals have to act by their instinct. Whatever instinct dictates, they have to do. There is no other alternative, no decision-making process. A fish must swim, a bird must fly, and a lioness must defend her cubs. But with man, morality implies duty. The goodness or badness of an act is based on duties or obligations.

When we discuss man’s pursuit of the good — his happiness — we must ask ourselves whether this pursuit is a duty or a right. The answer to this question makes all the difference. If it is a supreme right, then the man is free to achieve it in any way possible; but if it is a supreme duty, then man is bound to something higher, to some objective rule. To determine whether it is a right or a duty, we must refer to what we have already studied in psychology and cosmology. All the things in the moral order presuppose something in the ontological order (the order of reality). Is man a being independent, absolutely independent, who gave himself his own existence? Or is man a contingent being who owes his existence to another? If the first is so, he begins with rights; if the second is so, then he begins with a duty. The answer is that, since man is a contingent being, his pursuit of the good is a duty. The very first relation we have is a relation of duty towards our Maker. He made us human beings. He gave us a rational, spiritual, and immortal nature. Therefore, we have a duty to seek the end for which He made us. That is the most fundamental duty, from which all other rights and all other duties proceed.

Once we realize this concept, we can return to an earlier principle and build on it. Here is that concept: “All men seek happiness, but not all men seek their true happiness.” What was merely a descriptive statement can be made, by slight alteration, the supreme ethical principle: “All men ought to seek their true happiness.” In what does their true happiness consist? Our Maker could have been a tyrant and could have created us as an instrument of some other interest of His own. But our Maker is a loving God, and the supreme obligation He imposed on us, in addition to obliging us, at the same time treats us as a value in ourselves. The supreme obligation He imposed on us happens to be the object of our true blessedness: our supreme happiness. All our rights flow from our duty to save our souls. From these considerations, it follows that no form of government may interfere with that duty. No law in the whole world is to be obeyed, if it makes the salvation of our souls impossible. A human being seeking his own immortal salvation is a being endowed with all the rights necessary to achieve that end. And from all those rights arise his obligations. The whole question is ultimately balanced on the fact that, since man was made by the Creator with the object of seeking his supreme happiness, no temporal lawmaker has the right to make laws contrary to that end. This is the supreme moral law from which all other just laws proceed.

Now that we have come to realize what the object is that all men ought to seek to achieve their true happiness, we will observe that the mode of attaining his final end is different in man than in other material creatures. While other creatures on this earth automatically and without any effort act according to the nature that God put in them, in the case of man, fulfilling the purpose for which he is made also depends on his free will. When God made eagles, he made them to fly — an eagle must fly. A fish was created to swim, and it cannot help doing so. With the unique exception of man, every single creature has a nature that spontaneously fulfills its part to make the world as God intended it to be. Man’s behavior is not dictated either by his instincts or by any other law of necessity. It is something he has to choose freely. That is why once one discovers that he was made for true happiness (which is salvation, or becoming truly divine and living forever as a child of God), he has to go and study all the powers that are in his nature and redefine them in terms of that end. And that is where the cultivation of the virtues comes in.

The powers that God put in us are all indeterminate as far as good or evil is concerned. The more intelligent a man is, the more power he has. But power by its very definition is like dynamite. It can do great good, but it can also do great evil. All the powers that are in us have to be redefined by discipline in terms of the good for which we were made. It depends not entirely — though in some sense, entirely — on God, Who made us. But even though He made it depend on Himself, He left a place for our free will and for our free cooperation with His work in us. That is why the next thing we do in ethics is to study why the powers that are in man need to become virtues. This study of virtue forms the basis for all moral education.

What is the difference between a power and a virtue? A power is neutral to good or evil; whereas a virtue is directed to the good.3 As we have said, a power is like a piece of dynamite. It could do good work if disciplined and controlled, or great evil if not. A good example would be the power of oratory. We have seen how orators have destroyed the world, causing great wars, great suffering, and great wickedness. On the other hand, that same power is capable of producing an immeasurable amount of good when directed with the grace of God illuminating reason.

What, then, is the definition of a virtuous man (and the purpose of ethics is to produce the virtuous man)? A virtuous man is a man who is guided by his reason, not by his passions. He does not act like an animal, spontaneously satiating his appetites. He is guided by his reason — his reason illuminated by grace. This is the definition of a virtuous man which we will keep as one of our conclusions in ethics.

