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Reviewed by:
  • Thomas Aquinas on Moral Wrongdoing by Colleen McCluskey
  • Andrew Kim
Thomas Aquinas on Moral Wrongdoing. By Colleen Mc Cluskey. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017. Pp. xiii + 198. $99.99(cloth). ISBN: 978-1-107-17527-3.

This book offers a lucid, thorough, and compelling account of Aquinas's moral psychology, particularly in relation to his theory of badness (malum). While engaging both the theological and secular problem(s) of evil, McCluskey's primary concern "is how to explain why agents engage in wrongdoing or evildoing in the first place" (2). In this review, I begin with a brief synopsis of her main points. Next, I consider a recurring theme throughout the text, namely, the separability of Aquinas's theological commitments from his moral psychology. Finally, I conclude by drawing from the previous considerations in order to engage with McCluskey's intriguing proposal regarding the application of Aquinas's theory of wrongdoing to the problem of racism.

McCluskey begins by providing her own interpretation of Aquinas's account of human nature. After outlining the basic strata of the soul, she offers a detailed and well-sourced analysis of both the passions and the intellective will in their own right and in relation to each other as a kind of integrated singularity. [End Page 491] Drawing from the work of Eleonore Stump, she next considers the problem of the will specifically. Tying these strands together is her engagement with Aquinas's account of human action. While skillfully responding to common objections to Aquinas's general position, McCluskey also succeeds in presenting Aquinas's account in a manner that is both clear and complex:

To summarize, the production of action begins with the general desire of the good found in the will, which moves the intellect to identify a specific end that can be considered good. The intellect then presents a particular end to the will, which intends the end. The will then moves the intellect to deliberate over means for achieving the end. The intellect presents the alternatives to the will, which consents to those identified as good.


At the same time, she recognizes that "Aquinas is arguing for a logical priority here, not a temporal succession. Nothing prevents him from acknowledging that this process takes place quickly or even simultaneously" (28). Citing STh I, q. 82, a. 4, ad 3 and several other texts, McCluskey maintains "a controversial interpretation of Aquinas" as arguing for "a priority of intellect over will in the process of action" (29). She shows how this account is capable of responding to the worry about necessitation (and how Aquinas himself responded to it) and concludes the chapter with a concise and informative presentation of how Aquinas's theory of action is nested in his account of freedom.

The next chapter takes on the account of evil as a privation in order to raise important points relevant to Aquinas's moral psychology. After a brief examination of evil's ontological status, McCluskey proceeds to consider the relationship between goodness and being. In her reading of Aquinas, "actuality and perfection bridge the conceptual gap between being and goodness" (40). She shows how in one sense existence is a range-point property for Aquinas—or as she calls it, "an all-or-nothing affair"—while goodness is scalar in the sense that it admits of degrees. Thus, "nothing in the world is completely devoid of goodness," since such a being would not be. In another sense, evil is "a lack of goodness that ordinarily should be there" (41). Though McCluskey engages with objections to the privation account, she ultimately concludes that, as far as the chief purpose of her book is concerned (explaining why agents engage in wrong-doing), one may remain "agnostic" with regard to Aquinas's view of the ontological status of evil, as his "discussion of the psychology of wrongdoing does not rest on the privation account in any substantive way" (72-73; see 73 n. 92).

The next step in McCluskey's sequence of arguments involves building upon her thesis that "the foundation for voluntariness in Aquinas's view is knowledge" through a consideration of the complex interactions between the...


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