Why does Aristotle say in book VIII of the Nicomachean Ethics that there are three good polities? What principle of division is he using, so that he comes up with three, rather than two or four? It is normally said that the difference lies in whether the rulers are one (kingship), a few (aristocracy), or many (‘timocracy’). This seems rather too vague to be a good philosophical division. Does ‘many’ mean 10% of the population? Or 25%? Or 50 %? And why should not these differing percentages also be said to yield different polities?

We do not normally divide actions into species by simply looking at how many people are performing them. For example, if we are asking what the species of farming are, we might say that they are arable, dairy, and mixed; but it would be strange to say that the species are farms run by one man, farms run by a family, and farms run by a village. It is true we might distinguish five-a-side football and eleven-a-side as two species of the game; but this is because the differing numbers mean that the games require different skills and strategies, not simply because the players are more and less. In the same way, acts of governing do not seem to be distinct simply because they are performed by different numbers of people.

Another problem with this explanation is that while kingship and aristocracy are corrupted by the one man or the few ruling selfishly, timocracy is said to be corrupted not by the many ruling badly but by the many being extended by the abolition of a property qualification to the all. But why is ‘rule by all’ not a fourth basic species that could be done well or badly, and why is rule by many-but-not-all not also able to be done well or badly?

Another problem is that Aristotle says that the three good polities are patterned on three basic forms of relationship within a family, namely, the paternal, the fraternal and the marital. This is easy to understand for kingship: the good father rules his sons as a good monarch. It is a bit harder to understand why he says that the fraternal relation provides the basis for timocracy: there is no property qualification needed for brothers to be able to relate to each other, and all of them are related to each other as brothers, so why not compare brothers rather to a democracy? And it becomes baffling for the marital relation: for it is not, it seems, the parental rule over the children which is aristocratic, but the husband’s rule over the wife. But since there is only one husband, how is this the pattern for aristocracy, if the essence of aristocracy includes having several rulers?

In the Politics, the key distinction between aristocracy/oligarchy and timocracy/democracy appears to be whether the rich or poor are governing. But this is hardly more satisfying, since how can monarchy/tyranny be fitted into this scheme, using the same principle of division? Again, how would the distinction between rule by the rich and rule by the poor be patterned after the distinction of marital and fraternal relations?

I suggest that the principle of division of polities is to be sought not per se in the number of those who wield supreme power, but in the different ways in which ‘ruling’ can be related to ‘being ruled’. What I mean is this: those who rule may simply rule and not be ruled; or they may both rule and be ruled, while those whom they rule are simply ruled; or they may both rule and be ruled, with none who are simply ruled. So we have:

(i) ruler


This applies to monarchy, tyranny and (good and bad) fatherhood

(ii) ruler



This applies to aristocracy, oligarchy and marriage

(iii) ruling-and ruled


This applies to timocracy, democracy, brothers, and what Aristotle calls ‘dwellings without a master’ e.g. students in shared rented accommodation.

(i) is clear. The subjects of the king have no political authority, as the children have no authority over the household. But it is not essential to kingship that there be only one person with supreme authority; it is simply necessarily so with men, since the wills of more than one man will not always coincide. But the rule of the Blessed Trinity over creation is a monarchy, not an aristocracy.

(ii) is suggested by Aristotle’s remarks about oligarchy, namely that the few rulers ‘always assign ruling offices to the same people’. This doesn’t seem to mean just ‘to themselves’, but also ‘to their favourites’. So, in oligarchy, and in aristocracy, there will be those who are chosen by the rulers but who also themselves have ruling power. This corresponds to matrimony, in that the husband, as Aristotle puts it, ‘assigns what is fitting to each’, i.e. manly tasks to himself and womanly to his wife. The wife is ruled by her husband, but also rules; she has her own sphere of authority and initiative within the household, for example over the small children. The husband’s rule is, or should be, aristocratic, though he is only one man.

(iii)  is the remaining possibility. It is exemplified clearly enough by democracy, and in the case of brothers and of those who dwell in shared accommodation. At first site it is incompatible with timocracy, since in this polity those who do not meet the property requirement (originally, possession of heavy armour) are excluded from rule. I suggest though that this exclusion happens because it is assumed that those below this level will not have the sufficient manliness to be good rulers; hence, per accidens, some are found in this polity who are merely ruled.

