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Tim H. "Philosophy Major" RSS Feed (Florida, USA)

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Good & Evil Actions: A Journey Through Saint Thomas Aquinas
Good & Evil Actions: A Journey Through Saint Thomas Aquinas
by Steven J. Jensen
Edition: Paperback
Price: $33.26
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rigorous Exposition of Thomistic Action Theory, July 16, 2013
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This is quite simply the best book that I have read on the specification of good and evil actions in the thought of Thomas Aquinas! Jensen argues that there are two orders to human acts: the order that it does have, and the order that it should have. When these orders agree, an act is good. When they disagree, an act is evil.

The order an action does have is divided up into the act as executed and the act as conceived. The act as executed is specified by intention, since intention functions as one's plan of bringing about a desired goal. The act as conceived is specified by the end toward which we aim and practical reason's perception of the real causes available to bring about this end.

The order an action should have is provided by teleology. All of our actions engage some bodily power with its own natural teleology. This natural teleology functions to direct an action toward some end. Teleology provides a moral standard of action since the human good is *our* good. Actions such as bestiality and lying are wrong because they misdirect an action away from the end that it should have. All evil actions, Jensen argues, can be explained as some failure of teleology. Murder is wrong because the will is oriented toward willing the good of others, an end which murder perverts.

Overall, highly recommended. The writing is clear and concise. The author engages heavily with Aquinas's own writings (even providing the original Latin in the footnotes!), making his interpretation of Aquinas very plausible.

One Body: An Essay in Christian Sexual Ethics (ND Studies in Ethics and Culture)
One Body: An Essay in Christian Sexual Ethics (ND Studies in Ethics and Culture)
by Alexander R. Pruss
Edition: Paperback
Price: $39.83
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful Arguments, January 7, 2013
Contrary to what Mr. Fuchs will have you believe, this is a pretty remarkable text on Christian sexual ethics. It makes a powerful case in favor of a conservative sexual ethic that closely aligns with Roman Catholic teachings on sexual morality (And as a Protestant, I think they've got it right in that area!). Pruss develops a unique approach that incorporates insights from both old and new natural law theories. Although this work mainly relates to Christian ethics, many of its conclusions can be accepted by non-Christians as well, for Pruss appeals both to scriptural and philosophical arguments. The wide range of topics that are covered also makes this an excellent reference text.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 18, 2013 3:30 PM PST

Debating Same-Sex Marriage (Point/Counterpoint)
Debating Same-Sex Marriage (Point/Counterpoint)
by John Corvino
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.64
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46 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disagreement Achieved, June 9, 2012
Let me begin with saying that I actually read the book, unlike so many of the one-star reviewers so far. Ironically, giving such emotionally charged reviews while clearly never having actually read the book to consider the opposition's arguments fits the textbook definition of a bigot. Let's also not forget that half of this book was written by a proponent of same-sex marriage, so by giving it a one-star rating, one acknowledges that *both sides* were horrible in argumentation.

And if that wasn't enough, it becomes even more ironic given that this book was written so that the authors may "achieve disagreement." The book's purpose is to lay the cards out on the table so that one may see that there are good arguments underlying both positions. But evidently, one side of the debate is more interested in pulling the bigot card and shouting down the opposition than in any rational and respectful dialogue. But enough about the reviewers, on to the book itself.

In a point/counterpoint format, Corvino and Gallagher make the case for two competing views of marriage. Corvino, going first, follows people like Jonathan Rauch and defends the "conservative" case for same-sex marriage. Since marriage "promotes mutual lifelong caregiving in a way that no other institution does," (p.20) same-sex couples ought to be allowed to marry. To be sure, child welfare is an important aspect of marriage, but Corvino thinks that marriage is much more than this, hence why we recognize marriages between the infertile and elderly. Corvino is a sharp scholar who has done his homework: his opening essay engages with the arguments made elsewhere by Gallagher, along with other influential figures in the marriage debate such as Robert George and David Blankenhorn.

