American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 82, Issue 3, Summer 2008

Steven J. Jensen
Pages 411-428

Of Gnome and Gnomes
The Virtue of Higher Discernment and the Production of Monsters

The virtue of higher discernment (gnome) is able to discern when a particular rule must be set aside for some higher principle. Aquinas compares the failure of a particular principle to the production of monsters or defective animals. Most of those who treat of the exceptions to rules ignore this analogy, yet it provides important insights into the virtue of gnome and exceptions to rules. A defective animal is a monster only in relation to the particular cause of the power of reproduction; in relation to a higher cause it is proper and well ordered. Similarly, an exception to a general rule is a kind of monster in relation to that rule, but in relation to a higher principle it is a well-ordered act.