Anselm’s Moral Philosophy and Moral Understanding

Anselm’s Moral Philosophy and Moral Understanding

June 26, 2021 Off By Felso

The question of whether Anselm presented a morality of his own is a controversial one.

Those who argue that he did not produce a theory of morality say that his work is more religious than philosophical; therefore, they say that they do not produce ideas that will constitute an independent moral theory. However, there is much material in Anselm’s thoughts that can be examined on the basis of moral philosophy. Naturally, in order to have a good grasp of what these materials really mean and how they need to be examined, one must first look at his understanding of truth.

As with many other subjects, Anselm’s views on truth were also influenced by Augustine. Just like Augustine, Anselm states that truth has no beginning and no end (De Veritate 1). Such a truth that has no beginning and no end is, of course, identical with God, who is the truth itself. The truth in all of the propositions that can be made regarding everything in the universe is most definitely known by God. Therefore, the truth in these propositions is eternal and Anselmus makes the truth intelligible on the basis of the truth (rectitudo) in the propositions. It is, of course, unthinkable for a realist philosopher like Anselmus to relate truth only to truth in propositions. Righteousness is also in will, thought, action, and things.

Since accuracy is not the object of any sense, it is described as “perceivable only by the mind”. There is only one truth that governs the world we live in, and that is God. In this respect, the truth of propositions or the truth in propositions is based on the truth of thought, the truth in thought is based on the truth in things, and the truth in things is based on God, that is, absolute truth. After this explanation, the situation that Anselmus tried to explain in the proof of God becomes clearer (Maurer, 1982: 55).

As he states in his book De Veritate (12), truth (veritas), truth (rectitudo) and justice are interchangeable concepts. The term justice here has a special significance for Anselmus. Because justice is closely related to the righteousness of the will. If the will is in a proper (honest) orientation, an action that finds the truth/truth emerges. Thus, freedom of the will is closely related to truth or honesty. This freedom of will is the state of wanting truth or honesty only for oneself.

According to Anselm, the will has three meanings. First of all, will means the power or ability to will. Secondly, will can be understood as the disposition or influence of the will power. The third meaning of will is the act of will. One of these actions is choice or decision making, which is itself a judgment (judicium). This is where information comes into play. For, choosing something or not requires taking an action in accordance with the functioning of the mind. In this respect, there is a parallelism between choice and will and reason (Maurer, 1982: 56-57). In this respect, the will emerges as a force. However, it is not just any power. Will is always a force used to choose what is considered morally right. According to Anselmus, of course, we may not always make morally sound choices. However, this feature of our will is always in place and calls us to be on the alert for our next action. Yet our will can always choose sin.

Here Anselmus points out a remarkable situation. The fact that our will can choose this or that choice and even choose sin should not be considered in connection with its freedom. Because if a link could be established between sinning and freedom, we would be unable to talk about the freedom of God and angels. However, according to Anselm, God has a greater and more perfect freedom than the freedom everyone has. That is why Anselmus, in his famous work De Libertate Arbitrii (About the Freedom of Choice), defines freedom as “the power of the will to maintain righteousness for truth itself”. Therefore, it is unthinkable for a truly free person to act selfishly and to make a selfish choice because it is right (Maurer, 1982: 57).

Anselm’s understanding of morality exhibits an understanding that is largely divinely grounded. Anselmus thinks that a free will can be realized by submitting to the human mind where God rules. Since reason accepts divine sovereignty from the very beginning, it is inevitable that freedom will emerge in accordance with divine authority. Anselmus has been called the “Father of Scholasticism”. Even in the most intense debates, he was serious, reflecting the importance of reason and proper thinking. Its most important feature was the proof of God, which he built with the understanding he inherited from Augustine.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Ataturk University Sociology Department