Gallagher's chapter contains an impressive array of sociological, anthropological, and legal evidence. Indeed, her argument contained 172 footnotes compared to Corvino's 114. She argues that marriage is a natural institution grounded in real gender differences between men and women that is recognized -- and not created -- by the law. The sterile and elderly meet this requirement, as they are instances of a type of union in which can create new life, even if they cannot fully recognize the goods of marriage.

Gallagher argues the the fundamental reason why same-sex marriage is unjust is because it is a lie about human nature. Since same-sex marriages are based on a mistaken view of human nature, their enshrinement into law will change traditional marital norms such as permanence and fidelity. Marriage is first and foremost about child welfare, for all children deserve a mother and a father. This important public purpose is why the state is involved in marriage to begin with. "Marital unions are necessary in a way that other unions (however morally good or individually beneficial) are not." (p.98) Friendships, for example, are inherently good, but obviously not deserving of legal recognition.

After making the case for their respective positions, Corvino and Gallagher launch into rebuttals of the opposing positions. I won't go too much into them, except to say that both sides seriously and respectfully engaged with each other's arguments, a rare sight in the same-sex marriage debate these days. Personally, I thought Gallagher had the overall upper hand, although I would have liked to see more in her rebuttal to Corvino.

All in all, this is a great book. Anyone interested in understanding the substance behind the same-sex marriage debate should read this.
Comment Comments (22) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 21, 2012 6:00 PM PST

The Virtues of Capitalism: A Moral Case for Free Markets
The Virtues of Capitalism: A Moral Case for Free Markets
by Austin Hill
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.20
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Virtuous Indeed!, June 6, 2010
Capitalism's reputation has taken a beating in light of the recent financial crisis. According to politicians and pundits from both sides of the spectrum, capitalism is to blame. Not so, say Austin Hill and Scott Rae, who argue in their book that capitalism is our best bet. In fact, according to Hill and Rae, capitalism "remains the preferred economic system, even the necessary economic system, for any society that upholds a true sense of human rights."

Hill and Rae approach economics from a distinctly Christian perspective, showing capitalism to be both consistent with and supported by the Bible's teachings. Contrary to some, the sharing of goods as described in Acts does not advocate socialism. The sharing of goods was voluntary, as opposed to forced. Moreover, the authors show that economics itself is deeply intertwined with moral issues. Economic conditions can act as a powerful motivator either to encourage or discourage virtuous conduct. "[B]e honest and ask yourself: Is it ever more difficult to be the kind of spouse or parent that one aspires to be, when the economy is slow and personal finances are scares? ... [W]hen finances are plentiful, can the enjoyment of material goods enable a person to avoid or neglect other important areas of their relationships? And a final question... can economics impact one's relationship with their God."

Several misconceptions about capitalism are also dealt with. These include myths such as "The rich get richer at the expense of the poor," "Capitalism is based on greed," and "Capitalism leads to overconsumption and materialism." Economics is not a zero-sum game, argue Hill and Rae, and is based on self-interest rather than greed (There's an important distinction between the two). They explicitly reject Ayn Rand's response to the greed objection, which recognizes greed to be good.

Then, in plain and lucid language, Hill and Rae explain why the financial markets failed as they did. They go all the back to the dot-com bubble of the late 1990's and trace the events which led up to the housing bubble. The markets failed not because of capitalism, but chiefly because of excessive government regulations, and the the reckless behavior that results when government intervenes to shield people from accountability. In another chapter, Hill and Rae make the case that government intervention in free-markets is more of a hindrance than a help. "Generally speaking, government does not use resources as efficiently as do individual citizens and private enterprises."

