Volume 92, Issue 2, Spring 2018
Daniel J. Simpson
Reframing Aquinas on Art and Morality
Can a work of art be defective aesthetically as art because it is defective morally? Étienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain both develop Thomistic accounts of the arts based on Aquinas’s distinction between the virtues of art and prudence, but they answer this question differently. Although their answers diverge, I will argue that both accounts make a crucial assumption about the metaphysics of goodness that Aquinas denies: that moral and aesthetic goodness are distinct species, not inseparable modes, of metaphysical goodness. I propose a new way to develop a Thomistic account of the arts that begins with Aquinas’s treatment of the three inseparable modes of metaphysical goodness: the virtuous, the useful, and the pleasant. This foundation seems metaphysically, methodologically, and explanatorily prior to the accounts of Gilson and Maritain, because art is a virtue, and virtue is related to goodness, and goodness is “divided” into three inseparable modes.