Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JETS 32:1 (March 1989) p. 107
Known From The Things That Are: Fundamental Theory of the Moral Life. By Martin D. O’Keefe. Houston: Center for Thomistic Studies, 1987, 339 pp, $12.95 paper.
The premise of this work is a simple one: “to demonstrate that, for the contemporary world as well as for the ancient one, the basic principles of the moral life can be discovered by an intelligent person who uses only natural reason” (p. vii). O’Keefe, a Jesuit priest, derives his title from the rhetorical argument that introduces Paul’s Roman correspondence. O’Keefe desires to establish a moral theory based on and in God’s visible handiwork, a handiwork that includes the infusion of logic into the created order.
The work itself is divided into three sections: Introductory Considerations, The Theoretical Part of Ethics, and The Practical Part of Ethics. The final two sections contain numerous subdivisions, each of which concludes with a chapter summary. The text is composed primarily in outline form. The subdivisions begin with a relevant ethical question (“What are ‘good’ and ‘evil’ acts?”) that is then systematically handled. While the work was written as a textbook, the prose is not stiff and is quite readable. The system employed is the classical tradition rooted in Plato and Aristotle. According to the author he chooses this tradition “not out of any nostalgic love of tradition, nor indeed out of a sort of disillusionment with contemporary efforts of another genre, but rather simply for the pragmatic reason that the classical method works.”
The introductory section is brief (perhaps too brief) and contains helpful historical orientation for the nontechnical or nonscholarly reader. The subsequent chapters of the second section are more extensive and extremely cogent. The theoretical section is long but necessary. O’Keefe is concerned that ethics remain a practical, healthy study. In order to apply a morality that is not the “top-of-the-head counsel” a substantial amount of time is spent developing a theoretical basis for ethical judgements. The final section of the work deals with ethical issues that confront the whole warp and woof of the human condition. O’Keefe, in the final 140 pages, attempts to cover twenty or thirty issues and definitively argue the morality of various avenues of choice regarding each one. This proves to be the weakness of the work: It is too ambitious. The ground of morality for some issues was lost as I attempted to remember the theoretical basis (perhaps previously established in section 2) that enabled O’Keefe to make some bold assertions. His discussion on abortion, however, is the most lucid presentation of all his practical ethical discussions.
O’Keefe has attempted to take Paul at his word and...
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