Still, the authors recognize that capitalism has its limits. While it not may be the perfect system, it's the best out of all we have. "Capitalism," said Winston Churchill "is surely the worst economic system, except for all the others that have been tried." There are several pre-requisites that a society must fill before capitalism can flourish. These are what Hill and Rae mean by the virtues of capitalism. They list five such virtues, these being: creativity, initiative, cooperation, civility, and responsibility. Most important, however, is a stable moral system, which "is the sine qua non of the political system and the economic system. It reinforces the incentives provided by the political system, as it provides a moral foundation for personal habits and behaviors necessary for prosperity."

Overall, it's a great and easy to understand book. One drawback, however, is that it's a bit shallow. For a deeper resource, I would recommend Jay W. Richard's "Money, Greed and God: Why Capitalism Is The Solution and Not The Problem."

Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft (Christian Worldview Integration)
Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft (Christian Worldview Integration)
by Francis Beckwith
Edition: Paperback
Price: $17.49
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Solid Introduction to Politics, March 28, 2010
Politics has always been something that I never really took an interest in. But since bioethics, one of my main interests, is often intertwined with political and jurisprudential issues, I figured that it was about time that I started studying it. Until recently, my main source of political knowledge came from television news stations such as CNN, Fox, and NBC. I happened to stumble upon Francis Beckwith's new book while searching for an introduction to politics from a Christian perspective.

As it turns out, politics is a general term that covers a large number of various sub-disciplines. These include political theory (The study of the nature of government), comparative politics (The study of other political systems), political economy (The study of how politics and the economy relate to each other), and public law (The study of how different entities relate to each other). Chapter one deals with these various divisions within politics.

In the following chapters, Beckwith covers the relationship between the Christian citizen and liberal democracy. In Matthew 22, Jesus instructed that because the image of Caesar was present on the coin presented to him, we have a duty to obey earthly governments. To disobey government, which is an institution established by God, thus equates to disobeying God himself. Implicit in this, however, is the other realization that because the image of God is present on us that we also have a duty to obey God. Thus, while Christians are subject to government authority, it is permissible in certain circumstances to disobey governments which are at conflict with Biblical values.

Beckwith also correctly notes that in some situations, it is permissible to support non-Christian candidates for political office (Mitt Romney, for example). Christians "must not ignore their commitment to justice and the common good when assessing such a candidate."

He notes that Aristotle's idea that "Statecraft is soulcraft" is crucial to a Christian understanding of politics. Beckwith defends what he calls a "perfectionist view of liberty and the human person," which is the idea that "liberty is not merely the right to do good and that the role of government is to advance the common good. It is called perfectionism since its defenders maintain that human beings share the same nature by which we can know what sort of goods, institutions, habits and actions help the human being fulfill his proper end or perfection." In scrutinizing the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and the Danbury Baptists, the popular understanding of the separation of church and state is found lacking. Because the government's purpose is to advance the common good, it is permissible for it to endorse religious practices which aid in this task while simultaneously striking down other practices (Such as those of cults) which do not advance the common good.

Several arguments in favor of secular liberalism are also tackled and found inadequate. I found his treatment of Robert Audi's secular reason argument to be particularly helpful. The division of reasons into the categories of "secular" and "religious," of which the former is treated as fact and the latter is treated as mere subjective opinion, is illusory. "At the end of the day, a reason is weak or strong, true or false. Thus, `religious' and 'secular' are not relevant properties when assessing the quality of reasons people may offer as part of their arguments." Highlighting a point made by Thomas Aquinas, Beckwith writes that "The difference between objects of faith and objects of reason... is not in their status as objectives of knowledge, but in how the knowledge is acquired by the human mind."

Finally, Beckwith ends with a great chapter on the moral argument for the existence of God, which serves as a handy apologetic for the Christian faith. Though I do wish Beckwith could have covered more content in this relatively short book, this is an unreasonable expectation from an introductory text. Instead, Beckwith provides a helpful list of recommended books.

I strongly recommend Beckwith's book for any Christians who are interested in a solid introduction to politics.
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