On Value and Obligation in Practical Reason: Toward a Resolution of the Is–Ought Problem in the Thomistic Moral Tradition

Nova et Vetera 19 (2): 531-562 (2021)
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Within the Thomistic moral tradition, the is-ought gap is regularly treated as identical to the fact-value gap, and these two dichotomies are also regularly treated as being identical to Aristotle and Aquinas’s distinction between the practical and speculative intellect. The question whether (and if so, how) practical (‘ought’) knowledge derives from speculative (‘is’) knowledge has driven some of the fiercest disputes among the schools of Thomistic natural lawyers. I intend to show that both of these identifications are wrong and the debate has been misframed. The is-ought gap is not the fact-value gap, nor does the is-ought gap correspond to Aquinas’s distinction between the speculative and practical. This opens the possibility of a resolution--within the Thomistic school--to a debate that has, heretofore, proven particularly resistant of consensus. I close by offering a tentative account of precisely how synderesis gives us our first awareness of moral law from a prior speculative understanding.
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