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Aquinas's Ethics

Metaphysical Foundations, Moral Theory, and Theological Context

Revecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Colleen McCluskey, Christina Van Dyke

Publication Year: 2009

The purpose of Aquinas's Ethics is to place Thomas Aquinas's moral theory in its full philosophical and theological context and to do so in a way that makes Aquinas (1224/5-1274) readily accessible to students and interested general readers, including those encountering Aquinas for the first time. Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, Colleen McCluskey, and Christina Van Dyke begin by explaining Aquinas's theories of the human person and human action, since these ground his moral theory. In their interpretation, Aquinas's theological commitments crucially shape his account of the human person, human capacities for action, and human flourishing. The authors develop a comprehensive picture of Aquinas's thought, which is designed to help students understand how his concept of happiness and the good life are part of a coherent, theologically-informed worldview. Many studies of Aquinas naturally focus on certain areas of his thought and tend to assume a general knowledge of the whole. Aquinas's Ethics takes the opposite approach: it intentionally links his metaphysics and anthropology to his action theory and ethics to illuminate how the moral theory is built on foundations laid elsewhere. The authors emphasize the integration of concepts of virtue, natural law, and divine grace within Aquinas's ethics, rather than treating such topics in isolation or opposition. Their approach, presented in clear and deliberately non-specialist language, reveals the coherent nature of Aquinas's account of the moral life and of what fulfills us as human beings. The result is a rich and engaging framework for further investigation of Aquinas's thought and its applications.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

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pp. xi-xiv

This book has been a long time coming. When Rebecca, Colleen, and I first began the conversations that led to our thinking that it would be a great idea for us to sit down and write a book together, we were all (very) junior scholars, and the millennium was just getting underway. It should come as no real surprise, then, that the number of people to whom ...


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pp. xv-xvii

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pp. 1-10

St. Thomas Aquinas (1224/25–1274) is a towering figure in the history of philosophy; few scholars can rival either the breadth or the depth of his intellectual pursuits. Above and beyond his independent works (including, most famously, the Summa theologiae and the Summa contra gentiles), Aquinas also wrote extensive commentaries on most of...

Part One Human Nature

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one. The Metaphysics of Human Nature

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pp. 13-26

The question of who we are—of what we are—lies at the heart of Aquinas’s account of happiness. We must understand what human beings are in order to see what they can do, and know what they are able to do before we can appreciate how they actually act. Only when we grasp the inner workings of human actions, moreover, can we fully comprehend ...

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two. Soul and Body

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pp. 27-45

In the last chapter we presented an overview of Aquinas’s metaphysics. We focused on the hierarchy of being and the distinction between actuality and potentiality, not just because it proves central to understanding how Aquinas thinks generally about the connection between God and creatures, but also because it gives us special insight into how he thinks ...

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three. Human Capacities and the Image of God

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pp. 46-66

Aquinas’s basic account of human nature, as we have seen, looks strongly Aristotelian. Like Aristotle, Aquinas holds that human beings are rational animals. He describes human beings as composites of form and matter, as intellective organic bodies. Also like Aristotle, he believes that the human function can properly be understood as “the life of activity ...

Part Two. Human Actions

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four. Actions and Ends

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pp. 69-89

Given Aquinas’s account of human capacities, we are now in a position to consider how he explains human action, which is foundational for his account of ethics. Aquinas explains such important moral notions as right and wrong, virtue and vice, in terms of the basic components of human action. Therefore, in order to understand his ethics, we ...

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five. The Moral Appraisal of Actions

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pp. 90-109

In this chapter we begin by examining Aquinas’s account of good and bad action in general and then consider some specific types of bad action, the so-called sins of ignorance, passion, and willful wrongdoing. His account of the performance of good and bad actions underlies his account of habits, which we consider in the next chapter, and which in...

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six. Habits and Freedom

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pp. 110-126

Up until now we have been considering discrete, individual actions.A further concept that follows from Aquinas’s account of particular actions is that individual, discrete acts performed repetitively enable us to develop what he calls habits. The habit is a key concept in Aquinas’s ethics, since virtues and vices are habits. Thus, they are important for our ...

Part Three. Human Flourishing

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seven. The Virtues

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pp. 129-151

We have set out in this book to integrate Aquinas’s metaphysics of human nature, his action theory, and his ethics. His metaphysics of persons tells us what sort of beings we are; his action theory tells us what beings of this sort are able to do; and his ethics tells us how human beings can live a good, flourishing life. At one level, we have seen that Aquinas’s ...

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eight. Law and Grace

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pp. 152-172

In chapter 7 we examined the virtues in Aquinas’s ethics and argued that the theological virtue of charity is central in his account of the virtues. Virtues, or good habits, are the “interior” directors and perfecters of human action. In the present chapter we introduce Aquinas’s account of the “exterior” principles of human action, sources external to ...

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nine. Theologically Transformed Virtue and Vice

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pp. 173-187

The ethical part of the Summa theologiae begins with the treatise on happiness but is not complete without the picture of human fulfillment that we find in the treatise on the virtue of charity. Aquinas thinks that human perfection requires union with God—both the intellectual vision he calls “beatitudo” and also the union of affections in the will, ...

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pp. 188-189

In this book we have argued that Aquinas’s intentions are most accurately reflected by a study that integrates his view of human nature and its capacities, his action theory, and his view of the moral life. For Aquinas, there is no fundamental separation between metaphysics and ethics. Together they form a coherent system. His account of who we are meant to ...


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pp. 190-236


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pp. 237-242

E-ISBN-13: 9780268084530
E-ISBN-10: 026808453X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268026011
Print-ISBN-10: 0268026017

Page Count: 256
Publication Year: 2009