CRITICALLY ANALYSE SOCIAL THOUGHT CONTRIBUTIONS BY SOME OF THE FOUNDAING FATHERS YOU KNOW
Social thought provides general theories to explain actions and behavior of society as a whole, encompassing sociological, political, and philosophical ideas.
Social thought is both concrete and abstract. Concrete thinking rarely goes deep. It asks few questions, raises few doubts, and perceives few connections. Abstract thinking seeks causal explanations, classifies concreteness’s, penetrates relationships, and proposes well-balanced procedures, the distinction, however, are largely one of degree. Concrete thinking is characteristic of every normal person, but abstract perceptions are uncommon. The ability to do abstract thinking, to get at the deeper meanings of phenomena, to penetrate the mysteries of life, is rare. Concrete thinking constitutes the major sector of the thought-life of every person, nearly all the time.
THOMAS AQUINAS: SOCIAL THOUGHT
The political philosophy of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), along with the broader philosophical teaching of which it is part, stands at the crossroads between the Christian gospel and the Aristotelian political doctrine that was, in Aquinas’ time, newly discovered in the Western world. In fact, Aquinas’ whole developed system is often understood to be simply a modification of Aristotelian philosophy in light of the Christian gospel and with special emphasis upon those questions most relevant to Christianity, such as the nature of the divine, the human soul, and morality. This generalization would explain why Aquinas seems to eschew, even neglect, the subject of politics. Unlike his medieval Jewish and Islamic counterparts, Aquinas does not have to reconcile Aristotelianism with a concrete political and legal code specified in the sacred writings of his religion. As far as he is concerned, God no longer requires people to live according to the judicial precepts of the Old Law (Summa Theologiae [hereafter ST], I-II, 104.3), and so the question of formulating a comprehensive Christian political teaching that is faithful to biblical principles loses it urgency if not its very possibility. Unlike Judaism and Islam, Christianity does not involve specific requirements for conducting civil society. In fact, most Christians before Aquinas’ time (such as St. Augustine) had interpreted Jesus’ assertion that we should “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matthew22:21) to mean that Christianity can flourish in any political regime so long as its authorities permit believers to “render unto God the things that are God’s.” Although Jesus claimed to be a king, he was quick to add that his kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36), and whereas St. Paul had exhorted Christians to obey the civil authorities and even to suffer injustice willingly, he never considered it necessary to discuss the nature of political justice itself.
These observations perhaps explain why Aquinas, whose writings nearly all come in the form of extremely well organized and systematic treatises, never completed a thematic discussion of politics. His letter On Kingship (written as a favor to the king of Cyprus) comes closest to fitting the description of a political treatise, and yet this brief and unfinished work hardly presents a comprehensive treatment of political philosophy. Even his commentary on Aristotle’s Politics is less than half complete, and it is debatable whether this work is even intended to express Aquinas’ own political philosophy at all. This does not mean, however, that Aquinas was uninterested in political philosophy or that he simply relied on Aristotle to provide the missing political teaching that Christianity leaves out. Nor does it mean that Aquinas does not have a political teaching. Although it is not expressed in overtly political works, Aquinas’ thoughts on political philosophy may be found within treatises that contain discussions of issues with far reaching political implications. In his celebrated Summa Theologiae, for instance, Aquinas engages in long discussions of law, the virtue of justice, the common good, economics, and the basis of morality. Even though not presented in the context of a comprehensive political teaching, these texts provide a crucial insight into Aquinas’ understanding of politics and the place of political philosophy within his thought. Some of his thoughts can be outline below;
1. Natural Law
Aquinas’ celebrated doctrine of natural law no doubt plays a central role in his moral and political teaching. According to Aquinas, everything in the terrestrial world is created by God and endowed with a certain nature that defines what each sort of being is in its essence. A thing’s nature is detectable not only in its external appearance, but also and more importantly through the natural inclinations which guide it to behave in conformity with the particular nature it has.
2. The Political Nature of Man
As we have seen, Aquinas mentions that one of the natural goods to which human beings are inclined is “to live in society.” This remark presents the ideal point of departure for one of the most important teachings of Thomistic political philosophy, namely, the political nature of man. This doctrine is taken primarily from the first book of Aristotle’s Politics upon which Aquinas wrote an extensive commentary (although the commentary is only completed through book 3, chapter 8 of Aristotle’s Politics, Aquinas seems to have commented upon what he considered to be the Politics’ theoretical core.). Following “the Philosopher” Aquinas believes that political society (civitas) emerges from the needs and aspirations of human nature itself.
3. Human Legislation
The fact that regimes may vary according to time and place is a perfect example of the fact that not every moral or political directive is specified by nature. In fact, Aquinas is eager to point out that the natural law, while providing the fundamental basis for human action and politics, fails to provide specific requirements for all the details of human social existence.
4. The Requirements of Justice
As we have seen, Aquinas’ argument for the necessity of human law includes the observation that some human beings require an additional coercive incentive to respect and promote the common good. By means of the law, those who show hostility to their fellow citizens are restrained from their evildoing through “force and fear,” and may even eventually come “to do willingly what hitherto they did from fear, and become virtuous.” (ST, I-II, 95.1). During this discussion, Aquinas mentions two specific dimensions of the common good that are of particular concern to human legislation. The first of these is “peace.”
5. The Limitations of Politics
As we have seen, much of Aquinas’ political teaching is adapted from the Aristotelian political science which he studied in great detail and which he largely embraced. Perhaps the most central Aristotelian political doctrine in Aquinas’ view is the inherent goodness and naturalness of political society. It is also necessary to understand, however, that in addition to being good and natural political society is also limited in several important respects, not all of which would have been pointed out by Aristotle but are unique to Aquinas’ teaching.
Just as sociologists in the past have been insistent upon making a distinction between the history of social thought and sociological theory, so is it argued here than an equally important distinction be made between the history of social thought and the history of sociology. It is suggested that the history of social thought is no more useful to the advance of sociological theory than any other contiguously related field of study. Since the history of social thought is not directly concerned with the discipline of sociology, it is suggested that it be eliminated from the curricula of sociology. Not only is this area of study unlikely to contribute to the development of sociological theory but also such a study can have unanticipated consequences that hinder such a contribution. The genetic fallacy is less likely to be committed when the distinction between the history of social thought and the history of sociology is kept clearly in mind.
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• http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/comte/ Auguste Comte: Stanford