Aquinas on Aristotelian justice: Defender, destroyer, subverter, or surveyor?

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If the past sixty years’ scholarship on Aquinas has proved anything, it is that Aquinas is an idiosyncratic thinker who is hard to categorize in any simple terms. This observation holds not just for his metaphysical and religious thought, but for his ethical thought as well, as we can see from the debates over Aquinas's use of Aristotle's ethics. No one doubts that Aquinas relies heavily on Aristotelian method, concepts, and distinctions, or that he subscribes to signature Aristotelian doctrines. At the same time, Aquinas obviously draws on post-Aristotelian, Biblical, and distinctively Christian sources, adding to his own ethical system features foreign to Aristotle (for instance, virtues unknown to Aristotle, the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, and an account of natural law that is itself embedded in an account of eternal law). Some features of Aquinas's ethics mix Aristotelian with un-Aristotelian elements (for example, his account of the divinely infused virtues). Some scholars, such as Terence Irwin (2007), focus on Aquinas's defense and development of key Aristotelian ideas, illustrating the ways in which Aquinas, on philosophical grounds, remains Aristotelian in ethics. Others, such as Eleonore Stump (2011), stress Aquinas's Christian additions to and departures from Aristotle's ethics. It should come as no surprise, then, that scholars disagree about how to understand Aquinas's commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics. While some argue that it forms the basis of Aquinas's philosophical ethics, others contend that it is a theological and not a philosophical work. What these debates show is that any accurate answer to these questions must be both detailed and nuanced.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationAquinas and the Nicomachean Ethics
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9780511756313
ISBN (Print)9781107002678
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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