Let us review our major conclusions. What is the supreme descriptive, sociological principle of all human behavior? Man seeking his happiness. The reader should notice how tremendously philosophical, how certain, how strong, and how universal that judgment is. Every little boy or girl in America, or China, or anywhere at the very hour this text is being read, whether they were doing good or bad things, virtuous or vicious or sinful things, were all seeking their happiness (either real or apparent). What was happening when they were doing something wrong? They were seeking the appearance of happiness, but not real happiness. The true and real happiness of man is not necessarily what he thinks it is, but is that for which his Maker made him. We have many names for it in our Catholic Faith. We call it eternal life, the life of grace, salvation, Heaven, becoming children of God. That is the supreme moral principle from which all our rights and all our obligations come. And once we realize that, we try to become virtuous men. That means we become disciplined. It means our powers are not to turn into dynamite ready to cause destruction. Instead, our powers are like energy that is efficiently harnessed and controlled and well directed to its purpose. Again, what is a virtuous man? He is a man whose life is ruled by his reason, and his reason is illumined by grace.

Philosophia Moralis

Sixty conclusions from the study of ethics,
subdivided into four subheadings

I. Happiness

1. All men in all they do seek after happiness. All men in all they do should seek after their true happiness, i.e., the end for which they were created.2. Perfect happiness cannot be attained in this life. But virtue, which is the way to happiness, can be thus attained.

3. There is an inchoate happiness in the attainment of a virtuous life.

4. Only those who possess the truth and who cooperate with God’s purpose for them can be as happy as is possible in this life.

5. Ultimate happiness consists in the secure possession of all truth and the love of all goodness. It is becoming, to the greatest degree possible, one with the Divine Nature.

6. All the means to the ultimate end have an aspect of finality by which they reflect the truth, beauty, and goodness of the final end. There are no pure means in existence.

7. Ethics is a department of practical philosophy which treats of human acts in relation to their ends and ultimately to the one final end.

8. A human act is an act which proceeds from the deliberate free will of man, guided by knowledge. Examples: My writing these notes or saying the Rosary.

9. The final end is that which gives perfect happiness and leaves no place for further desires.

10. “Felicity is the activity of man’s most perfect power.” (Aristotle)

But the activity of man’s highest power (the intellect) presupposes the wholesome and proper functioning of all his powers.

11. The contemplative experience consists in the enthusiastic, loving, and ecstatic appreciation of the goodness of God in Himself, and as reflected in nature, or as represented in art.

12. The contemplative experience is our best clue to happiness in time (imperfect happiness), and in eternity (perfect happiness, beatitude, life eternal).

13. “Contemplation is promised to us as the goal of all activity.” (Saint Augustine)

“All human occupations are brought into the service of those who contemplate the truth.” (Saint Thomas Aquinas)

14. Eternity is the simultaneously whole and perfect possession of interminable life. Life eternal is Our Lord’s name for salvation (the supreme good, the ultimate end).

15. Order is the proper disposition of means to the end. Peace is the tranquility of order.

II. Personal Ethics

1. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; the knowledge and love of God is the end (Ps. 110:10; Prov. 1:7; Prov. 9:10; Ecclus. 1:16).

2. Time is short, eternity long; we shall live forever.

3. We have one life to live, one purpose for our existence. Every act we perform casts a long shadow, even to eternity.

4. Every moment of life is an opportunity which can pass and be lost forever.

5. Every human act is a step towards, or a step away from , salvation. The first step towards salvation is an act of Faith — the first act of supernatural life — which is also, therefore, contained in every other meritorious act.

6. My highest duty is identical with my deepest desire and with my most precious right — the duty to save my soul.

7. We can actually enter the very life of God if we cooperate with grace! Even this cooperation is itself a grace, and we must pray for it and for perseverance in it.

8. Happy are we if we find in our hearts holy desires, if we have appreciation for the things of God. We should thank God if we do, and pray for more of the same.

9. Haec est voluntas Dei, sanctificatio vestra (I Thess. 4:3). (“For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”)

10. Only those who are trying to be saints conform to the will of God. It is the universal vocation, and therefore must apply to every state of life.

11. It is part of wisdom and of virtue (especially humility) to know that we inherited a rebellious nature that must be restrained and disciplined. Hence the need for great vigilance.

12. Virtue must be hedged and guarded. Qui dissipat sepem mordebit eum coluber (Eccles. 10:8). (“He that breaketh a hedge, a serpent shall bite him.”)

Among the hedges of virtue are modesty, prayer, and holy companionship.

13. The singular providence of God. God has a general providence for the universe as a whole. To realize that is the summit of philosophy. But apart from His providence for all men, for nations, and for families, He has a singular providence for me alone, regardless of all others. To realize that is the beginning of devotion.

14. Devotion is the chief act of the virtue of religion (and therefore also of justice) by which we give ourselves readily to the things that pertain to the service of God.

15. And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to His purpose, are called to be saints (Romans 8:28).

III. Familial Ethics

1. Society is a stable moral union of a plurality of persons for the purpose of achieving common ends by the use of common means.

2. The human family is the most natural and the most necessary of all societies.

3. Every human achievement has an aspect of knowledge (scientia), an aspect of art (ars), and an aspect of morality (moralitas). The family, being a human achievement, involves a science, an art, and a set of moral principles.

