The Catholic University of America Press

The Perspective of the Acting Person

Essays in the Renewal of Thomistic Moral Philosophy

Martin Rhonheimer

Paper 978-0-8132-1511-2 $39.95
February 2008 In Print Add to Cart
E-Book 978-0-8132-1698-0 $39.95
August 2012 In Print Add to Cart

The Perspective of the Acting Person introduces readers to one of the most important and provocative thinkers in contemporary moral philosophy. In this collection of essays Martin Rhonheimer examines the central themes of natural law, moral action, and virtue emphasized by John Paul II's 1993 encyclical Veritatis Splendor. Rhonheimer's work follows the general direction taken by the encyclical through an almost unprecedented rigor of philosophical argumentation and level of engagement with both European and American scholarship.

Rhonheimer argues extensively, from the texts of Aquinas, against aspects of more traditional interpretations of the Angelic Doctor. He maintains that their deficiencies helped precipitate both the postconciliar crisis in moral theology and the rise of revisionist approaches. He addresses not only the central topics of natural law and moral action but also the reasonableness of Christian morality, the relation between nature and reason, and that between metaphysics and ethics. All are considered from the distinctively moral perspective of the agent. Rhonheimer also responds to critics of both Veritatis Splendor and his own work and critiques works by revisionist moral theologians.

The collection focuses on Rhonheimer's fundamental ethical theory, establishing the theoretical bases for his more applied works in areas such as sexual ethics, political philosophy, social ethics, and medical ethics. A detailed introduction by William F. Murphy, Jr., sketches Rhonheimer's intellectual biography and the development of his thought, and summarizes key content from the essays. Finally, a detailed bibliography of Rhonheimer's work is included, which further enhances the volume's value to moral philosophers and theologians.

Martin Rhonheimer is professor of ethics and political philosophy at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross in Rome. His publications include a dozen books, several of which have been translated into multiple languages. His Natural Law and Practical Reason was the first of his books to be made available in English. William F. Murphy, Jr., is associate professor of moral theology at the Pontifical College Josephinum and editor of the Josephinum Journal of Theology.


"The recent rediscovery of the perspective of the acting person is one of the most decisive advances for moral theology, which allows the resolution of many aporias of modern ethics. We should be thankful to William Murphy for this collection: Rhonheimer is a master and a necessary point of reference for rereading in this fresh and comprehensive perspective the 'Common Doctor' of Catholic theology, St. Thomas Aquinas."--Msgr. Livio Melina, President and Professor of Moral Theology, Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family, Rome

"Murphy introduces Rhonheimer to Anglo-American ethicists by way of judicious samples of his work, astutely contextualized for ethicists of all persuasions. The key to the work lies in articulating a virtue-centered conception of morality from the first-person perspective of the acting person who perceives goods to be pursued and acts freely through reason and will. By reading Aristotle and Aquinas in critical engagement with prevailing ethical stances, underlying conundrums of ethics, classical and modern, emerge into clearer light."--David B. Burrell, C.S.C., Hesburgh Professor Emeritus of Philosophy and Theology, University of Notre Dame

"Rhonheimer has taken his place as one of the more significant moralists writing in the post conciliar period. His reasoning, reflecting closely the rationale of the decisive paragraph 78 of Veritatis Splendor, avoids weaknesses that characterize both the neo-Thomistic manualists of the first half of the 20th century and more recent revisionists. Murphy has done a great service to students and scholars of moral philosophy and theology in the English speaking world by bringing out this collection of Rhonheimer's most significant essays in fundamental moral theory."--E. Christian Brugger, Senior Fellow, The Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person


"Every so often, a book or collection of essays comes along that shifts a field in an entirely new direction. The ideas defended in such collections truly liberate one's mind from the perfunctory discussions preceding it. . . . I can add to this list Rhonheimer's work and especially the collection of essays under review here, edited and introduced by William F. Murphy Jr. In this collection Rhonheimer tackles several errors manifested in somewhat recent moral theology." -- Stephen Napier, National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly


Introduction by William F. Murphy Jr.

1. Is Christian Morality Reasonable? On the Difference between Secular and Christian Humanism

2. Norm-Ethics, Moral Rationality, and the Virtues: What's Wrong with Consequentialism?

3. "Intrinsically Evil Acts" and the Moral Viewpoint: Clarifying a Central Teaching of Veritatis Splendor

4. Intentional Actions and the Meaning of Object: A Reply to Richard McCormick

5. Practical Reason and the "Naturally Rational": On the Doctrine of the Natural Law as a Principle of Praxis in Thomas Aquinas

6. The Moral Significance of Pre-Rational Nature in Aquinas: A Reply to Jean Porter (and Stanley Hauerwas)

7. The Cognitive Structure of the Natural Law and the Truth of Subjectivity

8. The Perspective of the Acting Person and the Nature of Practical Reason: The "Object of the Human Act" in Thomistic Anthropology of Action

9. Practical Reason and the Truth of Subjectivity: The Self-Experience of the Moral Subject at the Roots of Metaphysics and Anthropology

10. Review of Jean Porter's Nature as Reason: A Thomistic Theory of the Natural Law



"The book contains an excellent introduction in which the editor, William Murphy, Jr., recounts Rhonheimer's intellectual biography, provides a summary of his major books, and gives a concise and useful introduction to each essay. . . . Rhonheimer intelligently engages some of the most difficult topics of ethics in general and of Aquinas's moral thought in particular. Engaging in his writings can only be profitable to the reader."--Tobias Hoffmann, Thomist

Product Details

Pages:xxxix, 329 pages

Dimensions:6x9 inches


CIP Information: 2007015719/ BJ255.T5R46 2007/ 171'.2--dc22


1. Thomas, Aquinas, Saint, 1225?-1274

2. Ethics, Medieval