Two small errors turned up in the hardcover edition of my Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Law.  Although they were corrected in the paperback, a reader suggests that I post the corrections here too.  Good idea.

The first error is rather funny:  On the cover, the word Commentary was spelled with three M’s.  If you have one of those copies, better hold onto it:  Odder things have become collectors’ items.

The second error was on page 28, in the discussion of Question 90, Article 2, “Whether the Law is Always Something Directed to the Common Good?”  St. Thomas’s answer is “Yes,” but the Article begins with three Objections – reasons why someone might think the answer “No.”  Right after the paragraph beginning with the words “More broadly,” the text and paraphrase of Objection 1 were omitted.  Here is what the Objector says:

The omission is now fixed, and everything else was where it should have been.  To show how it all goes, here is my line-by-line commentary on Objection 1 (which of course is only a small part of the Article):

“The Latin expression [the Objector] uses here for the shared or common good is bonum commune, which can equally be translated ‘the good of the community.’  He is thinking of the community not merely as an aggregation of individuals who may be at odds with each other, but as a true partnership in a truly good life.  To further develop the idea, however, we need to distinguish between two senses in which a good can be common.

“In the weak sense of the term, a good is common merely when it is good for everyone, like pure water.  Different people in the community may enjoy different amounts of goods that are common in this weak sense.  In fact, if one person grabs more of a weakly common good, then other people have less.  For example, I might divert part of the river away from your property and onto mine.

“In the strong sense of the term, though, a good is common when one person’s gain is not another’s loss, so that our interests literally cannot diverge. For example, the goods of character are strongly common -- I do not become less wise, or less just, or less courageous, just because my neighbor becomes more so.  Another example of a strongly common good is the security of the community -- if you and I are fellow citizens, and our country is invaded by a hostile power, then it is invaded for both of us.  It is impossible for our country to be invaded for you but not for me.

“Sometimes [St. Thomas and the Objector] use the expression ‘common good’ in the strong sense, but sometimes only in the weak.  One must pay close attention to keep from getting mixed up.  Consider his discussion of distributive justice in II-II, Q. 61, Arts. 1-2.  Distributive justice is the allocation of certain things to members of the community according to what is due to them.  Now it is good for the community as a whole that its greatest benefactors attain the highest honors and offices; everyone is better off as a result.  This shows us that distributive justice is a strongly common good.  But St. Thomas also calls the honors and offices themselves ‘common goods.’  What kind then are they?  Since some citizens receive a greater share of them than others, obviously they are not common in the strong sense; they are merely things that anyone may see as good.  We see then that although distributive justice is a strongly common good, the things that it distributes are only weakly common goods.

“More broadly, the aspect of justice that concerns the common good is called ‘general’ justice.  Special justice is doing good and avoiding evil in relation to my neighbor, with a view to what I owe him.  But general justice is doing good and avoiding the opposite evils in relation to the community, or to God.  [II-II, Q. 79, Art. 1; compare II-II, Q. 58, Art. 6.]

[1] [The Objector] does not mean that the law only commands and forbids; as he explains later, in Q. 92, Art. 2, its acts also include permitting and punishing.  Commanding, forbidding, permitting, and punishing are direct acts of law.  Doesn’t it accomplish other purposes as well, such as directing, rewarding, and encouraging?  Yes, but these purposes are achieved indirectly, mainly through commands and prohibitions, backed up by punishments for failure to comply.  For example, the law directs traffic through forbidding excessive speed, and it rewards acts of valor through commanding that soldiers who have performed them be awarded medals.

“It might seem that permitting is not so much an act of law as the omission of an act, because we take anything not explicitly forbidden to be permitted.  However, certain kinds of permissions must be made explicit, because they provide individuals with ways to modify the legal obligations they would otherwise have.  For example, the law encourages home ownership and construction through explicitly permitting homeowners to deduct mortgage interest from personal income taxes.  By taking advantage of this permission, homeowners alter the amount of taxes they would otherwise be commanded to pay.

[2] Individual goods are goods of particular individuals.  Sometimes the law issues commands like ‘No one may steal the property of any other person.’  This is quite different from a command like ‘No one may pollute the community water supply,’ because the other person is not the community as a whole, and his property, unlike the water supply, is an individual good, not a common good.  From this, the Objector concludes that law does not always aim at the common good.”

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