Freedom, the good, and the metaphysics of morals: A critical assessment of phenomenological realism

John Francis Hofbauer, Fordham University


This dissertation, shall explore—from a Thomistic perspective—phenomenological realism's interpretation of personal freedom and its proprietary speculation about the divergent paths that freedom takes in its encounter with the “good” (or, what phenomenological realism refers to as the category of “important”). Despite a mutual agreement on so many issues, phenomenological realism appears to be at odds with Thomism on certain epistemological, metaphysical, and ethical points, but particularly over issues surrounding Thomism's explicit equation of the “good” with the “appetible” or the “satisfying.” This paper will utilize the large body of Thomistic thought as the basis for a critical (but sympathetic) analysis of these areas where phenomenological realism's thought patterns diverge from Aquinas's way of thinking. Even though this critique will focus mainly on phenomenological realism's antagonism toward Aquinas's identification of the “good” with the “appetible,” other key positions taken by phenomenological realism will be critiqued as well. For instance, there is ostensible disagreement between the two schools concerning the importance of natural (usually corporeal) inclinations, the status of the moral agent's intention to satisfy himself in both ethical and epistemological situations, and the ways in which phenomenological realism's allegedly “normative” depictions of value response are, perhaps, overly prescriptive. The purpose behind this critique of certain positions taken by phenomenological realism is, first, to illuminate some conceivable deficiencies in phenomenological realism's approach and, second, to illustrate that a definite (but relatively subtle) symmetry of thought exists here even in spite of some obvious disagreements. An attempt will be made to describe these areas of symmetry and partial agreement in a way that is intuitively transparent, one that will enable the unaccustomed reader to see through the sometimes idiosyncratic terminologies to the common objective realities that these schools are presumably explaining. This attempt to find agreement on certain issues is designed to appeal to common sense even as it strives to strike a balance between the noble ideals which phenomenological realism will propose and the down-to-earth accounting of the human experience that is typical of Thomistic thought.

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Recommended Citation

Hofbauer, John Francis, "Freedom, the good, and the metaphysics of morals: A critical assessment of phenomenological realism" (2000). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9999825.