Pieper, Preface, Four Cardinal Virtues—Why this “certain medieval writer,” Thomas Aquinas?

In the Preface to Four Cardinal Virtues, Josef Pieper explains his attention to the “doctrine of virtue.” He notes the unselfconscious way in which the virtues supplied a framework for ethical speculation in the emergence and continued tradition of Western thought. Pieper describes the intellectual framework supplied by the four cardinal virtues as “one of the great discoveries in the history of man’s self-understanding.” He observes that this doctrine of virtue  “has become a basic component of the European consciousness, as the result of centuries of persistent intellectual endeavor by all the creative elements of the emerging West, both the Greeks (Plato, Aristotle) and the Romans (Cicero, Seneca), both Judaism (Philo) and Christianity (Clement of Alexandria, St. Augustine).”

Having rooted the doctrine of virtue in a certain kind of universality, Pieper turns to address his reliance on the single figure of St. Thomas Aquinas. Here I quote in full:

Some readers may wonder why, in my effort to revive a classical heritage, I so often cite a certain medieval writer, Thomas Aquinas. I do so not from a more or less accidental historical interest, but because I believe that the testimony of the “universal teacher” of a still undivided Western Christianity has a special value. This lies not so much in his personal genius as in the truly creative selflessness with which he expressed the vast, contrapuntal range of possible statements about the cosmos—even as he recognized and called upon his readers to go beyond the limitation of his own vision. Marked though this thought is by an altogether extraordinary grasp and the most disciplined, dynamic, and penetrating independent thinking, there yet speaks through it less the individual writer, Thomas Aquinas, than the voice of the great tradition of human wisdom itself.

The interpreter, in these latter days, invokes this tradition in the hope of seeming less ridiculous as he boldly drafts a moral standard for humanity which he, in his own daily life, is utterly unable to meet.

Pieper, Four Cardinal Virtues, Preface, xii-xiii.

adjudication-related considerations in Sheetz v. El Dorado

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Sheetz v. El Dorado County (2024) features a unanimous opinion for the Court by Justice Barrett and separate concurring opinions by three other Justices (Sotomayor joined by Jackson; Gorsuch solo; and Kavanaugh joined by Kagan and Jackson). These separate opinions address themselves in different ways to the narrow scope of what was decided in the opinion for the Court.

The question presented was whether conditions imposed on building permits are exempt from regulatory takings scrutiny because they are imposed pursuant to legislation rather than administratively. The Court answers this question “no.”

Sotomayor (joined by Jackson) wrote separately to note that there is an antecedent question, one not addressed by the Court, which is “whether the permit condition would be a compensable taking if imposed outside the permitting context.”

Gorsuch wrote separately both to note that the Court’s opinion did not address another question and also to suggest that this question had an easy answer. This was the question “whether the Nollan/Dolan test [i.e. the test that governs the Takings Clause inquiry in this context] operates differently when an alleged taking affects a ‘class of properties’ rather than ‘a particular development.’” The easy answer to this question, implied Gorsuch, was “no.”

If this question was so easy, why didn’t the Court address it? It appears that at least three Justices have a different view than Gorsuch. Kavanaugh (joined by Kagan and Jackson) concurred “to underscore that the Court has not previously decided—and today explicitly declines to decide—whether ‘a permit condition imposed on a class of properties must be tailored with the same degree of specificity as a permit condition that targets a particular development.’” The reason to underscore the limited nature of the Court’s decision, presumably, is to prevent others from reading that opinion to have resolved the issue.

From this brief description of the scope of the opinions, the question naturally arises how the Court decided to calibrate the breadth or narrowness of this opinion. The answer to this question is not something that one tries to answer as a matter of constitutional interpretation. The answer turns instead on the nature of the judicial function within the particular place in the judicial hierarchy occupied by the Supreme Court of the United States, together with a justice’s understanding of how best to carry out that function as a single individual on a multimember appellate court with jurisdiction that is both limited and discretionary. To the extent that these kinds of understanding are informed by a distinctive theory, that would be a theory of adjudication rather than a theory of interpretation or law.

Pope Francis’s Remarks to International Federation of Catholic Universities

On January 19, 2024, Pope Francis was scheduled to deliver “a lengthy address” to the International Federation of Catholic Universities. Because he was a “bit short of breath,” he instead got right to the point of what he was going to say and then let his prepared text speak for itself. Here’s what he said viva voce:

I was planning to deliver a lengthy address, but I am a bit short of breath; as you can see, this cold is not going away! I am giving you the text so that you can read it for yourselves. I thank all of you for this meeting and for all the good that our Catholic universities do by communicating knowledge, the word of God and an authentic humanism. Never tire of persevering in the splendid mission of Catholic universities. It is not their confessional status that gives them their identity: that is one aspect, but not the only one. It is perhaps that clear humanism which makes people realize that human beings have values and that these need to be respected. This is perhaps the finest and greatest thing about your universities. Thank you very much.