St Thomas, asking “whether likeness is a cause of love”, says this:

From the fact that two are similar, as it were having one form, they are in a certain sense one in that form, as for example two men are in the species of humanity or two white men are one in whiteness. And thus the love of one tends towards the other, insofar as he is one with himself, and he wills good to him, as he does to himself . . . . But everyone loves himself more than another, for everyone is one in substance with himself, but only one in the likeness of some form with the other. (Summa Theologiae 1a 2ae 27, 3)

Speaking about the order that exists in charity, he says something similar:

God is loved as the principle of that good {sc. beatitude} upon which charity’s love is founded; a man loves himself by charity insofar as he is a partaker of that Good; while the neighbour is loved by him insofar as he has fellowship with this neighbour in that good. Now fellowship {consociatio} is the reason for love insofar as it involves a union ordered to God. Therefore, since unity is more than union, therefore the fact that a man himself shares in the divine good is a greater reason for loving than the fact that another is associated with him in this sharing. Thus a man is bound by charity to love himself more than his neighbour (Summa Theologiae 2a 2ae 25, 5).

Dietrich von Hildebrand, speaking generally about love, says this:

What characterizes love’s special transcendence, that is its responsiveness to value, is its capacity for interest in another person because of what is most beautiful and precious in him. But this is overlooked and it is thought that to attain any real understanding of love’s nature one should turn to a source of unmistaken at-oneness –  the inevitable ‘interest’ a person has in himself. . .

The impossibility of deriving love for another from ‘self-love’ or at-oneness with self becomes even clearer when love is compared to the solidarity with a person which is little more than an extension of the at-oneness one has with himself. Such at-oneness in relation to another does, of course, exist. A typical example is found in the behaviour of a man who is extremely sensitive when someone takes advantage of or humiliates his wife, despite the fact that he has no real love for her and perhaps abuses her himself. Because he looks on her as part of himself, the fact that she is his wife puts her in the realm of his own at-oneness with himself. He experiences an attack on her as if it were directed at him – not because he loves her but because he considers her an extension of his own ego. The same thing is involved where an employer abuses or takes advantage of his servant but, having no affection for him whatever, still takes it as an offence against his own person if someone else should behave insultingly toward the servant.

Every attempt to make an analysis of love by beginning with self-love, every thought that something as univocal {perhaps a better English translation would be ‘distinctive’} as one person’s love for another can be explained in the ambiguous terms of self-love, closes the door to any real understanding of love (‘Man and Woman’, 34-35).

There is an interesting prima facie contradiction here between these two deep minds. St Thomas tells us that self-love, not only has a priority over love for others (a sign of which, as he says, is that it is never lawful to commit a sin in order to free one’s neighbour from sin), but is also the model on which love for the neighbour is taken; that which makes love for neighbour intelligible. I spontaneously will good for myself; natural good, by virtue of nature, and supernatural good, if I am in a state of grace. But insofar as my neighbour is another “I” – that is, insofar as I perceive him to be naturally or supernaturally similar to me – I therefore to that extent also will good for him too. Thus, love of self is taken as something more fundamental and obvious, and it is used to explain love of neighbour, though without reducing the neighbour to a means by which I acquire good for myself.

Von Hildebrand, though he doesn’t mention St Thomas or anyone else, is unhappy with this approach. This is not only because he fears that it makes love of another into veiled egoism, but also because he thinks that it fails to capture what is distinctive about love for another, which he characterises as “interest in another person because of what is most beautiful and precious in him” (elsewhere he writes that love is distinct from affective attitudes such as esteem, admiration and veneration in that it is a response to the other person taken as a whole, rather than to certain values or qualities within him.) Presumably he would argue that what we call self-love is, by contrast, not an interest I have in myself because of what I perceive to be beautiful or precious within myself, but a simple instinct which men have in common with beasts. In any case, he would deny that self-love makes love of others intelligible, for I do not perceive myself to be more beautiful or valuable than all other people. For the same reason, he would deny that I love myself more than others; or perhaps it would be truer to say that he would think the expression wrongly formulated, since he appears to regard love for others and love for oneself as not being love in the same sense of the word (this is what he means by calling love for others “univocal”.)

