Although we have long assumed that morality is a uniquely human phenomenon, recent studies have shown that nonhumans and humans share a great deal that is relevant to morality, including basic moral emotions and corresponding behaviors. Do these similarities imply that nonhuman moral responses and human morality represent two points on a continuum, or do the remaining differences represent a qualitative difference? On closer examination, this debate, even though it is occasioned by contemporary scientific research, continues a much older debate over place of reason in morality. This paper argues that Aquinas’ analysis of the passions and their complex relations to perception, activity, and (among humans) judgement offers an illuminating framework for making sense of what we know about the moral emotions in both ourselves and other kinds of animals. On this account, the moral passions play a central and necessary role, both in shaping our overall appraisals of a situation, and moving us to act. Yet human passions cannot function at all, let alone function well, apart from processes of rational formation and integration, which do make a qualitative difference to human morality.
THIS PUBLIC SEMINAR WILL BE HELD IN THE SUTRO ROOM OF TRINITY COLLEGE, OXFORD, AT 8:30PM ON THURSDAY 7th MARCH 2013, WITH DRINKS AT 8:15PM.
PROF. JEAN PORTER has taught at the University of Notre Dame since 1990, where she currently holds the John A. O’Brien Chair in Theological Ethics. Her research and teaching focus on scholastic moral thought, especially the moral theology of Thomas Aquinas, seen in relation to contemporary work on theories of action and intention, virtue ethics, and the philosophy of law. She is the author of about thirty articles and five books, including most recently Ministers of the Law: A Natural Law Theory of Legal Authority. Her current project is a study and defense of Aquinas’ account of justice as a virtue of the will.