4. The moral principles, or ethical rules, governing the family are contained in the eternal law, and are also embodied in the very nature of man.

5. All authority is from God. So is the authority of the parents with respect to the children, of the old with respect to the young, and of the father with respect to the whole family.

6. The purpose of the family is the communication of life, the protection of life, and the cultivation of perfection. It requires the loving cooperation of all involved.

7. The basis of the family, the bond of its unity, is love, natural and supernatural, between man and woman, between parents and children, and between brothers and sisters.

8. The common good for the familial society is most intimately connected with the individual good of each member of the family. The happiness of one is the happiness of all. As family, the members share all things in common.

9. The family is the little church, the little school, the little government. All these and other institutions, human and divine, are to serve and supplement the function of the family, but not to replace it or to usurp its rights and duties.

10. What can be done in and by the family should rest with it. The principle of subsidiarity applies here: What the proximate authority can do should not be relinquished to the remote one.

11. Economy is the art of making the best use of all available means for a community of happiness.

12. In the Catholic Church we know two kinds of family: One majors in the propagation of natural life (the secular family); and the other majors in the propagation of supernatural life (the religious family). Both involve that peculiar quality of appreciation and adventure we call romance. God gave us one exemplar for both — The Holy Family.

13. Like everything of great value, the home should be protected with hedges. Satan, the hater of life, constantly assaults homes with the poisons of infidelity, impurity, and insubordination.

14. The family, the home, provides a constant opportunity for practicing the works of mercy, corporal as well as spiritual. It is the nursery of all the virtues, especially Faith, Hope, and Charity.

15. The proper virtues of familial society are fidelity, charity, obedience, mutual help and mutual respect.

IV. Political Ethics

1. Just as man by nature must belong to a family, so he must also belong to a political society, namely, the state. We have no choice about it; we actually find ourselves belonging simultaneously to a political as well as a familial society.

2. While the family is essentially a community of love whose members have all things in common, the state is an order of justice whose members do not and should not have all things in common. With fellow citizens we share some common interests and should have some common loyalties, but above all, we need to have respect for each others’ rights.

3. God intended the world to consist of different nations governed by rulers (kings, emperors, chiefs, presidents, etc.). Traditions, customs or constitutions determine the process by which these rulers are designated to care for the common good. But once so designated, God bestows upon them the authority to govern. Thou shouldst not have any power against me, unless it were given thee from above (John 19:11).

4. As a society, the state has the privilege to back its laws with coercion. This monopoly of the use of force is essential to the political order, and is also its danger. It is the door to tyranny.

5. All the laws of the state must seek the common good in the temporal order, the state being a natural and a temporal entity. The state itself has no immortal soul and no eternal destiny.

6. The common good aimed at by the state involves providing conditions and opportunities for prosperity (peace and order, security, national defense, protection against crime, construction of roads and bridges, administration of justice, etc.)

7. The principle of Subsidiarity: Functions that can be performed by the local and closer community (the town, the parish, the family) should not be taken over by the state.

8. All laws that are contrary to the eternal counsels of God have no authority.

9. Every power must do homage to the moral order. (Bishop Prohazska)

10. The state being in its essence an order of justice, when it becomes unjust “the very glue of the ship of state becomes unstuck.”

“The very glue of our ship of state seems to have become unstuck.” (Justice Harry Blackmun — the one who wrote the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion!)

11. “It is the obligation and inherent right of the Church, independent of any human authority, to preach the Gospel to all peoples.” (Canon 747 #1)

12. “The Church has the right always and everywhere to proclaim moral principles.” (Canon 747 #2)

13. The highest cause for prosperity, even in the temporal order, is God’s blessing.

14. States are blessed in proportion to their cooperation with God’s one project in this world, the project of the salvation of souls (Psalm 126:1).

15. Lex suprema, salus animarum. God’s supreme law in the whole universe is the salvation of souls. (The last Canon #1752)


1 In our program of nine volumes, we shall wait until we have gone through the three types of philosophic thought before we introduce polemics. Once we have gone through the courses in logic, cosmology, psychology, and ethics, we will have a couple of hundred principles: not too many. There are many more than that in one book of chemistry, let us say. But these are deep philosophic, foundational principles which must be defended. Then we can study different ways that people deviated from them.

2 Solipsism comes from the Latin word solus, meaning alone. The solipsist says “The only thing I know that exists, and I’m sure of, is myself, and only my inner experiences, and of this present moment.” It was a very popular philosophy at one time. A philosopher once stood up to defend it for three hours and at the end he said “it’s so convincing I’m surprised that so few people see it!” Those present had to wonder what people he was talking about, since he only believed in his own existence.

3Virtue is the opposite of vice. Both are properly called “habits” in rational psychology and ethics. The technical explanation for these terms will have to wait for the later volumes.