How do the intellect and will remain free while pursuing a life of virtue? This is where the question of prudence comes in. Is the practical wisdom of the prudent man founded upon some kind of innate or acquired instinct, or does it presuppose understanding of intellectually grasped basic principles? And if those principles are presupposed, is reason necessary for applying them in any given instance, or can one solely look to the rightly formed appetites acquired by moral virtue? In answering these questions, Ryan J. Brady looks first and foremost to St. Thomas Aquinas and his ancient and modern interpreters. Brady’s way of engaging the question of the interplay between the intellect and reason is by focusing on two apparently conflicting texts of St. Thomas Aquinas, one of which says that synderesis (the habit of the first principles of the practical intellect) appoints the end to the moral virtues and another which says prudence does. The author’s conviction is that the correct way of reconciling the two texts not only establishes knowledge of the role of conscience, virtue, and natural law in the moral life but also provides insight into the profoundly complementary roles of reason and will within the context of a life of virtue.


Ryan J. Brady holds a doctorate in Moral Theology from Ave Maria University and teaches at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California, where he resides with his wife Rebecca and three children. Previously, he served as the Chair of the Philosophy and Theology departments at St. John Vianney College Seminary. His articles have appeared in Nova et Vetera and Angelicum. He has also translated several works of St. Thomas Aquinas as part of the Aquinas Institute’s Opera Omnia series.


“Professor Brady has written an extremely impressive work that, in an exhaustive and precise manner, examines areas of Thomas Aquinas’s thought that are of fundamental importance for contemporary ethics and moral theology. In a charitable but forthright manner he demonstrates that certain major figures in these fields have offered misreadings of Thomas as a basis for their own theories.”

Kevin L. Flannery, S.J.
Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome


“In a fine display of Thomistic scholarship, Ryan Brady’s Conforming to Right Reason sets forth the ends of the moral virtues and their importance for our lives, showing how natural reason and prudence as the ‘charioteer’ of the virtues direct our appetites and desires to virtuous ends. He guides us through from Aquinas’s early to his late works on this question, helps to resolve long-standing puzzles, and shows commendable mastery both of the recent scholarship and the historic commentators in the Thomist tradition. Moreover, as a professional translator of Thomistic works from the Latin, his fluency in Aquinas’s language and thought is simply outstanding. In an era where nonsense in the mind continually reinforces corruption in the appetites, work like Brady’s is exactly what we need.”

David Elliot
The Catholic University of America


“In this book, Ryan Brady accomplishes an impressive feat. He decisively contributes—offering a compelling solution—to a long-standing debate among interpreters of Aquinas with respect to the role of reason and the will in the judgments of conscience and prudence. Moreover, after decades of scholarly and pastoral confusion about conscience and morality, Brady’s analysis of Aquinas is worth reading by anyone interested in thinking clearly about such matters. Thoughtfully engaging with many interlocutors from the past and the present, Brady defends the priority of intellectual judgement in pursuit of happiness and right action. Truth matters for the moral life!”

Michael A. Dauphinais
Ave Maria University


“All too forgotten in discussions concerning knowledge of first moral principles, synderesis, the profound root of conscience, deserves a much more central place in scholastic discussions of moral epistemology. This is particularly true concerning our knowledge of the natural law, the content of which ramifies through all the various acquired moral virtues. If reflection on first principles is truly an office of wisdom, then reflection on our epistemological capacities for knowing such principles is also part of such sapiential meditation. Given that a small error in principles will lead to immense woe in later discussions and debates, assiduous attention should be paid to Dr. Brady’s analysis in this text so that future debates concerning virtue ethics, moral epistemology, and human knowledge of the natural law might focus more on this important intellectual habitus, synderesis, without which no moral knowledge would ever be articulated by any human mind. No sound moral epistemology, whether in the order of nature or in that of the Christian life of grace, can fail to take into account the noetic phenomenon associated with our grasping of moral truths by way of synderesis. This text is to be highly recommended, and it is my hope that it helps to reorient contemporary debates around the truly central principles that dominate the whole of the various questions connected with the matters covered in this admirable volume.”

Matthew K. Minerd
Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Ss. Cyril and Methodius


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Conforming to Right Reason: On the Ends of the Moral Virtues and the Roles of Prudence and Synderesis