Is there any way to reconcile these two approaches? St Thomas’s reasoning seems obviously correct: since appetite just is the inclination to what is perceived as good, every being with rational appetite wills good to himself, that is, loves himself, and this is more fundamental and ineradicable than love for the other, since our conjunction with any given other (apart from God) is contingent not necessary. Likewise, he gives an intelligible account of how love for the other arises, and of how it is truly willing the good for the other and not just for oneself in disguise. Yet von Hildebrand seems correct in saying that love for another has features that differentiate it from self-love, even well-ordered self love, in such a way that it is wrong to consider love for another as simply a more or less diluted form of love for oneself. Self-love is not based on a perception of one’s own beauty, whether of spirit or countenance (fortunately, perhaps.) Even the love that one has for oneself by means of charity is not based primarily on a perception of the value of one’s own soul, for then there would be no reason why this love would take priority over the charity that one must have toward others. Self-love is actualized not mainly in contemplating oneself, but in contemplating the desired object (of course it can be actualized in contemplating one’s own real or imagined beauty of body or spirit, but this is not what is most typical of it, and moreover it is not safe for a rational creature so to act extra patriam.)

Here we have an important difference: love of another person is actual in contemplating that person, whereas love of oneself is normally not actual in contemplating oneself, but in contemplating some other person or other thing. Von Hildebrand therefore seems right to say that ‘love of oneself’ is not the best starting point from which to understand ‘love of another’, in the sense that the experience of loving oneself is not sufficient to understand the experience of loving another, as by contrast the experience of tying one’s shoelaces is sufficient to understand the experience of tying someone else’s. But St Thomas is right to say that ‘love of oneself’ is the best starting point from which to understand ‘love of another’, in the sense that the possibility of the latter can be apprehended by means of an understanding of the former. I suppose it is the difference between phenomenology and philosophy.

This is a transcript published in Analecta Cracoviensia 5/6 (1973-4) of a talk by Antoni Stępień about the then Karol Wojtyła’s Acting Person (as it’s known in its, apparently dodgy, English translation).  I didn’t note the occasion on which it was given, unfortunately.  I think some get-together about Person and Act.  Rough translation done by me as an exercise, am sticking it here as the best place not to lose it until I organize my work better :), and someone might be interested. Anyone who is and can fill me on the anglosphere phenomenolololological terminology – I will buy you several beers.


The book Person and Act  – as we read on p22 – is an attempt to combine two philosophies, the philosophy of being and that of consciousness. It is a meeting ground – a meeting neither accidental nor superficial [lit. external] – of Thomism and phenomenology.  Contrary to the opinion of professor Kalinowski quoted here, I think it is in fact a book of the philosophy of man. The kind of philosophy it presents can,  I would say, be called Thomisizing phenomenology. Why?

We are dealing with a certain description of what is immediately given, a description which in its basic shape does not  … go beyond the meaning of that which is immediately given. Nonetheless, in certain formulations this description is filled out with theory taken from elsewhere. On pp 40, 52, and 62, there are formulations that go beyond phenomenological description. This further step is taken with reference to a certain theory, the theory of Thomistic metaphysics. This is done in such a way that basically, it is phenomenology, though conducted along the lines of a certain metaphysics, and what is more, drawing, in some formulations, on certain conceptual schemes taken from Thomistic metaphysics, though this is not always indicated. For this reason I would define this book as being one of Thomisizing phenomenology.


I sat at the desk at which a certain ks. dr hab. Karol Wojtyła lectured:


I sat at the desk at which the late great fr Mieczysław Krąpiec OP died two years ago, in the middle of an article:

And I met a man who built spaceships!  But I have no photo of him.  Here’s his wife lecturing in the room in which fr Krąpiec did most of his teaching:

I stayed first a week with the parents and teenage sister of Pianticella, some ten miles to the south of Lublin; glorious countryside, a jacuzzi bath and sandwiches made for me every morning by her mum. The second week I stayed with the graduate student who was partly responsible for organizing the lecture series I was attending – he and his wife have a flat next to the bus stop “Majdanek Pomnik”. Easily identified.  They were most hospitable, and we sat up late a couple of times talking about everything and nothing.  The week finished with three-course lunch cooked by them for the Mrs Guest Lecturer and Mr Spaceships, when Mrs Host said “why  keep dragging them around restaurants?” What with the lectures themselves, Gilson Society conferences, meeting my employers, having my French pronounciation angst cured, new shoes, new books, old books, … I made a good decision when I decided to go.

So why did you choose the definition you did choose? Let’s have just the minority answers for just now.

Collins Pocket Dictionary of the English Language (London and Glasgow, 1989)

philosophy n. pl. -phies 1. the academic discipline concerned with making explicit the nature and significance of beliefs and investigating the intellegibility of concepts by means of rational argument. 2. the particular doctrines of a specific individual or school relating to these issues: the philosophy of Descartes. 3. any system of beliefs, values, tenets. 4. a personal outlook or viewpoint 5. the ability to remain calm through upsets and difficulties.[Greek philosophia love of wisdom]

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English , 8th ed. (Oxford, 1990)

philosophy n. (pl. -ies) 1 the use of reason and argument in seeking truth and knowledge of reality, esp. of the causes and nature of things and of the principles governing existence, the material universe, perception of physical phenomena, and human behaviour 2a a particular system or set of beliefs reached by this b a personal rule of life 3 advanced learning in general (doctor of philosophy) 4 serenity; calmness; conduct governed by a particular philosophy [Middle English from Old French filosofie from L philosophia wisdom from Gk [as philo-, sophos wise]

Finnis argued that biology and metaphysics determined the status of the fetus, not ethics as suggested by Singer.  Finnis objected to the very use of the term “fetus”, saying that it is an “F-word”.

“As used in the conference program and website, which are not medical contexts, it is offensive, dehumanizing, prejudicial, manipulative,“ Finnis said.  “A website describing ultrasound for expectant mothers doesn’t talk about her fetus but her baby, and so do her doctors unless they’re her abortionists or think she has been or is interested in abortion.”

Finnis underscored the point that rights are recognized, not conferred, and rejected Singer’s “moral status” approach, which negates the personhood of unborn children.

Singer defended his support for infanticide, stating that self-awareness confers moral status, and not species membership.  Abortion is the killing of a human being, but is not immoral because the child does not meet the self-awareness test, said Singer.

In his utilitarian view, Singer believes that there can even be a moral duty to kill humans lacking self-awareness, including the disabled, which he has been criticized for not following in the case of his mother


The conference website: Two of the four organisers are Frances Kissling and Peter Singer (no idea who the others are).

An article by Finnis based on his contribution to the debate.

Two years ago a 14 year old girl from Lublin became pregnant. She agreed to an abortion, though it seems only because she couldn’t persuade her mother to let her have the baby. Several hospitals refused to carry out the abortion, citing among other reasons that the girl often changed her mind, and they could not be sure that she wanted it. The mother and her daughter contacted the ministry of health and asked to be directed to a hospital that would carry out the procedure – the minister for health Ewa Kopacz, who later declared herself a church-going Catholic with nothing on her conscience, did so. This appears to have been what was required by Polish law.A priest-ethicist from a Catholic university said

I grieve over the situation of the 14 year old from Lublin, but a government minister must respect the law … the minister is not responsible for the fact that such is currently the law in Poland, but she is bound to respect it.

Thus the Reverend Professor dr. hab. Andrzej Szostek, MIC. Member of the Pontifical Academy for Life!

I am sure our three readers remember Fr Morrow's defence when in court for blocking access to abortion clinics:


as the Abortion Act is invalid, Fr Morrow had merely been acting to prevent unlawful killing of infants.

So was the minister justified in doing what she did?

Gogacz was the Guru of at least some of the  people in my faculty, and claims, among other things, that the act of existence, and not matter, is the principle of individuation, and that accidents have their own acts of existence. This is a first-dash-through translation.  Other people in the faculty think him wrong, or so obviously wrong it’s  giving hs ideas too much attention to spend any time explaining to students what your problems with them are. Sticking this up as a blog post is an incentive to translate in whole chunks, and translating, even badly, helps me to chew over the text, so I’ll be very happy if anyone’s at all interested, but blogging this is more a motivational technique than anything else 🙂 Also, reading metaphysics always makes me feel better about my illiteracy – no-one can reasonably expect better of me if I spend my time reading this sort of literary sadism.

This book shows both what being is and that it is, all that is fundamental and primary in the practice of metaphysics. By metaphysics we should understand the identification of the interior and exterior principles of being, that is, the first and real causes of that which being is, and that it is. What is fundamental and primary I try to show in a way which makes evident the path by which one arrives at the propositions of metaphysics. This is therefore an heuristic formulation/approach, revealing being more clearly than would a collection of metaphysical propositions without an explanation of how they were discovered. These are not arbitrary propositions. Their source is the result of a meeting, called indistinct knowing. Metaphysics as a set of statements about the principles of being is a faithful formulation of the effects of ontic* meeting.

Just read on the grapevine that is/are* Facebook statuses that Ralph McInerny is very ill. He’s not young (b. 1929), so it’s the more serious. A quick prayer now before you click onward.

A page about him.

Update: details here.

*I can never ever remember which way round this goes.

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